More Open Mormon History

Mormon Hereticapologetics, apostasy, Bloggernacle, conference, history, LDS, Leaders, liberal, Logic, Mormon 139 Comments

I attended a few Mormon History Conferences last weekend. I gave a more detailed account on my blog, but wanted to see how Mormon Matters readers react to a few comments made at these conferences.

  1. Elder Marlin K Jensen told of a study done by the church, which stated that members who knew more about church history were more active in the church, and members who knew less about Mormon history were less active. This seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Many people on the bloggernacle seem to think that learning about Mormon history leads to inactivity and apostasy. What do you make of this?
  2. Jensen encouraged “a lifelong commitment to church history.” Do you think this is wise counsel? Are you afraid some will lose their testimony by following this advice?
  3. Ronald K Esplin stated that the 1970’s were viewed at a period of “Camelot” for the church’s openness to church history. He stated that he believes that “there is no better time to study church history than today.” Do you agree/disagree?
  4. Terryl Givens talked about paradoxes of Mormonism. He talked about how intellectuals struggle with submission to authority vs free agency. He said intellectuals must walk the tightrope between blind faith, and posturing apostasy. He said that it is easy for people to fall off this tightrope, but that to be intellectually rich, one always has to balance “seeking, searching faith.” So should a person who falls off this tightrope be considered “intellectually weak”?

Comments 139

  1. “Elder Marlin K Jensen told of a study done by the church, which stated that members who knew more about church history were more active in the church, and members who knew less about Mormon history were less active. This seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Many people on the bloggernacle seem to think that learning about Mormon history leads to inactivity and apostasy. What do you make of this?”

    It certainly makes it more interesting to know more of the church history (or the rest of the story- so to speak) escpecially for the youth because class’s can be quite dry for them.

    I agree with Elder Jensen if they are learning about MH at a young age it will probably strengthen them. If they have been in the church for over 20 years and their hearing Armand Mauss Blacks and the priesthood, Greg Kearney and Mormons and the Masons etc. Even if its done in a faith promoting way it can damage their view they have held tightly and can damage their faith.

  2. “if they are learning about MH at a young age”

    Agreed. Polygamy would probably be a deal-breaker for me if I hadn’t heard of it in primary. Even then, they taught it like “wow that is different” but I didn’t have years of illusions to cause any disillusion.

  3. For me, I knew about MMM when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. And the story I learned wasn’t just some fanciful tale about rogue Indians…I could talk intelligently about the Jonathan Haslam letter, John D. Lee, et. al.

    When I teach Mormon history in Gospel Doctrine class, I must say that I have yet to hear of blowback from teaching what the documents actually claim. No one has approached me with mascara-stained eyes, wondering what’s happened to the world they once knew. They might have an intrigued look or a few follow-up questions.

    I sound like a jerk when I say this, but I continue to maintain that I have little sympathy for those who allow history to undermine their testimonies. The information to understand the oddities is *so* ridiculously available that only a little research will produce worthwhile fruit. One can access all issues of BYU Studies, Dialogue, Sunstone, the Journal of Mormon History without subscriptions. Those who let tough questions get to them I’ve found either 1) don’t know where to look to get answers, 2) don’t know what to do with the answers they have, or worst of all 3) don’t even put a little elbow grease into finding answers to be begin with.

    I am *convinced* that any topic can be dealt with honestly in this church. To say otherwise is to knowingly keep ourselves in apostasy, in the Middle Ages intellectually and spiritually.

  4. 1. On Camelot: I think there is more openness now, but I think it is different from the 1970s period. At that time, there was a conscious and independent decision by the Church to openly explore and study its history. I think the environment today is driven largely by the easy access to information provided by the internet. The Church has responded, wisely I think, by being another source of information. If you can’t beat them, etc., etc.

    2. On studying Church history and activity: It might be kind of a chicken and egg problem. It seems like a rare person (admittedly there are some) that would spend a lot of time studying about something they were not interested in or committed to. If I dipped my toe in Church history enough to cause me to lose my testimony, I probably would not spend a lot more time studying it. On the other hand, there will be a segment of committed Church members that are interested in history. Studying the history of the Church is a natural outlet for their interests.

  5. I think the problem is that not in having closed history or open history. The problem is that the church tends to present a heavily correlated view of history, and so that becomes the “norm” or the standard, and when people do stumble upon bigger issues, it shatters their current understanding. That’s not very easy to deal with.

    I mean, if these issues were approached early on (and it doesn’t have to be in full detail, obviously, but people should at least KNOW of them), then I would think that would mitigate the whole, “OMG my life is a lie” feeling.

  6. “Many people on the bloggernacle seem to think that learning about Mormon history leads to inactivity and apostasy.”- Hands down the best quote EVER!!!

  7. Russel-there was a time before the internet,when people like me who were not academics or historians had some questions that others found very disquieting.Some of these people did lose their testimonies when the information became available to them.I wish we had always been encouraged to view church history,particularly in seminary,as a version of events that others may see differently.Teaching of the D and C has been so “history” based that it can leave doctrine looking pretty threadbare in the light of new information.I think we always need to focus on testimony and sound understanding of doctrine at church,as well as a broad sweep of events.It can become hard to understand that others-out here in the mission field- may never have known what you grew up knowing

  8. “No one has approached me with mascara-stained eyes, wondering what’s happened to the world they once knew.” Well, if the history didn’t drive them out, being a cross-dresser might.

    “The problem is that the church tends to present a heavily correlated view of history, and so that becomes the “norm” or the standard” I think that’s true, but in reality, the correlation is not there to ‘present history’ at all. They are there to provide lesson materials that are uplifting and bring people closer to Christ. History is neutral. It is not the means to any end. However, I believe a little inoculation is better than the present total skirting of issues. The real issue is that most teachers won’t research anything beyond what’s in the printed manual, and a discussion of history doesn’t carry the ball forward in class, so to speak.

  9. I think it’s hard to make too many sweeping generalizations. I can think of 2 people I know who were exposed to mormon history as teens and are pretty much atheist now. I didn’t really seek out mormon history until about 3 years ago (I’m in my 40’s now). I guess I always assumed there was more than meets the eye, and I have to say that I am pretty disturbed by some of the things I’ve learned about polygamy, but I’m still active, and plan to stay active, but I’ve moderated many of my beliefs.

    Of course, I’m disturbed by some Old Testament prophets as well, so I feel like it is important to realize that prophets are fallible. I feel like many people don’t study the Bible very critically (in and outside the LDS church). There’s plenty of things to be appalled about in the Bible as well. Frankly, I think the BoM could be studied more critically as well, but this seems to be only done by antagonists.

    I guess I’m trying to understand why some people feel lied to and leave the church (or all religion), while others are more forgiving of mistakes of past leaders. I wish I had an answer to that. Some people dip their toe into church history, and become quite antagonistic to the church, trying to expose all the unpleasant details. Others, (like Andrew) seem to be more moderate, even though they choose to leave. A third group becomes raging apologists, justifying all past bad behavior. Finally, there is a 4th group willing to admit mistakes of past leaders, but choosing to stay affiliated with the church. It’s really strange to me the different reactions among people who basically know the same information.

    Imperfection, I doubt the study is available for the general public to view. I’m pretty sure the church does lots of internal studies, and they keep a pretty tight lid on what they want released.

  10. I am glad people like Russell can know most everything about church history at such a young age. I have one question for you Russell. Who is Jonathan Haslam and what letter did he write?

    Mormon Heretic, I think on many levels Ron Esplin is correct. I think the General Authorities have much less worry about what our history has to say and in turn they are much more open to the suggestions of those who work in the Historical Department. The three best examples of this is “Massacre at Mountain Meadows”, the latest BYU Studies with the MMM documents and the publication of the Smith Papers. These are the best of times when it comes to availability. The Internet has had some affect on this openness as well.

    At the same time we should never forget the path people like Brooks, Arrington, Bringhurst, Alexander, Allen, Jesse, Quinn, Shipps, Marquardt, Bush, Bushman and many many others paved to get to this point of openness. Many of these people were marginalized because of their efforts, some seemed to have no problem. I appreciate all their efforts.

  11. if they are learning about MH at a young age it will probably strengthen them.

    I don’t know. Some of MH’s posts here and on his own blog address difficult topics. 🙂

  12. Point number 1 is meaningless. First, the study was done by the Church. Second, it fails to distinguish what “mormon history” means. If it means, mormon history as taught by the Church, then I would agree with the conclusion. If it means, true mormon history without any sugar coating, then I would be surprised to see a correlation between knowing more and having a stronger testimony.

  13. Hey Russel,

    You were right. You do sound like a jerk. If you are still here please acknowledge because I have a few questions for you. We can test your hypothesis that everything is so easily explainable.

  14. I have to agree with Scottie on the point about the meaning of “church history.” We’ve all seen enough directives from members of the twelve regarding what institute teachers and BYU educators are and aren’t permitted to teach about church history to know that the church simply does not endorse an unbiased and complete reading of church history. And before anyone responds that the standard is different as applied to church employees than it is to members, I would take issue with that pre-emptively. If the very people the church urges, even instructs, its youth to look to for learning and guidance about all things, including church history, have been forbidden from teaching certain aspects of the church’s history, then I think it is a real stretch to make the argument that the church allows, let alone encourages, its members to research church history outside of what it gives them.

    Implicit, and in many cases explicit, in the church’s teachings with respect to its history is the command that you should prayerfully approach such study and you should avoid anything that is not edifying. Well that’s very convenient for the church, considering how likely it is that many people, regardless of the strength of their testimony, would classify anecdotes of Joseph Smith’s apparent adultery, lies and illegal activities, as edifying. This is the point. The church has set up a context in which they can credibly say “we encourage all members to prayerfully study all information that is edifying.” Then if a person reads something that disturbs them or shakes their testimony in the church or its leaders, the response is that they shouldn’t have been reading it. The logic and methodology is completely circular and self-serving, as with most, if not all, of the church’s positions dealing with any form of logical analysis.

  15. Re 10:

    I think if people becoming atheist is something you’re worried about, there’s a lot more to worry about than simply unflattering history (so I guess, good pt about generalizations). But then again, I’m not worried about people becoming atheist. And now, I will make sweeping generalizations:

    Some people feel lied to because…they have been lied to. The question isn’t whether they were lied to, but why some leave after finding out and why some forgive it and stay. (Also, to soften what I just said, I’m not trying to say that people are malicious lying, but I have to disagree with hawkgrrrl in 9 that “history is neutral.” No, history is narrative fallacy, and when it comes out of the mouth, it always is tainted with interpretation. Correlation represents a “faith-promoting” narrative that inevitably obscures some parts…this omission or obscurantism *is* deceptive. But it’s not deceptive for malice: it’s deceptive for for beneficence — to promote faith. It reminds me of the earlier post here “How much truth is too much?”)

    Really, I think the question is (and this gets discussed a lot, so I’ll raise it up again)…what level of ‘responsibility’ and ‘culpability’ do we put on leaders? I mean, we don’t believe prophets are infallible, but I think the issue is that some members still treat them as nearly infallible…or put maximum culpability to them and their words. So, when something happens that shows their humanity, it’s devastating. I like how people like John Dehlin and others have talked about it: people don’t lose a testimony because they didn’t believe enough…but because they believed too much.

    But of course, things aren’t so black and white, right? So, I guess that people who see the gray, and who forgive the mistakes of fallible men, are more likely to stay. But as you said, there are other groups. Some who believe in all-or-nothing, black-or-white, do try to justify all the “light grays” that the leaders commit as being white (apologetics). And so on.

    Personally, I recognize things aren’t so black and white, but because things aren’t so black and white, that’s what leads me not to believe. I recognize I shouldn’t believe in infallible leaders (because really, that’s just going to make the realization of fallibility that much harder hitting), but precisely because I know the leaders are fallible, I find no compelling reason to believe. I’m fallible too, so I’m going to need a little more substance to justify exchanging *my* fallibility for some other guy’s fallibility. I am more moderate because my position lets me recognize that things should be moderate. Because I don’t expect or believe in a god that would make things closer to white or black, I’m not all that shocked when things are murky or gray.

  16. Well put, Andrew. However, I would take issue with your point that the concept of infallability of church leaders is something we have done ourselves. It is clear that the church has carefully cultivated this conceptualization, particularly in the past half century. Long gone are the days of Joseph Smith’s acknowledgement and even celebration of his and other church leaders’ humanity and defaults. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s I never heard a single story about the deficiencies of a church leader. Although I sure did hear a lot of stories about church leaders who gave up scholarships because they wouldn’t play a single game on Sunday or who were willing to sacrifice their very life rather than take a single drink of alcohol. Hand in hand with the church’s uber-sensitivity to marketing and image has come the idea that our church leaders represent the most righteous and worthy individuals on the earth. From a consistency standpoint that is just fine. The message is now that we should follow the admonitions of church leaders to a “t” and without question. It is natural that they would be presented as individuals that are absolutely and unequivocally worthy of such deference and obedience. But to then pay lip service to the idea that “no one calling in this church is any more important than any other” is, frankly, insulting. It’s not true, and no one in the church, including the brethren, honestly think that’s true. The local nursery teacher is not receiving revelation for the entire primary in his or her ward, let alone for the entire earth, so why don’t we do away with the patronizing rhetoric and call a spade a spade.

    The inherent problem with this is that this ultimately leads to a situation where people are made to feel, implicitly or explicitly, as if they are bad or wrong for questioning, even internally, a single word that church leaders say. Does anyone honestly question that this is where we are in this church? J. Reuben Clark and B. H. Roberts would NEVER be allowed to say the things today that they said in their day regarding a member’s right to question church teachings or its leaders.

    I agree, Andrew, that things are not black and white. Ever. That’s not the church’s position, though. The church teaches that EVERYTHING is black and white. From god or satan. Good or bad. Either it supports the truth or refutes it. You believe or you don’t. JS was a prophet or he was a fraud. This position does not allow the church to be honest about history, because JS was not black or white. He did things that are offensive to almost any human being’s inherent sense of right and wrong. If the church were to attempt to nuance those things, they would lose the absolute moral authority and high ground that they have claimed.

  17. I was going to address the questions of the actual post:

    1 – Learning about unsavory elements of Mormon history can be unsettling for those who really don’t know anything at all about it, but it’s mostly a problem for those who: a) have created illusions (or believed things that are unrealistic or simplistic), b) haven’t been very intellectually curious, or c) go from one biased (pro) position to another biased (anti) position in terms of what they have heard. When you are prone to a black & white world view, it can be easy to go from one to another.
    2 – A “lifelong commitment” means your entire life. If you are intellectually curious about these things, you delve into them from an early age throughout adulthood. Obviously, Jensen’s talking about people like him (and many of us). IME, it’s really just an issue when you go from one un-nuanced view to another. You either have a believing heart or you don’t: “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.”
    3 – There’s no better time than today because there’s so much more factual history out there than there was before. There were more questions than answers back then; today there seem to be more answers than questions, creating some room for interpretation.
    4 – “to be intellectually rich, one always has to balance “seeking, searching faith.” So should a person who falls off this tightrope be considered “intellectually weak”?” Weird way to look at that, but it does remind me of the statement that the beginning of wisdom is knowing you don’t know. There’s intellectual richness (and detachment, really) in that stance. The discussion (which is the root of intellect) remains open and ongoing. Really, it’s moving from that into knowing that probably weakens one’s intellectual stance.

  18. Pingback: What was the straw that broke your belief’s back? | Main Street Plaza

  19. re 17, Brjones:

    At MOST charitable, I would concede to the church that infallibility is a rogue *cultural* idea that has spread in the church (and not doctrine [but similarly, it’s Catholic doctrine that popes are infallible, but there is that joke that most Catholics culturally don’t believe it]). But yes, I would be more inclined to agree with you that it’s not just something that members do to themselves (although I guess I’ve heard enough people blame apostates for “taking things so seriously”).

    I would have to say too that I think that it’s not necessarily church position that everything is black and white. YES, the church uses rhetoric that might lead people to infer that (and there is a culture that rises out of the language we use around just that idea), but the church actually does have lots of leeway. Although it may seem like you have to say, “I know the church is true,” and that’s an all or nothing proposition, the church doesn’t define what “know” or “true” means, so you can easily manipulate to what you would rather have it mean instead. People other than me have talked about how to take a more nuanced view and still fit in with the church.

    I agree that there are some things that are dealbreakers — doctrinally, the church cannot nuance its position much further on homosexuality, for example. It *has* to have a proclamation on the family, it *has* to have positions on eternal gender, it *has* to back up celestial marriage to maintain “morality authority and high ground,” as you allude to. So, I think that on these few issues, that’s where the fault line truly might lie. But there are few issues, I think, that the church has become so entrenched in.

  20. Andrew S: “I have to disagree with hawkgrrrl in 9 that “history is neutral.” No, history is narrative fallacy, and when it comes out of the mouth, it always is tainted with interpretation.” You and I don’t disagree at all. History IS neutral. Narrators are always biased, even if they try to be like Switzerland they still have an opinion.

    Brjones: I don’t disagree that there are some leaders who tend toward the “infallible line,” but there are also plenty who do not say those things, who preach compassion not tribalism, who preach intellectual openness, not “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done.” B’naclers are just irritated by the “obedience” talks because they don’t appeal to us, but there is equal air time for other voices. That’s the beauty of an oligarchy leadership (15 flawed prophets) vs. a single flawed prophet: with 15 voices, they can probably do a better job channeling Christ than one person could, who would tend to show us just one facet.

  21. Russell #3-“I sound like a jerk when I say this, but I continue to maintain that I have little sympathy for those who allow history to undermine their testimonies.”

    Hard to disagree with the first part of that statement.

    Most memberes feel badly when someone’s world crumbles for whatever the reason. My wife, who comes from a tremendously believing family, is struggling with her testimony, something which never even crossed her mind for 5 decades of membership. Prop 8 did her in.

    I have been an avid reader of church history for many years. I would always come across things and wouldn’t pass them on to my wife, not wanting to give an uncomfortable itch to stratch. Camelot was great for the historians. Church leadership must have felt that knowledge of church history was not beneficial for church members since they tightened access to historical materials and dismantled the historical department under Arrington.

    The most disturbing story for me of Camelot is the church’s refusal to recognize Arrington (leader of the Camelot era) as a former church historian. As I recall his picture was not hung along with his predecessors. He also was not formally released in General Conference (the vote of thanks must have been a problem……)

  22. Andrew: I have heard many people echo your sentiments about certain issues that are so “entrenched” that they will never change. Obviously the church’s position is that those are moral absolutes which is the reason they won’t change, while some think the church has to maintain them for purposes of authority and credibility. Frankly, I think both positions are wrong, and I find it fascinating that people are able and willing to disregard history so quickly and completely. I certainly understand that race and sexual orientation are fundamentally different issues. But the fact is, little more than a century ago, there were concepts in the church that were just as entrenched as the church’s stance against homosexuality is now. As Scottie pointed out, Brigham Young taught not only that polygamy was of god, but that any system that opposed it was of the devil. He also taught that mixing the seed of a black with a white was punishable by death on the spot and that “it will always be so.” I realize that mormons are fond of giving an “awe shucks” and a soft punch on the arm when explaining away the dozens of fundamental principles that Brigham Young taught as divine and eternal truth and which the church has now disclaimed entirely, but the fact remains, the church has drastically adapted its policies and doctrines to remain in line with social mores, in many cases overriding and discrediting direct revelations from men who were at one time the prophet, seer and revalator for the entire earth. And to assume that the church won’t do that in the future is shortsighted, in my opinion. The fact is, when it became politically expedient to abandon polygamy, one of the foundational doctrines in the church up to that point, the church discarded it. When it became politically expedient, in this case internally as well as externally, to abandon its archaic position on blacks and the priesthood, the church jettisoned that doctrine. I’m not saying that one day the church is going to allow active homosexuals into full fellowship. What I am saying is that to assume that there are certain issues in the church on which they would never bend, is to completely ignore the past.

    One irony about the homosexuality issue juxtaposed against polygamy, is that in the 19th century, there is no evidence to suggest that homosexuality was a concern of the church at all. In fact, Quinn argues that there is evidence to suggest it was not even forbidden in the church. (That’s a topic for another post) Now it is considered the “great battle-line issue of our time” for members of the church, and polygamy is a dirty little secret which the church can’t wait to reject and disclaim at every opportunity.

  23. In response to post 18 by Hawkgrrrl:

    Your first point says that those who have a problem with the history of the church are people who: don’t know anything about it, have created illusions, are not intellectually curious, and are biased for the church and then biased against the church. Then you add that those who see the world as black and white can easily jump from one to another. Your argument says that those who have a problem with the history of the church have problems. Therefore, anyone who talks against the history of the church can be dismissed out of hand because they have problems. I guess I have problems….with your argument.

    Then, after criticizing a black and white world view you make a very black and white statement by saying, “you either have a believing heart or you don’t.”

    Help thou my confusion.

  24. This is just a general comment and is not in response to anything said in this string, and I apologize if it seems like I’m monopolizing the comments, but I’ve only recently discovered this forum, and I’ve been looking for someplace to discuss my thoughts and feelings for a long time. I was struck by Holden’s comments about the way the church treated Arrington in the wake of Camelot. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard some iteration of the phrase “the leaders are just fallible men,” even on this board today. Then I see it in context of the defense of Joseph’s exercise of polygamy – he was just feeling his way along; there was no manual on how to practice polygamy; it was a restoration church and they did the best they could. Then I hear elder Holland say in conference that the lord has led this church every minute from the first vision until the present. How in the world can I logically jibe those statements? Either the lord was leading the church every minute or he wasn’t. If he was, I would submit that the lord’s way is to allow confusion, dishonesty and destruction of individuals and family. And if he wasn’t, then what are we to make of elder Holland’s claim that he was? I don’t have a problem with the concept that the church is led by men who are prone to mistakes. But when those same men turn around and command me to follow the church without question, and that the church will never lead us astray, how am I supposed to be comfortable with that command. There is a consistency problem here that people don’t want to address.

  25. Any member who KNOWS the true history of the church and doesn’t have a problem with at least certain aspects of it is, in my opinion, a very insensitive person, or a blind sheep. I can respect someone who has a strong testimony of the church but who feels saddened by parts of the history of it. But I cannot respect someone who acts like every single event in the history of the church happened for a logical reason based on the circumstances of the time, and that one can discover how it all makes perfect sense if he or she is willing to read up on all the goings-on of the time, as Russell asserted, because there are plenty of things in the church’s history that do not make sense and that caused much heartache.

  26. regarding #18, I was struck with how similar hawkgrrrl’s #1 & #4 answers were. I think people who only want to look at the world in black and white, whether pro or con, aren’t intellectually strong.

    Givens talked about the paradox of an all-powerful, dying god. believers like the all-powerful part, antagonists like the dying part. intellectually strong people enjoy looking at the paradox of it all.

  27. Brjones: I can see how that sounds confusing. My statement about a believing heart is not an indictment of an unbelieving heart. I just think being believing or not is not related to the history argument but is about the type of person. Some are believing types, for good or bad. Others are unbelieving types. The line between those two is thin, IMO. But a whole different type of person is a ‘knowing’ type. Knowing types can go from one black and white view to another. Does that more clearly articulate my view?

  28. If Ray and hawkgrrrl were to marry in the next life, I would ask whoever is in charge if I could be their kid………

  29. mh, I agree with you in a sense. I think maybe intellectual maturity is a better way to state it for my tastes. Those who see everything in black and white are not mature enough to either recognize or acknowledge shades of grey. I think, though, that it’s a lot to do with emotion as well. My father is very intelligent. However, he has an incredibly difficult time dealing with nuances, especially those that tend to cut against things he believes strongly. I don’t see it as an intellectual issue, but an emotional one. Maybe the two are intertwined.

    The real problem I have with your statement, though, is that I believe the church is largely responsible for creating a matrix wherein people are encouraged to see things as very black or white. Obviously we are intelligent creatures, and each person is responsible for seeking truth as he or she defines it, and those who see things in black and white, even if encouraged to do so by a person or organization they trust, is responsible for their own actions. But the church holds a powerful position of authority in most members’ lives; probably the MOST powerful for most members. The church knowingly paints in broad strokes, under the guise of “milk before meat,” and then when they’re pushed by doubters or intellectuals, they give a wink and a nod and confide that yes, they understand it’s not that simple, but on a macro-scale they have to play to the lowest common denominator. So many members with simple faith go blindly on their way, thinking they are doing the BEST they can, while the intellectuals in the church scoff at them behind their backs and brand them with labels like “intellectually weak.” This is absolutely tragic. Many members would benefit tremendously from the growth that accompanies the search for subjective truth, as opposed to just being spoon fed what the church sees as “objective truth,” but they are denied this enriching experience because the church just can’t risk the fact that they will fall away if they delve too deeply. At the risk of sounding too negative, I think this is despicable. And to create this situation by controlling information and commanding strict obedience on the front end, and then shrug your shoulders and say “well we just assumed that every member was thoroughly researching the negatives of the church on their own” on the back end, as elder Oaks has done, is intellectually dishonest at best. At worst, and more likely, I think it is an intentional strategy to maintain obedience to church authority. It’s unfortunate, and the fact that I continue to watch family members continue to live “intellectually weak” existences on behalf of the church is very troubling to me.

  30. Post


    Yes, intellectual maturity is probably a more tactful term. I like you you talked about the intellectual part and the emotional part. It is the people who have a larger emotional involvement who tend to switch from pro to con, and are more likely to see things in black and white.

    I understand that Armaund Mauss talks about how institutions don’t act the same way as individuals. An institution does what is best for it to survive. All institutions do this, whether they are the LDS church, a government, or even a business. If you were to substitute the government, Walmart, or other large institution into your paragraph, I think your points would apply to them equally well.

    If you look back to the early days of the church, there was much less of the matrix you talk about. The result was a fractured leadership, no clear direction, lots of speculation which is the fodder of which we are talking about. The correlation we find so annoying today is largely responsible for fixing most of these disturbing early problems.

  31. These are great points. The point you make about institutions is exactly the point I’m trying to make. I get frustrated that so many members, even relatively enlightened ones, insist on giving the church a pass on the effects their information control has on its members, when it seems pretty clear that it is doing what it has to do to consolidate and maintain power. That’s not an inherently evil goal, and they’re certainly not the only group doing it, but it’s not inherently noble or righteous either, and while that motivation doesn’t preclude spiritual caretaking as a motivation, it does make it more questionable. In fact, ultimately, the only justification for it is the old stand-by “it’s ok because god told us to do it.” But again, my big problem isn’t even so much that they’re doing it to maintain power, as it is the fact that they’re disguising it as for the benefit of the members. I think the whole “milk before meat” thing is just a ploy to keep members pliant and obedient.

    Your point about the early days of the church is also well taken. But isn’t that the ultimate point? Eventually it became inconvenient to have leaders of the church running around encouraging people to think and decide for themselves what’s right and wrong, and to put the hard questions to the church. This is not the way you create a faithful and obedient membership. This is particularly true as access to information exploded in the late 20th century, and we saw the proliferation of the Faithful History policy at BYU. I couldn’t tell by the tone of your comment, Heretic, but personally I don’t view the trade off of individuality and personal development for institutional structure as a positive thing.

  32. Joe G: One question only? Sweet. Life is good. Haslam was the messenger carrying Brigham Young’s famed letter to Isaac Haight telling him to leave the Fancher party alone, that the Indians would do as they will, but that the Mormons would steer clear of them.


    I’m sorry, but it’s true. I mean, yes, I went through that experience, but I came out of it with testimony intact. I might have future experiences where my testimony is threatened. It’s one thing if they read up and still don’t understand. That’s life and learning. And if they still have questions, then I can understand that. But when in a person isn’t willing to read a few quality articles on the subject, it shows an insistence on losing one’s testimony.

  33. #28 – Holden, thanks for that laugh.

    Brjones, in general, I believe any large organization that is comprised of people who see things in very different ways simply has to walk a very difficult tightrope. That might sound like an equivocation, but try to see it from the standpoint of knowing people are analyzing every single word you speak – often in ways that are different than (and sometimes even diametrically opposed to) your own perspective. In those situations, knowing that the majority of your listeners are NOT looking for nuance and intellectual understanding but rather simply answers, the tendency is to give more simplistic answers and let those who crave deeper understanding seek for and find it on their own.

    I understand completely why the majority of talks and statements come across as more black-and-white than gray. I do it all the time in my own talks and speeches – both at church and professionally. I try to add disclaimers as much as I can, but when it comes down to it, most people don’t want to listen to “experts” who open more questions than they answer; most people want to listen to experts to be told what the answers are. (and, let’s face it, most members (of ANY religion or denomination) see leaders at all levels as “experts” to some degree or another)

    What fascinates me, and the point I think Hawk was making in the last paragraph of #20, is that there really are lots of nuanced views and interpretations when you listen to or read the entire collection of talks given by the apostles and Prophets – even in a single General Conference each year. You have Pres. Packer, but you also have Elder Wirthlin, for example – and there are more “Wirthlin-esque” talks than “Packer-esque” talks in many sessions. It’s just that the “Packer-esque” talks stand out so much that the “Wirthlin-esque” talks kind of fade away from our active memories.

  34. Post


    Most of the time, Correlation drives me nuts. But it does serve a useful purpose in certain situations, so I don’t view it as a completely evil thing either. I think we see the problems with uncorrelated theology–people like Hiram Page recording revelations, strange doctrines that we no longer support, fractious leadership, etc. What solution do you propose to alleviate these uncorrelated problems?

    Russell, while I generally agree with many of your points, your tone could be less confrontational.

  35. Post

    I wanted to add one other interesting tidbit since “milk before meat” was mentioned. There was a recent article in Mormon Times talking about a muslim attending BYU. Here was his advice for mormons.

    “Be ambassadors of your faith,” he said, “But when people ask about Mormons, don’t go straight to the deep doctrine and history. Talk instead about the family and the principles.”

    So maybe milk before meat is a more universally accepted good idea?

  36. re 20:

    now, the question is…does history exist as a thing in itself? I don’t think it does, so “history is neutral, but the narrators are always biased” doesn’t cut it. The narrators are part and parcel of history, so we can’t divorce history from narrators. We can only pick narrators or aggregate them or something like that.

    re 22:

    As I wrote my comment, I thought about that very same thing that you brought up (so we are pretty close on the same wavelength, which is pretty cool :D). It has seemed for quite a while that race positions were “entrenched” and “unchangeable,” but indeed they changed…so I guess it’s fallacious to think the same couldn’t happen for another seemingly immutable event. At the same time, I recognize that it’s a matter of time…it’s a matter of, as you said, things becoming socially or politically expedient enough. And my issue is…this time could be a year…10 years…50 years…what do people do today? tomorrow? this week? They still live their lives.

    re 39:

    drats. I wanted to bring up my beef with milk before meat (pun…not intended), but brjones got to it first while i was away.

    The thing is…what kind of milk before meat are we talking about.

    I think that the milk before meat that you quoted is a good idea. Talk about first principles…talk about good things like family, etc.,

    But…I dislike this idea of milk before meat that goes, “The truth is too much, so tell them a version that completely omits very relevant details until their faith is stronger.” So, we need not talk about Joseph Smith’s polygamy because that is not a first principle. But if we’re going to have all sorts of stuff about Emma Smith, we shouldn’t pretend that she was the only one. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve had lessons about polygamy that have made it seem like JS never did it, BY practiced it but it wasn’t very common among the brethren, etc., This is needless omission.

  37. Russell, I think it’s great when someone can investigate church history and come away with a stronger testimony. In a previous post you went to a fair amount of work to share the real history of the Sweetwater rescue. (I’m assuming that was you.) Your conclusions were reflective of someone who doesn’t take things at face value. Yet you contend that anyone who studies church history should come away with all the answers they need to continue believing. You’ll forgive me for thinking that you seem to pick and choose what parts of history you’re willing to hold up to the light.

    I actually greatly appreciate your post as you’re helping me see my own flawed thinking. You see, I would have said just the opposite. I might have said that anyone of average intelligence who studies the historicity of the BoM, BoA, or the historical records of polygamy, polyandry, failed prophesies, many of the things BY taught, and a host of other issues would of necessity come away with the conclusion that it was anything but divine or true. In other words, I would be the jerk in inferring that you’re just bent on believing no-matter what evidence is placed in front of you. I could even get insulting and state that not seeing the truth about the LDS religions shows a certain lack of intellectual integrity and therefore not worthy of my trust.

    I now know that the world is just not that simple and therefore beliefs come down to respect. Members of the church love people who investigate themselves into the church but hate those that investigate themselves out. In reality, both types of people are being true to themselves and therefore shouldn’t be criticized.

    I try very hard to live in the middle gray area despite my tendency to black and white thinking. It’s a huge struggle for me and not one I’m practically proud of. Thanks for helping me hold up a mirror and see how arrogant and wrong it is to judge what someone else decides as truth through my distorted lens.

    May God bless all of us black and white thinking jerks!

  38. 38 – Mormon Heretic – Honestly, I don’t propose any solution to the problem of correlation. I don’t think it’s a problem that calls for a solution, I just think it’s a problem. I think it’s a particular problem for a church that claims to have been divinely led for every minute of its existence. From a practical standpoint, do I see the church’s problem? Of course. There are things in its past that simply don’t fit and won’t do in this day and age. I get that. But the idea that the way to remedy that problem is to simply go back and flat out re-write revelations, without attribution, when at a later date you want to do something that an early revelation doesn’t provide for, is unbelievable. Similarly, the church today just writes off teachings or events that it doesn’t feel like embracing or acknowledging anymore. And there are much more significant examples of this than Hiram Page. Half of Brigham Young’s repitoire has been disclaimed by the modern church. My point is, it’s difficult to claim that you’re a divinely led church, and that you have always been, when you’ve got a consistency problem running throughout the entire history of your church. Any other organization, in any other context, would be absolutely excoriated for brazenly cherrypicking and in many instances, blatantly re-writing its history, the way the church has done routinely, and rightly so. It’s absurd. So while from a problem solving standpoint, I understand the expediency of doing so, it’s frustrating that believers can so easily gloss over something that to me seems to be a significant problem. At the end of the day, I guess it always comes back to faith. Believers believe that everything the church has done has been done at the direction of, or at least in accordance with god’s will. But I think anyone trying to reconcile the church’s history should make that disclaimer up front, and not make any pretense at establishing any kind of objective explanation.

    And speaking of that point, I think this applies to some of Russell’s statements. I think I understand your point about not feeling sympathy for people who let the church’s history drive them out of the church. The bottom line for someone who leaves the church is always that they chose to leave. One issue I have with your statements, though, is that you said that the information to “understand” the “oddities” is readily available to anyone who wants to find it. This statement assumes an awful lot. First of all I would argue that many of the issues in the church’s history cannot be correctly labeled as oddities. Joseph Smith took married women as his wives. He told them they would be disobeying god, and that they would be risking their salvation and that of their families if they refused. He instructed them to lie to their husbands. He repeatedly lied to his wife. He lied to the church. He lied to the public. These are undisputed, historical facts. It is insulting to anyone who has discomfort with these facts to call them oddities. In any kind of objective analysis of a human being, these would be pertinent facts. I don’t believe that a member, learning of this kind of history, is interested in reading apologist material that helps them “understand” this history. They are interested in finding materials that discredit these stories; that restore the air of reverence and purity that the church has bestowed on this man since they first learned of him in nursery. The fact is, nothing like that exists, because the stories are true. Please forgive them if they are not fully placated by an essay written by a biased and unobjective mormon apologist. And unless you care to dispute the truth of the above statements, I would argue that that is all you have to offer. The fact is, there are only two possible explanations for Joseph Smith’s behavior in this regard. 1) he was following god’s commands, and he is personally blameless for his actions or their consequences; or 2) he was acting outside god’s commands, and he is responsible for his actions. Either way, although he may still have been a prophet, how can you honestly not see that neither of these are comforting alternatives to a person seeking comfort? If you have never been given pause by anything in the church’s past, that’s wonderful. You’re a person of great faith. Surely, though, you can understand that not everyone has such perfect faith, and the idea that there is a simple explanation for everything in the church’s history if you’ll just bother to open your eyes is both condescending, and frankly, inaccurate. There may be explanations, but they’re far from simple. A little compassion may actually be in order.

  39. #10 Mormon Heretic – It’s been said that the church presents a correlated view of church history and it’s true to an extent. I’ve never heard a leader say that the church has ever done anything wrong. Eyring’s apology for the MMM was an apology for the actions of the local leadership only.
    Many people, myself included, have felt that the church has only presented one side of any given issue. This constitutes a half truth which many, myself included, is the worst kind of lie that exists.
    I have often wondered what people and the church leadership is so afraid of. Is it such heresy to believe that latter day prophets are mortal men and are subject to all of the temptations that everyone else is? Is it so difficult to believe that mistakes happen? The conventional wisdom is that if someone studies church history too much, the testimony will be damaged. If that is the case, it would appear that this person’s testimony is rooted in the church as an earthly organization and not in the restored gospel. If this is the case, it’s a huge problem not only for the individual but for the church as a whole.
    In my opinion, the way people react to the information or “the historical facts” as they are called, is a function of their testimony. The raving apologists feel as if they have been backed into a corner and are acting accordingly.

    #13 Scottie – I agree. The complete details of the study are curiously omitted here. I’ve been involved in scientific research from time to time. What you have here is a biased study from a church sponsored institution. It is unreasonable to believe that there is no bias or church influence in the study.

    Andrew S. – You’re the man. I agree. There are two fundamental sides to Mormonism. Religion and culture. What you’ve said about culture is right on the money. I grew up in the Midwest. There, Mormonism is a religion, but now that I’m in the “corridor” I’ve learned about the culture side of it. Quite the difference in the two. In the religion, we are not ashamed of the eternal truths taught by the modern day prophets, in the culture we are. I am both disturbed and embarrassed by this cultural perception. We should never be ashamed of the gospel. Never.

  40. Sadly, my tone always gets the best of me on this particular issue. *sigh* (insert sacrament meeting talk voice) to any whom I have offended, I offer a sincere apology.

    I fully sympathize with those who experience ambiguity, struggle with it, and continue onward. I can even sympathize with folks who stumble along the way, but still try to stumble forward. It’s the folks who have the knee-jerk negative reactions at the first sign of ambiguity…who don’t even try to leave room for faith that try my patience. They equate a lack of information with a concerted effort to keep them in ignorance.

    Anyway, I guess this is my version of a historian’s emo-time. Thanks for listening.

  41. Post

    Brjones and Shadow,

    I wish I knew more about Armaund Mauss, but I’m going to attempt to add some things here and hope I don’t screw it up too badly.

    If we look at some of the early schismatic groups: Strangites, Bickertonites, even CoC, etc, we see that the groups who failed to correlate their message, are certainly not as healthy of an organization, as say the LDS church. Now I know the end doesn’t justify the means, and I’m not trying to say that correlation is the right thing to do. But, in terms of institutional viability, correlation definitely creates a much healthier organization.

    Now, are you saying that you’d rather the church went the way of the dodo as an attempt to maintain institutional integrity? Committing suicide, or at least maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle, doesn’t seem a rational answer for an institution, IMO. It seems to me the church (as an institution) goes through fits and starts to be more open about its history, and I hope you would find it encouraging when the church makes positive steps toward openness (like the 70’s and today.) But to expect the church (or any institution) to act in its own worst interest just doesn’t seem like a rational way to act. While I understand your frustrations with correlation (and I share them), your “no answer” is an unhealthy answer for an institution’s viability. As such, this “no answer” isn’t a rational answer for an institution, IMO.

    At the moment, I’m in the odd position of trying to defend correlation–usually I’m one of the people who wishes correlation would go away. I guess I’m trying to be more gray, than black and white on this subject.

  42. Russell’s comments have brought to the front of my mind a question I have had for some time. Russell acts like it is noble and honorable to learn what could be a disturbing fact for many, (e.g., Brigham Young teaching that Christ’s atonement wasn’t good enough for them, Brigham Young telling a married man to find a new wife because his wife was now Brigham’s, Joseph Smith lying about his wives, Joseph Smith defying the laws of Ohio in setting up a bank and then subsequently ripping everyone off, Brigham Young teaching that monogamous marriage is a pernicious evil created by the Romans in direct contradiction to the Book of Mormon, etc., etc.), and then dismissing it and not letting it fester and bother you because you: deny it or find some factoid to justify it or simply push it out of your brain because hey, those were different times back then or they were under a lot of pressure from satan or god commanded it and his ways are not our ways.

    Do you realize how ridiculous you sound? And you call this faith? One has faith, therefore he disregards all logical conclusions. Faith is suspending logic. Faith is believing something you can’t see. And my question is this: WHY IS FAITH A GOOD THING? I used to revere people of faith. I used to be a person of faith and I strove to have more of it. WHY? Why would anyone want to suspend logic? Why is that a good thing? Russell, I am supposed to be proud of you because you can find a way to make any disturbing fact about the church benign? Why would I be proud of someone who is so closed minded that they are loyal to men and an institution no matter what they did?

    Let me clarify I mean no offense to Russell, I am just trying to make a point. I have no desire to offend Russell because I used to be, and was for 30 years, 100% loyal to the church. And it took a lot to even be willing to honestly ask myself, could it NOT be true? I mean, my faith or testimony or whatever you want to call it was so ingrained in me that I could not even fathom the possibility that it wasn’t true. And let me also state for the record, it might be true, it might not be true, I can admit I do not know, and I would equally assert that none of you know, either.

    Let me put it this way. If a man of Joseph Smith’s character wanted to marry your daughter, and you were privy to his true history, I would be ashamed of you if you permitted it based on faith in spite of all the evidence of his character. Hmmm….I wonder what Emma’s father thought? Oh yeah, that’s clear. My point is, we have eyes, we should use them. We have the ability to reason, we should use it. I no longer respect and honor people who ignore what a rational mind would say in favor of faith.

    By your fruits ye shall know them.

    What has faith gotten us in this world? People have faith in a million different things. In my opinion, it just creates a separation from logic, which I already discussed, and a separation from each other. It becomes just another reason to separate ourselves from our neighbors. I’m a believer, he isn’t. I’m a muslim, he is a hindu, he is a jew, she is a baptist. It creates another division among people when we already have too many. And this is not mentioning the MILLIONS of people who have died because of their religious views. Thank goodness for faith!

    Even if we assume the Church is true for a moment, faith is still, in my opinion a harmful thing. How many mormons are there in the world? 12 million? So 12 million have faith that is actually based in something real, and that’s a stretch because we all know at best half of the members actually believe and live the religion. But even giving 12 million who have faith based in truth, that means the other 6 and a half billion people on earth have no faith or have faith in something that isn’t true. So they are suspending logic based on a faith that is based on something that doesn’t exist. Sure, a muslim can have faith in his religion, which all mormons would say is not true, but he could have faith in the real god and feel his love. That is true. But if he came to the realization that his faith was based on a religion that isn’t true, and every true mormon feels that his religion is not true, you think it will be a wonderfully comforting thing for him to learn that the god he believed in is still there but EVERYTHING else about his religion was simply created by man? I don’t think so. So even if the church is true, .0018% of the people on earth have faith in something real. Hooray!!

    We would be better off using our ability to reason, and using our eyes to see the world as it truly is: a place with a full spectrum of color and a place where we are all equals. Instead of focusing our brains on suspending logic to believe in an unseen god, why don’t we use our energies to lift each other up and support each other just in case we truly are alone and just in case there is no one behind the curtain providing comfort to the lonely.

  43. The gift of knowledge comes to some by way of the Holy Ghost. The more I learn, the stronger my testimony. I think that there are many members and other Christians who are blind to the scriptures and the history and the doctrine and the gospel. They go to church out of habit, out of fear, out of tradition, out of social reasons. I go because I believe and I believe because my mind has been made into an aid to my heart and soul.
    Understanding and Knowing are two of the biggest blessings I have ever received. And the things I don’t get, are not urgent in my life in progressing in faith and worthiness. the Bible and to some extent the BOM, is full of bizarre stories. It doesn’t make me doubt my commitnent to the Church of Jesus Christ. I continue to seek knowledge.

  44. Scottie, my only response is that you are lumping everyone who chooses to believe the unprovable into one category – even though you yourself believe the unprovable.

    We all believe the unprovable. I believe what I want to believe; you believe what you want to believe; everyone else believes what they want to believe. Each one of believes something that MANY other people believe is ludicrous. Let’s at least leave open the possibility that everybody who disagree with us aren’t deluded imbeciles. OK?

  45. Post


    I just did a post on the Kirtland Bank Failure. Your representation of Joseph “ripping off” followers is just as guilty of omitting pertinent facts as the church’s correlated history. Please practice what you preach here, and don’t fall into the same pernicious trap you see with the church.

  46. In fairness to the discussion, there is nothing faith promoting in finding out that you’ve been fed a line of correlated history that bears little resemblance the actual undisputed facts. For many of us, our initial research into church history began while still being quite believing and just seeking to find an answer to some troubling question someone brought up.

    For me, that first question revolved around Oliver Cowdery’s denunciation of Joseph Smith’s “dirty filthy affair” with Fanny Alger. He stated that he had been visited by the Savior and told personally that this “affair” had caused JS to become a fallen prophet. He told the Saints that if they believed his witness of the BoM then they should believe this as well as he was just as sure of both visions.

    I went looking for the answer to this piece of history fully confident that I would find something from FAIR or FARMS assuring me that the things I had been told were made up lies by anti-Mormons seeking to destroy the church. Imagine my surprise when what I found validated what I had been told and the official church response was that JS had indeed secretly married Fanny Alger sometime in 1835 or before and then all kinds of explanations of why that was ok. The more I studied issues the more I found explanations of why the history was ok despite what the evidence looked like, instead of reconfirming the correlated history we all get taught. In other words, now that you’ve grown up and found out we haven’t been totally open with you, here’s an explanation for why you shouldn’t let this bother you. (“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” I got that from an old Star Trek episode…what a geek I was in the 60’s)

    I don’t believe any of you can honestly say that studying “uncorrelated” church history provided a stronger foundation for your testimony. I’ll buy the argument that learning uncomfortable things and then finding some type of explanation to sooth your doubts helped you in some way, but I can’t believe anyone would be thrilled with finding out they’d been intentionally deceived. (Milk before the meet, so to say.)

    Here’s the important part of my post, so if you’re bothered by what’s written above then ignore that and just hear me now. People like Scottie, Joe, Brjones, and I didn’t like the taste of the kool-aid. For us, the apologetic answers haven’t removed the feelings of hurt from not being trusted with the truth. John Dehlin first started these websites as a place for people like us to explore these problematic issues of history and discover we weren’t alone. The first step to helping folks like us back is to validate that we have good reason to be upset with some of the church’s past. There are parts of our history that should bother anyone, no-matter how strong you think your testimony is. Until the church can do that, many of us will continue to move away from it…

  47. I don’t believe any of you can honestly say that studying “uncorrelated” church history provided a stronger foundation for your testimony.

    Doug, I understand and agree with pretty much everything you just said, except for the sentence I just quoted. If you can’t believe a deep study of the history strengthened my overall testimony, then there’s no point in me saying it and being considered a liar.

    That’s the irony, frankly. I can understand and admit openly that your concerns and responses are valid and legitimate and understandable. I’ve never denied that or stated otherwise. I’ve always said each person needs to pursue the path that resonates with him or her personally and allow all others the same privilege, no matter where that takes them. I disagree personally with your foundational conclusions in many cases, but I don’t think you are dishonest or blind or evil or duped or any other negative description. I simply think you see things differently than I do.

    Again, I understand your perspective; it simply isn’t mine – and I would never question your honesty when you express yours.

  48. re 46 (MH):

    I guess the discussion is kinda leading to some longer comments, but I will say.

    I completely agree that correlation creates stronger institutional viability. As I have studied a little bit about organizational structure and proper management techniques, I become more and more amazed that the church, institutionally, is solid, and especially in comparison to other groups (Community of Christ, other splinter groups), the church has things done well.

    However…institutional viability has little to do with the theology or spirituality or truthfulness of a group or its claims. If we begin to make allowances for the church that work in the vein of “institutional viability” that are working at odds with proper spiritual development, then isn’t it possible that one day, we could find the church being just like any other company, following whatever management fads are “best practices” but not really doing much in any sense of the “spirit”?

  49. Re 51:

    Doug G, that’s why way back in 6, I think I brought up the idea that the church might benefit from just telling people things straight up. Obviously, it can still use milk before meat, but there’s a difference between putting first things first and second things second and deceiving or grossly misrepresenting or omitting.

    Now…on your implied point that was brought up just a little bit (that is, “there are parts of our history that should bother anyone,”) perhaps that is so…but people have believed things with more tenuous or shady history.

  50. Let me be clear:

    As part of my study of Manifest Destiny in college for my thesis, I read most of the anti-Mormon literature of the 1800’s. Since then, I’ve read much more – and I’ve considered every issue imaginable. My beliefs are stronger now than they were as a college student.

    Call me a liar or deceived if you want; I am neither. I made a conscious choice to believe (even though that has led to quite a few unique, heterodox beliefs), and I have no regrets about that choice. I really do believe I am stronger and happier for it.

  51. “Doug, I understand and agree with pretty much everything you just said, except for the sentence I just quoted. If you can’t believe a deep study of the history strengthened my overall testimony, then there’s no point in me saying it and being considered a liar”

    Ray, I did say that it was just my belief. 🙂

    I don’t consider you a liar at all Ray; as a matter of fact I see lots of consistency in your comments going way back. Therefore, if you tell me an in-depth study of “uncorrelated” church history strengthened your testimony then I’ll believe you. Having said that, I think you would be the exception to the rule and not the norm. As Hawkgrrrl quoted, “some just have a believing heart”… I guess that would be you.

    More to the point, some of us would have faired better had we been given the factual history up front. For example, I was discussing the BoM translation process with a good friend. He wasn’t bothered at all about the “head in the hat” thing with Reformed Egyptian characters appearing in the stones and the English translation underneath. His comment to me was, “well if I was willing to swallow the bit about an angle giving JS the plates and then spiriting them away as soon as the process was complete. Why would I be bothered with the characters being broadcast to the hat and then an English translation provided?” I guess he has a point, but for me, I would have done much better had someone gave me those details upfront instead of insinuating that he looked through some kind of crystals, mounted on a breastplate, at the golden plates and saw the English equivalent of the Egyptian character. The same can be said with most of the other restoration stories.

    Sorry Ray, no insult was intended…

  52. More to the point, some of us would have fared better had we been given the factual history up front.

    Amen, Doug. Amen.

    Fwiw, I don’t mind a correlated history (since an uncorrelated history would be so cumbersome as to be impossible for most people to even consider trying to understand – as well as practically impossible to compile), but I also believe in being open about the uncorrelated details – and trying hard not to be intentionally false in the correlated version. Leaving out something is one thing (again, since what can be studied in limited class times is . . . well, limited); intentionally changing things to factually incorrect descriptions is quite another – and that has happened, although not as often as most harsh critics believe, imo.

  53. Andrew,

    “Now…on your implied point that was brought up just a little bit (that is, “there are parts of our history that should bother anyone,”) perhaps that is so…but people have believed things with more tenuous or shady history.”

    I absolutely agree with your premise. Not to take shots at other religions, but the Jewish law of stoning someone for any number transgressions and believing god demanded it is troublesome. History is full of people believing and practicing insane things, so I certainly won’t argue your point about there being harder things to swallow and yet folks believe it.

    Of course we are fairly critical of other religions strange beliefs as well. As a missionary we didn’t have anything good to say about Scientology, JW’s, or Seventh Day of Adventist’s. We thought they all had tenuous or shady histories and were amazed that anyone would believe such nonsense. I guess I should have considered the mote in my own eye…

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  55. Post

    Andrew (#53)

    I think you’ve stated the paradox quite well, and I believe this is the sort of tightrope that Givens specifically addresses. On the one hand, all religions claim to be directed by God. God uses “righteous” men to convey his word. Upon closer examination, many of these “righteous” men seem to be doing things not of God’s will. Apologists and Moderates insist that God uses imperfect people, who make mistakes. Skeptics and Antagonists agree with that people make mistakes, but view these mistakes as too big of a chasm to accept the religion. While I’d hope people would remain Moderates rather than Skeptics, I have real problems with the Apologists and Antagonists.

  56. Scottie:

    Incidentally, I would be the last person to tell someone that they should just forget about a point of ambiguity or historical question. It’s not what I did, and I never said that I did. I had to go through a grueling process…but I kept at it. And I only say that b/c I’m convinced everyone can come to some knowledge that will keep them in the Church. I just spent some time with a prominent individual in the liberal Mormon community who espouses a fair number of “radical” views. But I pay him respect b/c he’s put in grunt work to determine those radical views…and he’s found a way to do it and stay in the Church.

    So I *do* see intellectual persistence as a virtue. If a person is aware of an issue and doesn’t take it into account in his/her worldview, then I don’t see that as a virtue. Just to clarify.

  57. re: 59

    Is your use of the term “moderate” an idiosyncracy of yours, just a way for you to distinguish between believers and nonbelievers, or do you suggest that skepticism essentially is a disparate position from moderation?

    Just curious here…

  58. Andrew, in my comment #10, I talked about how 4 groups handle church history, and tried to show a continuum. As the discussion got going, I decided to name them, so I probably should better define them (though I present them here in a different order than my comment 10, and I’ll number them slightly different than I did above). Groups 1 and 2 refer to Believers, while 3 and 4 are Unbelievers. Group 1 is the raging apologists, who excuse all past actions. Group 2 are moderates, who try to call a spade a spade, while maintaining belief. Group 3 are Skeptics, who are similar to moderates, except they are Unbelivers. Group 4 are Antagonists, and make just as wild accusations as the raging apologists. So I see 1 & 4 as polar opposites, and 2 & 3 quite similar. I would say I’m in group 2 (Moderate), and Andrew is Group 3 (Skeptic). I think we agree quite a bit.

    Of course, there are probably 2 other groups: Believers and Unbelievers who don’t know the history at all.

  59. That’s fine, MH. I guess I was just curious that the only ones who can “call a spade a spade” and are “moderates” are those who can also maintain belief in the process. It’s not a critical point.

  60. Post
  61. Andrew S
    Mar 6th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    “I mean, if these issues were approached early on (and it doesn’t have to be in full detail, obviously, but people should at least KNOW of them)”

    I understand that Andrews comments ultimately favor pro disclosure towards Church history, but he also includes a brief caveat which is not atypical to a lot of rhetoric from Church members: “and it doesn’t have to be in full detail…”.
    I would just like to ask, why not? If those things which can be excluded are among an irrelevant class of data, such as what color were Joseph Smith shoes, I guess I agree. In it’s usual employment, this type of rhetoric is code for avoid the controvery. It, appears that Andrew would prefer to have it briefly discussed and then swept aside. Why shouln’t a person who is considering joining the LDS Church, and in consequence committing their time and resources in abundance, be presented with the whole story so that they may make an informed decision. If we are confident that the Church is true, won’t the truth of it speak for itself, particularly, if according to doctrine, the Holy Ghost is instilling a partical of his spirit into the hearts of the elect. I understand, milk before meat, and putting information and learning into the proper context and building from foundations, even still this should not be used as a defense for completely re-writing history in some cases. Misinformation, either stated or implied, is never justified under milk before meat.

  62. Post


    Let me ask you a few questions. Should a person who is considering joining the Catholic Church also learn all issues of the Crusades before joining? Should they be led through Da Vinci Code issues? Should they be aware that one pope dug up the previous pope’s body, and put him on trial? Do they go through the Galileo trial in detail? Should they be forced to learn all the Church Councils (Nicene Council, etc)?

    What issues should a person go through in detail? Who decides this–you?

  63. re 66:

    What I mean is *early on*, we don’t have to tell a new member, “joseph smith had xxxx wives and these were each of their names and blah blah blah.”

    However, we shouldn’t pretend as if Joseph Smith and Emma were two peas (alone) in a pod. Issues to be approached early on should be that yes, Joseph Smith also practiced polygamy. So, if you accept him as a prophet, then accept this part as well. Don’t be ignorant.

    My comment hearkens back to the spirit of comment 39, about what the one Muslim said about how Mormons should discuss the church.

    I am, of course, not for rewriting of history. I am not for misinformation. But there is a difference between openly providing all correct information when the time is right and just spewing it all at once when a person is not prepared to understand it all.

    I’m going to provide a poor analogy (because I don’t think investigators to the church are children), but here goes. If a parent is going through some rough financial patch, he or she might tell his child that money is tight (so this is not full disclosure, but it is not misinformation). He doesn’t necessarily have to tell the kid all the odds and ends about the financial trouble, because it would be too much information and would probably be misinterpreted. For the parent to discuss the issues more generically is still truthful, but it isn’t full disclosure. What I am against is the parent saying, “Oh little Jimmy, we have no problems at all ^_^” which *is* misinformation.

  64. “be presented with the whole story” I think the other issue with so-called full disclosure is that it’s not as if it’s an open and shut case with a concrete set of facts. There are many views on JS. As they say, his name is had for both good and bad. While I am not in favor of white-washing at all, I would also caution against smearing. JS was a highly flawed individual who was both loved and reviled by those around him. Telling the “whole story” is really telling hundreds of partial stories. I suppose reading the 900 page JS papers is a start, but what investigator is going to do that? Do we spend that much effort trying to get inside Jesus’ head or the 12 apostles? But in their case, there is little reliable evidence.

  65. re 67

    This is a very valid point. Never in any job interview I’ve ever been involved in did the company go through all the sordid or negative aspects of the company’s past history. No organization, or person for that matter, would ever do that. I don’t really expect that the church should lay out the entire picture. My problem isn’t just that I wasn’t told all the negatives about the church growing up. If the church merely presented one side of the story, I would be more ok with it. The problem is that the church has altered and whitewashed its history so severely, that it isn’t really just an omission of negative facts. In my opinion, it amounts to intentional falsehoods. What’s worse, they have developed a system of protecting themselves from being found out in their lies on a large scale, by commanding members not to indulge in or read any materials that would tend to weaken their testimony. According to several members of the 12, this includes true facts. So they lie, and if you read it you’re disobeying the lord.

    An additionl problem I have is that the church decided of its own accord to make its and Joseph Smith’s histories central selling points of the church. Church history is obviously in the rotation of annual lesson plans and the church promotes and proclaims the faith building nature of its history at every opportunity. This makes the fact of the revisionist nature of their history even more appalling. It’s not like they just omit facts when asked. They are out actively and aggressively pimping their history, knowing full well that what they’re selling is not close to the entire truth. Is it really unreasonable for someone who has grown up in the church to feel betrayed or angry when learning the truth of the church’s history? I went into another country and sold a religion, including its history, that I knew nothing about, and that by design. I can’t tell you how many people told me negative stories or incidents about Joseph Smith or events in church history while I was serving my mission. I called those people liars. I condemned those people. Only to find out, they were the ones telling the truth and I was the one who was lying. This is not incidental to the program. This IS the program. The church made me complicit in their lies, and I am disgusted by it.

    So while I agree with your point, MH, that the church doesn’t have an obligation to come out with every negative detail of its past, I think through its own actions it has more than opened itself up to the charge that it has deceived its members, and knowingly continues to do so. And I would argue that to the extent that the church wants to make its history a spiritual selling point, it is unbelievably dishonest to omit facts from that history that would tend to diminish faith in the church.

  66. Mormon Heretic:

    I think I understand your question, and even admit that it presents a reasonable debate to my argument. Using the Catholic Church in this case is instructive because we are dealing with almost 1700 years of history. Let me clarify, my point with this, I can accept that the Church (any Church) would want to put the best foot forward when presenting it’s case. The first question we should ask when presenting the Gospel (or any product) is, is there anything which I am witholding that a reasonable person would want to know in order to make this decision. For example, in the former Missionary discussions we specifically teach about the principle of eternal families. Well, within an eternal context what is an eternal family? Monogamy, polygamy, etc. Usually when I ask this question I am told, well we don’t really know – yet, section 132 still remains. How would the pitch work if we were to say:

    “you know Mr. Jones, one of the messages we have come to share is that families can be together forever through the Priesthood. So even after your death you can still have your wife and children, but even more you will be able to have other wives as well by virtue of a principle Joseph Smith called Celestial Marriage”.

    Would that be relevant to someone wanting to join the Church? What about the translation of the Gold plates? We place so much emphasis on the story of Moroni, and Joseph Smith’s account of getting them, yet do we ever hear of the seer stone? By all accounts Joseph appears to have translated more with that instrument than the Urim and Thummim, but we completely sidestep the miraculous story of how Joseph obtained that instrument. When we talk about things like, why did Issac Hale reject Joseph’s message, we fail to mention that his actual arguments were born out of a distaste for the treasure seeking enterprise. Rather we characterize him as just faithless in the lessons and manuals.

    So in essence, I think it is a balancing act. I believe has a right to paint a picture that is positively recieved by the public. This notwithstanding, that does not mean that they can just completely re-write, or ignore relevant points of fact. And at the end of the day I believe the same goes for the Catholic Church. They have every bit as much responsibility for representing the historical truths of their Church and faith as anybody else. Many of us at times will try and defend the controversies, or the concealment of them, by dismissing them as personal faults. Boyd K. Packer said that speaking of these items was akin to gossip. We are not referencing times when Joseph may have kicked his dog, or was a little rude with a cashier. Polygamy was not a personal fault because it was intrinsically tied to his calling as a Prophet. Treasure seeking was not a foible of youth, because it’s relationship to the translation brought forth The Book of Mormon.

  67. Post

    I’ve got to agree with Andrew S and Hawkgrrrl. I like Andrew’s approach about giving a little nibble, and his analogy about talking to kids about finances. I think that is a good approach. Hawkgrrrl’s point is well taken that there is not truly objective history out there.

    Regarding Brjones question, Is it really unreasonable for someone who has grown up in the church to feel betrayed or angry when learning the truth of the church’s history?

    Yes and no. I guess my answer is that it depends on how emotional your reaction is. I can understand and empathize with those like you who feel betrayed. My mission experiences sound very similar to yours. Perhaps I am not as emotional as you. So it is reasonable that some people feel betrayed, and some do not. Everyone reacts differently. (I guess I’m more empathetic than some other commenters on this point.)

    When I wrote the post, I wanted to see how readers react. I think the church is trying to be more open than it has in the past. Perhaps it will get to the point that would please Brjones and Cowboy, but I don’t expect the church to make irrational changes in policy quickly–to do so would probably damage the viability of the church, and I don’t think that will happen. But I do like the direction the church is currently moving in, and I view this as a positive step. Perhaps gradual changes in the directions you propose will maintain institutional viability, and I would hope that you would welcome these “baby steps”. I think it is movement in the right direction.

  68. I don’t intend to be unrealistic by expecting the Church to do anything more than to tell it’s story from a positive angle. I do expect an organization which holds itself out as “The true Church” to be truthful with it’s history. A perfect example might be, race vs. polygamy. As far as I am aware, nothing doctrinally remains of the Church’s former position on blacks and the Priesthood. Jeffery R. Holland recently has stated that the official answer for the Priesthood ban is “we don’t know why the Lord commanded it”. I don’t know that this should be a necessary disclosure for someone contemplating joining Mormonism. I can find a number of logical problems with it’s history, but given the Church’s current teaching, outside of a conversation where this would have specific relevance, I wouldn’t expect the Church institutionally, or it’s members to disclose information regarding this topic unsolicited. Polygamy on the other hand does have relevance given our heavey emphasis on the family, eternal families, etc. Unless we are going to change the doctrine (again another path fraught with logical pitfalls), I would expect disclosure on whether that includes polygamy or not. Finally, and foremostly, printed literature. It is highly disingenuous to reprint any historical documents, letters, transcripts, etc, where the overall content has been altered sufficiently to change the original meaning and intent. This has largely been the case with the Priesthood and Relief Society manuals, which leads me to be suspicious of any historical work produced by the Church and Sunday School Committees. That is frankly the threshold where the individual perspectives on what is appropriate passes ambiguity and becomes fraud.

  69. Fwiw, in Gospel Doctrine yesterday the lesson was about Emma Smith. We talked about a lot of things, and the closing point was how brutally hard it was for Emma to accept plural marriage – presented by our female teacher as “a reaction I understand completely, since I struggle so much to understand and accept it myself”. She expressed gratitude that Emma is no longer seen as an apostate villain – that she now is honored in the Church. She said she wished the Church could make a public statement that Joseph and Emma are together now.

    This was Gospel Doctrine in a fairly conservative ward. Not a single member objected or seemed to object in any way.

  70. As I recall, Joseph’s journal for the day after Emma became aware of the revelation simply states (paraphrasing) “spent most of the day in conversation with Emma”……I imagine so.

  71. re 72.

    I think I always get myself into trouble by not clarifying my position. I’m not completely advocating that the church do anything drastically different at this point. Obviously I have issues with the Faithful History philosophy. I think it’s very unfortunate that the church changed directions the way it did in the ’80s. So I guess I would argue that they should be as forthcoming as they can be. That said, I completely understand that for the viability of the church as an organization, correlating the history was and is necessary. I think my point is more the fact that they have done these things at all, going all the way back to Joseph Smith’s almost serial revision of dozens of revelations to suit his later purposes, is a very relevant factor for a church that holds itself out as the only “true” church on earth.

    By the way, Cowboy, if the church refrained from publishing materials that have been
    altered sufficiently to change the original meaning and intent, it would have to cease publication of the Doctrine and Covenants.

  72. “By the way, Cowboy, if the church refrained from publishing materials that have been
    altered sufficiently to change the original meaning and intent, it would have to cease publication of the Doctrine and Covenants.”

    I am not aware of any material changes in The Doctrine & Covenants, other than name changes, etc. I am aware of arguments that demonstrate the convenience behind many of Joseph Smith’s revelations. That being said, I am not well versed on Church history as it relates to the D&C. What changes are you referring to that are askew of the intended meaning?

  73. While I’m not an expert on the subject, there were a substantial number of significant and, in my opinion, meaningful changes to revelations from their publication in the Book of Commandments to their subsequent publication in the Doctrine and Covenants.

  74. #78 – There were. The reasoning at the time generally was that “further light and knowledge” had changed Joseph’s understanding of the original concepts, so the revelations were updated to reflect that deeper understanding. I understand that such a claim can be very disturbing to those who believe God always speaks absolute truth whenever He communicates with prophets, but for those who don’t believe that standard of communication and accept on-going revelation that can change our fundamental understanding it’s much less of an issue – especially in a time when beliefs were changing regularly and quickly and radically, even within the Church.

  75. I think that’s a fair assessment of the diverging opinions on this subject, although for me, the problem is not so much that I have a problem with the concept of ongoing revelation. I do think it’s problematic, though, to suggest that god is speaking directly to the prophet, giving him revelations about a particular topic that are being duly recorded, and yet still at some subsequent date, those revelations have somehow become out of date or insufficient, so that they need supplementing or revision. If god is omniscient, and if he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (which is probably a topic for a separate post) then it’s puzzling that god apparently was either giving amazingly shortsighted revelations or Joseph Smith was consistently misinterpreting those revelations, which also seems suspect, considering many of the revelations were purportedly word for word dictations from god. But as has been said many times on this board, ultimately it comes down to whether you choose to believe or not.


    Most of you seem to be very educated regarding the history of the church, and not just the history of the church as taught by the church, but its true history. This question is for you.

    First, let me provide some background. I used to avoid any information on the church that did not come from a safe (the church itself or those trying to support the church) source. My understanding was to read so-called anti-mormon literature was wrong. Lately, I have changed my view on this matter but I feel that I am going against what the brethren counsel. But I no longer really care about their suggestions.

    I think we can all agree that the true history of the church has a lot of negative stories that put to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the church in not so flattering light.

    I think we can also agree that the church advises all NOT to read materials that would be deemed potentially damaging to your faith.

    So, for those who are totally loyal to the church, when did you decide you would delve into “anti-mormon” literature? Did you feel it was wrong? Do you feel the church counsel to avoid materials that could damage faith is inappropriate counsel?

    I would really like to know. Thanks.

  77. I’m not “totally loyal,” but I’d like to add something:

    there’s a difference between anti-Mormon literature and literature that simply is unflattering to the church.

    Anti-Mormon literature often is just as embarrassing and misinformational as some of the correlated blunder. However, you can find unflattering, yet truthful and fair church history from people who are still somewhat well-regarded by the church, so it’s not just a bunch of angry, spiteful people who tell the truth and everyone else lying.

  78. When did you decide you would delve into “anti-mormon” literature?

    During college, while writing my thesis.

    Did you feel it was wrong?


    Fwiw, there is a distinct difference in my mind between objective history, apologetics and anti-Mormon literature. I am 100% in favor of studying objective history (or reasonable approximations thereof), but I have no desire for most members to read truly anti-Mormon stuff. There really is a HUGE and important difference.

    Do you feel the church counsel to avoid materials that could damage faith is inappropriate counsel?

    Not at all, as a general rule that recognizes many people aren’t ready to move beyond a black-and-white perspective. I am all for those who can grow from a full search doing so, but I am not in favor of those who really are happier in a degree of blissful ignorance being forcibly ripped from their contentment. What bothers me the most about many people who truly are engaged in “anti-Mormon” activities (and Mormons who are engaged in “anti-non-Mormon” activities) is that they almost never care about the real and practical misery they leave in their wake by destroying a paradigm without being able to replace it with one that is equal in its ability to provide peace and purpose to those whom they leave shattered in their wake.

  79. I agree. The reason I defined it the way I did is because everyone has their own definition, it seems. I would characterize “anti-mormon literature” as writing which clearly has an axe to grind against the church and is not done in a professional manner. BUT, everyone I know seems to regard any document that does not assert the church as divine as “anti-mormon.” For example, I am reading “No Man Knows My History.” I don’t consider it to be pro or anti. Brody does not believe JS was a prophet, but it is not hateful conjecture like the stuff I consider to be truly anti-mormon. But all my active friends quickly characterize it as “anti-mormon.”

    So for purposes of my question, when I say “anti-mormon” literature I mean it as my friend mean it, anything NOT faith promoting.

  80. Post


    I just bought “No Man Knows my History”, but haven’t read it yet either. It’s on my to-do list. I understand your quandry, because most LDS don’t want to read, or are told not to read anything unflattering. I’m like you.

    I was called as Gospel Doctrine teacher about 15 years ago in a Singles’ Ward. My topic was Old Testament: first lesson was Isaiah. I was determined to add some information to the lessons, and started researching Catholic and Protestant interpretations of scripture, and was surprised to learn things like many believe Isaiah and the first 5 books of Moses (Genesis, Leviticus, etc) were written by multiple authors. I also became a big fan of the Mysteries of The Bible tv series on A&E. There’s plenty of cool stuff in there. I used to show clips of it during my 2nd stint as GD teacher a few years ago, though I think it made my bishop nervous.

    About 7 years ago, I attended the Nauvoo Temple Open House, and became truly fascinated by Nauvoo. My mom gave me a book written by an Institute teacher of mine (and my former bishop) talking about the family of Joseph Smith, the succession crisis, and goes into quite a bit of detail of the RLDS church. It was truly fascinating to me, and wasn’t published by Deseret Book.

    Anyway, I guess it was kind of gradual for me. About 3 years ago, I got an iPod, and discovered Mormon Stories podcast with John Dehlin (now retired website), and that’s when I truly started embracing uncorrelated materials. My blog has been an outlet for me to talk about topics that aren’t real Sunday School topics.

    I agree with Andrew–there’s plenty of good, truthful, yet unflattering material out there. The anti stuff is not worth reading.

  81. “So, for those who are totally loyal to the church, when did you decide you would delve into “anti-mormon” literature?” I frankly didn’t have much choice, growing up where I did. It was everywhere! Some of it was simply hateful bashing (e.g. pamphlets from competing ministers who wanted to promote their own views). But the historical information is simply out there. If you visited Palmyra, Kirtland, etc. back in the 70s and 80s, you were just exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints: seer stones, divining rods, JS’s incarceration, the polygamy conflicts, Kirtland bank scandal, Kinderhook plates, other Mormon factions’ views of the history, etc. With all that information, you have to take into account the source’s perspective and evaluate what the gaps in information are as well.

    “Did you feel it was wrong?” Some of it is very unhealthy stuff, but it really depends on how you handle this kind of information. I never considered Truman Madsen a credible alternative source because no one is the paragon he creates. Likewise, no one is the scoundrel some create. I just believe people are complex. I suppose we gravitate toward the narratives that resonate for us.

    “Do you feel the church counsel to avoid materials that could damage faith is inappropriate counsel?” I don’t feel it’s been damaging to me, but I had very early exposure. But I can see how easy it is to lose hope if you’ve got all your eggs in a certain basket, and you’ve built that notion up in your mind over time. And, the negative stuff is generally designed to “debunk” belief or as an exposé. You have to be skeptical about the source, whether the source is positive or negative, and critical of the content.

    Brodie’s book has been criticized by those with no dog in the fight as an attempt to promote her (now debunked) psychological theories; as a result, her biographies went out of vogue. Her view of JS assumes a lot about motives to promote those theories. But, there’s still interesting information in there. Bushman paints a different view of JS by not implying motives, but even so, the lack of motives makes JS seem confused (and not visionary) a lot of the time. They are looking at the same set of facts (although Bushman had a little more to work with, writing later), but their conclusions differ. That says more about the authors than their subject at the end of the day.

  82. I appreciate all the comments.

    I guess my follow-up question is this.

    I think we can agree that the brethren would say reading the objective history is wrong.

    So, how do you reconcile your desire to learn more with the counsel of the brethren in this regard?

  83. “No Man Knows My History” is a fairly dispassionate book, and it paved the way for “Rough Stone Rolling” – and others before that. I don’t agree with all of her conclusions, but I certainly don’t see it as “anti-Mormon”.

    To clarify, I don’t think reading anti-Mormon literature is wrong necessarily – for those who can do it somewhat dispassionately. I think LOTS of it is “wrong” – meaning both “inaccurate” and “of bad moral character”. I’ve read some real trash in my life within the category of anti-Mormon literature, and I think that stuff absolutely is “wrong”.

  84. Great comments about Brodie, Hawkgrrrl. It was pretty clear that she had a certain theory about the “why’s” and sometimes they were a stretch. That said, it’s frustrating that her book is considered to be such anti-mormon trash within the church, because, like you said, there’s a lot of good information in it. My parents went to great lengths to fill me in on all the criticisms of Brodie, even though they haven’t read the book. My response was simply that there is a lot of great objective history in the book which has never been disputed. I didn’t read the book for Brodie to tell me how to interpret the history; I can do that on my own. I just couldn’t find a lot of other sources to even present the history. That’s the irony of it all. If the church would present the information, they could frame it in the context that suited them and try to explain it. Because they’re not forthcoming, you’re forced to go out and find it elsewhere, from sources such as Brodie, and oftentimes sources that are even less flattering to the church. I would think it would be in their interest to make it available on their terms.

  85. I think we can agree that the brethren would say reading the objective history is wrong.

    No, we can’t. I think we can agree that the brethren would say that reading truly anti-Mormon stuff generally is not the right way to spend one’s time.

    Do you really think that “the Brethren” live in a bubble and don’t read “objective histories”? Bluntly, I find that belief ludicrous.

  86. I think the brethren would counsel members NOT to read Brodie’s book. Indeed, I think they have. So if Brodie’s book is obective history, I don’t understand your position, Ray.

    By the way, the brethren reading it themselves is completely irrelevant. I never asked what they do, only what they counsel. So spare me the “ludicrous” comments.

  87. Brjones: “If the church would present the information, they could frame it in the context that suited them and try to explain it. Because they’re not forthcoming, you’re forced to go out and find it elsewhere.” I haven’t read it yet, for obvious reasons, but the church is now touting the 900+ page Joseph Smith papers. I would think that’s the type of disclosure you are requesting. The problem is that 900+ pages may be comprehensive and unbiased (perhaps), but it’s daunting.

    The church doesn’t officially teach history, which is why so much of the context of the stories is just avoided. The “lessons” from history are just lifting stories out of history to make them relevant for application of gospel principles for members living today. Sharing the complexity of those stories renders them less useful as a tool for a gospel discussion, even if it does make them more real and accurate history.

  88. Scottie, I didn’t mean that as a personal attack – even though it did come across that way when I re-read it.

    What I’m saying is that I don’t think the brethren see Brodie as an objective writer. They probably see her, rightly, as an author who had a beef with the Church and with Joseph and who portrayed him in a certain way with which they disagree. They probably see her book as more “anti-Mormon” than I do, and they have a legitimate argument that is easy to make. I certainly don’t think it is “objective history” – as has been stated by others on this thread.

    Do you think they view “Rough Stone Rolling” as “objective history? Whether or not it is, I think they do. Do you think they would counsel members to not read it? I think they would not – that they would not say, “Don’t read Bushman.” In fact, since I think they see it as about as objective a work as there is, I think they would counsel members to read it – if they were asked to recommend a good, “objective” biography of Joseph.

    I object to the idea that “the brethren” don’t want members reading “objective history”. I really do think that’s ludicrous. Imo, the issue is not whether they would counsel to read “objective history” but rather how they define the term “objective history” – and, frankly, how that term actually should be defined.

  89. Post


    I think there is a big change going on right now. It seems that after the Camelot period, the church became much more closed about it’s history. Certainly the September 6 who were excommunicated/disfellowshipped (though not necessarily over mormon history) was a low point. I think that they have relaxed and become more open since Pres Hinckley became prophet.

    There is some new openness in the church, as evidenced by Elder Jensen’s comments at the top of the post–he certainly is one of “the brethren.” Richard Turley’s book on the MMM shows some new openness (I haven’t read it yet), and the JS Papers project does as well. Jensen mentioned the opening of the new Church History Library as a big event coming up as well.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Jensen has read Brodie’s book. My guess is that he wouldn’t publicly endorse/reject any book, but privately, I think that he’d probably say that Brodie’s book is ok if you have a strong testimony. If you don’t have a good background in church history and a weak testimony, he’d probably counsel against reading it.

  90. One more thing:

    I think the brethren are consistent in this regard with what they do and what they counsel. I think they read things (from all kinds of genres) that they feel are good and true and worthwhile and “objective”, and that is exactly what they counsel members to do. I don’t view them as hypocrites in this area, as your comments are pointing toward.

  91. Post

    As I understand the JS Papers, they are supposed to replicate actual source documents. Interpretation is supposed to be left for others, so theoretically, the church is just making church archives more accessible. Historians are then free to interpret them as they see fit.

  92. It is safe to say that Jensen would not endorse Brodie’s book since she was excommunicated as a result of it. As many books of history as I have read, I have chosen not to read that one. I don’t read anti-Mormon lit or for that matter anything from Deseret Book.

    While not a fan of fiction, I recommend Samuel Taylor’s Nightfall at Nauvoo.

  93. All historians tell stories. I think that’s all history is: the stories we tell about things that happened in the past. Good historians care about telling the most accurate stories they can. Anti-Mormons don’t care about telling the best (most accurate) stories. They care about telling stories that make the Church look bad. Period. Regarding any piece of Church history, if there are mitigating circumstances, alternative explanations, contexts that make the Church look less bad — the kinds of things good historians try to sort through to devise the truest stories — anti-Mormons will ignore them. (Indeed, in some cases they appear literally incapable of recognizing those kinds of things exist.) The truth is not in them.

    That’s why Fawn Brodie was not an anti-Mormon IMO. Even though No Man Knows My History can be devastating to the faith of LDS who accept its conclusions, I don’t think she wrote it to make the Church look bad. I think she wrote it to try to tell what she saw as the truest story she could. That makes her a historian, not an anti-Mormon.

  94. I’m going to shake things up.

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate and agree with people here who say that the General Authorities and the church would not want people reading objective histories. But I’ll use different reasons I don’t really believe the church is AGAINST objective histories, but I mean, we’ve had people say that history should be written with faith in mind. I’m too lazy to find the people who have pointed that out.

    But since I’m too lazy, I’ll let others have the first go at it and try to find the actual quotation and put the quotation in context.

  95. Post

    Ok Andrew, we’re even now. I found a great talk from Boyd K Packer on this subject.

    “That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith–A destroyer of faith–particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith–places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities.”

    The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect
    Elder Boyd K. Packer A talk given at the Fifth Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium, 22 August, 1981, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. For an official transcript see Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981.

    This website lists many of his points, and seems to me to have the full text, but I didn’t read the whole thing to be sure.

  96. From Elder Packer’s talk—“In an effort to be objective impartial, and scholarly a writer or a teacher may unwittingly be giving equal time to the adversary.”

    “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher Of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”

    That last line is extensively quoted. He is basically saying check your brain at the door. Live by faith alone. This is a great source for a quote that fit in the discussion. It is not a great talk for those who seek after truth.

    Synopsis—objective, impartial, scholarly-bad, faith-good.
    learning everything, learning truth-bad, faith-good.

    No thanks.

  97. Still going…remarkable.

    Interestingly, re: Packer’s famed talk, his oft-maligned quip about how “just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s useful” was not borne of his orthodox mind. You can thank Benjamin Franklin for it…for good or for ill.

    It’s old-hat by now, but I will note that by characterizing questions as either JS did/didn’t obey God probably would lead us away from the human figure that is Joseph. If we conclude that he did obey God, then it is tempting indeed to assume that his manner of execution was flawless as well. If we choose to believe that he didn’t, then we will have a hard time convincing ourselves that his actions were at all good.

    Every man is a complex tale. And each of us have many sides to us. I would certainly hope no one viewed me through that kind of lens, as I would almost certainly fail. The best way for us to address more open Mormon history is to allow the complexities of man, the dark side, to inform our spirituality as much as the great works of achievement.

  98. Russel

    I sound like a jerk when I say this, but I continue to maintain that I have little sympathy for those who allow history to undermine their testimonies. The information to understand the oddities is *so* ridiculously available that only a little research will produce worthwhile fruit.

    Even John Dehlin who is one of the sharpest guys on the planet didn’t know a ton of stuff and it set him back.

    I think information has been available but only if you were willing to spend a fortune on books. Its really only been the last few years that its been available on the net and its doubled every year since then.

  99. Post

    Ok, enough piling on Russell. It’s over, and off topic.

    I do want to point out some things to consider regarding Packer. First, it was given in 1981, which was about the same time the Church Historian’s office was dismantled, so the remarks shouldn’t be surprising. Second, it was given to Seminary and Institute teachers, not the general public. As employees, they have job standards to be teach spiritual, rather than historical, lessons. Their charge is much different than say, John Dehlin, though I’m quite certain John makes them uncomfortable. I also wonder if Packer has moderated his beliefs somewhat in the nearly 30 years since he made that speech. After all, there is a new church historian again, and recent events seem to indicate some big changes since 1981.

    I just had a conversation with some friends regarding church history, and they were of the opinion that the genie is out of the box. However, I think that people felt the same way under Arrington, and obviously the church made a big crackdown. So, it will be interesting to see if Packer outlives Monson. I can envision a pullback under Packer (about 3 yrs older than Monson). Next in line is L Tom Perry (about 5 years older.)

  100. kuri: “I don’t think she wrote it to make the Church look bad. I think she wrote it to try to tell what she saw as the truest story she could. That makes her a historian, not an anti-Mormon.” That makes her a biographer and a writer, not a historian. A historian presents facts and evidence with all its gaps and limitations. A biographer tries to get into the head of her subject, even if what she sees inside the subject’s head is largely her own invention (the most common criticism of Brodie’s biographies).

  101. Honestly, when I first read it, Packer’s talk was one of the most frightening things I had ever read as a future historian. I felt like it was a full-scale attack on the very values of the profession…values, I maintained, that my religion had led me to embrace. It was a chilling read.

    Upon learning something of the historical context (context that is too polarizing to get into here…hey, I learn my lessons about being tactful) and confirming that one of his more infamous quotes (“just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s useful”) was actually a spin-of from Benjamin Franklin’s quote about Deism, I felt better about it.

    But in general, yes. The Packer talk can be a real doozey for anyone involved in Ph.D. programs in the humanities.

  102. re 08

    If it’s too polarizing to get into here, could you possibly provide a link or a source so I can find it on my own? I know nothing of the context and am curious.

  103. Hawkgrrl,

    I think history is no more and no less than the stories we tell about things that happened. Good history is more accurate than bad history, but it’s still just stories. Biography is just a subset of that — stories we tell about people rather than about events. Good (i.e., accurate) biographies are good history.

  104. I agree with kuri. But I don’t like curry food. Weird, huh?

    Who here has actually read No Man Knows My History?

    I find it amazing that someone (I can’t remember his name) claims that the brethren wouldn’t be opposed to a member reading NO MAN when Brodie was excommunicated for it.

    And Russel, you have dodged my questions. You said everything can be easily explained if you know the history. Please do so regarding these questions:

    1) Why did BY teach that monogamy in marriage was evil and that it was a corruption of God’s teachings that was instituted by the Romans?

    Brigham said, “Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128).

    THIS DIRECTLY CONTRADICTS THE BOM (book of Jacob), and common sense. How does this just easily get tucked away due to your extensive knowledge of the history of the church?

    Please explain why BY taught SO MANY doctrines that the Church as disavowed?

    Please explain why BY taught that Christ’s atonement was not enough for many sins? How is that not offensive? How is that not against the doctrine of the church? In my opinion, BY disrespected Christ.

  105. Scottie, I’m no Russel, but I do like your questions… not that I have the answers either, but consider me asking them along with you. 🙂 Regarding the BY quote, I love it! I don’t have the time to fish around the JoD, but there are some real gems in there! It sounds like BY is contradicting the whole “monogamy has been around forever” idea. As for the second question, I think stuff like this gets tucked away quite easily up on the top shelf in my father’s library, where the the JoDs all are. I can’t speak for Russel though. As for the third question, can you explain that? As a follow up question to you, it would be interesting if you or someone else could compile a list of the so-called “doctrines” that BY taught that the church disavowed. Regarding the last sentence (3 questions), a-I don’t know why BY thought anything, b-it is offensive, c-it is against the doctrine of the church, from my perspective. I know I have disrespected Christ more than once in my day, however, so I’m not too worried about anyone else doing it.

  106. Scottie,

    I’m the one who referenced Brodie’s book and Elder Jensen. You didn’t quite get my quote right. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Jensen has read Brodie’s book.” I don’t think Jensen is encouraging people to read it, but you’re not going to be excommunicated for reading it either.

    Now, when Juanita Brooks wrote her book, several of the apostles wanted her excommunicated for the unflattering portrayal of the church, but Pres McKay told them to leave her alone (David O McKay Bio). However, one can’t claim to be a good historian by refusing to read a book solely because it portrays unflattering history. John Dehlin makes the point that some of these older books were quite scandalous at the time, but as time has passed, they may not be so controversial at all. Perhaps the church has thicker skin today, than when Brooks and Brodie’s books were published.

    (Remember that shows like “I Love Lucy” wouldn’t show a husband and wife in bed, and now shows considered family-friendly like “The Cosby Show” aren’t afraid to show things more realistically. Society changes, and what was once scandalous, isn’t anymore.)

    At the conference I attended at BYU, Ronald Esplin did make a passing remark about Brodie’s book, stating something to the effect that he disagreed with her analysis of Joseph Smith. Well how can Brother Esplin make a remark about her book without reading it? Obviously he has read the book in order to criticize it. I think Nibley, or someone else wrote a book, “No Ma’am, That’s Not History”. Obviously Nibley (or whoever the author was) read Brodie’s book in order to refute it.

    I would expect that Elder Jensen, being church historian, would probably have been exposed to both positive and negative church histories. He was also in the room when I attended a paper on William McClellin. The speaker noted that McClellin was an enthusiastic proponent of polygamy, and even sent for a young woman to come join him in Nauvoo. When she discovered McClellin wanted her for the purposes of polygamy, she left the church. Obviously, this is not the most faith-promoting story for LDS people to know about, but Elder Jensen didn’t object at all, and afterwards “encouraged a lifelong commitment to church history.” So, I’m just saying I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been exposed to Brodie.

    Jensen would probably recommend Rough Stone Rolling to be read first, but I don’t think a person will get excommunicated simply for reading Brodie’s book. I don’t think Jensen would mind it one bit if more people read Brodie’s book, and disputed her findings. But the average Joe Schmo in the church probably doesn’t have the background to do that.

  107. Scottie:

    I’m not going to address this beyond this post, mostly so we can avoid a J o D bash.

    In any case, no dodge intended! And please do forgive if I have sounded boastful…heavens, I’m certain some could run circles around me. And I certainly don’t find “oddities” to be easily explained. Heavens, I’ve been through the oddities myself and experienced a fair share of heartburn. I just believe that it’s heartburn that needn’t become an ulcer.

    So as far as (kind of!) quick answers to a couple questions (some of your questions are worthy of articles, so I’m being blatantly picky):

    1) In my view, BY’s record on monogamy should be seen within the context of the time…when the “Victorian Compromise,” which maintained that a person’s private reputation should be valued against the strict adherence to law. Therefore, adultery would be tolerated if one kept up a nice veneer of respectability. And as far as his conclusion about monogamy’s origins, BY was in a sense correct. Walter Scheidel (“Monogamy and Polygyny,” Working Papers) of Stanford argues that in Rome, a similar “compromise” had been formed as far as male ability to philander all while maintaining the whitewashed veneer of “respectable” monogamy. Men could have intercourse with slaves without consequence. Further, polygamy, Scheidel maintains, increased male tensions re: their reproductive inequality in the Roman empire aka “not enough women.” It is noteworthy, Scheidel also argues, that Greek monogamy increased with chattel slavery–thus allowing for the men to have an avenue for extra-marital sexual activity.

    As far as contradicting the BOM, BY is only arguing that Roman monogamy has been the source of the ills. Unless you know of another quote, I’m not sure we can conclude too much based on that quote.

    2) And re: BY’s feelings towards Christ, I would need to see the quote you are referencing. These are the quotes I am familiar with:

    “The best man that ever lived on this earth only just made out to save himself through the grace of God….It requires all the atonement of Christ, the mercy of the Father, the pity of angels and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with us always, and then to do the very best we possibly can, to get rid of this sin within us, so that we may escape from this world into the celestial kingdom.” J of D 1:303

    “The Latter-day Saints believe in the Gospel of the Son of God, simply because it is true. They believe in baptism for the remission of sins, personal and by proxy; they believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world; they believe that all who attain to any glory whatever, in any kingdom, will do so because Jesus has purchased it by his atonement.” J o D 13:328

  108. Dave Banack just posted an excellent quote in a new, very short post over on T&S that would be great to discuss in this thread. The post is:

    Forgetting and History

    The quote:

    Forgetting, and I would say even historical error, is an essential element in the creation of a nation, and that is why the progress of historical studies is often a danger for the nation itself.

  109. Thanks for the responses. I thought the quote I provided earlier was sufficient but it was not so I provided more below to make my point as clear as possible.

    The Book of Mormon (Jacob chapter 2-I pasted the entire section below) teaches that monogamy is THE correct manner of marriage under God. “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man amoung you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.” And this commandment of the Lord was not limited in time or place. Jacob referenced the days of David and Solomon and stated that it was wrong when they did it, too. He also says, “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” Clearly, Jacob taught that polygamy is acceptable ONLY WHEN COMMANDED OF THE LORD but that the general rule is that MONOGAMY IS THE CORRECT PRINCIPLE.

    This does not contradict the Church’s stance. Generally, the Church has followed monogamy and they only practiced polygamy when commanded to.


    Brigham Young and others teachings’ FROM THE PULPIT:

    “It is a fact worthy of note that the shortest lived nations of which we have record have been monogamic. Rome…was a monogamic nation and the numerous evils attending that system early laid the foundation for that ruin which eventually overtook her.”
    – Apostle George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, p. 202

    “Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious.”
    – The Prophet Brigham Young Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128

    “…the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.”
    – Prophet John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227

    “Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire….Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers…. Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. ‘And is that religion popular in heaven?’ it is the only popular religion there,…”
    – The Prophet Brigham Young, The Deseret News, August 6, 1862

    “This law of monogamy, or the monogamic system, laid the foundation for prostitution and the evils and diseases of the most revolting nature and character under which modern Christendom groans,…”
    – Apostle Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, page 195

    “We breathe the free air, we have the best looking men and handsomest women, and if they (Non-Mormons) envy us our position, well they may, for they are a poor, narrow-minded, pinch-backed race of men, who chain themselves down to the law of monogamy, and live all their days under the dominion of one wife. They ought to be ashamed of such conduct, and the still fouler channel which flows from their practices; and it is not to be wondered at that they should envy those who so much better understand the social relations.”
    – Apostle George A Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, page 291

    “I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly. Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors his word. Some of you may not believe this, but I not only believe it but I also know it. For a man of God to be confined to one woman is small business. I do not know what we would do if we had only one wife apiece.”
    – Apostle Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses Vol 5, page 22

    “Just ask yourselves, historians, when was monogamy introduced on to the face of the earth? When those buccaneers, who settled on the peninsula where Rome now stands, could not steal women enough to have two or three apiece, they passed a law that a man should have but one woman. And this started monogamy and the downfall of the plurality system. In the days of Jesus, Rome, having dominion over Jerusalem, they carried out the doctrine more or less. This was the rise, start and foundation of the doctrine of monogamy; and never till then was there a law passed, that we have any knowledge of, that a man should have but one wife. “
    – The Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Vol. 12, page 262

    I would say God started the practice of monogamy with Adam and Eve. But according to Brigham Young, it was “nothing but a system established by a set of robbers.”

    How can this be justified? Jacob (and countless other scriptures) make it painfully clear. Yet Brigham Young, prophet of God, directly contradicts Jacob’s teachings. How do these pieces fit? If he was a prophet and inspired of God and who walked and talked with God how could he be SO wrong? Did he ever read the Book of Mormon? Did he read Jacob? Could he grasp the point Jacob was making? Even if you claim prophets don’t receive revelation often and have to find their way on their own way why isn’t he preaching using the BoM instead of his roman history lessons?

    JACOB CHAPTER 2:24-33

    24 Behold, David and aSolomon truly had many bwives and concubines, which thing was cabominable before me, saith the Lord.
    25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a arighteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
    26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
    27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any aman among you have save it be bone cwife; and concubines he shall have none;
    28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the achastity of women. And bwhoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
    29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or acursed be the land for their sakes.
    30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up aseed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.
    31 For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.
    32 And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.
    33 For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.

  110. Scottie:

    The beauty of the Journal of Discourses is that you can find a quote for every occasion. Hence the beauty of the Correlation committee…

    As I said, I’m not going to dig into all the J o D quotes on polygamy. The rhetorical context of 19th-century Mormon thought requires that I take the J o D with almost no weight in terms of doctrinal authority. Their model of revelation functioned differently back then. But that’s another post entirely.

    But let’s just say that I can document just as many quotes indicating that polygamy was a social expedient, that it if men stopped slacking off in their duty to marry, then polygamy wouldn’t be necessary. Obviously all men couldn’t be polygamists, so we can’t believe that 75% of the Church was living in pernicious sin. All of this being “from the pulpit.” If you’re curious about this, you can look at Kathryn Daynes’ award-winning book, More Wives Than One: The Transformation of the Mormon Marriage system.

  111. Russell, I appreciate the response. My previous posts were not intended to drudge up a discussion regarding all the quotes. I just felt it was better for me to show the quotes instead of saying, “Brigham Young directly contradicted the BoM” because if I had said that everyone would just think I was spewing hateful conjecture.

    I think it’s pretty safe to say I have clearly established that BY did contradict the BoM. My question is: does this bother you, Russell? Why or why not?

    Does this bother any of you? Why or why not?

    And please explain further what you meant by “The rhetorical context of 19th-century Mormon thought requires that I take the J o D with almost no weight in terms of doctrinal authority. Their model of revelation functioned differently back then. But that’s another post entirely.”

  112. Ha…well, as I said, the rhetorical context issue is quite a different topic though a fascinating one…but most importantly, we can conclude that only a tiny, tiny minority ever heard any given talk. And since most talks were not widely available in print, we could easily conclude that the vast majority of the Church never heard these teachings. At most, they existed through folksayings and gossip circles (You hear what Brother Brigham taught?). Brigham knew how to make sure that the Church received a revelation (look at the D&C for an example).

    And I don’t think you’ve demonstrated anything re: the BOM. The BOM passage says nothing about what the ultimate nature of the marital system is. It offers a huge exception (“when I say otherwise”) in fact. Any given time could be argued to be the Lord “saying otherwise.” It’s a vague scripture that, at most, has some tensions with the ROman example.

    And I have no prob. w/BY appealing to ROme. Heavens, I’m a historian by trade. That’s what we do. I would have a problem if he made no attempt whatsoever to appeal to history. There’s more to history besides Jacob chpt. 2, after all. Much, much more. To me, BY is showing a more cultivated minds that many LDS I know by bothering to understand the practice in a historical context (and his analysis is not bad, as the scholarship I mentioned shows).

  113. I don’t see how the size of the congregation BY spoke to is relevant. If he said it as prophet, he said it as prophet. If you were making a point that the quotes attributed to him are inaccurate, well, that is another matter. Is that what you are saying?

    I certainly have demonstrated plenty. The proclamation to the world, the book of Jacob, the book of Geneis, the Adam and Eve story, all scriptures about cleaving to her (not them), cleaving to his wife (not wives). I think you are a smart guy but please don’t insult me by acting like there isn’t a clearly established proper method of marriage. Polygamy is only right “when commanded by God.” BY taught polygamy was always right. Are you really going to argue this point? Not to mention the absolute lunacy that polygamy could be a better system. God made it so there is very close to the same amount of men and women in the world but I am supposed to believe that He thinks the best way is for certain men to have many wives and other men to have none? Jacob is not vague at all. It is crystal clear. Monogamy is proper and right unless God commands otherwise. So BY saying the romans introduced the heinous practice of monogamy and that sadly, it spread throughout the world is a bad thing, is ridiculous.

    I don’t have a problem with BY appealing to history, either. The point is, he made his knowledge of Roman history paramount to the BoM and to common sense and to God’s default preferred method: monogamy.

  114. Ray,

    What would it take for you to care? Are you of the opinion that it doesn’t matter what JS or BY did or didn’t do? Do you take the position that, “I prayed and I have a testimony, therefore, it is irrelevant what went on in the early days of the Church.”

    Or could there be some set of hypothetical facts egregious enough that you would care?

  115. Scottie, I’ve answered those questions ad nauseum here and elsewhere – and the testimony question doesn’t describe me in the slightest. My answer in #122 was specific and narrow. The short version, relative to this particular issue (monogamy and polygamy), is, “I just don’t care.” There really isn’t more to say that I haven’t said multiple times already on this blog.

  116. Ray, I’m new to the site and I haven’t read your posts on everything so why are you acting like I should have already known your opinion on this?

    If you don’t want to discuss this issue, which you clearly don’t, then why respond at all?

    I am trying to ask questions that I am curious about. You might think the questions are a waste of time, but I don’t.

    How would you feel if I got on your son’s mission advice post and said, “I just don’t care about your son or his mission.” That would be pretty rude. But you saying that in response to my question is acceptable? I think it’s rude.

  117. Scottie, I’m sorry you see it that way, but I was trying to be honest and concise. I really don’t care about what Brigham said about polygamy verses monogamy, and I think that is the root answer for most members, frankly. I think most members see his statements as hyperbolic, and I think most members basically dismiss them as such. I think VERY, VERY few members believe he was “contradicting the BofM” when he said them.

    That’s what I was trying to say, and I tried to say it as concisely as I could. I wasn’t trying to dismiss you; I just honestly don’t think most members care about that particular charge. That’s why I added the sentence, “I don’t mean anything by that other than what it says.” I really don’t mean anything else except that I think you are making an argument about which most members don’t care.

    Can you see the difference?

  118. Excerpted from my comment on the International Ignorance thread:

    Church history is a REAL and HARD problem – for those for whom it is a real and hard problem. It isn’t for those for whom it isn’t.

  119. I can’t imagine any universe where Brigham Young would not want to be taken literally over matters he discussed from the pulpit. I would love to see his reaction if a member walked up to him after one of his speeches and said, “I loved the hyperbole, Brother Brigham, keep it coming, guy.”

    I also don’t see how it is relevant that very few members believe BY contradicted the BoM. Few members know what Jacob 2 says. Few members know what BY said. Fewer still understand that they do, in fact, contradict one another.

    But what I’m trying to understand is why don’t you care? You said you are not one of those guys who just has a testimony and therefore accepts whatever happened in the early days of the church. So, please answer my question from earlier, could there be some set of hypothetical facts egregious enough that you would care?

  120. could there be some set of hypothetical facts egregious enough that you would care?

    Yes, and I would be happy to address them if there is ever a thread about that question. For me, this isn’t it.

  121. Scottie-

    For what it is worth I do care what Brigham Young said about polygamy and I have prayed earnestly about the whole topic. I am not one that is interested in sharing my husband after I have spent a lifetime getting him to a state where anyone else will even want him (HA HA…just a joke). Seriously though, I think BY said the things he did because he was living and breathing polygamy. If you are living in a way that the Lord commanded you to, what else are you going to believe or even want to believe? If monogamy is truly how it is supposed to be, the contradiction would be too hard to live on a daily basis, so I think he taught that polygamy was the end all be all (how else would he rectify it within himself?) I think if I had to live in the manner that he did, I would look to every possible thing I could to justify and convince myself that it was the best and most satisfying way to live. It was right at that time he lived, but it it is not right now and the Lord has made that clear.

    I know that my opinion doesn’t matter much in relation to this, but there you have it.

  122. Yeah…I think I’ve expended my “let’s hash out polygamy” mojo for the day (or the next few months). So I’m just gonna calls it good on this one.

    Let’s just hope the polygamy issue doesn’t come up again soon. That will help us keep members in the dark about the truth longer…(mwahahaha). So let’s get back to our ritualistic chant of the Articles of Faith…*place hands ritualistically on elbows* “We believe…”

  123. Pingback: When Evil-Speaking Creeps Unawares Among Us at Mormon Matters

  124. I am a non-Mormon with a great love of history. I have been doing more and more reading in the area of Mormon history from both Mormon and non Mormon sources. (I reject anti-Mormon stuff as being more diatribe than history.)

    Interestingly enough, I find the more reading I do, the more sympathetic I become to the LDS. Even from the “Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon and had a lot of flaws” perspective, your history still comes through as a group of very dedicated people who were willing to make tremendous sacrifices in order to serve God and restore what they believed to be the true gospel.

    More than just that, Joseph Smith comes across as a very bright and insightful man who wrestled with many of his day’s big issues and did so in very creative, imaginative (that’s a good thing), and practical ways. He sought to end slavery by reimbursing slave owners (as did Emerson). Had his plan been accepted, the evil of slavery would have been ended without bloodshed and with both north and south sharing in the cost of ending it, even as the (white) nation as a whole prospered from it. In my opinion, this has to be one of the reasons Missouri was so hostile to the Mormon settlers. Mere religious differences would not have produced such animosity.

    Smith also sought to address the rise of science and its relationship to faith. The doctrine of eternal progression can be seen as one way to integrate the laws of energy and spirituality. In some ways it might be seen as a precursor to today’s Process Theology. Likewise, the emphasis on personal revelation anticipates Pentecostalism, and the desire to build Zion is laced through with concern for the poor and the establishment of ways to better one’s life in general.

    These and other contributions are really quite impressive. As to the negative events, show me any human undertaking that doesn’t have a few skeletons in its closet.

    Finally, as to the relationship of faith and historical research, this is a very complex issue that involves epistemology, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern presuppositions, and a variety of other issues. Suffice it to say that history can be used to bolster or undermine any faith tradition.

    Perhaps the best way to be fair in one’s use of the discipline is to ask, “If I used the same standards of historical evaluation on my own religion that I would use on someone else’s religion, what would I come up with?” I usually find that question produces a healthier appreciation for both my own and other people’s religious beliefs.

  125. There are fragments of Mormonism that continue to practice polygamy; the main body of Mormons once accepted the doctrine, but does not practice it in the present era; and, there are fragments of Mormonism that believe the practice, even if promoted by prophets of the church, was always in doctrinal violation and justified their breaking from the main body.

  126. That’s a very interesting analysis Mr. Stout. It’s not often that a person has such a balanced view of the Church without feeling passionately one way or the other. Thank you.

  127. Hello. Just fell upon your blog — from another blog. 🙂

    I just wanted to comment and let you know that I was one of those persons who was deeply deeply troubled by LDS history. Deeply enough to make me question things. I have since left the LDS chuch and embraced biblical Christianity.

    I know many others who have done the same.

    I believe for some LDS and former LDS, they can live with the inconsistencies in teachings and docrtrines and not let it get to them, but for some of us it simply is black or white. It’s either true or not, and when I found out about all the Joseph Smith first vision accounts I left. It was that simple for me. If Smith could not get the first vision account strait from the get go, it simply didn’t happen.

    I have since found that there is so much JOY outside of Mormonism, that completely elapsed me when I was an active faithful member, missionary and participant.

    Jesus is the answer. Not a church or religion. But Jesus.

    Once I realized that, that all I had to do was completely place my trust, my heart in the Lamb of God….

    Well the rest is history.

    God bless,

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