How would you respond if you were publicly rebuked by an apostle in front of thousands of people who you knew and loved? Would it be any easier if it were done in private? Those are questions that I hope I will never have to answer. Brigham Young is one example in our early history who was rebuked by Joseph Smith in front of his peers. We know how he responded.
One of the responsibilities of an apostle is to ensure that correct doctrine is taught, especially in an environment where young impressionable minds are searching for the truth and building their testimonies. What an apostle teaches us about our relationship to the Godhead is very important and something to which we should give heed. We can apply it in our own efforts to know Christ.
Know Your Religion lectures
When I was preparing for my mission, I attended Know Your Religion lectures with my mother and sister. This unique aspect of LDS gospel training and scholarship is no longer offered, or at least not here in California. At one time it was offered at various Stake Centers in California in a week-long format during the summer. Now, one must travel to BYU to attend Education Week.
Some of my favorite lecturers were Joseph C. Muren, who later became my mission president, and George W Pace, who was my Branch President in the LTM. Yes, I went on my mission in the days before the MTC. Although it was on the campus of BYU, it was called the Language Training Mission back then and was located in the recently demolished Knight Magnum Hall.
What it means to know Christ
In those days, the KYR instructors would compile and sell their lectures. That’s where I first picked up Causes and Prevention of Inactivity in the Church by Elder Muren, still one of my favorites. But my all time favorite from that period of my life (74-76) had to be What it Means to Know Christ by George W. Pace, which he later expanded and published in book format.
I think I heard the lecture several times in various stakes during that period. Since we couldn’t catch all the classes offered in one venue, we would go to others a week or two later. As a young 17-18 year old preparing for a mission, I was searching to solidify my testimony, to really apply repentance towards forgiveness, and especially to understand what it means to know the Savior.
Building and inspecting the house
One of my favorite parts of the lecture is when Brother Pace described the Savior inspecting the rooms of the house that we are building, which represented our lives. I clearly remember his dramatic emphasis when describing the one room that you could never let the Savior enter. That was where you kept all your painful secrets and all the things of which you were ashamed.
Vividly he recounted that when you told the Savior no, that he couldn’t go in there, he said he would have to leave until you invited him back. Stubbornly, you refused and he left. Missing him desperately, you finally invited him back, and he began to quietly and without chastisement go about cleaning up your messy room, throwing out the junk and washing it thoroughly clean.
Cleansing of the junk room
I thought long and hard on this scene numerous times that summer. I had put many things in my own closet until it turned into a room full of junk that was beginning to stink and to trouble me. In my quiet moments I began to seek more diligently to have the Lord come into my home and to clean up my junk room for me. It took time, but with fasting and prayer, I witnessed the miracle.
I have a special place in my heart for George W. Pace because he was instrumental in getting me to think about and to understand the process of repentance in a way that I could visualize and to apply. I am not alone in that appreciation. I know he affected thousands of BYU students over the years he taught there. He was so popular that he was nominated for professor of the century.
Correcting false doctrine
Fast forward a few years. Brother Pace has increased in popularity and influence there at the BYU campus. Every class he teaches is full to overflowing with students sitting on the stairs in the aisles. He has expanded and published his book, What it Means to Know Christ and added a few insights that were unique to him about how God answers our prayers only through Christ.
Another one of my early heroes, Bruce R. McConkie, either by assignment or on his own went to the BYU campus and delivered a devotional address that corrected the doctrine that was found in George Pace’s book. He made it clear that we pray only to our Heavenly Father and that God can answer our prayers in any way he wants, through any individual or any means he desires.
Reproving betimes with sharpness
The episode is well known in Mormon history. The effects were immediate. Attendance in Brother Pace’s classes dropped considerably. His popularity waned. Book sales plummeted even though he revised and republished with the corrected doctrine and an apology. His family was afflicted and felt the discomfort of being on the receiving end of public reproof by an apostle.
The devotional address in March of 1982 was not the first time Elder McConkie corrected Brother Pace. On Oct 31st of 1981, George Pace was sitting on the stand as a Stake President when Elder McConkie delivered the discourse entitled Keeping Balance at the 14-stake fireside leadership session. Shortly thereafter, Brother Pace was released from his leadership calling.
A humble disciple responds
George W. Pace remained faithful and continued his lifelong efforts to build the kingdom of God in many areas. He is still listed today as a professor in the religion department at BYU. For a time he taught at the BYU Jerusalem Center. He published another book entitled The Faith of Young Mormons, something about which he knew a lot. He served faithfully in ward callings.
Unfortunately, this episode affected at least one member of George Pace’s family in such a manner that it caused him to lose his faith in the church. You can read the story of his son, who was serving a mission at the time, to get a much more detailed account of what happened. It is sad and just a little bitter to read. I don’t know how I would have responded if I had been him.
Summary and conclusion
I do not bring up this story to open old wounds. I share it to make a point that is sometimes very hard to understand, at least for some who write about the church. We do not know all the details of why Elder McConkie did not take George Pace aside in private to correct his over-zealous reach into advocating a relationship with Christ that is the equivalent of a born-again experience.
There is a fine line and subtle difference between our worship of Christ and our worship of the Father. I have long felt that my most intimate spiritual relationship is with my Heavenly Father. I love my Savior and appreciate what he has done for me, but in the end, his purpose is to bring me to the Father. It is the Father who grants eternal life. We strive to be like Heavenly Father.