Implications and Opportunities

Douglas Campbell examined changes In the following four hymnals published by the First Presidency: A Collection of Sacred , for the Church of the Latter Day Samis (1335); Latter-day Saint Hymns (1927); Hymns: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1948); and Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1985), His research includes the following fascinating facts:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates in a constantly changing world, and the interplay between the world and the church’s message is dynamic.

“Emma Smith was commanded (D&C 25:11) to choose the 90 hymns that constituted the 1835 hymnal. Fifty-five were retained in the 1927 hymnal, thirty were retained in the 1948 hymnal, and twenty-six were retained in the 1985 hymnbook,”

One example of changes in the 1927 hymnal is W.W. Phelps’s hymn “Praise to the Man.” In verse 2 it previously read: “Long may his blood, / which was shed by assassins, / Stain Illinois / while the earth lauds his fame.”

Campbell quotes George D. Pyper:

“When the Latter-day saint Hymn book was compiled in 1927, in order to be in harmony with the ‘good neighbor’ policy of the Church and nation, the second line was changed to ‘Long may his blood, / which was shed by assassins, / Plead unto heaven, / while the earth lauds his fame/” 1

“The 1927, 380 hymn, “Father! Lead Me out of Darkness” had been written by John A. Widtsoe, a member of the Twelve in both 1927 and 1948. When the time came to revise the 1927 hymnal, the church music committee suggested that the hymn be deleted since it wasn’t sung. Alexander Schreiner objected:

After all, these were words written by an Apostle of the Lord. It was decided that I should approach Elder Widtsoe, proposing to change the title, which seemed negative, and adjust a few words.

“Elder Widtsoe said, “You don’t understand, Brother Schreiner It is being sung by a nonmember. I don’t want anybody to change the words. Nonmembers are in darkness.

‘“But Elder Widtsoe, I responded, ‘when you go to stake conference and give an inspirational and enlightening message to the saints, how would you feel if the stake president announced that the closing hymn will be “Father! Lead me out of Darkness”?

“Elder Widtsoe could then see the point of giving this fine hymn a positive title. . . . which then became ‘Lead Me into Life Eternal.”2

Three years after the extension of the priesthood to blacks in June 1978, in an equally dramatic move the First Presidency authorized a change in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 30:6: “and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people.’ Since 1981, 2 Nephi 30:6 reads: “and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and delightsome people.” Removing hymnal references to Native Americans and blacks has assisted missionary work, which views the field as white, ready to harvest.

Of the retained hymns between the 1948 and the 1985 hymnals, “many changes in wording reflected church changes” in self-perception, compassion, philosophy, sensitivity to gender, and geography. Examples include:

“Up, Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion,” 1948 hymnal pg 37:1 version read: “Remember the wrongs of Missouri; / forget not the fate of Nauvoo. / When the God-hating foe is before you / stand firm and be faithful and true.” The 1985 revised version (pg. 248:1) reads: “Remember the trials of Missouri; / forget not the courage of Nauvoo/ When the enemy host is before you / stand firm and be faithful and true/’

Hymns changed as the church became international: “Rejoice, Ye Saints of Latter Days,” written in 1950 for the Idaho Falls temple dedication by Mabel Gabbott first included the line: “Another temple to our God/Now stands upon this chosen sod.” The 1985 hymnal now reads: “Rejoice ye Saints of latter days, For temples now in many lands”…

“Spencer W Kimball, a member of the Quorum of Twelve, attended a conference in Elko, Nevada, where the primary sang ‘I Am a Child of God’. On the trip home, he expressed his love for the song, then stated that there was one word in the chorus that concerned him. He wondered if the author would change the line: Teach me all that I must know / to live with him some day/ to: Teach me all that I must do/ to live with him some day.

“The author gladly made the change but wondered why she hadn’t included that thought at the time the lyrics were first written. She records, “I came to feel that this was the way the Lord wanted the song to evolve, because it became a teaching moment for members all over the Church.”

“President Kimball was fond of saying, ‘Naomi Randall wrote most of the words, but I wrote one!”’ 3

Douglas Campbell’s research demonstrated how the changes in the hymnals reflect increased sensitivity to blacks, Native Americans, and women, and how the church music committee used ingenious methods to modify the hymns to reflect changes in the social, cultural, and political milieux in which the church disseminates its message.


The article “Changes in LDS Hymns: Implications and Opportunities” by Douglas Campbell, appeared in full in the Fall 1995 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Voi 28, No. 3: 65-9L Quoted material here is excerpted from that article.

Notes

1 George D. Pyper, Stories of the Latter-day Saint Hymns (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1939), 100.

2 Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book 1988), 75.

3 Our Latter-day Hymns, 303—4.

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