The Church has long been accused of hiding unflattering documents. On the other hand, many documents are now available online at the Joseph Smith Papers website, and some other documents like the Council of Fifty minutes, which were previously restricted, have recently been published. Is it true that the Church has hidden documents with unflattering history? Has he seen documents in the First Presidency’s vault? Elder Snow will answer that question, but it’s only available for those who sign up for the free newsletter at GospelTangents.com/newsletter to hear the conclusion to our interview with Elder Snow, Church Historian.
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….
Don’t miss our previous conversation with Elder Snow!
Elder Snow: I will continue to be the Church Historian until August 1, and then I will be officially released at October conference, but my duties finish up August 1.
GT : One of the big questions that I get delving into Mormon history, and so I’d like to pose this to you is, how can you maintain a testimony and know all this church history?
Elder Snow: Well, that’s a very interesting question, and I hear it too. For me, the more I learned about our history, as a church, it actually strengthens my testimony. The more I learn, the more respect I have for those that went before and the hard things they did, that were driven by their faith, many of these accomplishments. I just find it very inspiring. Now, there are situations and experiences in the past that sometimes are sensationalized by others online. I really believe in studying things in the context of time and place and trying to understand what was going on. But at the same time, understanding the big picture. If you get too wrapped up with non-consequential issues, then it’s hard to progress, and so I just love church history. The more I learn, the more my testimony grows.
GT: Can you share with us, studying church history, what has been the most inspirational story that you’ve learned?
Elder Snow 5:30 It’s hard to identify just one, Rick, but I think the first volume of Saints is a good representation. I think of many stories, some of which members of the church will not know. I just think, how did they do it? How did they suffer all this persecution, and I’m sure it was a sifting process for many. But, boy, they had a lot of courage and a lot of faith, those that stayed true and came west and established Zion here in the Rocky Mountains. It’s just an inspiring story, I think, our history.
I also asked if there was anything that troubled him.
Elder Snow: No, there’s little surprises that come up every once in a while. But one thing I’ve done is I’ve really loved to study church history. So there’s not a lot of things new that have troubled me as we’ve studied and learned our history. I just think people that don’t study history enough, are the ones that tend to be a little bit surprised, and maybe rocked a little bit or are jarred by what they learned, so I encourage people to study history and to really learn the story, rather than just get hung up on a couple of little issues that may have been troubling. That’s why I like Saints, the new series, the first volume of the four-volume series that we have out. I enjoy that because you read some of these little episodes in the context of the whole story. They seem really what they are, rather insignificant to the whole narrative. So no, I really haven’t found much that’s troubled me, nothing really that’s troubled me. A few little surprises, but nothing too much.
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In our next episode, we’ll talk about the Gospel Topics Essays, and you might be interested in some historians and scientists who helped with this effort.