40 years ago today - Jul 27, 1982-Tuesday

[Leonard Arrington]

My principal regret in the new arrangement [no desk allowed for Arrington, nor his secretary at church headquarters] is that this is symbolic of the Church decision to "move out the historians" from the Historical Department and Church headquarters. It means lack of confidence in our loyal historians. It means no Church-approved research, writing, and publishing. From now on, the writing of Church history will have to be done by university professors, seminary and Institute teachers, and private persons, all under private auspices. And all as essentially a labor of love. It means our great experiment in church-sponsored history has proven to be, if not a failure, at least not an unqualified success. The Church, of course, will control to some extent the things that are written and published by refusing access to documents in the archives, of which there will probably be a good deal [of concern]. At worst, the Church Archives will cease to be a professional archive in the proper sense, and will become a private archive, to be used only by a small core of Church personnel.

One aspect that will be personally galling to me will be the jibes of my non-Mormon and anti-Mormon friends: "I told you so." Some scholars, Mormon and non-Mormons alike, have contended that skeptical and critical methods of historical research and writing are incompatible with the maintenance of a firm testimony of the Gospel. I have felt confident that they were wrong, and I have said so publicly many times-in professional papers, talks, books, and private conversations.

... We have derided the misguided attempts of those with less faith who have tried to cover up historical truth in "defending the Kingdom." Their sacrifice of scholarly integrity seems ridiculous. What did the Church gain by the order of one General Authority to the BYU Library to lock up and prevent the circulation of Robert Woodford's Ph.D. dissertation on changes in the Doctrine and Covenants? How was the faith of members preserved by the decision of Deseret Book Company, as influenced by the Quorum of Twelve [Apostles], not to publish a second and revised edition of Story of the Latter-day Saints? How did it affect testimonies adversely by presenting naturalistic explanations of some of the revelations and pronouncements of the guiding authorities? I have always been puzzled that as astute a person as Brigham Young thought he could successfully preserve historical truth by withdrawing and burning copies of Route from Liverpool and Lucy Mack Smith's Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith.

Mormonism has always identified truth with faith. All the Prophets, from Joseph Smith to Spencer Kimball, have taught that any interference with truth is contrary to Gospel principles. ... My staff of historians and I are committed to continue this search for Mormon historical truth. We expect under BYU auspices to carry out this task. We recognize that Elder [G. Homer] Durham believes that he is facilitating our work by transferring us to BYU. [[Davis Bitton disagreed that Durham had their best interests at heart. Durham had ad- vised them "to keep a low profile" and had criticized the division for being "a 'think tank' of the kind that the Church should not have. ... Without being able to prove it," Bitton continued, "I am confident that [Durham] initiated the plan to phase out the History Division. If he did not initiate it, he approved it and implemented it. He was not a defender; he was an adversary, although he did try to maintain a paternal (verging on condescending) posture through it all." Bitton, "Reflections After Ten Years," July 27, 1982, included in the diary at this date.]] On the face of it, the move to BYU seems stupid. Why move to BYU, where there are only limited materials on Church history, when we are already located on the Mother Lode? Actually, there are advantages of being placed under the BYU rubric. No Church official is under obligation to "approve" our projects and publications. We are under academic auspices, and these are far freer than the ecclesiastical auspices we have been under. And we all live in Salt Lake City and can continue to work "as visiting scholars" in the Church Archives. ... It may seem that I should regret our move because it takes me away from a frequent and friendly association with the General Authorities. Actually, that association, which was so meaningful and positive for me from 1972 to 1976 was essentially halted by Elder Durham. ...

[Confessions of a Mormon historian : the diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997, Gary James Bergera, editor, Signature Books, 2018]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please Enter your Comment: