I wrote a post last year that looked at which books of scripture members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) quote from most in Conference. In an article published last week, Peggy Fletcher Stack briefly referred to my work in a discussion of the Book of Mormon taking priority over the Bible in Mormon thought. She specifically talked about the influence of Ezra Taft Benson, and it occurred to me that it would be easy to expand my post from just looking at the living members of the Q15 to including past members as well, so we could actually see what President Benson’s numbers looked like. In this post, I’ll look at which books of scripture members of the Q15 back through Spencer W. Kimball quoted most in Conference. Unfortunately, I can’t go farther back than that because the LDS Scripture Citation Index, from which I’m pulling data, only goes back as far as 1942, so Q15 members called before then have incomplete data. President Kimball was called to the Q15 in 1943, so he is the oldest member for whom I have complete data.
This graph shows what percentage of each Q15 member’s scriptural citations in Conference are to each of the five books of scripture in the LDS canon. Note that members are listed in order by calling date.
Looking at President Benson compared to his contemporaries, it looks like Stack’s article was spot on in pointing out that he pushed the Book of Mormon in a unique way. Other than the occasional Marion G. Romney, with his penchant for quoting the D&C, almost everyone quoted the New Testament more than any other book. But Benson took 37% of his quotes from the Book of Mormon, when most others were taking no more than 20%. It’s also clear that he was part of a trend (or was perhaps pushing the trend). Things have changed so much that several living Q15 members quote the Book of Mormon more than any other book, some even more than Benson himself did (e.g., Elder Bednar at 45%).
A quick aside about the cause of the trend: In my last post, I pointed out that the timing of Benson’s famous talk “The Book of Mormon–Keystone of Our Religion” was wrong for it to be the cause of the move toward quoting the Book of Mormon more. He gave the talk after the change had already happened. Given, though, that he was clearly quoting more from the Book of Mormon even before the general shift, it seems likely that he was at least part of the cause of the shift, even if that one talk wasn’t responsible.
Getting back to the trend itself, here’s a graph showing how much each book of scripture has been quoted in Conference by all speakers, since 1942. (This is reproduced from my previous post.)
I adjusted each Q15 member’s percentages to compare them against the prevailing percentages in the years in which he served. For example, President Benson’s quoting of the Book of Mormon was more unusual, given that it occurred mostly in a time when the New Testament was generally quoted the most, than is Elder Bednar’s quoting of the Book of Mormon, given that it has occurred in a time when the Book of Mormon is generally quoted the most. As I did in my previous post, for this graph I calculated the percentage point difference between the Q15 member’s quoting of each book of scripture and the average percentage for all Conferences during the years in which he served.
This really highlights how much President Benson stands out: his +20 percentage point difference is the largest difference in either direction for the Book of Mormon, and his -22 point difference is the largest negative difference for the New Testament (although Howard W. Hunter has a larger absolute difference: +24). By contrast, someone like David B. Haight had opposite preferences: +21 for the New Testament and -15 for the Book of Mormon. Some other Q15 members show different patterns. For example, LeGrand Richards, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson all quote more from both the Old and the New Testaments more than contemporary norms, and less from all three books of latter-day scripture.
Another interesting pattern is that some Q15 members differ more from contemporary norms in general than others. Some members, like Bruce R. McConkie and Dallin H. Oaks, deviate very little. Others, like President Benson and Richard G. Scott, deviate a lot. This last graph shows each member’s absolute deviations from contemporary norms stacked on top of each other. I’ve kept the colors the same to hopefully make clear that what I’m doing here is just to take the bar lengths and stack them up, regardless of whether they represent positive or negative differences.
I’m sorry this one is a little busy, as I’ve preserved a lot of information from the previous graph. Each Q15 member’s bar is broken up into sub-bars that show how much of his deviation is due to deviation in each particular book of scripture. I’ve also distinguished positive and negative deviations by putting a black border around sub-bars that are for negative deviations and leaving the positive deviations with no border. If this is all too much to digest, though, you can get the real message by just looking at the total bar length. President Benson stands out the most from his contemporary norms, with a total absolute deviation (i.e., bar length) of 61 percentage points. Matthew Cowley, Howard W. Hunter, and Thomas S. Monson also stand out as being different than contemporary norms. Dallin H. Oaks and M. Russell Ballard stand out as being very in line with contemporary norms. One other possible trend is that it looks like more recent Q15 members deviate less from their norms than do older members. It’s possible, though, that this is just an illusion caused by incomplete data, and it’s just that they’re (relatively) new in the quorum. It may be that as quorum members age, they fall more out of line with contemporary norms, so this illusion arises because we have only incomplete data for all living members of the Q15. Maybe I’ll look into that question in a future post.