What You’ll Read About in the New Institute Manual on Early Church History

Some time ago I blogged about a new seminary manual on the Doctrine and Covenants released by the Church. The manual is significant because it includes discussions of sensitive topics related to Church history, such as the multiple accounts of the First Vision, the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Utah War, the history of plural marriage, and the history of the priesthood ban. It appears that by including these topics the Church is taking steps towards more transparency when it comes to its history and “inoculating” its young members who are likely to encounter antagonistic websites that can easily blindside them with these issues if they aren’t prepared.

My friend Neal Rappleye has called my attention to a new manual released this year for seminary and institute students. The manual, Foundations of the Restoration, covers early Church history and corresponding sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. “This course,” the introduction reads, “gives students the opportunity to study the foundational revelations, doctrine, historical events, and people relevant to the unfolding of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ as found in the standard works, the teachings of latter-day prophets, and Church history” (v). Each lesson is divided into an introduction, background reading, suggestions for teaching, and student readings. In order to receive credit for the class (Religion 225), students “are required to read the scripture passages, general conference talks, and other materials listed in the Student Readings section of each lesson. Students must also meet attendance requirements and demonstrate competency with course material” (vi).

There are many remarkable things about the new manual, including three things that I believe are significant in light of the Church’s efforts to be transparent and proactive in discussing sensitive issues in Church history. First, the manual copiously draws from the much-discussed Gospel Topics essays. Second, the manual employs the work of the Joseph Smith Papers Project and directs students to the project’s website. Third, the manual includes statements from Church leaders on confronting doubts and questions about Church history.

I. Gospel Topics

The manual directly recommends students read all but one of the Gospel Topics essays posted on the Church’s website. “Suggested Readings” for students include one of the essays dealing with the topic of the lesson (ix–xii, 138–139). As such, students are recommended to read the following essays in conjunction with the following lessons:

The two essays that are not included as “suggested readings” are “Are Mormons Christian?” and “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies.” However, “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” is recommended as “background reading” for lesson 4 (“The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” 14–18), and the manual specifically instructs the teacher, “You may want to explain that one way modern enemies of the Church attempt to discredit the Book of Mormon is by using DNA evidence to try to discredit any link between Book of Mormon peoples and Native Americans. If students have questions about this issue, encourage them to read the Gospel Topics article ‘Book of
Mormon and DNA Studies,’ which can be found at lds.org/topics” (17).
What’s more, in addition to the manual explicitly recommending all but one of the essays to students as readings, passages from some of the essays are reprinted in the manual verbatim. This includes excerpts from “Book of Mormon Translation” (10), “First Vision Accounts” (6), “Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (92–94), and “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” (53). Interestingly, of all of the Gospel Topics essays cited, the series of essays on the history of plural marriage, including Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage, receive the most extensive citations (92–94).

At the back of the manual are included unpaginated handouts for students. One of the handouts, “Understanding Plural Marriage,” is essentially a reprinting of excerpts from the Gospel Topics essays on plural marriage. The manual reprints the part of the essay “The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church” that mentions Joseph Smith’s sealings to Helen Mar Kimball “several months before her 15th birthday” and “to a number of women who were already married.” Post-Manifesto plural marriages and the “Second Manifesto” are likewise noted.

In addition to the subjects discussed in the Gospel Topics essays, students will read about the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society (67), the nature of the Joseph Smith Translation, which is deemed “more of an inspired revision than a traditional translation” (51–53), Danites and the Mormon War (67–68), the events leading up to the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, including the details of the suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor and Joseph’s use of a firearm to defend himself in Carthage Jail (100–103), the succession crisis (104–109), and the role of women in the Church historically and today, including the relationship between women and the priesthood (79–83).

As can be seen, the new manual liberally employs the Gospel Topics essays as it discusses these and other sensitive issues that students are likely to encounter as they study Church history.

II. The Joseph Smith Papers

The new manual cites both the print and online versions of the Joseph Smith Papers 4 different times (12, 28, 39, 80). In the lesson on the history and importance of the Relief Society, students are encouraged to “read the minutes of early Relief Society meetings at josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/Nauvoo-relief-society-minutebook.”

III. Counsel from Church Leaders on Doubt

Finally, the new manual includes several citations from General Authorities on how to confront doubts and questions that may arise in studying Church history or when confronted by antagonistic depictions of Church history. Recent counsel from Elders Jeffrey R. Holland, Neil L. Andersen, Steven E. Snow, and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on the subject of confronting doubt and seeking truth makes an appearance in the manual (“Lesson 10: Seek the Truth,” 42–46). Handouts are likewise prepared for students with the quotes from these Church leaders that appear in lesson 10 (“Balancing Church History” and “Discerning Truth from Error”).

As such, in addition to directly addressing the issues raised in the Gospel Topics essays, the manual also prepares students to think about how to confront questions and doubt by providing counsel from Church leaders on faith and doubt and on seeking truth.


The publication of Foundations of the Restoration marks further progress towards a more transparent “warts and all” type of history produced by official Church channels. It likewise signals the Church’s institutional efforts to make young Latter-day Saints aware of the issues in Mormon history that are being discussed and debated online and elsewhere. Contrary to what cynical voices on hostile parts of the web might claim, the Church is not “burying” these issues. It is not making mere token gestures of transparency to save face. It is actively striving for genuine openness and disclosure about the sensitive issues in Mormon history. The subjects discussed in the Gospel Topics essays (and, indeed, the essays themselves) are being filtered into the Church’s curriculum intended for broad consumption. The effort is thus undeniably being made by the Church to strive towards a more honest, nuanced, and, ultimately, robust history. (As if the Joseph Smith Papers didn’t already prove that!) Whether this effort (and the long-term impact this effort seems to intend) is adequate can of course be debated. What cannot be debated, however, is that claims made about some sort of institutional dread, paralysis, or conspiracy on the part of the Church when it comes to confronting and examining its history are wholly dubious and strongly contradicted by such empirical signs as the existence of this new manual.

Addendum (June 25, 2015): Some have wondered what exactly I meant by saying the Church is moving towards producing a more “transparent” history. One Latter-day Saint commenter at the Interpreter blog (where this post was cross-posted the other day) objected to my use of this language, saying that “it carries a negative and PC connotation which . . . is unnecessary.” This commenter insisted that using the language I did feeds into the critics’ (false) narrative that “the Church intentionally deceives people or has some terrible secret which will expose the whole thing as a fraud they want to hide.” I responded thusly:

This is actually a fair critique. I was hasty in my write-up of this blog post, mainly because I wanted to get it posted and on the web ASAP. I should’ve been more careful with my choice of language. Words like “transparency” and such are rhetorically-laden with all sorts of connotations that I didn’t intend. Basically, what I meant to say is this (from a follow-up guest post on my personal blog): “The reality is that there is no Church conspiracy to keep information from its members. It is true that in past decades the complexities of certain historical issues and the nuances of certain doctrinal topics were not explored in great length in Church magazines and manuals, but this was a matter of emphasis, not a cover up.” 

I tried to communicate basically this in my concluding paragraph, but it looks like I failed.

I hope this clarifies things. It was not my intention to communicate the negative connotation that is attached to the word “transparency” in this context. My apologies for any confusion or for giving a wrong impression. 

53 thoughts on “What You’ll Read About in the New Institute Manual on Early Church History”

  1. good post, but your choice of the word transparent was right. For decades the church constructed false narratives and their current attempts to deconstruct them and replace them with accurate historical accounts can be considered nothing other than transparent.

    • Yeah. What he said. I've been a member all my life. All these issues were openly discussed in Sunday School, Seminary and Institute classes. There's never been any "false narratives" that I know of or have heard. Ever.

    • Mr. H.and Auntie Em–how about the illustrations still found throughout church buildings today depicting Joseph Smith with his finger on the gold plates, using the glasses and breastplate to translate the text? I don't remember seeing illustrations of Joseph looking in a hat with the plates nowhere in sight, which is what really happened.

    • Auntie Em, that's so disingenuous. You didn't learn about this stuff in seminary, Institute or Sunday School. Some of it may have been mentioned but there was never any details given about things like Joseph being married to other men's wives. Members love to say that they always knew about the stuff in the essays. If members always knew this stuff the church wouldn't need to write these essays and publish new manuals. In fact if the church had always taught this stuff this article wouldn't have been written. Prior to the essays people were excommunicated for writing books on these topics. Please be a little more honest with yourself.

    • You know what I think is disingenuous? Telling people what their own personal life experiences really were and weren't. It's also fairly presumptuous.

      "Prior to the essays people were excommunicated for writing books on these topics."

      Who specifically? And for what specific topics?

      "Please be a little more honest with yourself."

      Again, it's a little presumptuous to assume you know about someone's mental state more than they do, don't you think?

    • The only "false narratives" I heard or read, (once I examined their sources), came from either apostates, or from members of other churches who were running on rumors promoted by their congregational leaders, or one of the other members in their congregations who also ran on rumors. If you've read enough true church history, you would be able to more easily bypass the rumors, and know whether to believe someone or not when they try to badmouth the restored church.

    • Auntie Em, myself, and anyone else who says that the new additions in the new manual were not kept a secret (in our earlier lives) were right. None of my seminary teachers or church leaders ever refused to talk to me about any of the questions I had on those subjects. Many others who are members of the church could say the same thing. Just because you seem to have missed out on some explanations in your life is no reason to generalize that everyone else must have had the same experiences as you.

    • Nothing could be further from the truth Dave. The teachings of the LDS church uses both the Bible and the Book of Mormon to teach Gods truths. Please go to mormon.org for the correct understanding of the LDS church.

    • Seriously dude. Do you have anything better to do with your time than troll Mormon websites? I see you all over the place spamming LDS blogs with the same links to your blog. I don't care if you post your opposing views, but don't spam please.

    • Downtown Dave, I am sorry that you do not carry the Spirit of God with you. Otherwise, you would know that Mormonism as you call it is not an enemy of God. The whole basis of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built on the truth and Jesus Christ is at the head of the church. As a convert, I know the difference between being true disciples of Christ and just going through the motions of "being saved" and talking the talk. As Christians, most of us try to truly live our religion every day and hope to become more like the Savior as we grow. May the Lord bless you with the light you earnestly seek is my prayer.

  2. Downtown Dave is the troll of trolls. He must spend his entire life searching the internet for LDS posts to troll. It's kind of sad and pathetic, really.

  3. I, for one, am taken back at the church's history cover up. I've been a member all my life and I'm now just finding out about these details that were left out of all my teachings about the church. I'm struggling with my testimony because I feel I've been lied to. My feelings are hurt AS IF I've found out that my wife has been unfaithful to me through out our marriage. There are parts of the doctrine that I'm reluctant to give up such as eternal progression and the nature of God. I'm starting to change my idea of what a prophet really is – It's the only way I can get around this and keep the ideals that I want so desperately to believe. I feel I can't even talk to my wife about this because it will destroy her testimony, I'm sure. It would be too much for me to try to piece my own testimony together and try to keep her's from imploding at the same time. The sad part is I'm a Bishopric member right now.

    • Perhaps you need to refocus your testimony on the Savior and not on the Church. A church is an earthly organization consisting of imperfect people. The savior would say, look for his message not the mistakes of others. We are in the thick of the last days and these are the types of things that weed out those without solid testimonies in Christ and Heavenly father from those who never falter because they can see the truth. Joseph Smith was a man, as was every prophet who EVER lived. Men are frail and make mistakes. We are so quick to forgive a man for his sins before he was a prophet but not to forgive a man who makes mistakes after he becomes a prophet. We are told to forgive everyone, no matter their prophetic status. Pray. Heavenly father will help you find the light again. Don't be afraid to question but do be afraid that satan is very cunning and uses slight deceptions to fool us and crumble our convictions.

    • Why don't you concentrate on the doctrine and not the historical accuracy of the Church. It sounds like you're letting historical discrepancies interfere with your testimony. Concentrate on your future and not on nebulous past events that can't ever be proved 100%. If you weren't there and didn't see the events in person, then how can you know exactly what happened? Will you let doubts of historical events interfere with your eternal progression and keep you from gaining your exaltation? Forget the past and concentrate on the future. Study the doctrine, attend the temple and concentrate on saving your ancestors. This should help you to strengthen your testimony and bring peace into your soul.

    • Well, it sounds like you need to take a hard look at what your testimony is based on. Did you pray about the Book of Mormon? About Joseph Smith? About the church? Did your testimony come gradually? Regardless, what where the feelings that you had when you were converted and knew it was true, if you ever had such feelings? If you have, can you remember them and reflect upon them? You see, your comparison as to finding out your wife was cheating on you has a fallacy. Throughout the scriptures, OT, NT, BofM, DC, we read many times where men of the church had shortcomings and made mistakes. So where does that put you? Also, if these things had been known to you from the beginning, would you feel any differently? I think the previous two comments have good advice. Don't base your testimony on men, base your testimony on the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and whether or not this really is Christ's church.

    • I don't think there was an intentional cover-up.

      Apparently the General Authorities themselves didn't know a lot of this history either until recently. Terry Givens talks about this – I think it was in the following interview: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/crucible-doubt

      You are right to ask questions. As Elder Uchtdorf said, our church begain by someone asking questions. Just don't stop the easy answers, either positive or negative – keep digging if you are not satisfied. And don't throw faith out the window either.

      In my experience, as I've looked into all the internet controversies (blacks and priesthood, polygamy, etc) I've found there are reasonable explanations for these things. FairMomong.org is a great resource. I have found that the church is true, truer than I before realized. It's just not always the church I thought it was, when I had a more naive and simplistic "Sunday School" understanding of things.

      And yes, the core of the church is learning to love God and your neighbor. All the rest is distraction, really. Don't let yourself get hung up on secondary things, even as you continue to ask and learn.

    • If you are just now learning about these issues, and you've been a member all your life, you apparently haven't studied the Gospel/Church very deeply–or you haven't been a member very long. I have, and my testimony is as strong as ever. Any institution–any–has the right to put its best foot forward in public. It seems that, until recently, the Church was doing exactly that. Remember, the Church was a fledgling institution, with many enemies trying to literally and completely destroy it. Why give your enemies the very ammunition they will use to wipe you out? The Church is now in a position of greater strength and visibility, the tactics of its enemies have become more sophisticated and subtle, and social media communicatons have all changed how the Church protects its members and portrays itself as an institution. After 45 years or so of SERIOUS study and reflection, including prayer, reading, and reference material, I come to the same conclusion I did when the Spirit bore witness to me of the divinity of the Book of Mormon at age 15: It's TRUE!

    • You should hear the interview of Don Bradly. The man interviewing him was a Bishop when he experienced what you are feeling. He was afraid to ask his stake president for help b.c. he didn't want to expose some of these things to his stake president. He got a call from Elder Marlin K Jensen and later told his story. In this link, he in interviewing Don Bradley who left the church b.c. of what he found but then found more and was re baptized.
      Also visit this website, it has lists of reports on all of these issues and apologist who you can ask questions to and they will email you back their perspectives.

    • @paul_hardin Boy, you really know how to make a strawman to tear down. I was BIC, mission, temple marriage, high leadership callings and I had not heard about these things. To dismiss people because the church had hidden these things (which you tacitly admit by saying "any institution-any–has the right to put its best foot forward in public) is not helpful and plainly wrong. Besides, didn't President Hinckley say that our history is an open book, and that we have nothing to hide? So why did we actively hide it? The problem is that our history is disjointed, troublesome, and at times, hideous. But those are things that we should own – and we are doing so more and more.

      What I'm saying is that you really shouldn't attack people for not knowing about this stuff. I'm still a member, and (again) I've served in high callings. I even consider myself a serious student of the gospel. And I had no idea what had happened, and the extent of our history. To be honest, it makes your whole world tremble.

    • Anon,

      I'm sorry that your feelings have been hurt. I'm not sure there's much I can do to ameliorate your hurt feelings, since it appears that we have had drastically different experiences when it comes to finding out about the controversial stuff in Church history. Like many here, I discovered many of these issues at an early age and from LDS sources (stuff in Church curriculum, seminary, BYU, etc.). So I've never felt a sense of betrayal as you have.

      I can, however, recommend two things.

      First, if it's the content of critical arguments against the Church itself that concerns you, I'd recommend you take a look at the blogs and websites I've included above in my tab labeled "Blogs and Websites." You'll find answers to the challenges and criticisms made against the Church.

      Second, if I can offer an analogy to put things in a possible new context, think about this in terms of learning mathematics. Would you feel betrayed by mathematics because you'd been bopping along knowing algebra for a long time, and then you suddenly learned about this thing called calculus? Or would you instead say, "Hey, cool, I never knew about integration and differentiation. Now I know more than I did before!" For many, including myself, revelations about issues in Church history not regularly taught in Sunday School opened up new avenues of exploration and intellectual and spiritual growth, as opposed to feelings of betrayal.

      This isn't meant to diminish those feelings you may indeed have experienced. Rather, I'm just hoping to possibly give you a new way of reflecting on your experience.


    • I am really wondering how you missed not knowing all these things since you claim to have been active all your life? Church magazines in the 1970's talked about many of these things, and I certainly knew before I read them there! They weren't hidden, BYU has a vast library of these topics and anyone who wanted to could read them. I always laugh when people claim they discovered these things the church is trying to hide. They discovered them from Church publications. You want to know who Joseph Smith was sealed to look in the Church records, they weren't hidden. The various accounts of the first mission has been in the public eye since the beginning of the Church. Never hidden. If you didn't know about them that is your fault not the Church's It makes me wonder if you know the Church has always taught that the only way to return to our Father in Heaven is though the atonement of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, or did you miss that too?

  4. Strange…

    Why is it that people keep saying the Church is revealing something new about history that it had hidden in the past?

    I remember virtually all these things being covered, and I knew about them before my mission. If you know, you did anything more than just follow along in the lessons and actually went and read church history yourself these were all discussed in numerous books I got at Deseret Industries.

    Nor are these new attacks by the anti-Mormons, they're the same things that have been recycled over and over since "Mormonism Unveiled".

    I served my mission in Oklahoma, so I got hit with all these questions. Utah Ministries Incorporated was in my mission and I constantly had pastors giving my investigators packages from that organization that would use the exact same lines of attack on the issues listed above.

    I never had any problem answering them. Nor was I ever caught by surprise. Heck, I even had an investigator who was a descendant of one of the survivors of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    So I really am constantly astonished by those who claim they never knew about these things. Although I admit the same was true on my mission, only about 14/ to 1/5 of the missionaries had ever heard about any of this stuff before they came out. I often wondered how that could be the case, but it was.

    • It is hard for many of us to understand doubt about the church. I grew up in a very small branch in a small town. There were only six children in our branch who went to school as those "crazy mormons". I have never doubted the truthfulness of the gospel despite horrific persecution from small town bigots. It is all in your faith. Either you know it is true, or you do not. The door is open for every member of the church to inquire, and know, for themselves. I am past 60 now and I still endure persecution from "mormon haters", but I let it run off my shoulders. It is sad that the young generation has to have a course to teach them. I never had seminary, or even primary or youth programs growing up, but I received the best knowledge possible: no matter what is said Joseph Smith was a prophet of God who restored the true church on earth, and I have no doubts.

    • I don't believe that the real issue is knowing/not knowing. I believe the issue is -do these things alter your testimony of the truthfulness of the restored church?- For me the answer is "Yes!" For me it started and ended with the different first vision accounts. The way I approach the different accounts (and yes, to me they are different) is by asking myself, "What would I do?" After much prayer and contemplation the answer was quite clear. If I saw Heavenly Father and Jesus and they spoke to me AND I was trying to bring people into the restored church my personal account of the vision would NEVER vary with regards to seeing these two men. This is arguably the single most important event in modern history if it is true. For Joseph Smith's accounts to vary on this single point exposes to me that it just didn't happen.

    • So let me get this straight: for you, the entire issue boils down to the fact that some one whose not you (Joseph Smith) did not behave the way you (with your historical hindsight that Joseph could not benefit from) think you would if the same thing hypothetically happen to you?

      That is not solid ground for the conclusions you reach; it's quicksand.

  5. I grew up in the Midwest and was also very aware of these things that are not being trotted out as "new history." However, when I served my mission I found that most of those from the Mountain West really had no idea about most of this. It was as if the Church had run so hard and so far and so fast from things like plural marriage, to put distance between the church and that "line" of condoning plural marriage that they went a little overboard and just flat out shielded members of the church from this history. They also went so far as to almost change the Church's position on the doctrine itself. Most members would claim, today, that the Lord decided to end plural marriage because it had served its purpose; and THAT is why we are not practicing it today. Well, that simply isn't the case. Nowhere in the Manifesto or the Second Manifesto does the Lord declare that the purpose has been served. The ONLY reason plural marriage was ended was because the laws of the land forced it to end. But it is almost hearsay to say that out loud now.

    Additionally, far too often the answers to difficult questions were: "Pray about the Book of Mormon. If you know that is true, then you don't need to worry about anything else." Well, that suggests that we really shouldn't be questioning in the first place. The Lord is perfect, His servants are not. He will find a way to correct those things that have gone wrong. I do feel that this is one such correction.

    • "It was as if the Church had run so hard and so far and so fast from things like plural marriage, to put distance between the church and that "line" of condoning plural marriage that they went a little overboard and just flat out shielded members of the church from this history."

      That very well could be true in some instances (especially with the history of plural marriage). I know some Mormon historians who have made similar observations along these lines. But I still don't see this as an institutional conspiracy. (Not that you're necessarily claiming this, if I'm reading you correctly.) Rather, I see it as an instance of misjudgment on how to handle talking about a really sticky historical and doctrinal matter.

  6. Whether it is "new" history or "old" history doesn't matter. It really bothers me that people think the members should have known this stuff. The reason people don't know it is because they were obedient to only reading church materials. What church published materials ever covered this stuff? Also, why would the morality of it change simply because it was known or not known before? The fact is that the church lied about these things. The fact is that the leaders used to call these truths "Anti-Mormon" and now they acknowledge them. No matter how you slice it there is no way to get around the fact that the church either didn't trust the members to be strong enough or mature enough to handle the truth, or they didn't feel like the message of the Gospel was strong enough with obfuscating facts. What if we went through the scriptures and got rid of David cheating with Bathsheba. Alma the Younger being an Apostate, or Saul disobeying God. Wouldn't that be faith promoting as well?

    My parents were seminary teachers for 25 years of my life in our little branch. I was converted at 15 years old and read over 100 books by prophets ,apostles, and church historians before my mission. And the way that I find out about the rock in the hat and polyandry is from a non-member relative who had a question about what he saw in South park? Since I felt so betrayed, I started trying to pursue truth wherever I found it. I am still active, in my Bishopric actually, but I am more of a Christian Mormon than a Mormon Christian.

    My biggest struggle is the reality that people of all other religions have conversion experiences as well. My Muslim roommate in college got down on his knees as a teenager and asked God if Islam is the only way to come unto God. He received a conversion experience similar to mine. I have friends who are Catholic who received the same conversion experience to their own faith. I have seen hundreds of Youtube videos of people sharing similar testimonies. Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Cult Members, you name it. I always applied my emotions to my logic, but never my logic to my conversion. I now consider that my conversion was God's way of telling me that church was right for me, and that its fruits would be good in my life, not that it was empirically, objectively true.

    • Jason B, you have every right to feel the way you do. I don't have all the answers, and at some point I myself always have to fall back to faith.

      However, I there are are at least partial answers out there. Don't assume the brethren all knew this history – they are not scholars. The church archives were closed to most people, from what I understand, partly because anti-Mormons (Brody etc) used the records against the church.

      And, yes, maybe people weren't ready for meat until they had digested milk. I saw meat, but most of these historical issues aren't really that important in the larger scheme. Did Joseph translate by looking at a stone in hat. I guess that's true. But does it matter how he got the revelations? The important question is was he a real prophet.

      Should the brethren have opened the archives sooner or trusted church members more? They aren't perfect so the answer might be yes.

      Conversions to other churches? Why not? The BofM says God gives truths and teachers to all people, as much as he decides to give them. There are a lot of truths in other churches – why wouldn't the Spirit testify to that amount to truth? Or that Islam or Buddhism is the best path for an individual at this point in their life?

      I don't know God's mind. Isaiah says his ways are not my ways. It almost seems to me God put some hurdles into our history, which we have to exercise enough faith to get over. Polygamy? Blacks and priesthood? Those are hurdles to a lot of people. But I have studied these things and I still believe the church is true. My thinking before was simplistic. But the church is still true, even if it's not always the the church I thought it was.

    • "What church published materials ever covered this stuff?"

      I think you'd actually be surprised:


      To be sure, the Church has emphasized some aspects of LDS history over others, including what goes into the curriculum. But anyone with a subscription to BYU Studies, for example, or who has glanced at the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (which has enjoyed a quasi-official endorsement from the Church), would find most if not all of these issues being discussed and explored at length.

      You mention too that you were "converted at 15 years old and read over 100 books by prophets, apostles, and church historians before [your] mission," and yet you didn't know about some of these issues. The first thing I'd have to ask is *what* you were reading, since that will go a long way in determining what kind of information you were exposed to. Reading a collection of sermons from Thomas S. Monson is not the same thing as reading the works of B. H. Roberts, for example.

      So again, I think it's much more complicated than simply assuming there was a massive conspiracy or something like that. Our own study habits and receptivity to new (and sometimes challenging) information will in large part determine our respective experiences.

    • I find it appalling that you are so condescending to those of us that are just finding this out. I am not a scholar nor do I have the time to be one as my time is torn between work, family and serving. I do read church publications, listen and read the conference talks as well as the lesson materials and magazines that the church puts out. I'll even read an autobiography of church leaders now and again. I didn't realize that there was a must-read-or-you're-an-idiot list put out by the church. No one told me B.H. Roberts was required reading. How about Mormonism and the Negro? Is that book required reading too? I've read that one and it turns out it's a load of dung since the church finally admitted the truth on the black issue.

      Not everyone goes down the same road in life.

    • Dude, chill out. I didn't say anything about a "must-read-or-you're-an-idiot list." Nor did I ever call B. H. Roberts "required reading." My point was simply to say that what we read and how deeply we study will in large part determine the level of surprise or shock we experience when we come across new or unsettling information. Some have not read very extensively or studied deeply for a whole host of reasons, and so they experience more shock when they do come across this information. Nobody, least of all I, is calling these individuals "idiots" because of this. It's simply a matter of recognizing why this happened, and ways to remedy it.

      Seriously, there's no need for the hostility.

  7. Thank you Jason B. You said it better than I could.

    I now have to filter everything the general authorities say through a filter as to would the Lord really say this or not. Sadly, because I was lied to. To say that I wasn't lied to is a load. Sins of Omission, commission, it's all the same when you're in charge. I only know what I've seen and what the Holy Ghost has told me. I can no longer attach riders of faith on to my initial testimony i.e. if the BoM is true then everything else must be true.

    • "Sins of Omission, commission, it's all the same when you're in charge."

      But what if the problem wasn't so much sins of omission as it was sins of ignorance (for lack of a better term)? The details of Joseph Smith's polygamy, for example, weren't really well understood until the 1970s when Danel Bachman and others began to seriously look into them. And even today new discoveries from Brian Hales and Don Bradley have challenged past interpretations of Joseph Smith's marriage to Fanny Alger, for example.

      The same could be said of other issues in Church history.

      My point is to ask whether it really was a matter of Church leaders "lying." That's something I'd challenge, since "lying" implies a conscious intention to deceive others, and I don't believe that's what Church leaders have done or are now doing.

    • Your assumption might be true if there was no link from the point of occurrence to the 1970's. There were many leaders alive in the late 1800's that knew JS personally. They went along with the whitewashing as did the others along the way. The cover up started early on.

    • "The cover up started early on."

      Right. Joseph Smith's polygamist acquaintances were so eager to cover up the Prophet's polygamy that they publicly and officially announced the practice started by Joseph in 1851, collected (and published) affidavits from Joseph Smith's plural wives to use against the Reorganized church (which was claiming Joseph never practiced polygamy), and assisted the Hedrickites in the Temple Lot Case of 1890s by providing testimony from Joseph's surviving plural wives.

      I tell you, those guys seem to have majorly missed the point of a "cover up."

    • I never said they tried to cover up polygamy but I doubt word was out about JS sending his friends out on missions and then marring the guy's wife.

      Someone in power along the way decided it would be more advantages to leave these details out – change the story.

    • "I never said they tried to cover up polygamy."

      Except you did say, "They went along with the whitewashing as did the others along the way. The cover up started early on."

      So what was I supposed to make of that?

      "I doubt word was out about JS sending his friends out on missions and then marring the guy's wife."

      I doubt so too, but mostly because that didn't really happened.


      "Someone in power along the way decided it would be more advantages to leave these details out – change the story."

      Or they weren't fully aware of the details to begin with. (Or, you know, the details never actually happened the way others claimed they did, and so leaving them out to begin with was the smart choice.)

      I'm not a mindreader so I won't presume to say one way or the other, but it's at least something to think about.

  8. downtown ministries goes on every LDS blog and says the same tired tripe ad nauseam. Blogs critical of LDS do not allow LDS to do what downtown ministries does.

    People don't seem to understand that history is incomplete. No matter how much information is found, there is still information that is missing. Historians piece history together, and most, if not all, put their bias into the narrative.

    Yes, the church did not put certain issues front and center every Sunday and every Conference. Yes, many local leaders did not, and do not handle troublesome questions correctly. People are people and some are just jerks.

    I had issues, and still do. What I did was study the docrtines and teachings. I compared LDS doctrine with other religions, studied what Biblical scholars have written, etc. The doctrines of the LDS church is more Biblical than any other religion. It takes a lot of study and prayer. Other religions could not answer my questions, could not explain a lot that is in the Bible. The mission of the LDS church is to preach of Christ, His restored church and the way to return to Him. The LDS church is the only church that has the keys to do this.

    The leaders made mistakes. There were things they did not understand. The beginning of the church was a very turbulent time. Mistakes will continue to be made. There are things the church does today that I struggle with. I wonder why God lets it happen. But is does not change the restored doctrines.

    The Prophets and Apostles in the Bible did stupid things. They made mistakes. So do their mistakes and stupidity make their calling of God null and void and make them false teachers? Why so they get a free pass and Joseph Smith is held to a different standard? Joseph Smith was constantly harassed, jailed, suffered hardships, tarred and feathered,etc. How many of us today would be able to handle all that to keep up a fraud? If everything Joseph Smith did was a fraud then why would he continue to put up with all the hardships and put his family through awful things to perpetuate a fraud?

    Emma Smith was asked if she really believed Joseph was called of God to be a Prophet. Emma said yes, Joseph was a Prophet and there were days she wished she did not know it.

  9. My name is Mitch –

    I just want to say to everyone here, who has been saying that they learned about all the stuff in the essays in Church during Sunday school, seminary, etc, etc., that is a bunch of bull.

    I grew up in the church and I knew most of this stuff not because I heard any of it in church but because of the books my mom had that talked about this stuff. But if I ever dared mention any of it to church leaders I was told it was "Anti-Mormon Literature".

    Heck even right know after the church has published these essays if I mention the stuff in them to my in laws (or other older members) they will tell me it is Anti Mormon, until I prove that the church did publish this information then all of a sudden it is no longer "Anti" but I am told "it doesn't matter".

  10. What a great opportunity to exercise our faith! So Uchdorf brought up a good analogy- "When is the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. When is the next best time? Right now." The church is trying to do the right thing right now. Can we be grateful our youth have this? No? Ok well try faith in Christ as a starting point.

    If your faith is struggling, stick to what you know is true and be honest with yourself- know your limits. If you go down every rabbit hole you'll just be confused. Some things have to wait for the full picture to come to view before you can see it clearly. If you'd based your testimony of the BOM on whether there were horses during pre-Columbian times, you'd have left the church decades ago. We'll they've uncovered evidence recently so you'd have lost out on a lot of life. One of the most oft suggested admonition and theme from all the scriptures is to remember. Remember when the Spirit witnessed to you.

    Perhaps your feeling slighted because you weren’t informed enough. I got side-swiped serving a mission in the south. I rolled with it. The church is trying to say they are sorry and they’ll do better going forward. Try forgiveness and hope on for size. Quite frankly technology and all our capabilities will bring up lots of stuff that you’d never ever been able to discover. I think there’s a techno-sociology causality to this with data now being able to be mined and analyzed. So buckle up but don’t be too critical- rely on the one source of truth, God. Take an eternal perspective. This could be all part of His purpose, or there’d be no need for faith- which faith is a required mechanism for the atonement, miracles, etc..

    If you sincerely ask, the Lord will provide peace. I had an experience where I thought I had cancer. I was up the whole night pleading to God before my procedure… in FEAR. Well in the morning about an hour before I was to go in- He finally gave peace to my soul. Incredible peace I cannot describe! How exquisite! But the peace was not an answer that I "do not" have cancer- it was just that it'd be alright, He was with me. What a gift.
    Just pray for the peace (Spirit). Then you won’t have to lean on your own limited knowledge that breeds uncertainty then doubt and then onto fear and anger and yadda yadda. You can rely on God’s truth and light. That’s how we’re supposed to operate, fully relying on His Holy arm. How exquisite indeed!

    • I a truly believe that what you say is the absolute right answer for forgiveness and moving on. It is the only way to come out of this quagmire. If only it wasn't for the church teaching that what the Prophet has said is what God has said. For that to be true it has to be true 100% of the time. That is the monkey wrench that unfortunately derails other church doctrine because if it's not true 100% of the time you then have to guess who is speaking, the Prophet as a guy or is he God's mouth piece right now. Did God reverse his stance on the Word of Wisdom by saying " I know I said this wasn't a commandment before and is just a suggestion, but now I've decided you can't join my church if you drink or smoke", or did the powers that be get tired of bailing their friends out of jail for being drunk on Saturday night and then having to cover their primary class because they're hung over on Sunday? (I understand that that scenario is over simplistic and perhaps irreverent but it gets the point across.) So they throw a blanket fix-all on the problem. Did God do it or did man? I know, I should pray about it. But what if I get a answer that it was man and you say it was God? Can I still go to the temple if I drink responsible?

      These admissions of deception/failure or poor judgement in the past raises questions in the now and future. Who is in charge, God or man? Is it a 50/50 split? Do we follow blindly or question and not be allowed to go to the temple? It's tough to proclaim that you are a church led by God through prophets so follow me because God won't let me lead you astray and then screw up and say that doesn't count, that was me, not God, even though I said it was God before. But this time I really, really mean it, come follow me. You can not have your cake and eat it too.

      This is a serious post by a member that has done all that was asked. I followed the church line and now feel blindsided. I am torn.

    • This is intended for anonymous above and not for anyone else. It sounds like you are exactly where I was a year and a half ago. Someone who has not been through it, no matter what they claim to know or have been taught from an early age, can't possibly understand what anonymous is going through. It's an absolute crisis that tears down the very foundation upon which your testimony was based. Been there. It's the belief that the church IS its truth claims and that all truth available to us is found within its doctrine. We remind each other constantly that "we know the church is true". We look to our latter-day prophets to expound truth and we expect to always get definitive answers, even from many of our local leaders. If the truth claims of the church start to fall apart in our minds we have nothing left to hold on to. Am I even close? Because of what we continue to teach and tell each other about the truthfulness of every point of doctrine and the infallibility of prophets (we acknowledge they're fallible but we don't really want to believe it because that would create cognitive dissonance and we avoid that like the plague) we fall apart when there's reason to believe otherwise. We look for answers, we crave answers, and if we don't have answers we create answers to reinforce the premise that the church is all about truth. Some people may not have defined the church in this way. Good for them. But for those who have, because that's how we were taught to define the church – it's our personal paradigm and perspective – it can be crippling when it all falls apart. For me, I was (somehow) able to let go of the truth claim paradigm and redefine the church as a tool to help me live the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's seeing the gospel from an entirely different perspective. When I did that I read the scriptures with entirely new eyes and listened to the GAs with new ears. They actually don't support the truth claims in the same way we continue to teach each other. Now, for me, they teach a much more inclusive gospel of Christ. This isn't going to make any sense to anyone who has not gone through it so please don't try to debate it. (I'm not going to reply again anyway.) I've learned how to find joy in asking the questions. I have faith because I choose to have faith in the face of my questions and doubts. I never really knew what faith was before my faith transition because it was easy when I was already given all the answers and all I had to do was believe it. And never before have I understood the importance and value of personal revelation. That is my new foundation. But now I question everything. No more blind faith. It's hard. It's really hard. Especially when a local leader expects you to believe everything he says and does is direct revelation from the Lord. What makes it really hard is when he believes every thought that pops in his head comes from God by virtue of his calling and priesthood. That may or may not be true, and without that blind faith to rely on it creates real struggles in trying to deal with it. I've also come to accept that the church isn't for everyone. For many people the ability to transition into a different church paradigm and not be incensed by some of the things others continue to expound in our weekly local meetings become too hard to deal with and they leave. I've learned not to judge anyone for their decisions. If this does resonate with you, there is help if you know where to find it. I'd recommend mormondiscussionpodcast.org. Email him and let him recommend where you need to start. My best to you.

  11. Very glad the Church is putting this in the members lessons. When approached by people who are hostile towards the Faith its important our membership understands that these "supposed contradictions" have been answered by LDS scholars for decades now.

    I remember reading on my mission in 1999 an article by Carl Mosser and Paul Owen called "Mormon Scholarship and Evangelical Neglect, Losing the Battle and Not Knowing it"
    which was published in the Trinity Journal. Owen and Mosser said at that point there "were NO works by the anti-Mormon space that had not already been addressed and answered by LDS Scholars.

    Sometimes I wonder if the anti-Mormon movement even bothers to read any works by LDS scholars that critique anti-Mormon writings. The anti-Mormon books I've read seem to almost copy and paste each others own books and then reprint them as if they have never been answered before.

    In my opinion it's sloppy scholarship at best, if not deceiving in its nature.

    I first became aware of the anti-Mormon movement on my mission in the late 90's and was given this website by a member on my mission which really helped my companions and I answer common criticisms of the church. I found it opened up some people to consider what we were teaching them might actually be true.


  12. Hi. I just wanted to say how thrilled I am about the new manuals. I have studied this one and now I am starting with the one about Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I am also buying the Joseph Smith Papers volumes and I just love them. I live in Uruguay, and for many years the only way I had to read about some topics was the home library of an american friend. I' ve always loved Church History, and anxiously waited for this material to be available for my non English speaking friends.

    Thanks for posting this. I will translate it as soon as time permits an share it on my FB page " Mi tributo al Hermani José" if that' s ok with you. Best regards

  13. Let's see, 'We' have been through 5 cycles of the current Book of Mormon Sunday School Manual – under strict instructions to teach only what is in the manual. Where we to learn about these 'new' developments without going to outside sources. The proliferation of 'official' website directly tied to 'lds.org' is a recent phenomenon. Larry Richman made a collection of these websites that covers about 20 pages. Almost all came into being after 1999. What's my point – don't exact;y know except that that is a lot of information to mine to find the 'truth' – testimony aside.

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