A Reply to the New York Times Article: "Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt"
July 23, 2013
by John W. Welch
This weekend, an article was published in the New York Times entitled "Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt." This article has attracted a large number of comments, and many of them are level-headed, helpful, and well-informed, indicating a robust amount of interest. While there is not a lot that is really new in this article, and while the rigor of its journalism can be called into question in certain respects (see this link), the article is evidence that many people feel that they have been left in the dark on certain subjects.
Resources on the Web
BYU Studies may shed some important light on those subjects. While no one has all the answers to every question, the BYU Studies website, together with many other resources and publications, are now easily available to provide many well-researched and well-written treatments of topics of current interest. We invite people to familiarize themselves with this website. It may come in very handy.
The BYU Studies Quarterly journal has been published for over 54 years. Each issue has covered ground-breaking, rigorous articles about Mormon history, scripture, documents, and subjects from a wide variety of academic disciplines. For example, the article by Edward Kimball, published in 2008, commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the 1978 revelation announcing that it was time for the Church to extend its lay priesthood to all worthy males, is a rigorous, candid, must-read article. It is readily available to anyone for free. The results, in only one generation, are very gratifying. The integration of LDS congregations is an enviable success story in social and religious transformation.
In addition, the BYU Studies website also features many links to reference works such as the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, published by Macmillan in 1992. It is also available free. This semi-official publication of the Church, produced under the auspices of Brigham Young University in close conjunction with the Macmillan encyclopedia division, contains over 1,200 concise, credible articles. Readers today may be pleased to learn how much was said, over 20 years ago, about many subjects now attracting current interest.
Joseph Smith and Polygamy
On Joseph Smith's introduction and practicing of polygamy, for example, see the 1992 Encyclopedia articles on "Plural Marriage," and "Smith, Joseph." The article on plural marriage (polygamy) mentions Fanny Alger, hostilities, inner conflicts, challenges, regulation of this ordinance, Emma, and says that Joseph "set the example." The biographical entry on "Smith, Joseph: The Prophet" devotes a good-sized paragraph to Joseph's introduction of plural marriage as early as 1841, with "his first recorded plural wife, Louisa Beaman" that year. That paragraph ends with the statement, "During his remaining [three] years, he married at least twenty-seven others."
Translation of the Book of Mormon
On the use of a seer stone as well as the Nephite interpreters in translating the Book of Mormon, see the entries under "Book of Mormon Translation," "Seer Stones," and "Urim and Thummim." Although Joseph's use of the hat was not mentioned in those articles, the hat has been mentioned on a number of occasions. In 1984, the FARMS paper by Stephen Ricks cited in the Encyclopedia quotes David Whitmer in this regard; see further at this link. An extensive chapter on the translation of the Book of Mormon in Opening the Heavens, published in 2005, compiles over 200 accounts left by people close to that process, a number of which mention Joseph's use of the hat. And, interestingly, the use of the hat, while perhaps unfamiliar or embarrassing to some people, actually may solve a much more serious concern, since it corroborates the important testimony of Emma insisting that Joseph used no notes and had no books, including the Bible, when he translated; after all, he could not have read or used any such materials with his face in the hat.
Much more can and should be said on these topics, and fortunately new research is steadily pressing forward. May we suggest that one highly respected way to keep informed about these developments is to subscribe to and read BYU Studies Quarterly and to make use of the BYU Studies website and related links. To apply here the theme scripture of BYU Studies: "As all have not faith [or information], . . . seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118).