Times & Seasons is proud to announce the 2014 Mormon of the Year: Authors of the Gospel Topics Essays. The Mormon of the Year is our annual designation of the Mormons who had the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism during the year.
Beginning in 2013 the LDS Church has published a series of essays on LDS.org, under the heading of Gospel Topics, addressing controversial topics involving the church and its history. These special essays, currently covering 9 topics, represent a new approach both to public outreach and to informing the church membership on these subjects. While the publication of these essays is a step taken by the church as an institution, we feel it is appropriate to recognize their anonymous authors as the 2014 Mormon of the Year, because it is in substantial part because of these authors, and others doing related work, that the church is able to take this new approach. The essays have changed how many members understand Church history and doctrine, and offered a Church-sanctioned explanation of difficult issues for many others. As these essays have been released, they have increasingly received attention from both members online and in the press, culminating with the recent set of essays on polygamy published this past fall.
Topics such as whether and in what sense Mormons are Christian, distinctive Mormon teachings on the human potential to become like God, and questions from Mormon history about polygamy and race have been a source of puzzlement, controversy, and even confusion for many both inside and outside the Church. While these topics have been addressed in depth by a variety of unofficial sources, from various perspectives, official sources had spent little attention on these issues for some years prior to the publication of these essays. Some might say that these issues are peripheral to core church teachings on faith, repentance, baptism and other saving ordinances, the eternal family, and so on. Others would observe that many questions surrounding these subjects are simply not settled by Church revelation in a definitive way. Yet others have felt these topics raise urgent questions that the Church needed to address more directly.
The Gospel Topics essays inform readers about the facts surrounding these points of controversy, and suggest constructive ways to understand them, without pretending to settle all questions. They provide an official Church source, while directing interested readers to unofficial sources for further exploration. Thus they represent an important development in the content of Church publications.
At the same time, they represent a fresh style and method in the production of Church materials. In their composition, their content, and the sources they refer to, they represent a joint effort between independent scholars and the institutional church to address these complex subjects. They inform in an academic manner while addressing the human poignancy and spiritual weight of their subjects. As the LDS.org page reinforces, these essays provide a model for learning both “by study and also by faith,” that informs while leaving room for a range of opinions. Both the anonymous authors and others, cited and uncited, whose research has fed their thought have had an important impact by preparing an array of unofficial examinations and placing them in perspective in a way that makes these essays possible.
The impact of these essays has been significant and will likely increase, as they and their content are integrated into church curricula. For many adult Church members, they are simply unlike anything that they have seen in their lives.
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The Mormon of the Year designation is a recognition of the effect that the person or group of persons recognized has had during the past year. It is not a prize or award, so nothing of value is being given to anyone as a result of this designation, and it is not necessarily meant to honor the person or persons recognized, so no effort will be made to contact or notify any of these authors (who are not identified and remain largely unknown).
We were very pleased by the interest in selecting the Mormon of the Year. The Times and Seasons readers and staff nominated a total of 22 candidates. We learned a lot from those nominations, especially the range of our readers’ beliefs and feelings and about Mormons who have done significant things and really deserve to be on a list of possible Mormons of the Year.
The LDS Church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were excluded from nominations.
We also appreciate those who dropped by and participated in our online vote, which taught us a lot about the passion that many people have for their friends and those that they admire. Nearly 4,300 people voted in our poll, more than any year except our first year. We hope that those who dropped by enjoyed Times and Seasons and will drop by again.
Please plan on participating in next year’s Mormon of the Year nominations and designation. I’m sure that many of the nominees will show up next year, and those of us who were unfamiliar with some of the nominees can use that time to become more familiar with them. Certainly we will re-nominate some of them next year.