After receiving the Faith Crisis Report, the church leaders commissioned and started quietly publishing what they call Gospel Topic Essays. These essays, for the most part, are the first time the church has published an official stance on many of the topics.
They were published quietly and buried deep within the church site of materials. They don’t credit the authors who wrote them on commission and after rounds of approvals from the top leaders in the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. The Gospel Topic Essays confirm many things that were previously considered anti-Mormon, as Jeremy Runnels, author of the CES Letter, famously pointed out in his disciplinary council.
The essays were intended to help members who were finding troubling things in church history and doctrine that they assumed (and been told) were anti-Mormon lies. They were finding that these “lies” were actually true. The church had been covering it up for years, even decades. Though the church still claims they are as transparent as they know how to be.
The Soft Launch
What the official Church Historian and Recorder, Elder Steven E. Snow, described as a “soft launch” left room for a small group to question whether the essays were official — each was approved by the First Presidency, the faith’s highest governing body — while the majority of Mormons in the pews didn’t know they existed.
The soft launch was deliberate. The essays had a practical purpose, leaders said. They intended the essays to help people find official answers to questions they might have when researching a specific topic online. And they were also meant to be widely used over time.https://www.deseret.com/2016/12/26/20602980/essays-on-mormon-history-doctrine-find-new-visibility-in-official-app-sunday-school
Woven into the story, the history will be some of the issues that sometimes rise associated with church history and our doctrine. We try to cover those with some essays which are linked to lds.org under Gospel Topics. The Bretheren two years ago gave us twelve questions to answer. They included “Race and the Priesthood”, “Polygamy”, “The tranlation of the Book of Mormon”, on and on. Nine of those have now been answered and three questions remain to be answered and we are still working on those. We should conlude our work by the end of this year. If you haven’t had a chance to look at those essays, we’d encurage you to do so and share them with your friends. We are in the process of letting leaders, stake presidents and bishops know about them so they can be a resource in the event that some of their members are having questions or challenges about those issues. “Book of Abraham” essay was just released in July, that’s the most recent of the nine essays that have been publisched on-line.
I think it’d be helpful to know how we chose to roll those out. It was a soft roll out. There wasn’t an announcement saying “You can go to this website to learn everything weird about the Mormon church you ever wanted to learn”. (Laughter from the audience) But yet we had a lot of people struggling with some of these issues. We were loosing young people particularly. And we felt we owed a safe place for people to go to get these answered. So they were deliberately kind of placed in an existing database, so they wouldn’t …. You know, 90% of the church probably couldn’t care less, they don’t worry about such things. But we do have some folks who are online and we felt like they needed a safe place to go to get answers if they had questions. So I don’t think you are gonna see a well publicised campaign to tell you to go to these sites. But we just, you know, the people that are interested seem to kind of pass the word amongst themselves. And the only other thing is that leaders now will have access to them. And I think the long- probably the greatest long-term benefit will be: These are answers that have been vetted and reviewed by the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency and they have signed off on these answers. And now church curriculum and seminaries and institute can safely weave these essays into a future curriculum to, in a sense “inoculate,” is a word I use quite a bit, for the rising generation. So, they can learn a little bit about these things without being totally shocked when they hear them for the first time. Does that make sense? Yeah, OK.
So, don’t expect a big campaign. I think there’s been a lot of interest within maybe a small percentage of church members but my view is most of the church really is not troubled, members are not troubled by these.Elder Steven E Snow discussing the Gospel Topic Essays
Church leaders declare that they “intended the essays to help people find official answers to questions they might have when researching a specific topic online.” They want people to find these essays during research online. They want to compete in the search engines with the other resources that are online regarding a few specific topics that they felt were particularly damning or causing the most damage to the faith of the members. These essays are not a complete representation of the facts though, they are simply more whitewashed, apologetic, gaslighting stories. They include only faith-promoting pieces of the story or try their best to construct the narrative that the sources they use are the best and sometimes only sources when they know that is not the case.
Leaders state that the purpose of these essays is not to share the full story or to explain hard issues, they are just meant to help people find “official answers” to their questions. This does tell us that the essays are considered “official answers” of the church. They continue to spin a tale and tell a comforting, feel-good story so members can “feel the spirit” about what they are told, and stay in the boat. Even if the feel-good moments don’t last, and don’t resolve the dissonance that these topics emanate, their purpose is to help people officially answer their questions.
When we read the essays, we felt as if we had been transported into the dystopian society described in George Orwell’s 1984, a place where history was literally rewritten to match new state-approved facts. The LDS Church, which for decades has presented a neatly packaged Our Heritage version of its history, has published a drastically different version without a unified explanation to its people as a whole.
LDS Church Historian and Recorder Elder Steven E. Snow called the way the essays were released a “soft launch,” meaning this messier history was placed on lds.org where internet search engines would find them, but a casual browser of the church website would not. This strategy was intended to expose church members gradually to this new information and also be available for seminary teachers to inoculate their students.
Though these essays started being released in 2013, there has never been direct links to them from the lds.org homepage. The essays were included in the 2017 adult Sunday School curriculum as optional supplements, but many teachers stuck with the traditional unmodified Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual. Most active Latter-day Saints we’ve spoken with know little about the controversial content of these essays.
You can find this content if you google search for Gospel Topic Essays, a title which implies they are about routine subjects like prayer and faith. But the content covered here is anything but routine!
The essays present information never before seen in official church curriculum and facts only previously available in the anti-Mormon literature we were warned not to read. For many active Latter-day Saints, these essays present an alternate version of reality.https://postmormoncoaching.com/blog/mormons-crazy-gaslighting/
Elder Snow as well as other church leaders have mentioned this idea of inoculating the rising generation with the information in the Gospel Topic Essays. It’s like they know the shock of learning these things for the first time is enough to make people leave the church, so they want to remove the shock by exposing young members to these issues – but in a controlled environment and to a lesser amount in the essays. Then when these particular members are exposed again to the full truth, they will recall that the church was upfront about this before and it shouldn’t bother them, at least not as much is the church’s hope.
Here are some snippets from the training Elder Ballard gave CES teachers in 2016 where he mentions the Gospel Topic Essays and the “extraordinary efforts” the church leaders are making to provide accurate context. He instructs these teachers to know the essays like the back of their hand, but if they have questions to ask someone who has studied them for help.
He mentions the effort for gospel transparency and to give especially the youth a spiritual inoculation. In other words, now that they are starting to tell the truth about complex church history issues, they want to make sure the youth aren’t surprised when learning the truth. Hit them with apologetics and then hopefully they won’t dig any deeper.
His “antidote” for questions, doubt, or faith crisis is an “effort” for transparency and spiritual inoculation through a study of doctrine and history coupled with a burning testimony. So he wants the youth of the church to be taught the apologetic half-answers to real questions and concerns with church history and doctrine, but for these half-answers in the essays to be accompanied by burning testimonies, so they can feel good about the narrative the church spins and then when they come upon these troubling issues, they too can say that they looked at them decades ago and resolved everything then. This is the refrain church leaders must also use, the refer to the times they had issue with the church for whatever reason and can state that they dug into the issue and found in the end that it wasn’t an issue worth leaving the church over.
Church leaders today are fully conscious of the unlimited access to information, and we are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration. A prime example of this effort is the 11 Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org that provide balanced and reliable interpretations of the facts for controversial and unfamiliar Church-related subjects.
It is important that you know the content in these essays like you know the back of your hand. If you have questions about them, then please ask someone who has studied them and understands them. In other words, “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” as you master the content of these essays.
The effort for gospel transparency and spiritual inoculation through a thoughtful study of doctrine and history, coupled with a burning testimony, is the best antidote we have to help students avoid and/or deal with questions, doubt, or faith crises they may face in this information age.
When asked with a sincere desire to understand, “Why?” is a great question. It is the question missionaries want their investigators to ask. Why are we here? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why should we pray? Why should we follow Christ? It is often the “why” questions that lead to inspiration and revelation. Knowing our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation will help to answer most of the “why” questions. I will speak more about this in just a moment or two.
Here is one final note about answering questions. It is important to teach your students that although the gospel provides many, if not most, answers to life’s most important questions, some questions cannot be answered in mortality because we lack the information needed for a proper answer.
In teaching your students and in responding to their questions, let me warn you not to pass along faith-promoting or unsubstantiated rumors or outdated understandings and explanations of our doctrine and practices from the past.
Avoid the temptation to question the motives of your co-laborers. Instead, look deeply into your own heart and search your own desires and motives. Only then can the Savior change your heart and align your own desires and motives with His.
The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century, Elder M Russell Ballard
- Teach students to combine learning by study and faith with pure testimony. Teach them to stay in the boat and hang on!
- Teach students to control their mobile devices and focus on being connected more to the Holy Spirit than to the Internet.
- Inoculate students with the truths of the plan of salvation found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Master the content of the Gospel Topics essays.
The shocking part of the essays is when you click through to the source documents, you found they say the exact opposite of what the essay claims. One example is saying Brigham Young looked forward to the day the priesthood ban would be lifted. But the actual quote is something along the lines of there won’t be a single black person receiving the priesthood until after every white person has it first. They just double down on the lying and deception.
By reading his statements in the Journal of Wilford Woodruff and elsewhere we can see that the founders of the church don’t say what the essays want to make them say. The footnote about Warren Parrish in the BOA essay was particularly misleading. He was denouncing Joseph Smith when taken in context. The church leadership and their hacks seem to be intent on shielding Brigham Young from much-deserved opprobrium. They show that they honor their heritage more than they honor God, like Eli.
Calling Evil Good
The gospel topics essays were intended to help. However, what they usually do is either condone evil or call evil good through carefully worded euphemisms.
If we admit that Joseph Smith deceived others, including his wife, about his plural marriages, then we have declared that he was a liar and possibly an adulterer. If we say that he only married plural women because an angel with a sword compelled him to do so, then we have credited God with the same or else we have declared that we are worshiping an idol. If we say that the practices of polygamy which could include marrying children, mothers-daughters pairs, sister pairs, and women married to other men were “Biblical”, then we have branded ourselves as liars and insulted any who has read the Bible. The same is true of the absurd claim that God sometimes commands polygamy. When the essay says that those who violated their marriage vows were keeping their covenants and that it was contrary to their “sensibilities” they show supreme cynicism. Indeed, the evil thing was contrary to their conscience. The carefully worded denials filling the essays are just lies. A girl of 14 is 14! It does not help to make her “a few months from her fifteenth birthday”. All of this and more is in the essay on plural marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo. This particular one can be well summarized as cynical, blasphemous, and fantastically dishonest.
The essay on race and the priesthood did not try as hard to call evil good, but it did not go nearly far enough in denouncing the ugly homicidal nature of the grotesque racism of Brigham Young. The essay ignored so many racist lines from Church history. Many things that were seemingly just Mormon folklore are validated by these essays and then when we study more, we find that these issues are even worse than we had ever imagined. There is a total failure to “place the saddle on the right horse” as Col. Dame was quoted as threatening to do in regard to the mountain meadows massacre. These essays feature passive voice whenever possible to shield the responsible parties from their culpability in egregious evil.
How an educated person could think these essays would help someone who is struggling, is totally beyond comprehension. The essay’s rhetorical devices try too hard to call evil things good.
The DNA and the Book of Mormon essay–particularly because it builds on the work of John Sorenson is a huge exercise in gaslighting. It disregards everything the church ever taught about the Book of Mormon. Particularly since the entire essay is premised on Sorenson’s theory that in the Americas, there were wholly undescribed “others” and then the essay makes a number of unsupported scientific speculations based upon that first assumption which even contradicts the text of the Book of Mormon itself.
Many members find the essays and are then forced to confront the Church’s truth problems. The essays do make it readily apparent, for anyone who is willing to see, the inability to maintain critical thinking and also hold to the traditional correlated narrative. The dominant narrative simply is not true.
- What is the CES Letter? Is it True/Safe to Read?
- Yesterday’s Anti-Mormon “Lies” Are Today’s Church Essays
- Dominant Narrative of Church is Not True
- Personal Mormon Faith Crisis Report – Introduction and Overview
- The LDS Gospel Topics Essays – A History by Dr. Matt Harris – Mormon Stories 1365