Changing The Narrative –Reconstructing Mormon History

When Latter-day Saints discover problems with church history and doctrine, they often turn to church leaders and scholars for answers. Sometimes these answers are more unsettling than the problems themselves. Here’s a video compilation followed by quotes with individual sources where available.

Some struggle with unanswered questionsabout things that have been doneor said in the past we openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of church history along with an uninterrupted line of inspired honorable and divine events there havebeen something said and done that could cause people to question.

To be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the church have simply made mistakes. there may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine .

Elder Dieter F Uchtdorf
General Conference October 2013

I think we we chose to emphasize the strengths the what we felt were the more relevant parts of our history and our doctrine to the neglect of some things that have come home to bite us a little bit because it appears now to some that they were covered over.

Elder Marlin K Jensen
November 2017 Faith Matters Interview

We understandably, have not spent a lot of time, in the past, worrying about these issues because our mission is to promote faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. But, as the information age is now upon us, we feel with all of this information out there, we owe it, particularly to the rising generation, to provide good reliable information about these matters.

Elder Steven E Snow, on the Gospel Topic Essays
Church Historian 2012-2019

I also know that for some people, like the person who asked that question, it can be really painful to learn about something that you thought you should have known and that you didn’t know.

Kate Holbrook
Kate Holbrook, Matt Grow, & Quentin L. Cook answer questions from young adults
September 2018 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults

One of the problems we have in mormonism is that we’ve loaded too much into the truth cart, and then when anything in the cart starts to rot a bit or look unseemly upon further inspection some have a tendency to overturn the entire cart or seek a refund for the whole lot. We’ve loaded so much into the truth cart, largely because we’ve wanted to have the same kind of certainty about our religious claims, down to rather obscure doctrinal issues, as we do about scientific claims. Over the years the church leadership and laity have also done our religion no favors by putting more in the cart than the cart could possibly bear. Many of the things which trouble people are things that we probably should never have been all that dogmatic about in the first place.

Patrick Mason
2016 FairMormon Confernce
For the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. - Richard Bushman, Mormon Historian & Stake President
For the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. – Richard Bushman, Mormon Historian & Stake President

I think for the church to remain strong, it has to reconstruct it’s narrative. The dominant narrative is not true, it can’t be sustained. So, the church has to absorb all this new information, or it’ll be on very shaky grounds, and that’s what it’s trying to do. And it’ll be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially, but i think it has to change.

Richard Bushman
Dominant Narrative

I think that the the church as an institution changes the historical narrative. The historical narrative is based upon archival research, documentary finds historic historiographical theories ,what not. Those change every generation, there’s always new things coming forth, and i think that, as i see things, church leaders, church members are grappling with new historical understanding of not just book of abraham but all of its history. And as a historian I think that’s great. I think that whitewashing history is not ideal: holding up some of the past individuals, placing them on pedestals is not ideal. Finding nuanced faith means offering a nuanced narrative, and I think that that’s going to be challenging because we have had narratives in the past that are tied so closely to members testimonies.

Robin Scott Jensen, Associate Managing Historian and Project Archivist for the Joseph Smith Papers
BYU Maxwell Institute Podcast #92

The CES letter is emblematic of this all or nothing approach to religion. The letter is nearly a perfect inverse of the version of mormonism it is reacting to. Jeremy Runnels may have written the letter, but it was actually an inevitability. Someone, sometime, somewhere was going to write that letter because it was the obvious response to a certain style, tone, and mode of mormonism that culminated in the highly doctrinaire, no-retreat no-surrender positions taken by certain church leaders and members, especially in the second half of this of the 20th century. I would actually agree with the CES letter’s basic notion: that the mormonism it is responding to is unsustainable.

Patrick Mason
2016 FairMormon Conference

I think we need to get away, as what i’m saying, from the idea that if the Book of Mormon’s historicity, if you will, is different than we thought, if the New Testament Jesus is a little different than we thought, that we somehow can’t have faith in that. That somehow faith and history are the same. I’ve heard mormonism is history. I hear that phrase used, and I cringe every time I hear that, because then people say, “well, if the history is different than I thought, then my faith is linked to that.”

Thomas Wayment
January 2019 Faith Matters Interview

This could be Joseph Smith sort of spinning out that theology addressing an issue of his day and putting it in in the words of this character Mormon/Moroni. So, I can see this going either way, and again I personally, I know other people are going to feel strongly one way or the other, but I personally, it’s just not always entirely clear to me where i can say “oh yeah, that’s obviously Joseph Smith, or yeah, obviously that’s an ancient source”. Again, I personally don’t find reason to believe that the Book of Abraham, as we have it now, is the product of a translation of an actual text written by Abraham that Joseph Smith had in front of him. So in some respect there are some missing links there, and so whether we call this pseudopigra or just straight up revelation, those categories matter, but I don’t think it’s completely wrong to think about it in those categories, and so I’m perfectly comfortable with the scholarship that suggests there’s no such person as Job but it’s still scripture. So I’m perfectly comfortable with saying, you know that the scriptural production that is in the voice of Moses or Abraham doesn’t actually have to be the voice of Moses or Abraham to be scripture, even if that’s what Joseph Smith thought because, again, he was operating in a particular cultural context of the way that scripture worked.

Patrick Mason
Radio Free Mormon Podcast #103

When friends ask me what to do with the Book of Mormon, I say the easiest thing, is to think of it as amassive apocryphal or pseudopigraphic text.

Richard Bushman calls the Book of Mormon ‘pseudepigrapha’
Claremont Graduate University 2011

Apocryphal texts are written works, often of unknown authorship or doubtful origin. Pseudepigraphic texts are a work whose real author attributes to a figure of the past.

There’s phrasing everywhere, long phrases that if you google them, you’ll find them in in 19th century writings. The theology of the Book of Mormon is very much 19th century theology, and, you know, it reads like a 19th century understanding of the hebrew bible, as an Old Testament. That is, it has Christ in it, the way protestants saw Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. That’s why we now call it hebrew bible, because the jews never saw it quite that way. So these are all problems we we have to deal with.

Richard Bushman
Mormon Discussions Podcast #182

The Mormon Church is attempting to change its narrative by acknowledging and addressing certain controversial aspects of its history. While this effort is a step in the right direction, it may not be enough to fully address the complex issues at play. The Church has historically controlled its narrative by only sharing faith-promoting parts, and even fabricating some to fill in gaps. They continue to encourage members, even the youth, to ignore troubling history, because it is insignificant and a distraction from what they want (members staying in the church). They call this effort inoculation, though it’s surprisingly similar to more propaganda and indoctrination. All aspects of church history must be examined transparently in order to move forward.

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