President Spencer W. Kimball once said, “From time immemorial the Lord has counseled us to be a record-keeping people”. This has been quoted many times by Church leaders followed with counsel that we should keep journals and records about important events in our lives such as baby blessings, baptisms, etc. As we will see below, though, many church leaders don’t keep journals. They, in fact, have been discouraged from keeping journals.
But first, let’s what one of the strongest advocated for journal keeping, President Kimball, has said about it:
- “On a number of occasions I have encouraged the Saints to keep personal journals and family records. I renew that admonition. We may think there is little of interest or importance in what we personally say or do—but it is remarkable how many of our families, as we pass on down the line, are interested in all that we do and all that we say. Each of us is important to those who are near and dear to us—and as our posterity read of our life’s experiences, they, too, will come to know and love us. And in that glorious day when our families are together in the eternities, we will already be acquainted.” (General Conference, Oct. 1979)
- “We hope you will do this, our brothers and sisters, for this is what the Lord has commanded, and those who keep a personal journal are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives.” (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Personal Journals”, New Era, Dec. 1980)
- “Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time and maybe the angels may quote from it for Eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings. Your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events.” (Teachings of President Kimball, p. 351; Also, New Era, Oct. 1975)
- “Every person should keep a journal and every person can keep a journal.” (Family Home Evening Resource Book, Lesson Ideas, Journals, 199)
Note that some take that last quote as a commandment, by a prophet, to keep journals.
So, I was surprised to hear Hans Mattsson, in his Mormon Stories interview with John Dehlin, say that Church leaders were discouraged from keeping journals. Could this be true?
Hans Mattsson’s Mormon Stories Interview
In Part 2 of his Mormon Stories interview (at 42:30), Hans Mattsson and John Dehlin have the following exchange (added emphasis):
John Dehlin: This is just a random thing. I’ve been told that apostles lately have been told not to keep journals. Did they give you advice about journal keeping?
Hans Mattsson: Yeah.
John: What did they say? If you want to share.
Hans: I don’t want to [name] names.
John: No no no, I’m not asking you to share names!
Hans: But when we’re trained, they tell us that so many journals from the early times of the Church put the Church in a bad position. And the leaders tried to explain why they wrote the way they did, and it’s not doctrine, but still is in the journals. So, one of the highest leaders in the Church said: I threw all my journals away, and I will [would?] never write a journal.
Hans: And then, I guess, you will follow him. Or you said, too bad, or whatever. But usually, you would like to follow him.
John: So you think most Seventy probably didn’t keep journals because of that kind of instruction, maybe?
Hans: If they follow that high positioned leader, they probably wouldn’t. But I don’t know. Maybe they do anyway.
John: OK. But you got the sense that journals were discouraged?
John: OK. I’ve heard that from an apostle as well.
Some Leaders Don’t Keep Journals
Even though some consider journal keeping to be a commandment, the non-journal keeping habits of some members of the Quorum of the Twelve seem to corroborate Hans Mattsson’s comments about church leaders being instructed to not keep journals (or at least discouraged from keeping them). Below contains a compilation of evidence and anecdotes that many Church leaders actually don’t keep journals (contrary to President Kimball’s admonition). This instruction began in 1904, but was likely further emphasized by legal expert Dallin H. Oaks after subpoenas were issued and investigations convened in the wake of the Mark Hofmann bombings.
Gordon B. Hinckley
In a book called Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (pages 253-254) written by now Assistant Church Historian Richard E. Turley, Jr., a conversation between President Hinckley and prosecutors in the Mark Hofman case includes an interesting admission (or lie) from President Hinckley that he was “an erratic and inconsistent journal keeper.” A few additional paragraphs are included to give further context (emphasis mine):
In mid-March, however, church officials’s attention was quickly drawn back to the investigation. On March 17, Glenn Rowe received a subpoena. With the emphasis on maintaining distance between the church and investigators, the receipt of subpoenas had become a a fairly common occurrence for church officials. But this one was different. It did not order Rowe to provide books or documents. It ordered him to appear as a witness at the preliminary hearing. Rowe was not alone. The next morning, High Pinnock stopped by Dallin Oaks’s office and left a message with the secretary that he too had received one. “Then immediately after he came in,” the secretary wrote in a note to Oaks, “Bill Kirton called asking if you had received a subpoena. I told him no, but that Elder Pinnock had.” Gordon Hinckley had also received one.
Before the preliminary hearing, Hinckley received a visit from prosecutor Bob Stott and David Biggs. Church counsel Wilford Kirton also attended the meeting. Stott later said he and Biggs scheduled the appointment “because President Hinckley was going to be a witness and like every witness in the case, we interviewed him in advance. President Hinckley was no exception.”
Cordial was a term Biggs would later use to describe the first part of the interview with Hinckley. Biggs remembered that Hinckley was asked if they were members of the church. Biggs said he answered that he was a member, though not a particularly good one. Stott did not recall that question but remembered that Hinckley asked if he were related to another Stott the church leader knew. Stott felt Hinckley was trying to establish a rapport with them.
Biggs recalled that they told Hinckley why they were there, and then Kirton began to do most of the talking. Eventually, however, the prosecutors explained that they needed to talk to Hinckley so they could find out what his relationship had been with Hofmann. Hofmann had claimed a close relationship with the church leader, telling people that he had Hinckley’s private numbers and could get hold of him day or night, in the country or out. Prosecutors wanted to know when, where, and how many times Hinckley had met with Hofmann and with Christensen.
Hinckley said he had met about half a dozen times with Hofmann, but he could not recall information about those meetings beyond what he had told investigators earlier. His answers frustrated both Stott and Biggs. “President Hinckley was very little help, extremely little help,” Stott later said. “His memory of the occasions was very poor.”
The prosecutors then asked Hinckley if he had a journal that he could use to refresh his recollection and provide them with more details. Stott later recalled that Hinckley said he did not have a “Day-Timer,” diary, or journal. Biggs recalled that Hinckley said he did not keep his journal on a daily basis. Biggs said they then asked him if he could have his secretary go through the journal to see what it might contain. Biggs remembered that Hinckley either said it did not exist or would not have the information prosecutors wanted.
“When the inquiry concerning Mark Hofmann was in progress,” Hinckley later wrote, “I was interviewed by a number of investigators and I recall that one asked whether I kept a detailed journal. I responded that I was an erratic and inconsistent journal keeper and that my secretary reminds me quite frequently of blanks in that record; further, that I do not ordinarily make detailed records of visits or conversations. I do not keep a ‘Day-Timer.’ “
Boyd K. Packer
Boyd K. Packer’s page on MormonWiki.com states (with citation):
President Packer has not kept a formal journal. Much of his experiences and testimony have been documented in talks and sermons he has given over the years.
The statement above from MormonWiki.com is likely based on the follow excerpt from Turley’s book (page 254):
Biggs later said this response bothered him because the church had long advocated keeping journals. Biggs did not realize how differently various church leaders interpreted the admonition to keep journals. Some kept detailed daily records. Others made only occasional notations about significant events in their lives. Boyd Packer, then senior adviser to the Historical Department, considered the record of his life to be primarily his published talks, the books he had written, his family history records, and the minutes of meetings he had attended. He did not keep a daily record of his life. Some other general authorities also did not.
Anyway, certainly President “Swivel Hips” Packer doesn’t need a journal to remember him when his family living room and art have their own permanent exhibit at BYU’s Bean Museum?
Joseph F. Smith
From Chapter 8 of A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson, the following is an excerpt dated “Wednesday, 5 October 1904″:
Pres. Smith said that he wanted to refer to a matter that had given him much concern—namely, the private journals of the brethren of the council. Many things were written in them which, if they were to fall into the hands of the enemy, might bring trouble upon the church. After the death of the brethren, you cannot tell what may become of their journals, and even now the brethren felt an anxiety in relation to Pres. Geo. Q. Cannon’s journal, who made a pretty full account of everything that transpired in the councils of the brethren; the same with Abram Cannon and others. Elder Jno. H. Smith said that he was very much concerned about this matter and had been for a long time and felt ‘that some action should be taken in the premises. Pres. Winder said that it was very unsafe and risky for the brethren to write down that which occurred in these meetings. This duty belonged to the clerk of the council and nobody else. Pres. Winder moved that it be the sense and feeling of the council that the brethren should not write in their journals that which took place in the council meetings. Carried by unanimous vote. Meeting [p.778] adjourned. Benediction by Elder Jno. H. Smith.
Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie
From Turley’s book mentioned above (page 254) we read:
Bruce McConkie, in his influential Mormon Doctrine, had acknowledged the importance of record keeping but had declared that “there is no particular obligation to keep a daily journal or diary.” In doing so, he had relied on long-time church historian Joseph Fielding Smith, who, discoursing on the duty of church members to keep records, had reflected, “Is it necessary for each one of us individually to keep a daily journal? I would think not.”
Richard G. Scott
Even though journal keeping as an apostle has been discouraged since 1904, Richard G. Scott admitted to keeping a (not detailed) password-protected electronic journal during a speech given at BYU called To Learn and to Teach More Effectively:
Have you learned the enduring value of keeping a journal of the very important spiritual experiences or sacred impressions that the Lord has communicated to you? I do not keep a detailed journal of all the events each day, but I try to keep record of some very important matters. The spiritual ones are in a sacred password-protected journal that no one else can access. When I feel authorized by the Holy Ghost, I take some of the truths learned and put them in my family journal or share them in a public message. This is consistent with a principle that the scriptures confirm is true. Some personal matters are for our guidance and edification to help us grow and improve our character, our devotion, and our testimony. These things are not intended for other individuals. Much like a patriarchal blessing is tailored for the person to whom it is given, such matters should be kept reverently protected because of their inherent sacred nature. Any sacred matter that the Lord wants others to know, He can communicate to them directly through the Spirit if they are worthy and in tune.
So, Is It a Commandment?
Probably it isn’t, but, stealing from this comment from a post at New Order Mormon, it might be called a “mini-commandment”: a commandment for the average church member from which important leaders are exempt. It appears that General Authorities (especially the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, but also likely the first two Quorums of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric) are instructed not to keep journals while Area Authorities (the other of Quorums of the Seventy) are discouraged from keeping this “mini-commandment.”
It caused my mind to immediately ponder what other mormon mini-commandments the GA’s are encouraged to ignore?? Are they told not to have a years supply or plant a garden? Are they told not to have photo collages around the Proclamation hanging in their home? I need to know what else is off limits!?!