Not one talk from this session of the April 1972 General Conference impacted me as much as this one by Bruce R. McConkie.
Bruce R. McConkie is an interesting character. The author of the controversial "Mormon Doctrine," I have not often heard his name spoken of with much other than contempt. I've never listened to him speak, nor read much of his writings but excerpts from that book. I knew that he was one of those most outspoken in favor of the doctrine of the curse of Cain and the policy which withheld priesthood blessing from African blacks. I had formed in my mind an image of a rigid, unbending, maybe even stubbornly argumentative man, confident in his own opinion, and determined to convince everyone else around him.
Even knowing that he flipped around completely when the Priesthood was extended to all worthy males, saying that the new light and knowledge that had been received completely erased his previous understanding and opinions, I still assumed that was largely because of his testimony of authority, and that he had to go through extensive self-humbling to accept the point.
But I will not again think of Elder McConkie in those terms. Listening to his humble prayer to be guided by the Spirit in declaring his testimony, I have come to admire him deeply. He was a man unafraid to explore the harder questions, to try to understand the mind and will of God. He made multiple mistakes, confidently plunging into the waters of "man's wisdom" in his attempt to understand God's wisdom. I look at us today, with all our fear of saying something wrong, something that will be preserved in multiple folds of the internet for ever and ever. I look at us making people "offenders for a word" and contemptuously holding them to our own specific and rigid standards. I look at these things and I see the "hardness of heart" spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
By contrast, Elder McConkie's (perhaps brash and bold) but earnest desire to make sense of God's actions is soft, humble. It makes his 180° turnaround look, not like the act of cowardice deserving the condemnation we love to heap upon him, but an incredible act of courage.
I am a recovering perfectionist. Since I was a young child, I have carried the basement-level assumption that by doing well, I was worthwhile. All of my perceptions of self were built on that foundation of trying to do the best I could do. I've been gifted with enough talents that this was never a real challenge to me. If I applied myself enough, I could conquer any goal I set my mind to. This was mostly true until I tore myself to pieces trying to preserve my marriage, only to break myself against a stone of unbreachable narcissism.
Since then, I've carried an even greater burden, feeling like I've failed my God, failed my children, and failed myself. The sporadic but ongoing struggle to help my children process the effects of an unimaginably self-centered parent has not made that easier. One of my children, especially, carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.
It is exquisitely painful to, having not yet conquered the beast of perfectionism in myself, watch my young and tender daughter struggle with similar self-doubt, similar conviction of her own worthlessness, and similar self-inflicted guilt.
So when Elder McConkie said, "I desire to bear testimony to myself, to you as members of the Church, and to all the world," it struck a chord of harmony in my own heart. I have experienced what it is like to speak by the power of the Spirit. It has always served to teach me at least as much as it has inspired anyone else. It is testimony we need, my daughter and I. I fear that I will never persuade her to believe in God, but it is my deepest wish. Because I know what has saved me.
He then proceeded to recount the words of what is now a beloved hymn, "I Believe in Christ." Hearing him read it in his own voice, I felt the resonance of his testimony. Say what you will of Bruce R. McConkie. But he was and is a man of God.
"Salvation is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ." This has meant to me that if I do everything I can possibly do, wearing myself out in His service, He may condescend to rescue me from agony internal and external, to love me and lift me up to sit at His feet. If I do well on this earth, I would be allowed to go home.
But in listening, it occurred to me that we are not exactly "redeemed by obedience," but rather we are redeemed by the spirit of obedience. That, as we fight to make God's ways, thoughts, and desires our ways, thoughts, and desires, we become like Him, a part of Him more fully than ever before. That is what saves us.
I believe Elder McConkie when he says his intent is only to persuade people to come to God. I only hope that "in that great day," I will stand with Elder McConkie, firmly on the Lord's side.