Monday, August 2, 2010

George P. Lee dies

It is with sadness I note the passing of Elder George P. Lee, former member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He was called at age 32, and served in that quorum until he was excommunicated in 1989.

There are two accompanying pictures, one taken soon after he entered the quorum, and the other was one I saved in 2009 from his arrest in St. George, Utah, when he failed to register as a former sex offender. 

The contrast speaks for itself.

The story of George P. Lee is a cautionary tale.  He earned his PhD, and was a leader among not only his native American Indian people, but much revered among the overall general population of the Church.  I loved his passion and his deep convictions, evident whenever he spoke and prayed publicly.  I'll bet the Lord loves him even more than I do. 

He was an educated, refined and deeply spiritual man.  But he was a fallen, mortal man like each of us.

He was the first General Authority to be excommunicated since Richard Lyman in 1943.

Sin is universal.  None is immune from its effects.  We may exercise our moral agency any way we choose, but what we can never choose are the consequences of those choices.

George P. Lee's enthusiasm and his bedrock testimony are perhaps what became his greatest weaknesses.  He, like so many others before him, thought he knew more than the file leaders he was called to sustain.  Anytime ANYONE gets out in front of the caravan and presumes to lead the way when he has not been called by the constituted authority of the priesthood and then sustained by the voice of the people is out of the way, and will suffer the consequences of his choices. 

No one receives revelation for the whole Church but the duly appointed and sustained President of the Church, who holds all the priesthood keys delegated to him by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. 

In George P. Lee's case we see painfully the consequences of his choices. 

The good news of the gospel message still applies, however, and he will no doubt repent (if he hadn't already while in this life), and still have ample opportunity to demonstrate his faithfulness during his period in the spirit world prior to his resurrection. 

The effects of the fall, the power of the atonement to overcome poor mortal choices, and the hope of eventual exaltation is extended to all both here and hereafter subject to the conditions specified by the Savior, namely faith in the Lord Jesus Christ unto repentance, honoring the covenant of baptism by laying aside the old man of sin in the watery grave, and walking in the newness of life offered by the Holy Ghost when we receive his guidance in our lives, either here or hereafter.

I do not for one minute believe George P. Lee is forever consigned to an eternity of misery and hopelessness because he made some rather obvious and poor choices during mortality.  There is always room for hope for all fallen sinners. 

As I have said before, the highest degree of the celestial kingdom is made up of nothing if not repentant sinners.  I know of no other kind of candidates for the highest degree.

Repentance is real, even if it takes a thousand years in the spirit world.

That's true for George P. Lee, King David, Richard Lyman and a host of others who could be named.  Call it a fanciful flight of ridiculous proportions if you choose, but I can't help wondering if he's already had a little chat with President Spencer W. Kimball, who might be teaching a prospective elders' priesthood quorum somewhere in the spirit world for folks like George P. Lee and Ted Kennedy.

A myriad of scriptures may safely guide our thinking and our faith in this regard.  I cite only two:

"I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men."  (D&C 64:10).

"For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts."  (D&C 137:9).


  1. Repentance IS real and he WILL have the opportunity to repent in the spirit world and one day enter a degree of glory. However, to suggest that he is somehow still eligible for celestial glory is not good doctrine. The whole Book of Mormon witnesses that this life is the time to prepare to meet God (eg Alma 34:32-34). DC 76:73-74 teaches that those who reject the gospel in this life who repent and receive it in the next life will go to the TERRESTRIAL kingdom NOT the Celestial. (This is affirmed in True to the Faith in the section on kingdoms of glory.) Anyway, his story is a cautionary tail, one that reminds us that if we do not endure to the end we cannot be saved in the celestial kingdom of God-- worlds without end!

    1. Earning eternal life or one of the lesser kingdoms in the spirit world goes staunchly against the Book of Mormon. There, whatever state you're in when you die, you are thus eternally. It just reflects the changing theology of Joseph Smith.

  2. I know, and I used to believe the same thing you just stated, until I grew older and witnessed so much "breakage" in so many lives of really dear and good people. To consign them to the terrestrial kingdom and to say "they had their chance and there's no second chance," seems a little too compact and too "neat" for me. Call me an old softy, but I'm not foreclosing any possibilities for anyone at this point, nor am I putting any limits on the power of the atonement to cleanse and heal EVERYTHING. It may take a thousand years in the spirit world, but for some that's how long it may take to fully repent. I do not presume to know GPL's fate eternally, wouldn't dare speculate about that, but like Nephi, I do know that God loves all His children. Can mercy rob justice. Nay, and it never will. But repentance always opens the door to forgiveness, either here or there, and that's good doctrine. (And I am aware of what BRM has said to the contrary in this vein). Call me an optimist, but for those who truly repent worlds without end, faith and hope are never snuffed out completely. Let's just wait and see. . .

  3. Question: Is it possible to sin in this life? Does sin (even serious sin like adultery) constitute "rejecting the gospel?" Certainly, it is a violation of sacred covenants, but then what? Do those who fall have no hope thereafter? How far does repentance reach? Are there limits? What are they? What does it mean when we say, "You've had your chance and that's it?"

    Read BKP's 1992 general conference talk, "Our Moral Environment." He seems to hold open the door for repentant sinners on these questions. I would be grateful for all your thoughts on this topic. . . thanks for your comments in advancing the conversation. I think it's an important topic, and careful thought and prayerful study leads to a more hopeful conclusion than we have historically had on this topic as families and faithful Church members.

    In His mercy, our Heavenly Father will hold out hope for each of his fallen children for as long as it takes for them to come unto Christ and acknowledge His Son as their Savior and Redeemer. I'm very comfortable with that assertion, but I'm very uncomfortable with consigning individuals about which I know so little, like King David and GPL and others, to their eternal kingdom of glory just yet. There is just so much I do not know.

    Your thoughts?

  4. I'm sorry, I am just a scripturalist, of the vein of McConkie and Smith (2 of my heroes). I was taught and trained at BYU by their protege Joseph Fielding McConkie. They all taught (as did Harold B Lee) that doctrine is measured by the standard works. In my judgment, the scriptures are pretty plain on this matter and their meaning has been clearly interpreted in official, correlated church publications. I do understand where you are coming from and believe in extending hope for everyone. I just don't feel comfortable extending a hope that I don't feel the revelations support. I believe that God's love and mercy is found NOT in opening the celestial door to everyone endlessly, but in leaving the door of the Terrestrial and Telestial kingdoms open to everyone continuously. That, I think, is the beauty of the plan. When we try to sneak everyone into the Celestial kingdom we are still operating under the false dichotomy of heaven and hell. I prefer to see the beauty of DEGREES of glory. Not everyone will make it to the Celestial kingdom and that is unfortunate, but on the bright side there is still hope for them in other kingdoms whose glory and joy surpass all understanding (DC 76:89). That is beautiful AND hopeful doctrine AND very scripturally sound.
    Anyway, thank you for your thoughful response. Am I right in assuming that you are the oldest grandson of President Harold B Lee? He is another one of my heroes. I am currently reading one of his biographies (Gibbons) and wanted to drive by his old home in SLC (I have already visited his grave marker). I did a search on Google earth and it didn't look right. Does the old Lee house on 1208 S 800 W still stand? If so, who owns it now? If not, what happened to it?
    I would love to see another post from you about Harold B Lee (I read an earlier one). What was he really like? Which current church leader reminds you the most of him and why? Sorry to bug you, I just love Harold B Lee!

  5. Yes, if you search the blog for Harold B. Lee, you'll find him in several past posts. Like you, I am also an admirer of JFS and BRM.

    HBL's mentor was J. Reuben Clark, who advised him not to be too quick in getting himself into print. Well, HBL waited and waited, then died at age 73. We have the various compilations of his sermons, but not much beyond that.

    Did his views soften as he grew older? Yes, I believe they did. The same could be said for JFS and BRM. As young men, both JFS and BRM wrote authoritative statements they later had to retract involving men going to the moon, the Catholic Church and the blacks not receiving the priesthood (among others). A partial measure of their greatness was admitting they had erred.

    Please don't imagine for one minute I am disregarding their views and the scriptures on this matter. I believe there are few people who have read as much as I have of their teachings, which I value. I assume there are many interesting discussions between them (and others) as they grow in their understanding of gospel doctrine in the spirit world. I assume even the Prophet Joseph is having a chance now to "revise and extend" his teachings. They have a distinct advantage over all of us now.

    Let me sum it up this way: In the absence of more information, your scriptural conclusions are accurate and solid. We are in full agreement. I have a feeling, however, that Heavenly Father will extend the maximum degree of mercy available, and will give all His children without exception the time they need to fully grow and develop spiritually in the spirit world before the resurrection.

    Why? Because in mercy He would not resurrect them prematurely until they have gleaned (I use that word purposefully) and taken advantage of every opportunity for celestial life.

    That's why there's a specific order spelled out in D&C 88 about when various folks are resurrected. If faith and repentance are operable and efficacious here on earth, they are certainly operable there in the spirit world. For those who have the covenant blessings in mortality the path to follow is consistent obedience and swift repentance when we fall. It's the reason the holy spirit of promise must apply the ultimate seal. It's merciful because it compensates for all the breakage.

    That's why we expunge and wipe clean membership records when repentant excommunicants have all their priesthood blessings restored. Would any of us presume they could not obtain the same weight of the fulness of celestial glory? Or would we believe because they were "damaged goods" they would not merit as much as one who had not been excommunicated? Whether the laborer in the eleventh hour or the first, whether the prodigal or the faithful son, all are alike unto God, and He loves each. Those who are lost for a season are eventually fully reclaimed when they are repentant, though they perpetrated "scarlet" sins.

    We must believe here and always in the inestimable power and infinite nature of the atonement. As you pointed out, it's not likely ALL will obtain celestial glory, but I'm thinking it's an expanding number as people grow in understanding and testimony in the spirit world.

    It was HBL who has guided my thinking in more recent years as I reflect on the wisdom of his observations to me when I was a missionary and proudly presented him with my analysis of D&C 76 in a letter, only to be reminded in his reply, "David, there are only two principles involved in God's judgment -- their works and the desires of their hearts." He quickly added that none of us knows much about either of those two criteria.

    I've thought about that.

    Even in the lives of those who are closest to me, I have come to realize we are all in a very BIG category -- Repentant Sinners Seeking Celestial Glory.

  6. Do you have any responses to my last paragraph?

  7. We drive to Welfare Square every week, but I haven't gone by the old home in many, many years. I'll have to check it out.

    Of the many biographies about HBL, I like the one my father wrote best ;-). Dad had all the diaries, which were donated to the Church when he was done.

    Wouldn't presume to speculate about which General Authority today is most like HBL. There are only two remaining who were in the Quorum when he was alive -- Pres. Monson and Pres. Packer.

    In time, I'm certain I'll write more about him. . . stay tuned.

    Thanks for your comments.

  8. I asked my father the other day about the 1208 S. 800 W. home once owned by Harold B. Lee. The confusion may lie in the fact that the old 800 W. is the new 900 W. when the street designations were changed a few years ago. The home is still standing.

  9. Its ridiculous to believe that Celestial Glory will be reserved for those who pay thier farthing in the spirit world...blind foolishness...let us all read E Neal A Maxwells talk The Meek and Lowly 1986..again and again and again...I hang my head in soberness at Lees death.