The new Mormon history – Grant Palmer


I just spent a very enjoyable afternoon listening to the podcasts of John Dehlin from a couple of years ago when he interviewed Grant Palmer, the author of An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins and The Incomparable Jesus. For those who don’t know, John Dehlin was the Executive Director of Sunstone Magazine.

His brother is Joel Dehlin, the CIO of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. John spent several years interviewing Mormon scholars and publishing their interviews on the now defunct Mormon Stories. I think we are all very much indebted to John for the monumental work he completed over the years.

Grant Palmer spent 34 years as an employee of the Church Educational System, or CES, before resigning shortly before the publication of his controversial book. Grant was a True Believing Mormon until the time of the Mark Hoffman forgeries and murders in 1985. With an MA in History, Grant began an intensive study of early Mormon History for his PhD program.

Studying Mormon history

Now here’s where the story gets interesting. We are always encouraged by the Brethren to study the gospel. For various reasons, most members of the Church do not. Most are just too busy living their lives. Those who do have a serious study program eventually encounter what is now being called the new Mormon history. Don’t get confused. It really is the same history.

The problem is that it is new to those who are discovering it for the first time. As I have written previously, I am constantly amazed by the number of people who write how shocked they were when they discover some items in Mormon history that they did not know before. This is happening to new members and long time members of the church like Grant Palmer.

As Grant studied Mormon History he discovered what he called, the rest of the story. Even though he had been teaching orthodox church history all his life, he simply had not been exposed to some of the things that are not taught in the seminary and institute program. It’s not that they are hidden. It’s just that they are not talked about openly in the church, even today.

A faithful history

What is the difference between a faithful history and a faith-promoting history? There shouldn’t be any difference. A faithful history should report the events as they transpired, warts and all. This approach is respectful of the intelligence of the student of history, trusting them to be able to come to their own conclusions. A faith-promoting history may leave a few things out.

I think the church is getting better about acknowledging some aspects of our history that have previously been a bit obscure. I will always maintain that there has been no cover-up, but I know that the church has been very careful to ensure that what is presented by the missionaries and in our classrooms is faith-promoting. This may mean leaving some stuff untaught.

The problem of course is when the investigator, new member or even the missionary is handed a copy of Grant Palmer’s book or when they do their due diligence in researching the church on the Internet. The odds of finding faithful interpretations of history online are getting slimmer every day. That’s one reason why I have changed my blog to focus on these controversial issues.

Why this is difficult for some

Everyone who studies Mormon history has to come to some sort of conclusion how they are going to deal with this issue of discovering previously unknown and surprising things. I will always be eternally grateful for a mother who exposed me to these things at an early age. I read extensively from her library which included Fawn Brodie‘s No Man Knows my History.

When I first started reading blog entries and forum posts about peep stones and Joseph’s multiple wives I would scratch my head and wonder why it was such a big deal. Doesn’t everybody already know this stuff? Apparently not. When non-orthodox ideas about the origin of the Book or Mormon are discussed, it sometimes amuses me how worked up people can get.

I try to be understanding, really I do. I try to put myself in the place of the new investigator or new member who is reading this stuff for the first time. Sure, some of it seems really far-fetched and other parts are easy to misunderstand, especially where we don’t have the full story. I have come to the conclusion that some history students are missing something very important.

The missing ingredient

I’ve thought long and hard about why this stuff doesn’t bother me. What do I have that others don’t that allows me to deal with this stuff without it affecting my testimony or my faith? I don’t think I’m any different from any other life-long member of the Church. I don’t have any special claim to protection from the very convincing arguments of the intellectuals and scholars.

And why doesn’t this stuff bother the majority of the members of the church? Ignorance? I suppose that may be part of it. But when they are exposed to it, nothing detrimental happens. My wife is a perfect example. Just when I think I have found something in our history that nobody could interpret as being faith-promoting, she listens and quietly responds, “so what?”

What Carol and I have, and what most members of the church have that protects us from the doubts that can be caused by exposure to the non-Orthodox new Mormon history is revelation. Our testimonies are not based on an intellectual understanding of things and they never were. There are things that our heart just knows even if they do not make sense to our minds.

Summary and conclusion

Now, I’m not saying that those who doubt their testimonies when they learn about these things haven’t experienced personal revelation. Wait, I guess I am. Am I saying that Grant Palmer has not experienced personal revelation about the way the church is presenting our history? I can’t speak for Grant. I enjoyed listening to his story first-hand. He sounds like a very nice person.

But I can say that I have specifically prayed about this issue and have received a comforting witness to my soul that the way the Brethren are handling our history is fine with me. I do not claim to know the mind or will of the Lord about how things may change in the future in this area. I trust the Brethren. I sustain them and believe they are doing the will of the Lord.

I have concluded that this is just one of those tests through which some people have to pass. The revelation of which I speak is not about the history. It is about trusting the Lord. It is about knowing that the prophet and apostles really do act on behalf of the Lord in directing the church. My testimony is not based on intellect alone. It may not be logical to some but it is real to me.

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