Sunday, July 9, 2017

Korea and the Prophets: George Albert Smith, Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson

Even as ISIS peaks, then falls--so we hope--North Korea emerges as the greatest threat to a long and happy life for hapless millions. The West and her allies far exceed North Korea in military might; yet that most unfortunate of little lands might prove our Achilles' heel. Little Athens trumped Persia. Articles I read by day, and sleepless, by night, show how quickly the West could demolish that state--but only at the loss of millions of South Korean and Japanese lives. A week ago I didn't realize how many millions would surely die from artillery, chemical weapons--and from nuclear warheads--already in place.

I'd like to avenge Mr. Warmbier's murder. But what of the unbounded love I've always had for the people of Japan and South Korea? I would die for them. We must forever tuck away thoughts of rash vengeance.  

On July 3 our experts assure us that North Korea tests a run-of-the-mill missile. On July 4 news reports interrupt our celebrations of freedom as our experts tell us that North Korea tests an ICBM that can hit Alaska, but not Hawaii--but, yes--comes the update--Hawaii, too. (July 29 update: Now Los Angeles, too--and maybe New York; September update: a hydrogen bomb.)

It'll be another 5 years even so, experts say, before California and New York can be rubbed out within one half hour from launch time. We have time. Time to waste on politics, quarrels, jarrings, assurances. Captain Moroni warned the government in his day of the fatal consequences of "great neglect," "thoughtless stupor," and "great slothfulness": "Could ye suppose that ye could sit. . . and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you?" (Alma 60). Have we prepared? Moroni prepared.  

As I've pondered, I have recalled words spoken at the end of the April 1950 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by a latter-day prophet, President George Albert Smith: "It will not be long until calamities will overtake the human family unless there is speedy repentance. It will not be long before those who are scattered over the face of the earth by millions will die like flies because of what will come. Our Heavenly Father has told us how it can be avoided, and that is our mission, in part, to go into the world and explain to people how it may be avoided, and that people need not be unhappy as they are everywhere but that happiness may be in their lives—because when the Spirit of God burns in your soul, you cannot be otherwise than happy" (Conference Report April 1950, 167-170; I read either "scattered over the face of the earth by millions" "will die like flies"; or "millions will die"; it all adds up to the same sad tally).

Can the impenitence, the sins and the pride, of the West, the prophet's audience, lead to disaster throughout the world? Who today would argue to the contrary?

When he was 1st Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, our living Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, also cited President Smith's words in General Conference, April 2007. Why did he refer to them? Who knows, really? In the talk, President Monson was revisiting several "Tabernacle Memories." 

"These were alarming words," President Monson said, "for they came from a prophet of God." He then spoke of finding the somber fulfillment of these words in the 2.5 million killed in the Korean conflict that broke out thereafter. "The event prompted me to reflect on the statement President Smith made as we sat in this building that spring day." 

So I've wondered of late, whether that "prophetic warning" will visit us again, and whether fulfillment will come again in terms of a Korean conflict that has never really ended, there being only an armistice to the war, not an end.

In past months, I've also become better informed about the true cost in human lives under communist regimes in the 50's and thereafter. A new book, exploding the lesser tallies of apologetic textbooks, now establishes that up to 45 million died in China's Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), some 20 million more than previously thought. The Cultural Revolution perhaps caused the loss of 8 million "scattered throughout" China, with millions more victims of persecution.
(Frank Dikotter, Mao's Great Famine: the History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe;

These presumptive 53 million deaths must surely increase the estimated number (103 million) of people under communist rule who lost their lives, in peacetime, at the hands of their own governments, mostly during the second half of the 20th century (see David Hackett Fischer, Liberty and Freedom). And of themselves these 53 million deaths rank high on the list of the greatest wipe-outs of recorded history. As Bible readers, we speak of the great Flood that swept over the inhabited world. Would there have even been 103 or 115 million people "scattered over the face of the earth" at that time? Have we passed through a Second Flood and, in large measure, failed to truly "see" it? That's how it is when we lack charity. George Albert Smith saw it.

And we could speak of the purge of communists throughout Southeast Asia: the Malayan Emergency, for instance, or of the "at least half a million people in Indonesia alone" in 1965. Vietnam. Cambodia. Congo. Guatemala. Peru (See: ).

So we are safe to build on what the living Prophet of God now says about the fulfillment of the "prophetic warning" of George Albert Smith in April 1950, when, in addition to the Korean conflict, we add to the count the latest tallies of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, Southeast Asia, Africa--and "thus far, with all un-able pen." 

But no farther.

There is a danger in mishandling prophecy. Disregarding what the living prophet says about the fulfillment of a past prophet's words, some distribute throughout social media or in books what they say are fuller accounts of President Smith's prophecy, accounts that speak of a supposed future war between the "Soviet Union"(?) and America. The conflict is to begin shortly after the election, but before the inauguration, of an American President of Greek descent.

We all need to laugh a little more these days--and here's the perfect material.

The tale relies on one adult's jumbled recollections of what he thought he heard, as a mere child, in a family meeting with President Smith. And no wonder that the story to be credible at all not only comes with detailed family "credentials," it weakly calls upon such well-known names as Sidney Sperry and Hugh Nibley for supporting outside "evidence," though what that evidence may be comes either third hand and unstated (Nibley) or as simply bizarre (Sperry). And who hasn't heard about Event X being like a Sunday School picnic compared with Event Y? Apparently you can't be a latter-day prophet unless you make such a comparison; in the account making the rounds today, the actual picnic menu appears!

We would do well to take to heart a true account, a General Conference account, from President George Albert Smith. In a time of sickness, it seemed to him that he passed through the veil and found himself on a forest path. His grandfather, George A. Smith, met him there with a question: I want to know what you have done with my name?

When we attribute preposterous visions to George Albert Smith, or to any other prophet, and especially when money is at the root of the matter, What are we doing with his name? And what are we doing with the name of our beloved Spencer W. Kimball? or the name of Thomas Spencer Monson.

False prophets, spiritually blinded by false visions, adopt even the names of the true in their efforts to wrest Scripture and to deceive. Pseudonymity!? "The Lord God worketh not in darkness" (2 Nephi 26:23). Neither does He work by rumor, fiction, madness, or the latest insider Hebrew hermeneutic, "for he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men" (2 Nephi 26:33).

President Harold B. Lee warned the Church about chasing after purported visions and prophecies (October 1972). He spoke of "many loose writings," saying, "Let me give you the sure word of prophecy [for instance, JST Matthew 24] on which you should rely for your guide instead of these strange sources which may have great political implications" (Conference Report October 1972). Talk about a startling prophecy by the Lord's mouthpiece at General Conference! "Strange sources"? "Great political implications"? It is a sure word: "This day this Scripture hath been fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21).

President Boyd K. Packer further taught that even something the President of the Church may be known to have said to an individual or small group, or written in a private letter, does not carry the same authority as a statement of the full First Presidency (see Doctrine and Covenants 107:27, 29; "Boyd K. Packer, "The Law and the Light"). No one has the right to pass around a letter, journal entry, or written recollection, no matter if reflecting the very words of a President of the Church of Jesus Christ, in order to announce a prophecy, revelation, doctrine, or authoritative interpretation. What President Smith shared at General Conference may well distill impressions felt over time, including impressions only gradually grasped, but it is the Conference Report, which comes out under the imprimatur of the councils of the High Priesthood, that becomes the channel for Truth to all the world.

What is less than that is not the Truth.

Is there a letter? is there a journal entry? Of course not. The tale of George Albert Smith's vision of American presidents of Greek descent trading missiles with the "Soviet Union" is as phony as it gets. It is bizarre; it is contradictory; and it is the epitome of vanity and light-mindedness. To set aside the unthinkable loss of life in the 50's, 60's, and 70's, particularly in Asia, and particularly under communism, and in its place conjure up the apocalyptic terror of some Great War of the West under a Greek President is to fail to learn the greatest lessons of the modern era about what constitutes a just and righteous government. 

We must never lose sight of those who died under unjust and unrighteous ideologies, governments, and dictatorships of every stamp during the second half of the 20th Century. Those are the unfortunate souls a prophet foresaw and of whom our living prophet also speaks.

Shall we lose sight of our beloved brothers and sisters of every land, of their struggles and crosses and losses, of their hopes and dreams and poverty, to instead fixate upon some preferred vision of apocalypse, one that matches our own notions, our own politics, and our own love of the phony and of anonymous visionaries?

Prophecy does not work by preference. Prophecy doesn't consult our politics or our hermeneutics. From George Albert Smith's words we receive what we have received--it's as simple as that and it's all a matter of history now--and we would do well to look back, and for a blessed moment, stop meddling with the future.

For Latter-day Saints, to gaze into the future is to "look beyond the mark."

How many false visions and false prophecies about the coming Plague or War of the West circulate in Utah and Arizona! Each in its own way, and each bristling with political overtones, lays claim to apostolic authority, and therein fulfills the words of the Doctrine and Covenants: "and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known" (64:39). How often the First Presidency and other apostles have warned the Saints about the phony White Horse Prophecy and the like, in which reticulated giraffes of various paint gallivant about representing the nations of the earth.

The people of Nephi, very much alone in a bewildering American homeland, "searched much" "to know of things to come" (2 Nephi 9:4). What Jacob, finally, shared to comfort them is also what the Lord intends for readers in 2017, including the following promise: "And I will fortify this land against all other nations" (see esp. 2 Nephi 10:10-19).

And what of Hawaii? "Great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea" (2 Nephi 10:21). Among those promises, we today have the prophecy of President David O. McKay at the dedication ceremonies of the Church College of Hawaii in 1955: "From this school, I'll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally" (

Not so very long ago, I heard an apostle advise his audience at a Thanksgiving chapel meeting to give thanks. For what? Food, shelter, a solid meal? No. Thanks that the Lord has spared us as yet. (The words, prompting a lifetime of repentance, also echo what President Gordon B. Hinckley said at General Conference after 9/11.) I think of all these words from time-to-time. Perhaps, then, that was what it was like to hear the words of George Albert Smith.

Some of us may also recall the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks at the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. It's not within my right to unpack them here, but we all have come to see their fulfillment. It's in our daily lives, over time, that we face the varied tests of the Lord's judgments, decisions, opportunities, and will. Latter-day Saints know that. The Test has nothing to do with pitching a tent, decoding Scripture, hoarding vast supply, or adhering to any particular party line. No. Doing such things would be to fail the Test "of a sound faith and a firm mind" (Mormon 7:30). I'm now remembering some counsel Hugh Nibley gave a class about surviving a possible future moment of grave emergency. I jotted it all down. For now, I'll paraphrase his key point: Don't do anything dramatic unless the Brethren direct. Then quickly respond!

But what of North Korea? Is it to be war in our time? Do a prophet's words in 1950 extend the full length of the endless armistice? Who can tell? Even a troubling vision of war can be turned to peace in the light of sufficient repentance. Remember Jonah; remember Ammon; in fact, remember every Elder and every Sister of this dispensation of the fulness of times who has ever lifted up the voice of peace! Has there been no harvest? "Can ye tell"? (Alma 26).

I remember the keen love Gordon B. Hinckley felt for the people of the Koreas. Knowing of that love, I would often pray that President Hinckley might live to see the dawn of Gospel light in North Korea. It would be amiss to set such prayers aside in these troubled days. "Miracles can occur as we do so" (Thomas S. Monson, Conference Report October 2009). I think of the love Harold B. Lee had for Korea--as a Lee, he was taken for Korean on one occasion. It's wonderful to know that Joseph Fielding Smith dedicated the land for the preaching of the Gospel. So let's soberly reflect on the lessons of history--and build a future "as bright as our faith." Here is the love and the hope of all the living prophets. 

I recall another General Conference in which a Prophet spoke of the food he arranged to be sent to North Korea: "This very day hungry children are eating food in North Korea because of the aid which you have sent." President Hinckley looked beyond politics to the needs of the individual soul. He looked for the day of peace in which the Gospel in its fullness would be taken to the Land of the Morning Calm--to Choson. Despite a fleeting cloud cover, and a fleeting fear, let us honor the true vision of that beloved prophet by fostering the same hope and the same love (Conference Report October 1997, "Look to the Future"). That was the hope and vision inspiring the patriarch, when he laid his hands on young Gordon's head and pronounced: "Thou shalt ever be a messenger of peace. The nations of the earth shall hear thy voice." (

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).

In the light of the everlasting Gospel, I believe in that peace. I trust we shall see it.


Nothing I say here should be taken as anything other than what any reader of history duly notes about documents and source criticism. Read history and discern the phony. Yes, I have also been influenced by the teachings of the living prophets and apostles, and I am glad to point interested readers to the talks that they have given at General Conference or at BYU. We'd all be lost without those talks, and we constantly need yet more reminders and more light from the Brethren.

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