20 Significant Milestones in 175 Years of Church History, Part 2

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From a small gathering that met together 175 years ago in the Whitmer cabin to a mountain of a conference center that broadcasts messages to all the world, the Church has seen steady and continuous growth and development and is bursting into an even more robust future.  We at Meridian have chosen 20 significant milestones of the onward thrust of the Church since the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Ten we highlighted in Part 1 of this article, and ten more we highlight today.

Church Welfare Program ? April 1936

The Lord’s plan for his children acknowledges their temporal as well as their spiritual needs.  In the earliest scenes of Church history from Ohio and Missouri, welfare and consecration principles are at work.  Still, the beginnings of the formalized welfare program that has become a model for the world were announced in April of 1936.

It was the time of the Great Depression, the “dirty thirties.”  Like the rest of the world, many members were unemployed, poverty was rampant, and breadlines were long.  The government hoped to alleviate this problem, but President Heber J. Grant felt their methods eroded self-respect and the work ethic.

That grim year of 1936, the First Presidency announced,  “Our primary purpose was to set up, insofar as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves.” [i]

Thus a welfare program was developed based on people developing self-sufficiency, members working together on welfare projects for the benefit of others, helping people develop skills that empower them to accommodate to changing environments and storage of food and other necessities.

The Church succeeded so well at its welfare program, when the war ravaged Europe, it was able to supply food to nations starving from the battles’ destructions. 

President Hinckley said, “I was among those who worked nights at Welfare Square here in Salt Lake City loading commodities onto railcars which moved the food to the port from which it was shipped across the sea. During the time of the Swiss Temple dedication, when many of the Saints of Germany came to the temple, I heard some of them, with tears running down their cheeks, speak with appreciation for that food which had saved their lives.” [ii]

Family Home Evening — January 1965

From the perspective of forty years beyond 1965, it is clear how prescient and profound the Church’s emphasis on the family is.  What is evident now, that wasn’t then, is that the very foundations of our society are in crisis as the idea of family is dissolving.   

Of course, the doctrine of eternal families, sealed in temples, is an eternal one, but in 1965, under the direction of President David O. McKay, the need to teach children and create family unity received new importance — just before it was to be assaulted on every side.

In an April 1964 conference, President McKay said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.  The poorest shack in which love prevails over united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than any other riches.  In such a home, God can work miracles…Pure hearts in a pure home are always in a whispering distance of heaven.” [iii]

In January 1965, the Family Home Evening program was inaugurated and wards had a choice of which night of the week to hold home evenings.  A weekly home evening had been encouraged before by Church leaders, but now the Church published a formal family home evening manual, which was placed in every LDS home.

Four Generation Program — April 1978

Work for the dead has been the hallmark of temple work, one of the continuing reminders that “God is no respecter of persons,” living or dead, those who heard and accepted the gospel during their lifetime or those who did not have that opportunity.  He is the God and Father of us all.

Latter-day Saints do family history research — and we are reminded how long we have been about it when we come upon the records of our great grandparents who carefully wrote their genealogy with sometimes shaky hands on long sheets.  In April 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball emphasized a four generation program, asking members to research and submit this information on their own family. 

President Kimball’s request not only made the sometimes daunting job of genealogy manageable, but it also became the basis for the Church’s computerized Ancestral File.  This eventually led to another important event in Church history March 24, 1999 — opening of the FamilySearch site on the Internet.

Priesthood Extended to All Worthy Males — June, 1978

If you had already been born and were a member of the Church, June 9, 1978, you remember in vivid detail exactly where you were the minute you heard that President Spencer W. Kimball had received a revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males.

Elder Marion D. Hanks, an emeritus General Authority who was there said, “Hallelujah. I thank God I lived long enough to see this day.” 

President Kimball had long been sensitive to this issue.  For instance, in March 1976, he was present for the laying of the cornerstone of the Sao Paulo, Brazil temple and met Ruda and Helvecio Martins, devoted black members who were converted in 1972.  They had donated money and time to the temple, knowing full well that as things stood, they would not be receiving its blessings. The bank account, which they had carefully saved for their son’s mission, went to another young man who would be able to serve. Seeing their devotion ? and the devotion of many others like them ? moved and grieved President Kimball.  

President Kimball wasn’t the first prophet to ponder and pray over the exclusion policy of the priesthood.  Other prophets had made pronouncements to the effect that someday the priesthood would be made available to all worthy male members.

Beginning in 1976 as the prophet, he began a systematic routine of praying, fasting and supplicating the Lord on this matter.  In Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, compiled before the 1978 revelation, he affirms, “The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory. I know it could. I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that he will do, I am sure.”

The announcement that the priesthood was extended to all worthy men stopped the presses and splashed across the national news in America.  But the place it played most deeply was in the hearts of members who now could enjoy the full opportunities of priesthood and temple blessings.

In Africa, the doors of the gospel were now flung open.  

New Scripture Edition — September, 1981

This was the era when we all got new scriptures — no matter how much we had marked up and loved our old ones.  It was well worth the change.

Boyd K. Packer described the impact:

“Early in the eighties, after ten years of intense work by a veritable army of volunteers, the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible was published.

This was followed by new editions of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Early manuscripts had become available, making possible the correction of many printer errors.

“The subtitle ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ was added to the Book of Mormon. Two revelations were added to the Doctrine and Covenants, the book that will never be closed.

“The text of the King James Bible was not altered. An innovative system of cross-referencing all the standard works, containing tens of thousands of footnotes which open hundreds of thousands of possible combinations of information, was added.

“Bound in with it were a combined topical guide, with concordance and index, Bible dictionary, and maps. All chapters were given new headings.

“The subject ‘Jesus Christ’ in the topical guide takes eighteen pages of small print just to list the references. It is the most comprehensive compilation of scriptural information on the mission and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that has ever been assembled in the history of the world.

“An index of over four hundred pages was added to the triple combination, together with Church history maps. It was the first time in nearly a hundred years that substantive attention had been given to making the content of the scriptures more accessible to members of the Church.

“The revelation on the priesthood came just in time to be bound into the new editions of the scriptures, evidence of direction from beyond the veil.

“In all, 1,268 pages of helps were added to the standard works. The scriptures comprised of 86 books, 138 sections, 2 declarations, 2,540 pages, over 42,000 verses — are the library of the Lord.” [iv]

The Family:  A Proclamation-September 1995

President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the sisters at the General Relief Society meeting in September, 1995 with these words:

“With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. In furtherance of this we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family, which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history.” [v]

The proclamation was not new doctrine, but reiterated in a straightforward, clarion way that comes with a warning and a call to action.

“We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

“We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

An Era of Temple Building

Smaller Temples Announced — April 1998

President Hinckley has been a temple-building prophet.  He has also been one whose voice has dedicated most of the temples of this era.  Of the 119 temples operating as of April, 2005, President Hinckley has dedicated 87 of them.

It took 167 years to build the first 50 temples and then it took 40 months to the day to build 50 more.  (June 1, 1997 the St. Louis Temple was dedicated to Oct. 1, 2000 when the Boston Temple was dedicated.)  President Hinckley set an initial goal of seeing 100 operating temples in the Church by the year 2000.  He met that goal and has gone far beyond.

This was accomplished in part by introducing a new smaller temple design, more suited for areas with fewer Latter-day Saints.  He announced in the April 1998 General Conference that 30 more temples would be constructed using this design.

The idea of the small temple came to President Hinckley when he was visiting the Saints in Colonia Juarez, Mexico in June of 1997. This was an early Mormon colony, with pioneers coming here to escape persecution and open the door to Mexico when it would have been easier to remain with the nucleus of the Saints in more settled regions. But they came, and true to their heritage, they have been remarkably faithful over the decades.  Scores of mission presidents and Church leaders are counted among their ranks, and their activity and tithing level indicate the highest level of commitment.

The Saints of Colonia Juarez had to drive three hours and then fly to get to their nearest temple.  And as President Hinckley visited among them he said, “”I would like to see the time come when all of our people throughout the world could get to a temple without too much inconvenience.  I think you are about as far away as anybody. And I don’t quite know what to do about you. There aren’t enough of you to justify a temple.”

“Thinking with love on these Saints as he was leaving, the idea of a small temple ? available for use as the members needed it ? came to his mind, and he took out piece of paper and drew an L-shaped temple upon it.”

He later described the experience this way, “While visiting such an area a few months ago, we prayerfully pondered this question. The answer came bright and clear.”

Certainly the highlight of this temple building era was President Hinckley’s surprise announcement in General Conference, April 4, 1999.  It was then that he announced that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt.  It struck the listeners like a thunderbolt, and they responded with intakes of breath, leaping hearts, and tears.

For Latter-day Saints, the image of those pioneers who took one last, longing look at their beautiful temple, and then turned their faces west to leave it behind, has always been a poignant one.  The rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple was like a resurrection, old things made new and healed, a renewal and answer to our ancestor’s faith.

 Church Population Shift ? September 2000

Thanks to Brazil and Africa, to Chile and the Philippines, to Samoa and Mexico, thanks to missionaries who learn languages they didn’t know existed before their call, the Church hit a watershed in September 2000.  The number of members outside of the United States exceeded the number in the U.S. — a trend that undoubtedly will never reverse.

New Conference Center dedicated ? Oct. 8, 2000

In the October 1998 General Conference, President Hinckley made another major announcement — that a new meeting hall would be built with a 21,000 seat capacity.  It is a huge hunk of granite with a garden on top and a waterfall flowing down the side — and a necessity for a growing Church. 

President Hinckley gave some insight to the importance of this building in the conference when it was dedicated, by quoting Isaiah.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.


And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. …

O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord (Isa. 2:2–3, 5).

Then he added:

“I believe that prophecy applies to the historic and wonderful Salt Lake Temple. But I believe also that it is related to this magnificent hall. For it is from this pulpit that the law of God shall go forth, together with the word and testimony of the Lord.”

Perpetual Education Fund ? March 31, 2001

President Hinckley made this announcement in General Conference:

“We have many missionaries, both young men and young women, who are called locally and who serve with honor in Mexico, Central America, South America, the Philippines, and other places. They have very little money, but they make a contribution with what they have. They are largely supported from the General Missionary Fund to which many of you contribute, and for these contributions we are very deeply grateful.

“They become excellent missionaries working side by side with elders and sisters sent from the United States and Canada. While in this service they come to know how the Church operates. They develop a broadened understanding of the gospel. They learn to speak some English. They work with faith and devotion. Then comes the day of their release. They return to their homes. Their hopes are high. But many of them have great difficulty finding employment because they have no skills. They sink right back into the pit of poverty from which they came.

“Because of limited abilities, they are not likely to become leaders in the Church. They are more likely to find themselves in need of welfare help. They will marry and rear families who will continue in the same cycle that they have known. Their future is bleak indeed. There are some others who have not gone on missions who find themselves in similar circumstances in development of skills to lift them from the ranks of the poor.

“In an effort to remedy this situation, we propose a plan — a plan which we believe is inspired by the Lord. The Church is establishing a fund largely from the contributions of faithful Latter-day Saints who have and will contribute for this purpose. We are deeply grateful to them. Based on similar principles to those underlying the Perpetual Emigration Fund, we shall call it the Perpetual Education Fund.” [vi]

Today nearly 18,000 young people from 27 nations are being assisted.

Reader Response and Addition to 20 Significant Events:

I would have as the first significant milestone the conference of the Church (I believe it was in August after the martyrdom) where Sidney Rigdon claimed to be the successor to Joseph Smith (as guardian).  This was when Brigham Young later spoke and made the case to the saints that the Quorum of the Twelve held all the keys and hence should lead the Church.  Of course, this was when the transfiguration of Brigham Young occurred, appearing as the image and/or voice of Joseph Smith to many in attendance. 

Keith Barney

[i] Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3.

[ii] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Believe His Prophets,” Ensign, May 1992, 50

[iii] Conference Report April 1964, 5).

[iv] Boyd K. Packer, “The Library of the Lord,” Ensign,  March 1990.

[v] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Stand Strong Against the Wiles of the World”  Ensign, November, 1995.

[vi] Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Perpetual Education Fund” Ensign, May, 2001