Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sources in Sorting Through History

This is a continuation of the prior post "Historian's attempts at sorting through history" quoted from: "In Mount Zion"  These are worth reading, but read them in order.      
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A few weeks ago a Seventy visited the ward where my wife and I attend.  He delivered a beautiful sermon on Joseph Smith and the Savior.  It wasn’t ward or stake conference, so our meeting attendance was average-size.  After the meeting was over we had occasion to talk with him for just a few minutes. 

We talked about the sacrament meeting, my profession, and golf (I don’t golf, but he and the Stake President did).  The conversation later turned to gospel study.  I inquired whether or not he had heard of a particular author.  He replied that he had not, and then felt it was important to “caution” me against reading things “not written by the brethren.”  I could sense his honest concern about the matter, and I was grateful for his kindness.  Our conversation ended on that note of counsel, and we exchanged hands and goodbyes.

It seems the brethren themselves don’t follow that counsel.  If they had, we wouldn’t have Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, which was written by comprehensively studying a non-Mormon’s writings.  We wouldn’t have many of President Monson’s poems, stories, and anecdotes were it not for William James, Charles Swindoll, Thomas Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Shakespeare (“Living the Abundant Life,” Ensign Jan. 2o12).  President Benson’s famous “Beware of Pride” address would never have been produced had not C.S. Lewis first written The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity

Church historians Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard recently wrote the most extensively documented account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre yet.  Their work has been applauded by some of the brethren.  There are over 1,600 footnotes in the book.  They researched and cited not only Mormon authors, but excommunicated-Mormon authors, anti-Mormon authors, and never-Mormon authors from both the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Why would they do that?  Don’t they know better?  

They did it because the information they needed in order to put together honest history wasn’t found in church manuals, the writings of the brethren, or LDS.org.  They did it because they were interested in finding out the truth of the matter.  They exhausted all the resources available to them and decided what was valuable in piecing together a true picture.

On 11 September 2007, before the book’s publication, President Eyring spoke at the Sesquicentennial of that horrific event.  In his address he said this about the work of these three historians:

“Although no event in history can fully be known, the work of these three authors has enabled us to know more than we ever have known about this unspeakable episode. The truth, as we have come to know it, saddens us deeply. 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 here long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct. We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here” (see Newsroom).

More and more folks are discovering, at times to their dismay, that if you want to find out the whole truth about matters of Mormon history you're going to have to start traveling and turning over rocks outside city limits.  There's not enough information available in Church manuals to satisfy the spiritual needs of those seeking to know the truth about history.  

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