Work with the Lamanites
President Spencer W. Kimball was sustained as prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on December 30, 1973, at the age of 78. He served as president of the Church for the next twelve years. During that time, President Kimball saw huge growth in the Church and achieved numerous accomplishments. Having already travelled all around the world in Church service prior to his being called to the presidency, President Kimball was already linked to people’s hearts. His work with the Lamanites, the descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples in North and South America, had already brought many natives of North and South America to a knowledge of the gospel.
With huge advancements in technology, it became evident that the use of computers in Church record keeping would be invaluable. As early as the 1960s, some computers were used, though few. in 1970, the Church financial records were computerized, but in 1980, the Data Processing Division of the Information Systems Department was created to provide support and training for computers and software church-wide. Entering all Church information into a computer system also cut down on a lot of paperwork and time spent on clearing names for temple work.
Consolidated Meeting Schedule
In 1978, it was proposed that the meeting schedule be consolidated. Up until this time, priesthood and Sunday School meetings were held Sunday mornings, while Sacrament Meetings were held in the late afternoon or evenings. Many other meetings, including primary and Relief Society, were held during the week. Such varied meetings took up a lot of time, and when the cost of gasoline went up, it became very expensive for families to try and make it to all of their Church meetings. Beginning in 1978, each ward would hold a three-hour-block meeting each Sunday. Sacrament Meeting lasts one hour and ten minutes, Sunday School forty minutes, and Relief Society and Elders Quorum 45 minutes. Primary is held for the children at the same time as Relief Society and Priesthood. This schedule made it much easier for families to spend the Sabbath day together and enabled them to attend all their meetings.
General Conference Broadcast
On October 6, 1979, for the first time, those not in personal attendance at General Conference could watch the meetings through a broadcast. The conference could be recorded on video tape and sent all over the world. The sessions were broadcast by 174 television stations and 1,000 cable systems across the U.S. and Canada, as well as audio on radio stations. Nine U.S. cities received the broadcasts for the first time. Now Saints can watch conference sessions in their meetinghouses through a Church satellite broadcast system. The word of God was reaching all nations.
LDS Edition of the King James Version of the Bible
In 1979, the Church achieved a major accomplishment. An LDS edition of the KJV Bible was published. It has LDS footnotes and cross-references to other scriptures contained in the standard works (the LDS canon). It also contains a topical guide with cross references to the standard works and a bible dictionary, a consolidated version of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, a gazetteer and maps referencing Church history and Biblical history. This publication was the work of hundreds of scholars and has enabled a much deeper study of the scriptures for individuals and the Church as a whole.
“Lengthen Your Stride” and Missionary Work
Soon after his call to the presidency, President Kimball called for Church members to improve the length to which they were living the gospel. He told them they had plateaued in their testimonies and activity. This was the beginning of an initiative for which President Kimball will always be remembered. He challenged each person to “lengthen your stride,” and improve spiritually. More regional conferences were held to spiritually feed the Saints and to instill in them a desire to build Zion where they were. The encouragement to the Saints to lengthen their strides also applied to missionary work. President Kimball urged all young men to set the goal of serving a mission, and as the young men of the Church heeded their prophet’s call, the number of full-time missionaries increased by 50 percent. By the end of President Kimball’s life, in 1985, the number of missionaries had reached more than 29,000.
With such an increase in missionary numbers, the previous mission training accommodations in Salt Lake City became inadequate. In 1978, the Mission Home in Salt Lake City merged with the Language Training Mission in Provo, Utah, to become the Missionary Training Center. Since this facility was still not large enough to accommodate all of the missionaries, other facilities have been and continue to be created in different areas of the world to accommodate missionaries preparing to serve their two-year missions.
With missionary work growing so rapidly, President Kimball recognized the need to open more countries to missionary work. In order for this to happen, he saw the wisdom in meeting with government officials to gain permission to do missionary work. Doing so in person gave Church leaders the opportunity to share the message of the gospel and to properly represent the Church to foreign governments who might otherwise be prejudiced or even hostile towards the Church’s missionary efforts. President Kimball met with leaders of several countries, including many in South America, and the Church was able to arrange all the legal matters in these countries, such as getting the Church officially recognized by the government, obtaining physical facilities, obtaining visas for the missionaries, and many other things. Sometimes this process takes years.
Meeting President Gerald Ford
Though not for the purpose of legal matters and missionary work, President Kimball even met with the United States President Gerald Ford in 1976, during which interview President Kimball explained the purposes and goals of the Church. He emphasized the teachings of the Church for its members to be loyal to their governments. After their meeting, a group of one hundred Latter-day Saint children sang “I Am a Child of God” on the south lawn at the White House.
Fighting against Pornography and Child Abuse
Though the Church has a strong policy against being involved in politics, occasionally a matter of such moral gravity will come into the forefront, that the Church feels it must take a stand. In the ’70s this occurred in the fight against pornography and child abuse. Since then it has come to apply to the fight against same-sex marriage. Any time the issue is one of fighting against a moral evil, the Church takes a strong stand. The Church put a lot of time and money into stronger laws against and punishments for the crime of pornography and child abuse, as it continues to do.
President Kimball put President Harold B. Lee’s vision of smaller temples into action, and twenty-one temples were built and dedicated, with another five being rededicated, during his presidency. Only seven of these new temples were in the United States, which began the fulfillment of the prophecy that the temples would be brought to the Saints wherever they were. This initiative more than doubled the number of temples in service around the world, and has led to a continued flooding of the earth with temples.
The following temples were dedicated while Spencer W. Kimball was prophet:
- Washington D.C. Temple
- Sao Paulo Brazil Temple
- Tokyo Japan Temple
- Seattle Washington Temple
- Jordan River Utah Temple
- Atlanta Georgia Temple
- Apia Samoa Temple
- Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple
- Santiago Chile Temple
- Papeete Tahiti Temple
- Mexico City Mexico Temple
- Boise Idaho Temple
- Sydney Australia Temple
- Manila Philippines Temple
- Dallas Texas Temple
- Taipei Taiwan Temple
- Guatemala City Guatemala Temple
- Freiberg Germany Temple
- Stockholm Sweden Temple
- Chicago Illinois Temple
- Johannesburg South Africa Temple
A focus on having large conferences in foreign countries and on building more temples outside the United States also helped to decentralize the Church and to remind the world as well as its members that the Church of the Lord was growing and was beginning to fill the earth. The gospel was not intended for Utahans or Americans, but for all of God’s children. Nor was the focus of building strictly on temples. All meetinghouses were brought down in scale to meet the needs of the people in their areas. This cut down additional costs, permitting more buildings to be constructed for the use of members all over.
Revelation on the Priesthood
Possibly the most significant occurrence during President Kimball’s administration was the revelation on the priesthood which was announced in June 1978. There had been a lot of public controversy regarding the issue during President Joseph Fielding Smith’s administration, and many of the Saints yearned for the blessings of the priesthood. Still, as history has shown, no change can be made in the Church without it being the will of the Lord and in the own due time of the Lord. Just because public pressure is applied or because an idea is unpopular doesn’t mean that the Saints are free to change Church doctrine. After much fasting and much prayer, President Kimball felt it was the will of the Lord for the priesthood to be extended to all worthy males in the Church, regardless of race or color. This was a joyous day for everyone in the Church, and it was sustained unanimously at the conference, after it has been unanimously sustained by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.