Recently, President Dallin H. Oaks’s biographer, Richard E. Turley, Jr. sat down with Kurt Manwaring to discuss the recently-published book In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks. What follows here is a co-post to the one at Kurt Manwaring’s site, with quotes from and discussion about the full interview, which can be read here.
As part of the discussion, Richard Turley discussed some of the documents he had available to him to draw upon in writing about President Oaks. He stated that:
He is one of the most documented Church leaders in history. I used his personal history, his journals, his correspondence, his talks, and a host of other materials ranging from newspaper articles to photographs.
I would characterize his journals as being among the best ever kept by a Church leader.
I would be curious to know more about President Oaks’s journals, especially given some of the things I’ve heard about general authorities being discouraged to keep journals. It gives me hope that we will be able to have at least some journals and diaries of Church leaders from our time akin to those being published by the Church Historian’s Press or Signature Book from Church leaders in the past like George F. Richards, Emmaline B. Wells, George Q. Cannon, Brigham Young, Anthony Ivins, and so forth.
Now, President Oaks is, admittedly, a controversial figure in the Church, but it sounds like the biography shows a more well-rounded view of him as a person. While I appreciate many of Elder Oaks’s addresses in general conference, I’ve also joked that I walk away from many of his talks either feeling like I survived a college lecture or that I just received a detailed list of reasons for why I’m going to be damned. Turley addressed a couple of reasons for why we only get to see a specific portion of President Oaks’s personality in those public speeches compared to what he tried to display in the biography:
First, when he speaks in formal settings, he seeks to fulfill his calling and takes his responsibilities very seriously. When I read Jacob 1 in the Book of Mormon—especially verses 7, 17, and 19—I can hear his voice.
Second, he is extraordinarily well-rounded as a person, and yet most people see only the side he presents at the pulpit. I tried in the biography to capture the whole person.
It’s an interesting view into how President Oaks approaches his ministry and good to hear that we get a view into his personality in the biography than what we generally get to see.
When President Nelson assumed the mantle of president of the Church, many Church members were disappointed to have President Uchtdorf released from the First Presidency and to have President Oaks called as first councilor. According to Richard Turley, some of the background to that decision was that: “President Nelson took the unprecedented step of interviewing all the living apostles and seeking their input before praying and selecting his counselors as he felt inspired to do.” I’m sure there were many factors that were a part of the decision, including the opportunity for greater continuity between administrations (since President Oaks is next in line to become president of the Church) and relationships between individuals in the Quorum. In any case, it is interesting to hear about some of the work President Nelson put into making that choice.
Now, I’ve been relatively brief here, hitting a few of the highlights, but there is much more available for reading in the full interview (available here). They discuss a few opportunities that could have led to Dallin Oaks serving on the U.S. Supreme Court and reasons why he never did, insights into President Oaks’s early life, and how Richard Turley came to write the biography in the first place. It’s an interesting read, so I recommend taking the time to do so.
Just FYI – general authorities are not asked to stop journaling. Their journals do become church property, and there are times when they will blackout names and certain events that are personal to the family. I’m sure with general authorities knowing that their journals will be records of the church that they probably have that in mind as they journal – Just like how I usually have my kids in mind when I journal.
“[H]e is extraordinarily well-rounded as a person, and yet most people see only the side he presents at the pulpit.”
Interesting. For the brief time I spent in one of his classrooms, I also saw only the same side he presents at the pulpit.
For many it’s unfortunate that his taking his responsibility seriously means he has an incomplete, sometimes perceived as inhuman, pulpit persona. For them he many be more effective in his responsibility if he dropped that and let them see a “whole person.” Bruce McConkie is also reputed to have had a pulpit persona that disguised the whole person. That approach was part of the reason the membership’s response to him was so polarized between those who appreciated his style as if it meant he couldn’t make a mistake and those who were significantly put off by style as well as some content. Are we seeing the same polarization in responses to President Oaks?