Category Archives: LDS History

4th Watch 14: True Doctrine

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4thWatch SmallBrother Ned Scarisbrick and Nick Galieti discuss some of the core doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and how we understand them from a general member perspective.

Future podcasts in this series will be geared toward the practical application of gospel principles based on truth and transparency of past and present Church teachings and leaders. Critics of the Church and those who have concerns about their faith may find this approach appealing from previous generations who may have had difficulty dealing with what some consider conflicting viewpoints of official Church doctrine.

The view and opinions expressed in this podcast may not represent those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon.

4th Watch 13: Doctrine, Folklore and Superstition

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4thWatch SmallThe subject of doctrine within the LDS Church has been discussed on many occasions with the written word and scholarly  commentary to the spoken word in local Sunday services and general conference talks by the presiding leaders of the Church.  In this podcast a brief introduction to the subject of what is considered official doctrine in the Church is discussed by Ned Scarisbrick and Nick Galieti.  Nick is the host of his own podcast called the “Good word podcast.”  He is also the production talent behind the “Mormon History Guy” podcast.

The articles of faith are the center point in this podcast and other issues relating to what may be considered faith promoting rumors are mentioned to help us avoid the error of making our own personal views the gospel of Jesus Christ official doctrine.

Future podcasts in this series will be geared toward the practical application of gospel principles based on truth and transparency of past and present Church teachings and leaders. Critics of the Church and those who have concerns about their faith may find this approach appealing from previous generations who may have had difficulty dealing with what some consider conflicting viewpoints of official Church doctrine.

Mormon Fair-Cast 203: Odds are you are Going to be Exalted

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Odds_Are___Exalted_detailAlonzo GaskillMany Latter-day Saints worry whether they’re capable of reaching the celestial kingdom. Are these anxieties born of a sense of unworthiness, or is it that we just don’t think we can “do it all?” Author Alonzo L. Gaskill believes that such pessimism results from misunderstanding God’s great plan of happiness and what it is that the Lord actually requires of us. In this hope-filled book, he reviews the teachings of the scriptures and modern prophets to instill in readers a greater sense of God’s unfailing love and mercy and of His power and desire to exalt His children. Exaltation may be not only possible but probable!

Dr. Alonzo L. Gaskill was reared near Indepence, Missouri, and joined the Church in the fall of 1984. One year later, he served a mission to England. He has attended several schools and universities, earning a master’s degree in theology and a Ph.D. in biblical studies.

He has taught graduate and undergraduate religious education courses at the University of California (at both Berkeley and Santa Cruz) and Idaho State University. He was the director of the LDS institute of religion adjacent to Stanford University, and is an assistant professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University. He is a frequent presenter at BYU’s Campus Education Week and Know Your Religion seminars.

Dr. Gaskill and his wife, Lori, are the parents of four children and reside in Payson, Utah.

This book is available through the FairMormon Bookstore here.

You may also be interested in his blog here.

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon.

Mormon Fair-Cast 202: Barry R. Bickmore, “Restoring the Ancient Church”

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Barry R. Bickmore Restoring the Ancient Church 2nd EditionBarry R. BickmoreMills Chrenshaw who is the host of the program “Drive Time Live” on K-Talk AM 630 radio in Salt Lake City Utah interviews Barry Robert Bickmore about his book “Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity.”  In this interview brother Bickmore relates how the teachings of the early Church are reflected in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This book meticulously examines the earliest teachings of Christianity and how some of those teachings were modified, abandoned, or forgotten in the centuries following the death of the Apostles. By exploring the writings of early Christian leaders, Dr. Bickmore is able to recover those early teachings while illustrating the significance they played in the theology and Christology of the pristine Christian Church. Most importantly for Latter-day Saints, Dr. Bickmore demonstrates that many of forgotten early Christian teachings were restored through the prophet Joseph Smith.

This 2nd edition is enlarged and revised.  This book is available through the FairMormon bookstore here .

A written review of Barry R. Bickmore’s first edition from a non-LDS perspective is also available at FairMormon here.

This interview was used by permission of Mills Crenshaw and K-TALK radio. The opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of FairMormon.

 

LDS Church Essays Tackle Controversial Issues

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[This article first appeared in the Student Review. It has been reposted here with slight alteration.]

In a fireside devotional given at Utah State University in November 2011, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, an emeritus Seventy and former Church Historian and Recorder for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, included a question and answer segment in his remarks. During this Q&A, one member of the audience asked about the concerning trend of Church members, particularly younger members, leaving the Church over controversial historical issues they encounter online and elsewhere. “Is the Church aware of that problem?” the questioner asked. “What about people who are already leaving in droves?” Jensen’s response to this question has gone viral, having been reported in the press and discussed on a number of blogs and other sites. “The fifteen men that are above me in the hierarchy of the Church . . . really do know. And they really care. And they realize that, maybe, since Kirtland we’ve never had a period of—I’ll call it apostasy—like we’re having right now, largely over these issues.” Jensen then explained that the Church was then in the process of creating resources to address these concerns. “So we are trying to create an offering that will address these issues and be available for the public at large and to people who are losing their faith or have lost it.” Continue reading

A New Church History Seminary Manual

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The cover page of the new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History seminary manual.

[Cross-posted from Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So’s Mormon Blog.]

The Church has released a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History manual for seminary students. One of the remarkable aspects of the new manual is that it includes a discussion of several sensitive topics in church history. These topics include the following.

1. The various accounts of the First Vision are highlighted in the new manual. “There are nine known accounts of the First Vision—four written or dictated by Joseph Smith and five written by others retelling his experience,” the manual states (p. 20).

The multiple accounts of the First Vision were prepared at different times and for different audiences. In these accounts, Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his experience of the First Vision, but the accounts all agree in the essential truth that Joseph Smith did indeed have the heavens opened to him and see divine messengers, including God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the 1838 account was part of Joseph Smith’s official history and testimony to the world, it was included in the Pearl of Great Price as scripture. (p. 20)

The manual then recommends students to read articles by Milton Backman and Richard Lloyd Anderson published in the Ensign discussing the various accounts of the First Vision (pp. 20, 22).

2. There is an entire chapter devoted to the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Utah War (Lesson 151). The manual gives a brief historical overview of the events leading up to the massacre and acknowledges the participation of “Latter-day Saint leaders and settlers” in the crime (p. 523). Besides citing an article on the Mountain Meadows Massacre published in theEnsign, the manual also reproduces this quote given by President Henry B. Eyring at the 150 year anniversary of the massacre.

The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse, abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done [at the Mountain Meadows] long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct.

3. In a chapter on the history of the Pearl of Great Price there is a brief overview of the history of the Book of Abraham, including the loss and recovery of several papyrus fragments once in the possession of Joseph Smith (pp. 524–526). Included in the discussion about the Book of Abraham is this (which is actually reprinted from the Church’s Pearl of Great Price Student Manual).

In 1966 eleven fragments of papyri once possessed by the Prophet Joseph Smith were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were given to the Church and have been analyzed by scholars who date them between about 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. A common objection to the authenticity of the book of Abraham is that the manuscripts are not old enough to have been written by Abraham, who lived almost two thousand years before Christ. Joseph Smith never claimed that the papyri were autographic (written by Abraham himself), nor that they dated from the time of Abraham. It is common to refer to an author’s works as ‘his’ writings, whether he penned them himself, dictated them to others, or others copied his writings later. (p. 525)

(Incidentally, yours truly has written a thing or two on this subject over at the Interpreter blog, which you can access here.) The manual also states, “Although we do not know the exact method Joseph Smith used to translate the writings, we do know that he translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God” (p. 525).

4. The new manual has material covering the practice of plural marriage, including an entire chapter on Joseph Smith’s plural marriage (Lesson 140) and a mentioning of Post-Manifesto plural marriage. Below are a few pertinent excerpts from the manual.

In this dispensation the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and many other Church leaders found this commandment difficult, but they obeyed it. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1). (p. 204)

While Joseph Smith was working on the inspired translation of the Old Testament in 1831, he read about some of the ancient prophets practicing plural marriage (also called polygamy). Under this practice, one man is married to more than one living wife. The Prophet studied the scriptures, pondered what he learned, and eventually took his questions about plural marriage to Heavenly Father in prayer. . . . the Prophet Joseph Smith was reluctant to begin the practice of plural marriage. He stated that he did not begin the practice until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey. . . . Because of a lack of historical documentation, we do not know about Joseph Smith’s early attempts to comply with the commandment. However, by 1841 the Prophet had begun to obey the commandment and to teach it to some members of the Church, and over the next three years he married additional wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s obedience to the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage was a trial of faith for him and his wife Emma, whom he loved dearly. (pp. 477–478)

Practicing plural marriage brought additional challenges. Because the practice was initially kept very quiet, rumors began to spread about Church leaders marrying additional wives. These rumors greatly distorted the truth, slandered the names of the Prophet and other Church leaders, and contributed to increased persecution against the Saints. (p. 479)

A small number of Latter-day Saints continued to enter into new plural marriages after the Manifesto was given. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith announced “that all [plural] marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be . . . excommunicated”. . . . This policy continues today. (p. 530)

Towards the end of the chapter on Joseph Smith’s plural marriage, the manual warns, “Much unreliable information pertaining to plural marriage exists on the Internet and in many print sources. Be cautious and wise with such information. Some authors who write about the Church and its history present information out of context or include partial truths that can be misleading. The intent of some of these writings is to destroy faith” (p. 479). I myself have raised a similar point in this post. The manual then concludes by recommending, “Reliable historical research concerning the practice of plural marriage can be found at josephsmithpapers.org and byustudies.byu.edu” (p. 480).

5. On describing the nature of the Joseph Smith Translation, the manual says the following.

Around the fall of 1830, Joseph Smith was commanded by the Lord to translate the Bible. He did not translate the Bible from one language to another; nor did he have an original biblical manuscript to work from. Instead, Joseph would read and study passages from the King James Version of the Bible and then make corrections and additions as inspired by the Holy Ghost. Thus, the translation was more of an inspired revision than a traditional translation.The Joseph Smith Translation is estimated to have affected at least 3,400 verses in the King James Version of the Bible. These differences include additions (to clarify meaning or context), deletions, rearranged verses, and complete restructurings of certain chapters. The Joseph Smith Translation clarified doctrinal content, especially the mission of Jesus Christ, the nature of God, the nature of man, the Abrahamic covenant, the priesthood, and the Restoration of the gospel. (pp. 180–181)

6. The historical circumstances surrounding the priesthood ban and President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation are discussed in a chapter on Official Declaration 2 (Lesson 157). As part of this discussion, the manual reprints the introductory material to OD 2 printed in the 2013 edition of the scriptures.

The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.

There is also the recommendation at the end of the chapter for students to “go to Gospel Topics on LDS.org and search for ‘race and the priesthood'” to learn more about the priesthood ban (p. 545).

7. Finally, in discussing section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the manual straightforwardly says, “The 7,000 years [in vv. 6–7]  refers to the time since the Fall of Adam and Eve. It is not referring to the actual age of the earth including the periods of creation” (p. 280).

I am sure there is more that could be said about the new manual, but suffice it to say from the above examples that the Church is implementing productive measures towards introducing these sort of issues in a faith-promoting, safe, and positive environment (seminary). This will hopefully serve to “inoculate,” to use the popular metaphor, seminary students against the often highly debatable claims and negative information one can currently find on the Internet. While one might perhaps quibble over how certain issues are addressed in the new manual, that there is even a discussion at all in Church curriculum is, in my estimation, a step in the right direction.

4th Watch 12: Too Serious or not Serious Enough

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4thWatch SmallHow serious do we take the gospel of Jesus Christ?  How serious do we take ourselves in relation to the gospel of our Savior?  Sometimes we can get caught up in the thick of thin things and overlook the weightier matters.

In this podcast brother Scarisbrick reviews a article done by Robert Kirby, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper.  The article is entitled “Is it worse to be too serious or not serious enough?”  Brother Kirby was also a speaker at the FairMormon conference this past August 2013.  You may read his article from the Salt Lake Tribune  here.

The “Kirb” is somewhat of a colorful character compared to your standard and average Mormon.  His rating for “light-minded” refers to lack of seriousness regarding sacred things.  It’s a class C Church misdemeanor in modern Mormonism.  Light-mindedness was probably a felony during Brigham’s Young’s day.  Brother Ned explores how we see this gospel principle from several perspectives

Book Review: Letters to a Young Mormon

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Title: Letters to a Young Mormon
Author: Adam S. Miller
Publisher: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
Genre: Religion – Faith
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 78 pages
Binding: Paperback
ISBN-10: 0842528563
ISBN-13: 978-0842528566
Price: $9.95

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak

This is the first book in a new “Living Faith” series from the Maxwell Institute. While reading it, I struggled to determine just who the “young Mormon” is that the book is aimed at. Is it for teenagers, or perhaps for 20-somethings? I think I actually understand it much better as a 40 year old father than I would have at a younger age, mostly due to the knowledge and experience I have since gained. Then I discovered, thanks to Amazon, that there has been a whole crop recently of books entitled “Letters to a Young XXXXX” (for example, Letters to a Young Contrarian by the late atheist Christopher Hitchens). Briefly looking at some of them, it appears that this book may have been loosely modeled after them. However I still question exactly who the intended audience is.

The book covers a wide range of topics of interest to Mormons, including agency, work, sin, faith, scripture, prayer, history, science, hunger, sex, temples, and eternal life. While I did find some new insights in some of these letters, much of what is contained is vague enough that any parent who shares the book with their teenage child may want to read it themselves so they can discuss it together. The chapter on sex, in particular, warrants this, as the only thing really clear in it is an admonition to avoid pornography, and then only for some of what I consider to be the right reasons.

I asked my two teenage daughters to read a couple chapters each. My 17 year old chose the chapters on history and hunger and thought they were too vague and wished the author had connected the dots. She is probably more familiar with some of the things mentioned (but not explained) in the history letter – such as “Joseph Smith’s clandestine practice of polygamy, Brigham Young’s strong-armed experiments in theocracy, or George Albert Smith’s mental illness” (page 48) – than many young LDS people her age because I have tried to teach her about some of the more difficult topics, yet she had questions about the usage of the word “clandestine” and about George Albert Smith. In fact, with that kind of loaded wording, someone picking it up off the shelf and glancing casually at the page might get the initial impression that it is anti-Mormon material. This chapter may provide an opportunity for a parent to teach their child how to find trustworthy answers for any questions that are raised.

On the other hand, my 16 year old (who doesn’t like to read and appreciated the shortness of the sections) read the prayer and the temple sections, and found she could actually relate to some of it. I think the temple chapter is one of the better ones in the book, and it was particularly timely for her because the material in it complemented what I told her in a discussion we recently had after she stumbled upon a critical video on YouTube.

There are a few other places in the book where I feel good answers are given to common issues. One example is an explanation for the seemingly unscientific account of the creation found in Genesis. The author begins by explaining that the Hebrews “thought the world was basically a giant snow globe. When God wanted to reveal his hand in the creation of their world, he borrowed and repurposed the commonsense cosmology they already had. He wasn’t worried about its inaccuracies, he was worried about showing his hand at work in shaping their world as they knew it” (page 53). Miller continues through the creation sequence as the Hebrews would have understood it, and then follows up by relating his experience in changing his point of view from a literal one that he retained beyond his mission to one that allows more for the scientific explanations of today.

In regard to some of the struggles we might have when learning about church history, he points out that “it’s a false dilemma to claim that either God works through practically flawless people or God doesn’t work at all…. To demand that church leaders, past and present, show us only a mask of angelic pseudo-perfection is to deny the gospel’s most basic claim: that God’s grace works through our weakness. We need prophets, not idols” (page 47).

Where Miller is clear on things, he excels by providing much food for thought and discussion. And in spite of its weaknesses, the bright spots in this book make it a worthwhile read for people who will not be troubled by its overwhelming vagueness, although I do believe a parental advisory may be in order.

Mormon Fair-Cast 185: Race and the Priesthood

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RussellStevensonIn this episode of the Mormon History Guy podcast, Kate Kelly Harline interviews Russell Stevenson (author of Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables and author of the forthcoming, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Documentary History of Blacks and Mormonism,  1830-2013). They discuss the meaning and ramifications of the LDS Church’s new statement on “Race and the Priesthood.”  Russell traces the origins, course, and trajectory of the Saints’ relationship with the black community and racial exclusion.

This podcast is posted here by permission of Russell Stevenson. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of FairMormon or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Egyptology and the Book of Abraham: An Interview with Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein

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Kerry Muhlestein, associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

Mormon fascination with the ancient world stems largely from an exotic corpus of writings found in the canon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One book in the Church’s canon, the Book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith claimed to be an inspired translation of some ancient Egyptian papyri, has captured Mormon imagination with a vibrant narrative involving the eponymous biblical patriarch, human sacrifice, far-off lands, divine encounters and a grand cosmology.

One BYU professor, Kerry Muhlestein, has devoted a good portion of his academic career (over a decade) investigating the saga of the Book of Abraham. Muhlestein, who holds a PhD in Egyptology from UCLA, is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. According to his faculty bio on the BYU Religious Education website, Muhlestein “is the director of the BYU Egypt Excavation Project,” which has led successful archaeological digs in Egypt, and has academic expertise in fields including “Ancient Egypt, Hebrew Bible, [and the] Pearl of Great Price.” Continue reading