Spencer W. Kimball
Spencer W. Kimball

If you thought Edward Kimball's best-selling book about his father's 12-year tenure at the helm of the LDS Church was thorough and riveting, get ready for the same story with twice as much detail and context.

When it was issued in 2005, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball was an overnight sensation among Mormon book buyers who applauded its candor and complexity.

But it was not the book Edward Kimball hoped to publish.

After nearly three decades of research, poring over the president's 33 journals and thousands of letters, and conducting scores of interviews with leaders and lay members, Kimball's manuscript had grown to about 665 pages, with about 3,200 footnotes. It clearly was too long for most readers, so Deseret Book edited it to a more manageable 471 pages, with skeletal notes. The LDS Church-owned publisher put the rest on a CD-ROM that was sold with the book. Few book lovers, though, have the patience or desire to read an entire volume on screen.

So Benchmark Books, with Deseret Book's permission, has produced 400 copies of the original manuscript, with the previously published text in blue and omitted material in black ink. As an added resource, it includes all of the footnotes.


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This full version contains a "treasure trove of information, insights and interpretations not found in the trade edition," Curt Bench, owner of Benchmark Books, writes in a new preface, "material that will satisfy readers interested in a richer, more complete exploration of 20th-century LDS history."

After all, Spencer Kimball was a key participant in modern Mormonism, including the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment, dramatic escalation in missionary work, the beginning of satellite transmissions from church headquarters, growing concern about homosexuality, abortion and pornography; the document forgeries of Mark Hofmann, the reportedly phony Howard Hughes will and the church's opposition to the MX missile being built in Utah.

Clearly, Kimball's most significant act was his 1978 revelation, ending the church's ban on blacks being ordained to the all-male priesthood.

Edward Kimball's complete book further illuminates many of these issues and episodes.

It contains many more pages on women's issues, for example, including the fact that Spencer Kimball mentioned abortion in 14 LDS conference sermons, watched KSL's 1979 special, "Mormon Women and Depression," and avoided repeated calls from Equal Rights Amendment activist Sonia Johnson by working in the hall so his staff could honestly say he was "not in."

The omitted segments make clear that Spencer Kimball did not share the criticisms leveled at LDS historians by key apostles, who believed that these scholars inordinately humanized prophets and underplayed God's interventions in human affairs. The aging prophet once embraced Leonard Arrington, saying, "The Lord is pleased that you are the historian of his church."

Events leading up to the 1978 priesthood announcement are laid out much more comprehensively, describing potential threats, lawsuits, international developments and research on the doctrinal background of the policy.

Spencer Kimball told one interviewer before the change, "I don't know that I should be the one doing this, but if I don't, my successor [Ezra Taft Benson] won't."

Eventually, though, all members of the LDS hierarchy, including Benson, were on board with it.

All in all, the unabridged book adds breadth and depth, Edward Kimball says, not more controversy. He is delighted to see the publication of his original manuscript, with the subtitle Working Draft .

"Spencer Kimball was a significant enough figure," his son says, "that he deserves the respect that a full treatment of his life and work affords."

This account of his father as the church's 12th president "is not in a sanitized or hagiographic form, but with sensitive candor," Bench says. "He portrays his father and his associates as dignified, yet fallible, human beings."

That, Edward Kimball says, is exactly what his father wanted.

pstack@sltrib.com

Kimball on Boy Scouts, Vernon Romney and Ezra Taft Benson

» In July 1974, the NAACP filed a suit against the Boy Scouts of America on the grounds that in LDS troops ... the deacons quorum president was automatically the patrol leader, meaning that an African-American Scout could not gain patrol leader experience. When the church realized the inappropriateness of such restriction ... it dropped the policy and the court dismissed the suit. President [Spencer] Kimball had been subpoenaed to appear for deposition and bring "all church records and writings concerning the policy and position of the church regarding blacks." He felt greatly relieved at avoiding that burden and the inevitable adverse publicity.

» Early in 1974, Utah Attorney General Vernon Romney, [Kimball's wife] Camilla's first cousin, consulted Spencer about whether to run for governor, as he was then inclined, or for the U.S. Senate. Spencer had contributed $200 to Romney's campaign for attorney general, so he saw Spencer as a friendly adviser. When Romney posed this question, Spencer said with his usual directness, "I can't tell you what choice to make, but I will kneel down and pray with you."

» In February 1980, Elder [Ezra Taft] Benson gave a talk at BYU titled "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet" that emphasized the precedence of living prophet's statements over those of earlier prophets. ... Spencer felt concern about the talk, wanting to protect the church against being misunderstood as espousing ultraconservative politics or an unthinking "follow the leader" mentality. The First Presidency called Elder Benson in to discuss what he had said and asked him to make explanation to the full Quorum of the Twelve [Apostles] and other general authorities. Elder Benson told them that he meant only to "underscore President Kimball's prophetic call."

Source: Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball -- Working Draft

Note: The book, priced at $99.95, is available at Benchmark Books, 3269 S. Main, Suite 250.