Very Careless in His Utterances: Editing, Correcting, and Censoring Conference Addresses–Part II

Continued from Part I


On 6 April 1947, newly sustained Church patriarch Eldred G. Smith began his first conference address by saying: “Brethren and sisters, I think you are all aware of the fact of the hereditary nature of the office to which I have been called. For that reason I was prepared to give a speech for this occasion fifteen years ago, but not today. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to get burned in the same fire twice.” Smith acknowledged rumors that Joseph Fielding Smith (not the same person as the Church president of that name) had been called to the office instead of him because “I was not worthy.” But he countered these rumors by describing how he had met with President Grant in 1932 the evening before Joseph Fielding Smith had been called to be Church patriarch to ask if unworthiness were the reason he was being passed over for the calling. Eldred Smith reported Grant as replying, “Oh, no, no, on the contrary. In fact you have made quite a reputation for yourself in Church activities.” Smith went on to detail his activity, beliefs, and Church leadership positions in an obvious effort to lay his credentials before the congregation. Whatever the success of this move as far as establishing his personal worthiness was concerned, it inevitably raised the question of why, then, had he not been called to his hereditary position in 1932.

Smith was asked to edit the talk before publication. He did so, but the revision that was finally published in the April 1947 Conference Report was a third version, titled “A Testimony of Truth.”37 In it, Smith’s defense has been entirely rewritten to read, “I think that there are probably thousands of men in the Church who, if called by the proper authority, could come and fulfill any position in the Church, and the position to which I have been called is no exception.”


Apostle Ezra Taft Benson made waves when he spoke at the afternoon session of the 6 April 1965 General Conference. He had recently returned from his European mission, which many people felt had been a way of removing him from United States politics and the John Birch Society.38 But his political fires had apparently not cooled, as he dedicated his general conference address to warning about a Communist threat to the Church.39

“The war in heaven is raging on earth today,” Benson proclaimed.

Satan argues that men given their freedom do not choose wisely; therefore a so-called brilliant, benevolent few must establish the welfare government and force us into a greater socialistic society. We are assured of being led into the promised land as long as we let them put a golden ring in our nose. In the end we lose our freedom and the promised land also. No matter what you call it—communism, socialism, or the welfare state—our freedom is sacrificed.”

Benson argued that countries have been pushed into Communism by evil forces and that these evil forces were operating also within the United States. Benson further claimed that the devil had, to a large extent, neutralized “much of the priesthood,” but if they “should ever wake up, they could step forth and help preserve freedom.” At the end of the speech, he said “President David O. McKay has called communism the greatest threat to the Church.”

Benson’s talk made the national spotlight on 13 April 1965, when his speech was covered in a Washington Post article headlined “Benson Ties Rights Issue to Reds in Mormon Rift.” In a meeting of the First Presidency on 23 April, Hugh B. Brown called attention to the negative publicity generated by the Washington Post article and the unfavorable reactions he was hearing about Benson’s remarks. McKay’s initial reaction was that he “had not noticed anything objectionable in what Brother Benson had said.” McKay then asked Brown to bring him “a report” of the talk, and Brown told him “he would do it at once.” Later in the meeting, N. Eldon Tanner told McKay that he had also “received telephone calls and letters” about Benson’s talk.

On 3 May, in a meeting between McKay and Brown, McKay “authorized the elimination” of the following two paragraphs from Benson’s talk:

Before I left for Europe I warned how the Communists were using the civil-rights movement to promote revolution and eventual take-over of this country. When are we going to wake up? What do you know about the dangerous civil rights agitation in Mississippi? Do you fear the destruction of all vestiges of state government?

Now, Brethren, the Lord never promised there would not be traitors in the church. We have the ignorant, the sleepy and the deceived who provide temptations and avenues of apostacy [sic] for the unwary and the unfaithful. But we have a prophet at our head and he has spoken. Now what are we going to do about it? Do homework. Brethren, if we had done our homework and were faithful we could step forward at this time and help save this country.40

On 4 May, a month after Benson’s talk,41 apostle Harold B. Lee spoke at a BYU devotional. According to D. Michael Quinn, part of Lee’s talk was directed at Benson and his remarks at general conference.

It all sums up to this: Beware of that clever advocate, even in high places in the government, or in the Church, who deals in cunning half-truths, or who endeavors to win his purposes by twisting the facts and so seeks for decisions based upon half-falsehoods. Sometimes that happens. So often men of authority in the Church seek to buttress their position by making it appear that they speak for the highest Church authorities, rather than to wait until that higher authority speaks for himself.42


On 5 April 1981, Hartman Rector, Jr., of the First Quorum of Seventy, gave a talk titled “Will the Earth Be Wasted?” focusing on the themes of family and genealogical work. Rector proclaimed that “the family concept is under very serious attack today all over the world,” comparing our day with Noah’s and suggesting that “as in the days of the flood He will surely destroy” the earth. Rector then gave examples of attacks on the family, discussing a TV documentary that had claimed that “‘old people’ are dying for a lack of love and attention,” that children no longer visit their parents, and that some governments pay people to visit the elderly. Rector believed that because of this government intervention, “children no longer have to worry about their parents in their old age so they completely neglect them.”

Rector then moved on to what he considered major attacks on the family: sterilization, vasectomies, abortion, birth control, and homosexuality. Rector expressed concern about one-child policies, though he did not actually name China, because the method of enforcing a one-child policy is “through birth control, abortion, and sterilization.” If a parent has a second child, Rector said, the government takes it to be raised. He believed this policy would “literally destroy these nations.”

Rector continued that the Lord would lay waste to the earth when he returned if children and fathers did not turn their hearts to one another. If latter-day saints did their personal and family history, Rector promised, their children

will get a great desire to raise a family of their own when they see what a great blessing they were to you. If children have a happy family experience, they will not want to be homosexuals, which I am sure is an acquired addiction just as drugs, alcohol, and pornography are. The promoters of homosexuality say they were born that way, but I do not believe it is true. There are no female spirits trapped in male bodies and vice versa.43

This talk was extensively covered in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News on Monday, 6 April, and in the Church News on Saturday, 11 April, with quotations of passages that were later removed from the published talk. In May, the talk was published in the Ensign with the new title, “Turning the Hearts.” All references to abortion, birth control, sterilization, vasectomy, homosexuality, and the dying elderly were removed, thereby transforming the speech from an apocalyptic jeremiad to an upbeat pep talk about genealogy.

When asked about the changes, Rector responded:

Sometimes it is not expedient to make people angry by telling them in too plain terms what their problems are. The Master many times spoke in parables to protect those who were not able to bear his message—also the church [is] hoping to gain entrance into communist China so didn’t want to make waves. I presume a combination of things made the First Presidency decide to eliminate certain portions of my remarks even tho’ they had received and cleared the talk before it was given. It is O.K. They know best. However, what was said is still true.44


Reporter Rodd G. Wagner, of the Salt Lake Tribune broke a story on 16 November 1984 about changes in a 7 October 1984 General Conference address by Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of Seventy, titled, “The Gospel and the Church.” Wagner wrote that not only was the address heavily edited and partially rewritten for the November Ensign, it was also re-videotaped, with “the new version [being] spliced into the conference tape” for Church distribution. In response, Church spokesperson Don LeFevre stated that “the most obvious place to retape [Poelman’s] talk was from the pulpit,” but when Wagner asked if this approach could give the “false impression” that the re-recording was the original, LeFevre said, “It could.” The Deseret News ran a similar story on 17 November and the Provo Daily Herald on 18 November.

Some months later, in Sunstone 10:1 (1985), editor Peggy Fletcher wrote that “Poelman returned to the Tabernacle a few days after conference and retaped the speech with the changes. This tape was then spliced into the original conference tape replacing the previous address. In addition, a ‘coughtrack’ was provided to make it sound more like an audience was present.” Stack also pointed out that “the cost of this video editing was between $10,000 and $15,000.” Church spokesperson Jerry Cahill was quoted as saying, “I don’t think that $10,000 is too much to pay to correct a possible misinterpretation. Besides, if the Brethren require it, we comply.” (The Daily Herald reported “Poelman redelivered his speech in the studios of the Mormon Church-owned Bonneville Media Communi-cations,” but this is likely an error.)

Apparently Church leadership’s main concern centered on how Mormon fundamentalists would interpret the talk. For years, General Authorities had been countering fundamentalist claims that there were in fact two true churches: one church that was a part of the world and another that followed a higher spiritual law. Stack wrote “that Apostles who regularly deal with Mormon apostate groups ‘pointed out’ to Elder Poelman that his remarks might be misinterpreted.” Poelman’s brother Stuart was quoted in the Tribune saying that Ronald Poelman “was concerned his remarks would be used by Mormon apostate groups.”

Some of the changes support this concern. A portion of the original speech reads,

Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant and it is very important that this distinction be understood. Of equal importance is understanding the essential relationship between the gospel and the Church. Failure to distinguish between the two and to comprehend their proper relationship may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations.

That portion was revised to read:

Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine, and there is an essential relationship between them that is significant and very important. Understanding the proper relationship between the gospel and the Church will prevent confusion, misplaced priorities, and failed expectations and will lead to the realization of gospel goals through happy, fulfilling participation in the Church.

Another section reads: “As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered.”

The section was revised to read: “As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we can more effectively utilize the Church to make our lives increasingly gospel centered.”

Poelman’s treatment of free agency also seems to have been a concern. Of the three times the phrase was used in the original talk, two were removed and the third modified. Poelman stated in the original talk that people should not use their free agency to invent their own values and principles. The edited version reads, “The Church aids us in our effort to use our free agency creatively, not to invent our own values, principles, and interpretations.”

After the revised talk had been published, “the church public communications office” released a statement saying Poelman had decided that his talk “might possibly be misinterpreted” and “any editorial changes were his own.”45 In the Salt Lake Tribune article, Stuart Poelman “said he understood the changes were his brother’s idea and not due to pressure of other church officials.” Four years later, in April 1989, Poelman gave another speech at general conference, this time raising no controversy.46

A side-by-side comparison of Poelman’s originally delivered talk and the edited version can be found in the October 1990 issue of Sunstone (14:5).


I began this article by briefly describing the reaction to revisions made to Boyd K. Packer’s October 2010 conference speech.47 The portion of his speech that received the most attention was delivered from the pulpit as, “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” Packer ended his talk by proclaiming that through repentance, people can overcome a “habit or an addiction that is unworthy.”

By Sunday afternoon, discussion was raging on the Internet about Packer’s talk and what it meant for the Church in relation to the issue of homosexuality.48 On Monday, 4 October, the Salt Lake Tribune ran Peggy Fletcher Stack’s article headlined, “Apostle: Same-sex Attraction Can Change,” the first of many stories about Packer’s address. Stack wrote that the speech could have a negative effect on LDS Church members’ attitude towards gay people. She also pointed out that the address seemed to contradict an October 1995 Ensign article by apostle Dallin H. Oaks on homosexuality49 as well as the Church’s 2007 pamphlet on same-sex attraction, God Loveth His Children.50

On the same day, the Human Rights Campaign, an organization promoting gay rights, released a statement saying that President Packer needed to “correct” his statements, calling his talk “inaccurate and dangerous.”51 By Thursday night, a protest had been organized, with 4,500 people gathering at Temple Square to show their disapproval of the address.52 On Friday, 8 October, a revised version of the address was posted on the Church’s website, lighting off an entirely new round of discussions in the news media and on the Internet.

The revised version of Packer’s speech eliminated the sentence “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” and replaced the word “tendencies” with “temptations.” Less talked about was a change to Packer’s assertion that the Proclamation on the Family “qualifies according to the definition as a revelation and would do well that members of the Church to read and follow it.” The sentence was revised to read: “It is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow.”


More than 7000 speeches have been delivered in general conferences since 1897. I have documented eleven that were subject to significant revision or elimination. Likely other talks could also fit into this group, but for the most part, it seems that general authorities have policed themselves, keeping their remarks within prescribed boundaries.



1.  For a transcript of the talk with editing changes, see “Edits to Boyd K. Packer’s Talk,” Mormons for Marriage, 7 October 2010, (accessed 19 December 2011).

2.  Lavina Fielding Anderson’s comments, Mormon-Library Yahoo discussion group, 8 October 2010 (accessed 12 January 2011).

3.  A talk delivered at the 4 October 2008 afternoon session may be an example of where the speaker changed a word to create a better flow in the talk. In his talk “The Way,” Lawrence Corbridge said from the pulpit, “Every other way, any other way, whatever other way is madness.” The official online and printed text have changed the word “madness” to “foolishness,” echoing Corbridge’s use of “foolishness” six other times in the talk. An audience member at the 2011 Sunstone Symposium, held in Ogden, Utah, 6 August 2011, pointed out this change. See “Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge,” Church News, 4 October 2008,; Lawrence E. Corbridge, “The Way,” General Conference, 4 October 2008, (accessed 19 December 2011).

4.  “LDS Church Addresses Changes Made to Pres. Packer’s Talk,”, (accessed 19 December 2011).

5.  See also Gary James Bergera, Conflict in the Quorum (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, distributed by Signature Books, 2002).

6.  Note that the Church discontinued Conference Reports in 2009, almost certainly because the Church’s website makes conference talks so quickly available, along with the Ensign’s prompt availability.

7.  Brian H. Stuy, Collected Discourses (BHS Publishing, 1992), 5:457–64. The talks were originally published in the Deseret News Weekly, 15 October 1898, digitally available at

8.  7 October 1898, Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1894–1899 (Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010), 2:327. Joseph F. Smith’s was the only address published in the Conference Report for the Saturday morning session. His talk was about looking after the “temporal welfare of the people” in Utah.

9.  7 & 9 October 1898 in Church, State and Politics: The Diaries of John Henry Smith edited by Jean Bickmore White (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), 410.

10.      6 October 1909, Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1900–1909 (Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010), 3:465–66

11.      6 October 1909 in In The World: The Diaries of Reed Smoot, edited by Harvard Heath (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 35.

12.      6 October 1909 in Church, State and Politics, 633.

13.      6 October 1909, Minutes of the Apostles, 1900–1909, 3:465–66.

14.      For the complete text of the letter, see The Essential B.H. Roberts, edited by Brigham D. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 183–87

15.      See 5 and 6 January 1909, Minutes of the Apostles, 1900–1909, 3:436–37.

16.      Ibid 3:465–66.

17.      Ibid 3:465–66.

18.      See 15 October 1909 in Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, edited by John Hatch (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005), 405.

19.      The Essential James E. Talmage, edited by James P. Harris (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 135–41.

20.      “Politics by Church Denied,” Ogden Standard Examiner, 8 October 1923, (accessed 19 December 2011), “Influence of Priesthood in Affairs Denied,” Salt Lake Tribune, 8 October 1923.

21.      “Temporal Affairs of Members Not Governed by Church, Says President Grant in Conference” Salt Lake Telegram, 8 October 1923, (accessed 25 April 2011). “J. Golden Kimball one of the seven presidents of the Seventy, stirred the crowd and caused a ripple of laughter when he diverted from the usual solemn attitude. Arising from the ‘keynote address,’ he said in his unique phrasing: ‘Last year I received a Christmas present C.O.D., I paid for it.’ And then pointing out the moral; ‘That’s the way God’s blessings come—C.O.D. You don’t get anything unless you deserve and pay for it.’ The genuine sensation came when Mr. Kimball, in bearing his testimony said: ‘I know that the Mormon gospel is true; that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. And when I know a thing I know it. Why worry about what the other fellow says. As far as I am concerned they can go to hell—and that’s where most of them belong.’ The last statement brought laughter from the large crowd, and evidently provoked at the proceedings, President Grant arose and said: ‘Pardon me, but I do not desire that laughter be provoked in our worship.’”

22.      “Saints Urged to Be Worthy,” Deseret News, 8 October 1923, 6.

23.      Stephen L Richards, “Bringing Humanity to the Gospel,” Sunstone, June 1979, 43–46.

24.      9 April 1932, Talmage Journal, BYU Special Collections.

25.      11 April 1932, Diaries of Heber J. Grant: 1880–1945 Abridged (Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010), 305.

26.      5 May 1932, Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1910–1951 (Salt Lake City, Utah: 2010), 4:318

27.      5 May 1932, Diaries of Heber J. Grant: 1880–1945, 306.

28.      8 May 1932, In The World, 778.

29.      27 May 1932, Diaries of Heber J. Grant, 306–07.

30.      30 May 1932, Minutes of the Apostles, 1910–1951, 4:318.

31.      Photocopies of the three drafts are in my possession (courtesy the Smith-Pettit Foundation, Salt Lake City, Utah), as well as the version published in Sunstone.

32.      The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846–2000: A Documentary History, edited by Devery Anderson (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011), 185–227.

33.      Salt Lake Tribune, 10 April 1932, 1 and 12.

34.      16 April and 5 May 1933, Diaries of Heber J. Grant, 318.

35.      9 May 1933, Diaries of Heber J. Grant, 319.

36.      Both Salt Lake newspapers mention Grant’s reading from Widtsoe’s book In Search of Truth as found in the Conference Report.

37.      For most of the removed text, see Irene Bates and E. Gary Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 201–02.

38.      D. Michael Quinn, Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books,  1997), 77–80.

39.      Benson mentioned McKay’s name four times in the talk.

40.      For the removed text, see Salt Lake Tribune, 7 April 1965, A-5; Gregory A. Prince, “The Red Peril, the Candy Maker, and the Apostle: David O. McKay’s Confrontation with Communism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 37, vol. 2 (Summer 2004), 69–70; Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 304–05.

41.      At the October 1963 General Conference and at a BYU devotional on 10 May 1966, Benson spoke about early LDS Church leaders who had gone into apostasy and observed that even Jesus had his Judas. People understood that Benson was alluding to Hugh B. Brown and possibly N. Eldon Tanner. D. Michael Quinn quotes BYU president Ernest L. Wilkinson and Brown, showing that they understood Benson was calling Brown a Judas in the 1963 talk. Neither of these talks was censored or edited. Quinn, Extensions of Power, 76. On 6 May 1969, Benson spoke at another BYU devotional on the subject of the United States’ military involvement in Vietnam. With the support of the First Presidency, President McKay assigned counselor Brown to respond to Benson in a talk given one week later at a BYU devotional. See McKay diaries for 12, 19, 20, and 21 May 1969, Marriott Library, University of Utah. For Brown’s speech, Hugh B. Brown, “An Eternal Quest,” audio available at For Benson’s speech, Ezra Taft Benson, “Vietnam—Victory or Surrender,” Speeches of the Year (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1969) 1–13.

42.      Harold B. Lee, “Be Ye Not Deceived,” BYU Speeches of the Year, BYU Speeches 1965, 4 May 1965, (accessed 19 December 2011). See also Quinn, Extensions of Power, 81, 83.

43.      A comparable text that was not censored is Rector’s “Roots and Branches,” BYU devotional, 10 February 1981,
(accessed 19 December 2011).

44.      Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 15, n. 19.

45.      “Elder Poelman Revises, Retapes Conference Talk,” Deseret News, 17 November 1984, B-5.

46.      See D. Michael Quinn, Extensions of Power, 879.

47.      I have verified that the talk Packer presented was the same text distributed to the press before the conference session began. Peggy Fletcher Stack, email to Joseph Geisner, 26 March 2011.

48.      See, for example, “Why Would God Allow His Children to Be Born Homosexual?” Mormons for Marriage, 3 October 2010, (accessed 19 December 2011).

49.      Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, October 1995, (accessed 19 December 2011).

50.      Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Mormons Divided on LDS Apostle’s Speech on Gays,” Salt Lake Tribune, 5 October 2010,
(accessed 22 March 2011) and God Loveth His Children (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), (accessed 20 December 2011).

51.      See: “Packer Makes Changes to Sermon Regarding Homosexuality,”, (accessed 19 December 2011).

52.      Rosemary Winters, “Mormon Apostle’s Words about Gays Spark Protest,” Salt Lake Tribune, 19 October 2010, (accessed 20 December 2011).