The Golden Age of Joseph Smith’s Presence in Mormonism?

It is clearly the case that (for a multitude of reasons) the majority of Latter-day Saints share little interest in the tiny details of Joseph Smith’s life, or his ideas that extend beyond what may appear in the current correlated materials. Herding the minutia of Joseph’s sermons is what we do here and that’s an activity which raises little interest in that quarter. But an unintentional side effect of the natural loyalty many Saints have to the “correlated” materials generally leaves some fraction of them open to the shocks the various critics of Mormonism love to deliver. That, more than the history geeks, keeps alive some interest in the side lights of early Mormonism and the unofficial Joseph Smith.*

Consider the case of the late Reverend Wesley P. Walters, indefatigable digger up of obscurities that in part initiated a renaissance in the study of the early Mormon mythos.

But what is the fate of interest in such matters? With the 1970s came the Arrington years in Mormon history and while those heady times saw a somewhat negative response in some circles, Church sponsored professional history never died, just percolated and returned in a different form with the current Smith papers project and likely successors. What will be the effects of what seems to be a kind of dualism regarding how we tell the founding stories of Mormonism? Will there be a coming together of the official stories and the versions rising from the sources now becoming available to Mormons, not from critics, but from Church sponsored agents?

Personally, I think the official story will gradually become a simpler one, a more focused one, not a more detailed one. But what do I know?

——————

* To be sure the response to faith claim challenges varies widely. For instance, I think of one man among my acquaintances whose response to uncomfortable facts is the familiar stone-wall approach. That person regards the study response as a waste of time and contextualizing Joseph Smith is viewed as something like a “faith crime.”

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5 Responses to The Golden Age of Joseph Smith’s Presence in Mormonism?

  1. Tod Robbins says:

    “Time will tell” I suppose but as I currently work with the Church on the George Q. Cannon Papers I feel there is at least a “faction” of authorities in the Church who see a real value in the Church providing its documents for the membership and worldwide community. Knowledge does set us free and the efforts of Richard Turley and others in the Church History Department are continuing the unofficial bits as they can.

    • WVS says:

      I agree Tod, that there is less “circle the wagons” stuff from Salt Lake. Even in camelot the Cannon diaries were not available if I recall. My question is how or if what comes out of the Church Historian’s Press and things like Joseph Smith-History might be integrated. Right now, I think they will not. I don’t particularly wish for such an integration. But there are, in my experience, plenty of Saints who are a bit unsettled about things like Revelations-1 when they take the time to crack the book. I don’t think that’s bad either. But some do think it’s bad, or a waste of resources, or whatever. Just curious about the future. Eric will tell me it’s not set. <grin>

  2. J. Stapley says:

    I think when faced with a global church that is generally first or second generation Church members, the general Mormon tendency towards orthopraxy gets intensified. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I can easily envision the Church fully supporting efforts like the the JSP and the GQC papers on the one hand and yet focusing on orthopraxy with a fairly pluralistic doctrinal perspective on the other.

  3. W. V. Smith says:

    So J., do you also envision much cross-over? I mean, do you think materials from the JSP for example will become quotable in general conference? No fair counting the JS manual. My feeling is that the public message of the Church will be even more narrow than we’ve seen it become in the last 30 years. However, the papers effort does put a different face on how the Church thinks of it’s history. No more collect and hide. I see that as an advantage to members who want more details. The Church provides a complete and very careful record of primary sources. Here’s wishing for a documentary edition of Woodruff! I have high hopes for the JSP history volumes. Potential for great stuff there, but I have no idea how many “levels” deep they will go. Will the JS history materials of the 1850s be covered? I hope so.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    It is my understanding that the “Manuscript History” will be published by the JSP folks.

    I can imagine Church Leaders (like Oaks, for example, I’ve seen him quote Words< quote from the Journals series. I imagine where canonized texts are available, those will consistently be the source. But I generally agree with your perspective: narrow focus with excellent documentary work on the side.

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