Marlin K Jensen explains how the Church History Department has to be run

Taken from an interview with Utah State University Institute students several years ago (2006 or 07), I listened to this and was amazed at his closing statement explaining how he has to run the church's history department. How can this research be fair and biased? The whole thing is fascinating, but especially his closing statement:

"I want to say this delicately. I think we have an obligation as the stewards of
church history to keep faith and retain the trust of the prophet and his 14 associates in the administration of the church and to carry out whatever we do in a way that corresponds with their view and their goals for the church generally so that we're not just a rogue or independent church history department but that we are nestled safely within the church doing with church history what the leaders of the church and them hopefully the Lord would want us to do." -Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, official church historian


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Amazingly telling statement that most outsiders would recognize as being a red flag about what kind of "history" is peddled by the church history/education department.  I don't know how long Mr. Jensen has been at the head of the history department, but if he had anything to do with the church education system during the past 2-3 decades, he surely heard, read or otherwise knows about Boyd K. Packers address titled "The Mantle is Far Greater than the Intellect" that pretty much lays down the law of how history is to be taught whitewashed.  

Page-1, 3rd Paragraph
"It is an easy thing for a man with extensive academic 
training to measure the Church using the principles 
he has been taught in his professional training as 
his standard. In my mind it ought to be the other 
way around. A member of the Church ought always, 
particularly if he is pursuing extensive academic 
studies, to judge the professions of man against the 
revealed word of the Lord"

Right off the bat Packer is gearing member bias against professional academia and standards towards church authoritative, top down "this is how it is" bias. There is a reason for standards in Professional research and academia, the attempt is to preserve intellectual honesty and consistency.

Paragraphs 5-17 on pages 1-2 describe a story that further cements member bias towards church revelatory authority, and against professors who lack that purportedly divine inspiration. The problem with revelation, even within the LDS church, is it's subjectivity and inconsistency. One only need review all of the changes in doctrines and practices over the last 170 years to see how flip-floppy this "trusted" source is. So much for God never changing. But I'm sure these changes were all inspired, even though most were years behind the advancement of secular society.

Can you not see the bias Packer is peddling here on P2, Paragraph 3:
"I must not be too critical of those professors. They do 
not know of the things of the Spirit. One can understand 
their position. It is another thing, however, when we 
consider members of the Church, particularly those who 
hold the priesthood and have made covenants in the 
temple. Many do not do as my associate did; rather, they 
capitulate, cross over the line, and forsake the things 
of the Spirit. Thereafter, they judge the Church, the 
doctrine, and the leadership by the standards of their 
academic profession."

Page 2 is also primarily the cementing of spiritual authority over academic practices. My question, why can't the full history be taught "with the spirit"? Or does "teaching with the spirit" literally mean, whitewashing events that are not faith promoting, since those events challenge what is generally recognized as good? I have a hard time seeing how Packer could mean any different.

Packer's example of teaching a history Mendelssoh without including Mendelssoh's is actually quite ironic, and also dubious. What has been peddled as church history, with many facts or events being left out or changed to varying degrees, is very much like teaching the history of Mendelssoh without talking about his music.

On to page 3, 2nd column, 4th Paragraph:
"Historians seem to take great pride in publishing 
something new, particularly if it illustrates a weakness 
or mistake of a prominent historical figure. For 
some reason, historians and novelists seem to savor 
such things. If it related to a living person, it would 
come under the heading of gossip. History can be as 
misleading as gossip and much more difficult—often 
impossible—to verify"

Here Packer slants further bias against secular historians by making a somewhat blanket claim about all historians focusing primarily on sensationalism and character flaws. While this may be true of some historians, it is unfair and dishonest for Packer to make such a claim, further entrenching believing Mormons to only trust church authorized/filtered content, much like Orwell's "1984". That aside, what's wrong with teaching all sides of a historical character, their positive and negative traits? You don't get a full understanding of a person's personality and character from only hearing one aspect.

Pg 4, 1st Paragraph:
"We are teachers and should know the importance of 
the principle of prerequisites. It is easily illustrated 
with the subject of chemistry. No responsible chemist 
would advise, and no reputable school would permit, 
a beginning student to register for advanced chemistry 
without a knowledge of the fundamental principles of 
chemistry. The advanced course would be a destructive 
mistake, even for a very brilliant beginning student. 
Even that brilliant student would need some knowledge 
of the elements, of atoms and molecules, of electrons, of 
valence, of compounds and properties. To let a student 
proceed without the knowledge of fundamentals would 
surely destroy his interest in, and his future with, the 
field of chemistry."

Uhm, maybe it's just me, but comparing history to chemistry is quite extreme. History can be taught fully without potentially endangering the students. Unprepared students may be tempted to try dangerous experiments with chemistry, but history doesn't offer such dangerous thrills. Similar comparisons to sex ed in the continuing paragraphs are also irrelevant to teaching an honest, full history.

Pg 4, 4th Paragraph:
"What is true with these two subjects is, if anything, 
doubly true in the field of religion. The scriptures teach 
emphatically that we must give milk before meat. The 
Lord made it very clear that some things are to be 
taught selectively, and some things are to be given only 
to those who are worthy."

And so he concludes that teaching history selectively, cherry picking the good from the bad if you will, is totally justified, since the ends justify the means right? When it comes to diet, "milk before meat" makes complete sense, since babies and toddlers don't have developed teeth or digestive systems for adult food. That logic does not make sense when it comes to teaching history. History is a story, and changing the story is to change perceptions from what really happened. In most cases, changing the story is considered lying, manipulative and dishonest.

I get that Packer is against historians picking out only the negative, as he seems to think is the case for all historians not of the church, but let me ask you, is the full picture known, is the truth revealed when only the good side of history is taught, or is only teaching the selective good more akin to teaching fantasy, creating near flawless characters who glimmer in sunlight? Why not a balanced approach to history, revealing both the triumphs, and failures of revered characters? It would seem from the news article I originally linked that that is exactly what the church is now hoping to do. In coming out now with a full history, doesn't that also admit to them having selectively taught history in the past? Unfortunately for them, the wide open internet has made it easy enough for anyone to access previously little known aspects of church history, thus their hand has been forced, again, rather then they leading by example with the full truth from the beginning. They pretty much admit to the fact that had the full history been taught throughout primary, seminary and Sunday school, they wouldn't now have the problem of adults being broadsided by such troubling facts. Packer very much recognizes how hard it is to establish faith when the true history is riddled with paradoxes and questionable behavior of the lords so called "annointed". And thus his threats of discouragement on page 5, paragraphs 3-4:

"That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out 
the weakness and frailties of present or past leaders 
destroys faith. A destroyer of faith—particularly one 
within the Church, and more particularly one who is 
employed specifically to build faith—places himself in 
great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, 
and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful 
in the eternities.
One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, 
regardless of how they may injure the Church or 
destroy the faith of those not ready for “advanced 
history,” is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is 
a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants 
and will be accountable. After all of the tomorrows of 
mortality have been finished, he will not stand where 
he might have stood"

Fear tactics. You teach the truth fully, or your job and spiritual wellbeing are in jeopardy. And still I beg the question, if faith would not be established were the full history to be taught, is it an organization or belief worthy of said faith?

On page 5, 2nd column, paragraph 2 Packer lays down the bias, and thus the justification for selective teaching of history:
"In the Church we are not neutral. We are one-sided. 
There is a war going on, and we are engaged in it. It is 
the war between good and evil, and we are belligerents 
defending the good. We are therefore obliged to give 
preference to and protect all that is represented in the 
gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have made covenants 
to do it."

So here we have a paradox: Satan is the father of lies and deception, yet the church justifies the selective teaching of history, thus lying and teaching half truths themselves, thus serving the father of lies by their own description. The paragraphs following the one above continue to pit members against intellectually honest historians who know they would be pitching fantasy to only teach selective events that maintain the church and historical figures in a positive light.

I'm about half way through the talk at this point.  Not sure I'll continue.

This illustrates the vast gap between rational thought and balanced reasoning compared to how religious people think.  I can't fathom how they manage to convince themselves that they are not being deceitful as they hide, misguide, spin hagiographies and offer "milk" (easily swallowed ear candy, really) before "meat,"  which is actually the stuff you wouldn't believe at all before initial indoctrination.  They simply believe that end justifies the means because they know they are right.   This attitude has been a major contributor to my personal apostasy.

Was he saying:

"Gotta be careful.  That truth stuff might slip in and that can muck up the works."

because that's what it sounded like to me.

From page 7.  

"Many years ago Elder Widtsoe made reference to a foolish teacher in the Mutual Improvement Association who sponsored some debate with the intent of improving the abilities of the young members of the Church. He chose as a subject “Resolved: Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” Unfortunately, the con side won.

The youngsters speaking in favor of the proposition were not as clever and their arguments were not as carefully prepared as those of the opposing side."

Yeah I'm sure that was the problem.  The teacher assigned all the smart hardworking kids to argue against Joseph Smith and all the dumb lazy kids to argue for him.


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