Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce R. McConkie, is one of the most quoted and referenced books by anti-Mormons trying to discredit the church. It’s also a book Mormons shy away from. Why? Because it’s chock full of controversial statements without any sugar coating. So is it really doctrine, or just the opinions of one Apostle?
Who was Bruce R. McConkie?
At the time he wrote Mormon Doctrine, he was a member of the First Council of the Seventy. He also published several other doctrinal books and even wrote the chapter headings for the current standard works. When his father-in-law, prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, died, he was called to become one of the twelve apostles, which he remained until his death in 1985.
What’s so controversial?
Some of the most controversial aspects of his book are in reference to those of African descent.
- “As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those spirits who are not worthy to receive the priesthood are born through his lineage,” (p. 102, 1958 edition)
He also talks about the Catholic Church being the great and abominable church, God having had intercourse with Mary, and many other things that make anti-Mormons foam at the mouth, and active members cringe.
What does the Church think about it?
The church didn’t find out about it until it hit the shelves in 1958. President David O. McKay sent Apostle Marion G. Romney to read it and report back.
“We [the First Presidency of the Church] decided that Bruce R. McConkie’s book, ‘Mormon Doctrine’ recently published by Bookcraft Company, must not be re-published, as it is full of errors and misstatements, and it is most unfortunate that it has received such wide circulation. It is reported to us that Brother McConkie has made corrections to his book, and is now preparing another edition. We decided this morning that we do not want him to publish another edition.”
What about subsequent versions?
Six years later, McConkie was given permission by David O. McKay, provided specific changes were made, to republish the book. Spencer W. Kimball was assigned to mentor and oversee those changes. With the Prophet’s approval, the book was back on the shelves.
The message of the later book was much the same, but the language was significantly toned down. That said, it maintains much of the same offensive language.
- “As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those spirits who are not worthy to receive the priesthood are born through his lineage.” (p. 108, 1966 edition)
- “Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the Negroes.” (p. 527, 1966 edition)
- The Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, …but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It’s the Lord’s doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those in their first estate.” (p. 527, 1966 edition)
- “…interracial marriages are discouraged by the Brethren…” (p. 526, 1966 edition)
There was another revision in 1978 following the revelation saying that the priesthood would be extended to all worthy males. Deseret book only stopped publishing Mormon Doctrine in 2010, citing poor sales.
So is it doctrine or not?
Based on the condemnation of the book by the first presidency, we can definitively say that the first edition is not doctrine. The 1966 version had the Prophet’s stamp of approval and was therefore doctrine up until 1978. At that point a new version was published with much of the offensive language towards black people was taken out.
So in short, as long as you have the most recent version, you can consider Mormon Doctrine to be doctrine.