Friday, August 17, 2012

Sources in Sorting Through History

A few weeks ago a Seventy visited the ward where my wife and I attend.  He delivered a beautiful sermon on Joseph Smith and the Savior.  It wasn’t ward or stake conference, so our meeting attendance was average-size.  After the meeting was over we had occasion to talk with him for just a few minutes. 

We talked about the sacrament meeting, my profession, and golf (I don’t golf, but he and the Stake President did).  The conversation later turned to gospel study.  I inquired whether or not he had heard of a particular author.  He replied that he had not, and then felt it was important to “caution” me against reading things “not written by the brethren.”  I could sense his honest concern about the matter, and I was grateful for his kindness.  Our conversation ended on that note of counsel, and we exchanged hands and goodbyes.
It seems the brethren themselves don’t follow that counsel.  If they had, we wouldn’t have Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, which was written by comprehensively studying a non-Mormon’s writings.  We wouldn’t have many of President Monson’s poems, stories, and anecdotes were it not for William James, Charles Swindoll, Thomas Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Shakespeare (“Living the Abundant Life,” Ensign Jan. 2o12).  President Benson’s famous “Beware of Pride” address would never have been produced had not C.S. Lewis first written The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity

Church historians Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard recently wrote the most extensively documented account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre yet.  Their work has been applauded by some of the brethren.  There are over 1,600 footnotes in the book.  They researched and cited not only Mormon authors, but excommunicated-Mormon authors, anti-Mormon authors, and never-Mormon authors from both the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Why would they do that?  Don’t they know better?  

They did it because the information they needed in order to put together honest history wasn’t found in church manuals, the writings of the brethren, or  They did it because they were interested in finding out the truth of the matter.  They exhausted all the resources available to them and decided what was valuable in piecing together a true picture.

On 11 September 2007, before the book’s publication, President Eyring spoke at the Sesquicentennial of that horrific event.  In his address he said this about the work of these three historians:

“Although no event in history can fully be known, the work of these three authors has enabled us to know more than we ever have known about this unspeakable episode. The truth, as we have come to know it, saddens us deeply. The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse, abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done here long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct. We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here” (see Newsroom).

More and more folks are discovering, at times to their dismay, that if you want to find out the whole truth about matters of Mormon history you're going to have to start traveling and turning over rocks outside city limits.  There's not enough information available in Church manuals to satisfy the spiritual needs of those seeking to know the truth about history.  



  1. I LOVE this post. It confirmed to me what I've known and felt for years. I am seeking truth not seeking to apostatize. Just like bunging jumping may be thrilling for some and deathly scary for others, I think seeking answers can be the same experience (thrilling vs scary) and I need to be more compassionate and sensitive to those who find it scary. Thank you

  2. From Diacourse of Brigham Young....
    "all truth is for the salvation of the children of men-for the benefit and learning-for their furtherance in the principles of divine knowledge;and divine knowledge is any matter of fact-truth;and all truh pertains to divinity.
    Be willing to receive the truth, let it come from whence it may;no difference, not a particle. Just as soon receive the gospel from Joseph Smith as from Peter, who lived in the days of Jesis. Receive it from one man as soon as another. If God has called an individual and sent him to preach the Gospel that is enough for me to know;it is no matter who it's, all I want to know is the truth.

  3. Thanks for the comments and story.

    Joseph said in part:
    Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God." (TPJS p. 137.)

    If we are to look even to the abyss for understanding, certainly some non-/anti-Mormon authors will be surveyed, too. I suppose the brother's comments arise out of concern that you not be led astray. Unfortunately, all men err and we can trust no one other than heaven to lead us properly.

    Thanks for the blog. Found you through Bare a Record.