Elder Tucker's Drift: The Trial of the French Mission, Part One
In France he shared his conclusions with others. Conducting a mission within a mission, he sifted through the elders and sisters looking for his own harvest of receptive minds. Many began to credit his teachings above those of Church authorities, and to the many young missionaries who were attracted to him as a paragon of proselytizing, he opened a Pandora's box of doubt.
The matter culminated in September 1958, when all French missionaries crossed the channel to attend the dedication of the London Temple. Alerted Church authorities interviewed the entire contingent to determine their allegiance. Many repented, but nine were excommunicated after a trial that was without precedent in the history of LDS missionary work.
The nine were not all Tucker's confederates. In particular, Harvey, never party to the lengthy doctrinal trysts with Tucker or his inner circle, unexpectedly found himself sitting with the defendants on that September day in London. While the formal trial lasted less than a day, Harvey's inner trial of faith and testimony continued for decades.
The story of Loftin Harvey, Jr., is not, then, the story of the French apostasy. Rather, it is a study of testimony. While faithfully serving his mission, he was inadvertently entrapped in the web of Tucker's apostasy. His story raises questions of significance to those considering the nature of faith and adherence to that faith.
To understand the whirlpool of events that swept Harvey toward excommunication we must trace in more detail Tucker's key role in creating the trial of faith in France. In Salt Lake City, while en route to France, Tucker had obtained an interview with Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, known as a doctrinal authority. Tucker had not been satisfied with the interview. However, Elder Smith apparently had not found him unworthy to continue on his mission, nor had Tucker declined to continue on his way.
Tucker arrived in the French Mission in October 1956 and was assigned to work in Geneva, Switzerland. Many French missionaries were stationed in Belgium or French-speaking Switzerland, awaiting visas permitting them to enter France itself. Elder Tucker was initiated into missionary work with a practical joke. Left alone at the missionary quarters, he was visited by Marilyn Lamborn, one of the sister missionaries, posing as a streetwalker. She tried several times to solicit his business. He refused at every point and, when the other missionaries returned, innocently shared his relief with them at his escape from temptation. Everyone hooted at the outrageous prank and this obviously high-principled elder's discomfiture. Tucker's thinking may have been deviant, but he was not unscrupulous.
Tucker remained in Geneva four months. In February 1957, he was transferred to Marseille on the southern coast of France with David Shore as a companion. In Shore he found a kindred spirit. These two like-minded elders intensively prayed, fasted, studied, and in other ways actively sought spiritual growth. Their devotion and energy was unusual in the French mission in 1957 and attracted attention mission-wide.
Proselytizing had never been easy in the French Mission. Full-scale missionary work dated from the end of the First World War, yet in 1957, 130 missionaries baptized only 110 converts and a mere thirty of those baptisms occurred in France proper. Statistically, France occupied the basement compared to other European missions.