Interview Greg Prince

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Prince holds a Ph.D. in pathology from UCLA and spent over a decade as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University. He is president and CEO of Virion Systems, Inc., a biotechnology company specializing in treating and preventing infectious diseases. He is also the author of Power From On High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood, and the co-author, with William Robert Wright, of a biography of LDS Church President David O. McKay. This transcript is drawn from interviews conducted on June 15 and 22, 2006.

Start with this ... moment at the end of the 19th century, when the church is on the edge of extinction, and then ... talk about the extraordinary turnaround. ... How was the church perceived, and in reality, how was the church doing at the end of the 19th century?

... What really catalyzed the hairpin turn of the church was the election of Reed Smoot to the United States Senate. Now, in those years the senators were elected by the state legislatures. It was a subsequent constitutional amendment that changed that to a direct popular vote, so he didn't require very many votes to get seated. As soon as he was elected there were two challenges. One was a petition that said, "This man is a polygamist." It immediately became apparent that he was not. But he was an apostle of the church, a General Authority. So the second petition said that he represents a church that is not an American church, that it has its own theocracy that is contrary to the rules of this country. That was the challenge that had teeth in it, and because of that challenge, he was provisionally seated in 1903. But immediately there was a series of hearings held that lasted for three years, where the focus was not just Reed Smoot as an individual, because the man as an individual was squeaky-clean. It broadened to the entire church, and the entire church was put under the microscope and was being dissected. ...

The onset of World War I gave us the opportunity to say, "We're not only patriotic; we're superpatriotic," and Utah oversubscribed its quota of recruits for the war. I think it was the Smoot hearings that catalyzed that transformation, pulling us back from what had identified us in the 19th century, putting us on a different trajectory to allow us to say, "We're not only Americans; we're super-Americans," and requiring, at the same time, reidentifying what we had left behind, so that we could no longer have our self-identify based in polygamy. There had to be something else. As a result, the church really got reinvented in that first decade of the 20th century. ... The old church had to die, and the new church had to rise from the ashes.

[What happened when Smoot was seated?]

Once the Smoot hearings were concluded, and his seat was then assured, he went from pariah, really, to kingmaker. He gradually became chairman of some important committees in the Senate. It was at his instigation that the Supreme Court building sits where it does now, for instance. So he left an indelible mark on Washington. He also left an indelible mark upon the church, because he wore two hats still. He was U.S. senator, and he was an apostle in the church.

“People I have known who have voluntarily left the church ... have generally done so ... because of unanswered questions detractors have raised that nobody within the institution will discuss with them. ... Rather than hiding from the debate, we should be gripping the reins.”

In the early 1920s, he made an important trip to Europe, in particular Scandinavian countries, which initially in the 1850s had been very friendly toward the Mormon missionaries and had grown very hostile. There was the threat that those missions would even be shut down. His persona -- visiting those countries, meeting with the national leaders -- turned the tide, calmed down the storm and allowed the missionaries in those countries, including my grandfather in Norway, to continue doing what they wanted to do. That was the power that this man gradually accumulated, in part because of his position, in part because of his persona.

How were Mormons being perceived in the press? ...

By the last decade of the 19th century, the church was hovering on the precipice, with disaster below. The federal government had the legislative authority now to exterminate the church, in effect, if they wanted to do it -- and it appeared they did. They could confiscate the properties, including the crown jewel of the church: the temple that they'd been building for 40 years. It was completed in 1893, and the legislation that allowed the federal government to take it away was already in place. That's where they were. So they realized they were at a crossroads. ...

Part of the resolution was they had to abandon polygamy. They did it reluctantly, but ultimately they did it. The caricature of the church -- and really it is a caricature that is preserved in the magazines and the newspapers from that era -- [was] that this was one of the two relics of barbarism that was still there and needed to be quashed. ...

... By the 1960s, when you have the Tabernacle Choir in the forefront, singing at the inauguration of a Democrat, of Lyndon Johnson, [Mormons] become synonymous with patriotism. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" won a Grammy Award as sung by the Tabernacle Choir. That's the transformation that took place over a half-century, beginning with that turn in the road at the beginning of the [20th] century -- the Smoot hearings.

[At one point the church] looked like it was on the edge of bankruptcy.

In 1893 there was a panic throughout the country, financially. It brought on a depression, and the Mormons were not any more immune to that than any other group in society. ... Near the turn of the century, their president, Lorenzo Snow, took the first steps to bring them back to a sound financial footing as an institution, encouraging the people to do what they had been encouraging [people] to do all along, and that is to pay tithing. ... [Snow] told the people, quoting from the Book of Malachi, "Pay your tithing, and the windows of heaven will open." It was an interesting and literal interpretation of what Malachi had meant. ... Opening the windows of heaven meant you opened that firmament above and the rain came down. And there's a true story about how once the Saints got the message there, it did start to rain, and it saved the crops. ...

Heber Grant, a future president of the church and a successful businessman in Salt Lake City, ... was sent back to New York to try to engage the bankers there to give assistance to the church. That was a financial turning point for the church and allowed them for the first time to start to establish credibility on Wall Street.

The Great Depression hit Mormons as hard as it did anybody else. Utah was no happy place in those years. But that caused them to reassess some of their financial strategies. And the welfare plan, which was an effort to take care of Mormonism's own people through self-help rather than government help, began in those years. ... In its earliest days, Mormonism had a utopian idea of a cooperative society. They tried it in Ohio; they tried it in Missouri; they tried it in 19th-century Utah, with varying levels of success. By the end of the 19th century all of those efforts had dissipated, and we acted like the rest of American society. ...

By the middle of the 1930s, a young stake president in Salt Lake City by the name of Harold Lee took the initiative within his stake to convert unused land into agricultural land for the benefit of members of that stake. That initiative was the seed of what later became known as the Church Security Program, and then later as the [Church] Welfare Program, the idea of taking care of our own, even if we didn't have this communitarian society that the 19th century tried to define. And that has carried through all the way since then, not just economically, but in a pastoral context as well. ...

Gradually the church got on a sounder and sounder financial footing. ... We gradually branched out into more and more church-owned business activities. We owned Utah and Idaho Sugar Company. In the 1960s we expanded our broadcasting franchise that initially had been one radio and television station in Salt Lake City. It became a broadcasting empire, now known as Bonneville International. It not only gave the church a presence on the airwaves; because of the way these properties were managed, it provided cash flow, so the church could then take that cash and spend it on improving the content. ... ZCMI [Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution] was the first department store in the United States, going back into the 1850s -- church-owned. ... At one point in the early 1960s, they purchased several hundred thousand acres of farmland in Central Florida. That farmland is immediately adjacent to Walt Disney World. It was originally purchased for about $7 an acre. It's one of several major farming properties that the church holds. Why do all this? Because they didn't want to repeat the experience of earlier decades where they got to the brink of financial extinction because they hadn't managed their properties. ...

Eldon Tanner, a marvelous businessman and government officer from Canada, eventually came into the First Presidency and established sound practices that established businesses owned in whole or in part by the church and said, "We will only spend what we have." As a result, now you have a church that owns thousands of chapels, dozens of temples, all of which have no financial debt established with them. It allows the church to have credibility and to ride through the turbulent times in a way that would have been impossible a century ago. ...

Give me a sense ... of this incredible organizational skill the Mormons have. How does that happen? How do you get the word out? How do you gather people?

There is an infrastructure in the church already in place that can respond instantaneously when needed. Each family in the church is assigned to what is called a home teacher, whose responsibility it is to visit once a month. But that organization, already being in place, can be mobilized literally within minutes to respond to whatever the situation is, including a natural disaster. When [Hurricane] Katrina hit, it only took moments, once a decision was made to render assistance, for that message to travel down the chain that was already established for other purposes and mobilize those members and even mobilize the young missionaries in those areas to redirect their efforts and suddenly immerse themselves totally in disaster relief. ... They put on the Levi's and the T-shirts, they go out, and they're engaged in hurricane relief. That has been replicated time after time after time, not only in the United States, but throughout the world when natural disasters strike. ...

My bias is that's the way missionary work should be accomplished. Don't tell me what you are; show me. And when these young men and women get mobilized, albeit in the form of a disastrous event, that's when the face of the church is both most visible and most benign.

How did David O. McKay bring the church into the modern era?

David O. McKay brought this church into the 20th century even though he got started halfway through that century. ... Since the time that Brigham Young decided to grow a beard, the face of Mormonism literally was bearded polygamist, bearded polygamist, bearded polygamist. We're clear up to the 20th century, and that face hasn't changed. And all of a sudden, with a heartbeat, the face of Mormonism becomes a clean-shaven, nonpolygamist white knight. David O. McKay frequently wore a bright white double-breasted suit. The contrast in image between that and what had preceded that for a full century could not have been more stark. ... It was scripted by central casting. He knew the importance of image before the era of professional image makers. ...

David O. McKay not only looked modern and looked different; he transformed the church into a modern worldwide church. ... We were a church that still was insular. We brought people to Salt Lake. ... Rather than saying, "Come to Utah when you're converted," he said, "Let's reverse that, stay where you are. Make the church a vital force throughout the world." We've been in the game for more than 100 years, [but] we didn't have an authentic presence outside of the United States. ... He made the decision to plant temples internationally. We had never had that before. The number of missionaries multiplied severalfold. The number of convert baptisms multiplied even more so because he injected that new spirit into what they were doing. ... McKay said: "Every member of the church needs to be a missionary. Take this message throughout the world, and when you take it, by the way, members, stay where you are. Put the roots down where you're already planted, and let's make this church succeed everywhere."

He reinjected us into the national scene by blessing the request of Dwight Eisenhower to have one of the apostles, Ezra Taft Benson, be a member of the Eisenhower Cabinet [as secretary of agriculture], and his presence in Washington gave the church a presence there they had not had previously. ...

He put his mark on higher education, taking a bucolic college in Provo, Utah, by the name of Brigham Young University and transforming it into the largest private university in the United States and one whose reputation was worldwide. These were some of the things that this one man catalyzed because he decided to come in and do things differently. ...

Talk about what McKay did to change the mission program. Tell me how important the newly streamlined mission was in moving this church into the 20th century.

From its earliest days, there had been an injunction to the church: Proselytize; spread the message. But in the years prior to David O. McKay, we had a succession of events that limited that goal. The Great Depression limited the financial capability of missionaries to go out. World War II had restrictions because everybody was in the draft. Just as it looked [like] we could ramp things up again, the Korean War broke out, and again we had restrictions on the number of missionaries that we could send out. Finally, by the mid-1950s those restrictions were lifted, and now you have David O. McKay saying: "Not only are we going to increase our missionary force in terms of full-time young missionaries; I want every member of the church to become a missionary. Where you are, spread the word." As a result the number of missionaries multiplied severalfold. The number of convert baptisms multiplied even more so because he injected that new spirit into what they were doing. He called younger, dynamic, successful businessmen to be mission presidents rather than retired men. ... And in some cases, the results were electrifying. It established the church as a worldwide presence where prior to that it had been a Great Basin institution. ...

But there was a dark side to it. In some cases, particularly the British Isles, they overshot the mark. What looked like a benign activity initially, because we weren't paying quite enough attention to it, spun out of control, and numbers became the goal. You can get numbers, but if the numbers are not authentic, then it comes back and haunts you.

Numbers rose, but there were problems.

... A dynamic businessman was called to be the president of [the British] mission in 1958. He went over and immediately had a transforming effect on the missionaries, on the members and on the success in bringing new members in. But he used tactics that succeeded in the business world that may not have been totally appropriate for the missionary world. Example: There was going to be an all-British Isles youth conference. It involved over 1,000 young Latter-day Saints from the British Isles. He decided that if the missionaries did enough additional work prior to the time of the youth conference to compensate for the time that they would spend there, he would allow them to attend.

Every missionary in the mission responded. It was successful. But then the ante was upped for the next event, and you had to do this plus to qualify for that, and a reward system came into being. Quotas were established. Certain methods that seemed to work benignly were taking off in an extreme direction. The most notorious came to be known as the baseball baptisms. And it began benignly. A couple of missionaries there sent word home that they wanted baseball bats and baseballs and gloves just to occupy their time in their diversion day. Well, this was the early 1960s. The British kids loved anything American. They saw these men playing a game they weren't familiar with, and they flocked to them.

The missionaries thought, "Well, this is a way we can get into their homes, by establishing a friendship with these children." But as the quotas were pushed ever and ever higher, some of the safeguards were bypassed, and rather than getting into the homes and contacting the entire family, the missionaries would concentrate just on the children, and in some cases would baptize those children without their parents understanding what was going on. It spun far enough out control that a new mission president had to be sent over personally by President McKay and clean things up and restore order. ...

Missionaries whose time should have been spent in proselytizing go out, find these [questionable converts], assess where they are spiritually. Do they even know what they did? And if they don't know or they don't want to be members of this church anymore, then initiate the excommunication of these people. ... Now, maybe if you had gone into the church unknowingly, going out knowingly wouldn't be traumatic, but for the members trying to hold the church together, this was a real problem to have seen all of these names come in and then all of the names go back out, and at the same time trying to hold those congregations together. The missionaries who were involved in it frequently had crises of faith. This was not what they signed up for. They signed up to bring the good word to the people and bring them in, not to show them the exit door. ...

The building of the temples, why was that important? What did [McKay] change?

The temple represents the epitome of the Latter-day Saints' experience. At the time David O. McKay became president of the church, there were very few temples; they were all in the Western part of the United States. And it was a major reason that the principle of gathering was still in force, because people could, in the temple, receive blessings that they couldn't get elsewhere. That would draw them not only to visit, but also to move to where the temples were. ...

Perhaps President McKay put it best when he escorted Cecil B. DeMille to the newly constructed Los Angeles temple. ... At one point he said to DeMille, "This is where man physical seeks to be man spiritual." The importance of that was paramount in his mind, and it drove him to put temples where they hadn't been before, ... and by the end of his presidency the number of temples either completed or under construction had doubled. ...

Perhaps the most dramatic temple that he initiated was in Washington, D.C. It began during his presidency. He did not live to see it completed. It's symbolic of Mormonism transformed and translocated, because it is a modern rendition of the famous Salt Lake Temple with the six spires. It sits in a forested area, hovering above the Capital Beltway around Washington, D.C. ... It's gleaming white, and there are no windows in it. So it's a stark architectural statement by any standard, and tens of thousands of people see it every day as the tangible image of Mormonism on the East Coast. ...

Talk about David O. McKay and the priesthood ban.

The ban on the ordination of blacks to Mormon priesthood has fuzzy historical annotations. It was not in place during the time of Joseph Smith. It did come into place by the administration of Brigham Young, but the circumstances remain fuzzy. Nonetheless, once it was in place, it became firmly entrenched and was no longer viewed simply as policy, but as doctrine and immutable.

[Before becoming church president] David McKay ... encountered it in his trip around the world ... in 1921. [He] wrote back to President [Heber] Grant saying: "Look, there's this couple in Hawaii. One spouse is Hawaiian; the other is African American. What about this man? Can we change it?" The response was, "I would like to change it as much as you, but it would take a revelation to do that." ...

By the late 1940s it was apparent that the South African mission, which had never been a successful mission based on numbers, had a problem because of the difficulty in some cases of determining lineage. So in the late 1940s a new mission president was sent down with instructions not to ordain any man into the priesthood who could not trace all of his genealogical lines back to Europe. Well, this paralyzed the mission. The mission president wrote to the first president saying, "I have six missionaries working full time in genealogical research, and we are road-blocked."

Once [McKay] became president of the church, one of his first items for international travel was to go to South Africa so he could see firsthand what was going on there. He made that trip in 1954. This is 124 years after the church was founded. There had never been a General Authority in the church that had visited to South Africa until his trip. ... It was an important psychological turning point more than anything else, because it sensitized him to what the problems attended to this policy really were. When he got back to Salt Lake City, things started to happen. He organized a committee within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and said: "Research this thing again historically. I want to know the background of it." ...

What he didn't understand, and what even McKay's closest associates didn't understand through his death, was that it was a policy, but it would require the force of revelation to change it. In those subsequent years between 1954 and his death in 1970, on several occasions that we can document, David O. McKay took it to the source, hoping, obviously, that the answer would come back, "Yes, change the policy." But he never got that response. ...

On the issue of civil rights, David O. McKay was consistently a product of his time and place. He was distrustful of the movement. He did not like it, and he did not want it to succeed. He declined an invitation from President Kennedy to serve on a civil rights commission. He reluctantly accepted the same invitation from Lyndon Johnson several years later, only because personal friendship drove him to feel that that was a responsibility. He was always distrustful of it. That is what makes it such a stark contrast of how he treated the issue of blacks into the Mormon priesthood. One would think that those two were inseparably linked. Aversion on the one would lead to aversion in the other. But his experience in visiting South Africa in 1954 and seeing firsthand some of the problems that that policy had created led him in a different direction. He became quietly proactive. ...

You grew up with this policy. How did you feel about it?

I grew up in Los Angeles, but I grew up in an area of Los Angeles, West L.A., that in those years was predominantly white, so I didn't have a lot of personal contact with blacks. It wasn't until I became a missionary in 1967 and was sent to southern Brazil that I first had a personal encounter with the policy and with some of its repercussions.

Now here I was, a 19-year-old, starry-eyed, idealistic. I wind up in Brazil. I'm sent to my first city, which is a five-hour bus ride over a dirt road. I get there, and my companion and I, the first night that I'm there, visit a family who lived across the street from our apartment. It was a wonderful family. They greeted us graciously. We taught them. It seemed like things were marvelous. I walked out, turned to him and said, "Wasn't that great?" And he said, "We can't go back." "What?" He says, "The husband has the blood." Well, that was the missionary slang meaning he had African descent and was disqualified from holding the priesthood, and therefore we weren't even going to bother. That was a rude awakening that never left me. This family became our friends for the entire time that I was in that city, but there was that gulf that we had created because of this policy. It didn't seem right, but there it was.

I finished my mission in 1969 and went immediately into graduate school at UCLA. Now, the University of California system in 1969 was an interesting place to be, as were many universities in the country at that time. ... Certainly civil rights was one of the major issues that was being debated very heatedly. Somehow it didn't make it to the forefront of my radar screen, and I don't know why. ... I look back now and think: "You were really insensitive. You should have been out on the front lines marching on this issue." But I wasn't. I guess I was a scientific geek, and I was more interested in looking at test tubes than looking around me, but I wasn't part of the fray. In a way I regret that, because I can't look back and tell my kids, "Gee, because of me they're here instead of there." It wasn't my battle. ...

I was a graduate student there for six years and then went to Washington, D.C., to work at the National Institutes of Health. It wasn't until I got back to Washington that it really came into tight focus for me, because by happenstance, I wound up in the same congregation as the man who had written and published the landmark article on this topic, the article that said it isn't doctrinal.

Do you remember where you were when you heard the announcement?

I was working at the National Institutes of Health. It was on a Friday. My wife was a radio announcer in a small town in Maryland. She called me and said, "Guess what?" -- because she had been reading the news on the air, and they had brought in the wire service report. She looked at it with disbelief, but read it and then called me. ...

[President] Spencer Kimball had announced to the world that this policy had been reversed by revelation. Now all worthy men, regardless of ancestry, could be ordained to the priesthood. It was a shockwave that went around the world.

That night we spent the entire evening in the home of Lester Bush. Lester was the one who had written the article five years earlier that we later found out had pried the door open enough of a crack that eventually it could be opened all the way. What a place to be that night. He was getting phone calls from all over the country, by people congratulating him, sharing in the joy of having this thing suddenly and unexpectedly reversed.

What was the pressure on the church to get rid of this policy?

Until the early 1960s there had not been overt pressure on the church to reverse this ban on ordaining blacks to the priesthood, but then it started to pop up as the civil rights movement began to mature. The Salt Lake chapter of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] threatened to picket [the church's] General Conference if the church didn't come out and make a positive statement on civil rights, not even demanding at that point that they reverse that policy. They just wanted the church to go on record as being supportive of the civil rights movement. And eventually that happened, and it avoided that picketing of the General Conference. A couple years later the same issue emerged, and the church again had to restate its support of the civil rights movement, even though some members of the church, including President McKay, did it begrudgingly.

On the athletic front, it became an embarrassment, because Stanford University and then other universities announced, "We will no longer compete with Brigham Young University in intercollegiate athletics because of this ban." Well, that didn't get it changed, but it put a lot of pressure on.

Later into the 1970s you now have a new president, Spencer Kimball, and you have new forces at work. Most of these are internal. The decision to build a temple in Brazil was welcomed by the Brazilian members, but it also had some baggage attached to it because, by definition, in order to go into the temple and have certain privileges; you, if you were a male, had to have the priesthood. Guess who that excluded? Now, having spent two years down there, I can tell you it was impossible to say who had black ancestry and who didn't. The races down there are so intermixed that it is impossible [to say], and yet this was the dilemma that now was looming, because that temple was nearing completion. There was also the injunction that had existed for decades, "Take the Gospel to all the world." There wasn't an asterisk as the end of it saying, "Oh, by the way, you can exclude black Africa." This weighed on Spencer Kimball. All of those things, I think, had a cumulative effect.

[How did that revelation to lift the ban happen?]

We talk about revelation assuming we understand it, but it's a difficult thing to understand. It's not a package dropping out of heaven prewrapped and all we need to do is undo the bow and there's the revelation. There's a cost associated with it that very few Mormons understand. ... [Spencer Kimball] had to pay a price to get there. ... What Spencer Kimball was doing -- and we don't know the full extent of the network that he was establishing -- was to take soundings in various areas, cover his bases, so that when it came time both to take the question to the Lord and to get the consent of his peers among the General Authorities, ... there was no opposition. In fact, there was great joy among his colleagues when he made the announcement. But it wasn't an event. It was a process punctuated by event. ... The first of June, 1978, Spencer Kimball, his two counselors, the Quorum from the Twelve Apostles, met at the temple. They engaged in group prayer and it was described as a Pentecostal experience.

There were men who wept, who felt an embarrassment and shame. Tell me about this.

I was not aware, in the wake of the announcement of the revelation, of anybody in the church who had anything other than a sense of joy and relief. It was a burden lifted off our backs. Some had been crushed by the burden and had left. Some were sagging. [For] some it may have been a light burden, but they knew it was there and were glad that it was gone. I was an Elder's Quorum president then, and it was only a few weeks after that that I ordained a black man in my quorum. It was an interesting feeling -- it was like, OK, things are right in the world where they weren't right in the world before.

... How important was the lifting of the ban on this journey through the 20th century?

... The 1978 revelation that lifted the ban took away one of the major stigmas that the church had. I think it allowed particularly American society to look at us differently, ... because we were out there alone on this one. By reversing that ban we did away with the impediment to our inclusion in that larger community of churches, so I think that overall it had enormous positive effect on our public image. Certainly it has had a positive effect on where we can go and what we can do to build the church. We're in areas now -- with established congregations, with bishops, with stake presidents who are black -- that we couldn't have dreamed of 40 or 50 years ago, and yet there we are.

What is the folklore [about why blacks were banned from the priesthood]? What should be done [about it]?

Let me try to speak a little more broadly first. There is a paradox in this church. If you were to go into any congregation and say, "Everybody in favor of continuing revelation, vote," every hand would go up. If you then said, "Everybody who's comfortable with change, vote," you'd see very few hands go up. And yet how do you have the one without the other? We have not yet become entirely comfortable with the repercussions of a revelatory experience. We got the revelation, we changed the policy, but we haven't been able to rid ourselves of all of that damaging folklore that accumulated over the years. ...

The folklore surrounding the ban on priesthood actually predates Mormonism. The idea that African blacks were a cursed lineage goes back centuries before Mormonism, but we certainly borrowed from it amply. Then we added to it because of our unusual doctrine of pre-mortal life, and said well, if they're cursed now, it must have been that they did something wrong or neutral where the rest of us did something right in that pre-mortal life. ...

It needs to be extracted and thrown away. It's a historical anachronism, an anomaly, and it's wrong, and we should just own up to the fact that that's what it was, brush it aside, apologize if we need to, and go on our way. Otherwise it's going to continue to drag certain people down, both inside the church and outside the church. They'll glom onto that and say, "Is this what you still think about us?" And I've heard that from members of the church who are black. And of course it isn't [what we think], but as long as it's in print, how are you going to counter that effect? You can't. You have to get rid of it.

Let's talk about the ERA and why it struck such a deep chord within the Mormon community.

Well, on its surface the Equal Rights Amendment was very simple -- just a couple of sentences, as I recall. But somehow that had a ripple effect within Mormondom that sent a shockwave of fear to the highest level, that if this were to pass, these are the consequences. Some of it's ludicrous -- that [Americans] won't have separate bathrooms anymore -- but some of it was more visceral than that, and I think it threatened, or was perceived to threaten, the very core of the way Mormonism is structured as a patriarchal society. ... I don't know that it was a rational response. I don't think it was. I think it was a visceral response. But it was certainly effective in killing it. There's no question about that. ...

You would hear, and you'll hear until this very day, "Well, the men have priesthood and the women have motherhood." I've never been comfortable with that. The male analogy to motherhood is fatherhood. So what's the female analogy to priesthood? I don't think there is one. ...

The level of church involvement [in blocking passage of the ERA] I think is still somewhat ambiguous, but I believe it stepped over the line -- that you had overt activities in fund raising using the name of the church, using church facilities in some cases, that helped to defeat the amendment in those states. It was not our finest hour. ...

As a constituency just like any other constituency in this country, the church certainly is allowed to have a voice in politics. The question is, how far into political versus moral issues should that voice extend? That's always going to be a floating boundary, because something that to one group is a political issue to another group is a moral issue. ...

Why did the church feel this was so urgent and moral? ...

In the years since then, even though we don't have the Equal Rights Amendment as an issue per se, we still see in the church a knee-jerk response that in some cases is very surprising to me. Example: A regional priesthood meeting in Southern California. A woman who was very skilled at signing for the deaf was brought in so the deaf members of this gathering could see what was going on. She was told that she was not welcome there because this was a priesthood meeting. ...

I think there was a feeling that if they gave any ground on the Equal Rights Amendment and it passed, it would be the [camel's] nose under the tent; [then] the camel would come into the tent, and the whole tent would be upset. ... It has to be either/or. Either men run the show, or the entire world changes. There's no middle ground where the camel can be invited into the tent and everybody is happy. ...

Taking up the banner of ERA, [Mormon women] suddenly found that they had unwittingly created a gulf between them and the church to which they belonged. To some of them it was unsettling enough that they left the church. For an even smaller number it was even more unsettling and they were thrown out of the church. Many of those women to this day still bear the scars of this. ... There is this constant tension because there are some within Mormondom who feel that ... feminism by itself is somehow wrong.

... You've heard enough from your feminist women friends about what their -- I'm going to use a strong word here -- grievances are. What are some of them that resonate with you?

... Specifically, anybody who is going to be called to a church position, male or female, is going to be called by a male. Any policy decisions that are made at a local or general level usually are going to be made by the men, often without any consultation [with] the women. The proclamation on the family was made public without prior consultation to the general Relief Society presidency. It surprised them, and I think it disappointed them, having spoken with a couple of them. That's what I mean. The representation needs to be there. They need to be included and to feel that their voice makes a difference.

What is the history of what's happened to the Relief Society?

... The Relief Society is the women's organization within the church. It was initially founded in 1842, only a decade after the church was organized, and for decades well into the 20th century it functioned both at a general level and at a local level somewhat autonomously. The Relief Society president, be she the general president or the local president, would be chosen by the male ecclesiastical leader in that area, but then she pretty much ran her show -- not independently of the men, but pretty much running the organization and consulting them along the way.

One of the perhaps unintended consequences of the Correlation Movement [to standardize practices and organization across the church] that began in the 1960s was to try to bring everything from autonomous to centralized. But as a result, the women's organization in particular was stripped of its autonomy. It lost its magazine that it had had since 1914. It lost its bank account that it had maintained independently for decades. It lost its fund-raising mechanisms at the general and the local levels. It lost its ability to generate its own instructional materials. Well, when all of those things happen at once, there's a message being sent to the members of that organization that even if it wasn't the intended message, it's the message they received. And I think women in the church, perhaps in large numbers, to this day mourn the demise of that organization.

... Was the Mormon involvement in the ERA on the national level an expression of their newfound confidence, wanting to stretch their muscles?

I think that the Equal Rights Amendment was the first issue where the institutional church weighed in and made a difference nationally. And success whets the appetite. They weighed in successfully not many years after that in killing the MX missile proposal [during the Reagan administration]. I think that there has been a realization that power is a two-edged sword, and there has been, I think, a realization in Salt Lake that you use that power judiciously. We have not seen them weigh in on the national, much less the international, stage very often. But I think that that first success with the ERA showed them something they may not have realized prior to that. ...

I don't know that the church's real power over the ERA was as great as the perceived power. I think it was a question, perhaps like a third political party, where if the balance of power between the other two is just such, then a very small amount of nudging from a third party can tip it. We were not a major presence throughout the United States. We still aren't. We're 1 percent of the population. But we were a well-organized and significant presence in a couple of keystone states, and that made a difference.

How significant and how extensive is [the church's] involvement in the [Federal] Marriage Amendment and gay marriage? ...

The question is, what is the real issue about gay rights, about same-gender marriage? Is this really a threat to the institution of marriage? No. That's a straw man. The threat to the institution of marriage is heterosexuals who either thumb their noses at marriage in the first place or who don't take the marriage covenant seriously. To put all of that on the backs of gays who want to establish a legal union is cruel, and it's wrong. ...

There is irony if you step back and look at the current situation regarding gay marriage, and another situation that also involved marital relations, and that was 19th-century polygamy. ... Where we've come down on the two is quite different, and yes, I think there is irony in that. ... And yet if you are stepping back, each one of those is a reinterpretation of the traditional family. ... There is irony in comparing them a century apart.

... Who was Joseph Smith? ...

No matter which way you cook it, Joseph Smith is a bundle of contradictions, an unschooled, roughhewn frontiersman -- which is what New York was in 1820 -- who founds a church that has become a worldwide church. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. ...

The first version of [his First] Vision was written in Joseph Smith's own hand in 1832. It was personal, it merely dealt with his sinfulness and he going to the grove to ask God for forgiveness, end of story. Subsequently over the next 12 years, there were other versions that emerged from Joseph Smith where the story got more detailed, more colorful, and one of the later versions became the official version. ...

It wasn't until he wrote a book that he became differentiated and persecuted. That's where his ministry really began. ... That book continues to be the touchstone between people who come to it and believe and the divine. If you were to pull converts of the church, or lifetime members, and ask them about where they are and why they are there religiously, most of them are going to point to that book. Most of them can't tell you what they read. They will tell you they didn't read the whole thing. It was the encounter; it was not necessarily the content. And it certainly wasn't the origins of the book that made the difference to them. It is what it is, and a lot of people tie themselves up into knots because they don't understand that. ...

[Joseph Smith] was what he was, and it doesn't really bother me. I look at great leaders, particularly religious leaders before and since, and they've all got blemishes, as do political leaders, particularly the charismatic ones. Joseph, if nothing else, was charismatic. And that just seems to be the inseparable baggage that these great people bring with them, and you have to be able to deal with it. …

Some people in the church, even sitting at a high level, tend to reduce it almost to a geometric equation. If Joseph Smith wasn't this, this and this, then the church can't be true. That does us a great disservice, because it turns out not to be as clear-cut as that.

I'm a scientist by profession, so I have to deal with the world as it is if I'm going to be a successful scientist. I'm not a theoretical scientist; I'm not into science fiction -- trying to create a world as I wish it would be. So if you look at the church as it is rather than as you wish it were, you can't apply that kind of an equation to it. It just doesn't work out. It is what it is. It is successful. It has something in it that brings its members in touch with the infinite in such a way that their lives are transformed. Now, whatever happened to get us to that point happened. If it had some unsavory edges to it, so be it. But to paint ourselves into a corner and to say, "Unless it happened exactly this way we are wrong," is a great disservice. ...

There are questions about the Book of Mormon. What is the archaeological evidence, if any, that supports it? What does DNA have to shed [light on] about the origin of the aboriginal American? What about linguistic studies, and what they say about what the origins of the indigenous languages were and how they relate to the Old World? Question after question comes up, and the questions that are susceptible to scientific inquiry, which each of these is, will be answered by science and not by religion.

The Book of Mormon is more than a literary text or a guide to an archaeological dig. Nor does it prove God exists. Can you explore the middle way of looking at the Book of Mormon?

Perhaps the most prevalent viewpoint in the church is either the Book of Mormon is a literal history of the Americas before Columbus or it's wrong. There is an alternative somewhere between those two. If you look at the Bible, some of the greatest books of the Bible -- and in my mind in particular the Book of Job, which I feel to be one of the greatest books in world literature, is fictional. Its message is independent of its historicity. That's the key in dealing with the Book of Mormon. Whatever its message is, it continues to resonate with the people who encounter it.

It's not because of its doctrinal sophistication, because if you look at the Book of Mormon compared to the Bible, the level of theology of the two is quite separate. So that's not the attraction. It's not the historicity, because the people who read it don't come away from reading it thinking, "Well, that was an interesting history." It's that there is truth within that book, just as there is truth within the Book of Job that is, in fact, a fictional book. ...

That's the message that people need to get. Forget about the container for a while. Get inside of it and grab the truth that's in there, regardless of the form that it's in, regardless of how it got to be in that container -- and then you win. ...

In his earlier days as a prophet, Joseph Smith was dependant on physical artifacts as part of the prophetic process: plates; ... papyrus; ... Urim and Thummim, the seer stones. Look at the early revelations, and the introductions to them for a few months say, "Revelation received through the Urim and Thummim." Then that stops, and it never picks up again, because he is no longer dependent on those physical objects to open his mind to the revelatory process. Now, what does all that mean about the Book of Mormon? Could it be just a revelation instead of a translation? To me, yes. No problem. And it doesn't have any impact on what it has done subsequently. Yes, it could have been a literal translation of an ancient record, and this is what the result has been. But it's not the only explanation. And in fact, those parts of the explanation that are susceptible to scientific inquiry are beginning to go in the other direction -- a metaphorical Book of Mormon, if you will. ...

Do you see Mormons at that point when they have to look at myth, look at history, move toward metaphor? Do you see Mormons as part of that common and universal trajectory?

... We may be the most thoroughly documented church out there, because we started when things were documented. And that's great, except that it also can call into question some of the early histories. ...

In the 1920s a Mormon scholar did his doctoral dissertation talking about the challenges that Mormonism faced and will face. He said you can divide this into three. The pre-Utah years it was Mormonism against them, the physical enemies who were trying to destroy it. Phase two: They move to Utah, and it was Mormonism against nature. He said now we're moving into era three, and that's Mormonism discovering itself, that we now have the tools coming really out of science that allow us to look at ourselves in a way that probably no other religious movement has been able to, because we have such a rich record that goes back virtually to day one.

That can be a big plus, and it can be a big minus, but it's going to happen. The tools of science are pervasive now; they have spread into every academic discipline. Mormonism, as arguably the most successful American-born religion, is ripe for the picking of scholars. And scholars from every discipline are going to take those sharpened tools, not with animosity, and turn them on Mormonism. The results will be really interesting and unsettling all at the same time. It calls for people who are within Mormonism to make sure they're grounded. ...

... Who were the 11 witnesses [in the Book of Mormon]? What questions do they answer and not answer?

... When the Book of Mormon was published, in the back of it are two statements. One, signed by three men, says, "An angel appeared to us and showed us the plates." The other, signed by eight men, says, "Joseph Smith showed us the plates." To many, those two statements by 11 men are the beginning and the end of the discussion. To others, they raise more questions than they answer. All of them were either close friends or family members of the Smith family. You can go on and on about questions that those two accounts raise. ...

As but one example, the statement signed by the three men says, "An angel appeared to us and showed us the plates." Sounds pretty straightforward, but it turns out that only two of the three men were there. The third, having prayed unsuccessfully with the other two for the appearance of the angel, left the scene, and they had the epiphany. He was caught up later in the similar epiphany of his own, and when questioned subsequently, the other one said, "Well, you know, I didn't really see them as I would see that pencil case; I saw them with my spiritual eyes." What does that mean? That used to mean more to me than it does now, because to me the value of the book is independent of what 11 men said about the book. The fact that it continues to live and to resonate and to be the junction between mortals and the infinite says much more about it than a signed statement by 11 men. ...

Is it tough to be an intellectual in this church? Is it changing?

Being an intellectual in this church is a hard way to make an easy living, for two reasons. One is the wealth of source material: If you go back and look at the history, it's enormous -- and troubling, because it doesn't always square with the public relations version of things. The second reason it's difficult is there is an anti-intellectual bent in the church that in some cases has gone so far as to push people out simply because they were thinking people, either overtly pushed them out by excommunicating them or sending the message that they're not welcome and we'd be a lot happier if you'd just have the good grace to leave, and leave quietly.

So it's not an easy lifestyle, but people don't tend to choose that lifestyle. You are that, or you're something else. I don't think you choose to be an intellectual. It's the way you're wired. It's the way you view the world. So there you are, and if you're going through that journey alone, it's a very perilous and lonely journey. It turns out there are many other people in the church with a similar mind-set, but they are a loose amalgamation at best. It's been with difficulty over the decades that those of us who consider ourselves within that philosophy try to hang on to the church for ourselves and try to hang on to others and keep them in.

That's why magazines such as Dialogue came into being -- a lifeline for 40 years now to those whose wiring causes them to question. It allows them to question and to stay in at the same time, whereas otherwise they may just be shown the exit door. ...

What are the problem areas for intellectuals? Give us a tour of those trouble spots.

... I've lived in Washington for three decades. In Washington politically hot issues are often referred to as "third-rail issues." Now, for those of you who don't live around subways, the third rail is the rail that provides the electricity to run the train. You touch it, you die. That's what a third-rail issue is. And we have had, and continue to have, third-rail issues in this church. Some people, I think naively, grasp that rail thinking that it's harmless. It can be very harmful. ... I don't think that there is a question in Mormonism, historical or doctrinal, that cannot and should not be addressed. But politically speaking, you've got to do it carefully. ...

I think today the most visible third-rail issue deals with the Book of Mormon. It deals with those aspects of the Book of Mormon that are susceptible to scientific inquiry. ... There is plenty of turf there that is susceptible to scientific inquiry, ... but every one of them is a third-rail issue. ...

Do you think the [excommunication of the] September Six [in 1993] had a chilling effect?

We have had occasional waves of anti-intellectual activity within the church. One of them was in the early 1980s, and some of my close friends were caught up in that. A more destructive one was a decade later that resulted in the excommunication of a half-dozen people, primarily because they persisted in asking the "Why?" questions. That second wave, in 1993, had a chilling effect on the entire scholarly community of the church, and it really affected three generations of scholars. The senior scholars who were close enough to retirement generally retreated to safer ground. The middle level generally switched fields, because it was no longer safe to live there, and they couldn't foresee another two or three decades of dealing with it at that level.

Probably the most unfortunate was that an entire generation of undergraduates and graduates decided at that point of their career that this was not a friendly environment, and so they shifted their field of emphasis. So we had a lot of bright, energetic young people who would have added a lot to Mormon studies who just shifted out of the field entirely. We still see the repercussions of that. It's only now that we're starting to see the bright, young, razor-sharp minds come back into this field. Be they Mormon or non-Mormon, we will be the better off for them having been there. ...

... For an audience who may not know what excommunication means, can you talk about what it means, not only within Mormonism but the whole Mormon culture? What's at stake?

"Excommunication" is a word that does and should send a chill down the spine of Mormons, perhaps more so than in other institutions, because within our belief system, the repercussions of it not only affect the here and now but the then and there. The entire structure of the family, which in our belief will transcend death, becomes threatened if one of the members of the family is suddenly jerked out of the fabric and told, "By the way, this is binding here and there." That's why it sends a chill down your spine.

It's something that any institution needs to have as a tool, because the boundaries have to be guarded, but it needs to be used very sparingly and only after very careful deliberation, because the consequences are devastating. The statistics that I've heard from the past are that something around 2 percent of the people who are excommunicated ever come back into the church. But there's a ripple effect, because if Dad gets thrown out, the likelihood is Mom and the kids go along with him, and we lose those generations and the subsequent ones. ...

You've been close to people who have been excommunicated. Have you seen a sort of psychic wounding to them?

I have seen people who have been excommunicated, close friends of mine. I've seen other people who weren't excommunicated but who were shown the door, and the negative effect on them and their families was almost equivalent. A gulf was opened between them and the institution and their friends that may never be closable. It has been a tragedy in each instance where I've seen it happen. And where it has happened because of somebody's personal beliefs, not because of egregious sins, then to me it's a double tragedy. ...

They obsess still about it. ... They never really leave.

Yeah, that's right, because they have the DNA, and it's hard to block that out.

What is the Mormon DNA?

The Mormon DNA, it's the culture; it's the lifestyle. It's much more than the doctrine. Most people who are in the church would be hard-pressed to write a sentence or two about what the doctrine really is, but they can go on endlessly telling you what their life is within it. That's the real vitality of it. It's not a doctrinal church, regardless of what the strengths or weaknesses of the doctrine itself may be. It's a church that is a very pragmatic church. People come into it not because we can show them a list of theses they agree with; it's because they see [that] for others whom they have known it works, and they get a little bit of a flavor of that themselves and say, "I want some of this." ...

Why is the church hierarchy so scared of its history? ...

People I have known who have voluntarily left the church, not under any duress, have generally done so not because of questions that faithful Mormon scholars have asked, but because of unanswered questions that detractors have raised that nobody within the institution will discuss with them. So to put our head in the sands and say, "We don't want to discuss these issues," concedes the entire field to those who detract from it. Rather than hiding from the debate, we should be gripping the reins of the debate and say: "OK, we're going to get there first. You think you've dealt with tough questions? We're going to deal with tougher questions. Here's what they are. Now, we're not going to answer all of them, because we don't have the answers, but at least we're going to let you know that we don't have the answers, and we're all struggling for them, and we're in this thing together." ... We need to be able to say, "I don't know," and not be embarrassed by it. ...

Do you see a culture of certainty ... in this church? The "I know, I know" -- does this create ... closet doubters?

There is a strong thread within the church that clings to the notion that I have to be able to say in public, "I know," regardless of what the "I know" involves. Unwittingly that has created a culture that says to the other ones who can't say that in honesty, "Gee, there must be something wrong with me, because I can't say, 'I know,' if I don't know." I think that the desire to be able to go up to the pulpit and say "I know" is not unique to Mormonism. I think that pervades the entire world, and it's why fundamentalism in whatever clothing -- Christian, Judaic, Islamic -- is a dangerous thing, because it gives a false certitude to people. They think that the tough questions in life can all be reduced to one-line answers, and they can't. If you think that's where the world is and you try to live in that world, it's destructive ultimately. So we have to be able to move at some point from, "Oh, yeah, I know," to, "Listen, here's where I am. I think I know some things, and I've experienced some things, and there are a lot of things I don't know. But I'm here for the duration, so let's move forward together and help each other."

It is striking, the words "I know" in Mormon culture.

Well, I come at this as a practicing scientist. Science has been my livelihood for over three decades. When I write a scientific paper and I put anything close to "I know" on it, that means something really strong. And generally we have to qualify that and say things like: "Within the parameters that we have conducted these experiments, here are our conclusions. P.S. -- they're subject to change." So I can't just abandon that mind-set when I walk in the doors of a church and suddenly say, "Oh, yeah, I know, I know, I know." ...

Many contemporary polygamists feel that they are the real Mormons, and they wonder why the church has distanced itself from the importance of polygamy in Mormon history. ...

... Polygamy continues to represent a unique challenge to us, contrasted to the policy on exclusion of blacks from the priesthood. That was an albatross around our necks for over a century, but once we changed, it went away. Even though we dropped polygamy, we have never been in a position of getting polygamy to go away, in part because it was so sensationalized for so many decades and in part because the institution of polygamy itself hasn't gone away, and it continues to exist, and by association it's still linked to Mormonism. ... There's that association in people's minds even though we as a church haven't embraced it in more than a century. I don't think you can make that go away, no matter what you say from the pulpit or who's saying it. It's a sensational lifestyle that has tabloid appeal, and that appeal is being milked by the media. At what point do people get tired of that and go on to something else? I don't know that that is going to change. ...

Would you say there's also a little bit of fuzziness when you look at the [anti-polygamy] Manifesto and the language of the Manifesto and the language of revelation? Could you talk about that?

Well, what's commonly referred to as the Manifesto that disavowed the practice of plural marriage ... has never been given the full weight of binding revelation, and the wording of it is fairly clear that we will discontinue this practice because the federal government is obliging us to discontinue it. It doesn't address the issue of what's behind the practice. What's the doctrine? And the doctrine and the practice were bound so tightly together for so long that to take one out of the picture and not deal with the other causes confusion. And I think that confusion still exists. ...

What is so challenging about the Book of Abraham?

There is a strong parallel between the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon. The parallel is that both English texts derived from ancient artifacts -- gold plates, Egyptian papyrus. The difference is, we don't have the gold plates. We didn't think we had the papyri until the mid-1960s. We thought they had been destroyed in the Chicago fire. They turned up in the New York Museum of Natural History. Everybody was certain that this would vindicate Joseph Smith as a translator because we had the papyri. It turned out that the papyri that we had were funerary texts that had no relationship to the text of the Book of Abraham.

One response that has been a very loudly stated response ever since then was, "Those were the wrong papyri." It doesn't address the fact that some of the diagrams, the facsimiles that were part of the Book of Abraham, were with those papyri, and they are the right ones. ... An alternative explanation is to say this is all fiction. ...

There's plenty of ground in between -- and that's the ground that I live on -- that says: "Why does there need to be a one-to-one relationship between historical artifact and modern Scripture? Isn't it the product that we're looking at, and the effect of that product on this community of believers?" And if that is the essential question, and I think it is, then we don't need to worry about the literal relationship between [the artifacts and the Scripture]. ...

[Religion scholar] Martin Marty -- paraphrasing here -- believes that Mormons are at a dramatic crossroads. He describes it as a crisis comparable to but more profound than the one Roman Catholicism recognized around the Vatican II, and I think he was talking about an intellectual crisis. Do you think Mormons are at a crossroads, and how would you reflect on that?

I see contemporary Mormonism not so much at a crossroads, but an intersection of multiple forces, and I would signal three of these: the international church, feminism and intellectualism. Very different fronts, and yet all of them are being confronted simultaneously. ...

We have more Mormons outside of the United States than inside the United States. It took well over a century for that to happen. We will soon see a time when Spanish is the most prevalent language within the church, and yet the hierarchy particularly in the top levels is still essentially an Anglo hierarchy. ... Trying to make Mormonism work in, first of all, non-American cultures and then -- a further step -- non-Christian cultures has proved to be very difficult. One size does not fit all. It was a wrenching transition to take a Great Basin church and even make it an American church. Now to make it a multinational, multicultural church is taking the best efforts and best minds we've got, and it's still difficult, and we're still not there.

Another area is the challenge of feminism; that you have, particularly in the American church, tens of thousands, if not more, women who are not out there picketing, but who are aware that their position in the church is not what they would want it to be. They're looking at this issue different than their mothers or grandmother did.

You have the challenge of intellectualism, and this is a challenge that does not just come from within. Mormonism, because of its importance as an American-born world religion, is ripe for scholarly inquiry. You have scholars, Mormon and non-Mormon, believers and nonbelievers, all focusing their tools on studying this important religion. ... Those are some of the challenges we face now, and not one of those is easy. ...

The strategic problems facing the church don't face me personally. ... The problem I deal with, within my own family, is boredom. My kids ... say, "Dad, this church is boring." When I talk to other kids, they use the "B" word also. If we can't move those kids out of that mind-set, we can lose them. There are so many more alternative voices that they can listen to. You've got hundreds of channels on cable TV. You've got the Internet. It's not the world we grew up in, where you had few competing voices. There are hundreds if not thousands of competing voices, and they are sophisticated and attractive. And if we can't take the essential message that we have and somehow package it in some way that is not so boring to them, we're going to lose them.

... How have you seen the Mormons [change regarding the issue of homosexuality]?

I spent a full decade researching the McKay years, and in the McKay years ... homosexuality was almost invisible on the radar screen. Within the hierarchy of the church and their discussions only rarely would there be a mention of it. In the '70s it came out, literally, as a national and international issue. And the initial response of Mormonism ... was harsh, was hard-line, made an assumption that this was a chosen lifestyle that could be altered, even if it required brutal therapy to alter it. In the ensuing decades we have come to realize that some of the assumptions under which we were operating were mistaken. We have come to realize that telling a gay man to get married and that would solve all problems was a huge mistake, and it's one that we don't repeat knowingly.

We have not yet gotten to the point of understanding the biology of homosexuality, to the point where that understanding enlightens the policy and the behavior of individual Mormons toward homosexuality. ... Are we going to tell [gay individuals], "You must live alone for the rest of your life because you can't fit in this other mold," or are we going to let those people live as what they are, even if it is different than what we are? I hope we can get to that point. What we call it, how we structure it, I don't know. But I think it is cruel to apply different standards of behavior to one group than we do to other groups. ...

The church did a survey 10, 20 years ago and found that half the members of the church were of single families, which means that one-third of the adult membership of the church is single, either never married, widowed or divorced. So to cling to the notion that the only acceptable family unit is a mother, father and children flies in the face of reality. We can accommodate single parents in the church; we should be able to accommodate other forms of family life that are strong, that are nurturing, that are faith-promoting and that are enduring -- but we haven't been able to do that yet. ...

[Is] the Book of Mormon ... a quintessentially American story?

A century and a half after the Book of Mormon was published, it got a subtitle: "Another Testament of Jesus Christ." Sometimes lost in all of the debate about other things relating to the Book of Mormon is its focus not only as another witness of Jesus Christ, but of special interest to the Americas and, by extension, to other peoples; that this isn't just an Old World church, that it's for everybody. ... His ministry might have started in Jerusalem, and it may have ended there in his mortality, but in his immortality it spread around the world directly by him and not just by his emissaries. That is a powerful message.