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Rambling Thoughts on Church HistoryThe Kindly Wisdom of Two Prophets: A Lesson in Church Administration
by James B. Allen
I frequently run across stories in Church history that I really want to share. One of them follows. It is not often that I will take up this entire column with a long quotation, but I enjoyed this one so much that I felt I must make an exception.
The story was told in General Conference in April 1942 by President Heber J. Grant, who was President of the Church from 1918 to 1945. It involved John Taylor, who was President of the Church from 1880 to 1887, and Francis M. Lyman and John Henry Smith, both of whom became apostles in 1880.
Heber J. Grant was a very close friend to Elder Lyman, and became an apostle in 1882. Presumably he learned the details from Elder Lyman.
In this story, the wisdom of President Taylor along with the wisdom and ingenuity of Elder Lyman saved a faithful, elderly stake president from a sad and embarrassing experience and taught some local stake leaders a valuable lesson. Here is the story, as told by President Grant and printed in the Conference Report, April 1942:
I shall take the time to relate one more incident. Never did Brother Taylor direct the course of the apostles without inspiration, neither did Brother Woodruff, nor Brother Snow, nor Brother Joseph F. Smith. God to my knowledge inspired those men and directed them.
Brothers Francis M. Lyman and John Henry Smith were told by President John Taylor to go to some town -- I shall not mention where it is -- and to have a man sustained as the president of the stake. Undoubtedly there are some of you men who know where it was, I won't give the name -- I won't tell that.
Brother Lyman said: "Why, Brother Taylor, I know this brother, and I know that the people will not sustain him."
Brother Taylor said: "You and Brother John Henry Smith are called upon a mission to have him voted for and sustained as president."
Brother Lyman later in the day said: "Suppose these people won't sustain that man, what are we to do?"
Brother Taylor said: "But you are called upon a mission to have him sustained; that is what you are to do."
Brother Lyman brought it up again a third time and Brother Taylor said: "Do you understand English? Don't you know what mission I have placed upon you two men? It is to have him sustained."
Later in the day Brother John Henry thought the president had not thoroughly considered the matter, and he brought it up.
Brother Taylor said: "Didn't you hear what I said to Lyman? You two men are called to go to that place and have the people sustain this man."
Brother Lyman gave me the credit of feeding him more meals and giving him more opportunity to sleep in my house than all the rest of his relatives in Salt Lake City combined. He made my home his home during the two years that I presided in Tooele, and after I became an apostle he made my home his home whenever he came in to Salt Lake from Tooele.
As we came past the president's office after our meeting in the Endowment House, he said: "Heber, President Taylor does not understand the condition; those people have rebelled and they will not sustain this man. He was busy with our regular meeting, and he did not get it into his head that it cannot be done. I will step in here. You tell your wife I will be a little late, but don't delay your dinner until I get there. Go home and eat it, and I will come along later."
I said: I will wait for you. I thought it wouldn't be long.
He came out in a moment and said: I wish I had not gone to see the president. Heber, fast and pray for us; I do not see how under heaven we can change this condition. All the bishops and their counselors, the high council, the patriarchs, and the presidency of the high priests quorum have requested that this good brother be dropped and that they have another president. Brother John and I will have to pray all the way from Milford until we get to the place."
When they arrived, Brother Lyman brought all these people together who had signed the petition and said "Now, brethren, we do not want a great number of you men to confess the president's mistakes, but we will step out of the room, and you appoint one man to do the talking. You tell him everything you can think of against the president. If he has forgotten anything, give him a chance to speak again, and then we will come back and hear it all. We have come here to fix up things, and we are going to do just what you people want us to do."
When they got into the other room John Henry said: "For heaven's sake, Lyman, did you lose your head? They want a new president, they have signed their names for a new president."
Brother Lyman said: "Well, it must have been a slip of the tongue. We will have to pray just that much harder."
When the man who had been selected to be their spokesman got through with his talk of nearly an hour, Brother Lyman said: "Has he forgotten anything?"
They said: "No, he has told the truth."
Brother Lyman said: "Well, that is marvelous. We had never dreamed that this man had so many faults and failings. Really, if there is somebody who would like to tell something good about him we would like to hear it."
A man got up and said: "I can say something good about him, about his generosity, his liberality." Then he commenced weeping, and said: "Brother Lyman, will you scratch my name off that list and let me vote for him."
Brother Lyman said: "All right. Does anybody else feel that way?" About one-third of them got up.
He said: "Well, you may go home, it is rather late, and the others of us will discuss this matter further."
He then said to the spokesman: "Get up and tell that story again, because it is news to us; we never dreamed this brother had so many failings."
So the man got up and told it over again.
Another man jumped up and said: "Brother Lyman, please take my name off that list. Let me vote for him."
Brother Lyman said: "All right.
"Does anybody else feel that way?" About half of them stood up.
He said: "All right. Your folks are wondering why you are out so late; we will excuse you.
Then he said to this man again: "Now get up and tell us that story again."
The man got up and told the story once more.
Brother Lyman said: "Two men have tried to tell something good about this man and failed, but have asked permission to vote for him tomorrow. Is there anybody else here who feels to sustain him?" And they all stood up.
He said: "All right. Good night, brethren." And he turned to John Henry and said: "John, will you sustain him?"
John laughed and said: "I will." By this time I think it was after half past twelve or one o'clock in the morning. The next morning Brother Lyman was able to say to the people: "All of the bishops and their counselors, the high council, the patriarch, the presidency of the high priests quorum, every one of them has asked permission to vote for Brother So and So as the president of your stake, and we have agreed to let them do so. If any of you want to vote the other way there will be no condemnation." They got a unanimous vote to sustain that man as president of the stake.
When Brothers Lyman and Smith returned they made their report of what had happened. Brother Taylor, when something pleased him immensely, used to shake his body and laugh; and he said; "Twins, twins, twins, (he nearly always called those two men twins) it wasn't such a hard job after all, was it? Now, this brother is a big-hearted, fine man, but he makes mistakes. He is sick abed now, and he never would have recovered, he would have died a broken-hearted man if he had not been sustained. He will be well in three months and feeling fine. Go down there and put your arm around him and say: 'Now that the people are loving you and have unanimously sustained you, don't you think it would be well to resign?' and he will jump at the chance and you assume the authority to accept his resignation."
And that is how it worked out.
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