In 2013, the Church published a series of essays on controversial topics, such as polygamy and the race ban on black church members. What was Elder Steven Snow’s role in that roll-out?
Elder Snow: Well, it was something that when I was in the Presidency of the Seventy. I was aware for many years that this was something that the brethren felt like needed to be done. There had been some attempts in the past that had not worked out. They just hadn’t worked.
The renewed emphasis had been building under Elder Marlin Jensen’s tenure. He really wanted to do this, to really get it. So [it began] under his leadership, and I was apprenticing still. There were six months when I got to work with Elder Jensen, after I was first called. So, I was called in December as Church Historian in 2011. Then I finally took over officially, August 1st of 2012. But during that six months I was with Marlin, we were stirring about that. I think really, under his leadership, it was presented to the Quorum of the Twelve and to the First Presidency. Twelve specific questions were identified. In May of 2012, the leading quorums gave the approval to move ahead. We had a committee of general authority Seventies and also scholars and historians from our department that reviewed all of the drafts that came in on all of these questions. Generally, the way it was done is we retained an outside historian to write the first draft–someone outside of church employment.
GT: Now, why did you pick somebody outside church employment? That’s interesting.
Elder Snow: Well, we just felt it would [be best to] go to an expert, like Paul Reeve, for example, for Race and the Priesthood. You can’t find anyone better than Dr. Reeve to do it. So, he was very helpful in getting us the first draft and the information we needed to go ahead. That’s just an example. So, that was the pattern for most of them and then they were reviewed by our department, the historians and scholars, as well as the general authority Seventies on the committee. And then they were gone through many, many times. Then, eventually were given to the Twelve and First Presidency for approval.
Was there a debate among the brethren about the essays?
Elder Snow: Well, that’s very interesting, the debate. Just so I can give you a little context on what was happening was, “Do you advertise and make a big deal about a website that you can go to learn everything weird you wanted to know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? You can go here. Or should we just kind of quietly release them?” The decision was made, kind of quietly to put them out there so that they’re accessible. Then at a later date, we could publicize them more if we wanted. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. Once Race and the Priesthood, and Nauvoo polygamycame out, it wasn’t necessary to publicize the Gospel Topics database. People began very quickly to learn about it.
GT: Yes, yes. Well, and it doesn’t seem like, and I’ve heard anecdotally, and I don’t know how big of a deal this is. But it was kind of like what you said, “Do we tell the weird things about the church, or do we just let people find them on their own?” Have you heard that some people have lost testimonies?
Elder Snow: That was that was the concern. We wanted to help a lot of people that were struggling on some of these questions. But you’ve got to understand that a large majority, a large percentage of the church could care less. That really hasn’t been anything they’ve worried about. We have anecdotally understood that there have been a few that their world has been rocked by having learned in more detail some of these questions. Now, for the most part, I think they’ve been very, very positive.
I also asked Elder Snow about current history. Church members have been counseled to keep journals. Does that apply to general authorities as well?
Elder Snow: We haven’t spoken a lot about journals since President Kimball’s time. But it’s important to leave a record for your family to let them know about your faith and your challenges, your trials, your difficulties, what you did, what your faith meant to you.
GT: Now, we’ve heard that some of the general authorities have been told not to write journals, because of…
Elder Snow: President Packer was. We try to encourage the new brethren to keep a record. Now, as a general authority, your journal belongs to the church. So you sign an agreement, when you’re called that that’s the case, all your personal papers.
GT: Oh, really?
Elder Snow: All your personal papers that relate to your time as a general authority are technically Church property. That’s a legal agreement that you sign. Now, if you’re good enough to keep a journal and not make reference to any of your church service, you could do that. But that’s pretty hard to do.
I will also ask him about questions of church and state. Is it ok to be a democrat?
Elder Snow: I’ve been an active as a Democrat before my call as a General Authority.
GT: Wow, I think that’s a secret. I don’t think very many people know that.
Elder Snow: Well, I don’t think politics enters into too much in our calling as a General Authority.
GT: I believe Elder Jensen before you was a Democrat as well.
Elder Snow: Yeah, we used to talk to each other about the results of the elections. He’s always been a good Democrat.
GT: Do you have any sense and I don’t want you to name names, especially if you don’t want to, but do you have any sense for how many of the Quorum of Seventy or apostles lean towards the Democratic positions?
What were his feelings about the policy excluding baptism for children of gay parents? He has some candid responses that you won’t want to miss.
The Church has long been accused of hiding unflattering documents. On the other hand, many documents are now available online at the Joseph Smith Papers website, and some other documents like the Council of Fifty minutes, which were previously restricted, have recently been published. Is it true that the Church has hidden documents with unflattering history? Has he seen documents in the First Presidency’s vault? Elder Snow will answer that question.
What are your thoughts about this interview with Elder Snow?