Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Faith Crisis of 25 July 1965 re-examined

Event: Sunday, 25 July 1965
Posted: Tuesday, 20 Oct 15
Updated: Wednesday, 28 Oct 15

 Re-examining my faith crisis of July 25, 1965, and what happened before and after it.

In his classic 1996 book, "A Brief History of Everything", Ken Wilber admonishes readers never to deny their spiritual experiences, but always be willing to re-interpret them.

This post is written with that admonition in mind, now more than 50 years later. Comments of any thoughtful kind are welcome.

I remember that 25 July 1965 Sunday well. Very early, i.e., in-the-dark early, I'd had a mind blowing experience, which I'd managed to capture on paper with initial difficulty. Profoundly surprised and distressed by it, but feeling resolved by its message, I looked forward to sharing it with my old, seasoned bishop, Reed C. Durham, Sr., who had given me a special, patriarchal-like blessing only a week earlier, on 16 July. It was this blessing that opened the way for me to have had such an experience on 25 July, because I had faith in his right to give such a blessing. I had learned to trust him implicitly. 

October 21, 2015
So, imagine my surprise and distress when, arriving at the regular morning priesthood meeting on that 25 July Sunday, expecting to share the profound earlier morning experience with Bishop Durham (and hoping he would help me discuss it with a high council of wise men), I encountered a brand new, inexperienced young bishop, Michael Brown, whom I'd never before met. (In writing this I'm now recalling a dream I'd had about the same time where I am shaking hands with a very young, visiting general authority--see below.**) I thought, "Dare I share with this man the experience of this morning?" in which I was still feeling its glow? But then I quickly--too quickly!--reasoned, "If I can't trust this bishop, whom then can I trust?"

Things were happening too fast for me to make good rational decisions. I had not yet reflected on the admonition and warning of Bishop Durham's blessing: "You must be very careful with whom you share the experiences you will now begin to have" and "beware of haughtiness". Thus, I had not yet become aware of a distinction between older seasoned ecclesiastic leaders who were wise versus new, inexperienced ones not yet wise enough to understand their own limitations. 

** Dream of 16 July 1965, 0645. At church.  One of the brethren (general authorities) is visiting. Can't remember who or which one. He is a young man, surrounded by people eager to shake his hand and hear some personal words. I wait until I can stick out my hand. He grabs it. No words. Eyes meet. Recognition occurs in his eyes. I wake to write.

Note: I did not understand this dream at the time. It brought to my awareness a message from my psyche about a new young "General Authority", i.e., a highest level Mormon ecclesiastic leader who recognizes me intuitively, without words. It is not clear in what way this young leader recognizes me, but I would soon learn what it is not long after the blessing by Bishop Durham later that evening. Nevertheless, I did not give this dream much attention at the time other than to record it in my journal and then remember it only a few days ago while writing this post.

Later in the afternoon of this dream (16 Jul 65), I received a surprising and disturbing phone call while in my office at General Atomic from my friend and mentor, the late Howard E. Salisbury (HES) (who had a legendary reputation as a professor at Rick's College for helping gifted students develop their talents). Unaccountably, he was enraged and accusing because of a naive letter I had written to one of the general authorities, whom I knew personally, to say I was excitedly looking forward to Salisbury's impending re-baptism into the Church and wanted to be there to witness and celebrate the occasion. Salisbury, on the other hand, felt betrayed (because he had lied to me about this and now felt exposed) and I felt shock, guilt and panic. Never had I been talked to like this, even in Army basic training. In bizarre contrast, HES had written inspiring letters just weeks earlier about something he was trying to awaken me to, which took me years to comprehend. (See here for the most recent.) Immediately I began fasting and praying for strength and wisdom and then called all my closest church friends (including Bishop Durham) and family members to join me in dealing with this troubling twist in one of my deepest personal relationships--the first time I'd ever made such a call request. 

I couldn't tell them details but promised to call each when the crisis was over. No one, in the more than 30 called, refused. Feeling immediate support in terms of peace and confidence, I resolved to travel north to confront my now erstwhile friend/mentor to intervene his suicidal threat. Later that evening, before the road trip north the following morning, I visited Bishop Durham who offered a priesthood blessing, which was surprising, powerful and comforting.

October 22, 2015
On further reflection, the 25 Jul 65 crisis was actually a continuation of a process precipitated by the terrible phone call of 16 July, mentioned above. My trust in Mormon ecclesiastical authority was beginning to be tested in all new ways since an initial breakdown in communication began with Church President McKay's office the previous January.

Back to the 25 Jul 65 Sunday morning and encountering a new, young bishop Brown, who inexplicably had replaced old bishop Durham, whom I knew well and trusted. That day my attitude toward Mormon ecclesiastical leadership changed from trust to challenge. I trusted the old bishop, but had not learned to trust the new bishop, whom I did not know. Because of what I had been experiencing since Bishop Durham's 16 July blessing [see here, here and here], I would not allow myself to be dismissed by this new, unknown and inexperienced ecclesiastic. 

Nevertheless, I acknowledge from today's perspective that my own behavior was reactionary rather than responsive, let alone compassionate and understanding. I had not yet comprehended bishop Durham's warning to "beware of haughtiness".  

Why, I now ask myself 50 years later, did that fateful change of bishops occur during that particular week in July 1965 and happen so quickly? Was it standard procedure? Or was Bishop Durham aware that he was about to be released and replaced? I do not know, since I never saw him again. Was that pending change of bishops inferred in his blessing of 16 July, which he could not disclose at the time? We will probably never know, unless he recorded something about that day in his personal journal. (This reminds me to contact his son, Reed C. Durham, Jr., a well-known and respected LDS institute director, now retired in Idaho.)

Now, regarding Bishop Brown and his reaction after reading the ARTIFACT I'd given to him in a plain envelope during our first encounter on the morning of 25 July 1965, his demeanor had changed from warm, friendly and confident that morning, when I handed the envelope to him, to a cold, frightened dismissal in his office after the evening sacrament meeting. He asked no questions, but instead advised me to pray about and forget it, as would he. 

Of course I could not forget about it, since the experience was in fact the result of sincere, precise prayer: "What is it that lies behind this church policy?" (I had specifically asked God, regarding the Mormon priesthood ban of blacks, fully believing and expecting a clear answer). But my reaction to Brown's dismissal was to make an ecclesiastical threat, which I then followed through with.

It became simply a power play between me and the new bishop. I took the issue out of his hands and forced it into the next ecclesiastical level up. I won round one, but not round two.
From today's perspective there were more compassionate, mature and responsible options available, which I was not then wise enough to choose or even consider. (See here for back story.)

It wasn't until I received sociology Professor David Brewer's hand-written letter of August 26, 1965 a few weeks later that I began to comprehend the historic difference between prophetic and ecclesiastic roles.

23 October 2015. 
About the ARTIFACT of 25 July 1965: Why did Bishop Brown dismiss it? What did it say? Where is it now? What do I think about it after 50 years?

24 October 2015
Why did Bishop Brown dismiss it? 
I suppose the very first words "Thus saith the Lord..." alarmed him, since he obviously believed they could not come from anyone except from the very top of the church hierarchy. That is how the Mormon Church had come to understand the process of revelation these days. Personal revelation is apparently not accepted by the institution if it addresses anything beyond personal issues.  

My view is that this attitude idolizes the institution and its leadership. This is not healthy. Surely anyone of faith can ask God about anything and expect an answer. If then one receives a revelation about something affecting issues beyond one's personal and/or ecclesiastic role or responsibility, it needs to be considered at a higher level until it reaches an appropriate level. Obviously those first words in the ARTIFACT were intended for the highest ecclesiastic level, which Brown automatically could not or would not accept. He obviously believed that his ordained priesthood office now qualified him to judge it then and there. I did not believe that he was so qualified, given my recent above-referenced experiences, which clearly defines the crisis point.
What did it [the ARTIFACT] say?
I do not want to repeat it here, except for those first four words, which anyone can read in an earlier post. What I will say is that I have never asserted, preached or defended its content, which is why I asked for a hearing before a high council of wise men. I felt then and still feel that it deserved a fair hearing and discussion. 

When I managed to get the original document back from San Diego stake president Barry Knudsen weeks later, I immediately made copies (posted above) to allow feedback from others when the occasion permitted. Some of those "others" were: an old blind fundamentalist polygamist near Las Vegas, a black Pentecostal preacher in south-central Los Angeles, an old Jewish rabbi who used to lead the Jewish community in Idaho (now retired in northern California), and a former Mormon bishop familiar with Black Muslim beliefs in this country.

All but the rabbi considered the content "true". The rabbi replied that such first words were not unusual in his culture and when someone came up with such words, his people never dismiss them, but take them seriously enough to discuss, debate and winnow the truth of what it may contain. That is all I ever wanted. 

Where is the ARTIFACT now?
I do not know. If it still exists, it may be in the Church History archives. The last I saw it was in fall 1968 when I handed it personally to the late Ferren L. Christensen (FLC), then the California Newport Beach Stake President, at the end of a re-hearing of my 1966 excommunication at my request. FLC had been my bishop when I lived in Laguna Beach Ward boundaries in 1956-58, after separating from a clandestine U.S. Army assignment in 1956. In July 1957 FLC introduced me to Mormon Church President David O. McKay (DOM) as "The young man I told you about who speaks Russian". DOM had a summer home in Laguna Beach, which DOM occasionally visited. 

In 1966 FLC, having been released as bishop of the Laguna Beach Ward in early 1965, was a member of the Newport Beach Stake high council that excommunicated me in absentia, which was well after the above crisis accelerated. Now, in 1968, he was stake president and more than cooperative in granting me a rehearing of that unjust stake decision.

Fast forward: In November 2006, after more than 15 years out of touch with FLC (the last contact was in 1992, just before my second excommunication, which would occur in Ventura, California), I was surprised to dream (for the first time) of his wife Glennie. When dream figures look like someone I know, I often contact the outer "someone" as a reality check. Such "someones" most often reflect aspects of one's self rather than the outer person. Psychologists call this "projection", which can be accurate or not. Most often they are not accurate and when one becomes aware of this, s/he will find her/himself saying "Oh, you are not who I thought you were!" Or, "I'm so disillusioned", etc.

So, I called FLC to discuss the dream before asking to talk to his wife. (He knew that I had a thing about dreams and called her to the phone after we talked. See here.)  During this conversation he told me he was in bad health and nearing the end of his life. Then he casually mentioned having shredded all his ecclesiastical papers that he had accumulated when he was a stake president and regional rep. I learned subsequently that such document shredding by stake presidents and regional representatives is standard operating procedure in the Church, a policy that surprised and still puzzles me.

Then, in our last telephone conversation shortly before his death in March 2007, FLC asked me one last question: "How do you view the ecclesiastical system these days?" I thought this was curious coming from him, given our long time acquaintance and many ecclesiastical experiences together. As a regional representative in Southern California in the 1980s, he would occasionally ask me to accompany him to sing to congregations when he was assigned to preside over stake conferences. (This was something he did many years earlier--in 1956-58--when he was bishop of the Laguna Beach Ward and loved to call me extemporaneously out of the congregation to sing, which was usually a Negro Spiritual.)  

But,  upon reflection months later after learning of his death, I realized he had asked that question as if still in his role as the stake president who rose to my defense before his hostile [to me] high council in 1975, when I applied to rejoin the Church under his watch. He then allowed me to choose the circumstances of my return, which were to be re-baptized by my oldest son, a 17-year-old Mormon priest, on the 10th anniversary of the ARTIFACT's creation and in the Pacific Ocean below the cliffs of the Laguna Beach home in which I lived when I was first excommunicated in April 1966.

If I were to answer FLC's last question these days, I would say that the Mormon ecclesiastical system is corrupt and in need of complete restructuring, if not dismantling, beginning with the old men at the top. Seniority in selecting leaders should be a thing of the past and the practice of excommunication should be abandoned in the name of justice and ecclesiastical repentance. All past involuntary excommunications should be reviewed and pardons offered to those still wanting church fellowship.

What do you think about the ARTIFACT these days? 
I think it caused a turning point in some high level hierarchical attitudes. If FLC did not shred it (which would surprise and disappoint me) but, more likely, turned it over to DOM who probably discussed it deliberately with Spencer W. Kimball (SWK) rather than with Joseph Fielding Smith or Harold B. Lee (which were the two general authorities next in seniority for becoming church president, both of whom I met personally in September 1965). The substance of the ARTIFACT was so different from the church 'doctrine' that had ensconced itself in the institution, that it probably was too strange to be presented in raw form to Church membership (as some revelations appear in the Doctrine and Covenants, received by Joseph Smith). That is probably why SWK only referred to it in announcing the historic change in Church policy on June 8, 1978, without disclosing the content of the long awaited 'new revelation on the priesthood'. It is interesting to me that the word "priesthood" does not appear anywhere in the ARTIFACT, which detail would not go unnoticed by any serious general authority.

On 27 October 2015, 1:03 PM, Charles Beck wrote:

. i am really confused about several things that happened in July 1965 -- in part due to the fact that i am ignorant of the structure and terminology used in the LDS church, i don't know what the special blessing was that Bishop Reed C. Durham, Sr. gave you, just how Michael Brown fits into things, what was the meaning of " i wait until i can stick out my hand. he grabs it. no words. eyes meet. recognition occurs in his eyes." i can't piece the order of things encompassing July 16 to 25, 1065, i can't understand HES, the phone call with the cruel dressing down you got

Later, on 10/27, I replied to Charles:
Thank you Charles. I will review and revise the parts you mention to make them more understandable. 

Perhaps to be continued...