Sunday’s Deseret News (27 May) published the results of an email survey conducted by the LDS Department of Family and Church History. “LDS in survey call for unvarnished history” reports that active Latter-day Saints
want their church to provide a “frank and honest” presentation of church history, unvarnished by attempts to sugar-coat the past in order to make it more palatable…Church history representative Rebecca Olpin told participants at the annual Mormon History Association meetings on Saturday that Latter-day Saints surveyed “want to be leveled with” when the church presents information about its past…
When questioned about what officials with the church’s correlation department — which edits all church materials — think about those findings, Olpin said the request for honesty “is part of what members are asking for. We have a responsibility to share that in a way that correlation will agree with, so we understand that we have limits.
While I think this is a hopeful development within the LDS Church, it’s interesting that Latter-day Saints need to request an honest portrayal of history from their church. Also interesting is the admission that some compromise will be required to keep both the members who are calling for honesty, and the Church editors, happy.
This Deseret News article reminded me of a conversation I had with some senior LDS missionaries who were serving in Nauvoo, Illinois. I asked, given the heavy emphasis the Nauvoo historic site missionary guides place on the sacrifices of early Church members, why was there no mention of the extreme sacrifices made by the women who were required to live The Principle (polygamy)? The missionary couple were very candid with me and spent the following hour confessing that “Salt Lake” wouldn’t allow them to talk about the polygamy that was practiced in Nauvoo; that part of Mormon history was absent from every mandatory script supplied to missionary guides. This LDS couple expressed frustration over inaccuracies and mistakes in the history that was presented to visitors at the Mormon sites, but had found no relief by making requests of those in authority to make corrections. In the end, they told me “Salt Lake” was taking direction from God, and the missionary guides in Nauvoo were taking direction from “Salt Lake,” so presenting inaccurate history to visitors must be the right thing to do — though they could not understand it.
Time will tell how “Salt Lake” responds to the LDS member requests for unvarnished Church history. Honesty doesn’t really seem like too much to ask.