Today’s post is by Wade Nelson. I served my mission in Quebec in the mid 1970’s and hate to admit it but spent more time studying Church history and doctrine than I did teaching the Gospel. I was a lousy missionary. Our Mission President was Wayne Owens a Neal Maxwell protégé who was very lax with rules and our work regimen. Incidentally my companion during those years was Lyn Jacobs who was to become an associate of Mark Hoffman. Jacobs acted as front man for Hoffman in the 1980’s and was the individual who sold the Church the Salamander Letter so as to deflect attention from Hoffman. He has always claimed he knew nothing of the forgeries
We got our hands on a copy of Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? the Magnum Opus of Jerald and Sandra Tanner. We spent many more hours than we should have going over their material, concerned and surprised by their revelations as well as amused by the amateurish and almost childish presentation with the underlining for emphasis.
Then a member gave me a copy of Letters of Brigham Young to his sons. To me this volume represents the apex of Mormon Scholarship during the Arrington years. True history at its best with original source documents unvarnished and unexpurgated. Brigham Young uncorrelated as it were.
The letter that caught my eye of course was that of President Young to his son stating that they should both give up tobacco. His son was leaving to preside over a mission in England and his father suggested that they both give up its use. Naïve nineteen year old that I was I wrote to the Ensign and asked why a Prophet of God would admit to using tobacco years after the Word of Wisdom had been made a commandment.
The First Presidency replied by letter with a somewhat caustic tone that told me that it had been dictated by President Kimball. First questioning the authenticity of the letter and apparently unaware that the Church had published the book itself, they stated that they had no idea why Brigham Young would use tobacco.
“If you want to know why he used tobacco, they stated, you will have to wait until the next life and ask him yourself!”
Fortunately I did not have to wait until the next life. As many know it was Arrington himself who later wrote that tobacco was used as an anesthetic related to dental pain.
The episode has always been instructive to me for 3 reasons.
Firstly in those years some church leaders were relatively open to the kind of questions the Church History Department was in presenting in that material. President Kimball et al did not attack me for asking although the book was certainly withdrawn. I am also aware that Davis Bitton has stated that some were upset by the publication and thought it an egregious error.
Secondly sometimes church history questions do have easy answers. I know that is not always the case but I will always be one who believes that the Church is better off to face difficult questions than to hide and obfuscate .
Thirdly some questions have no answers at least the kind of answers that will satisfy us.
Why did Joseph Smith and Heber Kimball pressure Kimball’s 14 year old daughter into marrying the Prophet?
Why did Samuel slay Agag and the Amalekites so viciously in I Samuel 15?
How should I know? Ask them yourself!