Let’s talk about the Mark Hofmann bombings & forgeries. There are some critics of the LDS Church who ask the question, why weren’t church leaders able to discern, using the spirit of prophecy the Hofmann fraud? (Check out Part 6.)
Curt Bench: I’ve heard that countless times.
GT: How do respond to that?
Curt: Well, the way I respond is that we’re all in good company, because we all got fooled. His family got fooled, his own wife and his parents, his friends and neighbors, other family, experts that tested his materials. He fooled everyone, including General Authorities. So I guess I’m prone to grant them, or give them a lot of slack because they’re human just like we are. As Dallin Oaks said later, unless we’re given a reason not to trust, we trust people.
Others note that it seems like Church bought anti-Mormon material, or material unflattering to the church’s narrative in order to hide them from the public and prevent discovery of them. Is that a fair characterization?
Curt: I mean that bothered people I think when that came to light. From President Hinckley’s perspective if I were in his shoes I would understand better the motivation I think but like I said, everything is 20/20 now in our vision. But I can understand why that would be a difficult thing for people because it does give people the impression of trying to hide things and put things in the best light possible so I can certainly understand that perspective.
In Part 7, we talked about how the Hofmann bombings and forgeries have had a lasting impact on Church history. In the 1970s Leonard Arrington was a trained historian and became Church Historian. He opened the Archives to many researchers and people interested in Mormon History. However, General Authorities were concerned about some of the controversial aspects that were being uncovered. Of course Mark Hofmann had a lot to do with some of those controversial documents. How big of an impact did he play in shutting down access to church records in the Church History Library?
He certainly made the church change its entire approach to security, and protecting its holdings. It severely restricted access.
I think there was a long period of time when they were trying to determine what they had in their own holdings that were genuine and weren’t genuine. Yeah he definitely had an impact on how things are done at the Church History Library. I know it was a lot harder for me to do business with the church after that. Before things were more—I don’t know what the right word is, but it was easier to do business. It was more informal. It became very formal. There were processes you had to go through and committees had to make decisions on acquisitions and things like that rather than just being left to an individual.
Curt Bench will tell us about Mark Hofmann’s impact. But have things improved?
I really think we are in a new era, and I can only hope that it will get even better. The Joseph Smith Papers Project is one of the biggest evidences of that whole new attitude and openness. I mean those scholars are not given a list of restrictions as to what they can research and what they can write about and publish. Talk about throwing the books open, they’re doing it. They’re making our history available and accessible. There’s some very impressive scholarship that’s gone into that project, for example. That’s had spinoffs.
We see a lot of other research and writing and publishing that’s being done as a result of that whole attitude. Rick [Turley] is no longer Assistant Church Historian. He’s over Public Affairs now. I think he’s one of the unsung heroes in my opinion. He has helped us get to the point we are now, and those others that I mentioned and many that we can’t take the time to name.
Have you considered the role Hofmann played in shutting down Mormon History? Do you think the leaders should have detected Hofmann’s forgeries?