Many of you may have seen the J. Golden Kimball stage show from a number of years ago. He was the infamous swearing general authority. I must admit I first heard it on my mission when a companion had some tapes of the show. We were in the southern states where J. Golden had served as a mission president during its more dangerous era. It was a very different portrait of general authorities than I was used to. One of the best known stories was his going off and telling wards they were going to hell. He was sometimes told he had to go back and apologize. According to the stage show he’d blame this on phone calls. “It’s that damn contraption the telephone that gets me in trouble. Before it was invented I could go out and say anything and come back and deny it. Now they call Heber and before I get back he’s waiting for me at the train station.”
In one case after swearing at a congregation in Wyoming, Heber J. Grant told Golden that he’d have to accompany Heber in the future. J. Golden tried to justify by saying that it was Wyoming and you need to swear at them to make them feel welcome. Needless to say there are some tales in having to visit stakes with Grant.
In my 20s, despite having had some great unexpected one on one conversations with various general authorities, I yearned for that kind of freewheeling attitude that was still common in the pre-war era in the church. It was said that most members in those days got to speak one on one with apostles quite regularly. I’ve no idea how true that was, but I’m sure it was far more common than today.
Today the internet has replaced the telephone and the pressures on general authorities to mind their speech is far greater than J. Golden faced. Just from the technology of the post war era that sort of situation the church had with J. Golden was not apt to happen again. Still those of you who have been able to be in small meetings with general authorities know they are far more open and forthright in such settings. The discourses we get in general conference or even during stake conferences are usually quite a bit more restrained. I remember a fire side with Elder Eyring about 10 years ago that showed the writing was on the wall even then. Elder Eyring prefaced his remarks saying, “now I don’t want to read about what I said on the internet tomorrow.” I wonder if even that level of off the cuff remarks is a thing of the past. Back on my mission Pres. Hinckley visited and talked for over an hour on making ones calling and election made sure. (Something that stuck with me after the kerfuffle over his interview on becoming like God by Time magazine in the 90’s)
We want and demand perfection from our leaders that they just can’t give. As with J. Golden Kimball, our “swearing apostle,” their weaknesses don’t diminish the power of their testimony or their work for the kingdom. J. Golden used to joke that they could never cut him off from the church. “They can’t do that! I repent too damn fast!”
Looking back we love colorful characters like J. Golden Kimball saying we wish it was like that again. Then, when we get anything approaching even a pale copy of it, we say the exact opposite.