The LDS Church began publishing the LDS Gospel topics essays in 2013, but are they hidden or public? Many church members don’t know about them. Why is that? Dr. Matt Harris & Dr. Newell Bringhurst will tell us more about how church leaders talked about the essays behind the scenes.
Matt: Some of the brethren, like Newell pointed out, didn’t want to release them. Now, the question is, why didn’t they want to release them?
The great Mormon historian Richard Bushman said it best. He said, “Look, if you acknowledge things about the past in these essays that contradicts other things that the Church has said before about them, that may cause people to question their faith.” So, it became really an interesting commentary about people leaving the faith over transparency issues, but then creating some position papers that were transparent and causing additional damage. That was the predicament they were in. So, several people told Newell and I, off the record, and we’ll keep names anonymous, but several people told Newell and I off the record, that that was the predicament they were in. They didn’t want to release them. They didn’t want to talk about them. They didn’t want to broadcast them. Newell mentioned something about Apostle Ballard a minute ago. He is one of the first people or leaders that I know of who talked about “This is a problem. We’ve kept these quiet, we now need to talk about them.” He’s told Seminary and Institute teachers. He gave this fireside I think, to the CES and Seminary and youth of the Church, I think. As I recall, he said that “We need to know these essays, like the backs of our hands. Gone are the days where we can just say, ‘don’t worry about it,’” or that silly little metaphor, just put your doubts on the bookshelf. Then the bookshelf starts to get heavier and heavier and heavier, and before you know it, it collapses. So it was a period of couple of three years where the Gospel Topics Essays were slowly starting to eke out after having been concealed for a long time.
There was a story that Peggy Fletcher Stack did in the Salt Lake Tribune, this is I think, December of 2015, maybe, where there was a teacher in Hawaii–I don’t know, I think, early 30s, maybe. This brother in Hawaii was teaching a youth Sunday School class, and the race issue came up and he came prepared. He brought the race and priesthood essay from the Church’s website. So, just to remind you, he’s in Sunday School class at Church on Sunday teaching the youth using a document from the Church’s website to teach the youth revolving around, relating to the race issue. The bishop released him for, quote, “teaching from unauthorized sources”. Peggy Fletcher Stack writes about this story. She says, “Memo to Mormons. These essays had been approved at the highest levels of the Church.” They were not signed. But the vetting process that these essays went through was extensive.
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Don’t miss our previous conversation with Matt and Newell!