Church History: Principles

HawkgrrrlMormon 78 Comments

There has been a lot of discussion in the b’nacle about what the church can do from a practical standpoint to address the thorny issues in church history.  The current approach has been to: 1) keep the curriculum uplifting and free from controversy, 2) to never speak ill or contradict leaders of the past or present (even if they have been demonstrably wrong), 3) to let FAIR and FARMS apologetics address any tricky issues raised by external critics, and 4) to remind people that “we simply don’t know” when it comes to conclusions about the trickiest issues.  With the internet and ready access to information, some feel this approach is due for a makeover.  If so, what would be the best approach?
Our sister sect, the Community of Christ, has addressed the thorny historical issues by creating a list of 9 principles for dealing with church history.  Here they are (along with some personal commentary on feasibility for the LDS church):

Church History Principles

  1. Continuing exploration of our history is part of identity formation. As a church we seek always to clarify our identity, message, and mission. In our faith story, we see clearly God’s Spirit giving this faith community (not a word we use in the LDS church) tools, insights, and experiences for divine purposes. A people with a shared memory of their past, and an informed understanding of its meaning, are better prepared to chart their way into the future.  (It feels like this is a little too intellectual for us, although I don’t see anything that is directly contradictory to our views.  I think it also implies a consensus-based faith tradition that differs from our authority-based tradition.  In the LDS side of the house, we take our divine instructions pretty literally, and as individuals, we don’t get a vote.)
  2. History informs but does not dictate our faith and beliefs. The foundation and continuing source for our faith is God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Studying history is not about proving or disproving mystical, spiritual, or revelatory experiences that birth or transform religious movements. (Is this a swipe at the LDS church’s truth claims?) Sound history informs faith (whereas inaccurate history misleads faith in either direction), and healthy faith leads to insights about history (ergo, unhealthy faith leads to misconceptions about history). Theology (too big a word for us – half our membership just tuned out) and faith, guided by the Holy Spirit, must play an important role in discovering the enduring meaning of such events as well as the deeper truths found in them (implying:  not just superficial truths based on an inaccurate understanding of history). Our understanding of our history affects our faith and beliefs. However, our past does not limit our faith and beliefs to what they were historically.  (This last statement holds more true to the CoC than it may to the LDS church.  The LDS church is more reliant on truth claims that are rooted in history.)
  3. The church encourages honest, responsible historical scholarship. Studying history involves related fields. Historians use academic research to get as many facts as they can; then, they interpret those facts to construct as clear a picture as possible of what was going on in the past. This includes analyzing human culture to see how it affected events. Historians try to understand patterns of meaning to interpret what the past means for our future. This process should avoid “presentism,” or interpreting the past based on a current worldview and culture instead of the culture of the time.  (This bias of interpreting the past based on current worldview is at heart of a lot of negative views of history and is a worthwhile caution).
  4. The study of church history is a continuing journey. If we say that a book on history is the only true telling of the story, we risk “canonizing” one version, a tendency we have shown in the past. This blocks further insights from continuing research. Good historical inquiry understands that conclusions are open to correction as new understanding and information comes from ongoing study.  (This is an excellent point that the LDS church could easily adopt).
  5. Seeing both the faithfulness and human flaws in our history makes it more believable and realistic, not less. Our history has stories of great faith and courage that inspire us. Our history also includes human leaders who said and did things that can be shocking to us from our current perspective and culture. Historians try not to judge—instead, they try to understand by learning as much as possible about the context and the meaning of those words and actions at the time. The result is empathy instead of judgment. Our scriptures are consistent in pointing out that God, through grace, uses imperfect people for needed ministry and leadership.  (I love this one, and find it very useful.  However, I think this points to a generation gap that has been discussed elsewhere by the handsome Carter Hall.  There is a bias among the older generations to view flawed heroes as insufficiently heroic.  Baby boomers and onward tend to prefer flawed heroes.  Promoting “perfect” heroes results in disillusionment for these later generations, IMO).
  6. The responsible study of church history involves learning, repentance, and transformation. A church with a mission focused on promoting communities of reconciliation, justice, and peace should be self-critical and honest about its history (of course, these are not the focus of the LDS church.  Instead our verbs are “perfecting, redeeming, proclaiming, and caring” – very action oriented verbs.  Hmmm.  Not a religion of reflection). It is important for us to confess when we have been less than what the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to be. This honesty prompts us to repent, and it strengthens our integrity. (Again, this is an interesting perspective.  It takes the faults of the organization and personalizes them.  In the LDS church, the tendency is to view sin or flaws as personal failings, not organizational.  We do not internalize the flaws of the organization or personify the organization as something capable of repentance.)  Admitting past mistakes helps us avoid repeating them and frees us from the influences of past injustices and violence in our history. We must be humble and willing to repent, individually and as a community, to contribute as fully as possible to restoring God’s shalom on earth.  (I don’t think this part translates well for us.  This emphasis on communal responsibility and repentance is a bit foreign to the LDS church.  I suppose that’s a byproduct of CoC being more of a consensus / communal authority rather than authoritative/oligarchical.)
  7. The church has a long-standing tradition that it does not legislate or mandate positions on matters of church history. Historians should be free to draw their own conclusions after thorough consideration of evidence. Through careful study and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the church is learning how to accept and responsibly interpret all of its history. This includes putting new information and changing understandings into proper perspective, while emphasizing the parts of our history that continue to play a role in guiding the church’s identity and mission today.  (This one is interesting.  For one, the LDS church doesn’t really take a direct stand on historical matters.  Richard Bushman and Truman Madsen can write two very different books on the same topic, and the church does not officially endorse either.  Yet we do emphasize lessons that are based on history but only presented with the intention to edify and increase commitment.  If the history is damaging, we do not discuss it in our lessons because it would be counter-productive.  Whatever does not promote the mission of the church is correlated away).
  8. We need to create a respectful culture of dialogue about matters of history. We should not limit our faith story to one perspective. Diverse viewpoints bring richness to our understanding of God’s movement in our sacred story. Of course, historians will come to different conclusions as they study. Therefore, it is important for us to create and maintain a respectful culture that allows different points of view on history. Our conversation about history should be polite and focused on trying to understand others’ views. (I do think this is an area where the LDS church could improve.  We tend to be extremely defensive when confronted with any negative interpretations of our history.  I think we could do better at being polite and focused on understanding while maintaining our own more faithful interpretation of events.  But to do that, the faithful interpretation of events needs to pass muster, which it frequently fails to do.)  Most important, we should remain focused on what matters most for the message and mission of the church in this time.
  9. Our faith is grounded in God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must keep our hearts and minds centered on God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. As God’s Word alive in human history, Jesus Christ was and is the foundation of our faith and the focus of the church’s mission and message.  (A great wrap up statement for both churches, IMO).

Are these principles that the LDS church should likewise espouse or are they problematic in their own right?  Would the LDS church have difficulty with some of these principles if put into practice?  Is there a better approach?  IMO, the CoC approach has some good elements we could adopt, but does not directly translate into LDS culture on the following points:

  • Community vs. authority.  The LDS church doesn’t take doctrines to referendum.  Decisions are made in consensus at the Q15 level, based on prayerful consideration.  If the Q15 don’t agree, status quo prevails.  By contrast, the CoC is more egalitarian in its decision-making, making decisions “by common consent.”
  • Responsibility for the past.  Because the LDS church is more of a top-down organizational church and less of a “faith community” (as evidenced by the fact that the term “faith community” sounds like some sort of PC term for a free-love hippie commune to my LDS ears) there is no group ownership for mistakes of past individuals, even generally among the leadership, but certainly not among the membership.  Passages that reflect this POV don’t resonate for that reason.
  • Directness.  The LDS church definitely doesn’t favor this kind of direct approach that ties our hands.  While the CoC talks and writes about openness and change, creating collateral materials that can be reviewed time and again, the LDS church prefers to minimize collateral.  Even the collateral that exists (, Gen Conf talks, etc.) is often subtly contradictory and written from contrasting viewpoints that enable multiple interpretations, creating a patheon of doctrine.  If you search “Church History” on (go ahead, I’ll wait), there’s really not much there at all.
  • Intellectual approach.  There are church leaders who favor an intellectual approach and who would find these principles appealing; yet, the style of these principles and the ideology seems like it might be inaccessible or off-putting to many lay members of the much larger LDS church.

Here are some principles or talking points that I would suggest for the LDS church (written as if I had to draft it for the church, which I don’t, thank goodness!  Because it was actually really hard to come up with these):

  • All history is biased.  Historical elements in scripture are also biased by authors, cultural markers, and limited understanding.  Church history is similarly biased.  Understanding history requires a respect for the inherent biases in what we are reading, whether those biases are in favor of or against the church or an individual.  And our understanding of history is biased by our personal experiences, our views, and time in which we live.
  • Understanding history can provide insight.  We can better understand patterns that influenced behavior and that tend to repeat over time within a culture.  We can empathize with our predecessors; our hearts are turned to our fathers and mothers in reviewing their experiences.  We are given countless examples that illuminate our own path, either as cautionary tales or as role models and most often as both.
  • Church history is still being written.  Although divine instruction is timeless, our ability to understand it can shift over time and the relevance of different instructions can change as circumstances change.  We should be mindful of the temporal biases inherent in our human understanding as we strive to follow God’s will and comprehend our common history.
  • Personal experience leads to faith.  We encourage church members to follow the spirit and to prayerfully seek instruction from Heavenly Father.  This type of humble truth-seeking can help us avoid errors in discernment and criticism of others that can lead to self-justification and sin.
  • Our aim is to lead people to Christ.  While history can inform us and provide insight, ultimately it is through seeking a personal relationship with Christ and following His teachings that we grow spiritually and achieve our potential as sons and daughters of God.

What do you think the church should say regarding thorny historical issues?  Anything?  Discuss.

Comments 78

  1. I agree that the 9 points would not translate easily into our current culture primarily because the assumption behind all of them, IMO, is that history of that Church has been, and can be, disassociated from the truth claims of that Church. Our Church has not and does not seem likely to make that shift. I am not even sure I would want it to. I think the Church’s current approach has been a good one (i.e. produce primary sources and commission studies on specific topics), though it is limited in scope. I don’t see JS polygamy being subject to the same scrutiny that the MMM was any time in the near future.

  2. A fascinating post. Thanks for the jolt to my thinking this morning.

    I occurs to me that we try to balance scholarship one the one hand (and all the comlexities that brings along with it, such as unflattering history, or history that we do not understand, or contradictions with popular stories, etc) with a new and growing church in so many parts of the world.

    Right or wrong, it seems that some of the brethren (and many members) worry that an open and free discussion of history that may play reasonably well in well-educated, well-entrenched Mormon communities may be less faith promoting / faith building in less developed and newer populations.

    That said, your comment that inaccurate history misleads faith is well taken.

    For me one of the key principles from the original list of nine is that the study of history is a continuing journey, suggesting to me that our understanding of history, and of the gospel itself, grows over time. Trying to reconcile that principle with the need for group repentance as a result of historical study is not simple for me, since the supposed need for group repentance grows out of today’s understanding of historical events.

    I think your final five points make good sense. It would not be surprising to me if many true believers (and I’m not suggesting your are not one!) would amend your final point to include the need for receiving sacred ordinances performed by proper authority to the statement of following Christ. And therein is likely the continuing discussion on history versus faith, since the church is based on the restoration of authority to perform sacred ordinances which, the church teaches, are required to return to God’s presence.

  3. I heard a story once wherein a History professor was interviewing for a position at BYU and his intent was to teach as much factual history as possible, but one Boyd K. Packer insisted that he only teach the “faith-promoting” stuff. I haven’t been able to verify this so please take it with a grain of salt. However, I’ve learned that people who are raised on just the “faith-promoting” aspects of church history often feel betrayed and leave the church when they begin to learn about things that had been covered up.

    One great example is the myth of Thomas B. Marsh and the milk strippings or the one brother who supposedly apostatized over a single misspelling of his name, Simonds Ryder I believe (and no doubt I didn’t spell his name right just now).

  4. Has anyone ever proved that open and free discussion of history is less faith promoting/faith building in less developed and newer populations? Or that they have to be “protected” in any way? I actually think that people who are new or less intellectually inclined tend to just dismiss things that are either over their heads or that conflict with their faith paradigm. I see that people who are new are LESS likely to let alternative views or problematic history bother them. So I don’t see any necessity of sheltering them.

    It would be nice if the LDS Church had a statement like what the CoC has done. I think Hawkgrrl’s five points are good ones, and I think it would be comforting to many people to know that the Brethren are aware of the intricacies of the difficulties in our history and willing to address them.

  5. Too bad Nick never wrote the post on church history he talked about doing.

    So much of what we know comes from secondary sources. A grandchild of someone who knew the people, when the individuals involved told different stories, is one of the primary sources for one of the narratives about Joseph Smith often used by outsider scholars. Can we reconstruct things to make that likely? Yes, but …

    A lot of the issues we have are things of that sort. Since I’ve seen people reconstruct “facts” from common narratives, to where they remember being eye witnesses to things that occurred when they weren’t there, I’ve got my misgivings about many oral traditions reduced to writing at a later date by people who recount them.

    If that makes sense.

    But I liked this post. Thanks.

  6. #4 BiV you raise a great point, one which I’ve never really thought carefully about (as my earlier comment reveals. I’d be interested in such a study.

  7. Oh, Stephen. There are plenty of primary sources available for the unsavory aspects of our Church history. Now, some details may be up for grabs, and we do have oral traditions that are unsubstantiated, but as a whole I don’t think anyone is contesting that we have a less-than-spotless history.

  8. Wonderful post.
    Two comments:
    First, I vote for “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God” with recognition that it is organic and evolving AND

    in the words of John the Baptist whom Jesus called the greatest prophet: “I MUST DECREASE SO THAT HE CAN INCREASE.” In other words, it is high time in my opinion that our reliance on historical icons and semi worship decrease so that HE might increase.

  9. I think a big problem, which might be the result of an increasingly correlated approach to our history and doctrine, is apathy. I mean my work in the primary sources is limited and probably will forever be so and I try and read a bit. Most people don’t care enough otherwise they would know already.

    How would this shift in history change things? I would expect that same or similar conference talks perhaps with a little more nuance or more carefully chosen examples. The manuals for the most part probably would not change because this shift in approach to history will not detract from the ‘perceived’ core messages that the leaders want to share.

  10. Aaron, you raise a good point. But perhaps, with a more honest (or perhaps open is a better word) approach to history, we might have in the next generation church members who have thought more carefully about their membership and what it means to them in the context of our history.

    But I think you’re right — there will be a core membership and a set of core messages that are likely not to change.

  11. I think the key is that omissions cannot mislead faith. A misled faith is not ultimately edifying. Now, you can’t save people from themselves (some people are just not going to understand the nuances or be able to be objective), but you can save them from obviously wrong conclusions that they then base their faith on and later feel duped.

  12. Yes, I am certain this is the key in encountering Mormon history. The CoC addresses it in their point #3 above. There are lots of members who just are not interested at the moment, but leaders and teachers should take care not to mislead them to the point that they are basing their faith on misconceptions. This is a recipe for disaster.

  13. From the inside of the CofChrist, I can assure everyone that any “swipes” are toward an idealized view of history as it still exists among members of the CofChrist, and there is no consideration of the LDS belief system involved. Terms such as “faith community” are used to define the CofChrist as a religious tradition on the same footing within Christianity as Methodists, not Mormons. For that matter, we’d rather use language that is comfortable with Anglicans, not Baptists.

    We now have a culturally liberal establishment in the Community of Christ, where we have the same debates about history as you do, but with the power relationships reversed — at least until the third world conservatives come to dominate the North American liberals.

    Yup. The Community of Christ is living history, too.

  14. Hawkgrrrl, thanks for this post. I actually had one like this in the queue but you beat me to it 😉 . Personally, I tend to be a truth seeker on the whole, and find few instances in which I can condone whitewashing or even simply only discussing “faith-promoting” stories. I also agree with BiV that I don’t believe that open discussion is ultimately less faith promoting. However, I do think it would severely injure this church to adopt the CoC model. I think this is BECAUSE of the misleading nature of the omissions that naturally occurs.

  15. I think that more accurate history needs to be taught. FWIW I was helping my 7th grader study UT history for school, I was surprised to learn that they taught that JS mnarried a 14 yr old and talked of his numerous wives. We always planned on teaching accurate history to our son so we were fine w/ this. I do wonder though of the families that don’t how confusing it will be for the kids to learn one thing at school and another at home/church. I find it more damaging to not be told more of the real truth at church. I wonder if more testimonies are lost when adults find out things they haven’t been taught than if we just taught accurate history starting in primary.

  16. One of the biggest hangups I have about the church is that they focus on truth so much as it pertains to self, but when it pertains to church history they are anything but. I don’t know how to reconcile the two. We know that JS sent people away on missions on purpose to take advantage of their wives vulnerability and tried to use the law of polygany in order to justify his actions. The other way in which the church has used to justify what he was doing was to say well there are too many women in the church and not enough men to take care of them.

    I wish the prophets, apologist etc would come right out and discuss this out in the open and say what it was about, the manipulation of women

  17. Dblock – “We know that JS sent people away on missions on purpose to take advantage of their wives vulnerability and tried to use the law of polygany in order to justify his actions.” We don’t know why he did what he did. This is an example of something all good historians avoid: assuming they know facts (such as motives) not in evidence. We do know he married women whose husbands were on missions. We don’t know why. We don’t even know whether those marriages were consummated or if some were and others were not. You have assumed you understand the motives for his strange actions, but the fact of the matter is that there is no letter written by him in which he says that was his motive. There is no witness to him saying that he was just satisfying his lusts. And there is also evidence that contradicts that supposition (no offspring from other wives, polyandry). Richard Bushman somewhat convincingly posits that JS was trying to “seal” all of humanity into one family – his own! I’m certainly not justifying JS’s actions. I’m just cautioning against assuming we know what historical people’s motives were. We don’t even know living people are thinking.

    “The other way in which the church has used to justify what he was doing was to say well there are too many women in the church and not enough men to take care of them.” That’s not “official” church party line, but just common reasoning by lay members. Church historians are well aware that it is not accurate. The church doesn’t have an official line on this.

    Firetag – thanks for providing the real scoop on the CoC’s view of this! Very helpful!

  18. as a whole I don’t think anyone is contesting that we have a less-than-spotless history.

    I’d very much agree. Our history is much like the Old Testament or the New Testament (anyone for the conflicts between Paul and Peter?). Plenty to go around without the extrapolations, but also plenty to be misconstrued.

    Often both get wrapped together.

  19. I just think the pattern of behavior is disturbing and what is equally disturbing is how people are just willing to gloss over the facts and give him the benefit of the doubt where as in any other community we would give it the label it deserves

  20. #19 — Speaking of “plenty to be misconstrued,” anyone else think the biblical description of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira sounds a little fishy?

    In any modern-day religious cult, if “the young men” were seen dumping the corpses of members who just happened to miraculously drop down dead in front of the cult leader, the FBI and ATF and heaven knows what else would be surrounding their compound in two shakes.

  21. Dblock – I’m going to try to avoid swinging at that pitch, but you seem to be assuming motives again. I’m sure there are people ‘willing to gloss over the facts and give JS the benefit of the doubt.’ But there are more alternatives than just ‘giving it the label it deserves.’ It’s possible that JS was just a skeevy perve (certainly easy to assume that given Warren Jeffs as a shining example of modern-day polygamy), but there is some evidence that contradicts that obvious explanation. His real motives (which are impossible to ascertain with certainty) are likely more complex than just horniness + power.

  22. hawkgrrrl — I was stretching for a way to model Dblock’s comments back to him without being insulting to such an extent he would not be able to see the implications. I think your response is much better.

  23. Like I said there is going to be no way to reconcile the history when people don’t want to look at it objectively. I think hawkgirls and SM response pretty much proves my point.

    Whenever anyone says anything that is not the current view point people will gloss over the realities.

    Let me ask this question. Why else would a man wait until a womens’ husband was away on a mission to discuss the laws of polygany? or in some cases polyandry? Why not do explain the law in both their presence and let them decide? Why do explain the law when someone particularly a woman is alone and vulnerable and make it seem as if she is disobeying god if she refuses?

  24. Sorry about the typos and grammar, I think way faster than I type and sent my response before I reread it to see if it made sense.

  25. Dblock has a point. There is no adequate way to deal with the issue of JS hanging out with other men’s spouses while they were on a mission for the church. I think the church leaders are correct by remaining mute on this subject. I don’t gloss it over, I’ve put this one on the shelf until JS answers the questions himself.

  26. Thirteen women (the number may be off by one or two) swore out affidavits, during the Temple Lot cases, on behalf of the church–yes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints–that they had sex with Joseph Smith.

  27. Looking at the particulars of polygamy and Joseph Smiths actions and then analyzing them will always bring a number of different conclusions. The difference is the bias or the point of view of the person(s) looking at the “facts”. The “facts” don’t change just the way they’re interpreted. Saying the someone is following the party line or glossing over something is only saying that you don’t agree with them or that they’re wrong or couldn’t recognize the truth of something if it was handed to them by an angel with a flaming sword. I did consider using the metaphor of a bodily orifice and hole in the ground but this is a family blog. Anyway my reason for stating the obvious is to say that intelligent people of good will will see things differently and sometimes all you can say is that don’t agree. Then we can all get back to the point of the post.

  28. Post

    djinn – no one is disputing that JS had sex with some of the 33 wives, nor denying the possibility that a form of birth control was employed. However, birth control from that era was far less effective than today. I’ll leave it at that. My point is in defense of sound exploration of history without assuming facts not in evidence or relying on speculation in matters not possible to know (e.g. what people were thinking), not a defense of JS or anyone else.

  29. Yeah. Different perspectives, and you can’t input motives. When I was a kid I was actually taught that those women lied in the Temple Lot case so you nasty Mormons could steal our rightful church property, and that the fact they had no issue proved Joseph had not had sex with them and that therefore the RLDS was the one and only true church.

    I think that’s still in our official history of the period written in the early 20th Century at the latest.

  30. Dblock — You are right, I was probably wrong to assume you are an adult capable of dialog rather than single minded attacks and cheap shots driven by an apparently narrow agenda.

    Does that make you happier? Of course not. Is that the kind of dialog you really want? I should hope not. Which is the point hawkgrrrl was trying to make. I hope modeling back your posting style will help you reflect on the impact.

    djinn, doesn’t look like a bad article on the Temple Lot case as it was understood, though it misses a number of points (the anti-Catholic laws that limited the amount of property that a church could own resulted in property vesting in Joseph Smith’s heirs and not the Church; the court of appeals applied Laches; the result was that no court ever made determinations as to superior claim to succession by various groups). Do you have a better link? They have a far different take on the case and the facts.

  31. What happened to my post with the poem from Helen Marr Kimball in it? Also, how many of you would marry off your 14 year olds (and it was clear she was really married and no longer allowed to be a teenager) for the promise of salvation? Seems an easy enough question.

  32. 34Stephen
    You really need to watch your tone. You don’t need to be arrogant and disrespectful.

    I’ve read plenty diaries of women who were involved in the cases and all of them state pretty clearly that these things happen. If you can not discuss these things without becoming defensive and obnoxious than maybe you should exclude your self from it.

  33. Actually, hawkgirl you did try to dispute with me the fact that JS had relations with these women in your response to me. you stated “We don’t know weather or not JS had relations with these woman or not” why the flip flop because in your response to Djinn you conceeded.

    @GBS, I thought the point of the post was how we discuss the truth about the history of this church. And with the attacks that I’ve received from SM that doesn’t look like that’s even possible. The minute one disagrees that’s when things get ugly Look at SM response to me not only did he attack me because I was a woman , but he also attacked me by saying that I couldn’t possibly be an adult. Now that’s really mature

  34. Dblock,

    Have you lost the plot completely?

    In the OP the idea is how there can be a discussion of history that is illuminating. In your responses (16, 19, 23) you draw conclusions about motive that are unsubstantiated in your response; you appear to assume that your interpretation of events you describe is the only rational explanation.

    While it is true that your interpretation may be rational, and may even be correct, it is not a given that they are correct.

    HG, thanks for the OP.

  35. uh, looks like we are providing an example of how NOT to discuss history in an illuminating manner. oops. Let’s look at the CoC’s #8 again!!
    I would even suggest: read #8 in the OP before you comment further on this post!

  36. Dblock-
    Not to beat a dead horse, and heaven knows I’m no kind of apologist, but this

    Why else would a man wait until a womens’ husband was away on a mission to discuss the laws of polygany?

    is called “begging the question.” It is a logical fallacy and does not lead to truth in general. This is what Hawkgrrrl is trying to say. We have to be very careful about what we conclude and be sure we aren’t using fallacious arguments. You may be right, and indeed I would not fault anyone for concluding what you have, but it is still NOT a valid conclusion.

  37. Thank you Paul,BIV, Jmv275.

    I can appreciate your response. What I most appreciate is the fact that just because I disagreed with you, is that your response to me was not disrespectful. Thank you.

    Paul, I can again see how you would come to that conclusion, ” That I’ve submitted facts’ not in evidence. I’m not a lawyer, So, I don’t argue like one. But I read everything that I can about the church. Especially since, for the most part I’m the only member of the church in my family. I read a lot stuff from this post and I read all the links. That’s where I get some of my info about the women who were involved in the event. I read books from church leaders as well as regular history books. My point being, it doesn’t really seem as if anyone is really interested in the truth, More like trying to how can we make the more palatable. I’m not trying to be offensive, but that is how I feel.

    At least the Catholic church is starting to, little by little address the problems of its priest, but I don’t think that will ever be possible in this church because we all get so defensive when it comes to the history. We don’t seem to want to acknowledge and that’s the only way healing can take place. Especially to women in church who feel as though the church doesn’t seem to understand why certain woman feel as though they don’t have a place.

  38. DBlock and BiV, my apologies for my comment #38. DBlock, I’m sorry that I took a swipe at you, and I appreciate your far more generous reading of my comment than I deserved.

  39. Dblock – Thanks for your respectful tone. As to your comment about me denying JS had sex with any of his plural wives, that wasn’t what I said. I was specifically referencing your statement about women he married whose husbands were on missions: “We don’t even know whether those marriages were consummated or if some were and others were not.” As they say on Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Do I find it palatable? Heck no. But that’s just my own feelings, not necessarily accurate history. Nobody is a villain in their own mind, even Hitler. This is why Brodie’s biographies are criticized. She frequently posits what her subjects were thinking – that’s why it’s a great read, but questionable history.

  40. Re Dblock #41

    My point being, it doesn’t really seem as if anyone is really interested in the truth, More like trying to how can we make the more palatable. I’m not trying to be offensive, but that is how I feel.

    I’m taking this as a generalization of TBMs, not for me personally. I think I’ve made it clear I’m very interested in the truth. But even so, I do disagree. I think the lay members of the church would very much want to know if the BoM is historical, or if polygamy was really just a manifestation of Joseph’s lust. But they have been conditioned to believe that sources claiming this only try to tear down that which they believe in and do so out of anger. They are also aware there is a large group of people who ostensibly “disprove” these claims (apologists). As a result, they dismiss such claims. That’s why a book such as Rough Stone Rolling is so huge! It’s the first time we’re really addressing the history but from the perspective of a believer. And look at the fallout! People disaffect all the time because they read that book. But at least they will read it! So I think we are actually moving in the direction of being more open and honest. In the past, I think you would be correct, particularly with regard to some key leaders trying to keep things more palatable. But I don’t think this is in vogue anymore.

  41. Re: speculating on Joseph’s motives for polygamy, Dblock’s best point is that if it wasn’t Our Man who acted as Joseph Smith did in how he instituted the Principle (i.e., evidently, sex first, disclosure of its religious connections later), we might well conclude that the Principle was an after-the-fact rationalization for a man doing what men are driven to do. That doesn’t mean that there really could have been an angel with a flaming sword — but surely if a televangelist tried to tell us God told him to hole up with an Indio hooker, we’d probably be skeptical.

    Maybe there’s something of the virtue of loyalty in choosing to see our side in the best light, and apply a greater standard of trust to those we love. That might not be a bad idea in a marriage (although we risk getting horribly hurt). What’s the old saying? “The wife is always last to know.” Because she doesn’t want to know.

    I have pretty much contempt for Howard Zinn-style leftists who do the opposite — who go out of their way to believe the worst of the Amerika they’re unfortunately stuck living in, ignoring the mitigating context for all the ugliness they gather. (Quick quiz: Which killed more innocent people — the 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee, or the Minnesota Sioux in 1862? Who knows what even happened in the latter case?) So as long as I’m a member of this Church, I think I owe a duty to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt if it’s reasonably possible. But dang it, he really did push the boundaries of “reasonable.” If he wanted to leave no doubt that the Principle was a religious duty that he only did at flaming-swordpoint, he could have left the teenagers alone and taken up with some (sexism alert here — sorry) homelier sisters. Choosing partners that a concupiscent young man would naturally choose, wasn’t terribly well calculated to dispel suspicion.

  42. Dblock You really need to watch your tone. You don’t need to be arrogant and disrespectful

    That is exactly why I attempted to mirror what you were saying to me so that you would understand how it was coming across. Thank you for confirming that you got the point, though I was looking for a way other than mirroring to get it across. When I tried something else, all that got from you was a cheap shot, which did not lead to much in the way of discussion.

    Mirroring seems to have gotten through to you, at least so that you could appreciate how your being talked to the same way you were talking to me might have affected my attitude the way it affected yours.

    Getting back to the thread, do you have some links to other articles on the Temple Lot Case? Obviously the sources I found seem to focus on things much different from what your sources did, from your post. I’m curious and interested in reading more and from your comments you seem to have additional sources with completely different perspectives.

    Thank you in advance.

    Note to all: more than one link in a post and the spam filter swallows it.

    Thomas, I found Zinn useful in understanding what some people were thinking, even if he thinks that Cortez was able to scare the Aztecs instead of vice versa.

  43. JMb

    First, Please explain TBMs I’m not familiar with the name.

    Second, I can agree with you on most of your argument. Where I disagree with you is when you stated that when people read books like Rough Rolling Stone, they they become disaffected. As someone who is going thru the process of having trying to have their name removed from church records, I can truly testify to you that its’ not about the things people read which make them want to leave or become disaffected. I can deal with some or the murky stuff regarding church history. I was after all a Catholic and their history isn’t so grand either. No. I think when people leave the church its’ because of a combination of things,(i.e)like being abused by a home-teacher both spiritually, and verbally and not getting any support from local leadership or from SP and this was after eight months of trying and I have the email trail to prove how I tried to settle things aimicably. I think that if people leave the church after reading these kinds of books, its’ because when they raise questions, their automatically labeled as being anti-mormon. I mean really, look at SMs’ response to me when I raised the question. It was rude and completely uncalled for. After a while when one deals with the issues that I had with my hometeacher, there is no place for any one to go, especially as a woman,its’ not as if we have any voice or authority anyway. That’s just my feeling

  44. If we can bring the conversation screeching and protesting back to the post for a second, I think jmb brings up a great point about the effects of books like RSR – faithful yes, but also “tell all” histories. The fact that they have ever had any adverse impact on a testimony to me speaks volumes to the fallout of white-washing history. While there’s some indictment of apathetic members implied there as well, efforts to silence or suppress any “damaging” information from being known only create shaky foundations for faith. Faith falters when those foundations are exposed for what they are: based on misleading assumptions not founded in fact. Facts can be interpreted myriad ways, but if you’re not dealing in facts in the first place, the facts can rattle you.

  45. Dblock – TBM = true believing Mormon, usually a derogatory term (at least among the disaffected) used something like “Molly Mormon” or “Peter Priesthood.”

    I’m sorry for what you’ve experienced. I know SM, and am sure he was just trying to focus the conversation and meant no personal slight. Regardless, I hope you feel comfortable here even though you have been through a lot of difficulty.

  46. Re Rough Stone Rolling — I was surprised to read that some might have had issues after reading that book. I loved it. And I am a self-avowed TBM. I guess we all come from different places.

  47. SM

    You are not impressing me at all, I never gave you a cheap shot. And to be quite honest you still are. It was you who tried to time and again purposely engage me in a degrading manner(i.e) I was wrong to assume that your an adult. Who are you to treat or say anything like that to anyone here who is responding to a post.

  48. The best approach would be to just be honest about LDS church history, but I don’t see the LDS leaders doing that anytime soon because honest history would cause all but the most willfully blind to conclude that LDS leaders simply are not, and have never been, who they have long claimed to be.

    LDS leaders cannot be honest about LDS church history without undermining their own authority, which is the one and only truly unchanging doctrine the LDS church has ever had: that LDS leaders are the exclusive holders of “priesthood keys.”

  49. @53

    Andrew, Please lets’ not throw the baby out with the bath water. Please do not assume that all church leaders are dishonest. Second, your response is really not what this OP is about. It about how to discuss the history of the church in an more open manner. There’s good/bad in all religions, including LDS faith. Your black and white viewpoint does nothing to promote discussion

  50. “In a talk I recently gave to Church Educational System teachers, I urged that “the fact that something is true is not always a justification for communicating it.” A letter published in the New York Times Magazine described my counsel as “contempt for the truth.” (Feb. 9, 1986, p. 86.) I disagree. I rely on the teaching in Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1.) Specifically, there is “a time to speak,” and there is also “a time to keep silence.” (Eccl. 3:7.)” -Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, Feb. 1987, 68.

    This summarizes the policy and rationale that LDS leaders have long employed: sometimes we need refrain from communicating truths about church history.

    From the Gospel Principles manual’s lesson on Honesty:

    “There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”

  51. “5. Seeing both the faithfulness and human flaws in our history makes it more believable and realistic, not less. Our history has stories of great faith and courage that inspire us. Our history also includes human leaders who said and did things that can be shocking to us from our current perspective and culture. Historians try not to judge—instead, they try to understand by learning as much as possible about the context and the meaning of those words and actions at the time. The result is empathy instead of judgment. Our scriptures are consistent in pointing out that God, through grace, uses imperfect people for needed ministry and leadership.”
    IMO, I’m glad you see value in this principle. At first glance it is both noble, for it calls for empathy. But to say that doing this well would deliver us from judgment is a stretch. Even if we are driven by the purest motive possible in studying history–understanding and empathy–we cannot get there without making judgments as to what is “faithfulness” and what are “human flaws” in the records of what we confront. I think the best we can do is approximate some degree of truth about past deeds and motives (slippery slope here–thanks, IMO) and then humbly confess that we do not know the whole story in any instance. History is beyond recall (thanks Gottschalk).

  52. 53/55 Andrew, Apparently Elder Oaks’ view is immaterial, as you have already made your judgement based on whatever your understanding of “true” history is.

    It seems to me the best we can do is to reveal what sources tell us. If we deem the sources reliable, we will accept events, but we will still lack clear understanding of motive, and we may lack understanding of context (since having one fact does not mean we have all facts).

    We’ve already seen in this string of comments that after reviewing a set of facts (see the discussion of Joseph’s multiple wives) some will judge that truth differently: one may accept the fact of the existence of the wives while not attributing motive; others will attribute motive; still others may continue to dispute the fact despite the evidence; others may hope for further information down the road that will allow the apparent facts to mesh with what they believe; others may walk away believing they were previously duped.

    As a result, a clear and open discussion of church history (and it gets clearer and more open all the time, it seems, though not in every setting nor in every class) will likely yield a rather wide and unpredictable set of results.

    But I do not agree with your characterization that not revealing all we know (especially if it is not all we could know) in certain settings is tantamount to dishonesty.

  53. Reread the OP and the question is “what can the church do???” to deal with thorny issues in Church History?
    Maybe another option not listed is to learn and teach from that history the lessons to be learned rather then twisting every which way to justify the unjustifiable. Maybe the lesson of Joseph Smith and founding leaders is that their lives can be instructive both as what was revealed but also a warning as to how they handled it. For example, rather then semi-deifying Joseph maybe we could say that Joseph is an example of how God can reveal great truths through the “least” of us but then we must guard against the misapplication of those truths in our lives. We can learn that we didn’t establish Zion because of those “other evil people” but rather because we did not follow the Lord in DC 98 in relation to “enemies.” Teaching history will a view to see what we did wrong to lose zion, or in case of BOM what they, the Nephites did wrong to end in extermination rather then pick a side and justify our tribes narrative. Maybe, just recognize that even if Polygamy was given by God then the implementation was frankly not followed (see DC 132) and misapplied (I personally do not believe it was God given but that’s me).
    Then let’s exalt the words of Christ and recognize that starting with Joseph we have very fallible men that in times really screwed up and, thus we are still under condemnation.
    And most importantly, learn that it is not healthy or wise to throw out the Thomas Marsh’s, David Whitmers and even William Laws for speaking their conscience. Heck, even President Hinckley agreed with William Law 160 years later when he was asked by Larry King about polygamy and Pres. Hinckley said, i quote: “It is NOT doctrinal”
    And quit treating all of us like primary children for speaking our minds or like criminals for honest dissent as to matters of conscience

  54. Bored in Vernal — you are right. It has been an absolute failure, though it did make me smile to see what I said mirrored back. Nothing left to do but apologize to everyone in the thread, Dblock included, for managing to do nothing to improve the dialog.

    Ah well, I remain interested in a response to the question have some links to other articles on the Temple Lot Case? Obviously the sources I found seem to focus on things much different from what your sources did, from your post. I’m curious and interested in reading more and from your comments you seem to have additional sources with completely different perspectives from anyone.

    Thanks, and again, Bored in Vernal is right, and I’ve concluded that my experiment in this approach is pretty much ended as a failure, not even a noble one, just a failure.

  55. Stephen M

    Maybe it ended in failure because of your attitude and tone. Your apology is duplicitous, disingenuous, and malicious at best. I gather that you are a lawyer, so in your view no one is as smart as you. In my view your an idiot. A Bully in the school yard who when they don’t hear or get their way in the school yard thumps their chest and throws a fit . Like I said, who gave you the right to be so self righteous, Certainly not the same gospel that I believe in. If I ever comment on again, feel free to keep your mouth shut. Your a blow hard

  56. Dblock, I appreciate your perspective and conclusions, though I don’t agree with them. I don’t see what profession has to do with how smart people are. Many groups have only the loosest correlation between intelligence and the profession (e.g. chess, the correlation only loosely extends up to about an IQ of 120, or the average for college students and there are grandmasters with IQs lower than that). Now if you wanted to draw a correlation between profession and general trends toward obnoxiousness, that would make a lot more sense. But being a lawyer doesn’t make anyone smarter.

    I made a mistake in mirroring back to you, all it did was irritate you, which was not my intent. I don’t really think the tone of your last post is your real intent either, just proof of the scope of my mistake and failure.

    I’ll let it go at that.

  57. “Many groups have only the loosest correlation between intelligence and the profession”

    Totally OT, but *really*? Are there really that many people with double-digit IQs on the Harvard faculty?

    IQ may not account for much of the variance in capabilities within various intelligence-intensive professions (once you have the basic minimum intelligence, other personality factors may dominate), but there absolutely is a basic threshold intelligence level that’s required to get into them in the first place. In other words, high IQ will serve you better than low IQ, but really, really, high IQ may not get you much more than just basic high IQ.

  58. Stepehn

    It seems as if you can’t even apologize if that was indeed what you were trying to do, without speaking in a degrading manner. You knew what you were doing all day long and you did it anyway. That’s not only prideful, that’s what makes it purposely malicious. I’m glad I don’t know you personally

  59. Joseph Smith married Orson Hyde’s wife Miranda after Smith sent Hyde on a mission to England, where he might have converted some of my relatives. These polyandrous ‘marriages’ seemed nothing of the sort, as the women continued to live with their original husbands for the most part, and there was no divorce involved prior to the marriages to Joseph Smith. One of the women Joseph ‘married’ polyandrously, Sylvia Sessions Lyon, told her daughter Josephine on her (Sylvia’s) deathbed that Josephine was the daughter of the prophet Joseph Smith. So, we have direct evidence that Joseph Smith did marry women whose husbands’ he sent on missions and direct evidence that he slept with at least one of them.

    As an aside, I know a direct descendent of Josephine Lyon and he looks freakishly like Joseph Smith, though that certainly isn’t evidence.

  60. As a long-time student of early Mormonism and Joseph Smith, I have about concluded that Joseph was quite full of himself. This personal trait can be traced back to NY and Kirtland and Missouri, but the phenomenon is especially noted in the Nauvoo years. He was prohet, seer, revelator and translator; mayor; editor of the church press; in charge of the Mormon Masonic Lodge; sole trustee-in trust for the church; Lt. General, commander-in-chief of the Nauvoo Legion; chief magistrate of the judicial system at Nauvoo; land speculator; and one who went about town in search of more and more wives, some under legal age and more than a dozen already wed to his fellow church missionaries off on missions for God.

    In short, Joseph’s ego, with his consent of course, took over, and in the process took some of the lustre off his leadership roles. Perhaps this is why so many in the Community of Christ do not celebrate the Nauvoo experience with the same fervor that our LDS Mormon cousins do. In the end, for Community of Christ, Nauvoo is a matter for us to understand at the deepest possible levels, celebrate those understandings, forgive much, and forget very little.

  61. RPH,
    I agree. The problem is how to approach this in our faith? Something has to give. It seems that we have to have a paradigm shift where the semi-worship of “leaders” and a sort of infallibility has to die. As John the Baptist said, “I must decrease so that He can increase” has to occur. Then we can learn the REAL lessons of Nauvoo and our history, ie, that Christ gave us a plan for Zion and we messed up, and in particular the road to Carthage was not IMO because Joseph would not deny the BOM or DC or our doctrine but rather more likely a result of engaging in practices that were not holy and in fact an abuse of power—amen to that Priesthood when that occurs.
    THe problem I see is then as members do we have the capacity to not engage in a false dichotomy of “it is ALL true or ALL false.” If we cannot distinguish between what came from Heaven and what came from men and in particular Joseph then we risk losing that which is authentic because of serious loss of credibility of our founder. Islam survived that dichotomy, so did Catholicism. We can also, but as long as we create false narratives and DEMAND the cognitive dissonance of members to sustain it, then we have a long term formula for failure. IMO we have to change our entire approach/perception. I just don’t see how that can be done systemically in our faith via curriculum given our investment in the All of Nothing approach and “protect the narrative at ALL costs” even if we have to ostracize and criticize or even throw out those I consider intellectually honest among us on these historical issues.

  62. #66 — All manner of wickedness shall be forgiven men, but land speculators shall have no forgiveness, neither in this life nor in the life to come. Hanging’s too good for ’em. One of the great Original Sins of American civilization.

  63. “more likely a result of engaging in practices that were not holy and in fact an abuse of power—amen to that Priesthood when that occurs” It’s interesting that we do believe that God will not allow you to “lead this church astray,” but when God makes a pre-emptive strike, we blame others instead of making the possibly obvious yet unpalatable conclusion.

  64. “I know a direct descendent of Josephine Lyon and he looks freakishly like Joseph Smith, though that certainly isn’t evidence.”

    I’m one of those descendants, although I don’t think I look freakishly like JS, or hopefully anyone else for that matter. 😉

  65. hawkgrrl,

    well said! Exactly my sentiments. I have written a chapter/essay giving historical background and analysis of DC 98. I believe the words found in DC 98 are Christ’s words. Almost five years from the day those words were given they were fulfilled exactly as the Lord stated, ie, if you retaliate (think Crooked River and Gallatin) then you deserve what you get, ie, you will lose zion and you are on your own. So we become as our enemies and do not follow the words of Christ (DC 98) and reap the whirlwind. THen rather then learn our lesson, ie, follow the words of Christ or suffer, we get on our “chosen” high horse and say we were persecuted because we were “righteous” and “they” were evil. Right. So we learn nothing. Now Viet Nam comes (my era) and then Iraq and Afghanistan and we are waving the flag, ignoring the words of Christ in DC 98 and wonder why we remain lost, benighted and zion-less. FOr me the problem is NOT our history. Our problem is how we interpret it. We need a Samuel–or rather we need a legion of Samuels….it ain’t coming from within the hierarchy from what I can tell even if they have the legal authority….

  66. Ron,

    I think you are right in one area. How we interpret history with regard to revelation. How do we as a church not only come to terms with but discuss past revelation, in conjunction with today’s church. Why was something appropriate when the church was first organized but not today(i.e.)polygany, blacks in the church, ERA,

    I come from a strong Italian/ Catholic upbringing, So, we in the catholic faith have to deal with the problems of over 400 years of the Spanish Inquisition, and recently pedophile priest. But imo people are allowed to question. To question is a healthy thing and one should not be labeled because they raised the questions that others are uncomfortable with.

  67. Dblock,

    “To question is a healthy thing and one should no be labeled because they raise the questions that others are uncomfortable with…”

    Well said and I agree. Thank you for your input and sincerity. I respect Catholicism in that it has survived with faith in Christ despite all those issues you mentioned and other historical problems. I was raised LDS. My father taught me that in this faith I am only required to believe that which is true–no more and no less. In the end we can only rely on the Christ and His words—all other things are appendages, shadows and approximations, and means to an end–in my opinion. In my opinion we also have had and have our failings and very grave mistakes–that is why we have not yet fulfilled our promise of zion.
    I admire your questioning and challenging. You wouldn’t if you didn’t care to really know what is real and true. Any organization needs those who question and challenge—our faith was founded on questioning and the courage and integrity to ask and receive “personal” revelation.
    thank you for who you are…

  68. Hey Ron M,
    You stated one of my long-held truisms: “Any organization needs those who question and challenge—our faith was founded on questioning and the courage and integrity to ask and receive “personal” revelation.”

    What is sad is the need felt by many organizational leaders to maintain their own vision of things, and in doing so put down or aside many new ideas expressed by earnest and faithful persons. This happens not only in churches but in political parties, families, and other social groups. May we all survive such narrow parochialism!

  69. I believe the words found in DC 98 are Christ’s words. Almost five years from the day those words were given they were fulfilled exactly as the Lord stated, ie, if you retaliate (think Crooked River and Gallatin) then you deserve what you get, ie, you will lose zion and you are on your own. So we become as our enemies and do not follow the words of Christ (DC 98) and reap the whirlwind.

    Though it is true we were persecuted, yet it is also true that God gave such a clear warning. More than once.

    It is really striking, and it really connected with me in studying Church history.

    The same is true about the warnings given against land speculation. The clear warning that they would be cursed if they engaged in it, and they were, and then were mad about it.

  70. Ron:

    “THe problem I see is then as members do we have the capacity to not engage in a false dichotomy of ‘it is ALL true or ALL false.'”

    I largely agree with what you are saying here, yet I would also note that the issue may be not simply about truth claims, but the possibility that the church can be “true”, but still fail. Just as you note that there were explicit consequences for the church in not following an increasing series of warnings preceeding and including Sec 98, Restoration scriptures contain as well (see III Nephi or the preface to the D&C) about similar consequences for society as a whole if the gospel is not accepted.

    So, having messed up, individually, institutionally, AND societally, how do we tie ourselves into the direction of the Spirit in repentence and move forward?

  71. Why would we won’t to follow the CofC, what a mess that faith has become. In an effort to be more accepting, they have fell away from almost every devine truth that has come forth from the Prophet Joesph. Thanks, but I will stick to the words of a true Prophet.

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