Maurice L. Draper’s Critical Letter of W. Wallace Smith

Maurice L. Draper served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1958-1978. Maurice wrote this letter regarding the proposal to add the Mark Hoffman Joseph Smith III Blessing forgery to the Doctrine and Covenants. He touches on how he understood Smith’s character as a leader.

January 14, 1982

The Joseph Smith III Blessing Document

Responding to an action by the North West District British Isles Region, the First Presidency appointed a committee composed of D.E. Couey, F.H. Edwards, M.L. Draper, C.A. Cole, and R.P. Howard to advise the Presidency. When the committee met we were surprised by the presence of W. Wallace Smith, who had evidently been added to the group without the knowledge of the rest of us. The nature of the issue, a proposal that “the document hearing the blessing of Joseph Smith, 3rd.,” be “immediately included in the Doctrine and Covenants”, made President Smith’s presence an inhibiting factor in the discussion. He was gracious and responsive, but the personal interest of the Smith Family was so intimately involved that the rest of us were handicapped in our consideration of the full range of related questions. Not only did I feel this restraint myself, but it was mentioned by Brother Edwards, who considered it to be a very unfortunate development.

Prior to the group session, President Edwards and I had a brief, but sharply focused, discussion about the prophetic tole as we have observed and participated in it ourselves. As counselors to President W. Wallace Smith, we were very much aware of several major elements that are probably not widely known among members of the church. Their role in the functions of President W. Wallace Smith provide specific evidence of the adverse effects over the long run of a dynastic tradition in prophetic leadership. Undue emphasis on the dynastic practice leads to the sacrifice of prophetic power on the altar of a legalistic concept of church authority and validity. No organization is valid at any particular time because of its conformity to historical precedent. Its validity is based rather on the appropriateness, timeliness, and power of its response to the present situation. If this is sacrificed to reinforce the sanctity of a procedure, both the prophetic ministry and the meaning of the cherished procedure will be lost.

The factors or elements referred to above include the following:

  1. W. Wallace Smith is a conservator or “caretaker” in mood rather than prophetically oriented. His concept of validity is intimately related to existing precedents rather than discerned contemporary human needs.
  2. This mood is manifested in a reluctance to make decisions even when specifically pressed to do so. For example, letters or planning documents have frequently lain on his desk for weeks or even months without acknowledgement. In a few cases I have know that such matter was even approximately two years old when finally retrieved and disposed of. In a half jocular manner President Smith said to me one day, “My policy is to let these things take care of themselves. If you wait long enough they will just go away.” (But the important ones don’t. They always come back in some form.)
  3. He lacks the capacity to show enthusiasm. For anything. The most vigorous decisions he makes are negative ones, as when he “stage whispered” into the microphone in a World Conference debate on the ordination of women, “So long as I have anything to do with it this will never happen.” On the positive side, the most enthusiastic approval I’ve ever heard from him was a double negative: “I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t be done.”
  4. When pressed past the point of passive resistance, he has become the agent of transmittal for principles and concepts expressed by others. For example, the phrase for which he is presently best known, “Stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son,” was the result of prolonged discussion between President Edwards and myself prior to the 1964 World Conference. This phrasing was used in President Edwards’ version of memos that we both wrote to President Smith reporting our discussion and urging attention to pressing issues. In addition to this phrase there are others throughout the document submitted to the church by President W. Wallace Smith containing concepts imitated by his counsellors. Yet not once is there any indication in the document themselves or in the accompanying transmittal letters or preambles that there had been any consideration of the church’s needs by his counselors or others.

One further example of this significant dependence on others for the substance of his prophetic documents, illustrative of the passiveness of his own nature, is the use by President W. Wallace Smith of material originally expressed prophetically by Elbert A. Smith.

This material is quoted virtually verbatim in Doc. & Cov. 152:4, the 1976 communication of W. Wallace Smith in which there is not the slightest allusion to the earlier expression. This failure is for me an ethical failure of the first degree. If it were to happen in an academic setting or on the publishing world the offender would be punished . I don’t think President Smith was deliberately dishonest. I do believe, however, that it is an ethical issue which illustrates how incompetence and insecurity can lead to actions that are in fact lacking in integrity.

My reason for being so specific is to illustrate in clear and certain terms that prophetic ministry is not guaranteed by the dynastic principle and, further, that slavish application of that principle is itself a threat to the operation of the prophetic function in the church.

We were not able to discuss these matters in our committee meeting in President Smith’s presence. We did refer to the principles involved, however, and the committee appeared to enjoy consensus about the inadvisability of and further reinforcement of the dynastic tradition.

I am opposed to the inclusion of the “blessing” statement in the Doctrine an Covenants. It was not prepared with such formal action in view, nor has it had the kind of contemporary examination that other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants in its post-1970 format have received. Let the document be included in our historical literature for whatever value it has in explaining the Nauvoo-Amboy hiatus in church leadership.

A preferable action on succession would be to select the pertinent portions of Joseph Smith III’s “Letter of Instruction” as published in the Saints Herald March 6, 1912, pages 240-248.

Maurice L. Draper

Independence, Missouri
January 14, 1982