Posted on Leave a comment

*The Chicago Experiment (Part 9 of 9)

What is the Chicago Experiment?  Back in the 1930s, LDS Church leaders sent employees to be trained in theology.  They came across some sticky theology topics such as evolution, the Documentary Hypothesis, and whether multiple people wrote Isaiah.  Would the Church re-entrench on faith, or accept secular methods to understand the Bible?  Dr. Casey Griffiths will tell us about his Ph.D. project and paper titled “The Chicago Experiment.”

Casey:  Basically, prior to 1930, there are no professional religion scholars in the Church. We have your Orson Pratt and your B.H. Roberts who are really amazing, but pretty much self-taught, but don’t hold divinity degrees. Joseph Merrill, who is the person that starts the seminary program, becomes Church Mission of Education and is starting the Institute [of Religion] program. Joseph Merrill is a college professor. He’s a professor of physics. He’s [thinking,] “If we’re going to have people that teach college level, they need to have a degree in religion.” But where does a Mormon guy go in the 1920s to get a degree in religion? BYU is still a small little school that doesn’t offer any degrees in religion. So, Merrill gets this idea, partially inspired by Sidney Sperry, that he’s going to send a bunch of scholars to the University of Chicago.  At Chicago, they’re going to get degrees in Divinity and then come back and kind of spread the wealth, and we’ll have professionally trained religious educators in the Church.

Casey:  Well, in the 1930s, there’s still quite a bit of bias against Latter-day Saints, and the only Divinity School that would accept Latter-day Saint students had to be a really liberal one. So, the conflict here is that the University of Chicago is incredibly theologically liberal, and the Church is incredibly theologically conservative. But, if we want to have people trained in the field of religion, the only school that will accept them is a liberal school.  So, these guys are there and, by the way, they’re there at the same time Martin Luther King’s mentor is there.  They’re intermingling with black scholars.  They’re intermingling with scholars from different faiths.  They all have this overwhelmingly positive experience at the University of Chicago. It’s just when they come back and they have to interact with the conservative Church, there’s some major conflict.

Casey:  You have some people that are able to negotiate it really successfully, like Sidney Sperry. Sidney Sperry strikes the right balance between being conservative, but also moving the work forward. He really professionalizes his religious education, inspires a lot of great people like Hugh Nibley. They come onto the scene a little bit later. Then, there’s other people like Heber Snell, that just really struggle. There’s a whole story, like I said, there, in that they come back and spend their career Snell, is an Institute director, Sidney Sperry is pretty much the religion guy at BYU. It’s interesting to see what trajectory they take. Sidney Sperry, takes his scholarly training and turns it on the Doctrine & Covenants and the Book of Mormon. He writes the first pretty good scholarly stuff about the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants. He’s using the tools of higher biblical criticism on Latter-day Saints scripture, and he’s using it in the apologetic way to prove that the scriptures are true. Hebrew Snell become so enamored with higher biblical criticism that he really doesn’t like restoration scripture.  He wants to focus on the Bible. We have letters from Heber Snell, where he was like, “I can’t believe that they teach the Book of Mormon alongside real subjects, at this institute.  You’re like, “You’re an institute teacher, buddy, do you know who signs your checks?” But it shows that as late as the 20th century, we still hadn’t quite nailed down what our identity was. There were guys like Heber Snell that basically wanted us to sort of accept restoration scripture as an interesting hobby, but the main meal is the Bible. Then, there’s guys like Sidney Sperry that say, “No, restoration scripture is just as interesting, inspirational and complex as the Bible, it needs to be at the table right alongside them.”

Check out our conversation….

The Chicago Experiment: Is it a good idea for seminary and institute teachers to get a theology degree?

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Casey Griffiths!

526: Future of Church History

525: Orson Pratt’s Unsung Role in Church History

524: From Word of Wisdom to World Faith

523: Entry Level Chuch History

522: CSI:  Carthage Jail

521: Swimsuits, Gold Medals, & Blacks

520: Recycling Hofmann Forgeries

519: Mormon Interfaith Council

Posted on Leave a comment

Future of Church History

Historians don’t usually talk about the future, because they are historians!  In our next episode with Dr. Casey Griffiths, he will talk about what he thinks will be the biggest future events in church history, as well as what some events of the recent past will make impacts in future Church history.  Check out our conversation….

Casey:  Even the things that are happening right now, it’s difficult to kind of pull back and say, “How big a deal is this going to be in 20 years? Are we even going to think twice about it? Or is it going to be something that really becomes huge in the history of the Church, the way it works.  The Family Proclamation, which we put in, has had big ripple effects. The Perpetual Education Fund, which we put in, isn’t talked about as much anymore, though, I do think that if you look at the long-term effects of the Perpetual Education Fund, it’s going play a big role in the development of the Church, especially the International Church. So, it was a fun thought experiment to kind of sit down and have conversations. We, by the way, it wasn’t just the three of us. I was walking into people’s office and saying, “Give me your top five events.” They usually, the First Vision coming forth, the Book of Mormon, Priesthood is restored. I go, “Okay, give me your top five in the 20th century. Give me your top five in the last 20 years.”

So what are your top 5 events in the last 20 years?  What do you see in the future of Church history? Check out our conversation.

What will the future of Church history look like? Dr. Casey Griffithsshares what he’s looking for.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Casey!

525: Orson Pratt’s Unsung Role in Church History

524: From Word of Wisdom to World Faith

523: Entry Level Chuch History

522: CSI:  Carthage Jail

521: Swimsuits, Gold Medals, & Blacks

520: Recycling Hofmann Forgeries

519: Mormon Interfaith Council

Posted on 1 Comment

Orson Pratt’s Unsung Hero in Church History (Part 7 of 9)

Orson Pratt is less famous than his older brother, apostle Parley P. Pratt.  But it could be argued that he has had a bigger impact on the Church than Parley did.  From polygamy to the First Vision to his theological arguments with Brigham Young, Orson Pratt is one of the unsung people who has shaped the modern LDS Church.

Casey:  There is a good biography. Breck England, wrote a book called, The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt, that I think is great. Apparently, someone is writing a biography. Now, I can’t remember his name. But, maybe in a couple of years, we’ll get another good one. But I think Breck England’s is really good. He addresses a lot of the issues that a 19th century Church member would face, which Orson Pratt is a good example of. You’ve had podcasts on this before, I know. But Orson Pratt almost leaves the Church. Well, he does leave the church. He’s excommunicated, because of complications over plural marriage, because of his wife, Sarah Pratt.  He may have tried to commit suicide. They were worried for a little while there. Ten years later, he’s the person that’s chosen to publicly announce the practice of plural marriage. Then, he becomes known as the most famous intellectual defender of plural marriage. That’s an interesting journey in 10 years. Breck, who you should get on this, and you should talk to him about it, goes through a couple questions.  One of the big wrestles Orson Pratt often had to answer for people was, “If I don’t enter into plural marriage, does that mean I’m not going to go to the Celestial kingdom?” In the 19th century, some Church members wrestled with the question of, “Is it eternal marriage, or is it plural marriage that’s essential for salvation.” Orson Pratt was the person that mediated those questions. The conclusion he came to was, “It’s celestial marriage, it’s not plural marriage that’s essential for salvation,” which is really because most Church members weren’t practicing plural marriage.

Check out our conversation….

Apostle Orson Pratt is an unsung & under-appreciated hero of Mormon history.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Casey!

524: From Word of Wisdom to World Faith (Griffiths)

523: Entry Level Chuch History (Griffiths)

522: CSI:  Carthage Jail (Griffiths)

521: Swimsuits, Gold Medals, & Blacks (Griffiths)

520: Recycling Hofmann Forgeries (Griffiths)

519: Mormon Interfaith Council