Today is the birthday of J. Golden Kimball, one of the most colorful characters in Mormon history. Even as a Seventy and the son of a Prophet, he wasn’t perfect and everybody knew it. What’s so golden about that?
Well, the blunt statements and humorous punches J. Golden was known for made him more relatable to his many eager listeners. Even today we can laugh as we read the jokes he made about his faults and our hearts are warmed when we hear the stories of his conversion. We are not perfect as Latter-day Saints, and neither was J. Golden.
And thanks to Claude Richards, we can read the stories of J. Golden from the book, J. Golden Kimball. “The people loved him for his humor, his originality, and for his delightful frankness and honesty,” Richards wrote.
For Latter-Day Saints, that combination can be like hitting a gold mine. Even if we only had him from 1853 to 1938. Here are just a few examples at what made J. Golden so golden in LDS history.
He had strong convictions but also admitted doubts and struggles.
Like many of us, J. Golden was sometimes unable to determine when he was being influenced by the Holy Ghost.
He said, “I have never been able to determine when I am going to speak by the direction of the Holy Ghost, and sometimes when I thought I had it, some of the brethren did not think so. So it leaves me in doubt and uncertainty.”
He prayed and worked hard to follow the Lord. When speaking of his mission, he said, “I guess we would have starved to death if we had kept praying and had not hustled; the Lord doesn’t help people who do not hustle and move, after they pray, and do their duty.”
He also believed that Latter-day Saints had a strong character that offered benefits to the world. “The Mormon people are a valuable heritage to the race.”
And he knew that being Mormon isn’t easy. He said, “Every step of my way shall be on high firm ground and in the open. I know not how else to fight.”
“We have the Book of Mormon, and if there is anything on earth that has made trouble for this people, it is that book…But I am prepared to testify that it contains the word of God.”
When it came to finding faults in the Church, he taught, “I invite every one of you to go home and find it, and I promise that if you find any big fault anywhere it will be right in your own home. If you can handle your own home and mind your own business, you will have no time for fault-finding.”
He had a testimony of the gospel and its foundation. “I am conscious and as far as I know anything, I know Joseph Smith was, and is, a Prophet of God and that this is the Church of Jesus Christ.”
“I have never seen an angel, but I have the assurance that comes to me and is burned in my heart, like a living fire by the power of the Holy Ghost, that God is the Father, that Jesus is the Christ.”
He accepted that imperfections are a part of life.
J. Golden’s remarks always tended to be powerful, but he also tended to slip in a swear here and there. J. Golden said, the words ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ just seemed to stick with him. “I never intend to use them when I get up to speak, but they just come to me as naturally as singing to a bird,” he explained.
They used to be my native language and I don’t seem to be able to shake them.”
The other authorities didn’t always appreciate certain phrases that came from J. Golden, but that actually hurt J. Golden sometimes in return. He said, “I mean well enough, and I regret that my ways don’t always please them.”
Either way, J. Golden seemed to feel fine about his standing in the church. “They can’t cut me off the Church, I repent too fast.”
And although he often expressed confidence, he was also humble. “I stand before you a transgressor, but I am trying to be saved, and that is all God asks me to do,” he said.
His frankness makes us laugh.
When J. Golden was in Chattanooga on his mission, he had malaria and looked very sick. A physician approached him and told him, “Young man, I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t do something for yourself, you will die.” In response to that, J. Golden said, “Well, I won’t die, as I’m a Mormon—you can’t kill them.”
“If the State of Utah is not good enough for you, go to Canada.”
“Avoid wine and women as….the gates of hell”
When he almost got hit by a car in front of Hotel Utah, he said, “Hell of a lot of respect they have for the Priesthood!”
“If apostates had their way, the whole United States would be against us.”
“I am only a remnant of what I ought to be. I am not very well groomed, and I do not look distinguished; neither do you.”
“The only thing I am afraid of is that I will say just what I think, which would be unwise, no doubt.”
All together, though, J. Golden was just trying to get his point across: “I know the Gospel is true,” he said. “I know it because I learned it through adversity and through suffering and through hardships.”
His biographer, Richards, said, “Let us think of him, not too much as a humorist, but rather as a man with a message, a minister of the Gospel, who just naturally uses a bit of his humor and originality to put the message over.”
One admirer of his day said, “He is J. Golden Kimball and when he is gone, there will never be another. He was the original product and when Providence had finished him, the pattern was lost and never found again.”
If you love J. Golden as much as the rest of us, take a look at a new collection of J. Golden Kimball T-shirts, available for purchase here.