Howard W. Hunter

“I feel ours is the mission to serve and to save, to build and to exalt.”

– Howard W. Hunter

Howard W. Hunter, November 14, 1907 – March 3, 1995 (source: http://tinyurl.com/nyepynv)

Howard W. Hunter, November 14, 1907 – March 3, 1995 (source: http://tinyurl.com/nyepynv)

Howard W. Hunter served for only nine months as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from June 4, 1994 until his death on March 3, 1995, the shortest period of any Church President so far. A banker, lawyer, and accomplished musician, he was called to be an Apostle on October 10, 1959 by President David O. McKay, who had recently dedicated the Los Angeles, California temple (1956) with the support of President Hunter, who was then serving as the President of the Pasadena, California Stake with the responsibility of organizing the open house and dedication of that temple.

President Hunter faced many medical problems during his time in Church service, for which he became somewhat known, including a heart attack, broken ribs from a fall at general conference, heart bypass surgery, bleeding ulcers, kidney failure, hospitalization for exhaustion, and finally prostate cancer that spread to his bones in the last few months of his life. He had faced health problems since his earliest childhood when as a four year old — and nearly half a century before the polio vaccine was revealed through painstaking scientific discovery — he suffered from polio, which reportedly affected his back for the rest of his life. His dedicated service through much pain and suffering occasioned by these medical problems made his life a model of “enduring to the end,” an important tenet of Mormon doctrine closely associated with exercising faith in Jesus Christ and regular repentance for falling short of true Christian discipleship as the way to demonstrate acceptance of and dedication to the Atonement of Jesus Christ in one’s personal life (1 Nephi 13:37).

The Resource Center for the Genevan Psalter, Psalm 116

Despite his health problems, at the time of his death in 1995 he was recognized as the most widely travelled Church leader, having even visited Switzerland for Church business in the months before his death. As part of his wide travels and global work on behalf of the Church, he oversaw the negotiations for and construction of the BYU Jerusalem Center, which he dedicated in 1989. He also served from 1970 to 1972 as the Church Recorder and Historian before being replaced in that role by Leonard Arrington. He was involved with the founding of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University (1973) where the nationally highly ranked Howard W. Hunter Law Library is named after him. It is possible that he was involved in drafting “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which was first read to the Church by Hunter’s successor, President Gordon B. Hinckley, at the Church’s General Relief Society Meeting on September 23, 1995.[1] But on a more domestic or internal Church level, he was known for his great love of the children of the Church (possibly as a result of the tragic loss of one of his infant sons), and President Monson recounted how as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Elder Hunter saved the traditional annual Sacrament Meeting Primary Program from the push of Correlation to eliminate all such auxiliary programs in Sacrament Meetings.[2]

In his first conference talk as President of the Church, speaking to the General Relief Society Meeting in September 1994, President Hunter catalogued the Savior’s interaction with women as recorded in the New Testament.[3] In light of such actions, President Hunter asked

Is there any reason to think that he cares any less about women today? . . . As our Lord and Savior looked to the women of his time for a comforting hand, a listening ear, a believing heart, a kind look, an encouraging word, loyalty — even in his hour of humiliation, agony, and death — it seems to me that there is a great need to rally the women of the Church today to stand with and for the Brethren in stemming the tide of evil that surrounds us and in moving forward the work of our Savior. . . . As we labor with our might to minister to needs in the same caring way that our Lord did among the women of his day, so we entreat you to minister with your powerful influence for good in strengthening our families, our church, and our communities. As you are anxiously engaged in good causes, you can show others that by taking Christ into their lives and accepting his gospel, with its saving ordinances and covenants, they can reach their true potential in this life and in the hereafter.

President Hunter was perhaps most well known for his testimony of the temple.[4] In his short tenure as President of the Church he often testified about the power of the temple to fortify individual Latter-day Saints spiritually and bring them closer to Christ. “It is the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church worthy to enter the temple” (Howard W. Hunter, “Exceeding Great and Precious Promises,” October 1994.). The temple focus of President Hunter’s ministry was a means of directing Latter-day Saints to Christ and his Atonement as the way of eternal life. In what became his final testimony to the Church in closing the Sunday Afternoon Session of General Conference in October 1994, he testified that

I bear solemn and grateful witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. Certainly he is the center of our worship and the key to our happiness. Let us follow the Son of God in all ways and all walks of life. Let us make him our exemplar and our guide. . . . As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience. . . . I bless you in your efforts to live a more Christlike life. I bless you with an increased desire to be worthy of a temple recommend and to attend the temple as frequently as circumstances allow. I bless you to receive the peace of our Heavenly Father in your homes and to be guided in teaching your families to follow the Master. (Howard W. Hunter, “Follow the Son of God,” October, 1994.)

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MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Howard W. Hunter, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995

Deuteronomy 11:26-28, Psalm 116, 1 Samuel 16:7, Isaiah 55:8-13, John 14:16-18, 1 Corinthians 2:14, 1 Nephi 13:37, Alma 7:11-12, Doctrine and Covenants 59:21-24

The Collect: O God, the Eternal Father, thou dost succor us, through thy Son, in our pain and suffering, comfort us, through thy Holy Spirit, in our afflictions, hear us in our petitions to thee in the name of thy Son; we ask thee to preserve the simple, to deliver our souls by dealing bountifully with us, and to pass us the cup of salvation, through our covenants made with thee in thy holy temples, that we may again return, at the end, through the veil to reside with thee through the Atonement of thy Only Begotten Son, our Savior, One God with Thee and the Holy Spirit, forever. Amen.

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[1] President Boyd K. Packer seems to have been alluding to this when, at President Hunter’s funeral, he said that “[t]he administration of President Howard W. Hunter, though very brief, has been a historic one. Things have transpired during those few months of his leadership, some of them as yet unannounced, which will bless this church for generations to come” (Boyd K. Packer, “President Howard W. Hunter — He Endured to the End,” Ensign, April, 1995). This also seems evident in language foreshadowing the Proclamation in President Hunter’s talk in the Saturday Morning Session of the first General Conference after he succeeded to the Presidency of the Church:

The Church has the responsibility — and the authority — to preserve and protect the family as the foundation of society. The pattern for family life, instituted from before the foundation of the world, provides for children to be born to and nurtured by a father and mother who are husband and wife, lawfully married. Parenthood is a sacred obligation and privilege, with children welcomed as a “heritage of the Lord” (Ps. 127:3).

A worried society now begins to see that the disintegration of the family brings upon the world the calamities foretold by the prophets. The world’s councils and deliberations will succeed only when they define the family as the Lord has revealed it to be. (Howard W. Hunter, “Exceeding Great and Precious Promises,” October 1994.)

[2] President Monson recounted that

For many years President Hunter was the General Authority adviser to the Primary Association. He was ideal for this assignment, for no one could have loved little children more than he did. On one occasion, it had been proposed that the Primary Association, like the other auxiliary organizations, would yield to the recommendation to give up its annual sacrament meeting program. When all others had conceded the issue, Elder Hunter made a deliberate yet brilliant defense of the Primary’s record of performance in this annual meeting and a persuasive appeal to “let the children have their moment in the sun.” Elder Harold B. Lee brought the meeting to its close with the comment, “If I were ever in difficulty and wanted a brilliant defense attorney, Brother Hunter, you would be my choice. The Primary will continue with its annual sacrament meeting program.” And it has! (Thomas S. Monson, “President Howard W. Hunter: A Man for All Seasons,” Ensign, April, 1995).

[3] President Hunter said

It must be comforting to you beloved sisters of his church to remember that this same Jesus, our Savior through the Atonement, demonstrated his love and concern for the women of his time. He honored the poor widow who gave two mites. He taught the woman of Samaria and revealed to her that he was the Messiah. He cast out seven devils from Mary Magdalene and forgave the woman taken in adultery. He healed the daughter of the Greek woman, he healed the woman stooped and bent for eighteen years, and he healed Peter’s mother when she was sick with a fever.

He restored the dead son to his mother, the daughter of Jairus to her parents, and Lazarus to his grieving sisters, whom he counted among his closest friends. As he hung on the cross, his heart went out to his mother, and he placed her in the care of his beloved disciple, John. Women prepared his body for burial. It was Mary to whom he first appeared as the resurrected Lord, and it was she to whom he entrusted the delivery of the glorious message to his disciples that he had risen. (Howard W. Hunter, “Stand Firm in the Faith,” October, 1994.)

[4] In the press conference announcing his succession to the office of President of the Church, President Hunter said

I also invite the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church be temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of — and carry — a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.

Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which is provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. The temple is a place of beauty, it is a place of revelation, it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us. (“President Howard W. Hunter: Fourteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, July, 1994.)

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for this fine remembrance of a gentle man.

  2. A Happy Hubby says:

    Nice!

  3. whizzbang says:

    I LOVE Pres. Hunter! I served as a missionary in the Pasadena Stake and people fondly remembered him, even in the late ’90’s. He also had that incident at BYU with Cody Judy and he just kept going!

  4. So making the relief society meeting part of general conference is retroactive?

  5. Nice remembrance. Thank you.

  6. BL, they claimed it always was in response to the furor, so, yeah.

  7. So he Christ’s service to women to encourage the women of the Church to serve the brethren? I’m not a linguist, but that doesn’t seem like the natural analogy to make in that case. I appreciate his saving of the Primary program, but my wife (who is Primary chorister) probably wishes he had just conceded the debate.

  8. Meant to write, “So he refers to Christ’s service to women…”

  9. Last Lemming says:

    Although delivered before he became president of the church, I consider this talk to be President Hunter’s greatest legacy. I don’t believe the sentiments reflected in the passages quoted below had ever before been stated so unambiguously, and nobody has countermanded them since.

    Both the Jews and the Arabs are children of our Father. They are both children of promise, and as a church we do not take sides. We have love for and an interest in each. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bring about love, unity, and brotherhood of the highest order. Like Nephi of old, may we be able to say, “I have charity for the Jew. . . . I also have charity for the Gentiles.” (2 Nephi 33:8, 9.)

    To our friends of Judah, we say: We are your brethren of the house of Joseph—we feel close relationship to you. We are messengers of the true covenant and bear a message that God has spoken in this day and time.

    To our kinsmen of Abraham, we say: We are your brethren—we look upon no nation or nationality as second-class citizens. We invite all men to investigate our message and to receive our fellowship.

  10. Here’s another teaching of his that I found interesting:

    “Girls — do not rush yourselves and your boyfriends into early marriage. Early marriage is seldom successful. It often prevents completing one’s education. It usually condemns a couple to a low income and low standard of living.”

    – “We Are a People of Destiny,” Youth Fireside Series, April 10, 1962, quoted in Clyde J. Williams (ed.), The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Deseret Book, SLC: 2002), p. 126.

  11. Thanks john f. A fine tribute. At a multi-zone conference over which Elder Hunter was presiding I was called upon to close with prayer. As I was about to commence Elder Hunter rose and put his arm around me and pulled me in close and conveyed the blessings and love of President Kimball to all present which he had forgotten to do. For me, a profound and transforming moment as I felt love and virtue pass into me. One of the best prayers I’ve ever experienced.