Topical Guide/Church history

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Accuracy of Church history

The Church's Gospel Topics essays

Summary: The Church has posted a series of Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org which discuss a variety of issues related to Church History and belief.

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How the Church responds to questions about Church History

Summary: Elder Dallin Oaks discusses the issue of church history and facts that are not discussed frequently in church approved curriculum during an interview with Helen Whitney (HW) for the PBS documentary, The Mormons.[1]

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Accuracy of Church art

Summary: It is claimed that the Church knowingly "lies" or distorts the historical record in its artwork in order to whitewash the past, or for propaganda purposes. A commonly used example is the inaccuracy of any Church art representing the translation process of the Book of Mormon.

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Authorship of the History of the Church

Summary: I've heard that the History of the Church, though credited to Joseph Smith, was not actually authored by him. What can you tell me about this, and what does this mean for the History's accuracy?

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The Seer (periodical by Orson Pratt)

Summary: Some critics of the Church quote from a newspaper called The Seer. Was this newspaper published by the Church? Are its contents considered official Church doctrine?

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Who qualifies for the title "Mormon scholar?"

Summary: Critics of the Church sometimes stretch the definition of the term "Mormon scholar" in order to give their argument more weight.

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Censorship and revision of Church history

Some claim that the church has "whitewashed" some of the information about its origins to appear more palatable to members and investigators. Some feel that this is done intentionally to hide negative aspects of church history. Others feel that it is done to focus on the good, but that it causes problems for believing members when they encounter these issues outside of church curriculum.

Has the Church "whitewashed" its history?

Summary: Has the church "whitewashed" some of the information about its origins to appear more palatable to members and investigators?

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Church art and historical accuracy

Summary: It is claimed by some that the Church knowingly "lies" or distorts the historical record in its artwork in order to whitewash the past, or for propaganda purposes. A commonly used example is the inaccuracy of any Church art representing the translation process of the Book of Mormon.

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Does the Church excommunicate scholars who publish historical information?

Summary: Some claim that the Church excommunicates or disfellowships scholars who publish historical information that is embarrassing to Church leaders. It is often claimed, despite the fact that these disciplinary actions are carried out by local leaders, that they are in reality instigated by general authorities. It is also claimed that the Church is silencing honest people for telling the truth.

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Brigham Young and plural marriage

Summary: It is claimed that the Church's manual, The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, attempts to "hide history" by portraying Brigham Young (a well-known polygamist) as having only one wife.

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Hiding the facts in plain sight using Church publications

Summary: Quite a few items that some claim were hidden by the Church were actually published in Church magazines such as the New Era, the Ensign and the Friend.

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Brigham Young destroys Lucy Mack Smith's history of Joseph?

Summary: Did Brigham Young attempt to suppress and destroy all copies of Lucy Mack Smith's Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith because it contained information which would embarrass the Church? It is claimed that Brigham Young inserted the reference to Joseph Smith's First Vision into Lucy's book. Critics also try to prove that the silence of Joseph's mother and siblings in her history prove that the First Vision did not take place, and is a later fabrication by Joseph, and not well known to the early members of the church.

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Attitude of the Church toward historians

Boyd K. Packer: "Some things that are true are not very useful."

Summary: Elder Packer gave an address to religious educators called "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect." The following quote is a favorite of critics who wish to demonstrate that the Church wishes to suppress its history and independent thought: "There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful."

Boyd K. Packer: "I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth."

Summary: There is much that critics do not reveal about this quote or its context, which is attributed to Elder Packer. The source of this quote is the now excommunicated D. Michael Quinn, who wrote in a footnote that, "When Elder Packer interviewed me as a prospective member of Brigham Young University's faculty in 1976, he explained: 'I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth.'" This quote is not from any recorded address by Elder Packer, nor is it in any of his writings.

Church discipline of scholars: The "September Six"

Summary: Some claim that the Church excommunicates or disfellowships scholars who publish historical information that is embarrassing to Church leaders. Despite the fact that these disciplinary actions are carried out by local leaders, some critics insist that they are in reality instigated by general authorities.

Telling only part of the truth

Summary: The author of the critical book One Nation Under Gods claims that "Mormon leaders, especially since the 1970s, have repeatedly called for LDS historians to 'tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting.'"


Joseph Smith and the "occult" or "magick"

Citing Joseph Smith's experiences with folk magic, treasure seeking and seer stones, it is claimed that Joseph Smith's spiritual experiences were originally products of magic and the occult. Some charge that only much later did Joseph retrofit his experiences in Christian, religious terms: speaking of God, angels, and prophethood rather than in terms of magic, treasure guardians and scrying. It is also claimed that a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters became popular in the Palmyra area, and that when Walters left the area, "his mantle fell upon" Joseph Smith.

The origin of Joseph Smith's spiritual experiences

Summary: Were Joseph Smith's spiritual experiences originally products of magic and the occult?

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Joseph Smith's family and "folk magic"

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I Don't Have a Testimony of the History of the Church, Davis Bitton, 2004 FAIR Conference
transcript
  • Helen Whitney, interview with Dallin H. Oaks, "Elder Oaks Interview Transcript from PBS Documentary," LDS.org.