| Elder George P. Lee, the first and still only Native American General Authority passed away this week in Provo. He was a man who was both created and destroyed by the changing Mormon doctrine regarding the lineage of the Native American peoples. Once vaunted as the direct lineage of Lehi and Laman, both the doctrine and the outreach to the Native American suffered in the face of scientific discovery, and perhaps even bigotry. It is an oft repeated story.
Lee was a product of his environment. He thrived in Kimball's Indian Placement Program. Spencer W. Kimball had a special place in his heart for Native Americans. Having grown up in Arizona, side by side with the Navajo, his policy and religion was that these people were direct descended from Lehi, father of Nephi and Laman. Hence the term Lamanite. Kimball was convinced that the Book of Mormon was in part a special witness to the Native American people, and programs were created as an outreach to bring them into the fold.
Of course Kimball was wrong on the lineage of these people, and Benson, an Idaho boy, extremely conservative, a John Bircher (today they call them Tea Baggers :)), and by many accounts a bigot, had no such love for the "Lamanite". He discontinued the outreach programs and proceeded to white wash the Church's teachings with regard to the Lamanite lineage. The word Lamanite is barely spoken from the Mormon pulpit these days, and younger generations (today's teens and young adults) are not familiar with the term Lamanite. That's how the Mormon Church rolls when it changes doctrines and contradicts statements of his prophets. It's a multi generational long term approach that simply lets the old philosophies die with the generations that believed in them.
And so, this is the environment in which George P. Lee found himself. Once the beneficiary of a huge and targeted outreach program he thrived. He believed his people had a special place in bringing about the building up of the Kingdom of God on this Earth. He'd been taught his whole life that the Lamanites would become once again a chosen people, and like a Phoenix rise from the ashes to greatness. He was taught and believed that he would have a special role in that ascendancy. All that destroyed by the death of one man (Kimball) and the attitudes of his successor (Benson). Such is the fickle nature of Mormon Doctrine, as fickle as the changing attitudes of the all too human prophet du jour.
Abondoned, his people once again abandoned, Lee understandably became bitter. He could have done more had he remained calm and worked from within. Benson wasn't long for the world and Hinckley was much more media and PR savvy. Hinckley also believed strongly in the Lamanite lineage as evidenced by temple dedicatory prayers he offered in South and Central America which made reference. But Lee was impatient, impetuous, and from being scorned by a bitter senile old man, he became angry. Once again, his people had been abandoned, thrown to the wind, promises broken. Just as had been done to them so many times before. Lee understandably was heartbroken, bitter and forlorn.
May he find peace now as he rests.