Mormonism and history/Publications

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How the Church has handled issues related to publications related to Church history

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Question: Was the newspaper called The Seer published by the Church?

The Seer was published by Orson Pratt, and it was never considered an official publication of the Church

Some critics of the Church quote from a newspaper called The Seer. Was this newspaper published by the Church? Are its contents considered official Church doctrine?

The Seer was a periodical published by Elder Orson Pratt in Washington D.C. in 1853 and 1854. Brigham Young sent Elder Pratt east to defend the Church in print after the public announcement of plural marriage in 1852. The Seer was the resulting apologetic work.

The Seer was not widely read — its largest issue, in late 1853, was 400 copies. Despite its failure, Pratt's writings became the basis for many of the traditional explanations of plural marriage.

The Seer was publicly disowned and rejected by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in 1865

The Seer was publicly disowned and rejected by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in 1865. (See the documentation below.) Despite any truths that it may contain, it cannot be relied upon as an accurate reflection of LDS doctrine.

Proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, October 21, 1865 (excerpt):[1]

Whenever brother Orson Pratt has written upon that which he knows, and has confined himself to doctrines which he understands, his arguments are convincing and unanswerable; but, when he has indulged in hypotheses and theories, he has launched forth on an endless sea of speculation to which there is no horizon. The last half of the tract entitled "The Holy Spirit," contains excellent and conclusive arguments, and is all that could be wished; so also with many of his writings. But the Seer [and some of his other writings]...contain doctrines which we cannot sanction, and which we have felt impressed to disown, so that the Saints who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works, or parts of works, are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed; with proper care this can be done without much, if any, injury to the volumes.
It ought to have been known, years ago, by every person in the Church — for ample teachings have been given on the point — that no member of the Church has the right to publish any doctrines, as the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, without first submitting them for examination and approval to the First Presidency and the Twelve. There is but one man upon the earth, at one time, who holds the keys to receive commandments and revelations for the Church, and who has the authority to write doctrines by way of commandment unto the Church. And any man who so far forgets the order instituted by the Lord as to write and publish what may be termed new doctrines, without consulting with the First Presidency of the Church respecting them, places himself in a false position, and exposes himself to the power of darkness by violating his Priesthood.

The foregoing was signed by the First Presidency and all members of the Quorum of the Twelve except Orson Pratt. Orson Pratt attached the following statement to the First Presidency's letter, accepting their censure:

TO THE SAINTS IN ALL THE WORLD.
DEAR BRETHREN, — Permit me to draw your attention to the proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, published in the DESERET NEWS, and copied into the MILLENNIAL STAR of the 21st inst., in which several publications that have issued from my pen are considered objectionable. I, therefore, embrace the present opportunity of publicly expressing my most sincere regret, that I have ever published the least thing which meets with the disapprobation of the highest authorities of the Church; and I do most cordially join with them in the request, that you should make such dispositions of the publications alluded to, as counselled in their proclamation.


Question: Who qualifies for the title "Mormon scholar?"

Critics sometimes designate people who are not practicing Mormons as "Mormon" scholars in order to try and give them more credibility

The author of the critical book One Nation Under Gods states "According to Mormon scholar Allen Roberts, LDS leaders do indeed 'attempt to control depictions of the Mormon past.'" The problem is that Allen Roberts is not a practicing Latter-day Saint, and is in fact a critic of the Church. When this was pointed out to the author, he revised this to read "According to Allen Roberts, a Mormon architectural history scholar, LDS leaders do indeed 'attempt to control depictions of the Mormon past.'"

There are any number of people—the author included—who insist that the LDS Church is biased, wrong, dishonest, and misleading because it won't publish a history that tells every piece of trivia, uncovers every wart, and discloses every negative comment ever uttered about the Church. They refuse to admit that it is reasonable and acceptable for the Church to be selective in what it chooses to publish, and even in how that information is presented.

In the hardback edition of ONUG, the author introduces Allen Roberts as a "Mormon scholar," which is exactly as Roberts was introduced by the Tanners in the reference cited by the author (they said "Mormon scholar Allen Roberts wrote...") Roberts is a published book author, and his publisher, Signature Books, has a secular agenda and clear hostility to the truth claims of the Church.

What is not clear, however, is how the author justifies labeling Roberts a "Mormon scholar." Roberts may have been baptized a member of the Church, but he is non-practicing. He clearly does not share the opinions, faith, or convictions of most "Mormons." "Scholar" he may be, but he is not "Mormon" in the sense implied.

The Tanners' and the author's decision to label him as "Mormon" seems calculated simply to give his opinion more weight.

The author ignores too that every act of telling or writing history is an "attempt to control depictions of the Mormon past." Individuals want their stories told fully, fairly, and with due balance and perspective. Institutions and groups—such as members of the Church—feel likewise.

Given the many historical distortions which the author has visited on the Church in an effort to alienate members or potential members from the Gospel it preaches, one can understand the power in historical narratives and the desire of all involved—member and non-member, critic or partisan—to exert control in the telling of the story.

The question to ask is not, "Is the story being controlled?" because it always is. The question should be, "Is the story being told fairly, fully, and without malice?"


Notes

  1. Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 2, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965), 235–240. GL direct link