I just finished Terryl Givens’s _By the Hand of Mormon_. Its a fun read, though a bit more polemical than I assumed it would be. I think it does make a solid contribution to Book of Mormon studies in its final chapters. Most interesting to me, though, was the summary it provided of Church’s attitude toward and utilization of the Book of Mormon over the past 175 years or so.
Givens gives statistics for how often the BofM was cited in church talks, church magazines, etc., before Pres. Benson’s landmark addresses on the topic, and they are astonishing to someone who grew up in a post-Benson Church. What I am interested in, however, is not how the BofM was treated publicly, but how it was treated by the membership, and what contributed to the success of President Benson’s efforts to change that.
First, I am curious as to how Mormon families used the Book of Mormon pre-1986. The way Givens describes it, its almost as if it were exclusively a missionary tool. It was studied as part of the church curriculum every four years, but that was about the extent of it. It seems that for the members, the _doctrines_ taught by the Book of Mormon were secondary to the brute fact of its existence. So I ask those that are (slightly) older than me, is that characterization right? Did the youth not know by heart the stories of the stripling warriors, of Samuel the Lamanite, of the mighty Ammon?
Second, I wonder what factors contributed to President Benson’s success in creating this apparent sea change in our attitude toward the Book of Mormon. For instance, what was the grass roots effect of the newly footnoted and cross-referenced edition of the standard works that was issued in 1981 or so? I am wondering if that facilitated families to become more engaged with the Book of Mormon. I imagine that the correlation effort, begun a couple of decades earlier, also laid the groundwork for the emphasis on the Book of Mormon, by streamlining the various curricula that were being used. What other factors have contributed to the cultural shift that has occurred in the past 20 years?