There is a rumour going around my stake that I once corrected President Hinckley on a matter of Church doctrine. At the request of the members I am now going to put that rumour to rest. Those of you who read my blog posts will know that I am not one to boast. The experience I will relate today is very sacred in nature and shows that even those who preside over the Lord’s Church and Kingdom upon the earth need to be taught and counseled by their fellow man.
President Hinckley’s humility and willingness to learn, even from one as meek and lowly as I, showed the true character of the prophet and increased my testimony of his divine calling.
In 1997 Church President Gordon B. Hinckley was asked the following question by a reporter (see this link http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/1997/04/13/SC36289.DTL&type=printable):
“There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?”
This question seemed to confuse the good President who answered:
“I wouldn't say that”. He went on to say that this was deep theology that we (and by “we” he is really only referring to himself as you will see from the rest of my article) don’t know very much about. President Hinckley was asked the same question in an interview for the Time magazine and said “I don't know that we teach it.” Unlike President Hinckley I do know that we teach this (and the teaching is on our official website today).
I was fortunate enough to meet President Hinckley later that year while serving as a bishop and invited him to my office to have a private word with him about that response. I said “President, I felt prompted to invite you here today to share with you the great secret of the gospel.”
“The great secret?” President Hinckley said, and anxiously encouraged me to go on. I pulled an Ensign from my drawer and asked him to listen very carefully so that next time the question came up as to whether God was once a man he would be better equipped to respond (readers feel free to follow along at the current official church website, even lds.org at this link http://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/04/the-king-follett-sermon?lang=eng). Quoting the prophet Joseph Smith this is what the article says:
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret……We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea…..He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.”
Critics have accused the prophet of knowing the doctrine of the Church with regards to God’s humble beginnings but of downplaying it in order to make the Church look more appealing. What they do not understand though is that this is akin to accusing the prophet of being ashamed of the gospel. The Saviour clearly told us in the Bible that “whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the son of man be ashamed”.
No, in fact President Hinckley was astounded when I finished reading from the words of the prophet Joseph as published in the Ensign article. Never before had he understood that this was indeed Church doctrine. He admitted that he had heard of the couplet that goes "As man is, God once was....” but had always considered this to be more of a couplet than anything else.
I was very humbled to be able to give the great secret of the gospel as revealed to Joseph Smith and passed on to all members of the Church through the Church’s official magazine (and all the world now through the Church’s official website) to the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I leave these thoughts with you in the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.