David O. McKay

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 12.27.43 PMDavid O. McKay (d. 18 January 1970), the ninth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Day Saints, is remembered for a number of things:

  • His length of service: Ordained an apostle at the age of 32, he served in that capacity longer than anyone else.
  • His emphasis on education: As an educator himself, President McKay promoted the value of education among the saints and emphasized the importance of women’s education
  • The development of the correlation program
  • His teachings about the importance of the nuclear family: He popularized the dictum of James Edward McCulloch that no other success in life can compensate for failure in the home, and formalized the Family Home Evening program in the Church by publishing a manual for it and by asking that local leaders protect one night of each week from all other meetings and activities.

But by his own account, his most significant accomplishment was to orient the Church towards its future as a global institution.1

Following an unprecedented world-wide tour of all the missions of the Church (1920-21), then Elder McKay observed to other leaders of the Church that it was apparent to him that the Church would need to adapt to the growth it was experiencing abroad. It would no longer do to just copy the Wasatch version of the Church in areas as diverse as South America, England, New Zealand, and Japan.

As President of the Church, David O. McKay instigated a number of significant changes that enabled the Church to grow to be the world-wide organization that it is today. He recognized that advances in modern transportation and communication were going to enable a truly global Church that maintained fidelity to core teachings and practices even as it became rooted in many different cultures. The previous emphasis on emigration of converts from their home countries to Utah was gradually dropped and then reversed. He taught that Zion was an attitude and a community more than a single place, and that the Church needed to grow locally, wherever it was planted. He committed greater support from Salt Lake City to members living overseas in the form of more frequent visits, and later, the establishment of world regions overseen by General Authorities that lived in their areas.

Soon, Church leaders began to benefit from developing long-standing relationships with Saints around the world, not just in Utah. After learning, during a visit to Uruguay, how the mission president there had unusual success in getting Church materials into that country by “tipping” customs and port officials, President McKay returned to Salt Lake City and reported to other leaders that “the concepts we get from reality are entirely different than the concepts we have from reports received”.2

Under President McKay, the first stakes outside of the United States were created and a program of building temples to serve those stakes began. The translation program of the Church became established. General Conference began to be broadcast beyond North America. And modern media was used to present the temple endowment in multiple languages.

President McKay also recognized the problem for the domestic and international growth of the Church of the racist priesthood policy that was then in place, denying priesthood and temple blessings to people of African heritage. He let it be known that he regarded the ban as a policy—not a doctrine—that could and one day would be rescinded, and he took steps to narrow the application of the policy as far as he could without eliminating it. Sentiment over the ban was polarized within the leadership of the Church at the time, and President McKay never reached the point of feeling that he could reverse the ban. But his attitude towards it had the effect of weakening the justifications for it that were sometimes offered (even by himself), none of which are accepted as official doctrine today.

As Sterling McMurrin observed, under the leadership of President McKay, “the Church began to enlarge its perspective on its place in the world, magnifying its vision, and moving, though slowly, toward an identification of itself with all men…. That from an early date he possessed a quality of world-mindedness not commonly found in the Church is known to all who have followed his ministry. It was a world-mindedness made possible not so much through his acquaintance with the world, which was extensive, as through his insight into the condition of the human soul….

“I believe that the universalism of President McKay, his identification with humanity, was grounded in his reset and concern for the individual, his reverence for the freedom and autonomy of the moral will, his sympathy and compassion for every person.”3

1. Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 358,

2. Ibid., 373–74.

3. Ibid., 378–79.

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Mormon Lectionary Project

Collect:

Lord of the Nations, we bow the knee before thee and acknowledge thee in love and humility to be our God. Grant that we, like thy servant David O. McKay, may be agents of peace among all the people of the earth. Accept of the gifts we offer thee in our weakness, and turn them by thy grace to the building of thy kingdom, that righteousness may increase in the earth and that all who have breath may praise thee—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Scriptures:

Isaiah 41:1–4

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Mark 16:15–18

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

1 Corinthians 12:4–11

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:1–5

Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together. For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated. And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed. And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days. And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.

Hymn:

Hark, All Ye Nations

  • 1. Hark, all ye nations!
    Hear heaven’s voice
    Thru ev’ry land that all may rejoice!
    Angels of glory shout the refrain:
    Truth is restored again!
  • (Chorus)
    Oh, how glorious from the throne above
    Shines the gospel light of truth and love!
    Bright as the sun, this heavenly ray
    Lights ev’ry land today.
  • 2. Searching in darkness, nations have wept;
    Watching for dawn, their vigil they’ve kept.
    All now rejoice; the long night is o’er.
    Truth is on earth once more!
  • 3. Chosen by God to serve him below,
    To ev’ry land and people we’ll go,
    Standing for truth with fervent accord,
    Teaching his holy word.
  • Text: Based on German text by Louis F. Mönch, 1847-1916. (c) 1985 IRI
    Music: George F. Root, 1820-1895

Comments

  1. Both Heber J. Grant and Brigham Young served longer as president.

  2. You say that Pres. McKay’s tenure as church president was “longest,” but that just isn’t the case. Brigham Young served from 1847 to 1877, and Heber J. Grant from 1918 to 1945, both obviously longer than the 19 years that Pres. McKay served.

  3. Joshua G. H. Smith says:

    Great read, well done.

    One minor quibble, Brigham Young served longer than DOM, so did Heber J. Grant.

  4. Joshua G. H. Smith says:

    DOM DOES get the title of longest tenured member of the Apostleship in this dispensation though…..63+ years. Impressive indeed.

  5. He was unable to overcome his own prejudices and those of many of his brethren in Church leadership in order to change this policy . . .

    You mean, the “prejudice” that if you pray for permission to do something, and God says “no”, you shouldn’t do it?

  6. Morgan means his apostolic tenure being the longest.

  7. (I see now that he did say his tenure as church president was the longest so I agree that it should be corrected.)

  8. N. W. Clerk says:

    Now that President McKay’s “Not yet” and “don’t bring the subject up again” revelations have been officially corrected via webpage, is there any chance that the correction will be corrected, or is this like a ratchet that only works in one direction?

  9. Clarify the above comment? What webpage are we talking about here?

  10. I think he meant his own prejudices about Pres. McKay, which he’s still having difficulty overcoming.

  11. Thanks for the correction on DOM’s tenure as President. I have corrected. And I, too, have been unhappy with some of what I originally wrote in that paragraph about the priesthood ban. So I have reworded it to something that I hope is better, honest, and fair.

  12. I, too, am a great admirer of President McKay, but it is inaccurate to portray his views on the priesthood ban as having no foundation in church doctrine. He clearly believed that there was a doctrinal basis for the ban.

    In an official statement issued by the First Presidency in 1951, his administration stated: “The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is NOT a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, ON WHICH IS FOUNDED THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time.”

    And in another letter he wrote: “I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26); however, I believe, as you suggest, that the real reason dates back to our pre-existent life.”

    Yes, he did much to prepare the way for the eventual repudiation of the ban, but let’s not succumb to Correlation’s tendency, in Orwellian fashion, to airbrush the man’s conflicting—and conflicted—views on the subject, and re-label as “policies” past doctrines that are currently out of favor.

  13. Old enough to remember President McKay as the President of the church, and have always had a great fondness for him. He was the President of my primary days. If anything, a lack of unanimity on the part of the rest of the FP and Apostles may have held him back on reversing the PH/Temple ban. Pointless to speculate at this late date, but I believe the risk of a huge schism in the church might have been possible had this been pushed in the 1950s.

  14. FarSide, as far as I can tell, your first quote is actually from 1949 and the presidency of George Albert Smith (the FAIR Mormon transcription is here: http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_racial_issues/Blacks_and_the_priesthood/Statements)

    See also this important correspondence:
    https://archive.org/stream/LowryNelson1stPresidencyExchange/Lowry_Nelson_1st_Presidency_Exchange#page/n5/mode/1up).

    The addressee of the latter correspondence, Lowry Nelson, believed firmly that J. Reuben Clark, Jr. (First Counselor) had drafted it (Prince and Wright, David O. McKay, 75). David O. McKay was signatory to these letters as a member of the First Presidency.

    There is indeed also evidence that President McKay himself gave both “premortal” and “curse of Cain” justifications for the ban at different times (your second quote speaks to this). But in view of other evidence, his biographers also write that, unlike some of the other Church leaders around him, “McKay saw the issue as a changeable policy rather than immutable doctrine.” However, “even though it was policy that was changeable, it would require a revelation from the Lord to change it. He did not make clear why he felt that a revelation was necessary—that is, whether it was because the policy had been instituted by the Lord in the first place, or whether this man-made policy had become so firmly entrenched that changing it would require the force of revelation to convince church members that it needed to be changed” (ibid., 80).

    I don’t intend by offering this further information to settle the issue, but rather to highlight how messy the historical record is and to suggest that my read of it in the OP is defensible, though by no means definitive.

  15. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Morgan. Your final observation—”to highlight how messy the historical record is”—was the principal point I was trying to make, but you made it more clearly.

    I have tremendous admiration and respect for DOM. I was born two years after he ascended to the position of President of the Church, so he was a fixture during my formative years. I still remember those wonderful white suits he used to wear!

    I have the Prince/Wright biography of McKay on my bookshelf. You have motivated me to move it to the top of the pile of unread books I have on my shelves (which, truth be told, is a very big pile).

  16. Startling how easy a church president bio is to read when you leave behind the fluff required to maintain that each and every action was heavenly inspired and done without the influence of others and how he got along with everybody.