How to (currently) find the Gospel Topics Essays (and Topics!)

A lot of digital ink gets spilled on recent Gospel Topics essays about race, polygamy, the First Vision, Mormon scripture, etc. The Gospel Topics page itself is occasionally updated without public announcement. News of the more sensational pieces spreads via back-channel whispers followed by blog post and Facebook discussions and perhaps a Peggy Fletcher-Stack article or two. Some people have been frustrated that many church members are likely unaware of the Gospel Topics because they haven’t been highlighted in General Conference or in letters to local leadership. Newer church curriculum materials call direct attention to the essays, though. At the same time, they aren’t featured obviously on the home page of lds.org, but you can find them currently in the menu options under “Scriptures and Study>Learn More”:

gospeltopicmenu

The easiest way to find Gospel Topics is Google, but you’d need to know what they’re called first,. It would be useful if the church would do more to alert church members to their presence. But I digress.

Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but I just realized the website itself makes a distinction between “Gospel Topics” and “Gospel Topics Essays”:

gospeltopicspage

Gospel Topics landing page at lds.org

I think my confusion stemmed from the fact that Essays and Topics are both housed in the same alphabetical list. But the length, level of detail, and composition of the Essays clearly sets them apart from the Topics. The Essays also have their own landing page, which you can access by clicking the blue “Explore the essays” link which takes you here:

gospelessayslandingpage

Gospel Topics Essays landing page at lds.org

So to sum up: There are Gospel Topics and Gospel Topics Essays, the latter dealing with select sensitive matters of church history and theology.

My next post will go into the reasons I’m bringing all this up in the first place, but for the time being, I’m interested in your thoughts on a few questions about the Gospel Topics page itself.

—What do you think about the website’s current construction, ease of use, or ease of access? (Note: Essays are also being translated into other languages!)

—If you’d like to see the Church emphasize the Essays more, how do you recommend they do that, and what are some of the benefits and drawbacks or increased attention?

—Do you have any interesting stories about sharing Essays with people in your family, ward, etc.?

—Did any of the essays personally come as a surprise to you?

Comments

  1. ProvoCenterStreet says:

    There’s another layer to this – The nauvoo Polygamy essay is only available inside the text of the other polygamy essay.

    Also, different essays are available to different people depending on your cookies

  2. lastlemming says:

    Also, different essays are available to different people depending on your cookies

    Please elaborate!

  3. ProvoCenterStreet: given how much press coverage each new essay received, at least here in Utah, I suspect what you experienced was a glitch on your own machine, not some nefarious design. But I’m willing to be corrected if you can back that assertion about cookies up. Which specific cookie should I check?

  4. The new website construction is way better than it was before. The old menus were disastrous. Now, everything can be found in the same menu bar at the top.

    I don’t think I would like to see the Church as a whole emphasize the essays more – at least not publicly. I’m glad that they’re being used in classes, etc., but any more publicity to them might cause problems, e.g. the media wanting to look at them again and tell the world what the “Mormons are now admitting for the first time ever” again. I do think the youth should be exposed to them though. The feeling of being kept in the dark is what is turning many away from the Church rather than the history itself.

    Sharing the essays in my family: Honestly, I was surprised when my Dad gathered us together to talk about the race one. He’s pretty computer illiterate is the reason why I was surprised (and proud of him that day).

    Did any come as a surprise? To me personally, no. However, I was absolutely surprised to see how many LDS people where utterly shocked to learn that Joseph Smith instituted plural marriage instead of Brigham Young. Are you kidding me? Proof that nobody even reads the Doctrine & Covenants, apparently!

  5. AZ- It’s great that you had no issues with the essays or any of our history, but not everyone else does. Even those who have read the Doctrine and Covenants. Some people knew Joseph instituted it, but didn’t realize he practiced it, or how and with whom. Still others are okay with our history but the connections for scriptural inspiration are a huge hurdle. For you to sound so dismissive is hurtful. Other families and people didn’t fair as well as you did when they came to learn about Mountain Meadows Massacre or Race in the Priesthood.

    As a member who would like the church to make a more public acknowledgement of the essays, I don’t mind what the national press thinks. I want them more publicized to help the flood of people who have left the church or are unable to ask questions in church based on the essays. The pain won’t heal if we continue to act as if the essays don’t exist and shouldn’t be used until rolled out quietly in the youth program. Today’s mid-life member and families deserve to have an entire ensign dedicated to the essays. Otherwise healing for the hurt is on hold.

    Putting healing on hold is a skill we have nearly perfected as a religion.

  6. ProvoCenterStreet says:

    https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng <— There is no direct link to this page, the one that talks about Joseph Smith Polygamy. You have to first go to this page https://www.lds.org/topics/essays?lang=eng <— the one about gospel topics, then choose polygamy here: https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints?lang=eng http://mormonessays.com/

  7. See, I come from a family that after I shared the race essays with them…..after reading paragraphs how the contextual racism of the surrounding culture informed the early church members’ perspectives….still went on to say “God wanted the blacks not to have the priesthood then just waited for the white members to be ready to accept it.” I quit tryong to share after that.

  8. I’m on a brand new machine, connected to the internet earlier today, and I hadn’t yet visited any part of lds.org or any lds site which required logging in or otherwise identifying myself — hence, no cookies. I just now visited lds.org to test the exmormon reddit claim about access to essays, and find it false — I can access every last one of them.

    The two plural marriage essays have been combined into one essay, which makes sense. How many people looking for information on polygamy (excluding those of us involved in meta-discussions like this) would separate their interests into “how polygamy started” and “how polygamy ended,” which is the division that existed in the originally separated essays? In the combined essay, you get both, together with the option to go deeper into each end of the practice. (I’m guessing that they “buried” it — to use exmormon reddit’s conspiratorial term — to cut the length of the essay down to roughly the same length as all the others. Both essays ARE there, however, in a logical arrangement.)

    While the Gospel Topics Essays have been getting all the attention, it’s worth while to take a look at the shorter Gospel Topics entries, too. I think they’ve been revamped and strengthened. The few paragraphs on “God the Father,” for instance, now briefly discuss what scholars have told us about the development and shift of Christian ideas about God, rather than merely giving a brief LDS statement about God. I think that’s new — at least the reference to Greek philosophy, brief as it is.

  9. Jayson Witlux says:

    the two polygamy essays have not been “combined into one essay” . that would be one link= 2 essays. The link to the nauvoo essay is burried in the 1st one. theres a difference.

  10. It’s worth noting that even if someone doesn’t know how to find the “Gospel Topics” tab at the top of LDS.org’s main page, the essays immediately show up if you do a keyword search for any of the topics. http://www.plonialmonimormon.com/2015/01/is-church-burying-gospel-topics-essays.html

  11. Exactly, JMS.

  12. Oh, please, Jayson Witlux, if you’re going to tell a fib, try to make it something that isn’t quite so easy for everybody else to check out.

    There is now ONE combined essay about polygamy. Within that essay there is a brief introductory section, followed by a big ol’ bold heading: THE BEGINNINGS OF PLURAL MARRIAGE IN THE CHURCH. That, my poor illiterate friend, is the introduction to the history of Nauvoo-era polygamy, and includes a big, centered, bold, bright link “If you would like to learn more about the beginnings of plural marriage in the Church, click here.” It isn’t “burried,” or even buried: It’s just about as prominent as anyone could hope for, unless you’d like an animation of little dancing polygamists pointing to the link.

    Then follows a few introductory paragraphs on PLURAL MARRIAGE AND FAMILIES IN 19TH-CENTURY UTAH, with a similar “buried” invitation to click for further information, followed by another section heading ANTI-POLYGAMY LEGISLATION AND THE END OF PLURAL MARRIAGE, followed by another equally “buried” link to further information.

    The Nauvoo-era information is no more “buried” than anything else — anybody who is actually reading the page, and not looking for some excuse to whine about how the Church is HIDING EVERYTHING, RIGHT THERE IN PLAIN HIDDEN SIGHT, will find as little or as much of Nauvoo-era information as has ever been made available.

  13. Last Lemming says:

    Nobody has even tried to defend the assertion that cookies determine what you can and can’t access, so I will assume that it was nonsense all along.

  14. All Is Not Well says:

    I am high priest, temple recommend holder, and active member raising my family in the church.

    A year ago I shared excerpts of the essay on race and priesthood with my teen youth sunday school class in direct response to their repeated questions. It was a spirit-filled meeting. Sadly, the sunday school president was sitting outside the door listening to “only part of the lesson” and pulled me aside privately and the next week in front of the class to express great “concern for me” and my “choice of words” on the matter. This and many similar events in ward meetings, high priest groups, and LDS cultural settings lead me to a sad cold truth:

    History, fact and context serve no purpose in modern Mormon life. Follow the prophet, testify of the Book of Mormon, hold a temple recommend, serve your ward members, and SHUT UP. This is what being a correlated Mormon demands. This is what our culture insists on. A thousand more unsigned essays on our website landing page will not change this.

    We speak of loving truth wherever it is found and all truth being circumscribed into one great whole. But since I’ve come to admit that our institution gives no safe space for honest inquiry, it all sounds to my ears like the ding of a tin plate.

  15. All Is Not Well, that’s too bad, but it also isn’t representative of (at least my) lived experience in the church; where I am, the essays have officially been chosen as the bases of lessons and, even if they weren’t, people are willing (or, at least have no choice but) to discuss history, fact, and context, and how to navigate an imperfect life within the context of the church. Though I have known people who’ve felt shut down, I never have, and I speak as freely as I feel like any given Sunday.

    Which is to say, even “correlated Mormon[ism]” isn’t terribly correlated.

    Also, thanks, for the post!

  16. In a discussion with my parents, i brought up my frustrations with the church’s assertions of truth that later the church admitted weren’t true (the reasons blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood for example.) I used the churches essay about the Book of Abraham as an example. For years the church insisted that the BoA was a translation, and even bought the original papyri, despite assertions by egyptologists that the papyri had nothing to do with Abraham. Now suddenly, the church insists that they never meant “translated,” they meant “inspired by.” When I brought up this example with my parents, they wanted to know what Anti-mormon website I was reading such lies on. They had NO IDEA that that information was in an official essay released by the church.

  17. I don’t believe in the Mormon hogwash any more but I have to at least hand it to them for even making an attempt to answer the troubling questions with the essays. However, their non-sequiturs and magical thinking shows loud and clear through-out the essays – especially in the race, book of Abraham and polygamy essays. How a critical thinker can still believe after the responses contained therein is beyond my comprehension. Maybe the brethren should do an essay on social psychology and how group think and peer pressure are the main reasons people continue to “believe.”

  18. Rockwell says:

    Ease of use should be evaluated for the mobile version of LDS.org as well. A lot of people use mobile devices more than half the time.

    From what I can see, there is not a menu driven way to find the essays on the mobile site. You can probably search with varying degrees of success; I assume you get the same results as with searching on the desktop site. You can also get there using the “site map”, but that really only works for the most highly motivated and knowledgeable users.

  19. Maybe the brethren should do an essay on social psychology and how group think and peer pressure are the main reasons people continue to “believe.”

    Or, perhaps, you should consider charitably that other people, as informed (or more!) as you, have looked at the same evidence and come to a difference conclusion.

    You are, of course, absolutely right that the essays have holes and other problems; that’s kind of baked into the idea of retrieving history, of explaining through language. But where you see “non-sequitors and magical thinking,” I see a serious attempt to grapple with the past while respecting it. Again, the balance isn’t always perfect, but by and large they do a good job of laying out accurate information in context.

    That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to accept the conclusions; in fact, you make it clear that you don’t. Which is fine. But you’ll have to trust me that most of us here know the same things you do, aren’t any more prone to groupthink and peer pressure than the next person (incluing you), and have decided there’s value in believing.

  20. Sam:

    I respect that there are those who know the issues and continue to believe. There are also those members that pressure the unbelieving to follow along maybe because groupthink comforts their own fears of the unknown. There are more than 80,000 missionaries that pressure people to convert to a religion with a questionable history and theology. So, what about the unsuspecting, perhaps depressed individual who gets pressured to join? I think its great you have pride in your beliefs but your church goes on the offensive with these questionable beliefs in its attempts to convert the world. Yet, it gets offended when LGBT groups want to get married.

  21. Jennifer Kaye says:

    Mormon beliefs – indeed religious beliefs- are very personal. If the religious beliefs work for you, and you arent personally participating in potentially problematic actions attributed to the institutional church (ie, manning call centers during Prop 8), then these negative externalities don’t bother you much. The white males that dominate the Mormon intellectual scene don’t have to account for the LDS churches’ treatment of gays and women. It doesn’t directly affect them, so people like Gene Schaerr are free to intellectualize about things like how same sex marriage will contribute to 900,000 abortions so we should deny gays the right to marry. Or perhaps Mr. Schaerr will come out of the closet in a few years, and his involvement will make more sense.

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  23. Anyone know what is in the pipeline for upcoming essays on gospel topics? Well ones that are sensitive or controversial? Are there polls or other ways to direct which topics will be addressed? Are they polling hoe the essays are being received? Do you think there is pushback by the 15 on these things? Do you think E. Holland cusses at these essays and their authors in meetings to discuss them? I could see him dropping an f-bomb about the seer stone.