« Who's Who on "The Mormons" | Main | Sidebar Additions »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I find it both interesting and refreshing that both Elder Jensen and Elder Holland expressed regret over the priesthood ban and the way in which that story is/has been told. I really do hope that his idea with making changes to the folklore of the priesthood ban will be taken more seriously by the Brethren. I think it would help immensely. I also find it refreshing that they are considering the role between faith promoting history and objective history. I can't help but wonder if the Church's participation and cooperation with this documentary was evidence of their trying to test the waters to see how the Church members at large respond to objective history instead of the more popular faith promoting history we hear and learn about at church. I really enjoyed Elder Jensen's interview and loved hearing from him on the documentary.

I wish I could have been there when Jensen was with that Lutheran minister during his young missionary stint.

There is someone much more important than Luther. For if you have this Person, not Luther, in your life, you have everything.

Thinking of heart issues in church history.

Thank you for pointing attention to this interview. I just read something remarkable in it! Elder Jensen made the following statement, which I think is a first for leadership:

"And yes, some people argue sometimes, well, for the gay person or the lesbian person, we're not asking more of them than we're asking of the single woman who never marries. But I long ago found in talking to them that we do ask for something different: In the case of the gay person, they really have no hope. A single woman, a single man who is heterosexual in their thinking always has the hope, always has the expectation that tomorrow they're going to meet someone and fall in love and that it can be sanctioned by the church. But a gay person who truly is committed to that way of life in his heart and mind doesn't have that hope. And to live life without hope on such a core issue, I think, is a very difficult thing."

How wonderful to hear a general authority admit that this "same for everyone" argument is spurious!

How can anyone attempt to justify any thing other than "objective history". Any other kind of history is a bit of a lie, don't you think? If one has to resort to "faith promoting history" which is in contradiction to objective history, it is a sure sign that something is amiss.

'Objective history' in and of itself is relative. There is no such thing as true 'objective history' as every historian brings their own biases to the table when attempting to interpret historical fact.

Duff, I agree it sounds rather jarring to contrast the two like Elder Jensen did. FWIW, it sounds like they are aware of the problem and are trying to find a better way to conceptualize the official discussion of LDS history.

Dave, thanks for the link. I have enjoyed going over most of these interviews.

"Objective history" is a silly myth. In this world no such thing exists.

In the current popular "documentary" approach, the idea seems to be that if you attempt to present the views of supporters and dissidents equally and more or less dispassionately, it somehow melds together to create a holistic picture of "the truth". There is simply no basis in reality to support this assumption.

As far as I can tell, complaining about "faithful history" generally amounts to not much more than egoistic self-flattery. My one suspicion is that those who so attack the stories preserved and presented by the church may be doing so to defend their own sad lack of faith.

If anyone still believes that there is such thing as "objective" history, that person needs to read Peter Novick's _That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity" Question and the American Historical Profession_. All narratives written by human beings are written from a particular position and are shaped by certain questions. I think a better way to think about this is to ask what questions are going to drive the narrative? To what audience are we speaking? If we're writing to an academic audience, then we need to present the narrative according to the needs of the academic community. If we're writing toward members of the church, then we need to present it in such a way that is beneficial to churchmembers. If we're trying to speak to both audiences, as Arrington did (which he unfortunately didn't do very well), then we need to figure out a way to address the needs of both groups.

Usually when folks talk about objectivity now they mean "more objective" all the while recognizing that true or total objectivity is an impossibility.

I think we all recognize that there are ways to be fairer to the evidence than others. Once one starts allegorizing because of presuppositions one brings then all bets are off.

Of course with written texts it's a tad harder since texts often naturally allegorize. But we'd look askew at a historian who took the George Washington story purely as allegory and denied Washington ever lived. But we don't mind folks who tell us that the George and the cherry tree story never happened.

David, I read Novick's book many years ago. It's fine as a work of criticism, but to come away from it with the notion that all history is equally subjective and therefore equally bad is to misread him. What is a historian (or a reader of history) supposed to do with Novick's criticism of objectivity as an unattainable ideal? Just because ideal objectivity is unattainable doesn't mean all actual historical research and narrative is therefore equally valid or invalid. And just tailoring the narrative to fit the intended audience won't get you very far: anti-Mormon books, for example, are sometimes carefully tailored for an LDS audience. That doesn't make them reliable or commendable.

In his essay "Faithful History," Richard L. Bushman addressed the question, noting first how each new generation discovers new historical facts and rewrites history using those new facts and from different perspectives:

Recognizing the contingency of written history does not mean we can dismiss it as trivial. No human activity, including the physical sciences, escapes these limitations. We must try to speak the truth about the past as earnestly as we try to tell the truth about anything. Accepting the inevitable role of beliefs and values in history simply compels us to examine more closely the concerns which influence us and to make sure that we write history with our truest and best values uppermost.

Dave: No where in my post did I say that "all history is equally subjective and therefore equally bad" or that "all actual historical research and narrative is therefore equally valid or invalid." I was simply adding my voice to the posts above that were arguing against objective history. I don't think that by saying that one cannot be objective that no truth can be found; rather, subjectivity requires that the author organize his/her data according to the mode of interpretation and audience.
Elder Jensen's comment on needing to write either faithful history, or objective history, does present a difficult challenge to the church, one that it has been struggling with since Arrington was called to professionalize the archives and write the church's history. Of course, both approaches will require careful reading of the evidence; I in no way intended to imply otherwise. I do hold to my assertion that this question is largely one of audience needs and the ability to write for both an academic and a popular audience.

I often have occasion these days to monitor public service radio channels. The communications carried on these bands tend to be rapid, terse, densely packed with information, and sometimes even cryptic. It proves difficult for the uninitiated to even follow the development of an event.

These radio broadcasts follow a specific agenda. The callers and listeners understand the protocol that best serves their requirements. They tend to follow it without deviating.

There's nothing particularly "objective" about this structuring of the information envelope. It simply suits the medium and messages that the users need delivered. It certainly does not equate to any "moral superiority" or somehow hew closer to "truth". It is just well-adapted to efficiently serve one narrow niche.

Imagine how silly it would be for anyone to insist that all information should rightfully follow the same protocol as these radio communications.

There may in fact be no such thing as objective history, but there certainly is such a thing as "faith promoting history". It has been practiced by religions, and politicians, and nations, for that matter, since such entities existed. If someone's "history" is self serving, rather than as objective as one is able to make it, it may be called anything, but it certainly isn't objective. Most of the church history I was taught as a boy was faith promoting. Not a wart to be found. And I would be astounded if suddenly the church turned over a new historical leaf and included in its official history all of the facts of Joseph Smith's life. It will never happen.

Does anyone know what Jensen's qualifications are as a historian? Does he have any academic training in the subject? Just wondering.

His story about being a missionary was interesting. I wondered to myself as he told it: if two missionaries from another church visited a local ward on F&T Sunday, and they got up and spoke to the congregation and said something like "yeah, your Joseph Smith fellow had some good ideas, but we have more truth than you and you should listen to us and convert to the one true church" I wonder if we'd be as impressed with that as with Elder Jensen doing pretty much the same thing in a Lutheran church.

I noticed that Jensen and Holland both referred to "folklore" about the Priesthood ban. I wonder: when does doctrine become officially reduced to folklore? The notion that blacks were denied the priesthood because of lack of valiance in the premortal existence was officially pronounced by the First Presidency in 1949 and affirmed in another statement in the late 1960s. Are official statements from the First Presidency ususally relegated to folklore status just a few decades after they are issued? Just wondering how all that works.

Equality: From what I understand Elder Jensen's background is in law, not academia.

EQ, it appears you are hiding your assertions behind "I'm just curious" questions.

In the first question, Jensen never claimed to be a historian. I suspect you're arguing that the Church Historian ought to have a PhD in history.

On the second question, I can't tell what you are asserting: That LDS missionaries can't defend themselves when criticized? That missionares shouldn't be allowed (when invited, as here) to address Christian congregations? I disagree with your closing comment. Recall that when two Protestant minister-scholars spoke at the Tabernacle a couple of years ago, the only ones who got upset were other Protestants!

On the third question, I think you are just feigning confusion: Jensen was clear that his view was the origin of the ban was not "revelation," just practice that gathered folk doctrine around it over time and then morphed into fixed doctrine. I don't know what the FP statements have to do with anything. But I'm sure you'll enjoy reading my forthcoming post summarizing of Greg Prince's comments on the topic in his PBS interview transcript.

Dave, I surely don't remember the priesthood ban being anything other than officially established doctrine, not folklore that "morphed into doctrine".
I remember in the mission home in Salt Lake in 1962, at the end of the week of indoctrination, a black janitor, or waiter of something of that sort, getting up in front of the missionaries and bearing his testimony and saying he firmly believed that someday, someday, he too would be able to hold the priesthood. "I am not sensitive at not holding the priesthood", he said, "Some day I too will be allowed to hold the priesthood." I remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday.
Granted, one can't establish historical facts from anecdotes such as that, but I can guarantee you, there was not a single missionary in that group who wasn't aware it was official church doctrine that that man could not hold the priesthood for the simple fact that he carried the "mark of Cain" in his blood. And I doubt there was a single person there who didn't think it a bit outrageous that such a fine person should be denied the priesthood simply because of the color of his skin.
Official, or folkloric, what difference did it make? It was active policy from the beginnings of the church.
Anyone care to guess how long until women are no longer discriminated against?

Duff, I didn't say it wasn't an accepted doctrine (in fact, I said just the oppposite: that the practice had had evolved into an accepted doctrine). And you accurately represent the way Mormons thought about the ban in 1962. I think what you're missing is the 50 years in between, when historians and even LDS leaders dug into the origins of the ban and discovered it was never well grounded.

Unlike plural marriage, which had an identifiable revelation as the basis for the practice, there was not such a firm, identifiable basis for the priesthood ban. Even so, it had become such an established practice (and had developed its own doctrinal justification) that it required a revelation to end it. Prince discusses this in his PBS interview.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Now Reading

General Books 09-12

General Books 06-08

General Books 04-05

About This Site

Mormon Books 2015-16

Mormon Books 2013-14

Science Books

Bible Books

Mormon Books 2012

Mormon Books 2009-11

Mormon Books 2008

Mormon Books 2007

Mormon Books 2006

Mormon Books 2005

Religion Books 09-12

Religion Books 2008

Religion Books 2004-07

DMI on Facebook

Blog powered by Typepad