In the early 1970s, BYU opened up a brand-new law school. I was surprised to learn that the American Bar Association considered not accrediting the university due to the racial ban in the Church. Dr. Matt Harris describes some of these little-known issues that new BYU president and lawyer Dallin Oaks dealt with this potentially fatal blow to the law school.
Matt: There is new law school popping up and the American Bar Association, they send a letter to Dallin H. Oaks, this brand-new president. He’s a young man. He’s just left his tenured position at the University of Chicago where he went to school and then subsequently joined their law faculty. BYU recruited him to replace Wilkinson. So in 1971, Dallin Oaks comes on board and Oaks receives this letter. “Oh my gosh, they’re not going to accredit us. They’re threatening to not accredit us because of the church’s policy towards blacks.”
GT: On the law school.
Matt: On the law school. They just got it up and running.
GT: So let me make sure. So, 68-69 we’re having these civil rights problems with the entire school in general.
GT: We hire some black faculty. So that gets them off their back.
GT: But now 1971 comes and the bar association is threatening to take away the accreditation.
Matt: Yes, and a year earlier, Nixon, the IRS with Bob Jones is out. This is all going on at the same time.
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As you can see from our previous conversations, Mark had a tangled web of interactions. In this next conversation with forensics expert George Throckmorton, we’ll talk more about Mark’s dealings with church leaders. What got Mark in hot water with church officials?
GT: He had an appointment with, I believe it was Elder Oaks, Elder Pinnock. I don’t remember who all.
George: Elder Pinnock was the one that was dealing with him quite a bit.
GT: Yeah. And so, so can you a little bit about what was the relationship between Mark Hofmann and Elder Pinnock?
George: Business. Elder Pinnock had a history. In fact, I’ve known him. He was my wife’s bishop when we got married and so I’ve known him. I knew him for a long time before this and he was, you know, as much a victim as anybody.
It turns out this Mark Hofmann was trying to give more credence to the Spaulding Theory, which states that Sidney Rigdon got a copy of the Spaulding Manuscript, gave it to Joseph Smith, and Joseph plagiarized the Book of Mormon from Solomon Spaulding. The problem has been, there has never been any connection between Joseph Smith and Solomon Spaulding. However, Mark tried to solve that problem with a forgery with a new collection known as the McLellin Collection.
George: There’s an old theory called a Solomon Spaulding theory. Are you aware that?
GT: I am aware of that.
George: Okay. But one of the problems, it’s never been given much credibility. They think that Solomon Spalding wrote it.
GT: Wrote the Book of Mormon.
George: And Martin just copied the Book of Mormon, but there was really no relationship between Solomon Spalding and Joseph Smith that could be found. So, it’s not given a whole lot of credit. I mean there’s always people that bring it up, but my opinion is not given credit because they never met until too late, until this land deed showed up. And it’s a land deed that was signed by Solomon Spalding and Martin Harris. So, it showed there was a relationship between Solomon Spalding and Martin Harris and the date was appropriate. And this is the document that Mark Hofmann showed Hugh Pinnock and Al Rust and some others, and he says this is part of the McLellin Collection.
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In April 2014, Elder Oaks gave a sermon on women and priesthood. Dr. Jonathan Stapley said this was no ordinary talk. He called it theologically groundbreaking! I was a bit surprised how revolutionary Stapley felt the sermon was. It seemed to me to be a response to the Ordain Women movement which was asking for women to be allowed to attend the priesthood session of General Conference. I saw the address under a different light than Jonathan.
GT: I remember just thinking, “Oh, this is just to placate the Kate Kelly people and to say, ‘Women, you’ve already got priesthood. You just didn’t know it yet.’” But you’re saying this is a theological change.
Jonathan: When Elder Oaks delivered that sermon, I was looking around like, does anyone else [recognize this?] This is mind-blowing. I couldn’t believe it. And everyone else was just like, “Oh yeah, this is just Elder Oaks.” Revolutions happen sometimes a very subtly apparently.
Jonathan: It’s certainly a linguistic shift and language frames our reality. So, it is certainly, for example, an interesting piece from Elder Oaks’ sermon was he was quoting in many parts from a sermon that Joseph Fielding Smith gave to the Relief Society in a general Relief Society meeting. And in this meeting Joseph Fielding was as I remember, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time, discussed women’s authority in the church and how they were heirs to a great heritage, but also heirs to authority and their capacity of the work in the Relief society and the temple. But he was quick to say, you have authority to do this work. You have authority in the temple, but authority is not the same thing as priesthood.
Jonathan: And Elder Oaks takes this sermon he talks about, he quotes Joseph Fielding Smith, how women have this great authority in the church and this great heritage. And then he stops and says, what else can this authority be except priesthood? Right? So, it’s this really wonderful kind of re-imagining of what these terms mean. At the same time, reaching to our past to grab hold of our past and make sure we’re still connected, but also in very interesting and creative ways, refashioning it in a way that makes more sense for the present.
Do you think Oaks talk was groundbreaking? Let me know! Check out our other conversations on women healers, Ordain Women, and click the video below to learn more about this conversation….