The September Ensign has an article about the Mountain Meadows Massacre (HT: M*).
If you want to know how remarkable this is, simply compare the tone and content of the article with the treatment of the same subject by the current Institute manual, which you can read here. (It begins on p371.) What stood out to me in the CES account is that it leads with the sins of the Fancher Party (they “pilfered from local farmers”) whereas the Ensign article points out that “nothing that any of the emigrants purportedly did or said, even if all of it were true, came close to justifying their deaths.” I think the most suspect move in the Institute manual is to refer to the perpetrators as “whites” or “the men of the Iron County militia” and thereby distance them from the Church. (Contrast the Ensign article: “The plan to attack the emigrant company originated with local Church leaders in Cedar City.” It also mentions that Haight was a stake president.) Given that context, this sentence strikes me as a little deceptive: “John D. Lee, a key participant, but certainly not the only officer responsible for the deed, was the only Latter-day Saint indicted.” (Because it makes it sound as if he were the only LDS involved.)
By contrast, the Ensign article lays it all on the table. It doesn’t shy away even from the meta-issues: “For a century and a half the Mountain Meadows Massacre has shocked and distressed those who have learned of it. The tragedy has deeply grieved the victimsâ€™ relatives, burdened the perpetratorsâ€™ descendants and Church members generally with sorrow and feelings of collective guilt, unleashed criticism on the Church, and raised painful, difficult questions. How could this have happened? How could members of the Church have participated in such a crime?” It also mentions (which the manual does not) Brigham Young and other leaders’ “fiery rhetoric” as a cause of “exacerbated tensions.” The telling of the tale never flinches, even to the very end, where the surviving little children are adopted into LDS homes until government agents “retrieved them.” (By contrast, the Institute manual kinda sorta implies that the LDS decided to send the children back East.)
Now, I’m certainly no expert on MMM and I welcome correction of what I have written from anyone who can provide it. (Paging Ardis . . .) But what is most noteworthy here to me isn’t the content per se but the tone of these two texts. I think it is fair the conclude that the Institute manual tries to say as little as possible that might be damaging to the reader’s impression of the Church–to the point where they create a false impression of events. But the Ensign article didn’t try to hide anything (“The Mountain Meadows Massacre has continued to cause pain and controversy for 150 years.”)
The June Ensign had two articles (here and here) that touched on how we might respond to challenges to our faith (the first even specifically mentioned questions about DNA and evolution). I suspect that the media scrutiny of the Church launched by Romney’s campaign is the cause of this new openness.
Hey: I just found the only thing to like about Romney.