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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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Dr. Paul Reeve on the Race Essay at LDS.org (re-release)

This is a first time release on YouTube, (previously on Apple Podcasts) of a conversation I had with Dr. Paul Reeve of the University of Utah last year.  I asked if he had anything to do with writing the Gospel Topics Essay (race essay) titled Race and the Priesthood on LDS.org. He was very candid and I think you’ll enjoy listening to his answers on these and other topics.

GT:  Now I want to ask you another question.  I’m hoping you’ll answer.  I’ve heard rumors, and that’s all they are is rumors that you played a role in compiling that essay [Race and the Priesthood].  Do you have any response to that?

Paul laughs:  I did help with the essay. Yeah, Yeah.

GT:  So was it, can you describe your role?

Paul:  Well the Church History Department invited me to write an extended essay. It ended up being about 55 pages long with footnotes and everything like I would produce as an academic essay.  Once they were satisfied with that it was sent up the line, several layers of approval process and then the Church History Department actually boiled down that longer essay to what got posted online so I had no say over what got posted online, what eventually appeared as Race and the Priesthood, but it was a condensed version of the longer piece that I produced for them.

I asked his opinions on how these race lessons of the past apply to today’s situations. It’s one of my favorite parts of the interview.  I also asked if there were parallels between the black ban and the new gay ban.

Paul:  Well I guess there are ways in which I could see them as similar and ways in which I think they’re distinct.  The similarities could be that, is this simply the sort of cultural context, right?  That is somehow seeping in, it would be hard to argue that the cultural context of America moving towards legalizing gay marriage didn’t impact Mormonism, right?  So it’s Mormonism responding to its cultural context the same way that Mormonism seemed to respond to the racial context in the 19th century, so a parallel there, but I think also important distinctions.

 

Dr. Paul Reeve discusssed the Race and Priesthood essay at LDS.org
Dr. Paul Reeve discusssed the Race and Priesthood essay at LDS.org

I asked Paul how he felt about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing at Pres. Trump’s inauguration.  Don’t forget to check out our previous conversations with Paul!

008: Dating the LDS Temple and Priesthood Ban (Reeve)

007: Becoming a Fanboy of Orson Pratt (Dr Reeve discusses the Apostle)

006: The Black Mormon Scandals – Reeve on events inspiring the LDS priesthood/temple ban

005: How did Joseph Smith Deal with Muslims?  (and Chinese and Indians?)

004: How did Others Deal with Slavery?  Dr. Paul Reeve tells why Mormons were persecuted

003: How Mormons Became a Racial Category

Check out our conversation….

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Becoming a Fanboy of Orson Pratt (re-release)

Last year, I interviewed Dr. Paul Reeve at the University of Utah on his book Religion of a Different Color.  This is a first-time release on our Youtube channel, but a re-release on audio of our interview last year with Paul Reeve discussing an amazing event with apostle Orson Pratt.  You may have heard of his more famous brother Parley P. Pratt.  Anyway, Orson was not only opposed to Utah legalizing slavery in Utah, but supported black voting rights before the Civil War.  Listen to Paul Reeve describe these events

Matt:  We know that Pratt spoke the day before and they are in a heated debate, so how does Pratt push back?  The minutes of the legislature tell us that that afternoon of February 5th, after Brigham Young has given this very strong speech, there are two bills that are introduced that are just innocuous bills, like who cares?  It’s the Cedar City and Fillmore municipal bills where they’re just approving them as legal municipal entities, but within the bills are the voting rights for Fillmore and Cedar City.  Who gets to vote in Fillmore and Cedar City?  They stipulate that white men over 21 get to vote, and that’s par for the course for the nation in 1852.

Pratt votes against both of those bills and the minutes tell us that he does so because they don’t allow black men to vote and I believe that’s his effort at again, pushing back against Brigham Young, so Brigham Young got to have his say in the morning and this is Pratt’s way of responding.  I’m going to vote against these two municipal bills to make my point that I believe black men should be allowed to vote in Utah Territory.

GT:  To me that is absolutely astonishing because this is the year 1852.  This is pre-Civil War.

Paul:  That’s right.

GT:  I mean how did Pratt fit in with the rest of America as far as a black man should be allowed to vote because I can’t imagine that’s a popular position?

Paul:  It’s really not.  I mean there are a few people who are arguing for this, you know radical abolitionists but like I said this is just a radical minority.  To stake out that kind of position, you would be branded as a radical minority, marginalized from the mainstream.  It really is kind of a distinct position and for him to be making it in Utah Territory really is quite unique for 1852.  Not many are advocating for black suffrage in 1852.

When Brigham Young made his speech in 1852 to the Utah Legislature where he declared blacks had no right to the priesthood, and Paul says this was likely a reaction to Pratt’s speech.  This is part 5 of a 7 part series with Paul.  Check out part 1, as well as our other interviews!

 

Orson Pratt was against slavery in Utah, and for black voting rights in 1852!
Orson Pratt was against slavery in Utah, and for black voting rights in 1852!