Post­ed: 11 April 2015
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.

(click on images to enlarge)
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.

(click on image to enlarge)
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”
Excerpt on “dreams” from let­ter of 14 June 1965

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.


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.

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Eric Nelson
November 11, 2015 3:33 pm

This is a fas­ci­nat­ing account. Thanks for sharing.