Thursday, April 13, 2006

Elder Poleman's October 1984 talk - The Gospel and the Church

George Orwell's 1984 can be rather prophetic at times. Several years ago, Elder Ronald Poelman of the Seventy gave a talk in general conference entitled "The Gospel and the Church". Apparently some of the brethren did not like what he said and had him redo his address. The next day, he stood at the pulpit in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and had his talk refilmed. Coughing noises were added to the audio, and the talk was spliced over the original for foreign distribution and archived records. All publications of the talk were done with the new edited version. As you will see, much of the content concerning indivual will was replace with rhetoric supporting authoritarian control. Very Orwellian. Oh yeah, did I mention when this talk was given? You guessed it. In October 1984.

*[edit July 28 2010 - You can see a video of the original talk here]


deleted changes are in strikethrough. additions are [in brackets and italicized]. sorry if it's difficult to read.

Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction [an essential relationship] between them which is significant and it is very important that this distinction be understood. Of equal importance is u[U]nderstanding the essential [proper] relationship between the two and to [not] comprehend their proper relationship may lead to [the gospel and the Church will prevent] confusion[,] and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore [and] failed expectations [and will lead to the realization of gospel goals through happy, fulfilling participation in the Church. Such understanding will avoid possible disaffection and will result in great personal blessings]. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme cases, disaffection.
As I attempt to describe and comment upon some distinguishing characteristics [the essential relationship between] the gospel and of the Church, at the same time noting their essential relationships, it is my prayer that a perspective may be developed which will enhance the influence of both the gospel and the Church in our individual lives.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws[, and ordinances] which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The principles and laws of the Gospel [Gospel principles] never change.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a divine institution, [the Kingdom of God on Earth] administered by the priesthood of God. The Church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances.
The gospel is the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church is the delivery system that provides [divinely commissioned to provide] the means and resources to implement this plan in each individual's life.
Procedures, programs, and policies are developed within the Church to help us realise gospel blessings according to our individual capacity and circumstances. Under divine direction, these policies, programs, and procedures do [may be] change from time to time as necessary to fulfil gospel purposes.
Underlying every aspect of Church administration and activity are the revealed eternal principles contained in the scriptures. As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles ,we become less dependent on Church programs. O [can more effectively utilize the Church to make o]ur lives become gospel centred.
Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity.
[The eternal principles of the gospel implemented through the divinely inspired Church apply to a wide variety of individuals in diverse cultures.]

The[refore, as we live the gospel and participate in the Church, the] conformity we require [of ourselves and of others] should be according to God's standards. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual [and direction given by those authorized in the Church].
It is important therefore to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.
The source of this [A necessary] perspective is found in [gained by studying and pondering] the scriptures and may appear to be presented in a rather unorganised and untidy format. The Lord could have presented the gospel to us in a manual, systematically organised by subject, perhaps using examples and illustrations. However, the eternal principles and divine laws of God are revealed to us through accounts of individual lives in a variety of circumstances and conditions.
Reading the scriptures, we learn the gospel as it is taught by various messengers at different [prophets in a variety of circumstances,] times, and places.
We see the consequences as it [the Gospel] is accepted or rejected, as its principles are applied or not to varying degrees and by many different people [by individuals and as its principles are applied or not]. In the scriptures we discover that varying institutional forms, procedures, regulations, and ceremonies are [were] utilised - all divinely designed to implement eternal principles. The practices and procedures change; the principles do not.
Through scripture study we may learn eternal principles and how to relate them to institutional resources. As we liken the scriptures unto ourselves, we can better utilise the restored Church to learn, live, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A favourite scriptural source for me is the Old Testament book of Leviticus. It is basically a handbook for Hebrew priests and contains many rules, regulations, rituals, and ceremonies which seem strange and inapplicable to us. It also contains eternal principles of the gospel which are familiar and very much applicable to everyone.
It is interesting and enlightening to read the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, noting both the principles and the rules and practices.
In the first two verses we read, "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel." (Lev. 19:1-2.) Here is the principle of revelation. God speaks to his children through prophets. He does so today.
Continuing, the Lord said to Moses, "Say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy." (Lev. 19:2.) Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48.) Here is an eternal gospel principle.
There follow other eternal principles, some from the Ten Commandments. Also included are rules and programs intended to implement these principles among the ancient Hebrews in their particular circumstances.
For example, the divinely directed responsibility to care for the poor is taught. A program is presented, namely, providing food for the poor by leaving the gleanings of the crops and not reaping the corners of the fields. (See Lev. 19:9-10.) Current programs to care for the poor are much different. The divine law is the same. Yet another principle underlies both programs, ancient and modern: those being assisted are given opportunity to participate in helping themselves to the extent of their capacity.
In verse 13 the principle of honesty is taught, accompanied by a rule requiring employers to pay employees for their work at the end of each day. Generally, today that rule is not necessary. The eternal principle of honesty is implemented by other rules and practices.
Verse 27 contains a rule about personal grooming. It is clearly not applicable to us. However, we also have standards of dress and grooming. Neither is an eternal principle; both are intended to help us implement and share gospel principles.
The principle of forgiveness is set forth in the same chapter of Leviticus, verse 18, concluding with the second great Commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," with the added divine imprimatur, "I am the Lord."
Every Church member has not only the opportunity right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices, but has the need and obligation to obtain such assurance, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church.
Indeed, it is not enough that we [We should] obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders. In response to [but also through] study, [through] prayer, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we may seek and obtain an individual and personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilising the Church through which to give allegiance, time, talent and other resources without reluctance or resentment.
Happy, fulfilling participation in the Church results when we relate Church goals, programs, and policies to gospel principles and to personal eternal goals. When we understand the difference [see the harmony] between the gospel and the church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. Institutional discipline is replaced by self-discipline. Supervision is replaced by a [We will exercise self discipline and] righteous initiative [guided by Church leaders] and a sense of divine accountability.
The Church aids us in our effort to use our free agency creatively, not to invent our own values, principles, [and interpretations,] but to discover and adopt [learn and live] the eternal truths of the gospel. Gospel living is a process of continuous individual renewal and improvement until the person is prepared and qualified to enter comfortably and with confidence into the presence of God.
My brothers and sisters, by inclination, training, and experience most of my life I have sought understanding by the accumulation of facts and the application of reason. I continue to do so. However, that which I know most surely and which has most significantly and positively affected my life I do not know by facts and reason alone, but rather by the comforting, confirming witness of the Holy Spirit.
By that same Spirit I testify that God is our Father, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, and that he is the Saviour and Redeemer of all mankind and each of us. Through his atoning sacrifice, redemption and exaltation are offered as a free gift to all who will accept by faith, repentance, and sacred covenants.
May each of us continue to learn and apply the eternal principles of the gospel utilising fully and appropriately the resources of the divine, restored Church.
In the words of the Nephite leader Pahoran "May we rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God." (Alma 61:14.) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


  1. What is your source? Just curious.

  2. See the article by Peggy Fletcher in Sunstone Vol 10 no. 1, 1985, pp 44-45.

    The story broke in the Salt Lake Tribune on November 16th 1984, in articles by L. Don LeFeure and Rodd G. Wagner.

  3. Loyd, I swear that you must have bugged my backpack because not only are we reading 1984 in one of my classes, but we discussed the circumstances of Poelman's talk at length in a different class this week. Apparently, after the story on the refilming broke, the brethren have decided to be a little more discrete in censoring what is delivered from the pulpit. What is really amazing, though, is how little of this sort of stuff goes on. Poelman's case is the exception, albeit a dramatic one.

  4. Russ, I don't need to bug your backpack. There is a camera behind every Del Parson painting of Jesus. Big Brother is Watching (I think I may later write something about the Del Parson painting and Big Brother...there are a lot of parallels going on there).

    I'm not sure what's more ironic: that this event occured in 1984, or that the talk (especially in it's original) was directed at helping those whose testimonies could be damaged by this very act of censorship by the corporate church.

  5. I find it interesting because I have seem certan of the Bretheren, Oaks come to mind fitst, say things that are simular to the crossed out portions.

    I thought the Church reviews all Gen. Coference talks before they are given, a pratice that started earlier in the century. I guess someone agreed with this initially, but somehow it caused wasves after it was given.

  6. I don't think they would re-edit it today--with the new mormon advertising things or whatever :P


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