This will be familiar to you. These are the volumes of what we call Joseph Smith’s Manuscript History. A bunch of you have these on your shelf—maybe the blue hardback covers that my grandfathers had and my parents inherited. I have a gray paperback copy of them on my shelf, which is where they spend about 99.9% of their time.
A bunch of you have these books on your shelf—B. H. Roberts’ Comprehensive History of the Church, published 1930, a fantastic history, a remarkable undertaking. As I read it today, I can’t imagine one person pulling off what Elder Roberts was able to accomplish there. I can’t imagine pulling off the Manuscript History, even with the team of people over two decades that Joseph Smith had and those who followed him had. But even in a group like this, a self selecting group of people who are intensely interested in Church history, very few of us read these books, and even fewer of the next generation of Latter-day Saints read these books.
Why is that? One reason is because they’re exposition. They’re not story. They’re not linear. They don’t feel like a rollercoaster ride, and they don’t resonate very much with present problems or concerns. Elder Ballard taught a couple of years ago:
The rising generation needs to know, understand, embrace, and participate in God’s Plan of Salvation. Understanding the plan will give them the divine insight through which to view themselves as sons and daughters of God, which provides a lens to understand almost every doctrine, practice, and policy of the Church.
Psychologists have verified what we all know, what everyone has always known intuitively, and that is that we need stories. Stories teach us who we are, and they teach us whose we are. Stories show us where we belong. If you don’t have a story, then you don’t have an identity. You don’t know who you are. You don’t know why you exist. You lose your path, your way.
The Plan of Salvation is the greatest story ever told. I believe in fact that it’s the archetype for all stories. Narrative theory teaches us that to have a story, you need a character who is opposed by forces of antagonism, both internal and external, who must make hard choices and who must experience the consequences of their choices and who must as a result undergo some fundamental change. So stories typically begin with a major event or a decision that launches the protagonist on some kind of quest or journey, and they leave their comfort zone and experience peril, opposition, trial, and error. They learn some key truth along the way that becomes the key to completing their quest, and then they arrive back where they started, only fundamentally changed. Does that sound familiar? You can see why I say that the Plan of Salvation is the greatest story and why in many ways it’s the archetype for all stories.
We need a past that’s meaningful in the present. It doesn’t matter if those volumes of histories are sitting on anyone’s shelves or present as the Manuscript History is on the websitejosephsmithpapers.org. No matter how accessible they are in that sense, if they’re not being read and digested by the next generation of Latter-day Saints, they’re not getting the job done of giving us a story.
So ten years ago, the prophets and seers, knowing what Doctrine and Covenants Section 69 says about keeping a Church history continually for the good of the Church and for the rising generations, tasked the Church History Department with coming up with a new plan. On June 18, 2008, that first communication came to the Church History Department. In November of that year, the First Presidency approved a proposal of Elder Marlin Jensen, who was then the Church Historian and Recorder, to form a committee to begin the process of determining the best way to undertake the writing of a new comprehensive history of the Church.
Elder Jensen subsequently organized a committee of men and women, and a subcommittee of that committee came up with a proposal to not write a new comprehensive history of the Church or update the old one, but rather to write a brand new four volume representative history of Latter-day Saints, instead of a comprehensive history of the institutional Church. The main theme of this new history would be the Saints’ quest to enjoy the blessings of exaltation by making and keeping temple covenants. Each volume would culminate in some historically important theme-related landmark.
For example, Volume One would end when thousands of Saints receive endowment and sealing ordinances in the Nauvoo temple in 1846; Volume Two, when the Saints dedicate the Salt Lake Temple and begin to make covenants in it in 1893; Volume Three, when the Saints dedicate the Swiss Temple and begin to make covenants there in 1955; and Volume Four, sometime in the recent past when temples dot the earth, including in remote and far flung regions, and more people than ever make and keep the covenants of the restored gospel as it spreads farther and farther across the earth.
On February 2, 2010, the First Presidency gave the commission to move forward. From the very beginning of this project there was an inspired vision of what it could be. It would be inclusive and creative and transparent and powerful, sacred and truthful and edifying and fortifying and good in every sense. We believed that it would reach Saints all across the globe and that it would reshape our collective memory to make it more resilient and more fortifying and more accurate.
There were some preliminary outlines drafted and some plans, but not really very much happened until Elder Stephen E. Snow, who is now the Church Historian and Recorder, said that he would be giving this history to his grandchildren for Christmas in 2019, by which he meant, “Get it done!” And so we went to work on it in earnest. Richard E. Turley, Jr., who is now the managing director of the Church’s Public Affairs Department, but who was then an Assistant Church Historian and Recorder and the primary visionary for this project, forewarned me about the six steps in the creative process. Step one is: this is awesome. Step two: this is tricky. Step three: this is garbage. Step four: I am garbage. Step five: this might work out okay. Step six: this is awesome.
So what I’m going to tell you now is a little bit about the journey through those six steps. And by the way, we’re back at six. Volume 1 just began to come off the press. It will be available to everybody on September 4. First six chapters are online at saints.lds.org and in the Church magazines. So it’s come all the way around, and it is awesome.
You might be interested in a little bit of that middle part of the passage. When I was in the trough of step four, I am garbage, several key contributions came from people inside and outside of the Church History Department. In storytelling, when the way forward seems blocked or unclear, then there’s some new revelation or nugget of truth that comes along and changes everything and puts the story back on track. For Saints there have been a few of those key moments, key pieces of insight or revelation. One of them came from James Goldberg, who is a writer, a terrifically creative mind in the Church History Department. He and others read the first draft of Volume Four, and the recommendations they made at that point led to the way that the volumes ended up being structured and written, which is quite different from the way we were doing the first drafts. They also led to the recruiting of the perfect people to do the editing and the writing of the books, and it was at that point that we got back to “this might be okay.”
I want to introduce you to some of these people. This is Jed Woodworth, who is with us here today, I think. He is the historical review editor. Jed has a University of Wisconsin PhD. He reads and reviews everything related to the project. He’s the historical architect of Volume Three, which is a very difficult volume to write, because we know the least about that period as any other in Church history. In my opinion, Jed is likely the most knowledgeable historian of Mormonism alive, and he’s a historian of a lot else besides Mormonism too. His capacious mind is awesome to me, and besides that, he is a delightful scholar and a person. I asked him how he would like to be talked about when I was doing this a while back, and he said, “I would like to be called a delightful scholar and person.”
This is Scott Hales. He is the literary editor of Saints and a general editor. He has a PhD in English from the University of Cincinnati. He’s the author of The Garden of Enid, which is out on the table out here. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. He’s the literary architect of the whole project, of all the four volumes. And by that I mean that there’s a structure to storytelling, and this is one of the things that the historians were missing. Historians write like B. H. Roberts wrote, in a straight line, maybe with some digressions from time to time, and you’re not going to keep a whole lot of the rising generation interested in a book that’s written like that. It has to be written like a rollercoaster ride. And that’s the structure that Scott has brought to the project. It maps fantastically well onto history as it was actually experienced by the people going forward. That was a wonderful insight that he brought to us and has made sure that it’s present on every page.
It’s his voice that you hear when you read. If you read his Garden of Enid, you’ll see what I mean. Unbelievably talented. So I asked Scott how he wanted to be talked about and he said, “You could channel your inner W. W. Phelps and give us names as Phelps did to early Latter-day Saints, like the Lion of the Lord or the Archer of Paradise. I asked him if Enid might have anything to say before our presentation by way of introducing the team or the process. And he said, “I’d have to ask her.” He wasn’t talking to her very much anymore.
Dallin, a doctor of the law by education, a repentant lawyer, however, a Russian language expert and literature expert. He’s an exceptionally good historical researcher, and he’s a great team player. He is invaluable to the whole process. He said, “Who gets to be the Lion of the Library?” And I asked him if he was applying for that position. He said, “I was thinking I could be the Rough Rider of Research,” to which Scott said Jed would have to be the Lion of the Library and Steve would be the Pillar of Light, which I thought was nice.
Angela Hallstrom is the literary editor of Volume Four and a wonderful contribution to the team. She’s a writer, reader, editor, the mother of four. She lives in Minnesota. I even used my Canadian missionary accent there. Did you get that? Just a little bit. That was completely natural. She has an MFA in creative writing, and she taught English at a variety of different levels. She’s a novelist, an award winning novelist and editor also, and she said, “Obviously I’m the Lady of the Lakes or the Sister of the Sweatpants. Either way she knew that would particularly get under our skin since we have to show up at the library with a tie on, and she, if she chooses, can go to work in her sweatpants. So she thought that would appeal to us.
Dave Nielsen now works for the Family History Department of the Church, is a University of Cincinnati PhD in poetry, college basketball player, award-winning poet, a writer on Volumes Two and Four. Jed said, I’ve always thought of Dave as Brahman Atman. Dave said, “I don’t know who or what that is, but if it can be turned into an action figure, that would be awesome.” Scott said, “Dave would be the Bard of Deseret. Dave said, “As long as it can be turned into an action figure, that’s all I ask.” Dallin said the Paladin of Poetry. You could definitely make an action figure out of that.
Melissa, who was hard at work this whole time that the rest of us were dinking around, weighed in to say, “an action figure with inky fingers.” That won’t make any sense until you meet Melissa. Melissa Leilani Larsen, who has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa, very prestigious writing school. She’s an award winning playwright and screenwriter. She’s a writer on Volumes One and Three. She’s a connoisseur and collector of fountain pens and hence her sole request that her action figure have inky fingers. That’s all that mattered to her.
So ongoing conversation here. I said Jed’s “delightful scholar and person” is sounding comparatively lame after all these. Angela said, ”I enjoy the ‘and person’ part, as it leads one to believe that not all scholars are actually people.” Scott said, “If Pillar of Light does not work for Steve, we could call him the Manager of Light and Truth, which like I was on a high when he said, you know, “pillar of light,” and then “the manager,” that just really brought me down back to earth.
To be more serious about this really important project, I’ll show you the statement that is in the front of Volume One from the First Presidency of the Church and just let you read that. I’ll read it to you in case you can’t see it. It says:
Throughout the scriptures, the Lord asks us to remember. Remembering the Savior and our shared legacy of faith, devotion, and perseverance gives us perspective and strength as we face challenges today. It is with this desire to remember “how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men” (Moroni 10:3) that we present Saints, The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days…. We encourage all to read the book and make use of the supplementary materials online.
You are an important part of the great history of this Church. We thank you for all you do to build on the foundation of faith laid by our forebears.
We testify that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that His gospel is the standard of truth today. The Lord called Joseph Smith to be his prophet, seer and revelator in the latter days, and He continues to call living prophets and apostles to guide His Church.
We pray that this volume will enlarge your understanding of the past, strengthen your faith, and help you make and keep the covenants that lead to exaltation and eternal life.
THE FIRST PRESIDENCY
Elder Cook spoke at BYU Idaho several weeks ago on this project and described it in great detail. He also will publish an article about it in the October Ensign that includes these words:
Saints is the story of how God restored His everlasting covenant because of His love for His children. It shows how the Lord restored His gospel to provide hope and peace in times of tumult, trial, and suffering. It also shows how restored covenants lead to exaltation through Jesus Christ.
You might expect the story to begin with Joseph Smith, but Saints begins in 1815 with the explosion of a volcano in Indonesia, which caused widespread death, disease, and disruption. This beginning point was chosen in light of what the Lord revealed about how He restored covenants that bind us to the Savior and enable us to overcome all of life’s problems:
“I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments….
“That mine everlasting covenant might be established” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:17, 22).
Elder Cook continues:
From its opening scene to its worldwide distribution, Saints signals to God’s children everywhere that it is the story of their covenant with God, who knows their hardships. Through His prophet, God renewed covenants that do not eliminate evil, sorrow, suffering, and separation at death but do promise healing through the Savior’s Atonement, sanctify and endow our lives with transcendent meaning, and assure us that relationships we cherish here on earth can endure in eternity, “coupled with eternal glory” (see Doctrine and Covenants 130:2).
This is Elder Snow’s article from the February Ensign, where he announced to the Church, the whole world, that Saints would be forthcoming. Sometimes if you want to hide something from the Saints you publish it in the Ensign, but there it is.
He said some really great stuff, starting with this quote from Brigham Young. In 1861 President Brigham Young urged Church historians to change their approach. “Write in a narrative style,” he advised, “and write only about one tenth part as much.” So Saints follows the direction of Brigham Young to the Church’s historians. You might not think it’s only a tenth part as much, but we could do ten times more, and you’ll find the volumes clip along at a terrific pace. If you’ll start reading them, you won’t get worried about them being too thick or too much.
This is what Chapter One looks like online at saints.lds.org. You can scroll down the page and get to the text.
This is what Chapter Two looked like when it was published in the Liahona and the Ensign. It’s published in 48 languages to well over 98 percent of Latter-day Saints across the globe.
What makes it different? I saw five different things I’m going to talk briefly about.
One is it’s a small plates history. It doesn’t try to be the comprehensive history of everything that ever happened in the Church. It’s just a representative set of stories that form one big story about Saints, or in other words, natural men and women who are striving to become Saints through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We pick characters based on what they can do to help readers experience God’s sacred work, how inherently interesting they are, and how they help us tell the story of change over time in the Church.
The method is different from any of the histories we’ve done before. We’re very interested in having accurate history, but also in having fantastic literature and hitting the right audience, the scripturally mandated audience of the rising generations. And so we’re worried about all three of those things. And the sweet spot where those concerns overlap is where we want Saints to land, and we think we’ve largely accomplished that.
This is the narrative arc of Volume One, simply put. It’s different because it’s not a straight line. It’s not linear expository writing like the other histories we’ve done. It’s a true story of the past, written in a narrative style for the rising generation as the Lord commanded and His prophets directed. The result is a happy marriage between accurate history and narrative storytelling. The dramatic tension rises as pressure on the characters increases, and under pressure the characters make choices, sometimes good ones and sometimes bad ones, but always resulting in consequences.
The theme of the story is King Benjamin’s teaching that the natural man is an enemy to God and has been from the Fall and will be forever unless he yields to the enticing of the Holy Spirit and puts off the natural man and becomes a saint through the Savior’s Atonement. The story corresponds to that theme. The characters, for example, beginning with Joseph Smith and his family, are flawed because the natural man is an enemy to God. That’s true history, true doctrine, good writing.
The story is not about perfect people; it’s about fallen people who are trying to become Saints. This makes the story about the sacred drama of the Plan of Salvation. And it also means that though it’s a story of only a few Latter-day Saints who need redemption through Christ, all Latter-day Saints who need redemption through Christ can find it compelling, sacred, and analogous to our own quest to become Saints. The characters will remain enemies to God unless they choose to yield to the enticings of the spirit and apply the Savior’s atoning power. So the story depends on the choices that they make, and the choices the characters make create the drama and suspense that’s inherent both in history and in great storytelling.
The story sets up this way. It’s global and universal. It concerns all people everywhere throughout time and space, but it begins in 1815 when the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia causes death and disease and disruption, as Elder Cook put it. People everywhere ask why, and God doesn’t answer directly. But readers get a glimpse into His mind and the wonder of His ways when they learn what happened because of what the Lord foreknew. That is, because he foreknew the calamities coming, he prepared provincial young Joseph Smith to restore the broken covenants that solve the problems of death and disease and disrupted relationships.
An insightful non-Latter-day Saint scholar Douglas Davies claimed that “the power of Mormonism is the story it gives people for the conquest of death,” which I like a lot. I like that insight a lot. In other words, we don’t just have a doctrine of resurrection or salvation or power over death. We have a doctrine of exaltation, as we put it, power over the havoc that sin and death wreak on our relationships.
So from the outset, the story signals to readers how massive and universal the problems of sin and death are, and hence that the hero’s quest will be finding a solution to those problems—the catalyst of the story. Like many others, Joseph is afflicted by disease and disruption. And like many others, he wonders if his sins have displeased God, and he seeks to be reconciled to God, lest he be damned at death. He’s frustrated until he discovers a new way to read an old verse, and he goes to the woods to ask God for wisdom. The answer to his prayer launches a quest that will transform him from an obscure boy into a foreordained prophet, seer, and unrivaled revelator, with power from God to seal covenants that are stronger than death.
The midpoint of the story: the Saints have always been opposed. But up to this point, the story is one of the Spirit of God burning like a fire; angels coming to visit the earth; covenants restored; priesthood keys committed; Saints endowed with divine power in their commission to take the gospel to all mankind; and their quest to overcome the effects of death. This flood of light and power culminates in a revelation in the Saints’ new temple in Kirtland that assures Joseph that his brother’s salvation and the salvation of all people everywhere will not be determined by the timing of their deaths, but by their godly desires.
But then halfway through Volume One the story takes a negative turn. The Saints began to fight among themselves. Their covetousness is exposed. Their bank fails. Joseph is opposed by former friends and fellow servants. The Saints are forced to flee from their temple in Kirtland, Ohio. And it goes from bad to worse. An Abrahamic test requires the Saints to partake of the unthinkable, plural marriage.
Moreover, tired of being mistreated, they go against the state of Missouri in a war of extermination. The governor and the settlers respond brutally, stealing property, murdering men and boys, and raping women. Joseph and others are jailed without due process and with no hope for justice. He’s stuck helplessly in a dungeon, while his family and other Saints flee in winter. And it’s there that he gets the nugget of truth, the revelation that brings the story full circle. All these things give experience; and if you endure them well, God will exalt you on high.
There’s a false defeat toward the end of the story. Joseph escapes. The apostles undertake the global gathering of Israel. The Saints begin again in Nauvoo. A temple rises there from a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. But before the Saints can receive the ordinances of exaltation and the temple, Joseph is brutally murdered by a mob. The resolution to the plot: Joseph is not killed before he receives God’s promise of eternal life, nor before he endows and seals most of the apostles, giving them the ordinances of exaltation. Weeks before his death, Joseph gathers them. He confirms on them all the priesthood keys he has received and commissions them to carry on the work of the temple.
After Joseph’s death, Brigham Young leads the apostles and the Saints. He seeks and receives a revelation to finish the temple. And there he gives thousands of Saints the ordinances of exaltation. The problem of death posed by Mt. Tambora is juxtaposed with the conquest of death available in the mountain of the Lord’s House. Saints suffer from death and disease and the disillusion of their cherished relationships, but the restored covenants make that suffering purposeful and temporary and exalting. It helps them become Saints as they learn that “all these things will give them experience and work for their good,” while the Savior defeats death and disease and restores relationships through the ordinances of the temple.
So you can see how nicely Church history maps onto a terrific narrative arc. Conflict, characters, choices, consequences, forces of antagonism, the great commission to take the gospel to everyone, the determined effort to redeem the dead, the quest to make and keep the covenants that lead to eternal life—these are great materials of history, out of which to tell a wonderful story.
I’ve used a little bit of theological and literary jargon in explaining to you the narrative arc of Volume One, but the book itself and the subsequent volumes are written and fast-paced and accessible prose. They do lots of theological and literary work that I’ve described without telling anyone that they’re doing it.
They’re not children’s books, but youth will be able to read and understand them, and over the course of the next generation, the new knowledge and insight gained from every page will become the common knowledge of all Latter-day Saints everywhere, and we will be less vulnerable to our enemies than we are today. I’m really excited about that.
Another thing that’s unique about Saints that’s not typical of the histories we’ve done before is that it is intentionally designed to immunize the rising generations of Latter-day Saints. Elder Ballard told all Church educators a couple of years ago, seminary and institute teachers:
You should be among the first outside your students’ families to introduce authoritative sources on topics that may be less well known or controversial, so your students will measure whatever they hear or read later against what you have already taught them.
You know, we give medical inoculations to our precious missionaries before sending them into the mission field so they will be protected against diseases that can harm or even kill them. In a similar fashion, please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful, and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history, and those topics that sometimes are misunderstood.
The manual I used to teach Church history from, Church History in the Fullness of Times, is a flat exposition that purposefully avoids or downplays controversy. This is a rollercoaster ride where the controversy in history is harnessed to the dramatic tension you need in narrative. So we welcome the turkey parts of Church history, and they’re all there. Don’t expect us to stop and dissertate about seer stones or whatever else. But it’s all there in the narrative, and for those who want more, there are all kinds of resources available online that we’re going to link them to.
So it works like this. The top level are the books themselves, the story, the narrative history. They have footnotes, hundreds and hundreds of footnotes in each one, and these footnotes lead people not only to the primary and secondary sources we use, but to topical essays and videos that go into more detail about all kinds of subjects, including the most controversial ones. And these go even further to link people to other resources that are available on the web. The thing I’m most excited about is that for most of the sources you can link to them yourself within a few clicks in the electronic versions of Saints. And it will be electronic as soon as it’s available in print.
This is what some of those pages look like. This is the topical essay on the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, for example. The goal is to provide everyone as much access as they could possibly want or need. So those of us who get to work in the Church History Library sit on top of this spectacular archive of historical materials, and we really relish the opportunity we have to use them. Our goal is to make it so everybody can have access to all of the things that can be known from that material and spread it as widely as possible.
Again, the primary sources will be available within a couple of clicks. Here’s an electronic chapter, Chapter Four, I think. You can see the footnotes on the sidebar there, and you click on the links and those footnotes that will lead you right to Joseph Knight’s reminiscence.
One of the things that’s going to delight readers when they read this is to learn that Joseph Smith was taught by Moroni that he needed to have the right person supporting him before he could be able to handle the responsibility of the Book of Mormon plates. Initially Joseph thought that was Alvin, and when Alvin died, he was puzzled. He learns that it’s Emma in the end, ultimately. How do we know that? From Joseph Knight’s autobiography. Thousands and thousands, maybe millions of Latter-day Saints are going to say, “I’ve never heard that before. Where did they get that?” And I hope they’ll go click, click, click, and then have Joseph Knight’s autobiography right in front of their face to show them where that came from. Is that not exciting?
“Why didn’t the Church ever tell me that?” I am getting so tired of that. I think the Church is too. Because the Church is going to tell them all that. It’s already, as you know, gone to massive effort to publish the Prophet’s papers and be increasingly transparent in other ways. The burden ultimately rests with people to find out for themselves, to seek for themselves. A lot of what we blame on the Church not telling me that, is me not being active enough to go out and find the information myself, and this is going to help make that easier to do. And it’s going to make it less easy or valid to make that excuse that we’ve sometimes made.
Saints is about the global Church and it is for the global Church. These are images from some of the stories that will be included. I won’t go into detail about them, but this is the most exciting slide that I have to show you. This is sacred to me. Isn’t that great? Thank you.
Before I ever knew anything about this, before I went to work on it full time, the First Presidency approved a budget, an appropriation. In other words, they set aside every penny it would take to get the job done. They didn’t say, we’ll probably provide you some, maybe if you need it. They said, here it is, and it was a lot of money. Now, we think it’s that important. Get it done. That included enough, we thought, to publish it in the ten languages that were then being used on the Church’s Internet sites—ten languages, languages that any of the Church correlated materials would get published in on the Internet. Sorry to be inelegant in saying that. Between then and now, that number of languages has grown to 14, and so that amount of money needed to do that has grown a lot since the day the First Presidency made that appropriation. They didn’t even bat an eye. Whatever you need to get this to every Latter-day Saint and every child of God on the planet, we will get it done, is essentially the message that they’ve sent to us and to all of God’s children on the face of the earth. This is so important to me.
Along the way we thought, we just aren’t capable of getting this done and into all these languages simultaneously, so we’ll do it in English. We’ll try to get it done by the time Elder Snow wants it done, and then we’ll publish it, and it’ll take us a few years to get it published in the other languages. And the prophets have come back in their wonderful way and said, that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re going to publish that on day one in all the languages. We’re going to send the message to every child of God on the planet that this is their story. It’s for them. It’s about them. It’s their story. They belong in it. They own it. I’m deeply gratified by that leadership that we have from our prophets, their commitment to this project and everything else like it, and the testimony it bears about our Heavenly Father’s love for His children. So I’m very excited about this slide.
It will be released a year earlier, at least Volume One will, than Elder Snow asked for it, and simultaneously in languages spoken by more than 90 percent of the Latter-day Saints on the earth. And those chapters that are being serialized—the first eight chapters in Volume One, as I mentioned earlier—several of those will be published in 48 languages, getting them to more than 98 percent of the Latter-day Saints in the world. So you can see, the blue shows who will be reached. That’s how much of the planet will be reached by the print volumes. That’s how much it will be reached by the chapters serialized in the Church magazines.
From its opening scene to its worldwide distribution, Volume One signals to God’s children everywhere that it’s for them and it’s about them. It’s their story. It’s the story of how they relate to a God who, knowing the calamities of their lives, called a teenager to renew the covenants that don’t eliminate sorrow and suffering and separation at death, but do sanctify and endow each of those obstacles with transcendent meaning and guarantee that the same sociality that exists among us here will exist among us there, only coupled with eternal glory.
Some landmarks along the way. I’m not too excited about these earlier ones that have already been done, but the later ones are worth your attention. You can see that earlier this year we started publishing chapters in the Church magazines. Advance copies have gone out, or soon will, to all of the seminary and institute teachers across the Church. I’m very excited for them to get it into their hands. I’ve talked to lots of them, and they’re excited for it to get into their hands. And if there are any that aren’t, it won’t matter because their students are going to read it, and they’re going to know it better than their teachers, if the teachers don’t read it. And it will gain the momentum that it deserves and needs, whether everybody likes it or not.
Volume One will launch on September 4. It will be in print, ebook, or audio book. You can have a female or male narrator, whichever you choose. You can hear those first six chapters right now in your Gospel Library App or at saints.lds.org. There will be an event at the Museum of Church History in Salt Lake City on September 4, and then a few days later, Elder Cook and Matthew Grow, the Director of Publications in the Church History Department, and Kate Holbrook, the head of the Mormon Women’s History initiative, will do a Face to Face event from Nauvoo on September 7, all about Saints. They’ll be available in all the channels you could hope for.
And finally, you can see where the subtitles of the volumes came from—Joseph Smith’s wonderful prophecy in his 1842 letter—“The standard of truth has been erected”—the blueprint of the subtitles for the four volumes. Volume Two: “No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecution may rage, mobs, may combine, armies may assemble and calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth.” Volume Three: “boldly, nobly and independent, until it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country,” and Volume Four: “sounded in every ear until the purposes of God should be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say, ‘The work is done.’” Isn’t that just right?
Thanks very much for your time and attention. I am grateful to be a witness to this way of the Lord hastening His work in its time. And if you have a minute or two worth of questions, I’ll be glad to try to address them.
Q 1: Are there any controversial topics you will avoid such as temple rites versus Masonry, polyandry, Adam-God teaching?
A 1: The answer is no. I’m not sure yet what we’re going to do with anything with Adam-God, but if we don’t put that in there explicitly, it won’t be because we’re avoiding it. It will be because it doesn’t otherwise fit the narrative arc, and we will find a way to address it. We’ll find ways to get the Saints the resources they need, but that other stuff specifically mentioned, it’s right there right now. It’s already in the book. It’s too late now.
Q 2: What are we to make of Brigham Young’s announcement on blacks and priesthood?
A 2: We talk about that in volume two. We situate it in 1852 when Brigham Young started making public statements on race and priesthood. Well, that’s just part of the story. Let’s tell that as it happened.
Q 3: What was the thinking behind leaving out Joseph Smith’s report of the First Vision, criticizing ministers and creeds of his day?
A 3: That’s a great question. Maybe I’m taking too much credit here, but this is a subject of personal interest to me, and I think that particular passage of Joseph Smith’s history where he quotes the Savior saying all their creeds are an abomination, their professors are corrupt—that is shaped by a persecuted present. And so it’s a mixture of his past and present. I’m not calling the event into question, but I’m saying that we chose to use memories that he had that were softer. We’re writing a past for the present. It’s not a real great idea right now to throw grenades into the room when we’re trying to make good relationships. So we’re not hiding it. It’s right there in the Pearl of Great Price. But we’ll tell that story using other words. For example, the Wentworth letter says the Lord told Joseph they’re believing in incorrect doctrines; none of the churches are true; they believe in incorrect doctrines. So same message, a little different words.
Q 4: Is Saints the antidote to Work and the Glory?
A 4: It’s not opposed to Work and Glory. So what you can learn from The Work and the Glory is that Brother Lund is a storyteller, an excellent one. He’s a teacher, and he has things he wants to teach, and he doesn’t pedantically or dogmatically or didactically come out and say, here’s what I’m going to teach. I’m going to lecture you. Instead, he puts them in a story, and you read the story, and you don’t maybe realize that when you’re done with that story, you learn the stuff he wanted you to learn. That’s what we can learn from Work and Glory. What we don’t do is fictionalize anything. There are no made up characters. There are no made up lines of dialogues, no made up setting. So it’s not like Work and the Glory in that respect, but we hope that it is a powerful teacher in the way that Brother Lund’s works are.
Q 5: No offense, but most books written by committee are boring and dry. [Amen] I’m surprised by how engaging a read it is. At least the first five chapters end with a cliffhanger.
A 5: See, now Scott will be of no use for the rest of the month. His head will be so big. To be serious though, the reason that sounds great is because Scott is on that committee, and it goes through him, and he’s the one that gives it that voice. So thank him, because it doesn’t sound like every other thing that we’ve done in that way.
Q 6: The project is the Lord’s. Will you tell us about a time when you saw His hand in it?
A 6: I thought two or three times today as I talked about maybe being more explicit about His hand being in it. I testify of that. One of the ways you see that is, like Esther, there’s a handful of people who have come into the kingdom for such a time as this. They were prepared; they were right on time; and the Lord led us to them when He needed them and got them where He needed them. And that’s one of the ways you can see His hand working in it. I know that He likes the subtitles. That’s all I’ll say about those parts though.
Q 7: Who came up with the title Saints ?
A 7: I don’t know if it was the Lord or King Benjamin, but it was one of them, and the Holy Spirit made it clear that that was the one. Thank you very much. God bless you.