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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!”

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Critiquing the Gospel Topics Essays

Between 2013-2015, the LDS Church published a series of essays dealing with sensitive topics in the LDS Church.  They are known as the Gospel Topics Essays.  Dr. Newell Bringhurst and Dr. Matt Harris have produced an anthology that will be released later this summer critiquing these Gospel Topics Essays.  In our final conversation, Dr. Newell Bringhurst will tell us more about the work that he’s been putting together on these essays.

Newell:  We go through all 13 Gospel Topics Essays.  It’s composed of 13 chapters.  I probably should pull out my notes so I can remember the name of all the contributors.  We start with the Book of Mormon and look at the historicity of the Book of Mormon, critiquing that essay, critiquing the essay on DNA and the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and of course the different accounts.  We critique the essay that was written on the various accounts of the First Vision, the historicity and authenticity of the Book of Abraham which is another very controversial topic.

We look at peace and violence along the Mormon frontier.  John Turner who did the biography on Brigham Young did the essay on that for us.  He is kind of a marquis figure.  He really did an outstanding job in looking at the whole issue of violence and how it involved the saints.  Although I think one of the strongest essays in there is Gary Bergera who presented at [Sunstone.]  He presented on Joseph Smith and his involvement with polygamy.  Of course, he has a much different spin on whether Joseph had sex with those other women.  {chuckles}

We’ll talk about the other authors as well!  Check out our conversation, and don’t forget to hear our other episodes on polygamy, blacks, and women in religion!  (A transcript of the entire interview will be available soon!)

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How Do Polygamists Feel About Gay Marriage?

Fundamentalist Mormons are known for promoting an alternative marriage practice in polygamy.  Of course there are gay marriage advocates who support that as well.  In this next episode, we’ll talk a little bit about Kody Brown’s oldest daughter, Mariah.  Kody is a polygamist in the tv show, Sister Wives, and he has four wives.  One of his oldest daughters has actually announced that she is gay.  What do fundamentalist Mormons think about gay marriage relationships?

Anne:  The ones that I associate with the most don’t think there’s anything wrong with a legal gay marriage, because like I say it’s not a religious thing.  They think they should have that legal right.  We’re talking about a civil rights level.  They should have their civil rights just like we would like our civil rights.

Do you think this is common among polygamists?   Don’t forget to listen to our other conversation about Kody Brown’s daughter trying to join the LDS Church.  I hope you’ll check out our conversation with Anne Wilde…..