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Tuesday, February 11 2014

Treating Sensitive Issues in the New Church History Seminary Manual

By Stephen O. Smoot Notify me when this author publishesComment on Article
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This is originally posted on the FairMormon blog and 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 citingan articleon the Mountain Meadows Massacre published in the Ensign, 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’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.


15 Comments

  1. I'm happy to see these changes, because these are legitimate issues and questions members ask about, and more importantly, investigators ask about. Sometimes we're caught off guard as to how to think or respond. But now our teens will have the knowledge and answers they need to deal with the sticky points, making them less difficult and less taboo, which they never were. It's best to confront issues and clarify them rather than to shove them in a corner and say, "Don't worry about it." That's when we worry even more.
  2. It is nice that these things are being added. There is nothing here that diligent study has not already taught me, but it will be nice for those who do not have the time to research these issues in the depth that they require.
  3. Thank you for bringing this to our attention in such a meaningful way. I will share your article with the hope that many will benefit from your effort!
  4. Although it was a despicable act, the events at Mountain Meadows was the result of what is known as moral anxiety---the effect of the mind imagining things because of limited facts; or the ability to act rational, not knowing the actual thinking on the part of the other parties involved. The entire set of events is clearly, and completely set forth in a great book titled 'Massacre at Mountain Meadows' by Walker, Turner and Leonard. It doesn't excuse the act, however, the reader will gain insight and understanding as to what caused this serious event to happen.
  5. This is WONDERFUL. Perhaps long overdue. But wonderful. Glossing over uncomfortable truths is entirely human, but ultimately cannot sustain the relentless quest for facts or reality. Bravo, Brethren!
  6. This is great. Such a shock to new and young members when things are brought up to which they've never been exposed. This will be a great help!
  7. It's a shame that so many perpetuate the so-called "mysteries" as taboo subjects, and refuse to learn the truth or even discuss certain subjects because they are afraid they will discover something bad about our faith. This is wrong. If they would take the time to read some well researched and written books and/or attend lectures by the many LDS scholars , etc., which discuss these subjects, they would learn the truth and find there is nothing which would lesson their testimony---actually, they would sweep away the cobwebs and see the truth and realize it was only their own ignorance causing them to have doubts. "The truth shall make you free"---right?
  8. I love this openness and the trust and respect this approach gives both to the youth and to the teacher. Long over due and wonderful.
  9. This is very timely (if not overdue). There is so much literature from opposition on these subjects that the church has got to teach the youth from the source so that when they run across the mountains of writings about these things they won't get backhanded. I am glad that I am old enough to have a solid testimony and can't be shaken, but the youth are very vulnerable without some guidance in this matters. I am glad correlation passed this through!
  10. This is a very good step although I have never considered these things a secret as some opponents of the church have claimed. Living 10,000 miles away from the Church HQ and being baptised in 1963, I knew about all of these issues very quickly. Don't really understand how others hadn't heard of them.
  11. Definitely a step in the right direction but the "Race and the Priesthood" article under Gospel Topics on LDS.org is still misleading. It falsely suggests that OD2 represents a fulfillment of Brigham Young's prophecy about blacks receiving the priesthood (hint: he predicted what would have to be considered as a millennial end to the ban). If we're going to be upfront and honest about these issues, let's do it completely.
  12. A truth-seeking student will find these explanations troubling. Polygamy, for example. It was the Morrill Act and Reynolds v the United States that resulted in a revelation and the Manifesto. Ignoring facts is not helpful.
  13. This is a step in the right direction. I've had questions, for example, about polygamy and blacks priesthood rights. Answers from 3 different bishops, an institute director (and paid theologian at a University) showed either willful lying or their complete neglect to study, learn the truth and give a truthful answer. I then sought advice from a former stake president and patriarch, an older man whom I respect tremendously-- he had just learned the word polyandry in 2013... He was honest that he didn't know the answers and understood that people attacking people with questions cause great damage. The church needs to continue on the path of honesty, to me the journey is closer to being started than finished.
  14. How can the manual say that the Book of Abraham was not "written by Abraham himself" When the introduction to the book of Abraham says it was "written by his own hand upon papyri" ? https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/abr/1?lang=eng
  15. Excellent article. Learning historical facts in the right context strengthens testimony and re-affirms belief. I found the Book of Abraham documentary enlightening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcyzkd_m6KE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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