Saints, Volume 3 came out on April 22, 2022. Given the estimated biannual cadence of releases for the series, we are likely to see Saints, Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear come out sometime next year. Now, I hope by now that it’s clear that I am a fan of the series and when we were approaching the release of Saints, Volume 3, I published a post discussing what we could likely look forward to from the history. I would like to do the same for Volume 4. The intention here is not to publish a wish list of what I want in the book, but to have some fun taking educated guesses at what is likely to be discussed in the history.
General Overview of History
Saints, Volume 4 is set to cover 1955 to recent history. Now, I’m not sure what the ending point will be. Previous volumes have been book-ended by temple dedications. The one that makes the most sense to me is the Rome, Italy Temple dedication (2019), since it was touted as a major hingepoint. The mural used for the cover depicts the Hong Kong, China (1996); Accra, Ghana (2004); and São Paulo Brazil (1978) temples, but those three seem to be dedicated too early for an ending, unless you count the rededication of the Hong Kong Temple in 2022. But I’m guessing it will wrap up sometime in the 2010s.
The era of 1955 to present saw a lot of growth and development in the Church. During that era, conversion rates exploded in South America, the Pacific islands, eastern Asia, and Africa. The 1978 revelation that ended the priesthood and temple ban was an important event enabling that growth. Temple construction to support membership across the world became a big deal, with the number of temples jumping from 9 functioning temples in 3 countries in 1955 to 185 dedicated temples in scores of countries today. At the same time, growth and stability was challenged in central and eastern Europe by the Cold War and then more broadly in western cultural areas by increasing secularism and other challenges.
Internally, the development of Correlation under Harold B. Lee’s supervision changed how the Church functioned. Auxiliary organizations like the Sunday School, Relief Society, etc. were brought to heel and incorporated into the Church’s structure. Finances, publications, and hierarchies across the Church were streamlined and brought under closer supervision. This centralization helped to present a uniform message across the world. In addition, a few things combined (including an increased emphasis on the Book of Mormon during Ezra Taft Benson’s administration) to lead to an increased focus on Jesus Christ that is still underway today in some of Russell M. Nelson’s reforms.
In the United States, the Church came to represent a politically and morally conservative force that has been embattled, at times, for that decision. The Church’s priesthood and temple ban came under fire during the battle for civil rights for African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, it took a controversial stance against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, and has come out in opposition to full support for the LGTBQ+ community (including the Proposition 8 campaign in California). Ezra Taft Benson is particularly notable here for his far-right political views and activity, his involvement in the U.S. government, and his strongly-worded encouragement to women to give up careers in favor of homemaking. This has generally put us in the camp of the Religious Right in U.S. politics during this era.
The worldwide nature of the Church means that it will be increasingly difficult to give Church members their full due in every part of the world just by the nature of there being too many threads to follow. Stories of pioneers accepting the teachings of missionaries and helping the Church gain a foothold in different countries are manifold. Likewise, stories of ongoing missionary work by converts, translating the Book of Mormon, organizing trips to visit temples in neighboring countries, and later having temples constructed in their own lands will likely be part of the story. These types of stories in places where Black African ancestry is common (such as Africa itself, Brazil, and the Caribbean) are more complicated, particularly in the pre-1978 years. There are a lot of routes that can be taken, and I’m interested to see where the Church historians go with the history.
First, what are some threads that were set up in Saints, Volume 3 that should be picked up in Saints, Volume 4? The ones I spotted are as follows:
- Gordon B. Hinckley: Gordon B. Hinckley is one of the major voices that Volume 3 started using as a main character. I think it’s likely that he will continue functioning in that role throughout Volume 4, particularly as an insider view into Church leadership in Salt Lake City.
- Neal A. Maxwell is another character introduced briefly in Volume 3 that could fulfill a similar role.
- Cold War: In Volume Three, we followed the stories of a few German Latter-day Saints, including some like Helga Meyer and Henry Burkhardt who lived in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) after it became a satellite state of the Soviet Union. Likewise, Latter-day Saints in Czechoslovakia, such as Terezie Vojk?vková made an appearance. It’s likely that the lives of these and other Latter-day Saints living on the communist side of the Iron Curtain (potentially including Dieter F. Uchtdorf) will continue to be an important part of the story told in Saints, Volume 4. I would also not be surprised if the visit of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Europe and Russia in 1991 will be part of how they discuss the official end of the Cold War.
- Post WWII growth in Pacific and east Asia: This was already mentioned in Japan, but further discussion of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Micronesia, etc. is going to be important.
- Conversion in Africa before revelation: The focus of African-related content thus far has been on South Africa and the African diaspora in the U.S., which has given opportunities to discuss racism in the Church and the priesthood and temple ban in context. It is briefly mentioned in the last segment of Saints, Volume 3 on South Africa that people in western Africa were reaching out to Salt Lake City for more information about the Church, which is a thread that will be picked up. There are a number of stories of people converting to the Church in places like Nigeria during the 1950s after coming in contact with literature like James E. Talmage’s The Articles of Faith, LeGrande Richards’s A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, and a piece in the Reader’s Digest that featured the Church. Because of the priesthood and temple ban, Church leaders decided that it was unwise to begin proselytizing and organizing the Church in those countries. As a result, these early converts did their best to create their own churches based on the literature they had available. When the ban was lifted in 1978, missionary work soon followed. Many members of these churches sought out baptism, though sometimes also struggled to adapt to the official version of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Second, in any history involving an institution, there are going to be difficult issues to discuss, some of which have the potential to shake the faith of Latter-day Saints. So far, the Saints series has done well with bringing up and discussing these types of issues. But what are some of the ones that may come up this time around?
- Priesthood ban / revelation: As already mentioned the priesthood and temple ban against individuals with black African ancestry came under heavy scrutiny during the 1950s and 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Hugh B. Brown made efforts to have the ban lifted during the David O. McKay administration, but was stonewalled by Harold B. Lee and other senior Church leaders. Spencer W. Kimball was more successful in gaining consensus among the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency and lifted the ban in response to the 1978 revelation. Even after the ban was lifted, however, the doctrinal superstructure that had supported it remained and has only recently begun to be openly challenged and dismantled by Church leaders. So far the Saints histories have continued that effort to dismantle the doctrinal underpinnings for the ban, so I would guess that they will continue aspects of that, though I have no expectation of them point-blank stating that the ban was not instituted by God’s will.
- ERA and Women’s Rights: The Equal Rights Amendment was a hot topic in the 1970s, with Church leaders coming out in direct opposition to the efforts to guarantee women’s rights. They even organized members politically to fight the amendment in the U.S. This sent clear signals to feminists in the Church that they weren’t welcome, culminating with the excommunication of Sonia Johnson in 1979. Around the same time, the Church’s correlation efforts marginalized women’s opportunities to exercise leadership by reigning in the Relief Society. Later flash points like the September Six excommunications and responses to teachings about a mother in heaven or the Ordain Women movement in the 2010s continue to display this ongoing tension in the Church. Given that the Church’s stance has softened on many feminist issues since the 1970s, I’m interested to see how they handle this discussion.
- LGTBQ+: This an important topic during the era covered in Saints 4, with aspects of it surfacing in things like The Family Proclamation, Prop 8 in 2008 California, and the policy of exclusion that lasted from 2015–2019. It’s also a no-win topic that the historians will face blowback for no matter what they do while discussing the issue (so I totally feel sympathy for anyone put in that position). I would not be surprised if they focused on the Church standing up for religious freedom and the recent efforts to support legislation that maintains basic civil rights for people who identify with the LGTBQ+ community if it is featured as a topic in the book.
- Ezra Taft Benson’s politics: Ezra Taft Benson is infamous for his right-wing political activity, including his open support for the John Birch Society and opposition to the Civil Rights movement. Given that he became a prophet-president of the Church, any discussion of the issue will likely walk a fine line of respecting the man and his calling while expressing that he may not have pursued the wisest course of action when it came to his politics.
- Leonard Arrington’s History Department: The efforts to professionalize historian’s work in the Church being first embraced and then shut down by Church leaders during Leonard Arrington’s tenure as Church Historian would be interesting for them to discuss. Leonard himself left some very rich diaries that would allow him to function as a main character in the book, if that was chosen. At the same time, the Saints series has had little focus on Latter-day Saint historiography, so I honestly don’t expect this to even come up.
- Mark Hofmann: I don’t think that the idea of prophets, seers, and revelators being deceived by a forger is a big deal anymore, but the incident is still a major tragedy that bears some discussion.
- September Six: Perhaps one of the most significant moments of the Church’s history in the 1990s was the excommunication or disfellowshipment of six high-profile intellectuals within one month in 1993 (Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, Avraham Gileadi, Paul Toscano, Maxine Hanks, the late Lavina Fielding Anderson and D. Michael Quinn). Similar to the excommunications of Sonia Johnson, John Dehlin, and Kate Kelly, the impact of the decision to deal out disciplinary action had an impact beyond the immediate individuals involved and sent shockwaves out into the broader intellectual and liberal community of Latter-day Saints that are still deeply felt today.
- Indian Placement Program: From 1954–1996, the Church developed a program that brought Native American children into Euro-American homes in an effort to convert and assimilate Native Americans, especially from among the Diné. An estimated 50,000 Native American children went through the program. While the general concept was well-intended, it proved controversial, since it was essentially a colonizing effort that weakened ties to their ancestral cultures. It also provided an environment wherein some of the children involved were subjected to abuse of various kinds.
There are some well-known and beloved stories from each era of Church history (some of which are even true) and the 1955s to present are no different. Here are some the major ones that come to mind for me:
- Anthony Uzodimma Obinna conversion (probably the most famous among the pre-1978 conversion stories of West Africans).
- 1964 Mormon pavilion at the New York World’s Fair
- Area Conferences in England and Mexico and Bruce R. McConkie announcing a doctrine of gathering that focused on joining the Church as a member rather than moving to the western United States.
- Spencer W. Kimball’s “Lengthen Your Stride” motto and talk
- Publication of the English edition of scriptures that we currently use (with all the footnotes, introductions, dictionaries, etc.)
- Addition of sections 137 and 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants
- Priesthood Revelation (I would not be surprised if this was told from Gordon B. Hinckley’s perspective)
- Ezra Taft Benson’s focus on increasing use of the Book of Mormon
- Gordon B. Hinckley’s “Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep” talk
- Building lots and lots of temples
- The story of the creation of small temples by Gordon B. Hinckley to help enable this is likely to be included
- 60-Minute interview with Gordon B. Hinckley
- The “Mormon Moment” in 2011–2012
The era of 1955 to present is a rich area with many different strands of Church history all across the world. I’m looking forward to seeing how it is represented in Saints, Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear (regardless of whether it is released in 2024 or not).