When people think of Mormon General Authorities (high level church leaders), they tend to think of dignified men who speak carefully and behave traditionally. Even for his own time, J. Golden Kimball defied tradition. He was nicknamed “The Swearing Apostle” and when church meetings were first broadcast on radio, people worried about his vocabulary. His approaches to problem-solving were often unique for his environment, but he was effective and no one ever questioned his testimony. He attributed his bad habit of swearing—something Mormons generally avoid—to having been a mule driver in his younger days. He said it’s the only language mules understand.

He was initially a reluctant missionary. His mother wanted him to serve, but he didn’t really want to go. In those days, it was easier to find yourself on a mission than it is today. His mother asked him to meet with the prophet about it and he showed up dirty and wearing visible guns and knives on his cowboy clothes. He was sure he’d get sent away, since he looked as unmissionary-like as he could manage. However, he discovered his mother had written ahead and the prophet said that he had known Golden’s father and was sure the son would be as skilled at missionary work as the father had been.

It turned out the prophet was right. Golden was sent deep into the south, where they still killed missionaries and anyone else they didn’t like. He opened his eyes after a prayer once to find himself surrounded by men with guns. Another time a mob tried to disrupt a baptism, but Golden quickly led the Mormons in a hymn that seemed to mesmerize the mob. One even asked him to return later to sing the song again and was eventually converted.

He once told an audience, “His testimony grew as he became more familiar with the workings of the Holy Ghost. “I often wonder when you do have the Spirit of God. I used to think I had it in the Southern States, when I became excited and sensational, and my face was red, and the cords of my neck were swollen—I thought then, in my ignorance, that it was the Holy Ghost. I have learned since that the Spirit of God gives you joy and peace and patience and long-suffering and gentleness, and you have the spirit of forgiveness and you love the souls of the children of men” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1918, p. 29).

Read about one of J. Golden Kimball’s more non-traditional ways of handling problems that arose in church:

Living History: Mormon ‘apostle’ shoots mouth off, gun carriers shut up

About Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.

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