Updated: 9 May 15 (plus postscript)
|Harold B. Lee|
The recent Mormon Stories Podcast interviews of Kirk and Lindsay Van Allen by Gina Colvin and John Dehlin evoked my memory of encountering Harold B. Lee in September 1965 regarding “The Principle”. When “Steven in Milcreek” responded to my comment about “HBL” on John’s Mormon Stories podcast [Eugene, do you know if HBL took steps to remove (or amend/modify) D&C 132? If not, suggest reasons why or why not? Do you believe that he changed his view between 1965 (when he spoke to you) and 1972 (when he became Prophet/President)?] and I heard Gina whisper to Kirk and Lindsay that “all Mormon men dream of multiple wives” in her Thoughtful Faith podcast, I recalled my meeting with HBL and then tried to reconstruct when I first began wondering about the truth of D&C 132.
My wondering began in summer 1959. I was then an engineering undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley and my wife of 5 years had just surprised–nay–shocked me by lamenting “I’m sorry the days of polygamy are over”. She went on to explain her dilemma in not being the wife she felt I needed. “You need others who can meet the needs that I cannot.” Her self-esteem was not high in those days.
“Wow!” I thought to myself. “What an unselfish attitude!” My affection for her soared as I began to realize that I was not the kind of husband she needed or had wanted, which was more like her blue-collar worker dad. Furthermore, I had a military secret that I could not (and never did) reveal to her, but which had deeply changed me while overseas late in the first year of our marriage and which drastically affected my ability to communicate with her as a marriage partner. Then I began to wonder about helping her find someone for herself more suitable for her needs.
At this same summer time 1959, because of a first transpersonal experience I’d had earlier that spring, I was introduced by correspondence to a man whom I eventually learned was on intimate terms with Harold B Lee. My best LDS friend at Berkeley, Bill Jenks, a grad student, thought this man could help me understand my unusual spring experience, since he had been Bill’s mentor at Rick’s College (eventually to become BYU Idaho). He was Howard E. Salisbury (HES, now deceased), then chairman of the Fine Arts Department. Bill told me that Salisbury had a legendary reputation for helping gifted students develop their talents. Later I was to learn that HBL was actively grooming HES to become a general authority by having HES take charge of stake conferences when HBL came to the area. (It may have been embarrassing to some brethren, if not also to HBL, that HES outdrew them in church attendance when it was learned HES would be speaking!)
Not long after these two summer 1959 events (not sure how long after), I discovered more about my true-believing-Mormon (TBM) mother’s family background. Her returned-missionary father, my grandfather Lawrence Clawson, had been murdered before she was in her teens over an illegal polygamy thing, something she didn’t learn about until years later. Such family secrets and attitudes led me to think outside the ecclesiastical box and begin to wonder what I really believed.
Fast forward to late 1964. I had taken an engineering science doctorate at the U of Utah and begun a position of research scientist at a prestigious nuclear facility in southern California. In that environment I was soon confronted by new ideas beyond my professional training and cultural upbringing. During this time I also began consciously to remember my dreams, one of which, on Joseph Smith’s birth date that year, was profoundly puzzling.
This was followed by new experiences and insights, during which I had another even more distressing dream on May 1, 1965. This dream contained the angry “inner” voice of ‘President’ Harold B. Lee, well before the “outer” HBL actually became church president. Here is a page describing that powerful event in a draft manuscript called “Prodigal Prophet”. The “writer friend” mentioned in the manuscript page below is HES.
|A page from “Prodigal Prophet”|
I wrote to Salisbury immediately about the dream to which he replied: “Let this be a warning to you! Even the strongest must beware.”
This letter was followed by another a few days later, written on May 5, a letter with singular impact on me (paragraph 2), which was to inspire my poem Nathan’s Cry, written the following September to President David O. McKay: Must there be strife before the truth is known? That which came before would clear the eye for Light. But who believes? And who can share? Why can this one not speak? The song burns bright within my breast, but locked inside by blindness.
|Letter from HES, dated 5 May 1965|
Then on 11 May came another distressing dream, this time containing my parents, one of which (my Ukraine-born dad) had died the previous year and with whom I’d had a life-changing insight about his old world family in his presence! a year before his death and a week before my release from a 2‑year U of Utah stake mission. This new dream made me aware of deep unconscious resentments against my TBM mother, which would take me decades to understand, transform and forgive. Here is that dream, initially titled “Intrusion”, but eventually re-titled “Round Table Fury”.
After paying HES a visit to get better acquainted in early June, he wrote a long letter, which contained a paragraph on dreams, a subject I still didn’t know much about, except I was now recording them in my journal. (click on excerpts to enlarge)
|A second page from “Prodigal Prophet”|
By the way, Howard Salisbury would have made a superb general authority! Here are further excerpts from his 14 June 1965 letter to illustrate his extraordinary insights.
|Further excerpts from letter of 14 June 1965|
Events continued to escalate that summer 1965, including a hideous misunderstanding with HES in mid July 1965, the man I had learned to love more deeply as a father figure than any other, which would lead to the profoundest of spiritual experiences, one of which I refer to as “the hill I chose to die on”.
And then, only a few weeks later in mid-August and in one of the most surprising of subsequent personal experiences, I fell in love with a woman!–someone my wife and I had known for over a year. It was an experience I had never had before, not even suspecting my ignorance and naïveté. (My marriage had been one of honor.) How did I know, one might ask? Here’s how: suddenly all those silly teen-age songs I had so ridiculed throughout my life were true! And also crazy!
Shocked, surprised and elated by this newest experience, which gave me enormous additional energy for work, remembering my recent “May Day” dream of HBL and at the same time eager to get to a deeper understanding of it all in terms of D&C 132, I wrote HBL a letter, naively telling him the dream, making him aware of my relationship with his old protégé, confessing my experience of falling in love with a woman other than my wife and asking for his counsel. What more could I do? (These days it is hard to believe such trust and naïveté!!) I had told my new love that I’d never divorce my wife for her because I was committed to the marriage and that the law would have to change before we could develop a lasting relationship. At the same time, in a continuing and miraculous way, my amorous feelings for my wife grew dramatically.
All of which (and much, much more not mentioned in this posting) brought me in crisis to HBL’s church office in late September 1965. The meeting was arranged by my old U of Utah stake mission president, Morris A. Kjar (father of current general Relief Society president Linda K. Burton), who invited me to stay overnight at his home.
When I appeared at HBL’s office the next day, having earlier that same day visited President Joseph Fielding Smith on a different matter (the hill I chose to die on), Lee began shouting at me as soon as I opened his office door. No greeting. No handshake. Only anger and an order never to see “that woman” again. Shocked by his insensitivity and lack of compassion, I replied that I would obey him, since I was committed to the order of the priesthood, but that I didn’t believe him. “YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE IT!” he roared. “THAT PRINCIPLE HAS BEEN REPUDIATED! IT’S ALL OF THE DEVIL!!
I could not respond to such an assault, but at that point I made a silent vow never to sustain this man should he become church president. (I didn’t have to. By the time he rose to that office in 1972, I had been excommunicated and living in the wilderness.)
Then, surprisingly, his demeanor immediately softened and he gently asked, “How is Howard”?
“He’s having a tough time”, I answered, since Lee knew that his protégé had been excommunicated two years earlier for “perversion”. Lee had obviously not known during the days of grooming him for higher office that Howard was gay.
“We are trying to save souls, not destroy them”, Lee confessed simply. In my heart I said silently, “Well, brother, you’re not doing a very good job.” But I had nothing more to say aloud and left his office deeply shaken, without a handshake from HBL.
This is my full account of my interaction with Elder Harold B. Lee, polygamy and D&C 132.
Postscript as of 19 April 2015
From today’s perspective and knowing what I now know of this issue, here is how I would like to have behaved with HBL:
ENK: (knocking on HBL’s office door at prearranged appointment)
HBL: (Gruffly) Come in.
ENK: (entering office and offering my hand) Hello Elder Lee.…
HBL: (interrupting and not taking my hand) Brother Kovalenko, I’m too busy to deal with your issue! My advice to you is DON’T EVER SEE THAT WOMAN AGAIN!
ENK: (calmly) Elder Lee I have come to see you not only in my own behalf but in behalf of one of your most loyal and one-time closest friends. Did you not receive my letter?
HBL: (agitated) Yes, I received it and that “principle” you refer to has been REPUDIATED! Didn’t you know that?!!
ENK: (remaining calm) Actually, no, I didn’t know that. In fact, I have been struggling to understand it, since it still remains in the official Church scriptures. Also, I have been trying to understand Joseph Smith’s experience in order to be fair to him as well as to the church.
HBL: WELL, IT’S ALL OF THE DEVIL!!!
ENK: Elder Lee, I see clearly that I’ve made a mistake in coming to see you.
HBL: Yes, I’m afraid you have.
ENK: Well, it looks like I will have to deal with this issue elsewhere on my own. Thank you for agreeing to this meeting and forgive me for wasting your time. Goodbye.
This is a fascinating account. Thanks for sharing.
Eric, having mistakenly understood you to be the producer of this MB site and asking for help navigating it, I realized you were a contributor, not a producer. I asked the producer (still not sure how to contact him/her/them) to remove my first comment which contained my personal phone numbers. As of this writing, this has not yet been done. Nevertheless, I then scanned your contributions to the site and was deeply impressed by your thoroughness and attitude in doing so. They very much match my own attitude and search over many decades going back for me all the way to spring of 1956, shortly after being separated from the US Army and a clandestine assignment that I could not reveal for 20 years. That said, at this point in my life (I will be 82 next week), I am interested in getting acquainted with more folks like you for the following… Read more »