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Elder Snow’s Role with Gospel Topics Essays (Part 2 of 4)

In 2013, the Church published a series of essays on controversial topics, such as polygamy and the race ban on black church members.  What was Elder Steven Snow’s role in that roll-out?

Elder Snow:  Well, it was something that when I was in the Presidency of the Seventy. I was aware for many years that this was something that the brethren felt like needed to be done. There had been some attempts in the past that had not worked out. They just hadn’t worked.

The renewed emphasis had been building under Elder Marlin Jensen’s tenure. He really wanted to do this, to really get it. So [it began] under his leadership, and I was apprenticing still.  There were six months when I got to work with Elder Jensen, after I was first called. So, I was called in December as Church Historian in 2011. Then I finally took over officially, August 1st of 2012. But during that six months I was with Marlin, we were stirring about that.  I think really, under his leadership, it was presented to the Quorum of the Twelve and to the First Presidency.  Twelve specific questions were identified. In May of 2012, the leading quorums gave the approval to move ahead. We had a committee of general authority Seventies and also scholars and historians from our department that reviewed all of the drafts that came in on all of these questions. Generally, the way it was done is we retained an outside historian to write the first draft–someone outside of church employment.

GT:  Now, why did you pick somebody outside church employment?  That’s interesting.

Elder Snow:  Well, we just felt it would [be best to] go to an expert, like Paul Reeve, for example, for Race and the Priesthood.  You can’t find anyone better than Dr. Reeve to do it. So, he was very helpful in getting us the first draft and the information we needed to go ahead. That’s just an example. So, that was the pattern for most of them and then they were reviewed by our department, the historians and scholars, as well as the general authority Seventies on the committee. And then they were gone through many, many times. Then, eventually were given to the Twelve and First Presidency for approval.

Was there a debate among the brethren about the essays?

Elder Snow:  Well, that’s very interesting, the debate. Just so I can give you a little context on what was happening was, “Do you advertise and make a big deal about a website that you can go to learn  everything weird you wanted to know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? You can go here. Or should we just kind of quietly release them?” The decision was made, kind of quietly to put them out there so that they’re accessible. Then at a later date, we could publicize them more if we wanted. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary.  Once Race and the Priesthood, and Nauvoo polygamy came out, it wasn’t necessary to publicize the Gospel Topics database. People began very quickly to learn about it.

GT:  Yes, yes. Well, and it doesn’t seem like, and I’ve heard anecdotally, and I don’t know how big of a deal this is. But it was kind of like what you said, “Do we tell the weird things about the church, or do we just let people find them on their own?” Have you heard that some people have lost testimonies?

Elder Snow:  That was that was the concern. We wanted to help a lot of people that were struggling on some of these questions. But you’ve got to understand that a large majority, a large percentage of the church could care less.  That really hasn’t been anything they’ve worried about. We have anecdotally understood that there have been a few that their world has been rocked by having learned in more detail some of these questions. Now, for the most part, I think they’ve been very, very positive.

Check out our conversation….

Elder Snow describes the thought process behind the Gospel Topics essays.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Elder Snow!

302: “I Just Love Church History!”

3 thoughts on “Elder Snow’s Role with Gospel Topics Essays (Part 2 of 4)

  1. I think it’s interesting that he says they didn’t need to publicize the essays. I know a lot of members who still don’t know they exist or don’t trust them for the reasons you mentioned (they’re not signed, there’s no indication that they were approved by the first presidency/Q12, like he says).

    To say that people didn’t worry about the info in the essays is a little ridiculous. A lot of people aren’t concerned because they have no idea some of those things exist. In fact, many people were taught growing up in the church that a lot of what is in the essays is anti-Mormon. The seer stone is a classic example. Maybe he should try and have a little empathy for the person who said her testimony fell apart when she learned about the seer stones. Maybe she came to the realization that if the church was willing to hide that simple detail, what else were they hiding?

  2. It’s unfortunate that so many LDS refuse to even read these essays. Call it a desire to not learn anything that may give them concern, but something doesn’t seem quite right when members won’t even read information published by their own organization on their own website. I cite my own relatives for example that will not read these essays as somehow they consider them ‘anti-Mormon’.

  3. “I was interested by one person who said… ‘I can’t accept the seer stone… that it was used in the translation. I’m leaving the church’”

    “I’m thinking… “How fundamentally sound in their faith would a person be, I mean we have angels and gold plates and revelations and visions, why would you worry about a seer stone? If we today could have a cell phone, if man can do this, can’t God make a few words appear on a rock? And I just didn’t understand that thinking.”

    The proper question is “Did God make a few words appear on a rock?”

    Jonathan Thompson testified, in Joseph Smith’s defense at an 1826 court hearing, that Joseph, presumably using the SAME seer stone, located a treasure chest, guarded by the spirit of a murdered native American and that “on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging” (see the introduction to “The Making of a Prophet” by Dan Vogel). Vogel asks “if Smith translated and received revelations with his stone, did he also locate real buried treasure by the same means?”

    If that beggars belief, it is quite rational to conclude that other extraordinary claims, also made by Joseph Smith, may not have occurred as well.

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