Thursday, January 8, 1970

David Brewer's Letter

Event: August 26, 1965; Updated: April 3, 2011

[Click to enlarge]
Letter from David Brewer
On Tuesday, August 26, 1965, I called several friends to tell them about what was happening to me with the Mormon Church since my distress call the previous month. One of these was Dr. David Brewer, professor of Sociology at Fresno State University. What precipitated my Tuesday call was an encounter I'd just had with San Diego Stake President Barry Knudson, who had demanded the return of my temple recommend. Knudson was now in possession of the document that I had written the morning of July 25, 1965, which I'd handed to San Diego Ward Bishop Michael Brown that same morning with a request that he help me understand it. When a frightened Brown later wanted to bury the document in his office bottom drawer and ignore it, I forced it out of his hands and into those of the stake president by pressing written charges against myself for "apostasy, heresy and false doctrine". It took a month for the stake president to see me. [See post "Revelation on the Negro" dated July 25, 1965]

After describing to Dave the events that had taken place since my July distress call concerning Howard Salisbury, Dave hand wrote a letter that same Tuesday evening that I would not receive until the following Monday, almost a week later, at my office of General Atomic. Even though his letter warned me of what began to take place within days, it was too late to take heed. Nevertheless, it became one of my most cherished letters from a friend who cared. Whenever I would feel down in subsequent months and years, I would take Dave's letter out of my wallet and read it again, which never failed to buoy my spirit.

Between the time Dave wrote his letter on Tuesday and my receipt of it the following Monday, I had been put under house arrest at General Atomic, taken by medical orderlies to see a Mormon psychiatrist (Martin Nalder) at UCLA and then turned over to my mother's care after agreeing to sign myself into the San Diego County psycho ward for a 72 hour observation. [To me it was an experience almost identical to the classic film released ten years later called One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest]. During the 3-day incarceration, I wrote the poem Inversion, which was a sequel to my poem Night, written five months earlier:


Walls and windows 
Friends and faith 
To change the scene 
From mirror irony.

At first when low 
Was disbelief, 
And now when high 
It is again— 
The record shows the purpose.

Mysterious ways 
Are hid from view 
Except to one who knows.

The work demands 
A strict review... 
Mercy cannot rob it! 

Others’ faith is quit this time 
To prove this one himself.
At last will come the final meaning 
When lowness claims its own. 

San Diego County Psychiatric Ward 
1 Sep 65 
(Op 9)

Dave and I had been graduate students together at the University of Utah and attended the same LDS student ward. Dave did his doctoral dissertation on the Negro in the Mormon Church. His father was a stake president in Tucson, Arizona.

Transcript of David Brewer's hand-written letter:
Dear Gene,

I enjoyed talking with you this afternoon. Hope we can get together sometime soon.

Naturally I’m amazed by what you mentioned regarding your future in the Church. I don’t mind admitting that I’d like very much to see you in the role. There’s no doubt in my mind that a genuine prophetic movement in the religion would be the healthiest thing that could possibly occur. It amazes me also that you continue to have so much confidence in the organization. I’m more skeptical than most Mormons, as you know, and therefore tend to doubt that the institution is particularly interested in prophesy or revelation. The myth of revelation is one thing, but the actuality is another.

I haven’t the slightest question but what I’d rather see you as president than any of the guys that are standing in line. Smith [Joseph Fielding Smith] is a little feeble minded, as you may know. Lee [Harold B. Lee] is intelligent but conservative. Many generations down the line comes the first person I believe could run the church intelligently.

I think I respect your intelligence and human awareness. I’ve always liked your sensitivity to human needs. As I understand our religion this implies something about one’s closeness to God -- much more than mere office does so. Actually, long ago I decided you have many of the qualities that are appropriate to the prophetic personality. I suspect that wherever you are you would in some way play the prophetic role. I don’t discourage you in the least. The Church hierarchy would be foolish to block any truly prophetic movement.

If what you predict comes about -- I say more power to it -- you realize, of course, that it will be the first time in recorded history. No institutionalized religion has ever accepted a prophet, to my knowledge. It may be that we’ve advanced so far that you can make the breakthrough. Or it may be that in the latter days God can influence an institutionalized religion significantly. He’s never been able to do it before, to my knowledge. Prophets are sometimes incorporated by the next generation, as you know. And leaders sometimes develop limited prophetic capacities within an institution -- but quite limited.

I like your ideal very much. I’m perhaps not as aware of the purposes of God as would be necessary to an understanding of your experience -- (sometimes I’m not sure there is a God) -- but I believe in you as a genuine, intelligent, inspirational person.

It’s an interesting thing that the true prophet historically challenges existing organizations rather than running them. I’ll have to admit that Joseph Smith was more successful than most (which he fully realized, explicitly placing himself ahead of Jesus in this regard) in attaining an organized differentiated institution of considerable sophistication before his death.

I’ve wondered if it were possible in 20th century America, with its secularized, relativised culture, to have truly prophetic events. I would say, offhand, that you’re the most able person I know of who’s ever tried this, since Joseph Smith’s time. This alone perhaps should convince me that God lives. There are many reformers of considerable acumen, but where are our prophets?

Maybe I’m saying nothing but what you expected me to say. But you’ve known about my peculiar attitudes and philosophy for some time.

Perhaps some are accusing you in other terms. A favorite one is, of course, the mental health accusation. If they are not saying so, many will dismiss your convictions in such terms as psychosis, paranoia, etc. These are mere words describing persons with a different experience with the unknown. By these terms Jesus, Joseph Smith, Isaiah, and all the rest were quite definitely mentally ill. So what? According to Toynbee, Weber, and others, the most significant historic breakthroughs seem always to proceed from prophecy -- and prophets are always people profoundly disturbed by existing conditions. Disturbed, marginal people are almost always more keenly aware of some of the contingencies of mortality. The real difference with the prophet has to do with his unique ability to resolve this disturbance, marginality, etc. in terms of revelation more truly expressive of the yearnings of mankind. If you can gain control of an organized religion at the same time, this could be one of the most wonderful events of human history. For once we wouldn’t have to start all over again. You would succeed, in fact, in putting new wine in old bottles -- whether this would imply refurbishing the container from within is an important question. But it would have to be new wine, because that is the essence of the prophets -- the true prophet’s interest.

Despite my desire to be a believer, I remain bewildered, so far as ultimate purpose is concerned. It would be difficult to get caught up [in] a religious movement -- I suppose that my own institution -- the college -- has become too comfortable. I like this lazy, sedate, existence. I play the prophet’s role a little, but only in the attempt to disturb students about the dangerous state of affairs in the world -- the tendency of organized institutions, including our own church-- to work out strategies to ignore human problems.

Jet and I are both very interested in you. We may make a trip south to see San Diego and have some discussions with you and your family.

Best of Everything,

s/ Dave

Note: It was this letter that allowed me for the first time to differentiate between the role of "prophet" and that of "president" when it came to Mormon Church ecclesiastical offices. In my naive belief in the rhetorical claims of Mormon ecclesiastical authorities, I had never before considered that the role of prophet was outside of the institution.

(Note: September 6, 2009. In his letter David mentions gaining "control". I see it now as gaining the "attention and confidence" of an established church.)

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