Thursday, July 29, 2010
Former LDS Seventy George P. Lee, The First American Indian To Serve As A General Authority, Passes On At The Age Of 67
George P. Lee, a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' First Quorum of the Seventy and the first American Indian to be called to such a position, has passed on at the age of 67. He died at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo from a number of unspecified medical conditions. Once married to Katherine Hettich, he is survived by five sons and two daughters. Media stories published by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, and KTVX Channel 4. Unofficial LDS opinion also posted on Mormon Mentality and Juvenile Instructor.
Lee was born on the Navajo Reservation in Towoac, Colo. According to Wikipedia, he was one of 17 children from his parents' marriages. Lee was initially called Ashkii Yazhi (Little Boy) until he was given a sacred name, Ashkii Hoyani (Boy Who is Well Behaved and Good). He attended school in New Mexico and Utah, where he graduated from Orem High in 1962. While in Orem, he lived with a Mormon family as one of the first Navajos in the LDS Church’s Indian Placement Program. After an LDS mission to the Southwest Indian Mission, he received a bachelor's degree and a doctorate from BYU and a master's degree in educational administration from Utah State University. Lee was the first American Indian to earn a doctorate from BYU. He eventually attracted the notice of LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball, who ordained him to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1975. Lee subsequently served as a general authority for nearly 14 years. Many in the LDS Church believed he might someday become an apostle; a speech entitled "Walk in Beauty" delivered at BYU in February 1979 illustrated the strength of his testimony at the time.
But that was not to be. Soon after his ordination as a Seventy, Lee became disaffected with a change in Church policy towards American Indians. Although President Kimball was a strong proponent of the Indian Placement Program, from which Lee clearly benefited, President Ezra Taft Benson was not. After President Benson succeeded President Kimball in 1985, he discontinued the placement program and shifted the Church's emphasis from North to South American indigenous members. Lee found it impossible to reconcile himself to this change, and on September 1st, 1989, he was excommunicated for apostasy and other conduct unbecoming a member of the Church. Before his excommunication, he wrote his autobiography, entitled "Silent Courage"; it was published by Deseret Books. I found it quite interesting and recommend its purchase.
However, in 1993, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Lee had attempted to sexually molest a minor girl by touching her breasts for sexual gratification in 1989, and that this was one of the reasons for Lee's excommunication. Initially, Lee denied the charges, but eventually it was reported that Lee pleaded guilty to attempted sexual abuse of a child. This led to his wife divorcing him in 1996. In the interim, Lee ran unsuccessfully for president of the Navajo Nation in 1990 and 1994.
Nevertheless, the LDS Church did not completely slam the door shut on George P. Lee. “We offer our condolences to his family,” LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said Thursday. “We have tried to stay close to him and his family over the years, and we pray for the Lord’s blessings to be upon them at this tender time.” To bear this out, Lee's funeral services will be held at an LDS chapel, at the Buena Vista Stake Center, 860 N. Fairway Drive, Washington, Utah on Tuesday August 3rd. It will start with a visitation from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., followed by the actual services at 11 a.m. What a magnaminous gesture by the Church!