Earlier this year, I posted some thoughts on Latter-day Saints’ reaction to the announcement of the 1978 revelation on the race-based temple and priesthood ban. The post elicited a lot of excellent responses, including several from Latter-day Saints who shared their own memories and recollections of LDS responses in the wake of the revelation. Among the most intriguing comments, though, came from commenter Ben S., who offered an anecdote he once heard about “several hundred LDS [who] signed their names to a full-page ad in a local newspaper to the effect that they knew Kimball was a fallen prophet, this revelation wasn?t possible, on the basis of past statements, scriptural interpretation, etc.”
Naturally intrigued (and a bit horrified, to be honest), I went exploring and found a reference to just such an advertisement in the July 23, 1978 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune. Thanks to the research assistance of Ardis Smith, I was able to track down a copy of the issue and ad in question (click here for PDF), which was provocatively headlined “LDS Soon to Repudiate a Portion of Their Pearl of Great Price?”
As the leading question rhetorically posed in the title suggests, the advertisement portrayed the decision to terminate the ban as a rejection of one of Mormonism’s four canonical books of scripture. “It appears,” the ad begins, “that a portion of The Pearl of Great Price, one of the four standard works of the Mormon Church, is about to be repudiated or ‘dissolved.'” Basing that charge on a quote from former church president David O. McKay in which he claimed to “know of no scriptural basis for denying the priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26),” the advertisement editorialized that “this seems to be the unanimous view of former L.D.S. Church Presidents” and claimed that unidentified “enemies of Mormonism have been concentrating upon efforts to discredit the book and, inevitably, the Prophet Joseph Smith.” The implications for Mormons were dire, it continued: “Will Latter-day Saints remain true to their former revelations, or will they yield to the pressures of this crucial day? … Have [Mormonism’s enemies] succeeded?“ And then, answering their own question: “We are sad and troubled to observe how the Church collectively has reacted to the pressures. How will individual members respond?”
Over the course of the remaining 53 paragraphs, the author of the ad proceeded to lay out a brief history of the priesthood ban, refute attempts by LDS leaders in the previous month and a half since the revelation had been announced to portray “earlier Church leaders” as having known “that eventually Negroes would receive all the blessings of the Gospel” (relying chiefly upon comments from Brigham Young and “the Author of Mormon Doctrine”), urge Latter-day Saints to “be Faithful to Revelations,” and warn not only that the “curse [was] to remain” in effect, but that the Church’s recent actions threatened to invalidate its priesthood and cause the “Lord [to] Send Delusion.”
The basic argument presented relied on a simplified formula that, in theory, likely rang true to many active Mormons: “Principles and Ordinances” in the Lord’s true church did not change and the words of God’s “Oracles [were] Not to Conflict.” The ends to which that formula were used, though, almost certainly did not. Drawing again on the words of earlier LDS prophets and Mormon scripture, the advertisement concluded by claiming that the Lord had promised, if and when the Church became “polluted,” to preserve a “Remnant” that would “Remain True”:
These faithful few, under God’s direction, shall redeem Zion, build up the kingdom upon the earth and usher in the Millennial reign of Christ. As we said in the beginning, it appears by the June 9th action of the L.D.S. Church, that The Pearl of Great Price, or a portion of it, it about to be repudiated, as are the Church’s founding prophets whose words are in harmony with that volume of scripture. We repeat the question:
Will Latter-day Saints remain true to their former revelations, or will they yield to the pressures of this crucial day?
Where do you stand?
The whole thing left me with way too many questions. The concerns expressed — that the June 1978 revelation contradicted tradition, accepted interpretation of select scriptural verses, and the words of past prophets — struck me as entirely plausible (if morally indefensible) positions for some Latter-day Saints to hold in the wake of such a largely unexpected and paradigm-changing announcement. The conclusions reached struck me as significantly less so. Did a group of largely anonymous active Mormons come to the conclusion in the month and a half since the public announcement of the revelatory policy change that they were the divinely-chosen remnant to preserve the existence and integrity of God’s priesthood? Had they already organized themselves into a group called “Concerned Latter-day Saints,” as the name and address at the bottom of the ad suggested?
It seemed a stretch. In fact, the argument, its tone, and the conclusions reached sounded downright Fundamentalist to me — a suspicion that was confirmed both by subsequent research and by Armand Mauss, whose chapter in the 1984 volume he and Lester Bush co-edited, Neither Black nor White, cited the article as evidence that “polygamist fundamentalists offered the only apparent organized opposition to the new priesthood policy.” The advertisement, then, was apparently not evidence of mainstream Mormon reactions to the 1978 revelation, but rather something else entirely — not just a fascinating insight into how some fundamentalist Mormons responded to ongoing developments in the LDS Church, but also evidence of their ongoing efforts to take advantage of those developments and proselytize LDS Church members.
My initial question mostly answered, I was left wanting more. Who was Joseph Jensen? What branch of Mormon Fundamentalists did he represent? A bit more searching turned up an additional reference to Joseph Jensen in the secondary literature, this time from Carmon Hardy’s 2011 Dialogue article on “The Persistence of Mormon Plural Marriage.” Hardy cited a “fundamentalist advertisement” authored by “Joseph L. Jensen, Chairman” of “Star of Truth Publishing” in the March 30, 1980 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune entitled “Shall We Excommunicate Joseph Smith?” Thanks again to Ardis Smith, I was able to obtain a scan of that article (PDF here). That advertisement, like the one before it, lamented that “the L.D.S. Church is being made acceptable to the world,” by celebrating the words of the present-day prophet to the exclusion and supposed denial of past prophets (“When a prophet dies, his words die with him, or are fair game for change and interpretation, unless his words happen to comply with those of the next living prophet,” it mocked). The unspoken context was clearly post June 8, 1978 developments, though the ad does not mention the revelation or the ordination of black men to the priesthood explicitly. The writing style, the provocative headline, and the venue made it clear that “Joseph L. Jensen,” the chairman of “Star of Truth Publishing” was the same as the “Joseph Jensen” who had earlier written on behalf of “Concerned Latter-day Saints.”
Armed now with a middle initial, an additional publication under his name, and the name of a publishing company, I quickly discovered that the publishing company was affiliated with the Apostolic United Brethren, the second largest Mormon polygamist group. I also discovered a 2005 article (again, in the Salt Lake Tribune — man, someone should really step in and save that paper!) reporting on the appointment of one “J. Lamoine Jenson” as the newest leader of the sect. Jenson, I learned, had since 1969 served on the AUB’s presiding council and is listed as the “Registered Agent” for “Star of Truth Publishing” to this day. My immediate suspicion that “J. Lamoine Jenson” was “Joseph L. Jensen” was confirmed in the penultimate paragraph:
Jenson’s name appeared at the bottom of a paid advertisement published in The Salt Lake Tribune in 1980 by Fundamentalist Mormons critical of LDS Church leaders for dropping “the will or word of God” as given by past prophets to become “acceptable to the world.” While not mentioned in the nearly half-page ad, fundamentalists hold abandonment of polygamy and the 1978 acceptance of blacks into the LDS Church priesthood as errors by the mainstream Mormon church.
Almost entirely satisfied, I was left with one last nagging question. Why did “J. Lamoine Jenson” publish under the name “Joseph (L.) Jensen” (note not only the change from use of first name and middle initial to first initial and middle name but also the change in spelling of the last name from Jensen to Jenson). A bit more digging turned up an answer to that question. A July 28, 1978 AP wire report on “Fundamentalist LDS church members [who] object to new black priesthood doctrine” referred to Jensen’s Salt Lake Tribune advertisement five days earlier (noting, among other things, that it cost $2,676). It also contained the following intriguing detail:
Chairman of the group sponsoring the ad, identified as Joseph Jensen, said that is his real name but “not one I am known by.” He asked not to be further identified because threats had been made against his life.
So that explained the alternate spelling of his last name and use of his first instead of middle name. But it also opened up an entire other can of worms — threats made on his life? By whom? And that’s not all. The report continued:
He said the group includes more than 2,000 people, many of whom have been excommunicated from the church for their views. Asked if he were excommunicated, Jensen declined a direct answer, but said, “I was born LDS, raised LDS and have taught in every organization in the church. I’m fully converted to Mormonism.” He said reaction to the ad has been about 60 percent unfavorable. He said he had received about 100 letters addressed to a post office box given in the ad. He said those who support the ad feel the church is about to repudiate works now accepted as scripture. He said if founder Joseph Smith were a Mormon today, he’d be excommunicated.
There’s a lot to unpack there, from Jensen’s careful choice of words in responding to the query about his own membership in the LDS Church to his report on the reaction his ad had received. We might wonder about the accuracy of the statistics he provided, but it is nevertheless an intriguing glimpse into what I initially set out to discover — the response of active Latter-day Saints to the 1978 revelation. Some, though likely not very many, were not only reticent to join their coreligionists in “hugging and dancing and crying with happiness,” but were troubled by the revelation and the challenges they supposed it posed to prophetic and scriptural authority. Fundamentalist Mormons, it appears, were there to take advantage of those concerns and proselytize their mainstream Mormon cousins.
 Emphasis in original.
 Curiously, the ad does not mention Bruce R. McConkie by name. The likely reason why will become clear in subsequent paragraphs.
 Emphasis in original.
 Other potentially relevant and interesting excerpts from the summary of the interview with Jensen/Jenson include his claim that “‘only one or two or three’ letters he has received in response to the ad have racist overtones” and his firm determination that “this is is no way whatsoever against the Negro. I know some I’d just as soon be pals with as any white man.” Jensen/Jenson further clarified that “sponsors of the ad believe blacks were to receive it only in the hereafter.” The report also quotes LDS Church spokesman Jerry Cahill as saying, in response to the reporter’s question “if a person who held views expressed in [the ad] would be excommunicated,” that “‘It’s a possibility. The views certainly are not in harmony with those of church authorities.'”