On the best sources of LDS history: The Joseph Smith Papers is a gold mine of information. The diaries and journals of the inner circles of church leaders are very informative. There was a conscious effort to prevent diaries and journals from becoming public beginning in the early 1900's. There were "resolutions" and "covenants" among church leaders that they would stop putting stuff in their diaries for others to find out later. That didn't always work so well. Today the church requires an agreement to be signed by every new general authority (I forget how many pages it is), but it covers, among many other things, the obligation to turn over to the church the diaries of the general authority when they die. I've been told Elder Oaks was the one sent to retrieve the journals of Elder Neal Maxwell when he died. So there is an effort to stop that kind of information from being "inadvertently" released to the public.
When you read diaries or journals it is not really "history" in the narrative-telling-a-story sense. They read just like life. From one moment to the next they don't have a clue what is coming. They are constantly surprised or frustrated by how it unfolds. For example, there was no plan to abandon plural marriage. There were incremental concessions, intending always to accomplish statehood, after which it would be made legal. So the goal was to do what was needed to get statehood. When the final events take place, the leaders involved were shocked they'd arrived at the point where plural marriage was actually being abandoned. Many of them recorded that if they had known where it would lead, they would NEVER have made the first concessions. So as you read the diaries, you find that the leaders wound up in a place they never intended to go, making concessions they believed would let them avoid forsaking a principle they believed in, and ultimately they were out-maneuvered by the Federal Government and corralled into denouncing and forsaking what they thought was a sacred principle.
When the Cowley and Taylor were forced to resign because they wouldn't renounce plural marriage, there were some tense moments among the leaders. George Albert Smith said some things which Elder Taylor (who had seen the Lord and was considered a spiritual giant) took as an improper insult to himself. He confronted and warned George Albert Smith to not do that again, but that didn't stop the preaching against Elder Taylor. So Elder Taylor "cursed" him. The resulting mental and physical health challenges that George Albert Smith suffered were thought by some to have been due to being "cursed" by the resigned apostle Elder John W. Taylor. These sorts of things are not found in the written histories because, well, among other things, Elder Taylor was forced to resign from the Quorum of the Twelve and George Albert Smith became the president of the church. This year we are studying the teachings of George Albert Smith. It doesn't set well to go into this sort of thing when one has been excluded and the other has triumphed into the presidency. So it just sits as an unexplored thread of events, left for those who search into our history to discover. Then once discovered there is always the further question of whether the researcher is candid or protective. If candid, are they pursuing an agenda to belittle the church and our faith or are they honest and sincere. Even if they are not seeking to belittle the faith, and believe sincerely in it, the problem is further complicated by those who want to gag them, and to prevent any telling of events from something other than what the Strengthening the Members Committee thinks is "faithful" to them. So the history of the church is terribly complicated and likely going to be left to either outsiders of good faith (of which there are a few) or those who must fight to retain their membership because insecure and thin-skinned "thought police" are running amok at this moment.
Returning to the question, the best historians (in my opinion) writing recently are Jan Shipps (non-Mormon), D. Michael Quinn (excommunicated), Richard Van Wagoner, Gregory Prince, and Ronald Walker. Several of those are deceased. That is a horribly incomplete list and I'm not going to look at the bookshelves, but give just this off-the-top-of-my-head list. Bushman's work is not as useful as I'd like. His tools are academic and have the weaknesses of his discipline. He does not inspire me. Some of Quinn's work was marred by an agenda rather than objectivity, but that work was important. The second volume of the Mormon Hierarchy series is a very important book. The third one has been delayed, but hopefully will be out soon. It is one of the books I've been waiting to read for months. For anyone writing, the sources they use are important, and their conclusions are less so. For what I've written about history, I've tried to "interpret" (history is always an interpretation) through the lens of scripture. Rather than try to conform the story and sources to the theme I want adopted by the reader, I try to let the scripture's themes lead to interpretation of events. Other writers of LDS history are developing what they hope are objective views based on the events as they understand them.
Fortunately the truth always wins. Even if the church decided to spend its vast resources and repository of good-will among the members, the Internet is providing an inevitable transparency to things. There will be "bootleg" copies of diaries and journals. Right now, for example, Yale University received a donation of a considerable volume of material from the church's archives, which some intrepid (but anonymous) soul published in limited numbers of copies. I've spent thousands of dollars acquiring copies of these limited edition books. I try to use my best sense, my faithfulness to the church and the Lord, and my honest reactions to tell the truth about some things in my last book.
On the question asked about the church leaders being "prophets, seers and revelators" the answer is that this is the 'title' given to them in the D&C. It is scriptural in origin. We have always associated the scriptural authorization with the office and therefore anyone who fills the office is entitled to hold the title. I don't see where that is a problem. Anyone elected to the office has the title.
We have never considered it necessary to search about and find a "seer" to put in the office. Instead we consider that the office imposes the obligation on them, and the scriptures allow them to use the title, and therefore it is perfectly symmetrical. How can you NOT sustain them as "prophets, seers and revelators" when the scriptures say that is the office they have been elected to fill? Doesn't really make sense. Of course they get to wear the title.
On the German version of the Bible Joseph Smith praised: It was the translation rendered by Martin Luther.
The content of this blog presumes you are already familiar with Denver Snuffer's books. Careful explanations given in the books lay the foundation for what is contained here. If you read this blog without having first read his books, then you assume responsibility for your own misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the writer's intent. Please do not presume to judge Mr. Snuffer's intentions if you have not first read his books.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
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