Draft originally posted here.
Note: this analysis does not include those who claim to have been visited by Jesus while in a dream (like many of these from a 2019 LDS Living article).
LDS Leaders claiming to have seen/experience Christ
Kimball echoed George Q. Cannon’s testimony
In 1974, Spencer W. Kimball mis-attributed a quote to John Taylor that was actually given by George Q. Cannon. The newly called Church President Kimball said this:
“I know the God lives. I know that Jesus Christ lives,” said John Taylor my predecessor, “for I have seen him.” I bear his testimony to you brethren in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
FairMormon has Kimball in the May Ensign of 1978 correctly attributing the quote to George Q. Cannon, but I’ve searched that issue and cannot find the quote they reference.
David O. McKay references an experience stronger than sight
(Ted Cannon, in “Tributes to President David O. McKay,” Improvement Era, 66 (1963): 785-86.)
On May 5, 1961, Mr. John Cook, a newspaper feature writer, was granted an interview with President McKay. Towards the close of the interview he said that he hoped the President wouldn’t mind if he asked a question, and said that the President wouldn’t need to answer the question if he felt that he shouldn’t, but for his own information, not for publication, he would like to know if President McKay had ever seen the Savior.
President McKay answered that he had not, but that he had heard his voice, many times, and that he had felt his presence and his influence. He then told about Peter (saying that he was his favorite among the apostles, even more so than Paul with all his education and learning—that Peter was a rough, simple man, but sincere) and he told how Peter had spoken of being partakers of the divine spirit, of a divine nature, and explained what he felt that to mean.
Then he told how some evidences were stronger even than that of sight, and recalled the occasion when the Savior appeared to his disciples and told Thomas who had doubted, “Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands: and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless but believing.” And then President McKay said that he liked to believe Thomas did not actually look up, but knelt at the Savior’s feet and said unto him, “My Lord and my God.” And then President McKay repeated the words of the Master, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” President McKay then smiled and said, “That is quite a testimony I have given you. I do not know when I have given this before.”
Melvin J. Ballard reported seeing Christ’s face in “visions … to my soul”
Elder Melvin J. Ballard bore a similar witness: “I know, as well as I know that I live and look into your faces, that Jesus Christ lives. . . . For in the visions of the Lord to my soul, I have seen Christ’s face, I have heard his voice. I know that he lives” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1920, 40).
Faust claimed similar knowledge as the Brother of Jared:
Allen Wyatt, of FAIR, shares this entry in his personal journal from February 3, 1990,
Today is the first day of our stake conference. I am the executive secretary of our stake. Elder James E. Faust is here to replace our stake presidency. I was sitting in the priesthood leadership session, and Elder Faust was bearing his testimony. It is, without a doubt, the strongest testimony I have ever heard. He said (paraphrasing) ‘I have always believed in the Church; I come from good blood. But through thousands of spiritual experiences, so many now that I have at least one a day–we had one earlier today (referring to meeting with the new stake presidency)–I have gained a testimony to the point I can say, as did the brother of Jared, “I saw the finger of the Lord and the veil could not withhold Him from me, therefore I no longer believed, for I had knowledge.” As the brother of Jared stated, so say I–I know that Jesus is the Christ.’
Hugh B. Brown had informal visit (“not a vision”)
Harold B. Lee recorded in his journal an event shared with him by his uncle Hugh B. Brown:
He [Elder Brown] said it was not a vision, but the Lord appeared to him, very informal, the same as I was sitting talking to him. The Lord said, ‘You have had some difficult times in your life.’ Uncle Hugh responded, ‘Yes, and your life was more difficult than any of us have had.’ In the conversation Uncle Hugh asked when he would be finished here, and the Lord said, ‘I don’t know and I wouldn’t tell you if I did.’ Then He said, ‘Remain faithful to the end, and everything will be all right.’ (source)
[Other similar stories are shared at that FAIRMormon link, but they are more vague about actually visiting/seeing Jesus]
Elder Christoffel Golden
According to a report by Scott Duke, Elder Christoffel Golden has visited with Christ similarly to Joseph Smith. According to Scott Duke, Elder Golden stated:
There are men who walk the earth today who no longer require faith in order to believe in the Father and the Son. They no longer require the scriptures as their primary source of information about deity because they have had a sure witness. I am one of those men. With the exception of living at a different time and place, I have essentially had the same experiences as Joseph Smith.
Summary of modern LDS Leaders who claim experience with Christ
- David O. Mckay: heard him? felt his presence?
- Melvin J. Ballard: in visions to his soul
- Spencer W. Kimball: obliquely via misattributed quotation
- Faust: knowledge like Br. of Jared (via a 1st hand journal account)
- Hugh B. Brown: informal visit with the Savior (related to nephew, Harold B. Lee)
- Christoffel Golden: claimed visitation in interview with Scott Duke.
None of these experiences were related or confirmed like Joseph Smith’s relation of events or even George Q. Cannon. And none of these experiences indicated the transmission of any kind of knowledge from Jesus to the leader (i.e., no revelation to the Church or world that we can link to these experiences).
edit: added Joseph F. Smith and Smoot hearings; removed redundancy; added experience with /u/epistemologizer; added note about dallin h. oaks experience; added Hugh B. Brown story.
edit2: I think it’s fair to judge these visions against a backdrop of the visions claimed in the 20th century by those in other faith traditions.
LDS leaders indicating they have not seen the Savior
- Dallin H. Oaks (also feels to speak for the current 15) (see my original post with link). (May only be a reference to gaining a testimony and not later spiritual experiences.)
- Heber J. Grant (bear witness to you, although I have not seen the Savior sitting upon the right hand of God, I know that He lives; … Conference Report, April 1899; Heber had a “block teacher companion” who said he’d seen the Savior, so Heber felt like he was deficient as an Apostle in this regard)
- Joseph F. Smith under oath in the Smoot hearings (I think it was 1908), and as President of the Church, was vigorously questioned about receiving revelation and he clearly indicated his communication with the divine was exactly the way any member receives revelation and that he hadn’t received any special revelation.
- Russell M. Nelson in a conversation noted here said he had never seen Jesus. (the only evidence we have of this conversation is OP’s word and a picture with him which suggests he did in fact run into Nelson where he said he did).
Snuffer claims to have seen Christ.
Rob Smith claims to have been visited by Jesus Christ.
Anyone who says a witness of the spirit is stronger than an eye witness has never stood in the presence of God, period.
Many other individuals claim personal experience with Jesus Christ (and Mary).