The Immortal Soul – Gordon B. Hinckley and King Follett
November 29, 2009 4 Comments
At a meeting in Nauvoo, to accept the loan from the state of Illinois of an original “sun stone” from the 19th century incarnation of the Nauvoo temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley remarked:
“One purpose of our gathering today, of course, is to unveil a sun stone which was once a part of the Nauvoo Temple. As state senator Laura Kent Donahue has indicated, it is now the property of the state of Illinois and the state of Illinois has graciously loaned it to us, placed it in our custody. I hope we have built the kind of enclosure around it which will preserve it for many generations yet to come. I express appreciation to the state and its officers. I express appreciation to Senator Donahue who had a very prominent part in making it available, and to Mr. Roy Ufgus.
“He has been a tremendous friend to this church and has had a very prominent part in the acquisition of the properties which we now own in Nauvoo, Carthage, and other areas.
“We reflect today in a particular way on the final project of the Prophet’s building of “Nauvoo the Beautiful.” The temple which rose on this ground was to be the crowning jewel of this city. When it was completed in 1846, a year and a half after the Martyrdom, it was looked upon as perhaps the finest building then in the state of Illinois. It stood on this eminence, a structure of gleaming limestone. Its tower reached 165 feet in the air, and it could be seen for many miles up and down the river, from the far interior of Illinois, and from far into Iowa. It was the last thing that our people saw as they began their long journey west. . .
“This building was to be concerned with the things of eternity. It was to stand as a witness to all who should look upon it that those who built it had a compelling faith and a certain knowledge that the grave is not the end, but that the soul is immortal and goes on growing. In March of the year he died—1844—the Prophet had amplified this doctrine in a monumental address which he delivered in the grove which was just below the temple site. The text of that address has become an important doctrinal document in the theology of the Church. It is known as the King Follett Sermon.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley’s Nauvoo speech points to one of the interesting aspects of the King Follett Sermon, the doctrine of immortality of the soul. Naturally, he does not address the issues that have clustered around this part of the sermon for the last century. But I think that his reference to the sermon suggests a belief on his part in an eternal backward as well as forward existence. That, after all, seems to be the point of that part of the sermon.
The KFS takes up a large section of the book (chapter 7), as might be expected. There is a mountain of detail and I have not figured a way to really approach it in a way that would make sense here. So I won’t try it. I will tell you that there is a critical text version of the sermon, and several variorum texts since there are a number of distinct text traditions. Several texts compare the various traditions. The fascinating history of its reception and behind the scenes discussions are quite fun. The timeline for the sermon is the most complex of all the discourses in the book. The individuals involved in its present incarnation present a wonderfully interesting study in themselves.
But, back to President Hinckley. One of the ideas that was prominent in KFS (but not I think the one most violent to constructs of “majority” theism) was the nature of Deity. Still under discussion by Mormon thinkers, President Hinckley himself partially avoided the subject saying it was not fully understood.
Briefly then, KFS has, historically, generated both internal and external discussion, but on essentially different points. This chapter was among the most fun and most difficult to write so far.
One final point about President Hinckley’s remarks is the mention of two VIPs at the meeting, Roy Ufgus and Laura Donahue. What do you know about them?
 His remarks give March 1844 as the date of the sermon, it was of course April 7, 1844. It’s maybe just a little surprising that church editing types didn’t catch this, at least for printing purposes.
 In a number of interviews, Pres. Hinckley steered clear of the subject. The emphasis in the last few decades has been on the Mormon version of theosis, i.e., the future of man, not the past of God.
 I started with this chapter, since I had been collecting material for it for several decades. But of course the sheer bulk of material made it the most difficult to write (so far) in terms of cataloging text variations over imprints, etc.