Part 60: CES Letter Other Concerns/Questions [Section B]
by Sarah Allen
Today I’d like to finish out the first topic header of this section. For those who don’t remember, this header is titled “CHURCH’S DISHONESTY, CENSORSHIP, AND WHITEWASHING OVER ITS HISTORY.” Last week, we covered the Priesthood restriction again, and this week, we’ll be talking about Zina Huntington, Brigham Young, and Church Historian Steven E. Snow. If we have room after that, we’ll push on to the next topic header, but that’ll probably have to happen next week.
The CES Letter picks up with the following:
ZINA DIANTHA HUNTINGTON YOUNG
(The following is a quick biographic snapshot of Zina)
- She was married for 7.5 months and was about 6 months pregnant with her first husband, Henry Jacobs, when she married Joseph after being told Joseph’s life was in danger from an angel with a drawn sword.
- After Joseph’s death, Zina married Brigham Young and had a child with him while still legally married to Henry Jacobs. Brigham sent Henry on missions while being married to Zina.
- Zina would eventually become the third General Relief Society President of the Church.
Zina Huntington was an amazing, accomplished woman for whom I have the utmost respect, so I’m happy to discuss her. However, it’s not without some challenges. Right away, the exact events are a bit difficult to tack down. Sources conflict on a lot of different points, and right now, the Church History Catalog is down, which limits some of the resources available. There’s a Zina Huntington Collection in the Church archives that may include her diaries and autobiographical notes, but currently, I can’t even determine if it’s available online or not, let alone what’s in it. There are a few diaries available online, one from Nauvoo after Joseph’s death which doesn’t detail her sealing to Brigham and one from Utah, but nothing that gives the details we’re looking for.
So, there are a lot of things that are unclear. Some of these points of conflict between the available sources are significant.
For background, when Zina and her family first moved to Nauvoo after fleeing Far West, they became ill and Zina’s mother, also named Zina (it was a family tradition to name one of the daughters Zina), died. Zina herself became quite ill, and stayed with Joseph and Emma for several months while she recovered. She felt a great affection and respect for Emma for helping to nurse her back to health. She was eighteen years old at the time.
Her father remarried, joining his family with that of Lydia Partridge, the widow of Edward Partridge. With both families now living in one small house, Zina moved in with her older brother Dimick and his wife, Fanny. Dimick was a good friend of Joseph. Zina married a different brother’s good friend, Henry Jacobs, and then was sealed to Joseph a short time later. After Joseph’s death, she was resealed to Joseph for eternity, as well as sealed to Brigham Young for time. Zina was heavily pregnant at the time, and Henry helped her start the trek West. She gave birth along the way, and after the baby’s birth, Henry was told his marriage to Zina was over and he left on another mission (he was a frequent missionary). Zina claimed repeatedly that marriage was not a happy one. She and Brigham remained married for the rest of Brigham’s life and they had a daughter together, also named Zina. After Eliza R. Snow’s death, she became the Relief Society President, the third in our history.
For his part, Henry proposed to two different women within weeks of going on his mission. He married three more times, all of which also ended in divorce.
So, where do the sources conflict? Well, many years later, Zina gave testimony saying that she first learned of the principle of plural marriage from Dimick, who had heard it from Joseph. Other sources, seemingly reliant on her diary, say that she learned it from Joseph while she was staying at his home. Some sources say that Joseph proposed to her three times while she was living at his home and that she refused him each time out of respect for Emma. Other sources say she declined to give him an answer and kept putting him off, also out of respect for Emma. Some sources say that Joseph wrote Zina a letter saying he’d been threatened by an angel with a drawn sword, while others say that she heard that from Dimick, who had been sent to offer her another proposal (even though she was already married to Henry Jacobs at that point). Some sources say that Henry was present for that initial sealing to Joseph, but absent from the other resealing to Joseph for eternity and sealing to Brigham for time. Others say Henry was there for the sealing to Brigham, but are silent on whether he was there for the first sealing to Joseph. Zina said in her later testimony that it was just Joseph, her, and Dimick present at their initial sealing, but that Brigham later resealed them after he returned from a mission to England, meaning that she would have been sealed to Joseph three times in total. However, in signed affidavits collected by the Church, Zina, Dimick, and Dimick’s wife Fanny all verified that Fanny was there at the sealing, too. Etc.
Because of all of this, it’s difficult to know exactly what happened, who was aware of what, and when and how they became aware of it. However, Zina did say that the Lord had prepared her for the doctrine prior to her hearing it:
I will tell you the facts. I had dreams — I am no dreamer but I had dreams that I could not account for. I know this is the work of the Lord; it was revealed to me, even when young. Things were presented to my mind that I could not account for. When Joseph Smith revealed this order I knew what it meant; the Lord was preparing my mind to receive it.
Regarding Zina being married to both Henry and Joseph at the same time, that was not the case. Remember, sealings and marriages were different things in the 1840s. She was married civilly to Henry for time, but sealed to Joseph for eternity. And as for her marriage to Brigham, she chose to leave her unhappy marriage to Henry and be sealed to Brigham for time.
Sealings for time took precedence over—or overrode—secular civil marriages. There was something referred to as a “folk divorce” in which people could simply agree to dissolve their marriages and go their separate ways. This is obviously not a thing anymore, but it was a common one during the 1800s. This is what Zina and Henry did, and they were not the only ones in the early Church who did this. This is apparently exactly what happened between Joseph and Fanny Alger, for example, as well as Joseph and Flora Ann Woodworth.
So, no, Zina was not married to both Joseph and Henry, or Henry and Brigham, at the same times. She was married to Henry while sealed to Joseph for the next life, and then she left her marriage with Henry in favor of sealing herself to Brigham for time. The marriages do not overlap, and there is no evidence of any kind of sexual impropriety on any of their parts.
ZINA’S WHITEWASHED BIOGRAPHICAL PAGE ON LDS.ORG
- In the “Marriage and Family” section, it does not list Joseph Smith as a husband or concurrent husband with Henry Jacobs.
No, because Zina and Joseph were not married, they were sealed for the next life only. Though, Zina apparently later came to believe that they should have been married. From a book titled Four Zinas, one that is decidedly anti-polygamy and hostile to both Joseph and Brigham:
Regardless of Zina’s pregnancy, her thoughts that first summer were not the tender anticipations of an expectant mother, happy in the love of her husband. Rather, she continued to be tormented by the feeling that she had rejected the Lord’s will by failing to follow the prophet’s counsel. Although extant records do not document further conversations with Joseph at this time, her anguish suggests he told her that her marriage to Henry did not spell an end to his plan that she become his “celestial wife.” Consequently, Zina prayed continuously for understanding and strength, returning repeatedly to the underlying issue: Smith’s spiritual authority. “I received a testimony for myself from the Lord of his work, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God before I ever saw him, while I resided in the state of New York, given in answer to prayer,” she told a public gathering in the Salt Lake Tabernacle years later. “I knew him in this lifetime, and know him to have been a great true man and a servant of God.”
There is no indication that William [her father] knew of Zina’s turmoil or its cause. In the spring of 1841, while Zina was marrying, William began working as a stone mason in preparation for the construction of the Nauvoo temple. However, Joseph Smith made a confidant of Zina’s thirty-three-year-old brother Dimick. In October 1841, Smith sent him with an unwelcome message to force Zina to a decision. “Joseph said, Tell Zina I have put it off and put it off until an angel with a drawn sword has stood before me and told me if I did not establish that principle [plurality of wives] and live it, I would lose my position and my life and the Church could progress no further.” Following Dimick’s visit, Zina decided to accept the sealing. This resolution dissolved her anxiety. With her mind at peace, she felt emotionally prepared to take this additional step into Mormonism’s inner world.
So, even in a source this blatantly derogatory toward plural marriage and prophetic guidance, the authors admit that Zina thought she made the wrong choice in marrying Henry and didn’t feel peace again until she decided to be sealed to Joseph. I left in the portions critical of Joseph and of Zina’s decision because it’s important to read sources from a variety of perspectives. Regardless of the source, however, I think it’s even more important to show that Zina listened to the Spirit when it was guiding her toward Joseph.
And, as a quick aside, when Zina was struggling with the death of her mother, she asked Joseph if she’d know her mother in the next life:
He replied promptly, “Certainly you will. More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.” Never having previously considered the novel idea of a heavenly mother, Zina asked: “And have I then a Mother in Heaven?” “You most assuredly have,” Joseph answered. “How could a Father claim His title unless there were also a Mother to share that parenthood.”
When she was grieving and in pain, she turned to the words of the Lord’s prophet for comfort. In return, Zina was one of the very first people ever to hear the doctrine of our Heavenly Mother, approximately around the same time that Eliza R. Snow and others also heard it from Joseph. I think this is a beautiful example for all of us, especially with General Conference being so recent. Our prophets are there to comfort us, to guide us, and to teach us the revealed doctrine of the Lord, despite whatever claims Jeremy and other critics may make against them.
- In the “Marriage and Family” section, it does not list Brigham Young as a concurrent husband with Henry Jacobs.
No, because Zina and Henry’s marriage ended and she sealed herself to Brigham for time instead. In the “Marriage and Family” section Jeremy is so fond of citing, it makes this clear:
Zina married Henry Bailey Jacobs on March 7, 1841. They had two sons but did not remain together. As a plural wife of Brigham Young, Zina had one daughter, and she raised four other children as her own after their mother died….
It specifically says the marriage didn’t last.
- There is nothing in there about the polyandry.
No, because “polyandry” is Jeremy’s term for it. Zina was not married to two men at once, she was married to one and sealed to another. Again, they are different things even if they are often performed as a single ordinance today. There is also no evidence that she was sexually active with two men at once.
In some sources, it’s stated that Zina signed an affidavit saying that she was Joseph’s wife “in very deed.” They all stem from the same major source, the same book titled Four Zinas I quoted from earlier, by Martha Sonntag Bradley and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward. However, the source in the book listed for that claim is the Joseph F. Smith affidavit books. Zina’s affidavit—in both the typewritten and handwritten copies of it—does not say that. I went through every single page of those affidavit books, looking for that phrase, and could not find any statement by Zina making that claim. And it seems I wasn’t the only one having trouble locating that affidavit:
Minor transcription differences aside, the obvious problem with the affidavit is that it doesn’t say what the authors of Four Zinas say that it says; there is nothing about Zina being Joseph’s wife in “very deed.” While it could be that the authors simply cited the wrong affidavit, a search of the LDS Archives turned up no other affidavits from Zina.
A more likely explanation is that the authors of Four Zinas confused an affidavit by Melissa Lott Willes, another plural wife of Joseph’s, with Zina’s affidavit. According to author Todd Compton, Melissa did, in her affidavit, say that she was Joseph’s wife “in very deed.” It is interesting to note that in a review of Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness, one reviewer noted that one deficiency in the book was that it didn’t “quote Zina Huntington’s affidavit that she was Smith’s wife in ‘very deed.’” It would obviously seem out of place to quote an affidavit that doesn’t exist.
The bottom line is that there is no evidence that Zina made a definitive statement concerning the consummation of her marriage to Joseph Smith. My experience with this evidence also illustrates the danger in relying upon second-hand information when coming to any conclusions.
A quick note: despite its critical tone and this incident with the footnote, there is a lot of decent scholarship and research in the book and it is a worthwhile source.
However, I seriously felt like I was going crazy when I couldn’t find that affidavit. That claim was repeated in several different papers I found, all citing Four Zinas as their source, so I just assumed that the various authors would have double-checked the citation given in the book to verify that it actually said what they claimed it did before they repeated it. They didn’t. None of those sources repeating that claim bothered to fact-check the footnote and verify it before they shared it. That’s why it’s so important to check the sources and the footnotes and not just take anyone’s word for it—including mine.
Do you see the trouble we run into when trying to clarify exactly what Zina said and didn’t say? Or to verify exactly what happened when most of the sources conflict and her own statements are from decades after the events in question, when she was old and her memory was fading? Like I’ve said repeatedly, studying history is messy. There’s a lot we don’t know and a lot of what information we do have doesn’t align with other pieces of information. We know the basics of what happened, but we don’t know the exact details of many of the events that took place.
However, we know enough to say that Jeremy Runnells is incorrect in his claims that Zina was involved in multiple polyandrous relationships. He continues:
- It is deceptive in stating that Henry and Zina “did not remain together” while omitting that Henry separated only after Brigham Young took his wife and told Henry that Zina was now only his (Brigham) wife.
First of all, Brigham Young did not “take” Henry’s wife. Zina was a grown woman who made her own decisions about who and what she wanted. She said repeatedly that her marriage to Henry was not a happy one, including during her transcribed testimony to an interviewer from the RLDS Church:
Q: Mrs. Young, you claim, I believe, that you were not married to [Joseph Smith] for time?
For eternity. I was married to Mr. Jacobs, but the marriage was unhappy and we parted….
I presume you are aware of the fact that it is claimed by your church that the marriage with Mr. Jacobs was not an agreeable one?
That is true.
She had every right to leave a marriage she was not happy with. She did not owe Henry Jacobs a relationship she did not want to stay in. Her good friend, Emmeline B. Wells, wrote a history of her in the Women’s Exponent in which the following was said about this marriage:
… It was a most unhappy and ill-assorted marriage, and she subsequently separated from the husband who was so little suited to be a companion for her through life.
We do not know the details of that marriage. Zina did not elaborate on them in her diaries, and all we have are a few comments like this, that the marriage was unhappy. We don’t know exactly what that means. I don’t want to cast aspersions on Henry Jacobs without knowing the details, but it’s also true that he was married three more times and all four of his marriages ended due to divorce, rather than death. There’s a common factor in those marriages. We can’t say why they ended in divorce without the details being made public, but something was going on there that led to four unhappy marriages.
In seeming contrast, she wrote in her journal entry for March 17, 1849 that Brigham “is very kinde indeed.” She remained married to him until his death in 1877, some 30-odd years after they were sealed for time, and it seemed to be a relatively happy marriage. Their daughter was apparently one of Brigham’s favorite children, and Zina enjoyed the camaraderie of Brigham’s other wives.
As for Henry not separating from Zina until Brigham made him, Zina was seven months pregnant when she was sealed to Brigham, and they had to head West shortly afterward. Brigham couldn’t care for her since he was the one leading the rest of the Saints, and it was Henry’s child she was pregnant with. He helped Zina start on the journey, and was there for the birth of his second son.
It’s apparently true that Brigham told him to find another wife while on his mission because he and Zina were no longer married, though it can’t be corroborated. And Brigham supposedly also later had to tell Henry to stop writing love letters to Zina. There’s no “direct evidence,” to use one of Jeremy’s terms, that Zina asked Brigham to intervene and get Henry to back off, but that’s the impression I personally get from it all.
The authors of Four Zinas are much more sympathetic to Henry and much more critical of Brigham and of plural marriage in general, but they also mischaracterize the situation in that most recent link. They claim that Henry was disfellowshipped from the Church because of his former relationship with Zina; however, he was disfellowshipped for performing an unauthorized plural marriage on behalf of W.W. Phelps, who was excommunicated over the issue. So, again, lots of conflicting information.
The Letter picks up:
ZINA’S INDEX FILE ON LDS-OWNED FAMILYSEARCH.ORG
- It clearly shows all of Zina’s husbands, including her marriage to Joseph Smith.
Yep. FamilySearch.org is all about preserving records for temple work, and they make the same lack of distinction between a sealing and a marriage that Jeremy does—and which was incredibly common in the early days of the Church, and even now. A lot of people don’t make that distinction between being sealed for time, sealed for eternity, sealed for time and eternity, or civilly married. They are four separate categories that usually get lumped under the same titles of “husband” or “wife.” For much of our church’s history, it doesn’t matter. They’re one and the same. But for the Nauvoo-era sealings, they are different things that often require more explanation. For the sake of convenience, we tend to use the same titles even when they’re different types of sealings/relationships.
Why is Joseph Smith not listed as one of Zina’s husbands in the “Marriage and Family” section or anywhere else on her biographical page on lds.org?
Because he wasn’t actually her husband. We refer to her as one of his “wives,” but the reality is, they were only sealed for the next life, not this one. They did not live together as man and wife, and there is no evidence whatsoever of any sexual relations between them.
Why is there not a single mention or hint of polyandry on her page or in that marriage section when she was married to two latter-day prophets and having children with Brigham Young while still being married to her first husband, Henry?
Because she didn’t engage in polyandry. She was married to Henry while sealed for eternity to Joseph, and then she left her marriage with Henry in favor of her sealing for time with Brigham. She only had two husbands in this life—successively, not concurrently—and will have one husband in the next life.
This is perhaps a little unusual, but it’s not scandalous and it’s not an example of the Church “censoring” or “whitewashing” the situation. It’s an example of Jeremy exaggerating and twisting the facts to suit his narrative.
BRIGHAM YOUNG SUNDAY SCHOOL MANUAL
- In the Church’s Sunday School manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, the Church changed the word “wives” to “[wife].”
- Not only is the manual deceptive in disclosing whether or not Brigham Young was a polygamist
I’m sorry, what? Seriously? In what possible world is the Church trying to hide the fact that Brigham Young practiced polygamy? That is not a thing. It does not happen. It has never happened. Every single person in the entire world who knows the name “Brigham Young” knows that he had multiple wives.
First of all, the way it’s presented, as “[wife]” with the brackets around the word, is specifically meant to show that the quote has been edited and the word was changed. It’s usually done for clarification purposes when you’re quoting something out of context. I do it all the time. If they were being “deceptive,” as Jeremy claims, the editors wouldn’t have put brackets around it at all, indicating that it hadn’t been altered. Those brackets were literally saying the word was changed.
Second, the reason why it was changed is obvious: we don’t practice plural marriage anymore. To make the quote more applicable to us today, the word was changed to the singular. It doesn’t change the intention of the quote at all. And since Jeremy doesn’t provide it, allow me to:
Now let me say to the First Presidency, to the Apostles, to all the Bishops in Israel, and to every quorum, and especially to those who are presiding officers, Set that example before your [wife] and your children, before your neighbors and this people, that you can say: “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” When we do this, all is right, and our consciences are clear.
Let the husband and father learn to bend his will to the will of his God, and then instruct his [wife] and children in this lesson of self-government by his example as well as by precept, and his neighbors also, showing them how to be brave and steadfast, in subduing the rebellious and sinful disposition. Such a course as this will eventually subdue that unhallowed influence which works upon the human heart.
A husband should set an example for his wife and children in learning how to bend his will to that of the Father’s. That meaning does not change if the word is “wives” instead of “wife.” All that changes is this current wording is more applicable to us and our society today than the word used in 1852.
…but it’s deceptive in hiding Brigham Young’s real teaching on marriage:
“The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.” — Journal of Discourses 11:269
Oh, come on. Yet again, we’ve already gone over this. The full quote as given in the Journal of Discourses is this:
Now, we as Christians desire to be saved in the kingdom of God. We desire to attain to the possession of all the blessings there are for the most faithful man or people that ever lived upon the face of the earth, even him who is said to be the father of the faithful, Abraham of old. We wish to obtain all that father Abraham obtained. I wish here to say to the Elders of Israel, and to all the members of this Church and kingdom, that it is in the hearts of many of them to wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not taught and practiced by us. It may be hard for many, and especially for the ladies, yet it is no harder for them than it is for the gentlemen. It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith, or you will come short of enjoying the salvation and the glory which Abraham has obtained. This is as true as that God lives. You who wish that there were no such thing in existence, if you have in your hearts to say: “We will pass along in the Church without obeying or submitting to it in our faith or believing this order, because, for aught that we know, this community may be broken up yet, and we may have lucrative offices offered to us; we will not, therefore, be polygamists lest we should fail in obtaining some earthly honor, character and office, etc,”— the man that has that in his heart, and will continue to persist in pursuing that policy, will come short of dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son, in celestial glory. The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.
And, because this is one sermon we do have the shorthand transcript for, this is what Brigham actually said:
… If it is wrong for men to have more than one wife at a time, the Lord will reveal it by and by, and He will put it away and it won’t be known in the Church. I didn’t call for the revelation upon this principle. I didn’t ask for it and didn’t want it. And as I have said many times, it is the fact until that revelation was read to me and Joseph revealed these principles to me, the ruin that I saw would come upon many elders of Israel and the trouble and persecution that would fall wrought visibly upon my feelings, and so terrific it was, I desired to go into the grave if my work was done. I didn’t want it, but I had to stand up to it.
… If you desire, wish with all your hearts, to obtain the blessings that Abraham obtained, you will be a polygamist in practice if you have the privilege or you will come short of it, as God lives, you that wish there is no such thing in existence. … If any of you have it in your heart to say … I will not be a polygamist lest I should fail to obtain some earthly honor, character and office, etc., with the children of men, that that has that in his heart and proceed in doing so, he will come short of celestial glory. The only man and woman that becomes God and Sons of God is those who enter into polygamy, and they may enter into the presence of Father and Son and they will have their servants around them, but they will never reign and be kings, as those that have the privilege of the blessings and refuse to accept them.
The link for the Church History Catalog is, as stated above, down right now, but I had the link from the last time I addressed this quote. It is pretty ironic that, in attempting to claim the Church is being deceptive by using edited quotes, Jeremy uses an edited sermon that differs so significantly from the original.
Regardless, in both versions Brigham was saying that you had to accept plural marriage as part of the celestial marriage covenant. He was not saying you had to actively engage in the practice. But if you are commanded to enter into the practice and you don’t, then you’re breaking your covenants with God, and you’ll lose the blessings you would have received if you’d honored your covenants. And if you don’t accept that part of the covenant, even if you’re not commanded to practice it, there may well be consequences for that, too. When we make a covenant with God, He is the one who sets the terms, and we can’t only keep part of it. It’s all or nothing. That’s the point Brigham was making.
In November 2013, Church Historian Elder Steven E. Snow acknowledged the Church’s censorship and pointed to the advent of the internet as the contributing factor to the Church’s inability to continue its pattern of hiding information and records from members and investigators:
“I think in the past there was a tendency to keep a lot of the records closed or at least not give access to information. But the world has changed in the last generation—with the access to information on the Internet, we can’t continue that pattern; I think we need to continue to be more open.”
I personally think that’s kind of a strained and misleading interpretation of what Elder Snow was actually saying. Part of that blame does go to the Maxwell Institute, who did put up a page with some quotes removed from context, which our critics had a field day with. That one paragraph certainly made the rounds on multiple anti-LDS blogs and websites, and I think Elder Snow probably wishes he’d phrased it a little differently.
“Censorship” is a pretty loaded word, and it’s one that Elder Snow never used. It’s true that there was a period from about the 1920s to the 1990s where the Church deemphasized certain doctrines or events that were controversial or embarrassing, and concentrated more heavily on faith-promoting anecdotes and information instead. It is not true that the information was hidden. It was published and available for those who went looking for it, but it wasn’t as widely disseminated as it is today. Part of that is due to the advent of the internet, as Elder Snow said. It makes it much easier to get the information out to large numbers of people who only have to click on a link, rather than buy and read a book.
There were a lot of documents and information that was housed in the Church archives. You used to have to get approval to go into those archives to do research (and still do for things that aren’t online yet). When that access was being sought by critics or those whose intentions were not clear, access was a lot harder to get than it was for faithful members who weren’t looking to embarrass or attack the Church. That’s true.
There were also things in the archives that previous Church historians, such as Joseph Fielding Smith, did not believe were true, like the accounts of Joseph using his own seer stone in the Book of Mormon translation process. There were other things that they couldn’t verify, such as one of the different accounts of the First Vision. For those things that weren’t believed to be accurate or that couldn’t be sourced, they kept that access even more restricted than for other things. Some of those official Church historians were overly cautious or, like Jeremy, didn’t want to bend from what they believed Church history should be.
So, you can take issue with those things, for sure. Some things shouldn’t have been deemphasized, archive access should have been easier to get, and some of our past leaders should have been more willing to accept new information that didn’t match their expectations. But not shining a spotlight on controversial or embarrassing things and being extra careful of who you let see your records are not the same things as actively burying information and silencing those who try to share it, as the word “censorship” implies.
…My view is that being open about our history solves a whole lot more problems than it creates. We might not have all the answers, but if we are open (and we now have pretty remarkable transparency), then I think in the long run that will serve us well. I think in the past there was a tendency to keep a lot of the records closed or at least not give access to information. But the world has changed in the last generation—with the access to information on the Internet, we can’t continue that pattern; I think we need to continue to be more open. … The Joseph Smith Papers Project for the last several years has been a treasure trove of access. That is a priority of the department, to get more and more out online. There will always be some things which will be private, sacred, and confidential. But I am just amazed at what’s out there. There is so much online now from the Church History Department. I think today’s technology makes it easier to get things out. I have been very pleased with the position of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve about making information available.
…I think the facts are the facts. We may not understand all the reasons and we may want to make some explanation. We are not always in possession of all the facts. I think we need to be as accurate as we can, as faith promoting as we can, but we need to continue to seek new truths and insights. Every week is like discovery time. There are new treasures that come to light, and it deepens our understanding. We can find things that may shift our thinking a little bit. Every generation rewrites history a little bit with their own methods and perspectives; that’s okay. We try to tell the story as accurately as possible and then we hope there will be those of faith who will step forward and add other insights. Many with whom you associate at BYU write faith-promoting works based on the history we find. I think we need to be very careful that we are accurate, because if we aren’t, it can come back to really haunt us. It’s good to tell the truth.
…If you think of Church history as a quilt or a tapestry, it is the most rich, beautiful thing I have ever observed. If you examine it carefully, you are going to find some peculiar threads in that beautiful quilt or tapestry, and if you pull at them and obsess on those threads, you will miss the wonderful message of our history. If you will step back and look at the whole quilt or tapestry, it’s beautiful. Part of the challenge in today’s world with the Internet is that people are pulling out the peculiar threads and obsessing over them without a context, instead of seeing the whole picture. So don’t study too little of Church history, as Richard Turley always says. If you’re going to study it, start with faith, like Elder Holland said in that beautiful talk he gave in [the April 2013] conference. Start with the faith that you have and don’t get off in the weeds with all of these peculiar little pieces of our history. Viewed in context of time and place, most things make a lot more sense. But if you pull at these threads and just obsess about them, you miss the bigger picture.
You have to approach it with faith, and you’ve got to balance faith with reason. We hope people study Church history. We hope they study Church history a lot. But I would add, don’t forget what brought you to it in the first place. Don’t give up. Don’t jump out of the boat. Stay in the boat and rely on the faith and testimony that you do have. Because in my view, the more you study, the more your faith will grow and develop. There will be a few questions we are just going to have to put on the shelf and get to later. Some we will answer in this mortal existence, others we may have to wait. But the big questions, the important questions will get answered if we exercise our faith.
I think he’s spot-on, and I don’t have much more to add to his words. He absolutely right that you have to study in faith, with the Spirit at your side and the Lord on your mind. He will direct you where you need to go to find what you’re looking for.
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Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.