Church History Purpose Statement

I’ve been working as a student intern with the Joseph Smith Papers for a few weeks. It’s been a fantastic experience, and I’ve come to learn and appreciate, from personal experience, the amount of time and energy those working on the project put into ensuring that each volume of the Joseph Smith Papers is done as professionally and scholarly as possible. What’s more, it’s been a blast researching the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri as part of my work on the forthcoming volume 6 of the Documents series. I’ve been doing some really interesting research on such topics as the Danites and their activities during the war, including hunting down and collecting the affidavits written to Lilburn W. Boggs by those who were on the receiving end of Danite vigilantism.

But what also impresses me is the unassuming faith in the Restoration that those working on the project possess. Consider, for example, the simple yet power “purpose statement” of the Church History Department, which houses the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

This picture I snapped in one of the conference rooms in the Church History Library after a brief devotional and staff meeting. I’ve seen this same plaque, and ones like it, posted elsewhere throughout the building.
Notice especially the final way in which the Church History Department and its employees try to fulfill it’s purpose of helping God’s children make and keep sacred covenants: “Witnessing to and defending the truths of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That’s a cause I’m more than happy to contribute to, even if in just a small way as a dopey student intern.
I’ve heard some on the Internet (including one vocal nominal Mormon who is also the proprietor of a popular podcast series) say that the Church is backing away from apologetics, especially what is typically (and disparagingly) called “classic FARMS apologetics.” While I won’t presume to speak for the Church as a whole (I’ll let the Church’s recent series of First-Presidency-and-Quorum-of-the-Twelve-approved essays on the Gospel Topics website speak to what the Church thinks about apologetics), I will say that it has not been my experience working with the Church History Department, limited as it may be, that the Church is backing away from defending the faith.
The purpose statement above, I would say, supports my own experience and my hunch that the Church is still very much concerned with defending the faith.

2 thoughts on “Church History Purpose Statement”

  1. I don't see the Church history department engaging in the polemics that are the focal point of criticisms of the classic FARMS apologetics. Can you give me an example of them doing so?

    I have serval friends in the CHL, and midi of them have explicitly criticized the classic FARMS approach and have been adamant about not doing the same.

    • What I mean is that the Church History Department, and by extension the Church, does not seem to me to be backing away from defending the foundational events of the Restoration. It's not doing what some want the Church to do, which is essentially to concede once and for all that the criticisms against the foundational events of the Church, the arguments against the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, the criticisms of Joseph Smith's moral character, etc., are all legitimate, and then to move on into making the Church into a nice Community of Christ spinoff.

      In other words, I don't see it abandoning the Restoration's central truth claims. That's why I compared it to "classic FARMS," in that it's not ceding ground to guys like Grant Palmer or John Dehlin who want this to happen.

      As for approval or disapproval of "classic FARMS" within the CHL itself, all I can say is that my own supervisor has not only published stuff with "old FARMS" and collaborated with someone who has written and presented for FairMormon, but also is highly intrigued with Interpreter (in fact he was reading a copy of one of the journals on the day I met him) and spent some time asking me about it and what it's all about. Without divulging too much prematurely, I also know of others in the CHL who plan on working with FairMormon on future projects. So I wouldn't be surprised if there was a variety of opinions and attitudes in the CHL about this kind of stuff.

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