Discovering Nuance

March 10, 2008 | 165 comments
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A few recent comments over at BCC have elaborated on a theme that one hears from time to time on the internet: “I didn’t get the whole scoop on LDS history while I was in Primary.” For example, commenter Bookwormmama writes:

As a 29 year old member of the church I will concur that the black and white mentality is what we learn from church itself. We are taught from infancy in a black and white religion . . . Maybe some of you here have been able to do that. Maybe you have been able to figure out a way to make sense of Joseph Smith’s many versions of the First Vision and his many wives that were also married to other men! Maybe you were able to make sense of Brigham Young and his blasphemous and racist teachings . . . I am still trying to figure it out in my black and white world view, a view that I learned at my church, where I was taught to “Choose the Right” and that I learned from an early age to bear my testimony and say “I KNOW that Joseph Smith is a true prophet” long before I even understood what that meant. Those who claim that the people who have left the church do so because they have had some morality problem don’t know very many people that have left the church. I was taught from childhood that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the truth of the gospel rests on that one fact.

Later commenter Brian writes along the same lines:

If you accept what your teachers tell you as true growing up, you often tend to get black and white. . . . If I hadn’t googled “kids repeat testimonies saying I know ” (one of my personal pet peeves- being taught to say and believe things because of societal pressure) I would not have known about JS’s polygamy (and all the other stuff). Because I embraced the church’s teachings so completely, I was all the more disillusioned when I found out they were not as solid as they were presented. I am sorting through information now, and one of the things that makes me not want to stay in is that when I sat in primary with my kids, and when I was teaching the young men (up to a couple of weeks ago), I saw black and white.

It’s a common theme — I’ve probably seen statements along these lines in dozens of blog posts or comments over the years. And I can relate to the discussion, since I come from a similar factual background. I also learned about Joseph Smith as a child. I learned about Golden Plates and translation and Urim and Thummin. I did not learn about seerstones, polyandry, Zelph, Kinderhook, or the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society.

Does this mean that I was duped? Is this a reason to be angry at the church? Should I be mad-as-hell-and-not-gonna-take-it-anymore, because I did not learn everything I needed to know while I was in kindergarten?

Not really.

Consider a few other things that I learned about various topics, at home or at school, during the same time frame of Primary age:

I learned about U.S. history: Columbus came to America, Patriots threw tea into Boston Harbor, and the Wright Brothers flew.

I did not learn about the Tuskogee syphilis experiment; or about smallpox blankets given to Native Americans; or about aggressive Manifest Destiny expansionism; or about forced sterilization of mental patients.

I learned about politics. I learned that the Russians were bad, because they didn’t want to let anybody be free. America was better, because America was a free country, and we got to elect our leaders. In Russia, you couldn’t do that.

I did not learn about the various criticisms of U.S. capitalism; about robber barons; about human rights abuses in U.S. client states; about Salvador Allende; about the elitism of early U.S. democratic republicanism.

I learned that Mondale was bad, because he wanted to turn the country over to the Russians, and Reagan was good, because he was going to kick some Russian butt.

I did not learn about the various critiques of the Reagan-era Republican party.

I learned about other churches. Catholics baptized babies; Jews didn’t eat ham; Jehovah’s Witnesses liked to argue with Mormons.

I did not learn about Maimonides, or Aquinas, or the Inquisition, or the history of Calvinism and Puritanism in America.

Why did I have all of these terrible, egregious gaps in my education?

Because I was a flippin’ nine-year-old, that’s why!

Just given casual observation, I think my own experience isn’t too far from the norm. I listen to my own Primary-age children or neighbor kids discussing politics or history or theology, and it’s deja vu. The broader concepts come through okay — “slavery was bad,” for instance. But why did people have slave laws? “Well, some white people in the South were bad people and wanted to own other people and they didn’t like black people, and so they wanted the government to allow slavery.” Nuanced, it’s not.

And that’s okay.

There will be a time to learn about the Compromise of 1820 and the Rum Triangle and the (heavy!) Northern involvement in slave-related commerce and the harshness of the transatlantic passage and slave revolts and so on. Right now, “slavery was bad” is good enough. Nine-year-olds just don’t do nuance very well.

Which is why, “I did not learn about polyandry in Primary,” is not a valid complaint. Yes, Mormon nine-year olds pick up a pretty unnuanced version of Mormon history — just like nine-year olds everywhere get an unnuanced version of the world.

On the flip side, I think it’s quite valid to argue that older church members ought to have a broader and more well-rounded grounding in church history, particularly once they’re _not_ in Primary any more.

(For instance, it seems reasonable to complain about the fact that Mormon teenagers don’t get a nuanced background in history, I think — much more so than to complain about Primary kids’ failure to learn nuance.

But I don’t know if I’m being realistic in these expectations, either. Ignorance among teens still looks a lot like a microcosm of society at large, doesn’t it? It’s not like teens anywhere really bother to get much in the way of nuanced history. Remember the big news story last month, when a survey showed that teens asked to name the most famous Americans tended to name Oprah Winfrey as one of the top names? It’s not just the Mormons — apparently teens most everywhere are historically clueless.

Yeah, our teens are probably underinformed about church history. But could we realistically expect that to change, even if we wanted it?

That leaves college, I guess, to effectively learn nuance. And hey, that’s when it actually does seem to happen for a lot of people. It did for me, at least.

And then a few surprised college kids ask, “hey, why didn’t anybody tell me about this when I was in Primary?”)

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165 Responses to Discovering Nuance

  1. lamonte on March 10, 2008 at 8:14 am

    I grew up in a Mormon community in a family that was only partially active by the time I was eight and almost totally inactive (except for me) by the time I was 14. Perhaps that is the reason my parents pointed out the hypocrisy in the lives of some members who were considered to be “in good standing.” That same family situation helped me some how rationalize that it was OK to party on Saturday night as long as I made it to church on Sunday morning. Somehow, despite those experiences I still believed. Maybe I just needed to hope for something better and I surrounded myself with good people. The girl who became my wife (for 34 years to date) helped me to clean up my act enough to be married in the temple but in reality for many years I was just going through the motions. Then some life experiences helped me to solidify my testimony of Jesus Christ and then a family crisis finally brought full conversion. I found the strength to go on in the midst of a heartbreaking time.

    In the development of my testimony and my conversion I have found that my testimony of Joseph Smith came at the very end, after I had learned some of the details you describe above (actually there are several things that you mention that I am hearing for the first time.) Maybe being raised by my parents I became a skeptic and never actually accepted the rosy picture presented by my Primary and YM leaders. Perhaps I’m just a slow learner. But I find it interesting that the nuanced history of Joseph Smith is what has convinced me that he was and is a prophet but I rejected the more perfect perception presented by those same leaders.

  2. Graham Wing on March 10, 2008 at 8:15 am

    I think one of the most beautiful and simple gifts of the Spirit is this:

    To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
    To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
    D&C 46:13-14

    I don’t see anything wrong with children, new members, or even long-time (but maybe struggling) members following the example of others, and speaking in a certain way. Hopefully they end up gaining the gift of knowing for themselves, but there is nothing wrong with believing someone else.

  3. Rusty on March 10, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Kaimi,
    While I think it’s important to have nuance in our beliefs (how could we not?), it seems you’ve left out a large part of their argument: that the black-and-white view is what’s being taught through Church channels. In other words, it’s not a Primary problem, it’s a Gospel Doctrine problem as well. We’re not learning about polyandry in Gospel Doctrine. We have to discover those things either at the library or via the internet.

  4. East Coast on March 10, 2008 at 9:40 am

    On the other hand, if historical things like polyandry or even polygamy were taught in church, then it would be a small step for people to assume that we believe in those things, teach them, and practice them nowadays.

    That’s perhaps one major reason for only preaching repentance.

  5. Ardis Parshall on March 10, 2008 at 9:43 am

    We have to discover those things either at the library or via the internet.

    … which is where we learn about the nuances in American and world history if we didn’t go to college. Or else we don’t make the effort to discover those things from reliable sources, and we become the kind of credulous people who believe everything we hear on conservative talk radio or from forwarded scare-mail.

    I learned about every one of Kaimi’s Mormon history “nuances” during my church history year of home study seminary, when I was 14 — not very complex exposure, true, but it was there.

    Post-high school converts (and apparently BIC Mormons whose seminary teachers preferred sensational rumors to the church-provided lesson materials) didn’t have that opportunity. Most non-English readers don’t have an equivalent opportunity even now. We probably do need to do something to provide a trustworthy source for those nuances. I don’t know what the perfect solution is, but I know that imperfect solutions include fetting about not having heard all this in Primary. Better invest the time wasted in fretting on catching up.

  6. Susan M on March 10, 2008 at 10:20 am

    This is a bit of a tangent, but for a long time after joining the church hearing kids “bear their testimony” that was really just whispered in their ears by their parents bugged me. Shouldn’t they know for themselves first? It seemed like brainwashing to me. I never did that with my kids or even encouraged them to bear their testimony in church.

    My daughter started doing so on her own when she was about 12. I worried about it even then. Was she just parroting words she’d heard all her life? Or did she mean it?

    Then one day a woman gave a talk in which she mentioned bearing her testimony as a young teenager. She said doing it was what helped her develop a testimony. The Spirit bore witness to her as she said the words that they were true.

    I felt better about it then. Also infinitely stupid, because you’d think I’d have seen that as a possibility, but I didn’t.

  7. Gary on March 10, 2008 at 10:38 am

    There is a flaw in some of your analogies. Nobody told you that America was led by prophets who spoke regularly to God, and that God dictated America’s social, economic and foreign policy. You did not grow up singing “Follow the President”. When you learned about unpleasant facts about American history, you did not have to assimilate that information into that kind of paradigm. You were free to say, I guess “we” or those “political leaders” were not so special after all. That is much more difficult in the church.

    The issue is not just learning “nuanced” details and facts that were not known to you as a child. The issue is the much more difficult task of figuring out how to incorporate historical facts such as racist teachings, bizarre polyandry and polygamy and contradictory and false teachings from prophets into one’s belief system.

  8. jab on March 10, 2008 at 10:54 am

    As a side note, it’s church policy now that children should not bear their testimony in fast and testimony mtg unless they can do it by themselves. That doesn’t mean that a lot of prep can’t occur at home beforehand, but there should be a lot fewer 2 year olds “bearing their testimony” now. Also, Primary is not supposed to have testimony time, although as leaders we are supposed to bear our testimonies as we teach and if the kids want to bear their testimony when they give a talk they can.

  9. Peter LLC on March 10, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Preach on, Gary.

    Some or maybe even most active members might be able to resolve the cognitive dissonance that arises when exposed to the church’s seamy underside for the first time, but I don’t blame anyone when “nuance” is the first victim of a startled reaction to the once unkown Dark Side. I mean, c’mon, the world just got turned upside down.

  10. jab on March 10, 2008 at 10:58 am

    The other problem with discussing “nuances” in Primary – what do you do when one child has a question, but there are 30 other kids in the room who may or may not be able to follow along? For instance, there was a discussion on the meaning of the 12th article of faith and what it means to “sustain the law”. One child asked, “but what if you lived in Germany when Hitler was in power?” Great question, but not necessarily one that can be covered and discussed in the 3 minutes remaining when most of the kids are watching the clock and half have no idea of the context of the questions. Perhaps parents and teachers could just try to be better at communicating with each other – a teacher could let the parent know that a question came up in primary and that it might be good for the parent to discuss with their child at home.

  11. Bob on March 10, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Forgive me if I don’t see “nuance” as anything other than a “weasel word”. Truth is Truth and should taught such at all levels. Truth is the only thing that is sound bedrock. “Nuance” is sand.

  12. Ben on March 10, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Bob’s comment aptly illustrates the black-and-white worldview discussed here and here.

  13. SmallAxe on March 10, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    IMO many members are turned off by a discussion of “nuance” (as in #11). For many it seems to be code word for “you think you’re smarter than the rest of us–including the leadership of the church” or “you’re distorting the simplicity of the gospel–mixing it with the philosophies of men”. I think an argument needs to be made for the normative value of “nuance”. If nuance means a broader understanding of church history (which is what it seems to be loosely equated with here), then it’s going to be a tough sell given that 1) Practically speaking we only have 45minutes in church to learn more about church history (double that if you count sunday school). 2) The predominant paradigm is that we can’t move on to more detail until we get the basics down first. 3) Most members don’t feel like more information about church history is going to help them in our “daily lives”. 4) The predominant paradigm is that a certain kind of applicability in “daily life” is the standard by which the attainment of more knowledge predicated.

  14. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    “Nuance”…..? Is that the same argument as “milk before meat?”

    I am good friends with two formally completely active, died in the wool mormons who up summarily left the church after discovering some of the “facts” they believed were concealed by the church. I can absolutely see their point and have struggled with the same feelings of being deceived because I didn’t pick up on the “nuance” until I was almost 30. Yeah, I know there are those who will call my feelings of having been deceived ridiculous…..and will say “where were you for the first 30 years of your life”. Where was I? In church!

    This is the way I described my feelings at the time I was struggling through the discoveries of the real church history for the first time – it’s a little lame, but the scenario describes what I think many feel:

    “Let’s say that I dated and married the hottest woman in Texas. She’s everything I ever wanted…beautiful, talented…it’s my belief that she’s my soul mate.

    “Our marriage is awesome….we’ve been married for several years….like every marriage, there are things that pop up that we have to work through…but overall, things are great.

    “Since I didn’t know her when she was a little kid, teenager…and even before my mission, I rely on her version of her history…what she tells me…..She says she was always active in the church…she’s never had a drink of alcohol…in fact, I was the first guy she kissed….never even had a boyfriend. I have no reason to doubt her….after all, she’s the perfect wife….and any relationship is built upon trust – she’s done nothing to compromise that.

    “As time goes on….and we’re moving some old boxes from the basement to storage, I notice a picture of her at a high school dance…liplocked with some dude that obviously ain’t me! And, I uncover some love letters…that are a little more intimate than I’m comfortable with….as I do a little more looking, I discover a photo of her at a frat party…with what appears to be an alcoholic beverage in her hand….some other inconsistencies pop up…..stuff different than what I’ve always been told.

    “I immediately start asking questions….I’m disturbed by this…I’m looking for explanations. When I confront her with the evidence, she challenges me saying that I’m looking for a reason to destroy our marriage…and this is really less about her past than about my ability to trust her. I start asking her family….people I trust to tell me the truth. They acknowledge that my wife did kinda have a history, but that really didn’t mean anything. Nothing fundamental changed – after all….I felt a tremendous love and bond to her…right?

    “After a while and with some reluctance, she kinda comes clean….(or I get to the bottom of it one way or another) she claims she didn’t mislead me, but she can’t deny that she had a bit of a wild side in high school, she drank a little bit and actually had several boyfriends.

    “In fact, she asserts, it was really my fault for misunderstanding her….the information, she claims, was out there if I would have not been so lazy and studied it out for myself. It wasn’t her responsibility to publish, talk about or disclose information that would potentially harm my perception of her….and our relationship. After all, all that stuff happened in the past…and she does not do that anymore (which seems to be true). She says she just didn’t want to harm our relationship….because she cared about me. She argues that she wasn’t inaccurate or untruthful, just a little bit incomplete…again with my best interests in mind.”

    While I understand that we don’t necessarily want to teach polyandry in primary, that line of reasoning is (we don’t teach – what some consider – salacious details to children), is at best, a sad defense – especially when some of those details are directly relevant to our restorational history. Furthermore, it seems to me that “milk before meat” is only valid if the meat eventually comes through church approved channels…..and leaving it as “well, if they find it on the internet, fine, but we’re not going to teach it” is totally unacceptable.

    Finally, we make the problem more complex when we treat JS as a semi-saint “next to Christ”, etc. For example, I used portions of the March Ensign yesterday during my 14-15 year old SS class. I talked about how Isaiah “typified” Christ and then we discussed some of the things we believe about Christ. The article titled “We Believe” in the March Ensign says:

    “Do you believe that Joseph Smith is somehow as important as Jesus Christ in helping save people?” Everyone in my class said YES! Sure there may have been some confusion with the language of the question……but, common!

    When an idealized picture of JS is developed and then later shattered as the result of an internet search…..we’ve kind of made our own bed.

  15. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    ick….”typified” should be “prophesied of”

  16. Seth R. on March 10, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    I agree the problem isn’t Primary.

    The problem is that they teach Seminary and Gospel Doctrine like you’re still in Primary.

  17. Ben on March 10, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Did my comment get deleted? I thought it was relevant…

  18. John on March 10, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I agree with Seth R. but I’d add Institute onto the list as well… When I go to the classes for “college age” young adults, I feel like I’m in primary…

  19. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 10, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Gee, I got the seamy underbelly of the Church reading the Old Testament. Nothing recent is anywhere near as bad.

  20. Belle on March 10, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    When I was in HS, I wanted to learn more about the ban on blacks holding the priesthood. I started asking questions about it in seminary. The teacher was clearly uncomfortable and decided to involve my parents. My parents sat me down and very kindly explained that seminary was not the place to talk about this issue. Their reasoning was that it could lead other kids to question the gospel. They weren’t really willing to answer my questions either, probably because there aren’t any *great* answers to the issue.

    Years later, I feel for both the seminary teacher and my parents. It is a sticky issue that is so ugly. It does not have a good, gospel-context, non-raciest explanation that will hold water with most bright teens. Plus, they didn’t have a lot of resources (i.e. the internet) to help them make a good case to me. I hope that I will be better prepared to work through these issues with my girls.

  21. Kaimi Wenger on March 10, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Interesting responses. Thanks for the comments so far, let me try to address some of them.

    Rusty (3) writes:

    It’s not a Primary problem, it’s a Gospel Doctrine problem as well. We’re not learning about polyandry in Gospel Doctrine. We have to discover those things either at the library or via the internet.”

    Agreed, absolutely.

    East Coast (4) writes:

    “On the other hand, if historical things like polyandry or even polygamy were taught in church, then it would be a small step for people to assume that we believe in those things, teach them, and practice them nowadays.

    I have to disagree, EC. I think we’re perfectly capable of teaching about history — animal sacrifice, for instance — without people taking away the message that they ought to go try it.

    Ardis (5) writes:

    Post-high school converts (and apparently BIC Mormons whose seminary teachers preferred sensational rumors to the church-provided lesson materials) didn’t have that opportunity. Most non-English readers don’t have an equivalent opportunity even now. We probably do need to do something to provide a trustworthy source for those nuances.

    Agreed — those are some of the real, structural blind spots in the system, and we should do better at addressing them.

    Gary (7) writes:

    There is a flaw in some of your analogies. Nobody told you that America was led by prophets who spoke regularly to God, and that God dictated America’s social, economic and foreign policy. You did not grow up singing “Follow the President”. When you learned about unpleasant facts about American history, you did not have to assimilate that information into that kind of paradigm. You were free to say, I guess “we” or those “political leaders” were not so special after all. That is much more difficult in the church.

    The issue is not just learning “nuanced” details and facts that were not known to you as a child. The issue is the much more difficult task of figuring out how to incorporate historical facts such as racist teachings, bizarre polyandry and polygamy and contradictory and false teachings from prophets into one’s belief system.

    I didn’t sing “Follow the President,” Gary. But I sure grew up reciting “I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America . . . ” on a pretty regular basis.

    College, and to some extent high school, is a time when nuance enters into a lot of areas for many people. One learns that the United States isn’t all perfect; that Mom and Dad don’t actually get along all the time and actually have some longstanding feuds; and yes, that Joseph Smith had some real flaws.

    Bob (11) writes:

    “Forgive me if I don’t see “nuance” as anything other than a “weasel word”. Truth is Truth and should taught such at all levels. Truth is the only thing that is sound bedrock. “Nuance” is sand.”

    You’re in favor of teaching fourth graders about the Tuskogee syphilis experiments, then?

  22. Kaimi Wenger on March 10, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    SmallAxe (13),

    I think you’re right that history gets a bad rep in the church. Anything outside of the manuals is looked on suspiciously. That’s a bad thing, I think, and I wish that norms were more open to broader historical discussion.

    (Though I have doubts that the lay membership would really give a d*mn. I mean, really. How many members in your ward could pick out Nauvoo — or even Illinois — on a map?

    Adcama (14),

    “Nuance”…..? Is that the same argument as “milk before meat?”

    Well, it’s a related sort of argument. It’s sort of like the movie Crash (careful, it’s R-rated and has a few F-bombs) — the basic theme that everything is more complicated than it seems to be for a fourth-grader.

    it seems to me that “milk before meat” is only valid if the meat eventually comes through church approved channels…..and leaving it as “well, if they find it on the internet, fine, but we’re not going to teach it” is totally unacceptable.

    Agreed. The problem is not the milk in primary; it’s the lack of meat in seminary/institute/etc.

    I’m addressing the “milk in primary” comments because it’s a line that I’ve seen repeated many times — “this isn’t what I was taught in Primary” is probably a direct quote from half a dozen comments.

    Ben (17),

    Your comment was insufficiently nuanced. If it had been more nuanced, the Akismet spam filter wouldn’t have temporarily held it as spam. I let it out of moderation; and edited it to add a few references to the Kinderhook plates.

  23. meems on March 10, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Kaimi’s right.

  24. Kaimi Wenger on March 10, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Seth (16) writes,

    “I agree the problem isn’t Primary. The problem is that they teach Seminary and Gospel Doctrine like you’re still in Primary.”

    Yep. And they take away singing time, which was the best part anyway.

    If the Elders Quorum got to sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes or Do as I’m Doing — and Happy, Happy Birthday, and Hello (Hello) for visitors — I might be okay with it all. But since we don’t get to sing, I agree that we ought to at least move up a notch or two in the lesson material.

    Ethesis (19) writes,

    “Gee, I got the seamy underbelly of the Church reading the Old Testament. Nothing recent is anywhere near as bad.”

    Yes, but the Old Testament, like the Lectures on Faith, isn’t actually part of the canon. (Except for about 25 scripture mastery verses.)

    John (18) writes,

    “I agree with Seth R. but I’d add Institute onto the list as well… When I go to the classes for “college age” young adults, I feel like I’m in primary…”

    Yep.

    Belle (20) writes,

    When I was in HS, I wanted to learn more about the ban on blacks holding the priesthood. I started asking questions about it in seminary. The teacher was clearly uncomfortable and decided to involve my parents. My parents sat me down and very kindly explained that seminary was not the place to talk about this issue. Their reasoning was that it could lead other kids to question the gospel. They weren’t really willing to answer my questions either, probably because there aren’t any *great* answers to the issue.

    Years later, I feel for both the seminary teacher and my parents. It is a sticky issue that is so ugly. It does not have a good, gospel-context, non-raciest explanation that will hold water with most bright teens. Plus, they didn’t have a lot of resources (i.e. the internet) to help them make a good case to me. I hope that I will be better prepared to work through these issues with my girls.

    You’re right, there aren’t any great answers to that particular query. (For a discussion of some possible answers, see http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=4108 ).

    I don’t know what the right response is on a more general level, either. One problem is the desire to keep the whole group together spiritually, all simply moving into position as adult believers. In fact, the questioning that happens during high school and college tends to affect people differently — in an area like the political-economic history side of it, some kids might become anarchists, some become Marxists, some stay as generic capitalists, some become Randians, and so on. Diffusion is the norm.

    The same goes for polygamy or blacks-and-the-Priesthood. Teach it at 16, and some kids will shrug, while others storm off.

    That seems unacceptable, so the alternative is to _not_ teach it at 16. This prevents the early storming-off. But it makes later discovery potentially more painful — it looks like a Nixonian cover-up.

  25. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    “Agreed. The problem is not the milk in primary; it’s the lack of meat in seminary/institute/etc.”

    So Kaimi to make sure I’m clear, is it your position that we should keep the primary programme simple (like it is now), but we need to move more toward a “tell all” type history (replete with Helen Mar Kimball) as kids move up through seminary/institute?

    If so, then what you’re saying is that people should quit complaining that they didn’t hear these things in primary and start complaining that they didn’t hear ‘em in seminary and institute….is my understanding basically correct?

  26. Kaimi Wenger on March 10, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Adcama,

    It’s my impression that at least some segment of folks leave the church (or contemplate doing so) when, around college age, they discover these facts. And that one complaint is that this isn’t what they learned in Primary.

    And I really don’t think it should be what kids learn in Primary.

    On the other hand, I think it should probably be part of Seminary instruction — who knows how many people will actually read it, but it should be there. And it should definitely be available and discussed at the college level. Why not have a faithful-but-unflinching “Race and the church” or “Gender and the church” institute class?

  27. East Coast on March 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    I was thinking about this issue as I ran some errands this morning. I get back and find that Stephen M (Ethesis) has already made my point.

    Stephen said, “Gee, I got the seamy underbelly of the Church reading the Old Testament.”

    I seriously believe that being acquainted with the scriptures can solve a multitude of concerns. If the Mormonism you believe in is some sort of new-age, everyone’s-happy, pretty-Christmas-lights religion that would be unrecognizable to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, yeah, reading the history of the church could be a little disturbing.

    Having read the Bible a couple of times as a child, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything shocking in our church history. Hey, life is messy. Religion is too. That (in and of itself) doesn’t mean it’s not true.

    I don’t understand Kaimi’s point that the OT is not in the canon. Were you trying to be funny? It certainly is, and it would be very valuable for people that believe in Christianity to actually read it. There are churches that have abandoned the OT (the Church of the Brethren, for example) but we are not one of them. Reading the OT can help people understand the temple ceremonies among other things.

    This reminds me of a book group I went to shortly after I finished college. The RS president was going on and on about how the church was being so unethical in trying to cover up some issue from the pioneer era. After listening to this for a while, I entered the conversation and said, actually, that issue is covered in the Church History institute manual (1989). She gave me a dirty look, said that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and went back to her rant. (Sure made me happy to work with her over the next few years.)

    I really don’t think there is a cover-up going on. There certainly was a weird period of non-professional history writing in the church. I think we’re going through a painful recovery from the 1950s-style histories and biographies that many church members have been so heavily exposed to.

    However, I will restate that the church has a scriptural mandate to preach the gospel of repentance. Just because our predecessors may have departed from that mandate does not mean that we need to do the same.

  28. Kevinf on March 10, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    It would seem to me that part of this is learning to be an adult, and to look with a more critical eye, which happens for most of us, as Kaimi points, in college, or at least after high school. But I also think that we could do a better job in our seminary/institute and gospel doctrine and teen age Sunday School classes.

    Classic example came yesterday in our Gospel Doctrine class when discussing the Charles Anthon story. One class member, my wife tells me (I was attending another ward in our stake), announced that Anthon really couldn’t translate Egyptian anyway, as the Rosetta Stone wasn’t discovered and translated until later. A quick check in Rough Stone Rolling revealed that Anthon had published his own work that included Egyptian hieroglyphics based on Champollion’s published translation and hieroglyphic dictionary in 1824. Apparently, the teacher was unaware of this, and no one challenged the assertion. What do we do at this point, bring this to the attention of the GD teacher? Brink it up next week in class? What is our role to correct these kinds of incorrect statements that revert our gospel study to the level of primary?

    On the other hand, there was a letter from the First Presidency that was read in the leadership meetings I attended yesterday, about a falsely attributed statement about the valiance of the current generation (“…when others hear you were on earth during Gordon B. Hinckley’s time, a hush will fall over the host, and they will bow at your presence…or words to that effect). Obviously the church is concerned about false doctrines getting spread about, so perhaps it’s getting better? I hope so.

  29. Kevinf on March 10, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    Note to self: Read Julie’s post, before posting the last paragraph of my # 28.

  30. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Kevinf, I’d love to have a video camera in SM to record the congregational reaction to a First Presidency letter about Joseph’s polygamy or the re-discovery of the papyrus attributed to the BOA. It seems like it’s one thing to correct statements falsely attributed to the FP/church leaders, but it’s an entirely different thing to remain silent on large chunks of historical relevance…….

  31. Kevinf on March 10, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Adcama, point well taken, but when you think about it, over this last year we did see the Ensign print a rather pointed and frank discussion of the MMM, which I know surprised a few members. We’re not there yet, but I think we are heading in the right direction, albeit perhaps more slowly than many would like.

    Part of it, as well, I think, is a generational thing. My perception is that I may be a little towards the older end of the typical reader/commenter/permablogger here, but still younger than most of the GA’s (or at least at the younger end). Many of them remember the stories of their parents or grandparents first hand about the persecutions of the polygamy era. In my case, it was great-grandparents, and not first hand, but I know my grandfather saw some of this as a young child of a second wife. Most of you have a much different, more information-oriented paradigm, and it’s hard to bridge that gap. Suffice it to say that I think we are seeing a gradual return to more openness in church history, and not as likely to see a pulling back like there was after the Leonard Arrington years.

  32. Jonathan Green on March 10, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Also, in some cases, “The Church never told me about that!” means “I never paid real close attention to the Ensign.”

    For example, here’s an article about the Kinderhook Plates from the August 1981 issue.

  33. jnilsson on March 10, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    It is my impression that the Church actually weighs the perceived benefit of increased historical candor in a utilitarian way–will we lose more tithe-payers, missionaries, temple-recommend holders by staying the course in bland curricula which fail to address the most elementary biblical scholarship (ahem, Paul didn’t write Hebrews, for instance) or by allowing faithful LDS professional historians and others to write the manuals the way they want, even with GA oversight? It’s an economic calculation, and only when convincing studies are commissioned and returned (the Correlation Dept. is in charge of these) showing you lose more bottom-line by neglecting significant historical issues than by bringing them up at all will we see “meat in the official channels.”

    Oh, and one other problem is Mormon culture’s insistence on unanimity. As long as one or two senior GA’s disapprove of a change in policy, it’s likely not gonna happen, even if the majority favor more context in the official curriculum.

  34. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Kaimi, I agree completely. But do you really think that when people say they didn’t learn those things in Primary, they literally mean they should have been taught polygamy in Primary….or that they should have been taught these things at an “age appropriate” time (say seminary or institute)? Seems like the “I should have learned this in primary” line is more of a rhetorical device to make the point that those who leave (or contemplate doing so) never learned these things at all – or at least until way after they felt they should have learned them.

  35. jnilsson on March 10, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Jonathan,

    Point taken, but if you have to go all the way back to 1981 for discussion of a Church history “nuance” not prompted by a Jon Voight movie, and then you notice Lavina Fielding Anderson was one of the assistant editors, it tells us that the Church isn’t actually favoring this open approach anymore.

    Most missionaries serving today were born seven years after that article was published! I hope they know about the Kinderhook plates from a wise seminary teacher, but something tells me otherwise.

  36. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Kevinf, agreed.

    jnilsson, not good if that’s true. How would stockholders respond if such contextual data was being withheld by a publicly traded company? Obviously the church doesn’t have the same GAAP reporting requirements (or any ethical rules on disclosure that I’m aware of), but disclosure, openness, etc., are as standard practice because stakeholders can be injured when relevant information is withheld simply because companies want to keep revenue rolling in……

    Kind of like hiding liabilities that should go on the balance sheet, no?

  37. Kevinf on March 10, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    jnilsson,

    Naw, I’m not buying the economic/correlation link you propose, although there is some merit to the unanimity issue.

    The church has every right to control the message, as the message has to do with doctrine. The church is not about what we all think we believe, but about certain core doctrines. Letting “faithful LDS professional historians” write the manuals “the way they want” a recipe for a bigger disaster. As to adding GA supervision, I think that’s what we are seeing with the new JS PH/RS manual. It may not be all that we would like it to be, but it is a big step up from the previous manuals in this series, IMO. This is what Joseph Smith had to deal with in regards to Oliver Cowdrey attempting to get revelations, and Hiram Page and his seerstone writing revelations for the church. There needs to be an orderly process to it, and doctrinal development is not a democratic process.

    Change comes, and economics does play into some issues. For example there has been some indication that the shortening of missions in the 80’s (late 70’s?) to 18 months was partially about controlling some of the expenses of the church related to missionary service and the cost of international expansion. But doctoring the doctrine for financial gain? Not likely, in my book.

    I share your frustration, but this tends to come in cycles. Before our time, we had a series of PH manuals written by the likes of Sidney Sperry and Hugh Nibley, followed by some rather strict and harsh manuals relying chiefly on the conservative heavyweights of Mormon theology. Over time, the pendulum swings a little farther to the “open and frank” side of things, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

  38. jnilsson on March 10, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Adcama,

    The stockholder comparison is interesting, but I don’t think that’s how most members, and therefore the GA’s, think about the Church. They probably use either a kingdom or family metaphor for the Church, and I think there is reason in either model to keep skeletons in appropriate closets. We know most members won’t bother going in the attic when we have such a lovely yard to play in…just hope there aren’t too many rainy days!

  39. Bob on March 10, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    “Because I was a flippin’ nine-year-old, that’s why!”
    Well maybe the Baptism age should be moved up to 24 to give
    time for people to learn their ” Nuances”. Sorry, I have never heard a GA or anyone give a Testimony about the nuances of the Church.

    How about we start with Primary teaching: ” We are a good Church, but so are others, many errors happened in our past and you will learn about these as you get older. You should know this is not a prefect Church, we are not a prefect people, and we don’t have all the Truth. Maybe as you grow up, you will help us find that Truth. Until then, have Faith that we are trying our best.” I think a five year can handle that.

  40. DW on March 10, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    And, may I add, to your conclusions, Kaimi:

    Almost all ADULTS do not have a very nuanced view about science.

  41. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    I’ve heard people (including Elder Packer) make the point that I think you’re making – “some things that are true aren’t useful” (see Elder Packer’s interview for the PBS documentary). The problem is that when those “some things” have direct restorational relevance, it does not matter if they are useful – because it is dishonest to tell one side of a story….

    In other words, if those who push the “not useful” rhetoric prefer, they can conceal a repented/unrepented sin of a former church leader – if the act has no relation to current church doctrine or teaching (say on eternal marriage or D&C 132, for example). We don’t have to talk about dirty details of Brother Brown’s affair….that’s one thing – fine because it doesn’t impact our “story.” But it’s completely different when you conceal relevant facts of our restorational story (such as seer stones, polygamy, polyandry, etc), because the ENTIRE story directly relates to current church doctrine (again, on D&C 132 or the translation of the BOM).

    We can’t pick and choose which parts of the historical narrative we want to put on display if understanding the narrative (any part of it) is historically/doctrinally/restorationally relevant to us today. At least, that’s my view…..

  42. Nitsav on March 10, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    I’ve put up some lengthy comments about this on FPR.

    “it’s completely different when you conceal relevant facts of our restorational story (such as seer stones, polygamy, polyandry, etc), because the ENTIRE story directly relates to current church doctrine (again, on D&C 132 or the translation of the BOM).”

    I guess I just don’t see the Church concealing these.

  43. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    What would you call not teaching them?

  44. Joel on March 10, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    I think it is important to remember that the process of writing history is a process of simplification. Historians try to examine all relevant documents and bring their interpretation of what these documents reveal into conversation with a larger historical context that has developed dialogically among other historians. Hopefully, what emerges is a fairly nuanced portrayal of what actually happened in the past. I am a firm believer that Truth about the past is black and white. The problem is that that Truth was and is complex, shades of gray emerge as historians strive to uncover the complexities of the past using imperfect methods of interpretation and bringing their own psychological baggage to that interpretation. The process of historical inquiry is only an attempt to capture the complete unknowable complexities of the past.

    What am I trying to say? Mostly that the primary/seminary/institute version of church history is one simplification of a very complex history of God’s dealings with his children in the latter-days. Those who produce it believe that their interpretations–though not completely accurate–represent the particular aspects of history that they think will be important when the real “truth” is revealed. More conventional historians try their best to capture the complexities of reality–although I think that their discipline has some troubles accounting for the possibilities of Divine intervention. I think both approaches have their blind spots and disadvantages. The biggest problem with Church history today, in my opinion, is that most people don’t have a nuanced enough understanding of the process of writing history. If they did, they would realize that the problem really is found in trying to reconcile between two different approaches to historical inquiry, and not the concealing or revealing of purposefully hidden truth.

  45. Nitsav on March 10, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Just because the Church refrains from putting polygamy front and center in the Ensign doesn’t mean it’s engaged in some kind of 1984-ish revisionist conspiracy of history. (You may not have made quite that argument, but many who say the Church conceals these kinds of topics do.)

  46. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Nitsav, Okay….so what word shall I use if concealment is too 1984ish? Isn’t it implied concealment when Elder Packer (and others) say “true but not useful”?

  47. Ardis Parshall on March 10, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    adcama, you’ve pounded this nail before, and I think you won’t be satisfied with anything short of “The church actively conceals critical details of our history in an effort to mislead members and nonmembers alike. This is wrong. We are bad, very, very bad.”

    If I’m mistaken and you would be satisfied with something less extreme, please state what that is.

  48. Christian on March 10, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Kaimi, I think you understate the issue when you point out that most American kids haven’t heard of the Tuskeegee Syphilis experiment. I challenge you to query American *adults* on the events surrounding the so-called Boston Massacre, or Washington’s war on the Iroquois, or Washington’s order removing African Americans from the gun-toting revolutionary ranks. Overall I think that Mormons are far better informed about the problematic history of their church than Americans are regarding the problematic history of their country.

  49. Kevinf on March 10, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    I think what Elder (Pres) Packer said is that some truths are of more worth than others. At the risk of sounding silly, I have a wart on my finger. While true, it’s not anywhere nears as useful as “I have a testimony of the Atonement”. There are degrees between those two statements, but I think that is what Pres. Packer was getting at. So if at times, Joseph Smith used the Urim & Thummim, seerstones in a hat, or no medium at all, the statement “Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through Divine Means” is true, and is of more worth than the others. However, I don’t especially see the church as hiding or concealing these things, just not making them part of the mainstream teaching and proselytizing efforts. But opening the archives to scholars to get more detail for those interested, is of considerable worth. Hence, Rough Stone Rolling and the Joseph Smith Papers project.

  50. Christian on March 10, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    “Isn’t it implied concealment when Elder Packer (and others) say “true but not useful”?”

    No.

  51. Nitsav on March 10, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    You make it sound as if the Church makes every effort to prevent all its teachers, manuals, scholars, Universities, leaders, etc. to know anything about these topics, must never refer to them, deny, etc. all existence of these topics. That’s concealment.

    Brief example- Elder Holland, in one of his BYU devotionals, makes reference to Mountain Meadows and polygamy within the same breath. Concealment? He must have missed the memo.

    We have skeletons in the closet, sure. But the contents of our closet aren’t supposed to constitute the thrust of the Church’s message.

    I don’t think Elder Packer’s statement implies concealment as much as appropriateness for a given context. He’s not saying it’s something that should never be discussed in any setting. (Again, Holland must have missed the memo if that’s what Elder Packer meant.)

    A screwdriver is only useful in the right context.

  52. Adam on March 10, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Seems as though most of us agree that the problem is we get watered-down history in seminary and gospel doctrine. Without going into whether that’s the way it should be or not, I think we agree that the curious will use the internet to find out about “seerstones, polyandry, Zelph, Kinderhook, or the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society”.

    So what are the best sites to learn about these topics?

  53. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Ardis, you are mistaken. I do not question the motives of church leaders, nor do I wish to wag my finger in the way you imply. But setting motives, intentions, finger waggings and my apparent desire for corporal punishments aside, you are correct…I believe that “concealment” (please provide me with a less inflamitory word or a more “positive description” if you have one) is wrong……

    The reason I’m asking Nitsav for a word besides “concealment” is because I don’t have one that fits. Do you? If so, please share…….

  54. Matt Evans on March 10, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Ardis, you’re much more familiar with church history and the historical department than I am, and I’d be interested in knowing how you’d answer your question in 47. (I assume you’re happy that changes are afoot in the historical department — I’ve never seen anyone in the bloggernacle object — and change would only be good if you believe they were previously falling short in some way.) What changes do you hope to see under Elder Jenson?

  55. Christian on March 10, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    ” I’m asking Nitsav for a word besides “concealment” is because I don’t have one that fits.”

    Try “dismissal”

  56. David on March 10, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Re #49, 52- Why would the ‘nuance’ of JS using a seerstone in translating the BOM be problematic? Surely everyone understands that JS ‘translated’ the BOM by revelation. Yet the JS manual only mentions the Urim and Thummim. Has anyone lost their faith because they found out about seerstones?

  57. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Christian….I don’t think “dismissal” works because of the issue of relevance.

  58. Nitsav on March 10, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    How about “selectivity”?

  59. Bob on March 10, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    The Church is not ten years old. I don’t think I heard the word “Nuance” used any other time in it’s history. Truth is always the best tool! Nuance, concealment, silence, ‘you don’t need to know’, are not. Nuance is nothing more that “Move on people, there is nothing here to see .”
    If the Church is so open to nuance, why do we need Signature Books, Sunstone, or Dialogue ? I don’t think we need protection from the truth, but watch out for those nuances!

  60. Christian on March 10, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    “….I don’t think “dismissal” works because of the issue of relevance.”

    The issue of relevance is precisely why dismissal is on point. See “dismissed as irrelevant,” 48,700 hits; “dismissed the relevance,” 14,800 hits.

  61. Kaimi Wenger on March 10, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Bob writes,

    “The Church is not ten years old.”

    Some of its members are. And I’ve suggested in this post that it’s quite normal to give ten year olds a pretty simple, unnuanced history. (Really! Check the post.)

    I’ve also said that older church members ought to have more broad and complete historical grounding.

    Really, Bob, what’s so controversial or problematic about either of those statements?

  62. Kaimi Wenger on March 10, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Christian writes,

    “Overall I think that Mormons are far better informed about the problematic history of their church than Americans are regarding the problematic history of their country.”

    I think that’s probably correct. (Though that’s admittedly a pretty low bar to get over.)

  63. Ardis Parshall on March 10, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    54: Matt, You ask me a very different question from the one I asked adcama to answer, although I suspect you think they are virtually identical. Unlike adcama, I don’t consider “not teaching it in Sunday School” to be at all the same as “hiding things.” Those “things” have always been available in one form or another, without any effort on the part of the church to suppress them, and at least since my early 20s I’ve taken advantage of the wealth of published history to read about them myself rather than waiting for the Sunday curriculum to catch up. adcama is obviously an intelligent reader of English with access to the same published works as I have always had. I really don’t know what he’s waiting for — somebody in a suit to tell him that it’s okay to read those books? somebody in a suit to read them TO him? somebody in a suit to read them to everybody else? That’s my question to him, and it doesn’t apply to me because I haven’t waited for anybody in a suit to do anything.

    What you ask me is an entirely different matter. Since I have never found the church to be hiding “things,” either in publications or in my access at the archives, I haven’t found much changing in my world since Elder Jensen’s calling. This is no Second Coming of Camelot; it’s business as usual from my perspective as a daily patron of the archives.

    But you, and adcama, and most of the rest of the bloggernacle, don’t have my perspective because you don’t share my good fortune in being able to waltz into the archives and have the riches of the church spread out for your free use, with the expert assistance of archivists thrown in. What you see as a change is the extraordinary effort Elder Jensen, and Rick Turley, and the staffs of the library and archives, are making to give you an experience as nearly as possible as rich as mine. You can’t come to the archives, so they’re trying to take the archives to you, with internet publications, and DVDs, and printed primary documents. This is all the same stuff that has long been available to me and to the authors of those published works I discovered — on my own, without the spoon-feeding of a Sunday curriculum — and to adcama and you and anybody else with both time and physical proximity.

    Why haven’t they made this effort before? Time and money and technology, I suspect. I sincerely doubt that it is an impulse to “hide things”; that runs counter to my daily personal experience.

    Will most of the church take advantage of these new opportunities? I doubt it, any more than they have taken advantage of old-tech publications. Would most of the church benefit from a Sunday curriculum of these “things”? I doubt it, any more than they bother to read the class manuals now. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to moan about the church’s failure to spoon feed us than about our failure to pick up the spoon ourselves even after they have set the table.

  64. Latter-Day Sustainablist on March 10, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    As a missionary, I heard criticism that the missionary discussions do not contain the “secrets” or “meat” or “nuance” (choose your own word) of the gospel. I mention this to point out that concerns over “I didn’t hear that in Primary” also apply to “I didn’t hear that from the missionaries.”

    My solution? Don’t spend the already limited learning time (seminary, SM, missionary discussions) on the specifics of nuance. Rather, acknowledge that nuance exists, and teach children/students/investigators that it exists. Then give children/students/investigators the tools to deal with nuance. I’m still mulling over how my solution might translate into real practice. Hmmm.

  65. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Ardis, after getting past the curious venom, I note that your assertions seem contradictory:

    “Those “things” have always been available in one form or another, without any effort on the part of the church to suppress them…”

    “You can’t come to the archives so they’re trying to take the archives to you, with internet publications, and DVDs, and printed primary documents.”

    For someone growing up outside of Utah (or the US), were these things available to me?

    And thanks for the veiled insults directed at my unwillingness to read, inability to observe the world around me and plain stupidity because I did not know there was “nuance” that I should be reading. Shame on me for trusting that I would get all I needed to know (which included a COMPLETE version) of our foundational history at church approved sources. Shame on me for not being a historian, understanding that certain things weren’t “useful” and for believing the brethren, my local leaders and my parents that I should avoid non-church approved books (the ones that were available to me if I wouldn’t have been so lazy).

    Christian – “The issue of relevance is precisely why dismissal is on point. See “dismissed as irrelevant,” 48,700 hits; “dismissed the relevance,” 14,800 hits.”

    My point is that it’s not right to dismiss only certain parts of the story when those parts are relevant. You may be tempted to say it’s irrelevant because it’s not “useful” (doesn’t further the goals of the church), but in my view, that’s not how you test relevance….

  66. East Coast on March 10, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    I’ve found that people that tend to hammer on certain aspects of church history as problematic do not tend to have a historical understanding of the culture of the time.

    For example, the Relief Society president I mentioned above kept hammering on the fact that Joseph Smith would dress up in military attire and participate in parades in Nauvoo. This was so weird to her and she just couldn’t get over it.

    However, it was very typical of the time whether within or without the framework of Mormonism. It is puzzling to me that someone would find it disturbing, but then I have to remember that I have read very extensively and someone whose entire classical American reading consisted of The Scarlet Letter and The Red Badge of Courage could have missed that aspect of American culture.

    Another aspect of church history that seems benign to me and possibly problematic to someone else is the treasure seeking origins that were explained so nicely in RSR. This information might be testimony shaking to someone, perhaps, but if you have read Washington Irving extensively (and I don’t mean Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle), it makes total sense.

    Our culture has changed radically and something taken out of the time frame may seem peculiar if read out of context. I’m sure we’ve all done things that if taken out of the context in which we did them (inside family jokes or a college party, for example) would seem scandalous to someone else.

  67. Ardis Parshall on March 10, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    adcama, please don’t read invective into my comments that was not there. I recognize that this must really be an issue for you, given how often you return to it, but I truly do not understand what response would satisfy you. Did you grow up outside the U.S.? (I do not know.) You have obviously read the “things” now — what difference, really, would it have made to you to have read them a year earlier? Two years earlier? (I really do not know — I’m asking because I truly do not understand what difference it would make to someone to read of, say, polyandry, when he was 18 or 20 or 24 — does it make a difference, as long as you were sufficiently mature to begin to explore subtleties, not only in regard to the church but to life in general?)

    And I was puzzled at what you found contradictory in my two statements that you quote, until I realized you probably read “you can’t come to the archives” as meaning “you are prohibited from coming to the archives.” You are not. You should read that line as meaning “since you live outside the Salt Lake area, or, even if you live right in the middle of town you have responsibilities that require you to be elsewhere during the archives’ hours of operation, you cannot easily spend large amounts of time in the archives.”

    With that clarification, I see nothing contradictory in what I wrote, any more than if I had said “Since you can’t come to General Conference, the church is taking General Conference to you via TV, radio, satellite, and internet.”

  68. Bob on March 10, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    #61: I guess my personal opinion remains unclear: Truth and Nuance can not co-exist. Nuance need to be left to the lawyer and politicians. Nuance is a wink at truth. The Church claims only to teach black and white. There is a place for truth, faith (unseen truth), and even “I don’t know”. But I don’t think there is a place for gray or nuance. Who defines gray or nuance? Where or when does it stop? (Maybe Quinn Knows) That why it’s “problematic “. 10 year olds ARE given a nuance history

  69. DW on March 10, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    I really need to weigh in on this.

    I basically agree with Kaimi, especially when it comes to teaching children. But the BIG problem is that many Latter-day Saint ADULTS are dismally confused when it comes to separating official Church doctrines from mere folk beliefs (which may be true, it simply is not correct to see them as what all good Latter-day Saints must believe). (Of course, having technically correct views of Church doctrine is not what life in the Church is all about, by any means.)

    That being said, it is the responsibility of each member of the Church to come to Christ and know the proper doctrine and teachings. You can’t rely fully on the teachings of others, and even children should be taught this (in a relatively unnuanced form). I do not think that it is the role of the general authorities of the Church to set us straight on everything in this regard (or even close to everything). It is OUR responsibility, and we would be wise to take it up seriously as a community that does not shy away from having frank (friendly) discussions about what is authoritative and what is not. Maybe some of us who are supposed to be “adults” are still seeing ourselves as helpless children who have to be told everything from Church authorities in order to believe it.

    I know I referenced this once before (and I apologize for doing it again), but I’m trying to battle this “unnuanced” form of Church teachings by compiling list of what I consider to be mere folk beliefs: http://denniswendt.blogspot.com/2008/03/mormon-folk-beliefs.html

  70. Bob on March 10, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    #63: “Those “things” have always been available in one form or another, without any effort on the part of the church to suppress them”
    That’s not what I read in Leonard Arringtion’s autobiography.
    Why then was he so happy to get into the Church Archives?

  71. DW on March 10, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    One more thing:

    Let’s not forget that the primary teachers of gospel doctrine should be PARENTS!!!! And may I suggest, parents have A LOT of leeway and autonomy in this regard.

  72. Visorstuff on March 10, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    I still feel that the Ensign and Church News is the most under-used eductional tool of the church. It is from these publications that I studied such issues as debate on the time of MP ordination, the 1979/80 changes to the BoM, Salamandar letter, issues in regard to race and many more complex issues (I have to admit the polyandry thing was not something I learned in either pub, that came from reading history of the church and follow up research). I agree with Ardis that the church is more than open and willing to have its history inspected by anyone.

    I still remember a mission companion said he was suprised by the appearance of temple clothes when he went the first time. I asked him, “you went and bought them, right?” He answered that he did and that he just didn’t think he’d wear them. Somewhere along the lines, he had missed something. I think many of us miss things, but that doesn’t mean they are hidden from us. It means we aren”t ready to see.

    If families read what is made available for their personal and home study and pay attention to what they do, there would be less people asking for clarification on such matters. We’d have a lot more people who didn’t have such questions, because they’d be ready to see. But until then, we’ll continue to focus on the basics that all of us need.

  73. Visorstuff on March 10, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    #70 – Arrington’s comments were in frustration to the slowness of the cataloguing and preservation system. Apparently, if you read therest of the statement, one used to be able to go through shoeboxes of notes, letters and journals in the church historical office/archives, but due to preservation and cataloguing, that was limited as those documents were catalogued, preserved and copied where it had to be checked out so they know who has it on the floor, thus limiting a “free access” to data. Anyone who has gone to the church historical office knows that it is open and unrestrictive to a fault. I remember the first time I went the Tanners had signed in right before me, and to my knowledge got all the same access I did. They didn’t ask who I was every time I requested an item.

  74. Ardis Parshall on March 10, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    #70, Bob, officially preserved church documents are hardly our only source of knowledge of church history. We have always known about polygamy, Mountain Meadows, supposed Danites, Brigham Young and Adam-God, Brigham Young and blood atonement, Brigham Young and fill-in-the-blank, even polyandry and post-Manifesto polygamy. Of course we know a lot more now, and a lot more reliably now. But pretending that we didn’t know quite a lot before “Camelot” — quite a lot that isn’t part of the Primary curriculum — would be like pretending we had never heard of Joseph Smith before the Joseph Smith Papers project.

  75. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Yeah, I’m totally misreading your sarcasm as pleasantries….classic jab and retreat, Ardis.

    “I recognize that this must really be an issue for you, given how often you return to it, but I truly do not understand what response would satisfy you.”

    This is the second time I’ve spoken to you about this topic….please, don’t overdo it. And while yes, it is a bit of a hot button issue for me (we all have them) it’s not that I need “satisfaction” (or as you may catergorize it “punishment for the evil crimes that those naughty church leaders committed). A good start for me would be for you to give me a better word than “concealed”. You have been unable to do that……and then I would like to see, oh, I don’t know – an organizational shift that includes the presentation of critical context within the walls of our classrooms so that a bunch more people don’t go through what I and a bunch of others have gone through.

    I guess I can dare to dream, but I would really be “satisfied” when folks like you (Blake Ostler, et al) figure out that while you may have had a different experience than the 13 million members worldwide, I dare say most of the church was not brought up to even realize there was more of a history that they should have been reading – and if they did, those types of books were not “church approved” and if they dared read them anyway, they would never feel comfortable sharing the context in church…..because, well, that would be controversial. This is a situation that has caused many people to leave the church – and that has caused me great consternation. The sense of deception (real or perceived….) is minimized and mocked by you because in your minds, every one of the 13 million members of the church should have detected the “nuance”. But, as you say….none of this was “concealed.” It was there the whole time….for those who were not too lazy to read.

    While you may be right that the archives were open had I lived in Utah or not had to go to school, work, have family night (which I’m late for right now) or be at my church meetings (where seerstones were never brought up), is it reasonable to require that an average church member should have to go to the archives to learn basic context to the first vision story, Joseph’s polygamy (which I was always told there was no such thing) to or seerstones in a hat?

  76. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 10, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Yes, but the Old Testament, like the Lectures on Faith, isn’t actually part of the canon. (Except for about 25 scripture mastery verses.)

    Ok, I got a chuckle out of that. But in theory we should read the whole thing every four years.

    Which illustrates the problem. Nuance? Heck, so very many people can’t even be bothered with the Cliff Notes version.

    Zipporah, Eli and Sons followed by Samuel and Sons (no wonder Samuel feels Israel has rejected judges because of him, imagine if Packer had his kids lining up prostitutes by the groups outside the temple gates), and so many more straight out relevant stories.

    Jonah throwing a snit fit because God hasn’t destroyed Nineveh.

    Noah getting drunk. The narrative is just filled with fallible human beings and God working with them.

    I do think that if you can’t get people to even read the Old Testament, you don’t have much room to get them to a stage where nuance is appropriate.

    Kind of like someone complaining you haven’t given the kids Teal and Saffron to paint with when they haven’t even gotten the hang of Yellow, Red, Green and Blue.

    /Sigh.

    It isn’t concealment, it is disinterest.

  77. Ardis Parshall on March 10, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Okay, adcama, I read the first few lines of your response to me and gave up. I’m sorry to antagonize you. That was not my intent.

  78. mormonmagmeister on March 10, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Some people might be interested in knowing that the Church Educational System actually produced a video some years ago explaining how the Book of Mormon was translated. The seer stone was mentioned quite prominently. Elder Maxwell hosted this video and didn’t apologize for any of the Church’s history related to the translation of the Book of Mormon. This video was produced for teenagers in seminary.

  79. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Ah well, it was a good run. I wish I could email you one of the chocolate chip cookies we had for family night…they’re still hot.

  80. Mark IV on March 10, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    adcama, # 75,

    Although Ardis is certainly capable of answering the questions you posed, I hope you don’t mind if I also attempt an answer.

    May I suggest that you are privileging the problems you have encountered to an unwarranted degree? That is not to say they are not important, because they are certainly important to you, and I don’t want to minimize the distress you have been through. But why do your problems get to be a priority? You bring up the number of 13 million members, and my guess is that probably less than .05% of them care about the same problems you do. I can guarantee that there isn’t one member in 10,000 who shares my particular hangups with the church, and I don’t think I am entitled to blame my bishop or seminary teachers or the prophet for them. My problems are my own.

    As far as a word to substitute for conceal, I suggest prioritize. The church has far, far bigger problems to solve.

  81. Kaimi Wenger on March 10, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Bob (68) writes,

    “#61: I guess my personal opinion remains unclear: Truth and Nuance can not co-exist. Nuance need to be left to the lawyer and politicians. Nuance is a wink at truth. The Church claims only to teach black and white. There is a place for truth, faith (unseen truth), and even “I don’t know”. But I don’t think there is a place for gray or nuance. Who defines gray or nuance? Where or when does it stop? (Maybe Quinn Knows) That why it’s “problematic “. 10 year olds ARE given a nuance history”

    Um, wow. O-kay. I _had_ misread your position, which you have now clarified. Your position is apparently that nuances in history do not exist, and we all just need hefty doses of Truth.

    This would be a viable strategy if we all lived on the Planet of Uncomplicated Questions.

    Since we live on Earth, where the historical questions can indeed be complicated, I prefer to stick with my own approach, thank you. I doubt you can find a reputable historian anywhere — Mormon or not — who thinks that history has no nuances. Wow.

    (But if you’re really determined to show that historical nuances do not exist and that all we need is lots of Truth to answer the apparently uncomplicated questions of history, why don’t you tell us all the very simple replies to a few questions:

    -Polygamy. Why?
    -MMM. Did Brigham know?
    -The Priesthood ban — why?
    -Bonus question: Who shot JFK, anyway?

    I’m sure these all have really simple and uncomplicated answers . . . )

  82. adcama on March 10, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Mark IV, you want a cookie too?

    In my view, it’s a mischaracterization to say that those who have learned about these things later in life and are bothered by them….and are bothered that they weren’t brought up sooner are just being “victims.” I also don’t think it’s accurate to say that these particular “hangups” won’t be of interest to the majority of the church; there seem to be quite a few of us – Kaimi quotes some in his original post, see John Dehlin’s mormonstories screencasts, and we all know some who have left over these same issues -(and apparently the general membership is supposed to have cared enough about these specific issues to have researched them out on our own)…..so there is consensus (or so it seems) that these same issues exist for a large number of people.

  83. Bob on March 10, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    #73: Quote from Leonard Arrington as CHURCH HISTORIAN:
    ” A follower like me, trying to do his job under conflicting instruction or pressures, was like a mouse crossing the floor where elephants were dancing.” (then he was canned).

  84. Bob on March 10, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    #81: Nice try. I did not say anything about history. But, history only contains nuances that people care to put in it. (You have got to watch more CSI). You feel people (and kids) “can’t handle the Truth”,
    (see Jack Nickleson), without a spoon full of nuance.
    This goes against Joseph Smith’s final year and his teaching of Correct Principles and letting the Truth find it’s own course. (again my opinion)
    I never said History was simple, that’s why I gave it up as a Major.

  85. E on March 10, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    #82; I hope you are able to come to some sort of perspective on the issues that bother you. I’d like to add that I’m among those who don’t get your use of the word “concealment”. It is just a complete misrepresentation.

  86. ed42 on March 10, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    “On the flip side, I think it’s quite valid to argue that older church members ought to have a broader and more well-rounded grounding in church history, particularly once they’re _not_ in Primary any more.”

    Gospel Doctrine IS Primary! The Truth is still whitewashed.

  87. Kevin Barney on March 10, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    I once was a SS teacher for a combined high school class of about 5 or 6 kids (small ward). I went into it really excited to try to teach them some nuance. But the reality didn’t turn out that way. (It was the OT curriculum year.) They were extremely jaded; they just plain didn’t want to be there, and they simply weren’t going to learn anything.

    At the suggestion of the father of a couple of the kids, I actually began to ramp up the controversy to try and capture their attention and interest. I remember teaching an entire lesson on evolution–to a youth SS class. I would have killed for a lesson like that when I was their age. They had no interest whatsoever. Bored to tears. Limited flood? No reaction. Nada.

    I eventually gave up teaching actual lessons and started just having conversations, and trying to slip a little reliigion in where I could, and I started to make progress that way. But it didn’t last long; that ward was dissolved (mostly because there weren’t enough youth for the youth program to work effectively). And frankly I was relieved.

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I would have taught those kids about anything they wanted if they had shown the slightest interest in actually learning anything. The responsibility to learn was on their shoulders, and they just weren’t interested.

  88. Ray on March 10, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    In this regard, I step back and say, “Can this same criticism be leveled against me?” If so, I need to be very wary of leveling it against others. Moats and beams and pots and kettles.

    Prioritize fits perfectly, imo. There are all kinds of things that my children don’t understand (from the youngest [5] to the oldest [20] – simply because I didn’t prioritize teaching those things to them. People can call it concealment, but it’s just prioritizing what to teach.

  89. Melinda on March 10, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I teach Gospel Doctrine. I would hate to teach a nuanced history lesson in Gospel Doctrine. I know the history – I’m not an expert, but I’ve read more history books than the average member. But for Pete’s sake, I can’t even get through a lesson on something as cut and dried as the Word of Wisdom without Sister Psycho and Brother Bonkers weighing in with their weird theories. There is no way I would breathe a word about anything actually controversial. Can you imagine the “discussion”? My teaching is held prisoner by members at the grassroots level, not by any conspiracy of silence higher up.

    One reason nuances don’t get taught is because of the format of Church lessons. They are supposed to be discussions. The directive to lead a discussion is contained in just about every source for teacher training. A bad lesson is one in which the teacher does most of the talking. You can only have a discussion if everyone knows something about what is being discussed. That means you stick to tried and true topics. If there was a place in the Church for the lecture format, then you might be able to teach nuances. But even seminary and institute classes are more discussion than lecture (at least in my experience, with a few exceptions.)

    The Church’s teaching metholodology is not set up to pour new information into people. It’s set up to have discussions about topics we are mostly familiar with. You have to find out the new information on your own – as many people on this thread have pointed out. Teaching nuance would not only require a new curriculum, it require an entirely new approach to teaching. (For one thing, you’d have to have teachers who could say, “I’m not calling on you again because you say weird things that are totally wrong and I have to waste class time doing damage control rather than teaching real stuff.”)

  90. Melinda on March 10, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    p.s. to my comment #89. It occurs to me the obvious lecture format in the Church is Stake Conference and General Conference. So the complaint should be moved from “they should teach nuances in SS, seminary and institute!” to “they should talk about polyandry in Stake Conference, and seerstones in General Conference!”

  91. Bob on March 10, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    #89: When my teenage kids or grandsons come to me with a question, they know I am more than happy to give my opinion (No surprise there). But if they want the Truth: “Well, that’s something your going to have to find out for yourself.”

  92. Kaimi Wenger on March 10, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    I once was a SS teacher for a combined high school class of about 5 or 6 kids (small ward). I went into it really excited to try to teach them some nuance. But the reality didn’t turn out that way. (It was the OT curriculum year.) They were extremely jaded; they just plain didn’t want to be there, and they simply weren’t going to learn anything.

    At the suggestion of the father of a couple of the kids, I actually began to ramp up the controversy to try and capture their attention and interest. I remember teaching an entire lesson on evolution–to a youth SS class. I would have killed for a lesson like that when I was their age. They had no interest whatsoever. Bored to tears. Limited flood? No reaction. Nada.

    Awesome anecdote, Kevin. Yeah, there’s not much one can do.

    But for Pete’s sake, I can’t even get through a lesson on something as cut and dried as the Word of Wisdom without Sister Psycho and Brother Bonkers weighing in with their weird theories. There is no way I would breathe a word about anything actually controversial. Can you imagine the “discussion”? My teaching is held prisoner by members at the grassroots level, not by any conspiracy of silence higher up. . . .

    The Church’s teaching metholodology is not set up to pour new information into people. It’s set up to have discussions about topics we are mostly familiar with. You have to find out the new information on your own – as many people on this thread have pointed out. Teaching nuance would not only require a new curriculum, it require an entirely new approach to teaching. (For one thing, you’d have to have teachers who could say, “I’m not calling on you again because you say weird things that are totally wrong and I have to waste class time doing damage control rather than teaching real stuff.”)

    Amen, Melinda.

  93. Maren on March 11, 2008 at 12:24 am

    The timing is a tricky thing to figure out- when is a group of Saints ready for more information? When do you begin that class about Race or Gender?

    Our branch is filled with relatively new members. They’re at “Primary” level, but they’re adults. Are they ready to hear more than the basics that the missionaries taught them? What would happen to them in a “nuanced” Gospel Doctrine class on their first week out of Gospel Principles?

    It’s true that no one likes to feel deceived- especailly when it comes to religion- but how do you figure out whose responsibility it is to teach more and who is ready to understand it? (I liked what DW said in #71 about parents.)

    Not everyone is at the same readiness to hear, as #87 mentioned.

  94. Velikiye Kniaz on March 11, 2008 at 2:49 am

    As a convert of of some 42 years, I have read all of this with great interest. But while I was attending the student ward in Cambridge, Mass. in the late 60’s many of these topics were brought up and discussed candidly in our Institute classes by our instructor, Bro. Steve Gilliland. Perhaps since many of the students were also students at Harvard, M.I.T., Boston University, Tufts, etc. it was not considered prudent to attempt to ‘snooker’ them with simplified versions of our history. As for myself, I took all of this in and delved further into Church history. (The Widener Library has an outstanding collection of LDS “Mormon” materials.) Yes, there were times that were disconcerting and perhaps ‘trials of my faith’. But the one thing I just couldn’t get over was the confirmations by the Holy Spirit that this is the True, Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ in its Fullness. Just couldn’t understand how ‘those Mormons’ pulled that off. It certainly wasn’t the answer that I was expecting or for which I was hoping. It was, to say the least, inconvenient. But it saved my life, both mortal and eternal, in more ways than one.
    Have any of you ever considered that this Church has one of the most full and complete records of its history in our archives? I have yet to read of an equal furor while discussing the minutae of the history of the Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists or Catholics, etc. Actually, of the books that I have read of these other histories, they appear to be equally ‘faith promoting’ and recounting the valor and archievements of their ‘giants among men’ (and a few women, too.). Human nature seems to dictate that we seek to put our best foot forward and to have heroes. This is nothing new, ancient literature is replete with them. But humans are humans, and thus are destined to each come with a fairly long list of human frailties. This makes for messy history. Personally, I think that we Mormons probably lead the pack in hanging out our ‘dirty laundry’, certainly more now than ever before. I haven’t seen any other denomination rush ahead of us to do so. There isn’t a one of us on this blog or in this world who doesn’t have things of which we are ashamed, even deeply ashamed, and yet we believe, we have testimonies, and we are deeply moved, often to tears, by our own personal religious experiences. Is it so hard to forgive the mortal foibles of our forebears, when we find it so easy to forgive our own?

  95. john f. on March 11, 2008 at 8:05 am

    re # 32, and here’s an Ensign article from 1993 by Elder Nelson disussing the translation of the Book of Mormon by means of using a seerstone place in a hat (I discussed whether there has been a cover-up on this issue in a little more detail over at ABEV last year).

  96. Joel on March 11, 2008 at 8:40 am

    I also just wanted to add, that the more nuanced version of American history that Kaimi talks about really did not come about until the 1960s. If you had taken a college history course before then, you probably would have heard the same story that you hear in Elementary and Junior High school now. Nuance developed in the historical world because historians began to ask different questions and to look at different types of evidence. Both of these tendencies came out of the social turmoil of the sixties. Historians only learn what they want to know.

  97. Randy B. on March 11, 2008 at 11:02 am

    This exchange between Ardis and adcama is a common one. On the one hand, Ardis is plainly correct that much of this information is — and has long been — readily accessible, some of it even in the Ensign (as John reminds us). It is also true that a large segment of church members really could care less about such things. Kevin’s experience, I’m sure, is no abberation.

    But these sorts of arguments hardly resolve the issue. They certainly do not explain why so many people feel as though they have been “lied” to about church history. I suppose one might respond that not many people actually feel this way. My experience is otherwise. I suppose one might say that the people who feel this way were simply lazy or not paying attention (why didn’t you read that 1979 Ensign article!). I don’t buy that either. I suppose one might also say that these folks were just naive. But if so, that naivity has been fed and nourished by years of church instruction well beyond primary. Simply faulting folks like adcama for not “coming to dinner”, as Ardis’s analogy would suggest, hardly provides a path forward.

    That said, I’m not convinced that the solution to the problem is to teach more history at church. Instead, what would be more helpful is somehow ramping down expectations of what our history contains. No easy task, I understand. But it is the expectation gap, in my view, that is the real problem.

  98. bbell on March 11, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    As far as teaching the nuance goes…

    I recently got away with going thru a full lesson on the PH ban in GD. My ward has a few black members and is full of interracial couples. I pulled no punches. everything from E Abel, to BY, to the folklore. We ended with a full out condemnation by a white sister of those who were not able to accept the 1978 revelation or perpetuating the old teachings as being “not celestial material or even belonging in the church”

    I also handed out a 25 page packet on the History behind the ban. Many many people came up thanking me for the lesson afterwards. The black members were crying with joy at the condemnation, a father wanted another package for his college age son who was struggling with the issue, and a recent convert family came to me and said that they had almost left the church over it and had finally heard the issue addressed head on.

  99. David T. on March 11, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    I guess I’m too apathetic about these concerns. Even with all the blemishes, the history doesn’t take away the fact that Joseph was a prophet of God, he defied insurmountable odds as an instrument to re-establish the Lord’s church on the earth, the Saints suffered unspeakable hardships and performed heroic feats of self-sacrifice to help build the kingdom, the Church continues to grow and grow up– the living thing it is– despite foibles and human involvement. Why spend so much time getting to the dirt when we hardly spend sufficient time learning what’s necessary for our eternal well being?

    On the other hand, perhaps I don’t feel duped because I was an outsider who hated the Church before I became a member who adores it. I had my earful and eyeful of scandals going in, but upon my conversion it didn’t matter. Either it’s right or it’s wrong; either it’s true or it’s not. Mountain Meadow was a tragedy, but has nothing to do with the truthfulness of the Gospel. Joseph Smith’s sealing to 14-year olds doesn’t affect what I need to do to see my Heavenly Father again– and if it was wrong, it’ll all come out in the wash across the veil. This is what I see, and what I tell my daughter if she happens to ask. Otherwise, it’s all about loving God, loving my neighbor and serving both all I can. Frankly, I love Joseph Smith’s humanness– it makes me appreciate his challenges and accomplishments so much more.

    I mean, seriously… the one peeve I have about Mormon blog strings is all the trifling about feeling betrayed, or suspecting cover-ups, or resenting treatment, or being disillusioned, or interpreting motives, or second-guessing ecclesiastic actions, or justifying disaffection towards a particular doctrine, or last-word slam-dunking… Boo-frickin’-hoo. Get over it and focus on some service. In the end, that’s all that’s going to matter.

  100. East Coast on March 11, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Good for you, bbell, and good for your ward backing you up. When you say “getting away with” teaching this, did you teach it at the invitation of your bishopric or because you saw a need?

    I would guess that doing something like this would go better under the category of “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” but that would probably depend on the ward. It sounds like a great fifth Sunday topic but would have to be well done by the right person.

  101. jnilsson on March 11, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Bbell,

    We had a head-on treatment of the gendered priesthood issue in our Gospel Doctrine class last year while discussing Paul’s views of women. Many in the class, especially single sisters, expressed appreciation to the male teacher when the discussion was over. It was a very lively, even somewhat raucous discussion where some very sexist jokes were told by some of the older folks in the class who were uncomfortable with the direction the lesson was goind and very poignant questions were asked by single sisters, such as “Whom do I report to in the next life?” since everything seemed to be male-centered in the explanations of priesthood authority. Many of the questions asked were directly related to women’s understanding of their own salvation, and the teacher did his best to provide nuance in the form of historical changes in the church’s policies regarding women.

    This class period is remembered very vividly by most who were there. Nuance can be put across in small doses every Sunday.

  102. jnilsson on March 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    David T.

    Apart from not taking people’s feelings seriously, in which regard you have Elder Bednar’s full and complete blessing, why is serving others all that matters in the end if you take the restored gospel seriously?
    Why not serve in another Christian church that doesn’t ask 10% of one’s income, regardless of poverty level? Why not serve as a family in a way you choose instead of having all of your time spoken for by HT, VT, firesides, leadership callings, family history, etc.? This is why people have a hard time. It does matter what the history shows us. It just might show us that our leaders are not always right. Once you go down that road, there’s no telling how you’ll react the next time an unreasonable demand is made of you by a church leader, local or general.

    And if feelings don’t matter, Christ doesn’t matter. That attitude makes a mockery of the gospel, which is supposed to be about our eternal happiness and lifting burdens, not shackling on another dreary Old Testament law.

  103. Wendy on March 11, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    I had so much fun reading the comments. Obviously i need to hang around my fellow mormons more. I\’ve always had access to my parents books about church history so mountain meadows and seer stones etc. are not a huge \’shock\’ or \’got\’cha\’ moment. In fact if you go to temple square in Salt Lake City and look at the paintings you\’ll see one that shows a high priest wearing a breastplate that contains not only what appears to be the urim and thummim but other pretty stones I assume are functional as well. It is true though that people hear only what they want to hear.

  104. bbell on March 11, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I simply went from Acts 10 into my prepared lesson. I warned the bishop before hand. I saw no percieved need for a lesson like that based on anything that had happened in our ward just a spiritual prompting.

    The unprovoked white sisters comments pretty much summed up my lesson.

    BRM’s retraction/apology and the Arrington account of the 1978 rev formed the backbone of the lesson.

  105. bbell on March 11, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Get away with…

    Nobody emailed me with concerns, no objections in class, and no controversy.

  106. CS Eric on March 11, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Every time this topic comes up, I am reminded of my ex-sister-in-law, whose primary reason for leaving the Church was that the Church was suppressing so much information. Her main complaint was that the Lectures on Faith weren’t in the Doctrine & Covenants any more, and that the Church was therefore suppressing them.

    She didn’t take it in good humor when I told her that the Church was doing a lousy job suppressing the LoF, since I bought my copy in the BYU Bookstore. You would think that a cover up that complete would necessarily include BYU.

  107. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 11, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Davis Bitton addressed this issue in a speech he gave at a FAIR seminar a couple of years ago, entitled “I don’t have a testimony of the history of the Church.” I believe you can find the full text on fairlds.org.

    Frankly, the primary reason you don’t hear any negative information about Church history is that most of your teachers in Primary, Sunday School, and Seminary don’t know it that well either.

    In the new biography of Henry Eyring, it is pointed out that he knew many of the senior leaders of the Church intimately, both as brother-in-law of Spencer W. Kimball, as neighbor of Sterling W. Sill, and as a member of the Sunday School General Board who was asked to take his lecture on “The Faith of a Scientist” on the road. He had an actual heated discussion with Joseph Fielding Smith over the contents of Smith’s book about the creation. Yet he was emphatic in his testimony of the divine inspiration of both Joseph Smith and his contemporaries in Church leadership, because he remembered his own shortcomings, and thought that, if God could use flawed men for his purposes, he could use Henry Eyring too.

    Eyring was very specific in being able to wait for more information in the future to reconcile existing questions, such as apparent differences between religious and scientific viewpoints. He was able to do that because he recognized that God knows everything, but he, Henry Eyring, certainly did not, and had no claim on God to force HIm to tell all about everything.

    I actually spent a year in the Church Archives reading previously confidential Bishop’s Court and High Council Court transcripts from the 19th Century, for a research project. One thing it confirmed to me was that the brethren in those positions were doing their best, but there was no magic process by which they knew the right answer without hearing the evidence or pondering the testimony. I have been in high council disciplinary hearings myself since then, and I do not envy the men who had to make those decisions. As much as possible, especially when they were hearing a business dispute, they wanted the parties to work out their own dispute if possible.

    I think learning about negative things in the context of a book like Rought Stone Rolling is about right, because we need to understand that negative information is not the “truth” in isolation from the positive information. The “truth” consists of the entire, balanced story.

    Consider Nephi. You could say he stole a precious, irreplaceable record from the Jerusalem archives, which made it harder to preserve an accurate record of the prophets among the exiled Jews. You could say he committed cold-blooded murder of a defenseless drunk. You could say he deceived an innocent servant with treachery and sucked him into the conspiracy so deep that the only choice he had was to flee with the bandits, because no one would believe he had not been complicit in the theft of the record. Nephi later debilitated his brothers, making them feel pain, in order to establish his superior authority over the rightful heirs.

    These things are “true,” but they do not reveal why he did them, and that he had countervailing reasons that justified his actions. The critics of Mormonism love to put out summaries that are lopsided like that one about Nephi. They truly miss the important features of this man.

    You could say a lot of negative things about Abraham Lincoln, including the suspension of habeas corpus, and his insistence on prosecuting a bloody war that killed hundreds of thousands. But his perseverence, with all the immediate negatives, led to preserving America as a single nation that was able to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism, and then Russian Communism. He was no angel, but any assessment that does not leave the reader with admiration for his positive accomplishments has not been balanced.

  108. adcama on March 11, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Stephen M (Ethesis) says it in #76, and RTS kind of says the same thing in #107 – that the OT (and BOM) prophets were imperfect and we are (or should be) okay with that. I agree and I am totally fine with imperfection. But the difference should be very clear – the scriptural texts describing the lives of King David and Nephi didn’t fail to mention that David committed adultary with Bathsheba and that Nephi did in fact whack off the head of Laban. The story is in black and white for all to see – unapologetically, seemingly unconcerned with how some might struggle with potentially broad implications.

    My concern isn’t with the flaws – I expect them, I am grateful for them (they give me hope). My concern doesn’t have to do with a certain phrase muttered by BY, or the church’s involvement in MMM (not restorationally relevant). What bothers me is that it seems like the church has, over the years, tried to minimize (or my word “concealed”) these flaws/narratives when I believe that these early flaws generally (and in this case specific narratives) are directly relevant to our restorational story. To use RTS’s example, it’s like Mormon deciding that Nephi’s chopping of Laban’s head was not a “priority”, and therefore leaving it out of the BOM narrative all together; or like the writers of the OT deciding that Noah’s bitter beer face was “true, but not necessarily useful” or that we shouldn’t “emphasize” David’s affair. What a shame that would have been! Aren’t there valuable lessons in David’s mistakes (I hear them everytime we hit the OT in GD) Jonah throwing a snit fit because God hasn’t destroyed Nineveh, Noah getting drunk? What if those stories didn’t make the correlated versions that we now study? Invaluable lessons lost.

    Ray and others have spoken about the need to be charitable toward leaders who made “mistakes”. I agree, but has it been established which of “these things” were actually mistakes? Was polygamy a “mistake”? Seerstones in a hat? BOA translation? If those things are “mistakes”, what about the contemporary doctrine that flows directly therefrom? Charity for mistakes, yes, but expecting the inclusion of and understanding context from whence doctrine sprang is also a good thing.

    I don’t know how I can help those of you who are critical of my perspective on this. I wish I could help you understand….just as I’m sure you wish you could help me “minimize” my issues with it, but let me try just one more time to explain. I feel that by not talking about the “warts and all” (I’d call it “concealment”) in our general curriculum and church programe, people have been harmed (perhaps because of the expectation gap mentioned by Randy B). I wish I felt differently, but I don’t – and I’ve thought about for years and I’ve considered all of your perspectives (FAIR arguments and all) to the point of numbness. As some have mentioned, this is not a new debate…..but the meanness, finger pointing and lack of understanding on both sides gets old. Those of us on different sides of this issue can continue to bicker, whine and cast unhelpful aspersions (which only solidify the polar views); or we drop the accusations of small mindedness (on both sides), victim mentalities (if they exist) and move together in a way that is productive. I propose the latter…..but it’s not going to change until posts on sites like these move beyond finding fault with our brothers and sisters who feel they should have learned these things in primary (i.e. at some point before they were adults).

  109. Ray on March 11, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    adcama, I understand what you are saying, but how in the world can we assert that Mormon included all potentially embarrassing or problematic historical facts in the BofM? For example, Mormon might have viewed the headless Laban as a *good* thing, but it was Nephi who included that story, and he was the most introspective and open of all the prophets. I don’t see much “critical introspection” on the personal level from the other prophets; usually, they were too busy pointing out the sins and failures (and successes) of the people. They were chronicling the broad effects of societal trends and communal faithfulness, so rarely do we get a glimpse of the individual weaknesses of the prophets. In fact, from Jacob to Mosiah we get almost no look at the entire civilization – essentially just, “I’m not a prophet like Nephi was,” “I know of no other prophecies,” and “We fought a lot and killed Lamanites.” I’m 100% positive that the BofM *could have* looked much more like the D&C and our church histories than it does if Mormon had felt like compiling a “nuanced abridgment” instead of an inspirational tool to bring souls to Christ. To use him as an example of “not concealing” just isn’t defensible, imo.

    One of the biggest problems with many members’ perception of the modern church’s warts is that they don’t have an ancient record that details ancient warts – except the OT, and it gets ignored far too much. Ironically, and directly opposed to your view of concealment, the D&C is *packed full* of chastisements and recorded failures and weaknesses and humanity at its most basic and natural. It is our modern OT – chronicling a time full of warts and wars and grandiose pronouncements and hellfire and damnation and all the stuff that makes the OT such a blast to read.

    We don’t accuse modern Christians of “concealing” the OT simply because many of them don’t read or teach it; we understand they simply prioritize the NT to the exclusion of the OT – that they just don’t see it as important enough to spend time studying. As a lover of history, I disagree with that approach; however, I don’t assign nefarious motivations to those who ignore the messy stuff to focus on the simple and inspirational when they really believe the simple and inspirational – especially in an organization that is being accused of concealment specifically because it has done such a good job of publishing and preserving the messy stuff.

  110. Ray on March 11, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Iow, we simply see things fundamentally differently in this instance, so we have little chance of convincing each other. All we can do is try to understand each other. I think I understand what you are saying; I hope you understand what I am saying. At the very least, I hope we can agree to disagree and not keep going around and around.

  111. adcama on March 12, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Two clarifications Ray – certainly we could go ’round and ’round ad infinitum.

    First, I thought my point was clear……that the BOM and other LDS scripture contain enough of what could be termed “embarrassing or problematic” to refute the idea that we should exclude hard to understand things (embarrassing or problematic historical facts) – period. I’m not sure how your argument that “we’ll never know everything that was kept in and left out” is relevant…..we know enough – we know what’s there. What’s there is certainly not always rosey, positive or provided with a spoon full of sugar, and that’s good…in my view.

    Second, the definition in my mind for the word “concealment” is “to keep from being seen, found, observed, or discovered.” When I use the term, I do not mean to assign nefarious motives, ill will, nor do I wish to blame the church with scandalous intentions. Quite the contrary….I think the motivations, desires and positions taken by our church leaders are/were unquestionably good. To me, it’s simply a situation of figuring out what works better for members at large and making some programatic changes – namely openly addressing these issues in the most appropriate church forum (seminary/institute….or nursery :).

  112. BHodges on March 12, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    People might be interested in the 1991 BYU Studies article “Advocacy and Inquiry in the Writing of Latter-day Saint History” by
    David B. Honey and Daniel C. Peterson. You can access it for free on the BYU Studies site.

  113. Ray on March 12, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks for the clarifications, adcama. We obviously aren’t as far apart as I thought.

  114. Bob on March 12, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Again, the Church is not a couple of decades old. Examples of it’s “openness”, are recent history, but not it’s whole history. If you look at it’s whole history. you will find a lot “concealment”. Some feel Mormons are telling their story (or history), just fine. That how they teach it, has nothing to do with who joins the Church, or who leaves it.

  115. Katie P. on March 12, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I had that exact revelation/outrage in college: why didn’t I learn this stuff in Young Women’s.

    It was pointed out to me, which I think is legitimate, that I got my first pair of scriptures before I was eight. The information was never hidden. Polygamy is right there in the Doctrine and Covenants, along with the exclusion of women from leadership roles (which is what upset me the most. I knew that women didn’t have the priesthood and that way fine, but I hadn’t realized that that meant with a rare few exceptions, women were barred from holding any non-ghettoized leadership positions). Gospel teaching in the Church is essential, but we are each ultimately responsible for our own religious education.

  116. Bob on March 12, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    #117:” Polygamy is right there in the Doctrine and Covenants.” Then why did no one known about it in Nauvoo, or that it happened in Nauvoo, for a Hundred years? Do you now know the Church still believes in Polygamy, but just does not practice it? (See Nuance).
    When I grew up in the Church, If you read (‘for our own religious education.:) Brodie, it was almost a ticket out the front door, Now reading her is encouraged (depends on..?). What was the Church going to do with the Hoffman letter after buying it?

  117. RyanB on March 13, 2008 at 12:28 am

    I am going to weigh in on this- despite the fact that it is already 116 comments long.

    I will spare all the exact personal details when I ‘found out’ about each historical ‘wart’ – but to give a few examples I first heard of the mountain meadows massacres by reading a letter to the editor in the Daily Herald (published in utah county) , and of polyandry by the article in newsweek about Joseph Smith and also from this very blog. These were all before I left on my mission. I think the reason why the church teaches the way it does is precisely because of people like me. I understood and knew about many of the more nuanced details of church history before my mission, but it wasn’t until I read the basic missionary lessons in Preach My Gospel and read Moroni 10 and prayed about it that I actually gained a testimony.

    To me, the true but not useful makes perfect sense. I knew all of these details, but they were not useful to me really. The church is faced with the challenge of ‘getting testimony down into the hearts of people’ and so it would make sense to teach the basics over and over again.

    Also I really appreaciated bbell’ comments.

  118. Kaimi Wenger on March 13, 2008 at 4:18 am

    Bob writes:” Polygamy is right there in the Doctrine and Covenants.” Then why did no one known about it in Nauvoo, or that it happened in Nauvoo, for a Hundred years?

    My goodness, Bob. It’s clear that you have an axe to grind on this topic. But really, have you completely lost all sense of historical context? Are you really this dense? A hundred years with no mention of Nauvoo polygamy? Wow. That’s so flatly wrong, it’s mind-boggling that you’d assert it.

    A very brief chronology of a few mentions of Nauvoo polygamy might include some of these:

    Numerous public, first-person testimonies about Nauvoo plural marriage were recorded during the great debates with the RLDS missionaries (Joseph’s children) in the 1880s.

    The church actually collected affidavits from Joseph’s plural wives, and they were published by Andrew Jensen (Assistant Church Historian) in a periodical called the Historical Record, at the turn of the century.

    B.H. Roberts discussed the practice in his 1900 book The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo, including discussion such as (verbatim) “Testimony is abundant that plural marriage as well as marriage for eternity was practiced in Nauvoo.”

    Nauvoo polygamy was discussed in some depth in the official History of the Church by B.H. Roberts, published at the turn of the century and in very widespread use and distribution ever since.

    It is discussed in the revised Comprehensive History, also by B.H. Roberts, published in 1930, and also in broad circulation (though nowhere near as broad circulation as the History of the Church).

    It’s discussed in Mormon Doctrine, for crying out loud.

    And of course, if comes up in sources like Arrington and Bitton’s The Mormon Experience.

    And that’s just from a very quick sweep of sources on my bookcase, and I’m not a historian at all. Heaven help you if Ardis or Justin chose to actually go through a list of discussions of Nauvoo polygamy over time — the list is sure to be quite extensive. (Care to hit the pinata a few times, Ardis?)

    100 years of Nauvoo polygamy being unknown . . . wow. That’s rich.

    (Which 100 years were you meaning, by the way? Did you mean from Nauvoo to Brodie, 1844 to 1945? That would be an absolutely ridiculous claim, since as noted above, the Assistant Church historian Andrew Jensen was busy collecting evidence of Nauvoo polygamy and publishing it all in an official church periodical. Or do you mean the 75-ish years from Jensen to Arrington? That’s not quite as baldly ridiculous, but it’s still flat-out wrong, given that people like B.H. Roberts — who was only the Church Historian and an Apostle — were writing about it during that time, too.)

  119. Nate Oman on March 13, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Correction: B.H. Roberts was not an Apostle. He was in the Presidency of the Seventy.

  120. Peter LLC on March 13, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Either it’s right or it’s wrong; either it’s true or it’s not.

    Now that is a definition of nuance if I ever saw one, Brother T.

    Kaimi, your bookshelf sounds sweet, but I just did a quick sweep of mine and didn’t find any 1900 editions of BH Roberts or back issues of the Historical Record. I do have the Teachings of Presidents of the Church from the last few years, the Gospel Essentials Manual, Preach My Gospel, a class member study guide for Gospel Doctrine, the scriptures and even a Handbook excerpt for my calling. Isn’t that enough? Or is there more I should be reading?

    How much due dilligence should members be expected to do?

  121. Peter LLC on March 13, 2008 at 8:08 am

    Erratum: make that “Gospel Principles” manual.

  122. East Coast on March 13, 2008 at 9:08 am

    So, what are you suggesting…the church publish a little book called “Skeletons in our Closet”? All the church members can have this on their bookshelf right there with the prophet manuals, scriptures, Preach My Gospel, Gospel Principles, and church magazines.

    There would simply be no possible way to get such a book “right.” You could not satisfy new converts, old converts, lifetime members, disaffected members, enemies of the church, historians inside the church, historians outside the church, those people who make snarky comments on the Deseret News, etc. It would create more problems than it would solve.

  123. Nate Oman on March 13, 2008 at 9:40 am

    It seems to me that we are better off if the Church qua Church is not in the business of explaining and interpreting difficult historical issues for members. These things are by definition difficult and our interpretations will change with new research and simply new perspectives. A host of official or quasi-official positions would needlessly complicated these discussions. Obviously, I think that there are certain core historical claims that the Church can and should make, but I think it is is best if it stays out of the business of offering more elaborate interpretations. I suspect that the Church as an institution simply isn’t nimble enough to deal with these issues, and wants to avoid creating an “official” position on say Nauvoo era polyandry. This is a good thing. It potentially provides more wiggle room for scholars and others to work out a variety of more provisional understandings. In other words, I don’t want a church manual on skeletons in our closet. What I would like is a church culture that is open and non-defensive about discussions of such issues in less official fora. I think it would be good if there was a general understanding among church members that the church in its role as gospel instructor is not in the business of teaching church history and therefore those interested in such things should expect to find the discussion outside of church sources and be responsible for weighing the relative value of those outside sources. For what it is worth, this is the direction that I see the church moving in, albeit in a slow and cautious way.

  124. adcama on March 13, 2008 at 10:04 am

    EC, no such book needed. Why couldn’t we simply specifically integrate more contextual detail in the format we currently use for gospel instruction? I note that the current CES Institute manual is already almost there with regard to polygamy:

    “President Wilford Woodruff, who was closely associated with the Prophet Joseph Smith, said:
    “Emma Smith, the widow of the Prophet, is said to have maintained to her dying moments that her husband had nothing to do with the patriarchal order of marriage, but that it was Brigham Young that got that up. I bear record before God, angels and men that Joseph Smith received that revelation, and I bear record that Emma Smith gave her husband in marriage to several women while he was living, some of whom are to-day living in this city, and some may
    be present in this congregation, and who, if called upon, would confirm my words. But lo and behold, we hear of publication after publication now-a-days, declaring that Joseph Smith had nothing to do with these things. Joseph Smith himself organized every endowment in our Church and revealed the same to the Church, and he lived to receive every key of the
    Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods from the hands of the men who held them while in the flesh, and who hold them in eternity.” (In Journal of Discourses,23:131.) (from http://www.ldsces.org/inst_manuals/d_cInst32493000/Sections/D_CInst32493000_46.pdf).

    Pretty good I would say. If it were up to me, I would simply add a paragraph or two (maybe in the form of a supplemental on this topic that could be discussed in one or two seminary/institute/or nursery class periods) stating specifically what current scholars believe regarding how many JS married, who they were, a quick profile of each, how the women were approached and how it was kept secret from most in Nauvoo. Perhaps during the lessons on Joseph’s death, a paragraph or two regarding the Nauvoo Expositor. During the introduction to the BOM, talk specifically about seerstones, etc., etc.

    Perhaps the best place for these types of “truths” are in “supplemental” type postscripts to be referenced by teachers and left to the student to digest – but it seems like good doses of these things could be integrated without adding hours to each class period or distracting from the main point of gospel instruction.

  125. bbell on March 13, 2008 at 10:41 am

    K,

    I would agree that Nauvoo Polygamy was openly discussed and written about for decades.

    My understanding is that the Reorgs were sending missionaries to Utah in the late 1800’s and trying to make the case that JS did not practice polygamy that Brigham had made it all up. So the church had many of JS’s wives come forward and give legal statements confirming their marriages.

    BH Roberts also wrote extensively about it. Remember that good ol BH was a post manifesto polyg. He was still doing polygamy in the 1930’s so he had a stake in the whole idea

  126. Ardis Parshall on March 13, 2008 at 11:05 am

    The term “post-Manifesto polygamy” is usually reserved for new marriages contracted after October 1890, not for earlier marriages that endured beyond that point. [Added: Hmm. I didn’t realize until checking just now that his marriage to Margaret *was* post-Manifesto, by a few months, in 1891.]

    Kaimi, this particular pinata is filled with concrete!

  127. bbell on March 13, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Gotcha Cousin. I know we are related thru the Wells family

  128. Kaimi Wenger on March 13, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Kaimi, your bookshelf sounds sweet, but I just did a quick sweep of mine and didn’t find any 1900 editions of BH Roberts or back issues of the Historical Record. I do have the Teachings of Presidents of the Church from the last few years, the Gospel Essentials Manual, Preach My Gospel, a class member study guide for Gospel Doctrine, the scriptures and even a Handbook excerpt for my calling. Isn’t that enough? Or is there more I should be reading?

    How much due dilligence should members be expected to do?

    My bookshelf really isn’t all that great. (For instance, my copy of The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo is from the 2005-ish reprint edition, not the 1900 original. I picked it up at Deseret Book.)

    I cited to some older sources, because Bob made a particular historical claim — that it was unknown for 100 years. Addressing that claim kind of requires that one look at older sources — _was_ it being discussed in 1900? 1930? And so on.

    Your own question is a different one, though also an interesting one. Is there anything on an average church member’s bookshelf today that talks about Nauvoo polygamy?

    Sure, there is.

    As I mentioned in my earlier comment, the History of the Church discusses Nauvoo polygamy. This is a widely distributed source, which is on the bookcase of a lot more Mormons than me. Similarly, Elder McConkie’s book _Mormon Doctrine_ discusses Nauvoo polygamy. And that’s another book that’s on a very large number of average members’ bookcases.

    (I have my complaints about Mormon Doctrine, that I’ve mentioned before in this forum. But concealment of Nauvoo polygamy is not one of them.)

    How many church members have either Mormon Doctrine, History of the Church, or both, on their bookcases? A fair number, I’d say.

    Also, as adcama notes, it’s discussed in places like CES manuals.

    The new Joseph Smith manual doesn’t really address the issue. (This is unfortunate, I think.) It does mention that he taught about plural marriage during his lifetime.

  129. dangermom on March 13, 2008 at 11:33 am

    #120: “Kaimi, your bookshelf sounds sweet, but I just did a quick sweep of mine and didn’t find any 1900 editions of BH Roberts or back issues of the Historical Record. I do have the Teachings of Presidents of the Church from the last few years, the Gospel Essentials Manual, Preach My Gospel, a class member study guide for Gospel Doctrine, the scriptures and even a Handbook excerpt for my calling. Isn’t that enough? Or is there more I should be reading?”

    How about the new “Setting the Record Straight” series from Deseret Book? Here’s the one on polygamy, there’s also one on blacks and the priesthood, and some others. I think they’re still being written. They’ve been showing up in Deseret Book catalogs for the past year or so. I presume they’re meant to address this “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” issue. (For myself, I’m a bit mystified as to how you can grow up an American Mormon and *not* hear about polygamy. I can’t remember first learning about it because I’ve always known, and I don’t even have any Utah ancestors.)

  130. adcama on March 13, 2008 at 11:59 am

    dangermom, it’s not that we didn’t *hear* about polygamy….it’s just that the details were left out – on bookshelves of some, but not in the main thrust of gospel instruction which many of us solely depended for our understanding of church history (after all, I wasn’t going to use non-church approved materials). Perhaps I’m partly to blame for not scouring the bookshelf or archives…..but like my “non-church approved” mentality, I have what I feel are solid reasons for why my understanding developed the way it did.

    For me, the way I grew up learning our early history led to (perhaps partly my own fault) my developing an image of JS and early church history that turned out to be not so accurate (an idealized version, shall we say). That image was shattered when I was ole’ enough to do more “due dilligence”; it caused a feeling of being “cheated on” (again, perhaps partly my fault…., but real feelings none the less). When those feelings develop, it’s easy to view everything the church has said or done with cynicism….and that is often a quick ticket out the door.

    Thus my argument for more detail…….

  131. Bookslinger on March 13, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    I first learned about Joseph Smith’s polygamy shortly after joining the church, from reading section 132, specifically verse 52.

  132. Bob on March 13, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    #120: #1: Thank you for letting my statement stand (or even stay) as written.
    You have every right to challenge my thinking or evidence. But please give me a little credit for having done some looking into some books, and maybe knowing what a average Mormon might grow up knowing, or have been taught.
    I did not grow up reading B.H. Roberts. I doubt any one in my Ward even knew the name. But, the standard is not what I know, what Nate knows, or what you know, what was written, or who has read the Federalist Papers to know on what America was founded. The standard is what 95% of Mormons are taught, or believe. Again, my opinion,and thank you for letting me share it.

  133. Ardis Parshall on March 13, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    It just occurred to me that the experience recounted in my current post on becoming familiar with Catholicism is relevant in this thread. I had a set of questions in mind when I went looking for Catholic belief, while some of the commenters in this thread had years of Mormon belief before they realized there were questions. Otherwise, the two situations are parallel:

    I learned a great deal from attending Mass, but my questions were not addressed because they were far from the central experience of Catholicism. I learned a great deal more from taking Catholic instruction, but my questions were not addressed because they were irrelevant to the day-to-day practice of Catholic life. It wasn’t until I could engage a knowledgeable and patient Catholic one on one that I could find answers to my questions — and from the perspective of nearly 30 years, I realize that what seemed so critical and urgent to me then were just distractions, unimportant fringe elements that did not aid my understanding of Catholicism.

    Whatever of importance that I learned came from how the people treated me personally, and what I observed of their actual (not theoretical) worship, and what they identified as important to pass on in formal instruction. There was nothing wrong with my questions, but they had no place in either worship services or in a systematic course of basic instruction. They were best answered as they were, one on one with a reliable source, where my curiosity could be satisfied without distracting from either worship or instruction.

    No concealment on their part, no anger on my part. Just a recognition that there is a time and a place for everything, which timing and placing are not always dictated by me.

  134. Kaimi Wenger on March 13, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Bob,

    Sorry for being so harsh in my comment — I think I was a little over-the-top.

    Your clarification raises interesting follow up points. What exactly do we mean, when we say that information is unknown? Often, we’re starting with our own experience, and generalizing from there. “I didn’t know about Nauvoo polygamy while growing up; so it was unknown to Mormons.” And that’s an inherently problematic exercise.

    It would be really interesting to get a sociologist to do a survey, and see what the level of knowledge really is. (Kind of like the Armand Mauss surveys about racial attitudes among church members.)

    I do think that sources of this information are pretty widely dispersed. I’d say offhand that probably somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of my ward members have either Mormon Doctrine or History of the Church. So they’ve got the source, available, on their bookcase.

    On the other hand, I don’t know if they actually read and take that information. I grew up in a house that had Mormon Doctrine on the bookcase, and I didn’t really realize that there was polygamy in Nauvoo. It was there for me to see, but I just didn’t.

    Which brings the broader question — to what extent should the church make sure that historical information is not only _available_, but also being read and absorbed by members?

  135. Ardis Parshall on March 13, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    to what extent should the church make sure that historical information is not only _available_, but also being read and absorbed by members?

    Considering that we haven’t reached that point yet with the Book of Mormon or New Testament …

  136. Kari on March 13, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    There has been some discussion about the church archives, and since I have never been there, just heard them spoken about, I was hoping that someone (Ardis?) could answer a few general questions. (Or point me to information that would answer them)

    If I were to show up, unannounced, during business hours, what would be open to me to peruse/read/investigate? What is in the archives that is “off-limits,” if anything?

    I have heard that the minutes of the Council of 50 are not made available, and I would assume the same goes for minutes of meetings of the Qo12. And if there are things that are off limits, does the church acknowledge that they have them, but they’re not available for use, or would I get a “can neither confirm or deny” sort of comment.

    As a run of the mill member of the LDS church are there things I wouldn’t be given access to that Brother Bushman or the folks at FARMS would — i.e. is there greater access to historians, apologists, etc.? Is access limited if you have been labelled “anti-“?

  137. Ardis Parshall on March 13, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Kari —

    The archives are in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake. Anyone, member or not, is welcome to visit and use the materials. You do need a picture ID to get past the security guard, and if you want to call for materials from the closed stacks you will need to fill out a one-time form with your name and contact info, and agreeing to handle the materials so as not to damage them, but that’s all that is required. An extremely tiny number of people (the guards won’t tell me exactly how many) are barred from the archives, and in fact from the whole church campus, because of past misbehavior, such as deliberately damaging materials.

    Once in, you can browse the stacks of published material, and use the digital catalogs to locate materials you want from the closed stacks. Vast quantities of archival materials are available to you — in ten years of near-daily plowing through them, I haven’t begun to even be aware of all the possibilities. There is just too much, and it’s growing all the time. You fill out a request form, and 10-15 minutes later, it’s delivered to you, either the original or, more likely, on microfilm to help preserve the original.

    There are three categories of restricted materials: Private (chiefly the governing and financial records of the church, which does include the minutes of councils, but also records of living persons, oral interviews of living persons, and collections given to the archives with a time restriction that they will not be available for use until x-years past the donor’s death); confidential (church courts, priest-penitant type materials, divorce records); and sacred (mostly temple related).

    There is no restriction on materials that are merely unflattering. The private/confidential/sacred categories do cover enormous amounts of material, but are narrowly defined.

    You can request the use of restricted materials, and I’ve had good success with that, but you have to make a good argument and not merely be on a fishing expedition (too bad — fishing turns up some great stuff!) Sometimes the staff will search a restricted item for you — if a 300-page record is restricted because a church court is recorded on page 284, the staff will find what you need on page 100 and let you see that much.

    Other things, like the diaries of most recent church officials or the minutes of those councils are simply unavailable, no matter what, and there is no point in wasting anybody’s time in asking.

    I have no doubt that certain scholars do have access that an unknown person would not. RLBushman has an established record of trustworthiness that no doubt gains him special access — they could hand him that 300-page record and trust him not to copy and publicize the single restricted page. But you don’t have to be quite on his level, either, to get access — I’ve known of students and young scholars who, through patient demonstration of their trustworthiness, and perhaps recommendations from local leaders (I don’t really know this part, I’m guessing), have been granted special access — they may be allowed to use records to compile statistics with the restriction that they will not collect names or otherwise violate personal privacy.

    Open stacks material may be photocopied. You can request copies of closed stacks materials, but there are entire categories of materials that may not be copied. You are free to handwrite or transcribe by laptop anything that you read.

    My experience is that anyone who is polite (you’d be surprised at how many chips come in on shoulders, with patrons imperiously demanding access) does pretty well here. The librarians and archivists do all they can to help people find alternate sources of information if their preferred records don’t exist or aren’t available — you just have to be cooperative, and as specific as possible, and be willing to cultivate a professional and courteous relationship with those whose duty it is to protect and preserve the records. You won’t get everything you hope for, but if there is any way the staff can make the material available, they will.

  138. adcama on March 13, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    “They were best answered as they were, one on one with a reliable source, where my curiosity could be satisfied without distracting from either worship or instruction.”

    I understand what you’re saying…..but a couple of thoughts; First, I’d point out that reliable sources are tough to come by. The internet makes it easier, but without that, how do you identify a reliable source in your local congregation, for example? Your family? Even trusted teachers? I tried going to my bishop when these “nuanced” things first came to my attention and he looked at me like I had bugs crawling out of my ears. Luckily, he happened to mention my “issues” to the Stake President and he, being both wise interested became a reliable source for me…..otherwise, I would have probably been completely deep six relative to all things mormon (as a side note, after I had thoroughly discussed some of my questions with my SP, his parting words of caution to me were “even though we’ve talked about it here, we still don’t teach it”). My family still won’t go near Nauvoo era polygamy…..they literally think I’m an apostate (praying for me, etc.) when I bring up anything even remotely “non-faith promoting.”

    Second, it seems to me that the questions we’re talking about here are optimal material for “instruction” settings, but you may be right right….perhaps not worship.

    Finally, shouldn’t we try to prevent any further mental disjunction for those up and coming by hitting some of these major themes preemptively (“innoculation” as it were?) We’d create a bunch more “reliable sources” if we did……

  139. Ardis Parshall on March 13, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    adcama, you’ve made it clear that any attempt by me to respond to you only ticks you off, so it’s not fair of you to challenge me. But since you’ve made the identical points over and over and over and over and over and over and over, please see my previous responses.

  140. adcama on March 13, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Wow.

    Ardis, I am not ticked off nor am I challenging you.

    I am, however, baffled by your hostility toward me. But I will take it as an indication that my respect of you, your work and your perspective is not reciprocated. I’ll try to find somewhere more appropriate to participate in church related discussion. Sad….this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen on this site.

    I apologize for any misunderstanding.

  141. Bob on March 13, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    #136: Maybe each of us was being more advocate than judge? Yes, each of us, man or woman must share the blame for not seeing what is there.
    But B.H. Roberts most important writings(?), were not available to us for 60 years. Why? I was clearly taught to “stay away from the Mysteries” while growing up. I can still here my name being yelled across the Mission Home, when my MP found out I had a copy of Mormon Doctrine. (DB gave 50% off to missionaries). I was rightfully told to mail it (and, Widtsoe) home. (Oh, by the way, my bookshelf, maybe bigger than your yours). I think in today’s world, it’s pretty hard to keep any information hidden. I do think the Church (Arrington on) is trying to “let the Sunshine in” Also, the day of the ‘Anti’, is less, the day of members ‘engaging, (like you, I, or the Blog), are just beginning.

  142. Bob on March 13, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    #138: I have a ‘Mole’ (a retired BYU Professor) in the Church archives, for “Our Family History”. She says she can get to stuff I can’t. But maybe she only means she knows where to look or how to ask.

  143. Jacob F on March 13, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    No one has mentioned the idea that these things can be taught to children, teens, or whomever in a family setting. Why do we have to depend on the church only to teach us? My kids are young now, but I plan on helping them understand what some consider the uncomfortable details of church history during the natural course of being their parent (i.e. during FHE, informal chats, etc.).

    The assumption seems to be that unless the church spoon-feeds us in gospel doctrine, seminary, or some other official setting, it is somehow concealing things. That is an impossible standard for the church to live up to.

    I have read Compton, Prince, Bushman, etc. At first it stings, but for me it has helped clarify my testimony. In the same way, reading Mayflower bruised my view of the Puritans but also helped me appreciate their accomplishments.

  144. Jacob F on March 13, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    With all due respect adcama, perhaps one step toward having your work (etc.) more respected would be to use your real name, as Ms. Parshall does. She has opened herself to personal attack; you are still a nym.

  145. Bob on March 13, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    #145: You are right, this no place like home. But none of these books were available for my parents to teach from. If you want to see (overkill) what the Church doesn’t think you need to read, visit Signature Books. Much different than the catalog Deseret Books sends me.
    #146: My name is Bob..but some people call me Forrest Gump.

  146. Kari on March 13, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you, Ardis. Having not lived in Utah since I was nine I had always assumed that when people spoke of the church archives they were referring to the vaults in the mountains. What’s kept there?

    Is there any effort being made to digitize what’s in the archives and making it available on-line? Particularly the 19th century stuff? That would be so much better, imo, that the current effort to publish in book form the JS papers (or maybe they have plans to do that of which I am unaware), or other items. I always enjoy seeing the raw data.

    Again, thank you for your response.

  147. Ardis Parshall on March 13, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Kari — The Granite Mountain Records Vault is where the master copies of all the Family History Library films and many of the original church materials are stored (although many other originals are in the archives storage floors). I don’t know what all is kept in which place; most of what patrons use is on microfilm so you aren’t really aware of where an original is stored. (By the way, if your direct ancestor wrote a diary that is on file at the archives, they *will* bring down the original diary so that you can hold and read it; they don’t do that for anybody but descendants.)

    The church is building a new church archives building across the street (North Temple) from the Church Office Building, due to open sometime (optimistically spring) 2009. That building has been specially designed for the safe storage of both paper and film (correct humidity and temperature and all that, with special fire suppression systems) — the current archives are located in a wing of the Church Office Building that was originally designed as the dormitory and classroom of a mission home (they built the Provo MTC instead), so the adapted facilities are not really very good for archival purposes. There is nowhere near enough storage, either.

    Microfilm is still the most used technology, although I understand that new materials are routinely being scanned on DVD as well. I like using the scanned images when I can, if for no other reason than that the color contrast helps me distinguish between a weirdly written letter and a stray mark bleeding through from the other side of the leaf. Except for certain materials published on DVD, they generally don’t make the DVDs available for patrons — they need to work out the security issues first, possibly.

    The Family History Library is in the midst of a many-years-long project to scan all their microfilmed materials to make them freely available over the internet. In fact, they are soliciting the volunteer help of anybody who wants to work from home for a few minutes or a few months indexing the scanned materials preparatory to putting them up. I don’t have the URL for that with me, but will find it tomorrow and post it. You might want to spend an hour reading and typing the names on Kentucky death certificates, or whatever they’re working on right now, to help that project move along.

    Archives, like the church archives, or the special collections departments of universities, or research libraries like Huntington, are a little different. Their holdings are unique, and except for a few public institutions, most are not too eager to publish their documents online, at least for the time being. The church archives do want to have an internet presence as a means of making the church’s materials available to church members who don’t have the luxury of long weeks in Salt Lake. I think they’re planning on starting with the catalogs so that you can at least learn what is available, for planning your research trip or for requesting help from the archivists. How much farther than that they will go, or when, I have no idea. (Remember, I’m a patron, not an employee, and even though I’m there a lot and eavesdrop for all I’m worth, I’m not privy to staff meetings and administrative plans.)

    You mention the Joseph Smith papers in particular. Check out josephsmithpapers.net — this is a truly special project that WILL include publishing the volumes online as well as on paper, including images of the original handwritten documents. Pretty cool.

  148. Bob on March 13, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    #148: Kari, Trust me, there is more Family History (If your roots are Mormon) available from the Church on the Web now, than the average guy (me) can handle. But my ‘mole’ in the archives send me a copy of a small “book” of my grandmother’s from the 1880s. It was from Moroni, Utah. the young kids signed these little books like we would signed school years, or exchanged valentines. It is one of my treasures.

  149. Bob on March 13, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    #148: Kari, Trust me, there is more Family History (If your roots are Mormon) available from the Church on the Web now, than the average guy (me) can handle. But my ‘mole’ in the archives send me a copy of a small “book” of my grandmother’s from the 1880s. It was from Moroni, Utah. The young kids signed these little books like we would sign school yearbooks, or exchanged valentines. It is one of my treasures.

  150. Matt Evans on March 13, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Ardis, on another tangent, do you know of a way to _buy_ copies of old (late 19th century) Deseret News? I imagine some dealer must trade in old newspapers, but if so, I haven’t found them.

  151. Ardis Parshall on March 13, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    One of the practical benefits of this week’s reorganization of the church history department is that it emphasizes the distinction between church history and family history. If you have LDS roots, or roots in traditional LDS territory, there is a great deal you can learn about your family from the church archives/library. The church archives/library, however, are geared toward documenting church history, a very different thing from family history, with record types and search strategies and specialties all its own.

    Matt, I don’t know of a specialist source for old newspapers. I’d start with Curt Bench at Benchmark Books, my favorite dealer (there are other good ones, like Sam Weller and Ken Sanders). Benchmark keeps a “want list” and searches for customer needs, if there are particular issues you hope to find.

  152. Bob on March 13, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    #152: If you are looking for something special, Ancestry.com has newspaper databases. Did you go directly to Deseret News? They may have an answer.

  153. Ardis Parshall on March 13, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    The Deseret News does not sell old issues of their paper. Since Matt is in Utah, there are many convenient places to see digital or microfilmed images of the papers of higher quality and with a far better search engine than ancestry.com (I’m not a fan) — BYU, the UofU, Utah State History, and the church history library have complete microfilm sets (the Family History Library’s microfilm copy is old, faded, scratched, and generally illegible). The Utah Digital Newspapers Project is the first place for anybody to look for images of old Utah papers. But as for purchasing genuine paper issues for framing or whatever, I don’t know where to begin except the book and paper dealers. (And did I say I really like and trust Benchmark?)

  154. Matt Evans on March 14, 2008 at 12:04 am

    Thanks Ardis. Yes, I have a copy printed from microfilm, and transcribed it two years ago for a post on T&S. If I could get originals I’d frame them for family. It would be a gift they’d appreciate, especially my grandmother and her brothers.

  155. SmallAxe on March 14, 2008 at 10:13 am

    I haven’t had the chance to read through all the comments, and I last commented in #13, so I won’t try to jump in here, but take a look at some of my thoughts on the matter in the “Church Education as Consequentialism” thread at FPR.

  156. Ardis Parshall on March 14, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Kris’s post at some other blog on parental discretion concerning scriptural stories is also relevant, if we go clear back to Kaimi’s original post about more nuanced learning as we grow in the gospel.

  157. Liz on March 14, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    At the risk of sounding naive…

    The leaders of the church are focusing on what matters most; a firm testimony.

    If we have that testimony, if we are personally built on “the rock” – Christ – rather than just going with the flow, then we are prepared when new information comes to light, true or false, flattering to the church founders or not. When we see a story in the Ensign about new evidence being unearthed in support of the Book of Mormon, our reaction will be, “Okay, whatever.” When a major news network puts out a story proclaiming the Book of Mormon to be a forgery, complete with smart looking/sounding experts, our reaction will be to roll our eyes and switch to a rerun of “America’s Funniest Home Videos”.

    I appreciate those learned, honest historians who attempt to tell the story as accurately as they can, without apologies. I don’t appreciate it when people try to make people and events look rosy and simple. I find myself rolling my eyes and changing the channel again.

    I hope one day my descendants will look at me as I was, not as they want me to be. I think my story will mean volumes more to them if they see a struggling, imperfect woman who had admirable qualitites, but who ultimately was saved through her testimony of the restored gospel, her faith in Christ, and her long-suffering through trials…not through her perfection (ha).

    Good information enriches/poor information confuses. A powerful testimony saves.

    I too hope that over time people will feel more comfortable talking about history as it was. I think it is an area where we have been and will be growing as members and leaders of the church. But time is short and church hours are precious. Repentance and Faith, strengthening and supporting budding testimonies, comes first.

  158. Liz on March 14, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I flinched when I reread my post and noticed I wrote “members and leaders”…should have just said “members”…as they say, “Stake Pres today, Nursery leader tomorrow”. (Being a mother of young children, Nursery leaders I say should all be translated).

    It should never be them vs. us; we’re all in the same boat!
    Maybe a topic for another discussion altogether…

  159. Carlos on March 14, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    I teach Teachers and sometimes Priest at church. Trust me, it’s hard enought to get them to listen and pay attention to a simple lesson. My 14-year old Teachers mostly could not answer questions like what’s the Atonement. And from my observation in Singles wards, young adults are not much farther either. Truth is, deep-thinking and historically-interested people are rare, I would say, less than 5%. The official curriculum is aimed a the majority to get a basic understanding of the doctrines of the Gospel and how to apply them in their lives. And I believe this is as it should be.

    But I never had a problem finding out information about the other “issues”. It’s not concealed. And because my testimony is based on the spiritual confirmations I’ve felt since becoming a member, by reading the scriptures and participating in Church, including a mission, the fact that people, including Chuch leaders, are and were less than perfect does not bother me. After all, I’m far from perfect myself, but I keep trying and chugging along, imperfect as I am.

    Maybe that’s where some of you should concentrate.

  160. Bob on March 14, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    # Carlos, let me agree with you: Christian principles and Gospel truths are not concealed nor untaught by the Mormon Church, and they are known by the Spirit. Too many times, “historical interests”, are more of a parlor game.

  161. Kari on March 16, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Ardis,

    Thank you for the time you took to answer my questions.

  162. Karen on March 16, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Like Ardis, I learned about every one of Kaimi’s Mormon history “nuances” during high school. My 68-69 early morning seminary teacher was a physicist or rocket scientist, or something, but he was quite the history buff. I was, however, the only student who showed the slighted interest in what he had to say, whether it was from the manual or not. As I remember it, my friends slept in; the girls from the second ward giggled, twittered and flirted, and the boys ditched class, fought, or slept. I got to babysit his daughter, which I loved because she slept and I got to read even more subversive stuff. He had stuff that questioned the validity of the priesthood ban and I asked my mom about it. She snorted and said it was probably right, that some racist made that up and not God. While some of my reading shocked me, but my mother’s reaction did even more. She was devoted, obedient and unquestioning so her reaction made further investigation safe for me. My dad thought I was heretical; he still does. We moved to Utah in April and I wish I remembered the teacher’s name so I could thank him for my initiation into nuanced grey. My Utah seminary teachers were CES pros and never strayed from the 1970’s party line.
    I have taught earling morning seminary (in 3 different states in the midwest) and Institute. I am happy to find 1 in 10 who really want to learn and even happier to find that one, maybe, 50 who cares about nuanced history and accuracy. I have always mentioned the darker historical facts in context and explained as much as anyone cared to take in. I have had a few parents question my lack of censorship and I just hand them copies of my documentation. I’ve never been questioned by a priesthood leader or CES employee about teaching these. The current Institute teacher’s manuals include references to a lot of supplemental reading and much of this is found there. I spent hundreds of dollars downloading BYU Studies (when it was $2 a pop-thank goodness it’s free now). That led me all over the internet and to the blogs, but not to any historical issues I didn’t first encounter by 1969.

  163. Bob on March 16, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    164: Nuance is a lifetime study and is never completed. Not in Religion, Politics, or Marriage. No one knows even the nuances of Joseph Smith’s life. By his own words: ” Nobody know my history”. In Mormonism, ‘nuance’ means “left out”.

  164. Bob on March 16, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    It’s late: that ” No man knows my history.”.

  165. Steven on March 23, 2008 at 2:30 am

    I’ve followed this blog off and on for a number of years, and I’ve always enjoyed Kaimi’s posts. This post, however, is lacking in important respects, and unintentionally humorous in others.

    The title–“Discovering Nuance”–becomes immediately absurd when you characterize a legitimate criticism of Church pedagogy as “I didn’t get the whole scoop on LDS history while I was in Primary.” This characterization is nothing more than a caricature of the real issue, which makes the title of the post pretty funny.

    “Nuance,” indeed.

    Furthermore, this characterization sets up an implicit straw-man argument, which argument you build up and rely on for the remainder of the post (see, e.g., “Because I was a flippin’ nine-year-old, that’s why!”).
    Do you really expect people to disagree with the proposition that kids in Primary should not be taught about polyandry? Really? That’s a pretty easy argument to make. It misses the point entirely, and, I am afraid, intentionally.

    We are not taught, at any time, even when we become educated and wise and world-weary, and supposedly prepared and mature adults, many important things such as (how was it?) “seerstones, polyandry, Zelph, Kinderhook, or the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society.”

    One need look no further than page xii of the new Teachings of the Presidents of the Church (which is, of course, meant not for the Primary but the Priesthood and Relief Society), for evidence of this trend:

    “This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day. For example, this book does not discuss such topics as the Prophet’s teachings regarding the law of consecration as applied to stewardship of property. The Lord withdrew this law from the Church because the Saints were not prepared to live it (see D&C 119, section heading). This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime. Over the next several decades, under the direction of the Church Presidents who succeeded Joseph Smith, a significant number of Church members entered into plural marriages. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which discontinued plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practices plural marriage.” See http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=da135f74db46c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=213720596a845110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1&contentLocale=0

    Forgive me for looking at this statement with perhaps an overly critical eye, but the use of the word “discontinued” in the last sentence, not to mention the fact that polygamy seems at least implicitly, if not overtly, alive and well in certain temple contexts, seems to indicate that the doctrine might have some sort of “application to our day.” The mention of the law of consecration seems to have been included in an attempt to legitimize the absence of any discussion about polygamy, i.e. “See, it’s not just polygamy . . . .”

    I count myself among those you deride and disrespect in your post. Only I do not, nor have I ever, complained that “I didn’t get the whole scoop on LDS history while I was in Primary.” My complaint is that I didn’t get the whole scoop on LDS History at Church.

    Ever. Under any circumstances.

    I followed the manuals. I went to church each Sunday. I prepared for a mission (first ever in my family), and read the approved books. I was precocious and curious and interrogated my Seminary instructors. They gave me answers, but I had no information, and therefore no reason, to ask what would have been crucial follow-up questions.

    I was a diligent, dedicated, faithful missionary. I read all the mission approved books and the standard works. I memorized the discussions and learned convenient, canned answers from other missionaries. And I repeatedly and routinely told people, before, during, and after my mission that certain things were simply not true, that they had been misinformed, only to find that many times they were right and I was wrong.

    I served in the Church in various capacities, went to the Temple, blessed my child, and ordained my brother-in-law, all the while doing my level best to bring my family closer to the Church. I worked tirelessly with the young men and fielded the occasional thorny question by responding in a way probably very similar to the way my leaders had dealt with my own questions when I was a young man.

    And I finally had to learn about “seerstones, polyandry, Zelph, Kinderhook, or the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society,” etc. not at the Ward but instead on the web, not from the Bishop but from Brodie and Bushman.

    Most of these discoveries are recent, and are fresh, and I am still trying to figure out how to deal with them. I am discovering that I am not alone, and those who find themselves in similar circumstances tend to have trod a similar path. And that path does not begin with complaints about what was or was not taught in Primary, and what we knew or did not know when we were nine years old.