Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Elder Lance B. Wickman, First Quorum of the Seventy, gives his keynote speech during Saints at War, a special conference honoring LDS veterans and their families, at the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. Wickman receives the Alexander W. Doniphan Community Service Award during the 2014 annual conference of the J. Reuben Clark Society.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An award named after one of the great defenders of Mormonism has been presented to Elder Lance B. Wickman, an emeritus general authority and general counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Along with the church’s Liberty Missouri Stake, the Alexander W. Doniphan Community Service and Leadership Foundation presented its namesake community service award to Elder Wickman Feb. 14 at a dinner held in connection with the 2014 annual conference of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society.

Introducing the award, Clinton E. Patterson, president of the Doniphan Foundation board of directors said, “We find in Alexander W. Doniphan a model of courage. ... In a moment of great hostility and hatred expressed through violent words and deeds, Doniphan stood boldly for the rule of law and for the protection of the rights of the oppressed and unpopular.”

A friend of, and an attorney for, Joseph Smith during the turbulent Missouri period of church history, Doniphan as a militia officer refused to carry out an illegal order by a superior to execute Smith and several of his associates in November of 1838.

Patterson noted that Doniphan’s life could be divided into five areas of excellence: Education, Law, Business, Statesmanship and Patriotism in Defense of Country. He said board members look for candidates who exemplify excellence in these areas.

“Elder Wickman has demonstrated his capability and dedication to his fellow citizens in each of these areas,” he said. “He is a student of the law. He served two tours in Vietnam where he received several awards for his leadership and courage, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He has been awarded the Silver Beaver and the Silver Buffalo by the Boy Scouts of America for his work in the community. He worked many years as an attorney in Los Angeles and San Diego with the law firm of Latham & Watkins. And he has served in many leadership positions in the church, including 10 years in the First Quorum of the Seventy.”

In response, Elder Wickman said the award was an honor in its own right, but the even greater honor was to have his name mentioned in the same sentence as Doniphan’s. Elder Wickman spoke not only of the character of Doniphan, but also of Joseph Smith, “another leader of great character.”

He also described the dismal conditions Jospeh Smith and others endured for more than four months in jail in Liberty, Mo.

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Of this period, Elder Wickman said, “Like a caterpillar entering its cocoon and emerging sometime later as a magnificent butterfly, the youthful prophet who walked into the dark and filthy confines of the Liberty Jail dungeon emerged 4 1/2 months later … as a more mature, more seasoned, more Christ-like prophet of the Lord.”

Elder Wickman spoke of letters Joseph Smith wrote while in prison, letters in which “he was teaching the people that the gospel of Jesus Christ ... should make us kinder and more magnanimous toward those not of our faith.”

Also, his letters taught of the importance of the U.S. Constitution and the responsibility to defend it: “Joseph never lost faith in the sacredness, power and legitimacy of the law,” Elder Wickman said.