Hugh B. Brown, a place to start

MCQ’s request today for posts on Sterling McMurrin and Hugh B. Brown lit all my Dialogue antenna. I apologize I haven’t time to attempt a bibliography, even a Dialogue only bibliography with its numerous citations, but I will point you to a start: Volume 17, No. 1, Spring 1984, for Blake Ostler’s interview with Sterling McMurrin and a reprint of one of my favorite talks of all time, Hugh B. Brown’s address to BYU on May 13, 1969. Entitled “An Eternal Quest: Freedom of the Mind,” it is a classic. A wise blend of deep testimony and humble acknowledgment that “Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with with knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers–that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.”

This talk is the source of one of his most oft-quoted lines. You will recognize it in this paragraph:

Preserve, then, the freedom of your mind in education and in religion, and be unafraid to express your thoughts and to insist upon your right to examine every proposition. We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts. One may memorize much without learning anything. In this age of speed there seems to be little time for meditation.

He urged the students to “exercise your God-given right to think through on every proposition that is submitted to you and be unafraid to express your opinions, with proper respect for those to whom you talk and proper acknowledgment of your own shortcomings.” He acknowledged we run the “risk of thinking wrong,” but we must take that risk.

First know Brown’s core commitments to God, to freedom, to humility, to the courage to express his opinions and to an endless intellectual and spiritual curiosity and then read of his contributions to the church and most especially to the struggle for racial equality. It all just flows.

Happy Reading!


  1. I heart HBB.

  2. Not too long ago Timesandseasons had a good long article about how we shouldn’t dissent and about how the right way to dissent is to just pray about it and keep your mouth shut.

    Hugh B. Brown is the exact contrast to that and exactly what I think we should foster more of in our church. Less blind acceptance and more honest pondering.

    History is most often changed by those willing to do more than just pray for things to change.

  3. You can listen to or download Brown’s “Eternal Quest” for free from BYU. You can read Oster’s interview from the Dialogue archives here. Thanks for the suggestions, Molly.

  4. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Ooh, thanks Molly! I look forward to reading these. And thanks for linking, J.

  5. Thank the Gods for Hugh B. Brown!

  6. Costanza says:

    Brown’s autobiography An Abundant Life is also a wonderful read. It’s one of my favorite books.

  7. My mother was a secretary in Pres. McKay’s office while my father served his mission. She absolutely loved Hugh B. Brown, and a thank you letter signed by both of them and J. Reuben Clark is one of her most treasured gifts.

    God bless that man. I know from my mother’s stories that he had a profound effect on Elder Kimball that is not as well understood as it should be.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Backslider, until you’ve READ THE FREAKING BOOK I have to object to your moniker.

  9. When Steve breaks out the ALL CAPS I know it’s time to take him seriously.

  10. Sliding back says:

    And, from Hugh B. Brown, 10 years earlier.

    “We are grateful in the Church and in this great university that the freedom, dignity and integrity of the individual is basic in Church doctrine as well as in democracy. Here we are free to think and express our opinions. Fear will not stifle thought, as is the case in some areas which have not yet emerged from the dark ages. God himself refuses to trammel man’s free agency even though its exercise sometimes teaches painful lessons. Both creative science and revealed religion find their fullest and truest expression in the climate of freedom.
    I hope that you will develop the questing spirit. Be unafraid of new ideas for they are the stepping stones of progress. You will of course respect the opinions of others but be unafraid to dissent – if you are informed.

    Now I have mentioned freedom to express your thoughts, but I caution you that your thoughts and expressions must meet competition in the market place of thought, and in that competition truth will emerge triumphant. Only error needs to fear freedom of expression. Seek truth in all fields, and in that search you will need at least three virtues; courage, zest, and modesty. The ancients put that thought in the form of a prayer. They said, ‘From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it has all truth – O God of truth deliver us’.”

    Hugh B Brown. Speech at BYU, March 29, 1958

  11. Steve Evans says:

    Ray: YES.

  12. Steve, Now that you’ve joined me in the use of the Dark Side’s ALL CAPS, how long until you succumb to the evil emoticon?

    (Sorry, everyone else. Back to the uplifting tribute to a truly wonderful man.)

  13. Molly: Thank you, you made my day!

  14. As a longtime fan of HBB, I suspect that he would worry about understanding his legacy without also reviewing his talk about the Gardener. HBB’s quest for understanding (and resistance to vogue anti-everything-ism) was deeply humble, not in the sense of never being able to take a stand, but in the sense of being firmly grounded the awareness of God’s vast superiority.

    Incidentally, his daughter Mary (Brown Firmage Woodward) is one of the grand delights of modern Mormonism.

  15. Steve Evans, thank you for your wonderful advice. Objection Noted.

  16. Sam recommends another classic. Available here.

  17. Under the Steve Evans rule, I think at least half the people in my ward would be barred from using “The Book of Mormon” as their handle.

  18. Honest pondering and keeping ones mouth shut aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?

  19. Less blind acceptance and more honest pondering. . . .

    Actually, I tend to prefer dishonest pondering, myself. It’s much more exciting that way. For example, I’m currently pondering my own ability to throw a 100-mph fastball.

  20. Thank you, J., for the link help. Come to an M’s game with us, pick up your baking dish lid and conduct a linking (and other idiosyncratic delights of posting) seminar for me, please, soon.

    #18. Of course not. However, your ponderings would likely strengthen others who will not be aided by your silence. Me, for instance.

  21. Stephanie says:

    Is the full-text of this speech available online somewhere? Things don’t really sink in when I just listen to them…

  22. Stephanie says:

    Never mind. I used google. What a concept!

  23. #21 Stephanie, hit the same link cited in #3 for Ostler’s interview and click on the Hugh Brown talk instead of Ostler. It’s Dialogue issue 17-1 at the U of U library.

  24. In re-reading Pres. Brown’s statements, I was struck by two things: 1) the need to be informed in one’s dissent and 2) the need for courage, zest and modesty. I think those two “qualifiers” have tremendous implications for all discussions in a public forum, and I sometimes fall short of both.

  25. Michelle says:

    I just finished reading 4 Zinas, with the 4th generation Zina the wife of HBB (and the grandaughter of Brigham Young). One of the authors was Mary Brown Firmage Woodward, a daughter of Zina and Hugh Brown. I am fascinated by the contrast between the 2 polygamous Zinas (Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young and Zina Presendia Young Card) and the time they spent on many non-domestic issues and Zina Brown who was entirely focused on home and children and entertaining. She seemed to be 100% the faithful supporting spouse who took care of everything at home while the husband excelled in non-domestic arenas. And it seemed that she followed Hugh’s lead in most non-domestic issues. (For example, she was a staunch democrat, but only because he was.)

    Costanza, what insights into his family life does HBB provide in his autobiography?