Today’s post is from sometime guest poster Shannon Flynn.
I traveled to Los Angeles California last Saturday to participate in the Miller Eccles study group. This is a study group that has been operating since 1979 and now has two California venues, one in Fullerton and the other in La Canada-Flintridge. You can find their web page here. The speaker for the month of April was Elder Marlin K. Jensen. It turned out to be a very enlightening meeting with about 70 attendees at the Saturday night meeting. Elder Jensen had some remarkable things to say and I thought the Wheat and Tares group would be interested in his remarks. Before I get into the specifics I need to set some parameters. The Friday night meeting is usually recorded and then produced as a Podcast. Elder Jensen asked that it not be recorded. I would imagine that this a common church policy for current and former General Authorities. (I only found out about this earlier today via the Miller Eccles Facebook page. Nothing was said about it on Saturday night.) With this in mind, I am going to try to not quote Elder Jensen exactly but instead give my account of the things he said and do it in the spirit and tone he spoke with. I hope this doesn’t cause him any trouble.
He talked quite a bit about the Gospel Topics essays and how they came to be. The idea of having more and better information on controversial doctrine/history topics was discussed by Church leadership for several years before they came out. At one point there was discussion about having a separate website for such a thing, but that was shelved because many didn’t want to draw too much attention to the subject. All of the individual essays were written by outside scholars who were contracted and paid to write them. They were then edited many times within the church before publication. Elder Jensen finally revealed who the champions were of the cause (you know, the ones who kept the project alive even when opposition grew) inside the church hierarchy. It was him on a day-to-day basis and President Uchtdorf in the Q15. Elder Holland and Elder Cook were the apostle supervisors of the department at the time. He and the rest of the church leadership are fully aware that most church members have not read the essays and a large majority never will. (As a personal aside, I could sense that he is very aware of what the average church member’s mindset is like and that there is nothing, as a practical matter, they can do about it.) The overwhelming majority of church members are very content with very basic doctrine taught in an easy to regurgitate way. The order of the day is willful ignorance. He mentioned that the Ensign is written at a 7th grade level and the articles are progressively getting shorter due to decreasing attention spans.
Elder Jensen also talked about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, both the book that was written by Turley, Walker and Leonard, and the interactions the Church has had with the descendant families of those that were killed. He said that when a decision was made for the Church to fully participate in writing a book about the episode a potential stumbling block was encountered very early on. Neither he nor the historians writing the book would embark on the project without full access to all known primary sources. One of the major primary sources that has always been a problem and had never been released, was the written record of the interviews that Andrew Jenson had made in 1892. Elder Jensen recounted how Juanita Brooks had requested access to the material and had been “chased” from the Historian’s office by Joseph Fielding Smith and how Will Bagley was summarily denied. He then went on to say that he and Richard Turley sat in a meeting with the First Presidency and made their request. President Hinckley asked his two counselors if they had ever read those documents and when they answered in the negative – he said he had. Pres. Hinckley suggested that Jensen and Turley return in week, which would give the two counselors a chance to read the material and then they would give them their decision. They came back and the answer was yes. The Church had no editorial control over the writing of the book. Elder Jensen felt like the Church’s only honest course of action was to make a full accounting of all the primary source material they had in their possession. One other key piece of information Elder Jensen revealed was that the statement that was read on behalf of the Church by Elder Henry B. Eyring during commemoration ceremonies on September 11, 2007 was written by Elder Jensen. He was supposed to deliver those remarks but was taken very ill with peritonitis and was in intensive care at LDS hospital that whole week. He said he almost died.
I was impressed with Elder Jensen’s command of Church History. He was able to quote several lines from Brigham Young’s speech in front of the Territorial Legislature in 1852 where Brigham Young essentially codifies the denial of the Priesthood to blacks. I don’t know many who could quote that from memory and it was obvious that he completely understands what those words mean and how deeply they have affected the Church. It is Elder Jensen’s opinion that Brigham Young was not acting in the office of a prophet when he spoke those words.
He was asked if he thought the study of Church history was important and, if so, why. His response was well articulated. He got out his set of scriptures and first turned to D&C 21:1. He was impressed by the fact that one of the very first things that the Church was commanded to do was keep a record. He feels like that is an ongoing and critical mandate for the Church Historian and the department. As an aside he said that as an attorney he finds it noteworthy that if Joseph Smith was going to perpetrate an elaborate fraud he would take such pains to preserve all of the evidence. The second scripture he turned to was Alma 37: 1-8.
1 And now, my son Helaman, I command you that ye take the records which have been entrusted with me;
2 And I also command you that ye keep a record of this people, according as I have done, upon the plates of Nephi, and keep all these things sacred which I have kept, even as I have kept them; for it is for a wise purpose that they are kept.
3 And these plates of brass, which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning—
4 Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon.
5 And now behold, if they are kept they must retain their brightness; yea, and they will retain their brightness; yea, and also shall all the plates which do contain that which is holy writ.
6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.
8 And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.
He said that he was sure people in the group had read these verses and were familiar with at least vs. 6 but he would wager that most didn’t realize this was talking about preserving and writing Church History. He said the current Church History Deptartment takes this charge very seriously and it became his main motivation in pushing the agenda of the Church Historian forward, making the department a leading edge and not just a forever follow behind.
Elder Jensen also fielded many comments from the group about them feeling lied to and betrayed by the church. I say comments and not questions since all of them came from people who basically wanted to be heard and acknowledged and there was no real question attached. The first comment/question came from a man who told his own story of reading quotes from a General Authority who said Brigham Young never taught the Adam-God theory but then completely reversed himself in a letter to a BYU professor. Though the questioner didn’t say who he was talking about, it was an interchange between Bruce R. McConkie and Eugene England. Elder Jensen was very gracious in his responses and said that he had personal experience in the same situation where a high ranking Church Authority told him straight out that Brigham Young never taught or preached the Adam-God theory, which of course is simply not true. (He the name of the Church authority but I am going to leave that out as a nod to Elder Jensen.) He reminded everyone to think for themselves and ask what their personal reaction should be to those feeling betrayed. It was obvious that Elder Jensen chose to move past it. He was quite passionate about his feelings regarding the truth and worth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was impressed with his ability to connect with people in a non-confrontational way.
What are your reactions to Elder Jensen’s comments?