Elder Ronald E. Poelman and “The Conference Talk”

According Peggy Fletcher Stack writing in the SLTrib (21 Nov 2011):

Ronald E. Poelman, an emeritus LDS general authority known as a gentle leader who spoke often of service, unselfishness and forgiveness, died Saturday at his SLC home.  He was 83.

Elder Ronald E. Poelman and his wife, Dr. Anne Osborn Poelman, one of the world's most prominent neuroradiologists.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), he will be remembered for a conference talk he gave (or did not give) in 1984.  According to Pure Mormonism:

Elder Poelman began his talk by reminding the congregation that there is an important difference between the gospel and the Church. “There is a distinction between them which is significant”, he said, “and it is very important that this distinction be understood.”

Poelman cautioned that failure to distinguish between the two, and to comprehend their proper relationship, could lead to “confusion and misplaced priorities”.

The gospel, he explained, is the substance of the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church, on the other hand, is the delivery system that provides the means and resources to implement that plan.

Elder Poelman admonished the congregation to remain mindful that every church member has not only the right, but also the obligation to exercise his free agency and receive a personal witness not only of gospel principles, but also of Church practices. “In response to study, prayer and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we may seek and obtain an individual, personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired.”

And the punchline was:

“As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered.”

Some among the brethern were not too excited about the punchline, and Elder Poelman was encouraged to retape his speech with the “controversial” lines either taken out or rewritten.  The version of the talk which appeared in the Ensign magazine was also censored.

Let’s all honor Elder Poelman for his strong belief in “free agency.”

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2 Responses to Elder Ronald E. Poelman and “The Conference Talk”

  1. Allen says:

    I agree completely with his statement, as given above in your blog. We need to remind ourselves, occasionally, that the purpose of church programs is to help us better live gospel principles. As church programs achieve that purpose, we have less need for the programs, although we still have strong need for opportunities for service that are provided by the church. While Joseph Smith was running for President of the United States, he was asked about his form of government. He said he taught the members principles of righteousness and let them govern themselves. Another way of saying what Elder Poelman said.

    Speaking of agency, let me finish this comment with a thought-problem for our consideration. Consider a boy who is born in a city getto. That boy has no home life, as we think of home life. He doesn’t know who his father is. His mother is away from home for most of the day, working. A gang becomes his “family”. He becomes involved in shoplifting, and that leads to worse crime.

    Now, the question that we need to think about. How, in what ways, will God judge this boy. Had the boy been born into different circumstances, he likely would have become a different person. Think about it. I’m interested to read what you and other visitors have to say about this boy’s agency and the judgment of God. My answer to this question is given in my blog under the Agency tab.

  2. rhansen says:

    I perused your blog. My impression is that you are trying a little too hard to make Genesis and obscure Mormon doctrines jive with science. I personally prefer to look at Genesis as a metaphor for uneducated shephards. I find it difficult to believe in a literal Garden of Eden, Tower of Babel, Great Flood, etc.

    Having said that, I have a rough time understanding the inequities associated with opportunties here on earth. Ony a small percentage of earthlings have any reasonable hope for any kind of personal progression. Their principal effort is just surviving day-to-day. To say that those who die before their 8th birthday automatically go to the celestial kingdom, further clouds my view of our earthly sojourn. And then your point adds more clouding.

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