A Tribute To Marlin K. Jensen

BCC is pleased to have AnnE, longtime reader and friend of the blog, contribute guest posts. AnnE is an American Sign Language interpreter of over twenty years. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri seven years before the Extermination Order was repealed, and baptized by missionaries at twelve. She has since lived in Chicago, Northern Virginia, and now Salt Lake City to chance the leap from avid genealogist to lay historian, researching deafness and disability within the LDS Church.

I first fell for this man on Sunday May 29, 2005. I had wrangled a spot near the front of the chapel at the Joseph Smith Memorial during the MHA conference commemorating the Prophet’s 200th birthday, and found myself directly across from the new Church Historian. Seated alone on the stand, dutifully in position before the meeting was to begin, he appeared scared to death. Bless his heartóit was all I could do to not dash up and whisper something encouraging.

Before I could convince myself to breach the fourth wall, the service was underway. He recharged us with his unimpeachable testimony of Joseph Smith, and warmed us with his softhearted manner. Here is my hastily-compiled tribute of belated gratitude and godspeed to Marlin K. Jensen, offered by Marlin K. Jensen.

I look forward to hearing your memories of this great man; advance thanks for your kindness in overlooking the slapdash presentation.

Opening Prayer: Marlin K. Jensen

Heavenly Father, we are grateful this morning to be gathered here…for thy Plan of Life and for what we know about our relationship to thee and to each other. And we’re grateful for our marriage and family relationships and for the blessings of being involved in thy Church and Kingdom. We thank thee that early in the history of the Church thou established a pattern for regular meetings and conferences. In this session this morning, Father, we pray that thy Spirit will bless those who will speak and sing, and those of us who will listen—help us to learn of thee and of thy Son. Help us to have a greater desire to change our lives, to be of greater use, and of greater service to thee and to our fellow man. Help us as a result of our being here today, to be sensitive to the needs around us, and to be thy instruments in ministering to those who are lonely, who are ill, who have needs known only to thee. We pray for these things Father, and that there might be peace on Earth. That through or works others will see the truthfulness of the Gospel and glorify thee and thy Son. We invoke this blessing…in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ, Amen. (GC Oct 2012)

Main Speaker: Marlin K. Jensen

No one can stand at this pulpit for the first time where so many truly great men and women have stood over the years without experiencing a strong sense of his personal inadequacy and an overwhelming desire to express appreciation. I feel both today. (GC Oct 1989) My wise father once told me that if I listened carefully to what people talk about from the pulpit in church, I would know which principles of the gospel were of concern to them and those with which they might be struggling at any given time. (GC Apr 1999) When I suggested to my wife several weeks ago that because of President Hinckley’s talk I was considering humility as a possible topic for my remarks today, she paused and, with a twinkle in her eye, teasingly replied, “That leaves you only a few days to gain some!” (GC Apr 2001)

I went off to college after my mission. I took some philosophy classes. I took some anthropology classes. I’ve tried to read widely. I’m not an intellectual, I don’t think, in any stretch of that word, nor am I a brilliant person. But I do think; I do discuss. I have a substantial library, and I’ve tried to test my belief against other philosophies and other theories of life. I think [when] questioning, if you’re honest and if you’re really a true seeker, if you’re not just a skeptic sitting back and taking potshots at everything and everybody and their philosophy of life, I think it tends to bring one to a deeper seeking, and I hope that’s what my doubts have done. They’ve caused me, I think, to study and to ponder and to compare and in the long run to become even more convinced that the way I’ve chosen. (The Mormons, PBS)

If there is a perception that you can’t be learned in this church and still be a mainstream member, I think that would be a most unfortunate perspective. And yet I’m sure it exists; I know it does, but there is something that holds sway over just the intellect, and that is the counsel of God. When that comes through men, who may be very fallible, that’s probably very difficult for people to accept. They may trust more in their intellectual conclusions and powers than they do in that mantle. That’s [how] really intellectual people in the church get into trouble when they do. But if they can retain just a modicum of humility, usually they come out just fine, because we have tremendous intellectual achievement in the church. (The Mormons, PBS)

The temptation to seek personal recognition and reward from our service to others is ever-present. Those who seek honor and gain for themselves in doing the Lord’s work are guilty of what the scriptures call priestcraft. Latter-day Saints whose eyes are single to God’s glory see life from a vastly different perspective than those whose attention is directed elsewhere. Such members, for instance, care little about receiving credit or recognition for their good deeds. They are more interested in feeding the Lord’s sheep than in counting them. In fact, they frequently find their greatest happiness in serving anonymously, thereby leaving the beneficiaries of their kindness with no one to thank or praise except the Lord. In this regard, we can perhaps learn a lesson from our Christian brothers and sisters in the Amish communities of Pennsylvania. It is reported that their writers frequently compose and publish poetry and religious literature anonymously, so as to deflect attention from themselves and ensure that only God receives the glory. (GC Oct 1989)

We keep records to help us remember…[but] I wish to speak of a more profound role of memory and remembering in the gospel of Jesus Christ than the passive recall and enjoyment of information…[W]hat else ought we to remember?…I suggest that the history of the Church of Jesus Christ and its people deserves our remembrance…This extraordinary historical record reminds us that God has again opened the heavens and revealed truths that call our generation to action. (GC Apr 2007)

I think sometimes of what life would be like if we all possessed greater humility. Imagine a world in which we would replace I as the dominant pronoun. Think of the impact on the pursuit of knowledge if being learned without being arrogant were the norm…I resonate to the English author John Ruskin’s memorable statement that the first test of a truly great man is his humility. He continued: I do not mean, by humility, doubt of his own power. [But really] great men have a curious feeling that greatness is not in them, but through them. And they see something Divine in every other man, and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful. (GC Apr 2001, quoting The Works of John Ruskin, ed. Cook and Wedderburn, 5:331)

Brothers and sisters, my message today is very simple: if we truly want to be tools in the hands of our Heavenly Father in bringing to pass His eternal purposes, we need only to be a friend. Consider the power of each one of us of our own free will and choice reaching out to those not yet of our faith in unconditional friendship. We would no longer be accused of offering warm bread and a cold shoulder. Imagine the consequences for good if each active family in the Church offered consistent concern and genuine friendship to a less-active family or a new-member family. The power is in each one of us to be a friend. Old and young, rich and poor, educated and humble, in every language and country, we all have the capacity to be a friend. (GC Apr 1999)

The list of valiant people whose lives touch our own includes family members, missionary companions, friends, Church leaders, teachers, and associates from various walks of life. Some we know intimately and others only by reputation. Less obvious to most of us is the influence we may be having in the lives of others. This interaction, to me, is one of the reasons why a community of believing Latter-day Saints is a foundational element of the gospel. It also explains why we build meetinghouses rather than hermitages. (GC Apr 1994)

It is through the lives of good people that we at least in part become better acquainted with the greatest of all lives. When we see Christ’s image in the countenances of others, it helps us live to receive it in our own. (ibid.)

I thank God for the blessing of good people in all of our lives and pray that we may all in some small way serve that same purpose in the lives of others, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. (ibid.)


  1. J. Stapley says:

    I will always have a great and deep fondness for Elder Jensen. Thanks.

  2. Truly a man of God. Thank you for the reminders.

  3. When I read the title, I thought Elder Jensen had died – and my heart dropped. I love him – plain and simple.

    As wg said:

    Truly a man of God.

  4. Thanks for this.

  5. I love Elder Jensen!
    …when he turned 70, i was seriously praying for a revelation that’ll allow Church Historians serve for life, lol, the man knows what to say at the right time…

  6. Yikes, Ray, sorry for the arrhythmia. Have a Twix.

  7. One of his sons was my bishop in a previous ward, so we had the opportunity to meet Elder and Sister Jensen a couple of times when they came to visit and hear them speak. Such a wonderful, genuine man with real concern for the individual. (His son was an excellent, caring bishop, too.)

  8. If ever there could be a time to break from precedent and call an apostle from the ranks of the emeritus, I selfishly hope that [when the time comes] Elder Jensen would be seriously considered.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    Well done, AnnE.

    Thank you.

  10. frank mcleskey says:

    after reading jensen’s remarks/talk i am persuaded that he has shelved the significant doubts that obviously arose as he used his “intellectual capacity” in the study of the religion he embraces. like richard bushman, jensen is a believer with doubts but can attenuate the cognitive dissonance by simply convincing himself that God did break into human kind after 2000 years of silence( so much for continuing revelation ;-) ) and “restore” the true gospel. a TBM looks at the evidence against such a “god breakthrough ” by simply ignoring it, shelving it, or pretending it does not matter. i thk that’s why so many young people leaving the church is at a crisis level( heard about the rescue project in sweden or lowering the missionary age to 18 and 19). those issues that marlin and bushman have shelved really do matter to young people. who will rescue them?

    just sayin

  11. Before being called to the 70, Elder Jensen served as the Regional Rep (now area authority) for our part of Davis County, Utah, where we were living at the time. On one of his first assignments as a 70, he came back to our stake for a stake conference with President Packer. While I love President Packer, he does at times seem to have a burr under his saddle, and at the Saturday evening session, he chastised us for coming late (not being in our seats at 15 minutes before the hour), about funerals, and several other issues that I can’t now recall. I remember feeling quite discouraged and rebuked. The next morning, Elder Jensen spoke and gave one of the most endearing talks I can remember. It contained elements of his later general conference talk about living after the manner of happiness. He also spent a major portion of his talk, praising our stake for the great spirit we had, for the tithing and other contributions we made, for the missionaries we sent out to the field, and for generally being some of the best of the Saints. It was just what the doctor ordered, and while I had always liked him before, this fixed him in heart forever. I, too, lament his mandatory retirement at age 70, and wish him nothing but the best in his future, may it be long and fruitful.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    frank, you are new around here. As a heads-up, don’t use terms like TBM around here, and we generally prefer standard grammar and capitalization. To the substance of your comment, I am persuaded that you don’t really know what you are talking about.

  13. whizzbang says:

    When I was serving my mission in the Arcadia mission Elder Jensen was scheduled to speak at the Pasadena Stake and I just got transferred out so I missed hearing him. A few years later I came to only know him through his writings and for the sheer heck of it I wrote him a letter complimenting him on his style and approach to leadership. I almost , nearly quit the Church because of my mission. Much to my surprise he wrote back indicating he knew exactley what I was talking about and he said he was like Nephi and gloried in plainness. I have kept the letter and I love this man and agree that he and a few other should have become apostles (not that I am unhappy with who we have now)

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks to Elder Jensen for all he has done to build the kingdom.

  15. Thank you so much for this compilation. I remember seeing Marlin K. Jensen in his first conference in 1989, and becoming an instant fan. He was always very supportive of MHA activities and really opened up the Church.

  16. Thanks, all and Hello frank — I do affirm the concern you and Elder Jensen share for people who decide that the best solution to their very real pain is pulling up stakes. Our pavilion sags a little for the loss of them.

    Speaking solely for myself, I see faith as the persuasive antithesis to doubt. It is the “evidence” (Heb. 11:1) which suspends but does not overlook arguments of historicity, textual analysis, social dynamics, &c. Oddly enough, “true doctrine understood” influences behavior, and faith in the Atonement influences cognitive dissonance. It’s like the left and right hemispheres were bifurcated for a reason. Or some’n. In Deseret Book parlance, “It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end!”

  17. Me too, Ray.

  18. Antonio Parr says:

    My business partner — a brilliant, exeptionally kind and compassionate ethical humanist — watched the PBS special on the Church, and came to me afterwards to share his observations. As he went from person to person/theme to theme, there came a point in our conversation where his eyes lit up and he said “Where in the world did you guys find Marlin Jensen? He is wonderful!” This partner saw the unmistakable personal and spiritual and intellectual integrity of this graceful man, as have I, as have many of you. May he live to be 120!

  19. On the tender subject of soldiering through pain and doubt, I’ve only just returned from interpreting this live-audience Radio Show where one of the scholars offered a provocative comment of the Inauguration of Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). On the way to the ceremony, the Pierces’ train crashed, and they witnessed the death of their son. Partly due to grief, and partly the inability to swear to a God who had so punished his ambition, President-elect Pierce dispensed with the Bible which he could not in good conscience lay his hand upon, and chose instead to “affirm” the oath of office.

    I have new admiration for this man who in the throes of newly-gouged shock and loss, still reverenced a possibly cruel God who at that very public moment he could not countenance, optics notwithstanding. What’s Calvinist for “chutzpah”? “Boules”?

    Just timely and interesting, since we’re coming up to to an equally-rare double-bible ceremony on Monday. Just yesterday I interpreted a different Program where Cornel West went ballistic about the hypocrisy and hucksterism in using MLK’s “prophetic fire” for base spectacle. Good to be back in DC this week.

  20. Rodney Ross says:

    Many years ago at the Casper, Wyoming MHA Conference, Elder Jensen came to have lunch at our table. Obviously, he was much in demand, but I had the opportunity to talk to him a bit and ask a few questions. One of them was how scary it was to give a talk in general conference. “More scary than you can imagine, ” he replied with a twinkle in his eyes. Then I asked how he liked the MHA conference. I don’t remember his exact reply, but it was glowing. He praised the organization, the variety of subjects and presenters. He was quite positive. Two days later, after the Sunday devotional, our paths crossed again. He greeted me warmly as if I was an old friend. The man is just amazing. I would give a lot to sit and talk with him again.

  21. I work at the Church History Library and got to know Elder Jensen very well while he was Church Historian. On a couple of occasions he took the time to sit down and talk with me one-on-one, telling me about his experiences growing up, giving me advice and counsel, etc. He once spent so long talking to me that he ended up running late for a meeting with the presiding bishopric. But I realized then how much he cared about me, how much he always cares about the individual, and how he is no respecter of persons. He is truly the most humble and charitable man I have ever personally known. He has a special gift to see the best in people and to love them unreservedly. He also has a gift for inspiring people to be better than they are, just by his own emanating goodness. Sitting in his presence, I had a glimpse of what it will feel like to be in Christ’s presence someday. I hope I grow up to be just like him so that others will feel that way around me.

  22. I loooooove Elder Jensen. I cried when he was released/retired. I would have loved for him to be the church President.

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