By Eric Johnson
Thanks to some sleuthing by former-Mormon-turned-Christian Alex Henriein in mid-July 2015, it has been verified that new print copies of The Miracle of Forgiveness authored by twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball will no longer be available, even at retail outlets such as at LDS Church-owned Deseret Books or Amazon.com.
Originally released in 1969 by Bookcraft, the book—which has sold 1.6 million copies, mostly through official church channels—has certainly created a fair share of controversy. Its hard-hitting message, bottom line, is that God demands complete obedience in obeying the commandments of God, which are do-able for the person who supplies full effort. In fact, on page 268, Kimball related a story that sums up the theme as he related an encounter he had with a Latter-day Saint:
In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, “Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?” “Yes,” I said, “but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us.”
The strength of The Miracle of Forgiveness is that Kimball liberally quoted from the unique Mormon Standard Works, including D&C 1:31, D&C 58:43, D&C 82:6, and Alma 34:32ff, to support his case. In actuality, I think it is clear that Kimball was spot on when it came to interpreting what these difficult passages appear to be saying.
Using The Miracle of Forgiveness as an evangelistic tool
In the fall of 2014, MRM associate Randy Sweet and I decided to offer passersby to the Ogden Utah temple open house a complimentary copy out of the dozen extra books we owned. It was done on a lark, as we weren’t sure what the result would be. Over the years, I had given away several dozens of copies of this book, though not in a concerted singular effort. However, after an hour of unsuccessfully trying to give away just one copy on our first day at the Ogden outreach, we realized what a great evangelistic tool offering this book could be. The majority of the Latter-day Saints who were walking by didn’t say anything to us, but about 10-20 percent wanted us to know they either owned the book or had read it. We then learned to ask if they were doing everything Kimball said is supposed to be done.There were only three answers we received:
- Silence (very common)
- “No, but I’m trying” (about a quarter of all answers)
- “Yes” (rare, usually offered in a joking manner, though some appeared serious)
The new approach led to a number of excellent evangelistic encounters and has since become our favorite method of witnessing. Mormons still can’t figure out why Evangelical Christians would want to offer a free copy of this book written by one of their own leaders. This strategy has been used in the streets at general conferences in Salt Lake City as well as at the Mormon Miracle Pageant in June 2015. Last month I was told how a man to whom I had given The Miracle of Forgiveness three years ago in an individual encounter ended up leaving the Mormon Church and becoming a Christian, thanks, he claims, to reading the book! In addition, Randy and I developed a “Spencer W. Kimball million dollar bill” with several of the book’s quotes given on the back along with a link to MRM’s new website TheMiracleofForgiveness.com. Since the fall of 2013, Randy and I have given away an estimated 200+ copies of this book (at our own expense) to interested Latter-day Saints who have individually promised that they would read it for themselves.
So why is this book no longer available?
The Salt Lake Tribune religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote a front-page news article on July 24, 2015 titled “LDS classic fading away, and some Mormons say it’s time.” (From what I understand, Stack broke the story after hearing about Alex Henrie’s research, which it ought to be pointed out had been confirmed by MRM’s Aaron Shafovaloff and Randy Sweet through direct contact with official LDS retail representatives.) Her story’s lead states:
The late LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball’s “The Miracle of Forgiveness,” a classic but controversial book that shaped Mormon sexual assumptions for generations, is quietly disappearing. The much-circulated 1969 treatise on guilt, wrongdoing and repentance by then-apostle Kimball, who died in 1985, presented masturbation “as too often [leading] to . . . homosexuality,” gay sex as a “crime against nature” that sometimes leads to sex with animals, and premarital sex as “the sin next to murder.”
You can read the rest of the story here. In journalism, the crux of a news story is found in the lead and introductory paragraphs. We call it the inverted pyramid method, placing the most important information at the beginning of the article, followed by the next most important information, and so on. If a story must be “cut,” or downsized to fit the space, the editors begin at the bottom of the article. Hence, according to Stack’s technique, the appearance given is that the book’s overemphaiss on sexual issues–especially homosexuality–caused the book to cease in production. There are several reasons why I believe that this theory is completely faulty.
First of all, while Kimball certainly dealt with sexual issues, this type of sin should not be considered the book’s main theme. The Miracle of Forgiveness comes across in Stack’s article as somehow homophobic, written by a “Yoda-like Mormon prophet” (her words) who was apparently obsessed with criticizing sexual patterns he didn’t see as normal or moral. Could the Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states have played a role in this decision?
What the article didn’t mention is that this move to cease printing the book was a long time coming. In fact, Henrie discovered that the book hasn’t been printed since the spring of 2014, more than a year ago. For the past year and a half, it appears that stockpiled copies of the book have been sold until the publisher ran out of stock.
While Kimball certainly spent time talking about sexual issues, including homosexuality, this should not be considered the crux of his argumentation. On page 25, Kimball provided a list of more than eighty items of “modern transgressions.” At the end of the list, he says:
and in our modern language, masturbation, petting, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and every sex perversion, every hidden and secret sin and all unholy and impure practices.
Other words in the list that referred to sexual transgressions included “adultery” (the sin “next to murder in seriousness,”as stated on page 62) and lustfulness. So, out of the more than seven dozen sins listed on page 25, fewer than ten percent involved improper sexual practices. As far as “lust” is concerned, Kimball said this word doesn’t necessarily refer to sexual issues. He wrote:
It might be observed that the term lust is not necessarily limited in its connotation to sexual desire. It can imply any fleshly or worldly appetite or urge carried to excess. Satan will eagerly use other urges which suit his purpose, as well as sexual ones, in an effort to enslave men. . . (pp. 20-21)
While it is true that Kimball did say adultery is “next to murder in seriousness” (p. 62), and though he did spend an entire chapter (6, “Crime Against Nature”) on homosexuality, he was an equal opportunity critiquer when it came to a variety of other sins, including:
- Those not getting married for eternity in the temple (pp. 11-12)
- Idolatry (making idols), which he calls “among the most serious sins (pp. 40-42)
- Rebellion (pp. 42-45)
- Traitors (pp. 45-46)
- Sabbath-breaking (pp. 45-47)
- Lovers of money (pp. 47-49)
- Stealing (pp. 49-51)
- Unholy masters (those defrauding employees) (p. 51)
- Improvidence (caring for one’s family) (pp. 51-52)
- False witness (pp. 52-54)
- Vulgarity (both taking God’s name in vain and sexual inferences) (pp. 54-55)
- Breaking of the Word of Wisdom (pp. 55-56)
- Drug habits (pp. 56-57)
- Covenantbreakers (p. 57)
- Haters of God (p. 58)
- Ingratitude (p. 58)
- Unmercifulness (p. 59)
- Anger (p. 59)
- Wives who work outside the home (pp. 69-70)
- Improper thoughts (chapter 8, “As a Man Thinketh”)
This list isn’t complete, but I think the idea that all sin, not just sexual perversion or even (gasp) homosexuality, were the ire of Kimball’s analysis. In his list, Kimball provided certain items that would include struggles by even the best-intentioned Mother Teresa or Billy Graham. Kimball even said that Joseph Smith needed repentance because “as great as he was, (he) was not perfect” (p. 34). And while he never really refers to himself as having struggled with any of the sins he listed, Kimball—who wrote The Miracle of Forgiveness while he was an apostle and before he became the twelfth president—did say
if even the Lord’s chosen prophet are not immune from the need to repent, what of the rest of us? Clearly, repentance is for all—Latter-day Saints as well as others (p. 36).
The inference is that even Kimball must have struggled with sin, though he is silent on what those things might have been. (Refraining from specifically mentioning sins with which he personally struggled seems to be a common trait of all LDS leaders who apparently want the membership to believe that general authorities are on a higher level.)
Stack makes it appear that Kimball may have had second thoughts about the book, writing,
In 1977, the Mormon leader said to Lyle Ward, his neighbor, “Sometimes I think I might have been a little too strong about some of the things I wrote in that book.”
Based on a third-party’s remembrance of a conversation, is this somehow supposed to mean that Kimball regretted what he wrote or the tone he used? As “Nightbeacon” rightly pointed out in the comments section responding to Stack’s article:
Interesting timing if, in 1977, as his neighbor relates, Kimball was re-thinking his tone – he was also obviously starting to form the framework of his “prophecy” on blacks holding the priesthood. How easy it might have been to state in 1978, concurrent with that announcement, that “the lord has admonished me to soften my tone and teachings about sexuality.” Opportunity missed.
Two paragraphs later, Stack reports,
Allen Bergin, a retired Brigham Young University psychologist, says he has read ‘the ugly chapter on homosexuality. . . many times. “There are some good things that are useful,” says Bergin, former president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists. “But they are overshadowed by a host of negatives and also outdated policies that the church itself doesn’t even endorse any more.” (ellipsis in original)
I went through Kimball’s list again and am not sure what Bergin means when he says it contains “outdated polices” no longer endorsed by the church. For example, the practice of homosexuality is still no longer allowed in Mormonism. A person cannot get married to a same-sex partner in the temple for time and eternity. Perhaps that will be modified one day (soon?), but as of July 24, 2015, the policy remains unchanged. And other issues, including breaking the Word of Wisdom, bearing false witness, speaking vulgarity—all of these are still considered immoral in both LDS Church manuals and conference talks. (If I’m wrong, then I need to be shown with more specifics.) Indeed, when has the church made concessions to any item found on page 25 of Kimball’s list?
It can be easily shown that the book was considered authoritative immediately after it was printed in 1969. Although Kimball was “just” an apostle, yet it was heartily endorsed by the current president of the church in 1970:
Elder Kimball passed the manuscript to Harold B. Lee, who pleased and embarrassed him by praising it in a meeting of the Twelve. Elder Lee said that on the basis of the half he had read “it was factual and heavily documented and adequate and covered the field beautifully.” Source
Other general authorities over the years echoed Lee’s praise:
Apostle Richard L. Evans (at a general conference talk the year after the book’s publication): “Many of you would be familiar with President Spencer Kimball’s wonderful work on the miracle of forgiveness. I witness to you that God is a loving Father who will forgive and help us find peace and self-respect as we repent and show our sincerity by the lives we live. And there is nothing he asks of us that we cannot do; there is no requirement we cannot keep-if we are willing, if we want to. Repentance is a miracle, if it is sincere” (Conference Reports, April 1970, p. 16).
Apostle Richard G. Scott (general conference talk): “In The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer W. Kimball gives a superb guide to forgiveness through repentance. It has helped many find their way back” (“Finding Forgiveness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, p. 76).
Seventy Bruce C. Hafen: “Some of us make repentance too easy, and others make it too hard. Those who make it too easy don’t see any big sins in their lives, or they believe that breezy apologies alone are enough. These people should read President Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, which reviews many sins of both commission and omission. And while forgiveness is a miracle, it is not won without penitent and strenuous effort” (“Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Liahona, April 1997, p. 41).
Apostle Boyd K. Packer: “President Kimball taught extensively the principle of repentance. His teachings have positively influenced many. Elder Boyd K. Packer recognized this great influence and wrote the following: ‘President Kimball himself is an experienced surgeon of sorts. Not a doctor of medicine, but a doctor of spiritual well-being. Many a moral cancer has been excised, many a blemish of character has been removed, many a spiritual illness of one kind or another has been cured through his efforts. Some on the verge of spiritual oblivion have been rescued by him. He has written a book—literally years in preparation—The Miracle of Forgiveness. Many have been protected by the counsel he has written. Countless others have been inspired to set their lives in order and have experienced that miracle’ (Ensign, March 1974, 5)” (Presidents of the Church Student Manual Religion 345, p. 209).
In addition, an LDS Church manual stated,
If available, hold up a copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness, and tell students that reading it has helped many people feel the merciful forgiveness of the Lord (Presidents of the Church Teacher Manual Religion 345, p. 172).
It should be pointed out that a number of quotes from The Miracle of Forgiveness were placed in the church’s official manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, published in 2006 and used by church members throughout 2007. A hearty endorsement is provided in the preface of the manual:
In addition to numerous addresses, he [Kimball] authored the book The Miracle of Forgiveness. This book arose from Elder Kimball’s long experience as an Apostle, counseling those who had yielded to serious transgression. In the book he outlined the Lord’s expectations of us, our divine potential, and the pathway we must follow to repent and obtain the assurance of complete divine forgiveness. (xxiv)
(If The Miracle of Forgiveness will no longer be printed because of possible changes in church policy, I wonder if they will consider taking this manual away as well? Or, at the very least, will they eliminate those quotes coming from The Miracle of Forgiveness? And if not, should we be able to consider these particular quotes as being authoritative?)
Current LDS President Thomas S. Monson, who served as a member of the First Presidency under Kimball, had only good things to say about Kimball’s work:
President Spencer W. Kimball has always been a prolific worker. He spent several summers working on a book which he later entitled The Miracle of Forgiveness. As one reads the book, particularly the first portion, one wonders if anyone will make it to the Celestial Kingdom. However, in reading the final portion, it is apparent that, with effort, all can qualify” (Thomas S. Monson, On the Lord’s Errand: The Memoirs of Thomas S. Monson, 1985, p. 342).
All of this begs the question on several facets:
- If The Miracle of Forgiveness is somehow outdated, why has it taken so long to take it off the bookshelves?
- Why have LDS leaders—including the current prophet—so enthusiastically endorsed this book, including twice at general conferences and by the current prophet? (At what point did the book no longer become efficacious?)
- If the sins as defined by Kimball are no longer sins—as the Stack article infers—then which ones no longer are?
- If the book is inaccurate in what it teaches, then why is the electronic version still for sale? (In fact, we purchased an electronic copy on Amazon.com on July 28, 2015 and it reads exactly the same.)
- If Kimball is wrong about his exegesis of controversial passages such as D&C 1:31, 58:43 and Alma 34:32ff, will the church censure other leaders who have taught exactly as Kimball did about the importance of obedience of all of God’s commands?
- Will there ever be an explanation given as to why this book will no longer be printed?
No longer printed–“indefinitely”
A few years ago, the church decided to not allow current Mormon missionaries to read The Miracle of Forgiveness. This policy has been acknowledged a number of times by missionaries to whom I have offered a copy. (Despite the ban, I’ve actually had some male missionaries take me up on my offer by accepting a free copy.) Yet it wasn’t long ago when the missionaries were encouraged to read the book while on their mission. What gives?
Therefore, it does not surprise me that The Miracle of Forgiveness will no longer be printed. We at MRM privately predicted this a few years ago. I think there are three main reasons why this book will no longer be available in hard copy form:
- When a member had a moral failure, it was common for LDS bishops to hand the offender a copy of the book with an admonition to read it. Telling a person that he could have done the right thing but didn’t was upsetting to many Latter-day Saints. It was time, in the leaders’ minds, to quietly allow this book to fade away. (Fortunately, the media has picked up this story and this is not an option.)
- Living in a “tolerant” American society, the LDS Church has tried hard to stay away from controversial issues. While the leaders still hold the line, albeit more quietly than in the past, they have declined in recent years from publicly dealing with issues that have been traditionally considered sin. I believe this is an attempt to deflect criticism by utilizing a “politically correct” worldview.
- For many years Christian evangelists have used quotes from the book to show Mormons how impossible the Mormon gospel really is. Perhaps taking the book away will lessen the usage of this book. (It won’t stop Randy Sweet and I from continuing our strategy and letting people see what Kimball–a recognized church authority whose teachings haven’t been publicly reprimanded–taught in a book that has been regularly sold in LDS bookstores since 1969!)
Regardless of the reasons why this book is no longer available, LDS Church leaders owe their members an explanation as to why The Miracle of Forgiveness can only be found in an electronic format or at a used book store. With 1.6+ million copies having been printed, with many thousands of copies still resting on the bookshelves of faithful Latter-day Saints), and with Mormons still accepting the author as a respected general authority, the reasons for this policy change need to be given. For a church that is supposed to provide modern-day revelation to its people, silence by the hierarchy is not an option.
For more on The Miracle of Forgiveness, go to www.TheMiracleofForgiveness.com
Also consider these articles:
- Review of Spencer Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness (Bill McKeever)
- A Closer Look at Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness (Eric Johnson)
- Is The Miracle of Forgiveness nothing more than Spencer W. Kimball’s opinion?
See a “Redi Reference Sheet” here.
To hear a complete Podcast review of this book, chapter by chapter, click on these links: Intro Chapter 1 Chapter 2a Chapter 2b Chapter 3 Chapter 4a Chapter 4b Chapter 4c Chapter 4d Chapter 5a Chapter 5b Chapter 5c Chapter 6 Chapter 7a Chapter 7b Chapter 8 Chapter 9a Chapter 9b Chapter 10a Chapter 10b Chapter 11 Chapter 12a Chapter 12b Chapter 12c Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15a Chapter 15b Chapter 15c Chapter 15d Chapter 16 Chapter 17a Chapter 17b Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20a Chapter 20b Chapter 20c Chapter 21a Chapter 21b Chapter 22a Chapter 22b Chapter 23a Chapter 23b Series went from January 9 to April 6, 2012 (Book review)