Abomination and Understanding, Works and Grace – October 1972 General Conference, Session 6 (Sunday Morning)

This post is part of General Conference Odyssey.

This conference, which marked the beginning of Harold B. Lee’s service as President and Prophet, was notable overall for its firmness and clarity in declaring the unique and critically important truth of the Restoration of the gospel and of the priesthood through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

In this Sunday Morning Session, Pres. N. Eldon Tanner notes some German astronomer’s call, in order to save our civilization from disaster, to “listen hard for radioed advice coming from [a wise old civilization] far out in starry space.”  The irony, he notes is that prophets have provided and are providing the necessary warning and information, but that we persecute, ridicule, and slay them. “Only as the world repents and accepts and lives the teachings of the gospel as revealed by God through his Son Jesus Christ and the prophets will we save ourselves from destruction.”  The fate of the world depends on the prophets of the Restoration.

1972-10-6020-elder-legrand-richards-590x442-ldsorg-articleThe non-ecumenical drift of Elder LeGrand Richards’ remarks is already evident in the title: “The Strange Creeds of Christendom.”  The talk is true to the title:

You have been told that in answer to Joseph’s question, the Savior said that he should join none of the churches, for they taught for doctrine the precepts of men: and then the Savior added, “And their creeds are an abomination in my sight.” (See JS—H 1:19.)

We would not want any of our nonmembers to be offended at this statement, but if Jesus did visit the Prophet Joseph Smith, and we know that he did, then his statement ought to be more authoritative than the statement of any other person in all the world, and yet right along with that come similar testimonies of leaders in other churches in the nation.

…I would like to say a few words this morning about the statement the Savior made that “their creeds are an abomination in my sight.” When Satan was cast out of heaven, the cry went out: “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth … for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Rev. 12:12.) “And thus he goeth … seeking to destroy the souls of men.” (D&C 10:27.) And how does he try to destroy people? By taking a little truth and mixing it with a lot of error to deceive the hearts of the people.

That is what Isaiah meant when he said: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! … For thou has said in thine heart, … I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … I will be like the most High.” (Isa. 14:12–14.) For he is the man who made the earth to tremble, who did shake kingdoms, and thus deceived the nations. (See Isa. 14:16.) That is what Jesus came to tell us, that “their creeds were an abomination in his sight” because Satan has deceived the nations.

One “abomination” that Elder Richards singles out is the idea of salvation by faith alone:

At the present time, people are preaching all over the world that all you need to do is to confess that Jesus is the Christ, but that is not what Jesus said. He said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

…You see that does not come just by confession that you believe in Jesus Christ. You have got to do the works and be judged according to your works. All we need to do is to read the parable of the talents to know how the one who received the five talents won other five, and the one who received two won other two, and received the plaudit, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

Another abomination of the creeds concerns the understanding of God, or “worshipping an essence.”

Their catechism says that their god has “no body; he has no parts; he has no passions.” That means that he has no eyes; he cannot see. He has no ears; he cannot hear your prayers. He has no voice; he cannot speak a word to the prophets. Some of them even say “he sits on the top of a topless throne.” How absurd! To me it seems that their description of the god that they believe in is about the best description of nothing that can be written.

And Elder Richards minces no words in affirming the Church’s exclusive truth-claims:

We are the only church in the world that claims such a restitution, and there is a great difference between a restitution and a reformation. We are not Catholics. We are not Protestants. We believe in a recommitment to this earth of God’s eternal truth.

Has our tone changed since Elder Richards’ day?  Certainly there is more emphasis now on inclusiveness, on tolerance and understanding of differences – as in Elder M. Russell Ballard’s address, the Doctrine of Inclusion (October 2001).  After chastising LDS who are intolerant to people of different beliefs, he addresses “those who are not of our faith.”

If there are issues of concern, let us talk about them. We want to be helpful. Please understand, however, that our doctrines and teachings are set by the Lord, so sometimes we will have to agree to disagree with you, but we can do so without being disagreeable. In our communities we can and must work together in an atmosphere of courtesy, respect, and civility. Here in Utah, a group of concerned citizens formed the Alliance for Unity. This effort has been endorsed by our Church as well as other churches and organizations. One of its purposes is “to seek to build a community where differing viewpoints are acknowledged and valued.” Perhaps there has never been a more important time for neighbors all around the world to stand together for the common good of one another.

Elder Ballard’s position does not contradict Elder Richards’ – note the straightforward affirmation “that our doctrines and teachings are set by the Lord…”  But the tone is certainly more conciliatory.  And the reason for the difference in tone between the two apostles is suggested by the last quoted line from Elder Ballard: we need friends and neighbors of various faiths who “stand together for the common good.”  We have adversaries more dangerous than Catholics or evangelicals.

Similarly, Elder Richards’ defense of the place of works in salvation might be compared with Elder Uchtdorf’s eloquent “The Gift of Grace” (April 2015).

Are we like Simon? Are we confident and comfortable in our good deeds, trusting in our own righteousness? Are we perhaps a little impatient with those who are not living up to our standards? Are we on autopilot, going through the motions, attending our meetings, yawning through Gospel Doctrine class, and perhaps checking our cell phones during sacrament service?

Or are we like this woman, who thought she was completely and hopelessly lost because of sin?

Do we love much?

Do we understand our indebtedness to Heavenly Father and plead with all our souls for the grace of God?

When we kneel to pray, is it to replay the greatest hits of our own righteousness, or is it to confess our faults, plead for God’s mercy, and shed tears of gratitude for the amazing plan of redemption?

Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth.

Here again, though the difference in emphasis is indeed striking, there is no necessary contradiction between Richards’ and Uchtdorf’s teachings.  Pres. Uchtdorf is careful to note that, in order to inherit celestial glory, “we must enter through this gate with a heart’s desire to be changed—a change so dramatic that the scriptures describe it as being ‘born again; yea, born of God, changed from [our worldly] and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.’  The importance of obedience to God’s commandments is not overlooked, but seen as a natural outgrowth of our endless love and gratitude for the goodness of God.”


Robert L. Simpson (“Pollution of the Mind”) disabuses us of the impression that the Church’s preoccupation with the sin of pornography is something recent.

 A prophet of God has spoken within the past few days. Here are the exact words of the First Presidency on this vital subject: “Pornographic filth continues to flood this country as well as other nations of the world.

“There is abundant evidence of the damaging effect of obscenity on the solidarity of the family, on the moral fiber of the individual.

“We, with many leaders outside the Church, are deeply concerned about this growing obscenity in print, on record and tape, on television, and in motion pictures.

“We therefore urge Latter-day Saint parents to teach their children to avoid smut in any of its many insidious forms. ‘Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.’ (D&C 121:45.)

“The Lord has also said: ‘Set in order your houses; keep slothfulness and uncleanness far from you.’ (D&C 90:18.)

“We also encourage Latter-day Saints as citizens to exert every effort to fight the inroads of pornography in their communities. History is replete with examples of nations which have fallen in a large measure through licentiousness.”

May we accept this timely counsel. Your personal welfare and the eternal future of your entire family unit may depend upon it, and I say it in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Of course smutty pictures are practically as old as the world.  No sin is original, though the technology of pollution is ever advancing.  But Brother Simpson is writing in the midst of the cultural upheaval of the sixties and seventies, the effects of which we are still absorbing.  Alas.  His advice is even more urgently needed now than it was then.

About rhancock

Ralph C. Hancock holds degrees from BYU and Harvard, and has taught political philosophy at Brigham Young University since 1987; he is also President of the John Adams Center for the Study of Faith, Philosophy and Public Affairs, an independent educational foundation (johnadamscenter.org).