Monday, January 28, 2008

Gordon B. Hinckley

#352 Gordon B. Hinckley 1910-2008

Unusual fellow, Gordon Hinckley. Ran the Mormon church far longer than he headed it. Officially, they crowned him, or elected him or whatever it is they do out there where the desert sun bakes your brain and wrinkles your skin when he was 84 years old. Guy came up through the ranks. Did the scut work for decades and largely without complaint.

These folk call the head of their church the "president and prophet." Not an easy role to fill. Hinckley did it in different ways. Two, three notches down from the top (and promotion is expected, but not automatic,) he found himself the only mentally solvent guy in the house when Spencer Kimball started wandering around the presidential palace (which is an apartment,) and fading. Hinckley, then a relatively youthful 75, showed up every day and did whatever those guys do.

Everyone knew who the prophet was. and wasn't. And everyone knew Hinckley was running the place. Ran up some pretty good investments, ran up a pretty big expansion which continued right up until the time of his death.

Thing about it is the dementia that hits so many of us in our later years never really set in.

His immediate predecessors, Ezra taft Benson and Howard Hunter were not firing on all cylinders for their relatively short tenures. So when Hinckley got the superbowl ring in 1995, he was for all purposes the most vigorous of that bunch.

Hinckley ran the church businesses while the president got to sign declarations and do whatever else those guys out there do. And he continued running them as he was promoted through the ranks. His "thing" was expansion. And expand they did -- reaching a membership of about 12 million worldwide during his years.

Thing is, he wasn't one of those holier than thou guys you'd expect to run an outfit like that. He was accessible. He mingled with the peasants. And he didn't have any of the "revelations" of the kind that outsiders hear about and say "aw, c'mon."

Those revelations go back to the beginnings. For example, polygamy. Do you know how that ended? It ended at a very convenient time. The Mormons wanted the Utah Territory to become a state. Congress said "you have to end that multiple marriage thing or we won't even consider it." Just in the nick of time, the prophet got a message from above. It said "end multiple marriages." So they did and became a state.

Fast forward to Spencer Kimball. The church had become very active in the Boy Scouts. But if you were scout leader of a Mormon-sponsored troop, you had to be a "bishop," which meant you had to be white and male. The scouts, who have their own discrimination problems, didn't buy that excuse for keeping black men from being scout leaders and threatened to yank the charter.

Guess what? Spence gets up one morning and announces he's just heard from You-Know-Who in heaven that black men should now become bishops. And they did. So, the church kept the charter.

Hinckley's connection to that stuff must have been filled with static. He didn't have any of those earth shaking revelations. He just stuck to his knitting, building a worldwide organization.

He leaves behind a legacy of outreach, a fond memory as a good and engaged employer, as a man who earned the respect of his opponents, in and out of the organization as a man who could tell -- and could take -- a joke and who never let power, influence or almost 100 years of living rot his brain.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©2008 WJR

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