Ten years ago, I posted one of my very first pieces at T&S, “Missing Essentials,” noting the decline of familiarity with LDS history by the average member of the Church and suggesting this was due, in part, to the lack of a replacement volume for Essentials in Church History. In the intervening ten years, the problem has deepened. What was once simple historical ignorance has become, for some Latter-day Saints, a faith crisis, as they encounter online accounts of troubling LDS historical events. Local leaders are generally no more conversant in the details of LDS history than the membership and don’t have much to offer troubled members who share their concerns. The Gospel Topics essays are one response to this challenging development. Now we have official word that book-length treatments of LDS history will soon be published by the Church, finally filling the role once occupied by Essentials.
As reported by the Deseret News, Elder Steven Snow addressed the Mormon Historical Association last week and announced a four-volume history, to be titled Saints. While Elder Snow likened the new series to the massive B. H. Roberts history published almost a hundred years ago, I think it is better seen as a replacement for Essentials. The article notes: “Written at a 9- or 10-grade reading level, the volumes will be published in all 13 languages in which Church-published content is available on the internet.” So this is a publication intended to be read by the full membership of the Church, not just scholars and history types and not just English speakers. These volumes are intended to reach a much wider LDS audience than the volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, for example.
Furthermore, pricing of the hard-copy volumes and free access to online versions will facilitate wide distribution. As quoted in the article, Elder Snow states, “They will be published in an inexpensive paperback format, as we are desirous that as many Church members as possible read them.” Finally, the article states that “Elder Snow said the volumes will be ‘transparent, honest and faithful,’ with controversial aspects of Church history covered in the context of the entire story.” So this is going to be a really big deal when the first volume comes out next year.
One the one hand, I think this should have happened ten or twenty years ago. On the other hand, better late than never.
Here is a final word by Elder Snow, as reported in the article:
“The history will not be a reference work, but a narrative based on well-researched facts,” he said. “We believe this will be valuable to church members to greatly enhance their knowledge of church history in an interesting way. In my view this will have an impact on members of the church for generations to come.”