Tuesday, August 18, 2015
The media are reporting a celebration of a new era of LDS Church transparency with the release of The Joseph Smith Papers and, more recently, the printer's copy of The Book of Mormon. I can't disagree that the move to transparency is a good thing in that it's the most honest thing for the Church to do, but in the midst of all the celebrating I feel as though a lot of members are choosing to ignore what's to be celebrated. We're not celebrating new scripture, new revelations or even new propaganda for the missionaries to hand out. We're celebrating an end of the Church's suppression of information in one very specific area - it's early historical documents.
The two most infamous examples of previous attempts on behalf of the Church to keep historical information away from members include the Mark Hofmann forgeries and, earlier still, Joseph Fielding Smith's hiding of Joseph Smith’s 1832 version of the First Vision. Joseph Fielding had first discovered it in the First Presidency vault in Joseph Smith's personal letter book, freaked out about it enough to tear it out and hide the pages in his personal safe until he was pressured to release them in 1965. How messed up is that?
I'll admit I can't imagine what incentive he might have to share the first written version of the First Vision (it doesn't match well with the 1838 version), but his behavior is still alarming to me. Sure, it shows Joseph Fielding's lack of integrity, but it also shows just how fearful he was that the LDS house of cards would fall.
Now the Church is announcing via the Ensign and Liahona that Joseph Smith read magically appearing words on a stone in a hat and that that particular stone had nothing to do with an ancient Moroni, but that instead it has everything to do with a young Joseph Smith pretending he could see lost and buried objects (like gold). It's been 180 years and the general membership is only going to hear about it now (if they actually read the Liahona). Avoidance and denial add up to secrecy and deception in my brain.