Why Don’t We Trust Joseph Smith?

As has been widely discussed, the priesthood and Relief Society manual for the next two years focuses on the discourses and writings of Joseph Smith. A BCC post about the manual this summer, by friend of BCC Tom, expressed the opinion that the manual is very good and that those dissatisfied with earlier manuals will be pleased by this one. In fact, I think the manual has fixed all of the weaknesses of earlier manuals except the most important one: the pervasive lack of trust in the leaders being discussed.

As Tom’s post this summer explained, this manual is a huge improvement on past manuals on many dimensions. It is far more historiographically astute, providing some critical discussions of sources and so forth. It explicitly discusses polygamy and other controversial issues in the introduction and other non-lesson materials. All in all, it reflects several giant steps forward from previous manuals in this series.

Yet, at heart, I am deeply disappointed. The reason is that Joseph Smith’s remarks are heavily edited. Three forms of editorial intrusion are pervasive. The first, least frequent, and least problematic involves parenthetical additions that clarify the meaning of various potentially obscure references or proper names. This form of editing is appropriate and helpful; it reflects no lack of trust in Joseph Smith’s ability to preach the gospel.

The same cannot be said of the other two pervasive forms of editing in this manual. The manual frequently uses ellipses to remove somehow offending words, phrases, or sentences from the middle of passages quoted from Joseph Smith. Why? Does Smith need an editor to remove false or misleading remarks from his discourse? Or is Smith simply an incompetent speaker and writer who fills his text with unnecessary and distracting marginalia? Either of these might occasionally be the case, yet in my reading of unredacted texts from Joseph Smith, I haven’t generally found them to be in serious need of such remedy. Such unnecessary, intrusive, and at least occasionally misleading revision of Smith’s words reflects profound distrust: either of his doctrinal reliability or of his ability to teach. I find this disheartening.

Of course, such distrustful editorial intervention has been a persistent feature of all the priesthood and Relief Society manuals in this series. The extent of ellipsis has varied from manual to manual, never again reaching the extent of revision found in the first manual, which focused on Brigham Young. In comparison with that manual, the Smith volume does not suffer from nearly as much deletion of words or phrases, although there seems to be more deletion than in some manuals focused on 20th-century leaders.

The third, and to me most problematic, form of editorial intervention in Joseph Smith’s remarks involves the decontextualized juxtaposition of things Smith said at different times, in different places, to different audiences, and often on different subjects — but presented in the manual as if they were contiguous and even mutually reinforcing remarks. This has been a persistent tactic throughout the series of church-leader manuals; quotations from different periods and contexts are separated only by unobtrusive endnotes, and no consideration whatsoever is given to the literary or historical situation for each remark.

The reason for this decontextualized approach may be a conviction that the gospel is identical in all times and at all places. This may well be so, but human understandings of the gospel manifestly are not. Surely Joseph Smith’s understanding grew, as they say, line upon line and precept on precept. Smith’s thought in 1830 is not always identical to his thought in 1844 — because, after all, there were more revelations and more insights to come — and juxtaposing ideas and phrases from the two periods without clarification at best obscures Smith’s beliefs at both periods and at worst confuses or misleads.

Once again, this kind of editorial intervention seems to reflect an underlying lack of trust in Joseph Smith’s ability to teach the gospel. If Smith saw connections between theme A and theme B, and saw his remarks on theme A as the most powerful context in which to present his comments on theme B, then breaking that linkage suggests that we know better how to teach his ideas than he did. When the decontextualization changes meaning, the implicit lack of trust is more severe.

Of course, publishing any selection of Joseph Smith’s words and thought will require editorial intervention: some speeches will be presented and others not, some documents featured and others obscured. Yet the kind of micro-level intervention prevalent in this manual (and, indeed, the past volumes in this series) is more invasive; it destroys the sequence, the flavor, and sometimes the sense of the original speech or document.

I am thrilled that we will have the opportunity to read and discuss Joseph Smith’s religious thought in our worship services over the next two years. Yet this will be something of an opportunity lost. Many members of the church today have probably never read a complete sermon by Joseph Smith, or indeed any complete text of Smith’s outside our scriptural canon. This lesson manual will give such members their first few direct encounters with Joseph Smith. But in most of the lessons, the editor’s voice and perspective is as distinctly present as Smith’s. I find it unfortunate that the editing of this volume has partly obscured Joseph Smith’s voice, personality, and witness of Jesus Christ.

Comments

  1. As someone who has just discovered the LDS blog world recently (BCC and Feminist Mormon Housewives), this is an interesting topic. I am a convert, and I am unmarried–this is the first time I have ever encountered some of these ideas (historical, political, social, etc.).

    If one DOES want to go read some of Joseph Smith’s sermons, where do we start? What about historical accounts of the early women and blacks in the church? Where do we learn about the infamous “September Six”?

    My point is, if the manual isn’t telling us the whole story, I really want to know where to go to become more informed, but I just don’t know where to start.

    (I should mention that discovering these blogs has been life-altering. I have always been wary of some of the Church culture I have encountered, but I never knew it was okay to feel that way. All the sudden I am allowed to ask questions, and while I think I am gaining a healthy dose of skepticism, my relationship with Heavenly Father has never been better!)

  2. RT, Are you sure you’re characterizing things correctly?

  3. Ardis Parshall says:

    There is no “distrust” involved. Church curriculum has never taught “the religious thought of Prophet X” — rather, it teaches a subset of the gospel in a coherent, organized way. You might as well complain that we don’t trust Alma or Paul or Moses because we teach themes and principles from their writings, too, rather than their writings as writings. That format doesn’t prevent you from reading as much of scripture as often as you want, nor should it stop you from reading and studying as much of Joseph Smith’s original writing as you can find.

    Besides, you know darned well that even if the manual were made up of completely unedited Joseph Smith sermons, the real problem is this: your quorum priesthood leaders and members (no different from mine) are not equipped to teach and discuss in a more meaningful fashion than we do now.

  4. Yes, considering how long this post is, it is strange that the OP doesn’t point to at least one specific example of this troublesome editing.

    I’m not necessarily questioning his sincerity, just that his claim could be more easily evaluated and put into perspective if we had a specific example to discuss.

  5. Melissa, there are lots of sources to read Joseph Smith in a less mediated way. A collection that I like as a starting place is The Essential Joseph Smith, a Signature Books collection that features minimal editing.

    Steve, I do feel that I’m characterizing things correctly. The editorial imposition on the manual is stark, as it has been with all the others. And I think it’s both pointless and misleading. I don’t think there’s any intention to mislead, but I think it’s a direct result of well-intentioned but distrustful editing practices.

    Ardis, I don’t know whether people are able to discuss things better than they do or not. But if it wouldn’t have made a difference in our lessons, then why not provide people with the opportunity and encouragement to have a more direct encounter with Joseph Smith’s teachings in their private study?

    Regarding the idea that the church doesn’t teach the religious thought of Person X, well, I think that was true until the Brigham Young manual was published. But we’ve been in that business for a decade now. The Joseph Smith manual’s introduction describes it as a manual on the teachings of Joseph Smith — not on a subset of the gospel presented in a coherent and organized way.

  6. Bob, examples can be found on almost every page of the manual. Take your pick. Note that my primary complaint isn’t about any specific edit, but rather about the volume of editorial intrusion — it’s the number of edits more than specific ones.

  7. Nick Literski says:

    Let’s be clear…the process of recharacterizing the teachings of Joseph Smith isn’t new. At the very least, it started with Joseph Fielding Smith’s edited production of The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which at least in the case of Joseph’s words to the newly-formed Relief Society, completely changed some of Joseph’s words to suit later leaders’ views.

    If there is any “distrust” at work, it is that of curriculum/correlation for the general membership of the LDS church. The same “distrust” was at work with the reprinting of the Journal of Discourses, which only took place after Mormon Fundamentalists threatened to do it. It seems that various administrators and/or leaders fear that if members see distinctions between early Mormonism and later LDS teachings, their faith will be challenged. Thus they make these editorial changes, “for your good.”

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    I haven’t even perused the manual yet, so I don’t really have an opinion on this. But is it possible, J., that if there is any lack of trust involved it would be better characterized as a lack of trust in the members than in the prophet? In Church pedagogy culture there is a lot of emphasis on teaching to the weakest link of the chain, and I’m guessing that some of the heavy handed editing is concerned with what the editors think the newest and least knowledgeable members can handle. (My own experience is that the Saints can handle and absorb a lot more than we give them credit for, just as our young people can.)

  9. Nick, RT, I’m uncomfortable with some of the implications and undertones here. My own view is similar to Kevin’s. I really hope that we can explore the topic of editorial decisions in the manual in a way that is productive while respectful — I can’t really be of help as I haven’t read it, but these are my two cents from the peanut gallery.

  10. Nick Literski says:

    Sorry, Steve, if I was out of line. While we may have said it differently, I think Kevin and I essentially said the same thing. Kevin certainly has a better tone about it.

  11. Nick, if that’s the case, then let’s all talk more like Kevin.

  12. I don’t have an issue with the topical approach (which appears to be RT’s chief beef). The purpose of these manuals is not now nor ever has been to teach the historical development of LDS thought on selected topics. It has been to use the teachings of previous prophets to find principles and thoughts applicable today. To that end, they have searched the teachings of these prophets for quotes and ideas that they believe reveal pertinent information. Since the topic reigns supreme, I am not sure that a discussion of the historical context is relevant. Perhaps it should be, but it isn’t necessarily so (certainly, we don’t usually find it necessary in Sunday School).

    As for the ellipsis, I think that can only be judged on a case by case basis.

  13. Kevin and Nick, I think your hypothesis is the most probable. But I’d point out that distrust of the members’ ability to get anything from unedited Joseph Smith also logically entails distrust of Joseph Smith’s ability to communicate the gospel message. Communication, after all, is a two-way flow, and if the audience can’t understand the message, both the audience and the speaker are implicated.

    Steve, along those lines, it seems that I’ve communicated something other than what was intended here. I don’t mean to say that anyone consciously distrusts Joseph Smith, and the other church presidents who have been featured in this manual series (since all of the manuals have been subject to the same basic editorial style). I also don’t mean to say that anything has been “hidden” in this manual. The introduction to the manual is refreshingly forthright about the topics that have been excluded, such as polygamy and the law of consecration.

    All I’m claiming is that the pervasive editing that has been a feature of this series of manuals is inadvertently disrespectful toward, and implicitly although almost certainly not consciously distrustful of, the leaders whose pictures appear on the cover and whose words are presented (in somewhat reassembled fashion) within. It’s not evil or anything of the kind, just I think unfortunate.

    A few chapters in the Joseph Smith manual are somewhat better than the norm for this series in terms of editorial intervention, by the way. These chapters present a single document in its original order; texts include the canonized Joseph Smith History, the Wentworth Letter, and some others. Yet even these chapters have deletions marked by ellipses. Oddly, this is even the case in the canonized Joseph Smith History; for some reason, verses 1-4 and verse 6 were deemed surplus to requirements. Verse 6, of course, is an important substantive part of the account, providing a particularly vivid sense of how Joseph Smith thought about the apostasy.

    Of course, most of the other chapters have a great deal more editorial involvement.

    Again, I don’t think these deletions are sinister or wrong. They’re just a missed opportunity.

  14. John C., I see your point. But I’ve always wondered — if these are really just topical lessons, why the president-of-the-church theme? Just for novelty? Again, it seems an opportunity missed. We have lots of topical lessons.

  15. For the sake of discussion, could you provide some specific examples from the text of what you’re talking about JNS? I haven’t read through it myself, but I’d be interested in seeing your thoughts on the more egregious examples. How exactly are they editing JS’s thought in such a way that misrepresents him?

  16. JNS,

    Just a quick editing note. You might want to change it to 1844, not 1848. Joseph Smith wasn’t alive in 1848.

  17. Sorry, I didn’t see your #13 before I posted. Are there other examples though?

  18. Melissa, welcome to blogs. I would recommend reading The Words of Joseph Smith, edited by Ehat and Cook if you want unedited Joseph Smith.

    JNS, I respect your thinking, but I’m much less inclined to be critical of the manual preparation. Let’s face it, we’re academics who read at least a book a week year in and year out, and we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about what we read as scholars. For us, the manual is not a reliable source of scholarly information. But not everyone experiences their religion in such an academic mode. And if you’re not being an academic purist, then having editing to make someone who inhabited an idea-world radically different from our own become intelligible to us makes perfect sense. I personally don’t think very many scholars have understood Smith in his context, let alone lay readers and believers.

    I say salute the proof-texted manuals and publish important scholarship and critical editions as separate endeavors. Let people have an interpreted Sunday School experience, and make other resources available for those who have other needs.

    Incidentally, I do see the JS manual as an important improvement over those in the past and applaud those who work on them.

  19. Ardis Parshall says:

    J., I almost used the word “gimmick” in my comment, where you have used “novelty,” but didn’t because of the negative connotation. Still, I *do* think that’s pretty much all the president-of-the-church theme is — a new format.

    I do pretty much the same thing when I write about some unknown figure from church history. I’m tired (bored silly) by the same-old same-old same-old stories, as if there were never more than three or four pioneers whose personal stories we tell over and over in lessons and over the pulpit. I have a fantasy of taking some lesson manual and rewriting it, keeping all the same topics and organization and all, but replacing all the tired stories with fresh ones.

    That’s what I think the church has done with this series of manuals. We’re going to talk about the same faith-repentance-baptism-Holy Ghost topics anyway, but reading them in new words instead of the same ones we’ve heard all our lives, gives us a chance to approach them with a little fresher feeling.

  20. let’s all talk more like Kevin.

    That’s good advice on any thread. Maybe you should make it an official comment policy.

  21. Dan, thanks for catching the typo.

    David, there are tons of examples — dozens, certainly, and probably hundreds. I’ll offer another one, in which an ellipsis substantially changes the flavor of what is presented. In Chapter 16, on “Revelation and the Living Prophet,” a section is quoted from the History of the Church, vol. 2, pages 417-418, regarding a set of “acknowledgments” that seem parallel to what we’d call “sustainings” today. The manual’s quote is as follows:

    I then made a short address, and called upon the several quorums, and all the congregation of Saints, to acknowledge the [First] Presidency as Prophets and Seers, and uphold them by their prayers. They all covenanted to do so, by rising.

    I then called upon the quorums and congregation of Saints to acknowledge the Twelve Apostles, who were present, as Prophets, Seers, Revelators, and special witnesses to all the nations of the earth, holding the keys of the kingdom, to unlock it, or cause it to be done, among them, and uphold them by their prayers, which they assented to by rising.

    I next called upon the quorums and congregation of Saints to acknowledge the presidents of Seventies … and to uphold them by their prayers, which they did by rising. …

    The vote was unanimous in every instance, and I prophesied to all, that inasmuch as they would uphold these men in their several stations, … the Lord would bless them; yea, in the name of Christ, the blessings of heaven should be theirs.

    Let’s look inside those ellipses. Starting with the section on “Seventies,” the original text proceeds as follows:

    I next called upon the quorums and congregation of Saints to acknowledge the presidents of Seventies, who act as their representatives, as Apostles and special witnesses to the nations, to assist the Twelve in opening the Gospel kingdom among all people. and to uphold them by their prayers, which they did by rising.

    I then called upon the quorums and congregation of Saints to acknowledge the High Council of Kirtland, in all the authority of the Melchisedek Priesthood, and uphold them by their prayers, which they assented to by rising.

    I then called upon the quorums and congregation of Saints to acknowledge, and uphold by their prayers, the Bishops of Kirtland and Zion, and their counselors, in all the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood, which they did by rising.

    I next called upon the quorums and congregation of Saints to acknowledge the High Council of Zion, and uphold them by their prayers, in all the authority of the High Priesthood, which they did by rising.

    I then called upon the quorums and all the Saints to acknowledge the president of the Elders, and his counselors, and uphold them by their prayers, which they did by rising.

    The quorums and congregation of Saints were then called upon to acknowledge, and uphold by their prayers, the presidents and counselors, of the Priests, Teachers and Deacons, which they did by rising.

    The vote was unanimous in every instance, and I prophesied to all, that inasmuch as they would uphold these men in their several stations, (alluding to the different quorums in the Church), the Lord would bless them; yea, in the name of Christ, the blessings of heaven should be theirs; and when the Lord’s anointed go forth to proclaim the word, bearing testimony to this generation, if they receive it they shall be blessed; but if not, the judgments of God will follow close upon them, until that city or that house which rejects them, shall be left desolate.

    A few points are clearly obscured by the edits. First is Smith’s presentation of the Seventies as having an Apostolic office. This seems important to me, but perhaps we might let it slide. Second, and more important, is that this was in the original an affirmation of the divine callings of and a statement of support toward all people working in all callings then existing in the church. Rather than an affirmation of the distinctive importance of the highest church leadership, as the manual’s presentation implies, this was a more egalitarian event.

    Third, the final paragraph of the manual’s text appears to suggest that upholding the General Authorities is what is involved in receiving the Lord’s blessing and the blessings of heaven — when Joseph Smith instead taught that upholding basically everyone working in the church at every level was what brought about this blessing.

    This probably inadvertent misinterpretation of the original text is reinforced by the cut to the next quote, from an 1840 letter, that encourages the Saints to “hold up the hands of those who are appointed to direct the affairs of the Kingdom.” Overall, a substantially misleading impression of the Kirtland event as focused specifically on what we would now call General Authorities is created from an event that instead expressed our community’s mutual support among people leading at all levels. This impression was the product of a combination of ellipsis-style deletion and unfortunate juxtaposition of very different texts.

  22. I’m tired (bored silly) by the same-old same-old same-old stories, as if there were never more than three or four pioneers whose personal stories we tell over and over in lessons and over the pulpit.

    Oh, my. Yes! I feel to say, Amen!

    I agree; we’re going to have the same old topics. And it’s nice to hear them in fresh voices. But these guys actually had distinctive insights into those topics, too, and I think the editing often loses them. There’s not a mile’s distance between our positions here, Ardis; maybe an inch or two is all…

    Sam MB, thanks for the comment. And I mostly agree with you. I should reemphasize that this new manual is vastly improved over past editions. It actually acknowledges the fact that it’s engaged in history, historiography, and interpretation. I just wish it had been a bit more nimble in the interpretation. Whole speeches and texts could have been presented with footnotes, explanatory paragraphs inserted, and so forth to preserve something of Joseph Smith’s original voice and intentions while still reaching the modern audience. Instead, Joseph Smith ends up being a bit ghost-written here.

  23. You know what I found out in this post that is most shocking and disturbing? There are people who actually read the freaking Priesthood manual!?! I was handed the new manual in Elder’s Quorum today and came home and promptly put it up on my bookshelf for display purposes only. I expect it will remain there unless someone calls me to substitute teach, in which case I will probably open it about an hour before church, skim through the lesson to get the general topic down and highlight a few quotes, then start the class which will quickly degenerate into a discussion about whether or not it is OK to do yard work without your garments on. I don’t think the editing will effect that one way or the other.

  24. Cheers, kurt! You’re an example of what’s good and right with the world.

  25. JNS, I think I understand what you are saying now that you’ve added the clarification. One point first:

    We get into enough trouble trying to get past the way that we, our prophets and the Church is described by those who damn us that it’s hard to accept wording that says we don’t “trust” Joseph Smith. I know I initially read your post through the filter of the title – and was astonished at what I thought you were saying. I’m glad you clarified it.

    Personally, I think the editors would rather have everyone who reads the manual understand what is said than to have some who misunderstand it. That’s just another way to restate what Kevin and Nick said, but I think “distrust” is too strong and carries the wrong connotation. Not having read the manual, it is easy to believe they merely erred on the side of caution.

    Also, how many more pages do you think what you describe in #22 would add to the text? How many manuals do you think the Church will publish? Might there be very practical reasons to limit the amount of text in the manuals, as well?

  26. Ugly Mahana says:

    How does the inclusion of recent general conference talks in the program of study impact this analysis?

  27. Nick Literski says:

    #21:
    Overall, a substantially misleading impression of the Kirtland event as focused specifically on what we would now call General Authorities is created from an event that instead expressed our community’s mutual support among people leading at all levels. This impression was the product of a combination of ellipsis-style deletion and unfortunate juxtaposition of very different texts.

    Sometimes, I wonder how well read some members of the curriculum committee actually are, in terms of Mormon history. Rather than an intention to make the Kirtland event sound more like a modern general conference, perhaps these modern editors truly didn’t understand the distinctions, and thought they were clarifying matters.

  28. Ray, the manual could certainly be the same length and do something along the lines of #22. It would be a shift in emphasis, from presenting a wide variety of quotes that aren’t put in a context where we can understand them to presenting less material but aiding comprehension.

    Ugly Mahana, a great point! It seems that we are expected to be able to make sense of whole speeches — just not by anyone who is now dead.

    Nick, I think you may well be right; I don’t mean to imply that the distortions are deliberate.

  29. Behind the Curtain says:

    While I tend to agree with some of the sentiments expressed in this post (for instance, I would have loved to see at least the King Follett discourse printed in its entirety as a unit), there are a couple of things to bear in mind about these books.

    First, the topical approach, for better or worse, is the chosen format for delivering the teachings of the Presidents of the Church.

    Second, as Kevin said, the needs of Church members worldwide are taken into account. These books are translated into dozens of languages, and certain phrases or ideas may be difficult to translate or may cause confusion or distract from the message of the chapter. Yes, this may seem like a distrust of the Church President being quoted, or it may even seem paternalistic, but it is a consideration that the curriculum development team, the editors, and the General Authorities feel they need to keep in mind. I don’t think they’re saying to Church members, “You can’t handle the truth!” They themselves talk a great deal about how we shouldn’t coddle people (particularly the youth) but should give them pure doctrine. And it’s the teaching of doctrine they’re focused on.

    Third (and perhaps lamest of all), mundane considerations related to cost (for instance, page count) are, in fact, taken into consideration.

    Finally (hooray), I think we should be glad that this book was published at all. You wouldn’t believe what kind of scrutiny this project was placed under (by the compilers, editors, the Church History and Correlation Evaluation Divisions, and the General Authorities, including the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Joseph’s teachings are now available to more people than ever (dozens of languages—just think of it). That in itself is something to celebrate.

    (Please be gentle. This is my first attempt at posting.)

  30. Not really much to add, besides that I agree with Kevin, Ardis and Sam.

  31. BtC, Your second point, especially, is interesting. I had not considered the translation issue at all – self-centered American that I am.

  32. Oh, also, JNS, I think the title of your post is needlessly inflammatory.

  33. Behind the Curtain says:

    Ray: Thanks for the validation. Frankly, the translation issue is the reason behind many decisions regarding Church publications (perhaps too many decisions, really). It may not always seem like it, but the Church tries very hard not to appear Wasatch-Front-centric, Utah-centric, or U.S.-centric in its publications. And, for better or worse, some of the (relatively) esoteric concerns about historiography sometimes fall into that general category, it would seem.

  34. JNS, Kirtland was confusing, even for participants. There were at least two modes of understanding leadership then, an every-man-a-priest mode that you’re emphasizing, and a hierarchical one, which is emphasized in the manual. Both were present, even if you read the account without ellipses. I think it’s hard enough to satisfy the burden of historical evidence that interpreting the past into the present is a reasonable place to start.

  35. I feel differently- I appreciate the edits and hope they reflect the body of teachings our modern prophets consider sound and reliable, and I hope these teachings comprise the boundaries of Joseph’s teachings I am expected to believe.
    Looking through the manual, I don’t see Joseph’s teaching that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. I see the two-Jerusalem concept prominent in Chapter 15, but nothing about the location of the Garden.

  36. JNS (#21) Thanks for taking the time to lay that out. I see your point that the ellipses do change the interpretation of the document. I’m sympathetic to the call for fuller context but I also agree with Sam (#34) that parsing out the conflicting models of leadership in a SS class may require more than a few explanatory footnotes.

  37. I should note that many times, without editing, the text would be three or four times as large.

    In the sample given, it is twice as long.

    Some times the editors (a) do not read the text as you do and (b) are given to considerations about space.

    You do know that the original text of the “new” LDS Bible had three times as much space devoted to footnotes, and the committee wanted to add more. Eventually they settled for less, cutting the price of the finished volume by more than 50%.

  38. But I’ve always wondered — if these are really just topical lessons, why the president-of-the-church theme?

    My thought on this is that there is great value in seeing the consistency of the gospel through the decades and even centuries since the restoration, and even throughout time when prophets have been on the earth. I have loved to see how the basic truths of the gospel cut across time. There is certainly value in studying one prophet’s words in depth, but I think there is also value in this cross-sectional, longitudinal-like study of the words of the prophets throughout the history of the church. For our purposes at church, which I personally think should be doctrinally focused, I think wonderful to see the cohesiveness of the gospel principles, even if we don’t see the cohesiveness of each prophet’s teachings per se by having whole discourses presented.

  39. I think we just have to accept that the manual is not really intended to present the “teachings of Joseph Smith.” It is intended to present and reinforce current church teachings, using Joseph Smith quotes as proof-texts.

    This does make some sense, since most of our current church teachings originate with Joseph Smith, or were at least taught by him at some point. Also, an important pillar of our faith is the idea that JS was a chosen prophet, so it makes sense to try to give the members some more concrete sense of his personality and teaching style. But you are right that nobody should think they are getting a balanced or comprehensive look at the development of content of Joseph’s teachings. (At least I assume you’re right…I haven’t actually looked at the manual.)

  40. In scripture, the Editor has always had more power than the Prophet.

    Hopefully Justin will do the business this year.

  41. My thought on this is that there is great value in seeing the consistency of the gospel through the decades and even centuries since the restoration, and even throughout time when prophets have been on the earth.

    m&m, this view is exactly what correlation is trying to make you believe. While I do believe that there are same very basic aspects of the gospel that have been consistently taught from the beginnings of the restoration (and by ‘very basic, i mean a general VERY basic), there is a lot of inconsistency in the teachings of the church. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that many of the church teachings were standardized and made consistent. I believe this is one of the frustrations that JNS and others are feeling about these manuals: correlation is feigning a consistency that just doesn’t exist. For example, Joseph Smith’s views and teachings about God drastically changed from his first vision to his sermon in the grove. Revelation and progression does that sort of thing. Joseph’s Kirtland theology was much different from his Nauvoo theology. I haven’t checked up on it in the manual yet, but I would be pretty certain that the manual is going to treat Joseph Smith’s teachings as if they were consistent and non-contradictory over time, only ‘adding’ new and complimentary doctrines. The fact is that Joseph’s teachings about God often contradicted his previous teachings. New revelations taught him that his previous beliefs were wrong. I am pretty certain that the manual would depict things quite differently. The same goes with Joseph’s teachings about salvation, ordinances, priesthood, ecclesiology, and a myriad of other things.

    Even more troublesome is Correlations tendency to revise previous prophets teachings to be consistent with standard teachings and doctrines today. I would bet that Joseph’s radical teachings on eternal marriage are edited to appear more like today’s eternal ideal conservative nuclear family. What about the names of Jehovah and Elohim? Are they left interchangeable as Joseph used them, or have the texts been carefully chosen and edited to reflect James Talmage’s Elohim=Father & Jehovah=Son standardization? Is there recognition of Joseph’s desire for a robust individual autonomy and extensive personal revelation for every member of the church, or have they made Joseph whole-heartedly defend the modern church’s desire for near-sheepish obedience to it’s leaders? Again, the list could go on…

  42. Thomas Parkin says:

    Strikes me that the 121st Section, Joseph (“Smith” is a little distancing, isn’t it?) at his very best, is also ‘redacted.’ (‘Redacted’ is a fancy pants way of saying ‘edited’, btw.) Now, I love the whole bit, but somewhere sometime someone decided that the whole thing wasn’t going to be canonized. Well, they’d done got the authority to do that, I always figgered. Apparently if I want a more comprehensive encounter with Joseph’s style, the evolution of his thinking, and whatnot, I’m going to have to seek it out on my own.

    There are fine members in my Sunday School class that might have difficulty spelling Joseph’s name correctly. I’m 100% serious. How are these peoples needs best accomodated? And what are their most pressing needs: learning the principles that can lead them to God, or getting a good feel for Joseph’s personality and a full exposition of doctrines that have been / are being (wisely, almost always) left behind? As far as that goes: what are my most pressing needs? I used to hate ‘back-to-basics’ kind of rhetoric. I always assumed that we should be getting past all that, and that we should have some broader forum for getting past it. Thing is, I’m not doing so great with faith and repentance that the need for it is receding while my need to know whether or not divine sexual relations produce spirit babies is foregrounding.

    Isn’t the process of growing, collectively as well as individually, line upon line and precept upon precept, sometimes a matter of subtraction? Not only augmenting doctrines, but trimming off the inessential to get to the heart of the matter? If old understandings are trimmed away, and those understandings are the heart of the matter, then there is a problem. But, and maybe it’s just that I’m that much older – but I’m keenly aware that there just isn’t time to do every dang thing. There is not the time to say and do every worthwhile thing. Whatever is chosen, something is lost. I feel quite strongly that the church is progressing in its understandings of core doctrines, both individually and collectively. I see evidence of it all the time. In 1000 years, we might not know anything more of Joseph’s personality and evolution than we know of, say, Peter’s, or, heck Elijah’s. That’s a loss. But we will still understand the importance of the part he played in the story. He laid the foundation, he did not model every element of the superstructure. Right?

    Loyd,

    Baaaaaaa!! Baaaaaaa!!!!

    ~

  43. I would not mind getting the full, unedited teachings if they were pure; the fact is, they’re likely not, and I think it is well within the scope of modern prophethood to sort through and discard the elements of his teachings that we no longer consider reliable, given improvements in our understanding.

  44. JNS, I think that your example in # 13 actually cuts against your argument in the main post.

    A few chapters in the Joseph Smith manual are somewhat better than the norm for this series in terms of editorial intervention, by the way. These chapters present a single document in its original order; texts include the canonized Joseph Smith History, the Wentworth Letter, and some others. Yet even these chapters have deletions marked by ellipses. Oddly, this is even the case in the canonized Joseph Smith History; for some reason, verses 1-4 and verse 6 were deemed surplus to requirements. Verse 6, of course, is an important substantive part of the account, providing a particularly vivid sense of how Joseph Smith thought about the apostasy.

    What this example seems to show is that material from this selection was replaced with ellipses not because of any distrust of Joseph Smith but because the editors of the manual might have been trying to save space and limit the quote to material immediately relevant to the topic being discussed. This inference seems to follow more straightforwardly from the omission than yours because, as you note, the material that has been ommitted is actually canonized scripture. Rather than showing any kind of latent distrust of Joseph Smith’s teachings, this seems to show that even where canonized scripture is being quoted ellipses are sometimes used, which in turns implies that the ellipses are being used for normal editorial purposes, i.e. to get rid of material not immediately relevant to the topic that the quote at issue is being used to support.

    None of this, however, avoids the conclusion in # 39, and also smb’s point, that the way these manuals are used are as proof-texts, which is always unsatisfying for people with more detailed historical or contextual interests. The trick is making sure that by taking this editorial route one is not inadvertently presenting misleading information. Hopefully the editorial intrusions in the new manual do not have that effect.

  45. Dan Ellsworth’s comments reflect exactly the kind of distrust of Joseph Smith that I find prevalent and disheartening in these edits. Dan, your perspective is logical even though I disagree. I think it’s quite likely that the people who produced this manual agree with you. I think the reasons why we should see changes in understanding since Joseph Smith as necessarily improvements needs further argument. It isn’t obviously false, but it isn’t obviously true either.

    Behind the Curtain, translation is of course its own issue, and one that has been problematic in this manual series. For example, as I noted some years back in a different post, the David O. McKay manual in Spanish informs readers that McKay is kind of worshiped (venerar, the word used for praying to and lighting candles to Catholic saints) by the members of the church. So I acknowledge the translation issues and the fact that the church hasn’t yet resolved them. That said, very nearly none of the ellipsis edits that I’ve source-checked in this text involve words or phrases that are harder to translate than the material actually included in the text.

    Regarding page counts, this is certainly a red-herring issue. Is it really better to print a larger number of quotes that few people will be able to understand, or a smaller selection of material with the tools for comprehension? Especially if the belief is that people can’t get much out of the material, the choice for the second option should be automatic, I would think.

    smb and David, I agree that Kirtland leadership wasn’t fully egalitarian. However, the event in question was substantially more so than the manual now presents it. In particular, the manual’s presentation badly distorts the preconditions for Joseph Smith’s promised blessings from heaven. The passage seems to have been included specifically to get that blessing message and to attach it to the concept of supporting General Authorities. In the original, it just doesn’t to that (skipping the fact that, at Kirtland, the Seventies certainly weren’t the equivalent of what we would call General Authorities, and the High Council may also have at least as good claim for such status at that time than the Twelve). If this material is too complex to explain, wouldn’t it have been better to omit it altogether, rather than use it in a way that is badly misleading and distorted?

    John F., unfortunately, the omissions are often misleading, as with the Kirtland example that creates a promised blessing on terms different than Joseph Smith taught. Several other examples are of this nature. I don’t think the First Vision omissions are misleading in the same way; I mentioned that example because it seems bizarre to mostly but not completely reprint material that’s in everyone’s scriptures. The First Vision omission does, however, follow a general trend throughout the manual to exclude statements in which Joseph Smith characterizes other religions. So there is a kind of substantive censorship involved, even there.

  46. I think Lloyd makes a very good point – a point very salient to the modern church. If the Prophet’s teachings and ideas had been presented in such a way as to show that many of the major details changed over time, it could really reinforce the idea that truly surprising revelation is a continuing phenomenon. That’s an incredibly important fact – when church members really understand that continuing revelation isn’t always “line upon line, precept on precept” but occasionally, “forget the old line, forget the old precept, here’s a better way for you to understand truth”, then it’s easier for them to deal with, say, the fact that polygamy happened, that it was declared an immutable, and that it was then eliminated (through revelation!). Or that our ancestors’ original understanding of eternal families was more generally incomplete, and Wilford Woodruff was given divine clarification. Or, heck, that Heavenly Father occasionally desires us to make other mountainous shifts in our practice (as with the 1978 revelation).

    We are a church which constantly reminds itself that the Gospel never changes – and then we, as lay members, casually include every jot and tittle of current church policy and every last detail of current doctrine in our definition of “the Gospel”, rather than confining that term to the good news as outlined in our scriptures (see 3 Nephi ch. 27). Because of this, we are in constant danger of rejecting truly changing revelation when it comes. In recent decades, we haven’t had any surprises like Wilford Woodruff’s revelations, or President Kimball’s revelation on the priesthood. But I worry that, next time such a revelation happens – some truly major change which redefines our religion, though not the Gospel – we’ll have more difficulty with the idea of change, because we’ve forgotten that it’s one of the most basic reasons God has given us prophets.

    Joseph Smith’s life and teachings, which did change radically over time on pretty much everything except the Book of Mormon basics, are an excellent, instructive example of the way that God not only builds our understanding, but changes it. And while I think the manual is a great improvement over some of the prior ones, I do think it really obscures this vital lesson. I don’t know whether that’s due to correlation, to distrust of the Prophet or members of the church, whether it’s due to simple paternalism, or whether it’s simply the result of the mindset I describe above. It doesn’t much matter to me – I just wish the opportunity had been taken to better advantage.

    I do love the fact that the manual will probably help people get comfortable with primary source work, but that’s my inner schoolteacher talking.

  47. JNS, my point was that inserting ellipses into a selection that is found in canonized scripture reflects that this is done for the more mundane editorial reasons of space and direct relevance. After all, it is readily available in a canonized source — something that simply can’t be hidden — so this cuts against the idea of distrusting Joseph Smith or trying to change his message.

  48. Re: #43

    I would not mind getting the full, unedited teachings if they were pure; the fact is, they’re likely not, and I think it is well within the scope of modern prophethood to sort through and discard the elements of his teachings that we no longer consider reliable, given improvements in our understanding.

    A couple points–

    I might be able to swallow a heavily edited, simplified manual that is merely intended to stimulate topical discussions, were Joseph Smith’s “full, unedited teachings” made available to members in some other widely circulated, official publication. But they aren’t. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith is probably the closest thing, but it is not an “official” publication and is itself decontextualized and heavily edited.). While I don’t deny the importance of focusing on teachings that are relevant to modern life, I think we do ourselves a disservice when we study these portions of Joseph’s sermons to the exclusion of everything else. Members of the Church should know Joseph Smith better than anybody else–and that includes knowing things he taught and things he did that don’t fit well with the gospel as currently taught.

    Additionally, I think we sometimes conflate the actions of General Authorities with those of Correlation. Sure, Correlation works under GAs’ guidance, but to justify their editing on the ground that it falls within the “scope of modern prophethood to sort through and discard the elements of his teachings that we no longer consider reliable” is puzzling, because last time I checked, the Correlation Committee is not sustained as “prophets, seers, and revelators.” And if Leonard Arrington’s experience as Church historian is any indication, GAs themselves sometimes recognize the limitations and shortcomings of Correlation, particularly when it comes to historical work (certain GAs instructed Arrington not to submit the history department’s publications to Correlation). I don’t think the Correlation Committee is entitled to the degree of deference that they often receive.

  49. Thomas Parkin #42: Thing is, I’m not doing so great with faith and repentance that the need for it is receding…

    I think you’ve provided the main reason ANY new manual contains the topics and lesson material that they do, not withstanding the excellent points BtC made in #29. There are many people who would like more “meat” of the gospel. But the truth of it is that the vast majority still need to digest the milk and grain. If you need proof, ask your Ward/Branch Clerk for an Abbreviated Address List and then highlight the people who do not attend church more than once a month. You may not even recognize 10-15% of the names listed. (This is assuming you live outside of Utah and your Ward boundaries are larger than a 6×6 block area.) We know more insight will come when more people are living the gospel on a daily basis rather than once in a while.

  50. #46

    But I worry that, next time such a revelation happens – some truly major change which redefines our religion, though not the Gospel – we’ll have more difficulty with the idea of change, because we’ve forgotten that it’s one of the most basic reasons God has given us prophets.

    I don’t think a revelation like this will pass Correlation.

  51. I don’t think a revelation like this will pass Correlation.

    Best comment on the entire thread.

  52. One sure way to comment successfully is to blame “correlation” for everything that bothers you about the church.

    Do not like a new manuel? Blame correlation
    Want to revise the YM program? Blame correlation
    Did not get the call at the bball game against the second ward last winter? The culprit? You guessed it Correlation of course

    the Correlation committee seems to have mystical powers for bad. Its like blaming the neo cons in politics

  53. Who do you blame, bbell?

  54. #42 Thomas Parkin: Amen, and amen. I agree with your comments.

    The PH/RS manual is a step up- line upon line, toward better Church History for lay membership. I would prefer a more scholarly, less edited approach, but I enjoy that stuff. Knowing the cultural nuances is interesting, at times very enlightening, but the hour we spend a week in ph/rs seems to be a “word of wisdom” approach. This is meant to include as many saints as is practically possible while teaching gospel principles, not specific historical instances. History plays a part, to be sure, but again, we are dealing with a “lesser law” type mentality. That’s fine with me; I can go pick up some books aside from the ones given at Church and read to my hearts content. Maybe (if I wasn’t in primary) I could even include some interesting factoids in the lessons to help illuminate the background better, by constraint of the Spirit.

  55. I don’t know who bbell blames, but I blame Snufalupagus :). (Did I spell that correctly?)

  56. J. Nelson: I know you made a good effort, but I don’t think you realize all the work, study and prayer that went into putting the manual together. If you do realize it, you didn’t put much weight in it, and preferred the manual to suit your tastes. The title of the post “Why don’t we trust Joseph Smith,” is unfortunate.

  57. Steve Evans says:

    JNS, I blame it on the rain.

  58. BHodges, why do you think the title is unfortunate? I think it reflects the situation. The manual certainly does reflect a lot of work and study, and I’ll take it as given that prayer went into it, as well. Yet the final product is one that I think won’t really push our members — spiritually or intellectually. As many commenters above have noted, this manual like the others in the series has been tailored to tell our people what we already think. That strikes me as a missed opportunity, don’t you think? Furthermore, there seems to be a touch of something like self-deception in putting out a book that is carefully tailored to say what we think about the gospel — not what Joseph Smith thought — and then calling that book “The Teachings of Joseph Smith.”

  59. Steve and Taryn, I think the true and living answer is: blame Canada.

  60. Nick Literski says:

    The important question, JNS, is “what would Brian Boitano do?”

  61. Steve, you’re my hero with that comment.

  62. Ugly Mahana says:

    “there seems to be a touch of something like self-deception in putting out a book that is carefully tailored to say what we think about the gospel — not what Joseph Smith thought — and then calling that book “The Teachings of Joseph Smith.””

    Perhaps. Then again, I’ve always thought about the manuals the same way I think about Bartlett’s Quotations. They provide great talking points, but should not be used to footnote a dissertation.

    “Yet the final product is one that I think won’t really push our members — spiritually or intellectually.”

    I have to disagree here. In the hands of skilled teachers, the manuals have served as a strong impetus to me to improve spiritually. I don’t think those who prepare the manuals are being disingenuous in what they present. We all know the quotes are taken out of context. We know we could follow the footnotes to read them in the original. We know some originals would be easier than others to find. The emphasis is not on the prophet we are studying, but rather on the messages the prophet taught.

  63. Ugly Mahana, you say, “The emphasis is not on the prophet we are studying, but rather on the messages the prophet taught.” Not so. The editing obscures the messages originally taught, replacing them to a greater or lesser extent with ideas they didn’t teach any may not have accepted. This is the problem here, in my view.

  64. because last time I checked, the Correlation Committee is not sustained as “prophets, seers, and revelators.”

    No, but they are called and sustained by prophets, seers and revelators. If the prophets think they are doing their job well, do we really want to suggest otherwise? :)

  65. Ugly Mahana says:

    JNS:

    To be clear, then, your concern is not that there is editing, or even heavy editing (by itself), but that composition takes place in the name of editing.

  66. And actually, I shouldn’t have included a smiley, because I really mean that. But you know, I do like smileys.

  67. Steve Evans says:

    m&m, ultimately we’re all called and sustained by prophets, seers and revelators. I don’t think any of us are beyond reproach in how we perform our duties in our callings. In the case of the correlation committee, things are even murkier — these people are not lay clergy, they are employees. Should they not be subject to review and criticism for the performance of the tasks for which they are paid?

  68. Yet the final product is one that I think won’t really push our members — spiritually or intellectually.

    There are a few chapters specifically I believe will push the members. In general, we all need some pushing. Your pushing compels you to seek further light and knowledge in additional study, the internet, conversation, etc. We’re not all on the same level, however. Hence my comparison to the word of Wisdom motif.

    As many commenters above have noted, this manual like the others in the series has been tailored to tell our people what we already think. That strikes me as a missed opportunity, don’t you think?

    Had I been on the committee I believe I would have encouraged things more along the lines of what you have outlined, and appreciate your honest approach at what you believe falls short. I advise you to contact a GA or a member of the committee and sound off, as well. A missed opportunity? Probably. To the detriment of the overall plan of God? Probably not. As I said, I think it is a step in the right direction.

    Furthermore, there seems to be a touch of something like self-deception in putting out a book that is carefully tailored to say what we think about the gospel — not what Joseph Smith thought — and then calling that book “The Teachings of Joseph Smith.”

    Not really sure how to address this, but there really isn’t a way to avoid such editing, though it can be approached in a broad or narrow way, depending on the editors. As an aside, if you haven’t already, I suggest checking out “That Noble Dream,” by Peter Novick.

  69. Oh, BHodges, pulling out the big guns. I’m not invoking the specter of “objectivity” here. But it does seem to me that we can fairly distinguish between texts that try to bring us out of ourselves and into another’s world — albeit inevitably partially and with distortions — and those that try to rework that foreign world into harmony with our preconceptions. I’m guessing you’d agree with that distinction, and my disappointment here is that the manual continues to do the latter even though it packages itself as the former.

    Is the manual a detriment to God’s plan? I guess pretty much everything mortals do is a detriment to God’s plan, and probably also simultaneously the fulfillment of that plan. But I don’t think this manual will send the kingdom crashing to the ground, if that’s what you mean. In terms of several formal criteria involving source work, I agree that the manual is a step in the right direction. In terms of the main text — which is really all most members will interact with — it’s really no step in any direction; the text is handled in much the same way as others in this series. I had hoped for much more, since this is Joseph Smith we’re talking about. The text is more than Gospel Essentials but much less than church manuals of earlier times, when B. H. Roberts was writing the texts. Oh, well; as with several other commenters above, I suspect that our positions aren’t actually that far apart on this.

  70. JNS,

    I doubt its realy possible to craft a manuel based on the teachings of a prophet that would both satisfy the general church’s need for a teaching manual and satisfy critical LDS academics. They are 2 vastly different audiences.

  71. Steve Evans says:

    bbell, even if you struck the word “critical” from your sentence I think you might be right. But I would have liked, along with JNS, to have a manual with a little more bite, perhaps.

  72. My first thought when I saw the printed manual for the first time yesterday was “That’s a fat manual, a lot bigger than any of the earlier ones.” With 532 pages of lessons plus a 25 page historical summary, it’s 30% longer than the Joseph F. Smith manual, 55% longer than the Brigham Young manual. I suspect it’ll do well enough for those who will use it to prepare for quorum, group, and society meetings.

  73. JNS,
    I think this is what you meant to say:

    [T]he manual [is] more than basically current-day Gospel Essentials…

    I’m delighted to hear it.

  74. Who is RT and why do the editors think we are too fragile to read his/her words?

  75. Ronan, you’re right that the comment got gnarled up. Actually I left out the comparison I meant to make, to B.H. Roberts’ manuals of an earlier generation — a set of books that provide a standard for church instruction that I think hasn’t been even approximated since. I’ve taken advantage of permablogger privileges to rewrite my comment along the lines it was supposed to be.

    bbell, I’m not thinking of this book as a critical sourcebook for academic work. My complaints are specifically about how it seems to fall short as a teaching text.

    John Mansfield, I guess the major standard of evaluation shouldn’t be length, though. The manual could have been half as long and still pleased me a great deal more. It could have been topically-organized and pleased me a great deal more. What I’m asking for is pretty simple: don’t make deletions that change the sense of a passage, and do provide a brief introduction to each passage that explains where it comes from, what Joseph Smith was talking about, and who the audience was. That said, I agree that the manual will produce lessons for group meetings that will be basically indistinguishable from those based on other manuals.

    Pheo, RT is me. Sorry — insider code. I started blogging under the pseudonym RoastedTomatoes.

  76. For a volume that every adult is going to carry with her to Church, length is an important standard. I hate needing to bring a tote bag to worship services. You write, Brother J., that a manual half as long would suit you fine, but you only mention things that you want put in that aren’t there. I guess you want those things added into half the lessons, and the other half deleted, a workable choice perhaps.

  77. these people are not lay clergy, they are employees.

    Actually, Steve, this may be true for a couple of people (I just called one of my friends who is on the committee to find out for sure but the person was not home), but most are given callings for this responsibility, and no moola.

    ultimately we’re all called and sustained by prophets, seers and revelators.

    None of us is given the authority, though, to put the Church’s official stamp of approval on material for the whole world to read, and these people are. If the prophets are comfortable enough with what is being correlated to call it approved in the name of the Church, it seems to me we ought to give that serious consideration and respect. I think anyone on correlation would recognize that they aren’t perfect, but I have heard enough about how things work, and this manual in particular, to have a great deal of confidence and excitement about the process and about this manual in particular.

  78. JNS,

    Your criticism seems very academic in nature. Most run of the mill type members would not approach the manuel in the same manner in which you did here at BCC.

    As a regular EQ instructor the manuel works just fine. All a good teacher needs is 5-7 good quotes on a relevant topic and its off to the races. The teacher is promoting gospel living at its most basic level. be honest, love your neighbor, redeem the dead, do your HT etc. The class need not be concerned to much about how JS theology evolved as he learned line upon line as his ministry progressed.

  79. bbell, I agree — most of our lessons aren’t really focused on what Joseph Smith or Spencer W. Kimball or whoever actually taught. We use the lesson manuals to provide quotes that illustrate our beliefs and opinions. Sometimes that promotes gospel living, but sometimes it doesn’t. But, look, if we don’t care what Joseph Smith taught about this stuff, we ought to be a bit more upfront about that. The pretense of these manuals is that we’re learning about each of these men and even getting testimonies of their ministries. The manuals don’t really do what they could to facilitate that, do they?

    By the way, if it’s academic to complain when editors change the meaning of what a text said, then I suppose Joseph Smith was an academic whenever he discussed the apostasy.

  80. There can be a difference in how the lay members of the church approach these manuals, versus how we might look at them. Yet, I like the comment that they are good starting points for discussion in the hands of a good instructor.

    A case in point had to do with yesterday’s HP lesson from the SWK manual about sustaining our leaders. The manual said some pretty specific things, but the instructor asked the question, “Can we ever get in trouble by obeying our leaders in all things?”. There was quick response from several quorum members, essentially saying, no, we’ll never get in trouble.

    Our instructor then pointed out that one of the leaders of the Iron County Militia involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre was the stake president, and said that following him was obviously a mistake. Certainly that was not in the manual, but was actually handled pretty well for the short time allowed.

    Of course, there are the standard injunctions about bringing in material that is not in the lesson manuals, so we still have a problem, don’t we?

  81. JNR (75),

    That said, I agree that the manual will produce lessons for group meetings that will be basically indistinguishable from those based on other manuals.
    I mentioned that in a quorum meeting once in Orem, UT. A member of our EQ presidency noted that only two guys had brought their manuals to class, and he asked how many had read the lesson beforehand, and one guy raised his hand. He then asked for us to speak honestly about why we don’t use the manual, and I raised my hand and said I didn’t see anything there that differed in any meaningful way from the quotes in the previous manual. That remark set off a firestorm of spirited “defense” of the manuals from a large quorum of men who had just acknowledged they don’t use them at all.

    The Joseph Smith manual has some unique material in it, though; I think it does present some unique ideas this time around.

    The book comes with this statement in the introduction, however:

    “This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day.”

    Hence the generous editing.

  82. JNS (75),
    Sorry for calling you JNR in my last post; that may have been a reference to the greatest electronics store in the world, in NYC.

  83. Dan, to be fair, the “application to our day” thing is the manual’s explanation for why polygamy and the law of consecration are excluded from the discussion. The manual doesn’t explain or even hint that Smith’s thought is edited in fine-grained detail to remove ideas that may not be common in current Mormon discourse. If it had, so that there wasn’t the possibility that people would feel they had really seen Joseph Smith’s thought in this manual, I’d have much less of a complaint.

  84. J. N-S, every time you mention the real Joseph Smith that is being hidden from us, I think of the graphical depiction on your old website of Joseph Smith as a sort of revolutionary caudillo.

  85. I would only point out that correlation is to protect the church membership from my liberal agenda just as much as it fuards against the neocon down the street.

    In other words, while I chafe under the correlation guidelines from time to time, I recognize why they are there. Yeah, the material gets simplified, but we are dealing with multiple millions of members, and not just the smart academics, lawyers, and tech guys and gals here in the bloggernacle.

    While we know we all can be trusted, we just don’t know about the rest of them, right?

    JNS, I respect you, and understand where you are coming from here, but I don’t like the title of your post. It is absolutely not about trusting Joseph Smith, but knowing the broader demographic. I’m sure you meant that you hoped we could be trusted with the truth, not “You can’t handle the truth!”

  86. Typed too fast, fuards=guards in # 85. Drat.

  87. Jonathan K says:

    #68 “Had I been on the committee…”

    I haven’t seen the manual yet, but one way to quickly get better results in all things is to not use committees, in my opinion. Past manuals I have seen could have been done better by an individual rather than a committee. Hiring someone like Bushman to create the manual would not only be cheaper, but amazingly better. We should use the talents of individuals in the church better. Committees don’t have talents…

  88. #77

    m&m, if the manual consisted of a few doodles and a collection of Shel Silverstein poems, I am pretty sure you would be saying the exact same thing about the manual. If the manual said that Joseph taught that God was a giant purple hamburger eating monster, you’d still be praising the inspiration of the book because it was commissioned by Correlation. There is no discussion possible with you.

  89. Bless your mean, lousy, intolerant heart, Loyd.

  90. kevinf, I don’t really know. There are certainly meanings of the title that I don’t intend. But given that the edits do tend to suppress specific themes in Joseph Smith’s thought — they aren’t just for reading comprehension or whatever but actually alter substance — I still feel that the title is appropriate as I intended it. I think there’s an inadvertent lack of trust in Joseph Smith’s presentation of the gospel involved when we reedit that presentation to remove some ideas and themes.

    John Mansfield, yeah, I love that image. Let me reiterate that I don’t think there’s a “hidden Joseph Smith” here so much as a murky and probably unintentionally distorted one. Some of his ideas are systematically lost and others are clouded.

  91. Steve,

    I prefer “caustic and cynical heart,” but “mean, lousy, intolerant heart” works just as well. I got a nice lesson on my rhetoric from my brother a couple weeks ago. Still haven’t quite applied it yet.

    I’ll try harder.

  92. Loyd,

    Have a care, man! I’ll not have the author of Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree dragged through the same mud as The Committee. Have you no shame, Sir?

  93. Is this type of editing/changing/altering context by correlation at least somewhat to blame for the crises of faith experienced by some when they realize what they’ve been taught, lo these however many years, doesn’t conform to the complete version of our doctrine?

  94. #88 – What specifically did m&m say in #77 that was so egregious?

    How’s this: What an over-the-top, hateful thing to say to someone who contributes thoughtfully and often profoundly – simply because you don’t agree. Is that better?

    I happen to agree with everything m&m said and most of what JNS said. I guess that gives me multiple personalities – or makes me a flip-flopper – or a jellyfish with no background – or another label you would like to throw around.

    Back to the actual discussion . . .

  95. Oh Ray.

  96. I’m going to make a general observation to my good friends here, and maybe it reflects more on me than on the bloggernacle, but here goes.

    I’ve really appreciated what I have learned, and enjoyed the dialog that has taken place on these pages over the last year so so that I’ve been reading and commenting. I do think of you folks as friends of a sort, and truly appreciate the knowledge and testimony of the participants here. I am in no way taking a cheap shot here, but I have particularly found the tone of last Friday’s firestorm and this particular thread a little uncomfortable. It’s not the topics, it’s not the discourse, but for some reason, I’m struggling with the air in the room.

    The ‘nacle is a great resource and source of comfort for me, but why does it feel like a family argument at Thanksgiving recently?

  97. BTW, my # 95 doesn’t mean I’m going away, just sharing my thoughts.

  98. Kevinf, I submit that finding the tone of a Friday Firestorm to be objectionable is at the same time both obvious and impossible. It’s just a quote, man.

    But otherwise, yeah, I know what you mean. Not to worry! Holiday cheer is heading your way. Soon BCC will be naught but sugarplums and jolly folks with bellies that jiggle.

    Others argue that BCC is already in such a state.

  99. JNS (90),
    I agree that the title is appropriate, and my answer is that we do trust Joseph Smith on some things, but others, not so much. I believe that he was a prophet, but I also believe he had a very active imagination and he responded to a lot of things in life in a way typical of people of his time and place.
    If someone were making a book of valuable things I have experienced and said, I would hope a committee would take the editing pen to items that represent my active imagination, my Southern California rudeness, things I have said in moments of emotion, and so on.

  100. I thought you’d respond, Steve. :-) I just wanted to make a simple point. It was heavy-handed, I know – and I really should have read #91 before I wrote mine. mea culpa for that particular oversight – especially since I typically gripe when someone comments without reading the previous comments.

  101. Ray, I am not accustomed to people with zero authority behave like admins, but I suppose such is the brave new world of BCC.

  102. I haven’t read through it, but generally I think they use the quote to support the lesson and leave out the rest.

    If that means we don’t get to go on an interesting and edifying tangent so be it. That’s not the objective of that particular lesson.

    I’m fine with that. I’d prefer not to have every quoted passage backed up with historical context and unbridged quotations. Then I’d be reading a history book, not a lesson manual with a very clear and focused point.

    If you’re suggestiong that the lesson manual could be better, I’d probably agree. If you’re suggestion that in it’s current form this manual or any of the previous ones are not “good enough” then I’d disagree.

    Which is it?

  103. Steve,
    So no firestorm without a fire, eh? It may just be my age. Just so you know, this is the season when I work on my belly that jiggles. People have been tossing Ferrerro Rocher chocolates around the office today, so I’m off to a good start.

  104. I’m sorry, Steve, if I have done that. That wasn’t my intention; not at all.

  105. Mark,

    Sorry. I just purchased Silverstein’s three collections for my nephews for Christmas, and so they were the first things that came to mind.

    Ray,

    my reply to m&m was partly reactive to a similar discussion (and her discussion ending comments) on ‘various stages of mormondom’

  106. Ray, you have a tender place in my heart.

  107. Steve (101),

    If you keep making comments like that to poor Ray, we’ll have to put you in moderation.

  108. Kaimi, my thoughts exactly!

  109. Sam, # 102.

    Yes, we think they could be better. Not good enough? I think that’s why we’re having the discussion. I’ve noticed in past manuals some editing that I found, um, odd or convenient. FWIW, each manual normally includes an invitation to give them feedback, which I have done in the past, and they are nice enough to respond (whoever “they” are). So we’re not bad guys, we just want to help the church be the best church it can.

    And also score some more pumpkin pie with real whipped cream, not that cool whip crap.

  110. Ugly Mahana says:

    “I haven’t read through it, but generally I think they use the quote to support the lesson and leave out the rest.”

    This is a very interesting quote to me, because I often have opportunity to teach from the manuals. And when I do, I do not use all of the quotes (how could you, given time constraints?). I notice that even when instructors teach from assigned conference talks, they select some thoughts from the talk for discussion, and leave the rest out. So, maybe the creators of the manuals do the same. They select quotes for application to the lesson subject, and leave the rest out. It seems that the space for argument there is not that they do it, but that they replace the teacher’s prerogative to decide what to teach and not teach with their own. On the other hand, it does allow instructors with a wide variety of preparation and understanding to competently teach.

  111. I know when I teach, I only use 4-6 paragraphs anyway. They should just have me edit the edited manual, and it will be as think as the Sunday School handouts.

  112. think = thick

  113. Ray, just am jumping in to say thanks. Sorry you got ‘in trouble’ on my behalf. I appreciate your voice in the ‘nacle for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that you appear to me to just be a nice guy, in a no-respecter-of-persons kind (the best kind) of a way. Keep it up.

  114. I’m bewildered why any LDS member would limit their knowledge of Joseph Smith to officially sanctioned texts.

    Over the years I have been able to read actual letters the Prophet wrote both to Emma and other members of the church. These original source documents can be found at non-LDS libraries and shed an unedited light into his writings.

    Other sources include the diaries of William Clayton, Wilford Woodruff, and prominent church members of the Nauvoo period. Signature Books is also a great resource.

    There is no reason to limit your knowledge if you’re truly interested in peering into the writings of this remarkable man.

  115. Jon,

    I’ve read two biographies of Joseph Smith so far (most recently RSR), but going beyond that…there’s only so much time in a day, and so many other things I want to learn about. I don’t want the Church exerting influence in the biographical works I read, but when it comes to sorting through his teachings to arrive at what is reliable and what is not, I do appreciate the Church’s hand in making those judgments.
    That said, I know it’s conjecture of me to say that the official publications delineate what is now considered reliable- everyone has their own rule on those things. Mine is the ten year rule: as Zelph has not reared his head in any official publications in the past ten years, I consider him a figment of Joseph’s imagination.

  116. #101, Steve, I’m amazed. Haven’t you lived through “every member a mission president”? People with zero authority acting like admins is common behavior for Mormons!

    Now, apologize to Ray for being mean to him.

  117. That’s funny, Ann – but I have no authority to ask for an apology. *grin* Beside, Steve knows he has a tender place in my heart, as well.

  118. I try to steer clear of Ray’s tender places. Ann — chortle.

  119. Thank you, God!

  120. I miss Zelph, the Garden in Missouri, Eternal Progression leading to Godhood and Eternal baby making, The Three Nephites, Kolob being the star nearest to Elohims home planet. I miss being a peculiar people. Those of us that were raised in the church through the seventies and eighties remember the thrill of learning these teachings. I would love to sit in on a seminary class today. It would be interesting to see how far correlation has moved the church into the mainstream of Christianity.

  121. John W. – First of all, I haven’t heard any of these doctrines repudiated. And I’ve both been taught and have taught about Godhood and Eternal baby making. And I still love singing “If you could hie to Kolob”. Lastely, I just got through teaching the whole peculiar people bit from 1 Peter, and the meaning of peculiar is to be a special possession, not to be an odd duck.

  122. Check out the article on FoxNews.com. It asks the Church 21 questions on Mormon theology. The answers are ridiculous. I don’t know why the Church is running from doctrines that I hold as sacred.

    John

  123. Steve Evans says:

    John w., how about because they are unimportant?

  124. I’ve mentioned this in other blogs, but I think there is something wrong with that article. For a few of the answers they gave the exact same answer, word for word, which seems to indicate to me that the answers they put on their were to different questions, or at least, the wording of the questions were different than how they are listed in the article.

  125. Oh! And do you seriously think that the location of Kolob is a doctrine that we should hold sacred?

  126. JNS,
    Assuming this discussion isn’t already gasping its dying breaths, I think the larger problem isn’t what the institutional Church/CC has done with this particular manual; it’s that BYU still won’t republish WJS and you have to go to places like SB to read EJS. Every time a serious LDS scholar (Jesse, Ehat) starts to do serious scholarly work on JS, they are asked to put on the breaks. How many copies of his elusive MA Thesis do you think Ehat could sell right now if he wasn’t being pressured by the Church not to publish it (and he is, btw)?

    I don’t care nearly as much about the manual as I do about having access blocked by the church to JS’s teachings in a more academic setting.

  127. Every time a serious LDS scholar (Jesse, Ehat) starts to do serious scholarly work on JS, they are asked to put on the breaks.

    That a bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think Brad?

  128. No, but it deserves a qualifier. Biographical work is not stalled. But work presenting JS’s teachings, writings, sermons, letters, etc. is stalled. Even the JS Papers Project is heavily correlated. Trying to block access for independent scholars can only get you so far. At some point, coopting and controlling the entire project was the only reasonable solution since so much is already out there.

  129. Brad, yeah, I agree with that. Some other American churches founded by 19th-century prophet/visionary leaders have had similar problems of blocking independent scholarship, though. Ellen G. White’s estate, for example, caused serious problems for Ronald L. Numbers’s biography of her.

    It’s certainly true that the church doesn’t mind biographical work on Joseph Smith, especially when that work is done in a basically celebratory mode. And I’d point out that the church’s reluctance regarding serious work on JS’s theology is paralleled by its reluctance regarding most other serious work on theology.

    At the same time, it’s worth pointing out that the contents of church manuals affect orders of magnitude more lives than scholarship on Mormonism does.

  130. J,
    Some truths are more useful than others.

    Much of the discussion of Correlation here does not take into account the kind of default power that comes with the sheer institutional weight and momentum generated by an organ of such vast bureaucratic scope. Charge a committee with policing the doctrinal continuity for 10 mill+ Mormons worldwide and endow them with a) the tools to logistically carry it out and b) a degree of prophetic countenance, and suddenly the line between doctrinal continuity and doctrinal purity, between copy-editing the brethren and editing the brethren, is not so clear.

    In terms of actual power (not necessarily proper authority) to affect the lives of Church members, it could be argued that the Correlation Committee itself is far, far greater than the mantle that authorizes its existence.

  131. Sorry for a minor threadjack, but I feel a need to point out John W’s increased trollishness and confused back story. A week or so ago, he was arguing that evolution and naturalism are the future of the church (he and all his intellectual friends already agree that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century fabrication). Yet here he pines away for the Kolobs and Missouri Edens of his youth. Buddy, either you are a naturalist or you ain’t. Make up your mind on your fake back story!

  132. Did Brad just quote Elder Packer in connection with Church doctrine and correlation? :)

    However, I think your argument about the Correlation Committee is interesting, I wonder what your thoughts would be to changing it, but I think that would be a fascinating post of its own.

  133. #122 – Maybe because those answers appear to be generated by some automatic response system, not a live representative of the Church.

    #131 – AMEN.

  134. Ray – Thanks. That seems to make a little more sense if it wasn’t a live representative. I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now about why that article seemed so bad. I’ve heard others say that the PR guy was testy, but our guys are usually much more patient and give better answers.

  135. I don’t know; my sense reading it was that it was a belligerent Church rep sending prepackaged written answers (preformulated talking points) rather than some kind of auto-response program.

  136. Maybe my reaction simply reflects my obvious cynicism toward Church bureaucracy.

  137. As I was reading it again, I noticed that they said the church refused to answer some of the questions. Yet all of the questions in the piece had answers attached to them. So which ones weren’t answered? Ardis over at T&S also asks what reporter ever posts unedited interview notes and raw source material. That might have some bearing on it, too.

  138. You are cynical towards Church bureaucracy? No way! Say it ain’t so, Brad! :)

  139. Ardis’s question, is, of course, very 20th-century. Reporters are much more frequently posting whole interview transcripts on the internet these days.

  140. Brad, But work presenting JS’s teachings, writings, sermons, letters, etc. is stalled. Even the JS Papers Project is heavily correlated.

    Is the lack of scholarship that you assert exists a result of the institutional church “putting on the breaks” on all such projects or simply a lack of scholars who have addressed it? The church doesn’t seem to have “put the breaks on” Blake Ostler’s work on Mormon theology (or Tom Alexander’s for that matter), nor on Faulring and Marquardt’s research on JS’s journals and revelations. Are there other specific instances you can point out that I might be unaware of?

    Regarding the JSPP, there is more to the delay in publication than just correlation going on there.

  141. #135 – I have no idea if the answers actually were generated by an automatic response system, but they certainly appear to be. If they were given by a live rep . . . I just can’t fathom that – unless the reporter insisted on answers being a set number of words or less (“sound bite” answers) – or was given a set of prepared answers for various stock questions and made up the questions to match the answers.

    I can see a reporter with an agenda doing any of those things. I can’t see an actual LDS PR employee giving those questions to those answers.

  142. Right, Christopher. I’m talking specifically about the kinds of scholarship JNS is wishing he found in the EQ/RS manual. Unedited, uncorrelated words, writings, sermons, letters of JS. The scholars you mentioned, as far as I know, are able to do what they do only because they don’t care what the official Church tells the to do or not do. There’s a reason Words of Joseph Smith costs like $600 online right now. There’s a reason Ehat hasn’t published his Thesis. There’s a reason Jesse’s scholarly project with JS’s personal writings stopped suddenly, only to be coopted by an organ of the Church that will exert much more editorial control.

    I don’t necessarily agree with JNS that this manual constitutes diagnostic evidence of the correlation-era Church’s ambivalence toward the teachings of Joseph Smith. But there’s plenty of evidence that the mistrust, even if unconscious, is there. I can’t even argue necessarily that the attempt to control and contain JS on the part of the Church is an objectively bad thing. I happen not to like it personally, but I know nothing of the decision making processes that underlie it, and am in no position to say that free, untrammeled access to JS without thousands of pages of footnotes carefully explaining what Joseph really meant when he said x or y would be better or worse for the interests of the Church globally.

    But control is a key, driving concern.

  143. But control is a key, driving concern.

    The harder you try to be in control, the less you are. No doubt, the Brethren are in a difficult situation but they are not making things easier for themselves and others.

  144. The church doesn’t seem to have “put the breaks on” Blake Ostler’s work on Mormon theology (or Tom Alexander’s for that matter), nor on Faulring and Marquardt’s research on JS’s journals and revelations.

    Sue has been hit by a bus.
    Peter did not get hit by a bus.
    Therefore busses do not hit people.

    That’s a non-sequitur argument. Some people get shut down. The fact that others do not, does not prove that one is free to research Joseph Smith.

  145. Nor does it prove that one is not free to, Hellmut.

  146. The whole point is that it has happened and does happen. The closer scholars want to get to the primary source material, the more difficult it becomes to do so without ruffling the wrong feathers in the COB. A good friend of mine worked on the JS manual. He was given discs with electronic copies of all the source material mined for the nuggets that went into the finished product; and he was repeatedly warned that he should not show them to anyone.

    Even Bushman was denied access to some materials he wanted when writing RSR. The more important the historical figure or event is to the Church today, the more control is exerted. Joseph Smith is the Church’s most correlated prophet by a long shot.

    Again, I’m not in a position to say that this is right or wrong, regardless of how I feel personally about it. But let’s call a spade a spade. Blake Ostler can speculate about Mormon theology all he wants. I happen to love his work. But a) Blake’s work would be far less interesting if he only had access to those teachings of JS officially promulgated and approved by the Church, and b) Blake’s project is very different from the one for which JNS longs.

  147. Actually, Christopher, if Sue got hit by a bus then that’s sufficient to make the case that busses hit people.

  148. Hellmut, but because Sue got hit by a bus doesn’t mean that all people get hit by busses. It is possible to overstate how many people get hit by busses, just like it is possible to overstate just how many people’s research gets “shut down” by the Church, and to blame the dearth of scholarship in certain areas on that and that alone.

  149. Sure, Christopher. Mormon studies is not exactly an opportunity rich environment. That’s probably the biggest issue.

    I do think, however, that it is important to get the logic straight. Pointing to Tom Alexander to somehow off-set what happened to Mike Quinn is a fallacy. That’s not a matter of opinion but the nature of formal logic.

    We also need to acknowledge that hundreds of incidents of ecclesiastical interference into research have been documented, most comprehensively in Lavina Anderson’s chronology in Dialogue in 1993.

    Anyways, I would love to carry on this conversation but have to recuse myself because this might not be the right forum for this discussion (which is kind of funny, given the question at hand).

  150. I’m bewildered why any LDS member would limit their knowledge of Joseph Smith to officially sanctioned texts.

    Hmm. Because perhaps Bloggernacle-level “knowledge” of JS is not a saving ordinance or a requirement for exaltation? I consider myself fairly educated (including about Church history), but I’m not going to slog through (for example) every volume from the Journal of Discourses if I want to delve into Brigham Young.

    If you want to delve into Smithology, feel free. I just don’t see why you want to spoil *my* priesthood meetings, already chopped to 25 minutes because of the priesthood business and the golf outing announcements, with stuff that might be less than spiritual. The book is fine. Talented priesthood instructors aren’t hamstrung by it.

  151. Darn it. I tried to say I considered myself fairly well-educated, and then blew it. I’m going to bed. Too much Christmas-card writing.

  152. Jay, I thought you might be pleased to know that Max referenced this post in an interesting chat he had with his mom.

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