Exciting news! The Mormon prophet who ended his church’s race-based temple and priesthood ban also kept a journal. In fact, he kept lots of journals over the years. And now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has graciously made them publicly available online. Well, they are freely available to anyone willing to create a log-in account and click “I Agree” on a short user agreement. (Just can’t go anywhere in this church without covenanting up front). Seriously though, this is an exciting development for researchers and Mormonism in general. Right up there with the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Okay, enough seriousness. Your regular Tuesday W&T blogger, Dave B., is off this week. So we’re going to handle this news the Jake C. way, via creative writing!
Now, I know most journal entries are tedious and uneventful, even coming from historical figures. Still, one can hope for some good dirt, even from a Mormon prophet. Doubtless, many have already heard about Russell M. Nelson writing a downright rapturous self-tribute for his book and asking President Kimball to sign his name to it. That, and full coverage of the journals’ release, can be found on Religion News Service. Thank you Jana Riess and Benjamin E. Park!
In a religion known for missing-pages fiascos, I hope we still find some good stuff in Spencer W. Kimball’s journals. This post is a working list of colorful entries I hope we discover. Once you’ve read these, feel free to drop your own ideas in the comments section.
What do I hope to see in President Kimball’s journals? I hope to find:
- A trippy post-apocalyptic vision like the one in Wilford Woodruff’s journal.
- A delightfully testy entry on any given First World problem. Something dripping with so much testiness that I sit back, shake my head, and say, “Wow! Spencer must have really hit the Postum hard that day.” 
- An entry dating to late-summer 1980 where Kimball exclaims, “Heck yeah, Yoda looks like me!”
- A follow-up entry where Spencer says, “The Church’s lawyers have advised me to contact George Lucas about receiving likeness royalties on all Yoda merchandise.”
- A confession of regret for perhaps his biggest error in judgment, publishing The Miracle of Forgiveness. Supposedly, President Kimball did have some hindsight regret for the caustic level of moralizing in that book. But I really hope we find a truly candid admission, something like, “Okay, I admit it. That book was a real boner.”
- Here and there, on various pages and in no particular pattern, Postum stains. Like, I want there to be enough random pages stained with Postum to justify a new Mormon Studies drinking game.
- Some real homespun treasures. Please don’t let me make it all the way into the final volume muttering, “There’s gotta be a killer casserole recipe in here somewhere!”
- A page with “KICK ME” written in big letters, and in tiny letters this note: “Had intended to tape this to McConkie’s back just before the Priesthood Session. Thought better of it.”
- Hidden in a patch of uneventful entries, the following statement. “Re. Yoda likeness royalties: after further reflection I have decided it would be better to wait until Lucas is out of the country and I can get Frank Oz alone.”
- A transcript where Doctor Russ Nelson looks down at President Kimball on the gurney and says, “I’m gonna heal the fetch outta your heart!” And Spencer replies, “Easy there, boy. Just follow procedures. They got us this far, after all.”
- Multiple chances to hop on Twitter and say, “Hey @BenjaminEPark, I just found another Postum stain!” *drinks*
- A final note dated May 25, 1983 reading, “YODA DIED! WTF GEORGE?!” 
Okay, readers, it’s your turn. What entries, goofy or serious, would you like to find in Spencer W. Kimball’s journals?
 On October 3, 1971, from the pulpit in General Conference, President Spencer W. Kimball, engaged in product placement by endorsing Postum. Postum was a powdered coffee substitute favored by Kimball and any number of overworked ward and stake leaders like my mom. Been awhile, but my memory is it tastes no worse than all instant coffees. But y’know, if there’s no caffeine, what’s the point? Here is a link to President Kimball’s conference address.
 If my use of WTF bothers you, please just translate it as, “What the fetch?!”
Very entertaining! Not much to add here except that Postum is such an underrated drink. Postum is pretty great, and is even still available online.
Agree about the Postum.
When I first read this I thought that this is what you found! I was laughing out loud, especially at the Kick Me sign for Bruce R.! I also loved the Yoda remarks. I forwarded to my husband. Our last name is Woolley, so he’s a relative.
A little kinky maybe, but I hope we get some idea why President Kimball issued guidance to stake presidents and bishops on withholding temple recommends from married couples who committed the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sin of non-vaginal sexual activity within the bonds of marriage. I’ve read a bit of the very wild speculation posted on the interwebs as to why he was apparently so against such activities, but having something from President Kimball’s own mouth (or should I say “pen” just to be safe?) on the subject would be fascinating.
I want a journal entry describing what a revelation feels like. Is he certain from the first prompting? Does it take study and revision to decide he actually got the revelation clear? Did he ever see a heavenly being? Give me all the nitty gritty details about revelation. Especially on the topic of ending the priesthood ban.
I got some good laughs out of this. I’m guessing a few of these are going in Ziff’s end-of-year funny pages. My favorite:
“A transcript where Doctor Russ Nelson looks down at President Kimball on the gurney and says, ’I’m gonna heal the fetch outta your heart!’ And Spencer replies, ‘Easy there, boy. Just follow procedures. They got us this far, after all.’”
I’m hoping for some humor. It’s been decades since I read a biography where he complained about the oppressive heat of his native Arizona. Something to the effect of the US had a war with Mexico and came away with Arizona. We should go to war with them again and make them take it back.
He has always seemed the most human of the Presidents of the Church in my lifetime.
While Prez. Kimball may be best known for overturning the priesthood/temple ban and for publishing the disturbing “Miracle,” he also preached a love for birds (in fact, all animals). And he encouraged members to plant gardens. The latter would be a good point of emphasis for 21st-century Mormons. Maybe each Ward could have community garden.
I agree with those who extoll SWK’s virtues. He was a man of his time, but he was a very good man. We shouldn’t engage in presentism. I knew people of several different faiths who appreciated his character, humility and his Christianity. He was willing to change. We could use more leaders like him. I suspect the journals will prove fascinating reading.
I don’t know that I will read them (probably not), but I can’t help but wonder how much the Church may have redacted them. I have a hard time believing they would fully release them, maybe that’s just me being non-trusting.
I found this interesting discovery from the Kimball journals on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/mormon/comments/1139rug/president_nelson_ghostwrote_the_foreword_to_his/
Toward the end of his life the details are very brief each day but I was intrigued by the entries from 2/7/1979 and 2/27/1979:
Kimball: (Russell) “Nelson brought ‘a suggested foreword he has written for me that he would like approval to use in a compliation (sic) he has prepare on his life’s story. He has written a very interesting account of his activities, some which included experiences with me, and I assured him I would read it and give him approval to use it.’ [[a fulsome foreword for a man to write about himself!!]]”
So what’s in the foreword Nelson wrote about himself on behalf of President Kimball?
By President Spencer W. Kimball
This book, the engaging record of the life and experiences of Russell Marion Nelson, is a fulfillment of a great dream. In these pages he has set forth a chronicle of his noble parentage and crystallized the many experiences of himself and his adorable family. This work will bring joy and peace and happiness to its readers.
The first time I saw the Nelson family was at a stake conference meeting in 1964. Eight daughters were singing a song, accompanied by their mother, Dantzel. I was amazed and pleased, and I thought, “What a perfect family! What beautiful parents! And what delightful children to grow up in one household.” I have known them from that time forward, and now there are nine daughters and one son. Brother Nelson has always been a family man first, and now all his family unite to bring him honor.
I owe much to him as a doctor. It was in 1971 in England that I first spoke to him of my heart problems. When we returned to the United States, investigation showed that I had problems with a deteriorating valve in my heart and an obstruction in an artery. I felt my life slipping away, and I wondered if perhaps the time had come for a younger man to enter the Quorum of the Twelve and do the work I could no longer do. But at the inspired insistence of President Harold B. Lee, I was prompted to press on. Therefore, my life was placed in the hands of this young doctor, in whom we noted a sweet Spirituality. Because of his skill as a surgeon—one who trusts in the power of the priesthood and relies on the Spirit of the Lord—my life was spared, even though the risks were very great for a man of my seventy-seven years.
We became close as I recovered from the open-heart surgery that he performed perfectly. Whenever I became discouraged, there was always his sweet, understanding spirit to buoy me up.
Then President Lee died in December 1973. We never thought it could happen, for he was younger than I and seemingly in good health; therefore, we were all taken by surprise. Brother Nelson, of his own accord, came to my side immediately in case he should be needed. I appreciated his thoughtfulness very much…
It pleases me very much to note that he has done a superb work in assembling the information to bring this book into existence…It seems to me that it has been done beautifully and without flaw. Long will his children and their posterity honor this great man, and long will they remember that he followed the precepts of his Lord through his prophets…
Salt Lake City, Utah March 1979
I love the idea of the church embracing and creating community gardens–that would be amazing and a beautiful tribute to Kimball! Love that idea, Roger Hansen!
The infamous letter went out while the entire first presidency was down with health problems.
The retraction and “destroy all copies” follow-up was issued immediately upon the first return to the office.
I’d really like to know just who sent the letter out and used the auto-signer. And what they were thinking.
Stephen – do you have any links to more details about the timing and provenance of the letters in question? I presume you are referring to the “oral is not moral” letters.
Angela C and Dot, alright. I have ordered a jar of Postum. If all goes well, this is the last we need discuss the matter. However, if all does not go well, and my taste buds end up weeping and wailing?… There may be a follow-up comment full of righteous indignation 😉
Re. the oral sex embargo… Thanks to each of you who have weighed in on this with maturity and candor. Honestly, I see no shame in a civil grownup discussion about the topic. Hopefully my genuine affection and nostalgia for President Kimball is apparent in this post. I remember how much his strong, confident leadership meant to young parents like my mom and dad. That said, for all the social progress he may receive credit for, when it comes to sexuality, I feel he and Church leaders like him–before and since–are simply unenlightened. They lack wisdom on pretty much every expression of sexuality that doesn’t match what they’ve deemed acceptable for their own marriage. Any insights Kimball’s journal may offer into his thinking will be of great help to researchers and the broader community.
Janey, I’m right there with you on the wish for straight talk on how revelation operated for him, and any visionary experiences he may have felt he had. I do know anecdotally, from an East Coast CES leader in the 90s, that Elder McConkie spoke of the priesthood revelation as having a Pentecostal quality, including the phrase “cloven tongues of fire.” Evocative, but not especially candid or helpful. I also remember Elder David B. Haight giving this detail of Kimball’s revelation in his April 1996 conference address:
“I was there. I was there with the outpouring of the Spirit in that room so strong that none of us could speak afterwards. We just left quietly to go back to the office. No one could say anything because of the powerful outpouring of the heavenly spiritual experience.” Personally, I can believe Kimball and others got themselves to a significant level of bosom-burning. No actual God needed, though…
Thanks so much, everyone. I am really enjoying the comments and perspective.
Great stuff, Jake! I know it’s not something we’ll find in his journals, but I’d be interested to hear what Kimball would think of the ultra-wealthy church his successors have created. He said in 1976,
“But I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand? Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life. Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work; to raise our children up as fruitful servants unto the Lord; to bless others in every way, that they may also be fruitful.”
I think particularly the last line is on point for today’s Church leaders. They have tons of money they could help to do so much good to alleviate so much suffering in the world, and yet they don’t. I hope that Kimball would be angry about it, but I realize that groupthink is a powerful force, and the current crop of GAs probably came to terms with it bit by bit rather than having to swallow it all at once, and it might have worked the same way for him.