Mormonism and church leadership/Criticisms/Paul H. Dunn's baseball and war stories

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Paul H. Dunn's stories about baseball and World War II

Summary: Elder Paul H. Dunn was a very popular speaker who told many faith-promoting stories about his days playing baseball and his service in World War II. It was eventually discovered that Elder Dunn had exaggerated and conflated elements of his stories.

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Question: Who was Paul H. Dunn and what happened to him?

Elder Paul H. Dunn was a very popular speaker who told many faith-promoting stories about his days playing baseball and his service in World War II

Elder Paul H. Dunn was a very popular speaker during the 1970's and 1980's who told many faith-promoting stories about his days playing baseball and his service in World War II. Many people were inspired by his stories, and he was in much demand as a speaker. It was eventually discovered that Elder Dunn had exaggerated and conflated elements of his stories. He was given emeritus status as a General Authority on October 1, 1989.


Question: Many who listened to Elder Dunn's stories felt the spirit. Why would one feel the spirit upon hearing a story that was fabricated? Doesn't this confirm a lie?

No documented evidence has appeared that faithful members received some sort of spiritual confirmation that the stories taught were true.

Many critics have argued that the Spirit was confirming a lie during these times. Similar criticism is applied to a situation with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in 2017.[1]The first point that should be made is that no documented evidence has appeared of a faithful member receiving some spiritual confirmation that these stories from Dunn were true. There are several testimonies from former members of such that they say happened while they were faithful members [2], but nothing from members of the Church today or faithful members of the time.

We do have one case that has been claimed as an example of faithful members receiving a spiritual witness of one of Elder Dunn's claimed false/exaggerated stories. Elder Dunn gave a talk at the October 1976 General Conference of the Church entitled "Follow It!". In the talk, Elder Dunn, as a means of illustrating a point of being an upstanding Latter-day Saint and for standing what's right, shared a story of a young man named Jimmy Daniels who, before a baseball playoff game for the state championship at Dunn's high school, was caught with a nicotine stain on his finger and Elder Dunn was made his replacement. At the conclusion of the Conference, Elder Kimball stated that:

Beloved brothers and sisters, I will say just a brief word at the conclusion of this marvelous conference.
There has been a generous outpouring from the Lord to all of the speakers who have addressed us. We have been greatly stirred by our famous and beloved Tabernacle Choir as they, too, have used their rich talents to bless us with heavenly symphonies. And we are deeply grateful to the other groups of singers: they have enriched our services and made them pleasing to us and to the Lord. And to all others who have contributed we are deeply grateful.
[. . .]
The sermons from the Brethren have developed almost every theme and subject, and they have been rich and full of meat. We have been greatly pleased with all of their contributions.

The New Era published an adaptation of the talk given by Elder Dunn called "The Game of Life". A missionary serving in the England Leeds Mission wrote:

Busstop
I just finished reading the October New Era, and I especially liked “The Game of Life” by Elder Paul H. Dunn. Whenever my companion and I finish reading a New Era, we leave it on a bus, hoping that someone will pick it up and read it and someday join the Church.
Elder Harold Beckstead
England Leeds Mission

However, as author Lynn Packer pointed out in Sunstone Magazine:

There is no Jimmy Daniels listed on the baseball roster [at Dunn’s HS]. Perhaps Dunn was using a pseudonym for Daniels without disclosing it. That hardly matters, because no one on the team was in a playoff game: Hollywood High finished next to last in 1941 and third in 1942.[3]

So, did anyone receive a spiritual confirmation that this fabricated story was true? We might say the following:

  1. Elder Dunn, along with providing a pseudonym for the young man, may have misremembered the exact game in the playoffs they were playing for. Recall from the quote from Lynn Packer that Hollywood High (Dunn's high school) finished third in 1942, Elder Dunn's senior year. Also recall that Dunn is remembering this story 34 years after it supposedly took place. This story may have more truth to it than we realize.
  2. President Kimball does not specifically mention Elder Dunn's talk in his remarks. His talk came at the conclusion of a conference with 30+ talks to summarize and with the task of closing the conference in a reverent, dignified, and cordial manner. The outpouring may have indeed been great, but there's virtually nothing that can tell us more about Elder Dunn's stories and the Church's overall reaction to them.
  3. The missionary does not mention feeling the Spirit saying that the story that Elder Dunn shared was true. He only says that he liked "The Game of Life" from that issue of the New Era in particular. He further says that whenever he and his companion finish reading a New Era (thus referring to multiple issues), they leave it on the bus for someone to find, read, and hopefully convert to the Church. Additionally, there is a lot of other material in the adaptation of the talk, given in the New Era, that the missionary may have felt inspired by and which he felt other people could be inspired by as well.

Thus this example doesn't work for establishing the validity of the criticism. There's nothing substantial to move forward the discussion with.

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a speech or article is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit

Latter-day Saints understand that a testimony of the Gospel is not based, as one reviewer humorously put it, on "grandpa stories".[4] Latter-day Saints base their testimony on a dynamic influence of the Holy Ghost as sought for by revelation. This revelatory experience that is sought out comes from study and prayer (D&C 9:7-9) through the use of all our faculties (D&C 88:15; Alma 32:27).

This dynamic influence is contrasted with a more passive influence, where one feels the Spirit while in the presence of good things. This is how the vast majority of Latter-day Saints view (or would view) such feelings towards Elder Dunn today. We are to seek after all virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy things (Articles of Faith 1:13) because all good things come from God (Moroni 7:12) and they can inspire us to serve him (Moroni 7:13). We may also simply be feeling the Spirit that is promised to always be with us as we live up to our baptismal covenants (Moroni 4:3; 5:2). That doesn't mean, however, that we have received some sort of dynamic, revelatory witness of the truthfulness of these "grandpa stories". Since our bodies and spirits are connected (D&C 88:15), it is easy to see why a warm feeling or a heart murmur may be over-interpreted as spiritual stimuli. Moroni tells us that we have the ability to judge that which is of God and that which is not of God (Moroni 7:14; See also D&C 8:2). The key to discernment is simply to pay close attention to both our mind and heart (D&C 8:2) and "prove all things and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess 5:21; See also JS-Matthew 1:37; Moroni 7:20-25) by studying something out in our mind sincerely and meaningfully and seeking revelation through the dynamic influence of the Holy Ghost for confirmation of the validity of any given proposition (D&C 9:7-9).


Question: Why did Elder Dunn exaggerate elements of these stories?

Elder Dunn responded to this issue himself

Regarding Elder Dunn's stories: he was human, just like the rest of us. He can speak for himself on this issue: "Elder Dunn Offers Apology for Errors, Admits Censure", Deseret News, Oct. 27 1991.

In an open letter to LDS Church members, Elder Paul H. Dunn apologized Saturday for not having "always been accurate" in telling his popular war and baseball stories, and he acknowledged being disciplined for it by church authorities.

Elder Dunn, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asked the church's First Presidency and Council of the Twelve for the opportunity to send an open letter to church members. The letter was published in Saturday's issue of the Church News."I confess that I have not always been accurate in my public talks and writings," Elder Dunn wrote. "Furthermore, I have indulged in other activities inconsistent with the high and sacred office which I have held.

"For all of these I feel a deep sense of remorse, and ask forgiveness of any whom I may have offended."

A former Army private and minor-league baseball player, Elder Dunn told riveting accounts of his war and baseball experiences that made him one of the most popular speakers in the church. According to the Associated Press, he was author or co-author of 28 books and is featured on 23 inspirational tapes. He served in the presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy from 1976 to 1980.

In 1989, Elder Dunn was placed on emeritus status for "reasons of age and health," the church said. In February 1991, the Arizona Republic reported that Elder Dunn had made up or combined elements of many of his war and baseball stories.

In his open letter, Elder Dunn, 67, said general authorities of the church have conducted in-depth investigations of charges that he had engaged in activities unbecoming of a church member.

"They have weighed the evidence," he said. "They have censured me and placed a heavy penalty upon me.

"I accept their censure and the imposed penalty, and pledge to conduct my life in such a way as to merit their confidence and full fellowship."

Church spokesman Don LeFevre said Saturday that the nature of the penalty is "an internal matter, and we don't discuss such matters" publicly.

Elder Dunn has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment. He concluded his letter by pleading for the understanding of church members and assured them of his "determination so to live as to bring added respect to the cause I deeply love, and honor to the Lord who is my Redeemer."


Notes

  1. Critic Grant Palmer applied very similar criticism to the World War II stories of Utah Congressman Dogulas R. Stringfellow. Palmer writes: "As one example, many people, including myself, felt this confirming spirit when we heard the World War II stories of Utah Congressman Douglas R. Stringfellow. Stringfellow's experiences were later revealed to be a complete hoax [Frank H. Jonas, "The Story of a Political Hoax," in Institute of Government, vol. 8 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1966): 1-97.] I was about fourteen years old when I heard him speak, and it was a truly inspiring experience. After Stringfellow concluded, I remember that the leader conducting the meeting said, "If you have never felt the Spirit before, it was here today in abundance." He was right. I felt it strongly, as did many others." See Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 131-2. Similar responses could be given to that argument in this article. It is possible that Palmer could be deliberately reinterpreting a true experience or fabricating one out of wholecloth from real stories of hoaxes.
  2. One former member of the Church gathered several of these claims that can be found online at https://github.com/faenrandir/a_careful_examination/tree/master/documents/spiritual_experiences-testimony-holy_ghost/paul_h_dunn_felt_spirit if one truly wishes to see a few.
  3. Lynn Packer, “Paul H. Dunn Fields of Dreams,” Sunstone Magazine (September 1991).
  4. Conflict of Justice, "Why Did Mormons ‘Feel The Spirit’ From Paul H. Dunn’s Made-Up Stories?" <http://www.conflictofjustice.com/mormons-feel-spirit-paul-h-dunns-stories/> (Accessed 5 October 2019).