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Leonard J. Arrington Diaries – “Boyd Packer”

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Yesterday afternoon from 2 pm to 3:45 pm the executives of the Historical Department met with our advisors from the Twe1ve.  There were present Elders Hunter and McConkie, Elder Anderson, and Earl, Don, and I.  Under the heading of new business EJder Hunter read the attached letter from Elder Packer to the First Presidency.  This had been read at the meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve on November 14, and had led to a rather full discussion of the work and programs of the Historical Department. Elder McConkie was not present at that meeting, and Elder Hunter had not been presented with an advance copy of the letter, and was not able to furnish answers to some of the questions raised. So his attitude was to “cool it,” to postpone any kind of recommendation or action.  He said he told Elder Packer that the letter should have been directed to him or to me, rather than to the First Presidency, and give us a chance to consider it and make whatever response we thought it required. Other members of the Twelve seemed to agree with this. . . .

Elder Hunter asked us to consider the letter and its implications, not to be too fast about responding.  And let our recommendations and reactions come back through proper channels—through Elder Anderson and through the advisors.  They set the next meeting for December 17 and 2 pm in Elder Hunter’s office.  He said he did not favor us taking any drastic action.  I said the letter was thoughtful and expressed some concerns that we ourselves had expressed, and that I did not feel that the letter was unwelcome.  Elder Anderson said that some of the criticism went too far.  The use of first names, like Joseph and Brigham, had been traditional in the Church, and he could see nothing wrong with that.  And as for the statement about Brigham Young advising his son not to smoke while on his mission, he thought that wasn’t bad—thought Brigham Young’s phrasing was rather good, and the effect of his advice to his sons was positive and good and would have the same effect on young men reading it today.

I pointed out the letter we had from one of the Twelve, who I didn’t identify, congratulating us and Jack Adamson on the introduction to the Brigham Young book.  Elder Hunter said he looked forward to getting the minutes of the meeting of the Twelve to see how the secretary summed it up.

In essence we have a vote of confidence from Elders Hunter, McConkie, and Anderson, and they see the letter as posing no threat to us or our program.  They will carry to the Twelve in their meeting today some responses expressed in the meeting yesterday, and point out that we are taking the letter under advisement.  My own reaction is:

  1. Keep down our involvement with Dialogue, Exponent II, and Sunstone; the less visibility with these periodicals the better.
  2. Increase our visibility with church periodicals and BYU Studies.
  3. Keep a steady flow of positive articles to balance the controversial ones.
  4. Keep reassuring people about the screening done by our present screening committee.
  5. To say absolutely nothing, by hint or otherwise, about the letter or the discussion to anybody but Davis, Jim, and Maureen, and to caution them to say absolutely nothing about it to anyone.
  6. To carry on as usual except for the points above.

[LJA Diary, 27 Nov., 1974]

October 24, 1974

The First Presidency –


Dear Brethren:

On several occasions I have expressed in our council meetings, my concern for some projects being undertaken by the Church Historian’s Office and some of those who have been engaged to work on the projects. May I state with emphasis, as I have in our meetings, that my concern does not deny in any way that these brethren are active members of the Church. It is a matter of orientation toward scholarly work—historian’s work in particular—that sponsors my concern.

I have come to believe that it is the tendency for most members of the Church who spend a great deal of time in academic research, to begin to judge the Church, its doctrine, organization, and history, by the principles of their own profession. Ofttimes this is done unwittingly, and some of it perhaps is wholesome. However, it is an easy thing for a man with extensive academic training to consider the Church with the principles he has been taught in his professional training as his measuring standard.

In my mind it ought to be the other way around. A member of the Church ought always, particularly if he is pursuing extended academic studies, to judge the professions of men against the revealed word of the Lord.

What concerns me about the Historian’s Office is that, unless I am mistaken, the direction they are taking is to judge what should be good for the Church and for the operation of the Historical Department against the rules set down for historians.

We have evidently authorized a series of publications in order to make available to all members of the Church much information that is in the Archives and in the Historical Department. This, I think is a very commendable project. I do feel however, and feel very deeply, that some tempering of the purely historical approach needs to be effected. Otherwise these publications will be of interest to other historians and perhaps serve them well, but at once may have a negative affect upon many. Particularly can they affect our youngsters who will not view the publications with the same academic detachment that a trained historian is taught to develop. I have seen how such published information has disturbed young students in the Church.

The first, I understand, of many such publications, is now off the press.  It is entitled, My Dear Son, and is a compilation of letters from Brigham Young to his sons.  In glancing over it I find much in it that is warm and wonderful and encouraging.  My fears however, about the viewpoint of the historian, have not been assuaged by glancing through the book.  Let me cite one or two illustrations by way of example, with the admission that no one of them by themselves is serious, but they are indicators of a direction that can be very serious.

For example, in the biography of Brigham Young, Jr., on page 20 you’ll find this statement.  “After the death of his father, Brigham Jr. was named one of the administrators of the estate, an assignment that caused him much sorrow when members of the family brought litigation against the Church in a public spectacle before the final settlement.”  This “public spectacle” is referred to elsewhere in the book.

I simply ask the question: Since this is a book of letters from Brigham Young to his sons, why should this unfortunate thing that happened after the death of Brigham Young be germane at all to the book?  It seems to be introduced gratuitously and is the kind of thing that many historians for some reason savor.  Such things also provide currency for apostates and critics of the Church.

On page 32, in a letter from President Young to his son Brigham Young, Jr., we find, “In all probability you will be able to entirely omit the use of tobacco while on your mission, if you have not already done so.  In such case I trust you will be wise enough not to resume its use on your return . . . but permit us to welcome you with your mouth and breath free from the use and smell of tobacco.”  I question the wisdom of printing that under Church sponsorship, since it will be understood in an entirely different light by our young people of today, who do not know the full circumstances of the early era; nor need the question be raised if we did not print it.

In the biography of Phineas Howe Young we find this: “At age fifteen he became tragically addicted to drugs following the administering of morphine during hospitalization to relieve suffering from typhoid fever.  He struggled all his life to overcome the habit and finally died at age forty-one.  His father likely newer knew of the addiction since the illness occurred about the time of Brigham Young’s death; hence he was not alive to help the young man cope with the problem.”

Please, I ask them, why bring that up?  I think his descendants may have some reason for being injured with such a thing included in a book published under the auspices of the Church.

Reference is also made to reports from Brigham Young, Jr. as a mission president.  “Within one year he reported nine cases of serious deviation.  In relating a particularly grievous case in which one elder had been guilty of drunkenness, immorality, and assault and battery, which resulted in a two-months prison sentence, etc. etc. etc.”

And again the question, why should the Church publish that?

I agree with President Stephen L Richards who once stated,

“If a man of history has secured over the years a high place in the esteem of his countrymen and fellow men and has become imbedded in their affections, it has seemingly become a pleasing pastime for researchers and scholars to delve into the past of such a man, discover, if may be, some of his weaknesses, and then write a book exposing hitherto unpublished alleged factual findings, all of which tends to rob the historic character of the idealistic esteem and veneration in which he may have been held through the years.

“This ‘debunking,’ we are told, is in the interest of realism, that the facts should be known.  If an historic character has made a great contribution to country and society, and if his name and his deeds have been used over the generations to foster high ideals of character and service, what good is to be accomplished by digging out of the past and exploiting weaknesses, which perhaps a generous contemporary public forgave and subdued?”

There are references in the book to Brigham Young’s divorce, introduced evidently as “honest reporting” or that the “facts should be known,” though they are not germane really to President Young’s letters to his sons.

I wince also at the introduction by Brother Adamson, simply because he refers to President Young exclusively as Brigham.  “But unschooled men have their blind spots, just as clerks do.  Brigham’s mistrust of men of words, his perception of limitation of clerks, sometimes let him into strange positions.”  In another statement we read, “In the Kingdom of God,” said Brigham, “an idler shall have no place.”  The reference to the idler, of course, is from the 75th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants.  It is attributed to President Young.  This, I think, is poor scholarship.

I just can’t see the Church publishing a book about President Harold B. Lee with an introduction which speaks of Harold doing this and Harold doing that.  There is nothing in the introduction or commentaries that shows the respect that we ought, in the Church, to pay to those who hold the highest office that the Lord bestows upon a man in mortality.

You may now be surprised for me to say that I think the book on balance is all right.  I enjoyed reading the history.  I think there is a warm and wonderful message to be drawn from President Young’s letters to his sons.

However, if I know scholars at all, it would be my opinion that this first book is something of a test.  And if I am not mistaken, and I think that I am not, if the things I have mentioned go unnoticed, it will be an invitation to put in print many other things from the Historian’s Office.  Such information will do precious little good and may do a great disservice to individuals both past and present.

I mentioned that I have raised this subject before.  Each time the Historical Office has been discussed in our meetings, I have expressed my concern.  I think that very often I do not do very well in speaking in council meetings and perhaps my shortcomings there do injury to the very position I am trying to endorse.  I make these comments without intending to be critical of any individual. I think our brethren in the Historical Department are wonderful men.  Nor would I mind if you were to show them this letter, for they know that I regard them very highly.  It is the principle that concerns me.  I agree with them that books such as this fill a niche.  For they are most interesting to those who are delving into history.  I just suggest that it is a very narrow niche and question whether we as a church are obligated to fill it.  To do so, I think, is not essential to the central purpose of the Church.

If we determine that we should continue to publish information such as this, that itself will be an interesting bit of history.  For the brethren who have preceded us were very careful to do just the opposite.

Please forgive me if this letter has been too lengthy.  There are other examples I might have included, but out of respect for your time will not.

I have lived in academic circles, have observed the tendencies of highly “schooled” Church members; have seen how perversely such information as this is often used, and wonder if these projects ought to be carefully reviewed before they continue.

Sincerely yours,

Boyd K. Packer

[Boyd K. Packer to First Presidency, 24 Oct., 1974; LJA Diary, attached to entry of 27 Nov., 1974]

Today we held the meeting our executives with Brother Anderson, and at the end of the meeting Earl dictated a record of our meeting with the advisors on November 26. The last item discussed was the letter of Elder Boyd Packer, which I placed on that date in my diary together with the comments of Brother Hunter and Brother McConkie about it.

Brother Anderson then volunteered, not for the record but for our information, his own comments. His comments were made at extenso and Earl has agreed to save the tape of our meeting together to preserve these.

First of all, Brother Anderson said he could hardly accept the two criticisms of Elder Packer criticizing Jack Adamson for using the term Brigham to refer to President Brigham Young. He said he had often referred to him as Brigham or Brother Brigham and the prophets and General Authorities he was associated with had done the same. The same with the Prophet Joseph. In the second place the criticism of our inclusion of Brigham Young’s advice to Brigham, Jr. to cease the use of tobacco while on his mission. Brother Anderson said he didn’t see anything wrong with people knowing that and with Brigham Young, Jr.’s posterity knowing about that. People should understand that our emphasis on the Word of Wisdom today has not always applied. It is true that the Prophet Joseph Smith drank wine after he received the Word of Wisdom revelation. It is also true that Brigham Young used wine, even fermented wine, both at his table and in the Sacrament. I added that was true as late as Lorenzo Snow, who administered the Sacrament in the Salt Lake Temple with wine–and Brother Anderson added not just with a little glass cup but with large goblets so that the authorities drank more than just a swallow.

Brother Anderson in regard to this pointed out a number of General Authorities who as late as his day were not as strict on the Word of Wisdom as we are today. He mentioned President Penrose, one of the most beloved persons in Church history, who being English loved his ale and continued to use it more or less regularly to the end of his life and as I recall he died about 1923 or ‘24. He mentioned Patriarch John Smith, who continued to use tobacco and liquor and had certain problems with both to the end of his days, and yet he was patriarch to the Church. Brother Anderson mentioned President Ivins who used wine, having grown up with its use in Mexico and continued to use it at least many of the years in the 1920s.

Brother Anderson mentioned that the Word of Wisdom was not the only thing that we have changed our emphasis upon–other things as well. An example is birth control and contraceptives.  As a secretary of the First Presidency he had been designated to respond to many of the questions that came into the First Presidency.  On the matter of the use of birth control devices he had always responded that the Church had been opposed to the use of these devices except when the health of the mother was involved. That included both the physical health and mental health, and he always added a sentence at the end which said in the last analysis this is a matter for individual decision by the family involved. That is the way President McKay had wanted the letter to read, but after his death, he was advised to leave out that last sentence by Joseph Fielding Smith, who tended to be the most strict–the most strict of all the brethren–and by president Harold B. Lee.

In recent years there has been a tendency to announce the Church’s opposition to birth control devices without adding the phrase “without the health of the mother” being a consideration. Brother Anderson said we have to use good judgment on these matters and if it comes down to an individual case, the authorities will almost always say this. He mentioned the counsel he had given to a sister in Washington who had six children under nine years of age. Her physical health was good, but she was very nervous and was coming unstrung and he counseled that she should protect her mental health by appropriate measures, and he thought that was the proper advice to give and the Christian thing to do, He said President McKay was much more lenient on birth control and abortion and other such matters than Presidents Smith, Lee, and Kimball.

The same was true with President McKay on the Word of Wisdom. He told a story about President McKay and Brother Widtsoe on the Word of Wisdom that I cannot

for the moment recall. In essence Brother Anderson defended our judgment on publishing some of these things. He said, of course, you will have to be discreet and use good judgment, but said he thought we were the proper ones to exercise judgment on this, and we could not expect to be as strict as Brother Packer’s letter implied on these matters.

[LJA Diary, 3 Dec., 1974]

A letter was read from Elder Boyd K. Packer pointing out some of the problems of having professional historians, whose judgment is influenced by professional historical standards, make final decisions on what is published under the auspices of the Historical Department.  The matter was discussed in some detail.  Brother Hunter suggested that we not make any immediate response to this, that we think the problem through, and at a suitable time in the future make appropriate recommendations.

[Minutes of the Executives of the Historical Department, 3 Dec., 1974; LJA Diary]

In the meeting with the advisors neither Brother Hunter or Brother McConkie brought up the matter of us giving any response to Elder Packer’s letter to the First Presidency about our work. There was absolutely no implication in anything said that they are expecting any response from us. Based upon some of their comments, I gather that perhaps Brother Packer has been rather free with his opinion on the work of various committees and departments and that we should take these into consideration, of course, but only as those of one interested and concerned individual. We are in no sense to regard his suggestions as binding or as causing us to change our policies duly arrived at in the past. This is comforting. I feel that we have the full confidence of both Brother McConkie and Brother Hunter and as long as our division and its work has the united support of Earl and Brother Anderson and as long as we keep Brother Hunter and Brother McConkie reasonably well informed on what we are doing, we will be able to carry out the policies which we have desired and wish continued.

[LJA Diary, 18 Dec., 1974]

Yesterday Earl Olson took me aside to tell me that he had gone to the reception for Tom Fyans’ daughter last Friday. While there he happened to sit at the same table with Boyd Packer. Boyd Packer asked Earl if he had seen the letter which Elder Packer had written to the First Presidency about our Brigham Young book and other projects. Earl said he had seen it and we all had seen it. Earl added that we appreciated seeing a copy of it and appreciated his concern.

Boyd Packer repeated very strongly his concerns to Earl and said that we must find some way of preventing the printing of these things from occurring in the future and said that unless we can come to some agreement on it we would have to change the management. I asked Earl what that meant–whether it meant getting a new Church Historian or getting a new Assistant Managing Director or just what. Earl said he was not sure, but he thought he meant that he would seek to have another advisor rather than Brother Hunter or perhaps another Acting Managing Director rather than Brother Anderson. I said to Earl, “Does that mean that Brother Packer himself wants to be our advisor?” Earl said he thought that was the case.

Earl said something about clearing things through correlation. I said that would be the worst thing that could happen. How can they possibly judge us on what is good history and what is bad history? Earl said that we may be forced to it. I said I thought the Twelve would outvote Brother Packer if he made such a suggestion.

At any rate, it seem clear that Brother Packer is making some kind of crusade out of it and will not be satisfied to leave it in the hands of Elder Hunter and Elder McConkie. Earl said as a minimum we ought to bring it up with our advisors at our next meeting and get their counsel of what if anything we should do. Earl says Brother Packer expects some kind of an answer and we need to raise this with the advisors.

[LJA Diary, 31 Dec., 1974]

The advisers asked Brother Arrington if he would care to make an explanation regarding the policy followed by him and others with reference to the book, Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons, and additional books which have recently been published.  Brother Arrington made a statement at some length and the advisers expressed their approval of what had been done.  They suggested to Brother Arrington that he endeavor to have an interview with Elder Boyd K. Packer in order that he might have a better understanding of the situation.

[Minutes of the Executives of the Historical Department, 23 Jan., 1975; LJA Diary]

In the meeting with Elder Hunter and Elder McConkie on Tuesday . . .

The two brethren brought up the criticisms of our work made by Elder Packer. They asked me to make oral statement justifying our work. I did so, and at their suggestion, I did so at some length. I explained the reasons why we had followed the policy we had and why we felt it desirable to include some things that Elder Packer had objected to.  After I had completed this statement, both Elder Hunter and Elder McConkie said they accepted this statement; they felt I was justified; they supported what I had done.  They suggested that I ask for an interview with Brother Packer and attempt to explain to him the same thing.  They said he will try to indoctrinate me, but I should attempt to explain in as clear and logical and persuasive a manner as possible the point of view of historians on this and related matters.  I was grateful for their expressions of support.

[LJA Diary, 23 Jan., 1975]

Sister [Florence] Jacobsen said Elder Packer was very millennialistic in his thinking—very idealistic and severe in his standards of theology and deportment.  This sometimes made him seem harsh, judgmental, and impractical in dealing with real people and real problems.  Perhaps also (I add) he feels a little insecurity in dealing with people and problems.

[LJA Diary, 4 Feb., 1975]

Last Friday I drove to BYU for a meeting with vice president Bob Thomas, Frank Fox, and Ernest Wilkinson. We met from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. In the course of this meeting Ernest Wilkinson made some comments which are worth recording in this diary. 

In President Wilkinson’s judgment President Harold B. Lee was disappointed, perhaps to some extent bitter, that he had been passed over four times to be a member of the First Presidency of the Church. This at a time when he was obviously destined to become president of the Church. President McKay preferred to have older men that had been associated with him when he was a younger apostle.

President Moyle, when a member of the First Presidency, used his power freely. He might telephone somebody to put somebody on a committee or in an important position or to remove somebody preemptorily or have this bought or that sold. He was very free wheeling in his use of his position to achieve goals which he thought should be achieved, even to some extent when he knew President McKay might oppose it.

On the other hand, President Moyle did not harbor grudges nor was he vindictive and if you disagreed with him or defeated him, he did not hold it against you. This was not true of President Lee and Boyd Packer, both of whom have long memories and found it difficult to forgive and forget. 

[LJA Diary, 24 Feb., 1975]

I was talking with someone the other day about Church newspapers and periodicals. Apparently Brother Packer has been an advisor to these people for the past two or three years. That is probably how he got involved in the J. Golden Kimball episode and perhaps one reason he was especially interested in making comments about our Brigham Young book, At any rate this person said he and his group had had many experiences with Elder Packer. It was his judgment—and the judgment of his associates—that Elder Packer was so constituted that if anyone goes to him to ask about the advisability of doing something, he will automatically say no because he thinks this means they have a doubt about it and not a clear go-ahead from the spirit.

[LJA Diary, 29 Jul., 1975]

Neal Maxwell telephoned me to warn me that one certain brother in the Twelve was a little upset about him offering Eugene England halftime employment with the Institute and with us offering him “employment” in the Historical Department. He was fearful that this would cause Gene to turn down offers for permanent employment that might come to him. Neal was not giving me any advice–merely informing me that there was one authority who felt that Eugene should not be discouraged from accepting fulltime employment outside the Church and its educational system. He left no references who it was, but I thought it might be Elder Packer or Elder Petersen. 

[LJA Diary, 8 Sep., 1975]

The other day when we had our meeting with Brother Stapley and Brother Hunter, Elder Anderson, Don, Paul Anderson, and I were waiting for the elevator and suddenly we saw Elder Packer was waiting for the elevator. Elder Anderson said to Brother Packer, “Well, I see you are having some trouble up in Idaho.” Brother Packer chuckled a little and said, “Yes, I guess there would be some people that would like to put me in jail.” He laughed and then he came over to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “If so, I guess I’d get in Brother Arrington’s history,” and then everybody laughed. 

[LJA Diary, 9 Feb., 1977]

Elder Boyd K. Packer 

Council of the Twelve 

19th Floor, Building

Dear Elder Packer:

In connection with a personal history I am compiling for my children and grandchildren, I have been reading through my diary. It occurred to me to send you a copy of the attached pages. You once shared with me some of your own sacred experiences, and you are particularly sensitive to spiritual experiences, so I thought you might receive them in the spirit offered. I am confident that we (church employees and appointees) are engaged in the work of the Lord, and I take pleasure in bearing that testimony, as I have opportunity, in Sacrament meetings and firesides. I pray the Lord to continue to bless you in your own work, and that He will continue to bless us all as we strive to live worthy of His blessings.


Leonard J. Arrington 

Church Historian



[LJA to Boyd K. Packer, 9 May, 1977]

Leonard J. Arrington 

Historical Department 

East Wing

Dear Leonard:

Thank you for your letter and the attachment. I very much appreciated receiving it.

I recall having had a long visit with you about the time you came in as historian. You may not remember that, but we spent an hour or so discussing the same issues that the attachment touched upon.

Hope all is well with you and Grace and your family.


Boyd K. Packer


[Boyd K. Packer to LJA, 17 May, 1977]

I received a telephone call from Spencer Palmer on Tuesday. Brother Palmer had been called in by Elder Packer a week or two ago to discuss the manuscript of his book on the world-wide Church. Elder Packer was very cool to him, and Brother Palmer had the impression that he was “being called on the carpet.” Brother Packer had been assigned by President Kimball to read the manuscript. In a somewhat unfriendly manner Elder Packer had told him that he was very unhappy about the leadership of Brother Arrington and the work of the History Division, that he thought we were disobeying counsel, that we were guided more by professional motives than religious motives, and that we were more anxious to please our peers in the history profession than our superiors in the Church.  He told Brother Palmer that he thought the whole first section of the book by David Kennedy would cause problems for the Church and how could he expect to publish all of that intimate detail about our relationship with foreign powers. There were things in there that he himself as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve did not know. Brother Palmer explained to him in some detail how he was assigned to write the book, how the approval to do so had come from the First Presidency, and how at every stage in the writing of the book he had received the encouragement of me and through me of our advisors and of the First Presidency. He explained that the idea of having a section by Brother Kennedy had been suggested by me, and that I had mentioned it to Brother Kennedy, and that Brother Kennedy had checked with President Kimball, and President Kimball had urged him to write it. After a number of weeks passed with nothing being done, Brother Palmer then made contact with Brother Kennedy and asked him if we might expedite the project by having him dictate the story on tape to Brother Palmer who would then transcribe it, edit it, and bring it back for his approval. Brother Kennedy checked this matter again with President Kimball; President Kimball encouraged him to do it. He then granted the tape interview and it went through Brother Palmer’s editorial hand. Brother Palmer submitted the manuscript to Brother Kennedy, who corrected and amplified it and then submitted the manuscript to President Kimball. President Kimball read it, made suggestions, approved it, and gave it back to Brother Kennedy, who forwarded it Brother Palmer.

Elder Packer then said that that might be all well and good, but the manuscript contained quotations from other, and who hadn’t he cleared with other people on those? For example, he said, you have a quotation from Bruce McConkie. Brother Palmer then explained that he had received the permission of Elder McConkie to include his statement. This surprised Elder Packer. He then raised the question of the quotation from Elder Bangerter. Brother Palmer explained also that he had clearance from Brother Bangerter to use his statement. This also surprised Elder Packer. Elder Packer told Brother Palmer that he had already written a memo to the First Presidency and gave the implication that he had recommended that the book be printed but that all of the Kennedy material which makes up about a third of the book be omitted. After further conversations with Brother Palmer, Elder Packer then said that he would write another memo to the First Presidency. He seemed to be very surprised that Brother Palmer had written this as a commission from us and that we had secured approval all the way along for the project. Also that we had gone over the manuscript carefully several times before the manuscript had finally been submitted to the First Presidency. Apparently my covering letter in submitting the manuscript to Elder Hunter had never been forwarded to Brother Packer. It is surprising to me that Elder Packer would not have called me in and discussed the matter with me before he sent the memo to the First Presidency and before he called in Brother Palmer. I am sure he had the impression that this was simply a book which Brother Palmer had decided to do on his own to make some money.

Brother Palmer told me on Tuesday that he had just received another call from Elder Packer. This time Elder Packer was not suspicious as previously, not skeptical as previously, not negative as previously. He was pleasant, affable, and encouraging. He told Brother Palmer that he had discussed the manuscript again with President Kimball and that he was recommending that Brother Palmer make a few changes in the manuscript and that when those had been made he would be pleased to submit the manuscript. He thought the changes made could be made within a week. Basically he recommended that the reports from the various countries be summarized in the introduction and that they be omitted in the text. He thought Brother Palmer could do this rather easily. When Brother Palmer resubmits it to film he will then take it to the First Presidency and the First Presidency will expect to send it on to Deseret Book with their full endorsement and plea that Deseret Book publish it.

Brother Packer in concluding the telephone conversation added that he was very pleased to be associated in getting this book out, that he thought it would he a tremendous contribution to the Church and its missionary work, and that Brother Palmer was to be congratulated for preparing such a useful and exciting book. Brother Packer also said to Brother Palmer that he should get in touch with me, LJA, and be sure that I am in agreement with these modifications and procedures and that he, Brother Palmer, should “tell Brother Arrington that we love him and that we are in full support in these things which he is doing to benefit the Church.” Brother Palmer was very pleased with this completely different attitude–as were all of us. Why should General Authorities attack such assignments with such suspicion? I suppose that there is a natural suspicion of Ph.D.’s—and perhaps even more of honorary doctors! 

[LJA Diary, 26 May, 1977]

After our executives meeting this morning Elder Durham asked me to stay to give me what he termed some good news. He said that he had been called in by Elder Boyd Packer and he had had a meeting with him–didn’t say how long– perhaps a half hour. Elder Packer said that he had been asked by the First Presidency to read our one-volume history of the Church for Knopf. He said he had read the book through and that he had a number of suggestions to make. He told Brother Durham that he was going to recommend to the First Presidency that the book be published. He told Brother Durham of some of the concerns which he had–all of which seemed to be relatively minor. He had about twelve yellow sheets interspersed in the manuscript which had comments upon them. He mentioned two or three. He said that in the description of Joseph Smith in the first chapter he would like for us to eliminate the description “beak nosed.” Secondly, he said that he thought we gave too much special attention to Heber Snell. He thought we should retract that reference to maybe a paragraph. He thought we had given Snell more emphasis than he deserved in terms of overall impact on the Church. He thought that the Snell episode had been overblown by Sterling McMurrin for his own reasons and that the impact on the Church of Snell was not as great as inferred by our treatment of the episode. He also thought we gave Eph Erickson a little more attention than maybe we should have and maybe we could strengthen or expand the impact of some other people. He thought, for instance, that Sperry’s impact on the Church might deserve a few sentences at least.

Elder Packer said that this wasn’t exactly the kind of history that he likes. He likes history to be essentially narrative history and when you get to an episode where there is a disagreement you mention both sides of it.  He does not like interpretive history. He does not like the getting into the picture with his own ideas and speculations. Brother Durham said that he responded to that by saying that the history Brother Packer liked (and which Brother Durham liked too) was very common maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, but that there has been an increasing tendency on the part of historians to do interpretive history, and he told Brother Packer he thought historians would not think that Davis and I had done our duty if we did not do interpretive and analytical history. Brother Packer replied that he thought that might be the case, but he still preferred narrative history.

Brother Durham said he described to him the review of Rodman Paul and he, Brother Durham, thought the Rodman Paul comment was basically favorable and that his suggestions were relatively minor, and he thought we could take care of them without any problems. He also told Brother Packer how important he thought this manuscript was. He said that being published by Knopf it will be reviewed in the New York Times magazine and indeed in leading magazines and newspapers throughout the country if not the world. All the librarians will buy it and this will add a book favorable to the Church to library holdings. He thought it would do much good for the Church. Brother Packer said he agreed with this. Brother Packer told him that he was leaving tomorrow, October 20, for Israel and would be gone until after the first of November. He asked Brother Durham to have me call his secretary and make an appointment for as soon as possible after he gets back. He asked Brother Durham whether he, Homer, and I should go visit with him together. Homer suggested it would be sufficient for him to discuss it directly with me. Brother Packer asked if Brother Durham thought there was any urgency in this, and Brother Durham said yes, he thought there was a considerable urgency and that his secretary to arrange it just as quickly as possible. I then asked Brother Durham if it would  desirable for me to make an attempt to see him this morning before I go to BYU. Brother Durham said by all means try it, but you probably won’t be able to arrange it until he comes back. After the meeting I met with Davis for a minute and said “Oh Happy Day!” I did ask Brother Durham why he thought the First Presidency had not given the manuscript to Neal Maxwell. He said of course Brother Maxwell is very busy and that might be the reason. But he thought President Tanner might be behind this move and it might be President Tanner’s motive to get the support of a leading and articulate conservative behind the project, someone whose judgment would be accepted by Brother Benson and Brother Petersen, neither of whom will probably like the book.

Elder Durham also said that Elder Packer felt that in our discussion of the First Vision in Chapter One we should give a quote from Joseph Smith’s own story, 1838 account. 

[LJA Diary, 19 Oct., 1977]

This morning Elder Durham and I met at 10 a.m. with Elder Boyd Packer to discuss the Knopf manuscript which he had been assigned by the First Presidency to read. He said that the First Presidency had asked him to answer the question of whether he thought they should object to the publication of this manuscript. He was writing them today and sending the manuscript back to them, saying no, they should not object to the publication of this book. He was going to add that he thought they should not endorse it either. He thought that would be a mistake.

He said that he had a series of specific suggestions to make. They were small, rather petty, not too significant, and we were free to accept then or reject them. He didn’t feel strongly about any of then except one. So he went through all of the points that he had, which according to my count amounted to 25 specific suggestions. Every one of the suggestions seemed to be acceptable to me. The one objection he felt strongly about was the long treatment of Heber Snell. He thought that there were many other incidents that had made a greater ripple on the Church than that one. He thought Heber Snell did not deserve that much attention in a balanced history of this nature. He had the most suggestions to make about the first and third chapters–on Joseph Smith and on the persecutions. There were many chapters that he had no suggestions on at all. He said that he liked very much our treatment of polygamy–thought it was balanced and informative and well done. He also liked our treatment of the Negro problem except he wished it could have been longer. He thought we Mormons ought to say more about the Negro question. He didn’t indicate specifically what more we could say, and he said that maybe it wasn’t proper in this book to have the longer treatment, but he thought the Church could say more and ought to do so about the Negro issue. 

At the end of the discussion after he had spent about an hour going over these, he then begin to talk in terms of our calling, basic philosophy, and so on. He said he felt that we in the Church History Division should be less interested in pleasing the professionals and more interested in helping members of the Church to strengthen their testimonies. He was surprised when he saw the statement in our preface which told about the Allen and Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints and suggesting that it was written for members of the Church. This was the first time he had heard that suggested. He had thought it was written primarily for non-Mormons and certainly the contents of it suggested that it was written for non-Mormons. If it had been written for members of the Church it would have been more faith-promoting. He said he had not read the book. He had listened to it being discussed in the Quorum of the Twelve for approximately four hours and he was influenced by that discussion. But he was convinced on that basis that it was not written with the primary audience in mind of the young people in the Church who would read it. 

He said that he had spent most of his life working with young people who were struggling with their testimonies, and he was acutely aware of their problems and points of view. He felt very strongly that the matter of timing was important. Telling then in the right stage of their development so that they will not be shaken. He thought that most members of the Church could handle Brigham Young using tobacco and the weaknesses of some of the early brethren and in some of the modern brethren. But he did not think the Historical Department ought to be in the business of repeating and spreading abroad these things. There were some things that ought to be kept close or kept quiet or not spread abroad. With respect to the letters of Brigham Young to his sons he thought we ought to have omitted the letter in which Brigham Young acknowledged that one of the sons had been using tobacco. He thought we also  ought to have omitted that one of the sons had died of dope addiction. He thought that could possibly do harm to some of the grandchildren of these people. He said he is currently having discussions with a girl at BYU who has been shaken by learning that there were several accounts of the First Vision.

Brother Packer said there was one thing he missed in reading this book which any non-Mormon ought to know about Mormonism, and he thinks we ought to introduce a paragraph or two on it. That is the emphasis upon spirituality and moral cleanliness. Persons ought to know that every person who has an office with the Church, and that includes almost all adult persons, is interviewed before being presented for that position and asked a series of searching questions to be sure that this person is morally clean, has prayer, is honest, is loyal to the country, and so on. We had never said that in the book, that all of the officers of the Church are supposed to be temperate and faithful to their wives and husbands. If in such an interview a person gives a negative answer about his condition, then he is admonished to get his life in order so that he can be worthy to have the position.

Brother Durham emphasized that our primary obligation is to build the faith of the Saints, and when we acknowledge in our sermons, in our essays, in our books that there are problems, we need to balance this with the other side. If we say that Brigham Young used tobacco, we need to balance that with his spiritual qualities and activities so that this is kept in perspective. I felt in this respect that he was trying to tell me-not that this book should be rewritten–but that he thought our Church history writing should be confined to the positive. He said that occasionally he remembers that we are writing a sixteen-volume history of the Church and every time that thought comes to him he shudders. He is worried; he is fearful that it will not be beneficial  for the Church. If the tone of them is similar to that of The Story of the Latter-day Saints (as the tone of that has been represented to him) then it will not be helpful to the Church and will quite possibly be harmful.

Elder Packer was friendly throughout. He often smiled. Occasionally when he made a rather strong point Brother Durham would respond in a way that indicated he was attempting to present our point of view. In this respect he seemed to be keeping Elder Packer from making too strong a statement to us and at the same time helping Elder Packer realize that he must consider another point of view which is important to the Church. In these instances, and there were four or five during the hour and a half we were together, Brother Durham seemed to be defending the idea of presenting a balanced view, and Brother Packer himself agreed that a balanced view needed to be presented. Brother Packer was saying we must balance our professional propensities with faith-building approaches. Brother Durham was saying we must balance the faith-building approaches with an honest professional approach.

We left at 11:30, and coning back to our offices, Elder Durham said, Now you have had this read by one of the most critical of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and he has approved it or at least has not disapproved it. You now have the go-ahead. I still believe this will be the greatest book on Mormon history on library shelves. He thinks this is a monumental book; he feels good about it. He said that now that more than two months have passed since we finished it and sent it off we can look at it with fresh eyes, and he thinks we may be able to make editorial adjustments that would not be objected to by Alfred Knopf or by the Church. He thought we were free now to make of’ it whatever we chose and that we are protected from criticism by the fact that we have gone through the process that we have. 

Elder Packer made one other statement at the beginning of the interview that intrigues me, and I am not sure how to interpret it. He started out by saying that we have called this a history of the Latter-day Saints. He thought it was more than a history. It was an apology, he thought–at least it was as much an apology as it was a history. I would interpret that now to mean that he regarded this as a kind of sophisticated defense of the Church, its history and its position. For him to say that to me seems flattering. Brother Durham at the beginning of our interview, when he saw what Brother Packer was going to do, suggested that he thought Davis Bitton should have been invited, and Brother Packer said that he didn’t think that was necessary since I could carry all of this back to Davis. I think Brother Packer felt that he had a good personal relationship with me because of our past friendship and thought he could speak more freely to me perhaps than someone like Davis that he was not as well acquainted with. He said he realized that Davis was a full collaborator on this.

One other general suggestion he made in the middle of our interview.

We use the term “Mormon Church” a lot. He doesn’t object to that and he knows many of the brethren don’t object to that, but he didn’t recall ever seeing in our book a clarification as to what our correct name is. So he thought we ought to be sure that we have a sentence or two where we make it clear what the Church’s name is. Otherwise many readers may finish the book not knowing clearly what our name is. Another general statement he made was that there were some places where we were reporting what was said by critics of the Church and we didn’t make it clear that we weren’t agreeing with this. We could add the phrase, “they thought,” or “they think,” or “it seemed to them,” something like that, that takes it out of the realm of a flat statement being made by us. This will be something for us to watch for as we go through the book again. Maybe Maureen will find some of these too. He also said there  was one page he was going to Xerox and keep in his own files. That is where we quote from Orson Spencer about the Book of Mormon. He thought it was a great quote and he would want to use that himself sometime.

It is clear from this discussion that Elder Packer is not as appreciative of cleverness with words. He is more serious, more sober, and wishes things he reads to be of that character. Several of his suggestions were attempts to diminish or eliminate flippant expressions or clever expressions or half-humorous expressions. He takes his history a little more seriously. Elder Durham had said two on three weeks ago that Elder Packer had told him that he liked narrative history and didn’t particularly like our analytical topical history. But he said not a word of this to me in this interview. Nor did he use any expression like “this is a great book” or “this is a wonderful book.” What he said and said it very deliberately two or three times is, “I do believe that this is a book to which the First Presidency should not object to the publication of.” He also said, “I realize that you have gone about as far as you can in presenting something that is favorable to the Church and not risk the displeasure of the publisher.”

After dictating the above I thought of some other things. First, that as Brother Durham and I sat down at the little table with Brother Packer in his office (incidentally, it is the office which I occupied when I was first appointed Church Historian), Brother Packer suggested that we ought to start with a word of prayer. And so he asked Brother Durham to offer a prayer. Brother Durham in his prayer mentioned the importance of the book and the purpose it would serve and so on. The other thing is that Brother Packer said that he had read the work but did not say he had read it carefully. He just did not have time to read it carefully, he said. He said that reminded him of Brother Albert B. Bowen, who was asked by the First Presidency to read something, and they underlined that they wanted him to read it carefully. Brother Bowen protested, “Brethren, whenever I read I always read carefully.”

Brother Packer said that when he was a seminary teacher in Brigham

City they completed a chapel for the Indians. This was in 1955. President McKay came up to dedicate the chapel, and prior to the dedication there was a reception line for all those who wanted to see the chapel and meet President McKay. Brother Packer said he was standing just beyond President McKay in the receiving line. During the course of persons coming in to greet President McKay there was an old gentleman who came to shake President McKay’s hand. He said, “President McKay, if you don’t recognize me, I am Ephraim Ericksen, and I want you to understand, President McKay, that what people have said about me is not true. I have never apostatized. I have never lost my faith. I have never tried to influence others to lose their faith. I have not been an enemy to the Church nor have I tried in any way to harm the Church.” Tears welled up in his eyes and he began to sob and said to President McKay, “I have always been a strong believer in the Gospel and I continue to be and that is the way I want to be remembered. I have not always agreed with everybody, but I have disagreed because I felt so strongly about doing what was best for the Church.”

The second story told by Elder Packer was that in this same gathering a woman came with her son. It appears that the father in the family had gone out to milk the cows during the winter and the pump had been leaking a little, and the water froze so that there was ice. He slipped on the ice and fell backwards, hitting the back of his head and died instantly. So the son, sixteen years old, had to take over running the farming enterprise. It soon developed that the son had bone cancer and was certain to die. When the mother had found that President McKay was in town she had brought her son in a wheelchair for President McKay to bless him. President McKay said that the brethren have so many obligations of every kind that they cannot use their energy in responding to all of these requests for blessings, and they have asked that this be done by local leaders. President McKay asked Brother Lillywhite who was there, to bless the son, which he did. The next morning it appears that President McKay drove all the way from Salt Lake City (or Huntsville) to the mother’s farm. When he drove up there the mother thought that President McKay could not bless the boy alone and she phoned up a neighbor and asked him to come over. So he came over and joined President McKay as President McKay gave a special blessing to the son. It was this neighbor who told the story to Elder Packer, and he was now repeating it for us. I did not quite get the purpose of the story except it may have occurred to him as he told the Eph Ericksen story about President McKay’s presence there.

I also recall another story Brother Packer told. He said that President Moyle and Brother Lee had had a heated disagreement about the missionary program. The discussions had finally been resolved by President Moyle being released of his responsibilities of directing the missionary program of the Church. There were too many criticisms of quick baptisms and the like. Brother Lee’s and President Moyle’s disagreement had manifested itself in very strong statements and in raised voices. But after President Moyle had been released, even though angry and protesting, he still felt kindly toward Brother Lee. The next day someone was in President Moyle’s office and made some comment about the flare-up. President Moyle said, “Though we have disagreed on this matter, Brother Lee is one of my closest friends and I love him. As matter of fact, Brother Lee and I are having lunch today and you will see that we will be warmly and pleasantly discussing other matters under circumstances of warm friendship. You will see us pleasantly lunching together if you watch us today.” 

[LJA Diary, 4 Nov., 1977]

Elder Boyd K. Packer 

Quorum of the Twelve 

Administration Building

Dear Elder Packer:

During our very fine interview last Friday you mentioned briefly The Story of the Latter-day Saints by James B. Allen and Glen H. Leonard. As I thought about it, I felt you might appreciate my sharing with you some of the comments about this book that have come to us from various Church members. Brothers Allen and Leonard have an impressive file of unsolicited letters from teachers, students, and other Church members, and all of these communications have been very positive. The general feeling among readers who take the time to communicate with us is that the book is well balanced, stimulating, and faith-promoting.

I might clarify one point about the writing of the book. It came about as a result of Deseret Book Company’s desire for a one-volume narrative history of the Church that would take into account all the recent scholarship, and would also be balanced chronologically in order to do greater justice to our more recent history. In addition, they wanted a book that would be faith-promoting to the members of the Church and at the same time demonstrate our awareness of the problems most often brought up by scholars and critics. To judge from the responses of those who have carefully read the book, the authors succeeded in their purpose. Nearly everyone makes special note of its balance, forthrightness, and obvious faith-promoting tone. As you might expect, the scholarly reviews tend to criticize it for being too faithful. In addition, everyone comments on the excellent bibliography–the best such effort yet in any Church history text.

The book did not go through the correlation process because it was not written as an “official” textbook. It was, however, intended for general Church readership. I myself carefully reviewed the manuscript. I was especially impressed that whenever the authors deal with the Prophet’s visions and revelations, they make it clear that these were genuine visions and revelations from the Lord, not just something that came out of the environment. 

The enclosed materials consist of some excerpts selected from various comments by Church members. You will be especially interested in the college student reactions, beginning on page 4, which were the result of evaluations taken by teachers at two different Church institutions. The two teachers involved were gracious enough to share the comments with Brothers Allen and Leonard.

Though we now see some expressions and ideas which should be changed in a subsequent edition, I honestly believe that when you get time to read the entire book you will find it positive and faith-promoting in tone, well balanced, and worthwhile for Latter-day Saints to read.

Davis Bitton and I express again our profound gratitude and appreciation for your thoughtful and welcome comments on our book for Knopf.

Warmest best wishes. 


Leonard J. Arrington

Church Historian



[LJA to Boyd K. Packer, 9 Nov., 1977]

I saw Elder Packer today and he said he and family certainly enjoyed the pecan pies. He was very friendly. I keep getting rumors about how the General Authorities don’t like what “the historians” are doing, but the First Presidency go out of their way to tell us they appreciate our efforts. And our budget has been untouched; we have no basis for thinking that they are any less supportive than ever. I think the Birchers keep a watchful eye on us and report anything we write that they don’t approve of, and they duly report it to you know who. But no warning or disciplining comes. I continue to feel that the Lord supports our work, so feel confident. Incidentally, Carl & Chris, that copy is for your private reading and is not to be circulated. O.K.? Love, Dad

[LJA to Children, 20 Jan., 1978]

Yesterday morning in our Wednesday morning prayer meeting of department employees, Elder Boyd Packer was present and spoke to us for about 40 minutes. Basically, I would summarize his talk in terms of about three principles:

1. We are admonished to write for members of the Church as well as for professional historians; indeed, we ought to put more emphasis on the latter than the former.

2. We ought to keep in mind the audience we are writing for–their maturity, their level of education, their understanding. We are required to tell the truth but we are not required to tell the whole truth. There are some things which we do not need to tell all of which would be harmful to tell.

3. We are admonished to include mention of spiritual experiences of the Saints when we find these in the source material. And he gave an example from his ancestor, Elder Millet.

Jan Shipps, who has been working in the Archive Search Room since Monday, was present in the meeting. Davis and I had lunch with her and she said that the message to her came “loud and clear” that we should continue to be or become more faith-promoting in our writing. She recommended that we do everything we can to publish collections of documents which are in the archives, such as papers of Parley P. Pratt, letters of Joseph and Emma, and so forth.  

[LJA Diary, 4 May, 1978]

I am told that in the “marathon” sessions Doug Alder described some of the personalities and problems within the Church hierarchy. The following are worth putting into this diary.

1. Elder Monson, despite the elocutionist nature of his talks, is a very wise, able, and energetic administrator. He is primarily interested in the missionary aspect of Church work.

2. Elder Packer is a very learned and intelligent person who is anti-intellectual. He perceives history as being potentially destructive or harmful to the Church (as Jan Shipps said, it is). He is distrustful of intellectuals and he has singled out the History Division as the group within the Church administration which can potentially render greatest harm to the Church. And so it will be his personal mission to intervene in such a way as to prevent this from happening.

3. Some present reported my own point of view, which is that we have been aware of this potential for harm and that we ourselves have been taking all the steps to prevent this which seem to be wise and possible, and that what Brother Packer wishes us to do we are already doing, and that my feeling is that we are doing just what the Lord would want us to do under these circumstances, and that those who view us as troublemakers do so because they are not well informed. It is also my own view that Elder Packer is persuadable and I have enough confidence in our own point of view and work to believe that we can persuade him to support us in what we have been doing–all of which I believe to be in the interest of the Church.

[LJA Diary, 8 May, 1978]

Earl Olson telephoned this morning to say that Elder Boyd Packer had telephoned him to say that he had read the Primary manuscript, thought it was fine, but did have one principal concern, which was that we need to suggest or to say throughout that the Primary operated under the guidance and direction of the priesthood. I told Earl I would take care of it, and I told Carol to put at least one phrase to that effect in every chapter in the book. She agreed to do so. Usually when people keep wanting things like this to be said in a secular institution, this would suggest a certain insecurity. Maybe the priesthood do feel insecure about innovations being made and policies being determined without explicit recognition of the role of the priesthood in doing so. 

[LJA Diary, 18 Aug., 1978]

Brother Durham was in the office this morning and gave me permission to put the Richard Jensen paper in the task paper series. He wants us to date all of these papers. He also wants the Historical Department to buy fifteen copies of THE MORMON EXPERIENCE when it comes out and present copies to the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve. He said Brother Packer is worried about our frank acknowledge of the different versions of the accounts of the First Vision.

[LJA Diary, 11 Jan., 1979]

In the meeting this morning with Elder Durham, he reported that he had started reading the “final” form of THE MORMON EXPERIENCE. He had finished four chapters. He found it to be, as he had remembered, a great book, and felt very positively about it. He thought the chapter that might cause problems, if any, was the first chapter. If we could get people over the first chapter, then it would be downhill all the way. He was sure that many members of the Church, including ecclesiastical officials, “do not know enough about the historiography of the Joseph Smith period to appreciate what a contribution you have made in that chapter.” The Church is very sensitive right now, he said, about the different accounts of the First Vision. You have handled it very well, but there will still be a few raised eyebrows about it, simply because the ecclesiastical officials are not well enough informed on the subject.

While he was reading the first part, his wife had read the last chapter, and she thinks it’s great. In fact, we both regard it, he said, as the best short description of contemporary Mormonism that has been written. She thought what you had written about Dr. Widtsoe, about Mormon agricultural science, about Utah State University was just great. They are the best description of Mormon contributions to agricultural science that has been done. So we feel very positively about the book so far and are sure we will the rest of the way. I am glad, he said, you gave me this Xerox copy of the page proof to read. I’ll get it back to you shortly.

He suggested that a copy which we might present to Elder Packer might be marked with a red pen at various places through the book to indicate that  a modification at that point had been made because of his suggestions. He hoped we saved the copy that contains Elder Packer’s suggestions and comments, and that we would go through the final volume and indicate changes made as the result of his suggestions. This would help him to realize the extent to which we had complied with his suggestions. Otherwise he might forget and think that he had made suggestions on certain things which we did not make. He said he thinks Elder Packer is coning around to our point of view and thinking more positively about the Historical Department and its work. 

[LJA Diary, 16 Jan., 1979]

Elder Boyd K. Packer 

47 East South Temple 


Dear Elder Packer:

I suppose you won’t see this until tomorrow, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

We want you to know how much we appreciate all that you do for the Historical Department and for the Church. Though Davis Bitton and I have never once mentioned to any person (except to my secretary, of course) that you read an original draft of The Mormon Experience we want you to know how much we appreciate it and how helpful that was in making it a better book. We do not want to hold you in any way responsible, which is why we have and continue to keep it quiet. But we do appreciate the guidance you gave us.

I am sure you would be pleased to know that the book has already begun to change the image of the Mormons and their history in secular history. The book is being used as a prime reference on the Mormons in a number of university courses we are acquainted with where the major previous reference was Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History. The book has been reviewed widely and favorably. We have received friendly letters from a few mission presidents who have told us it was helpful to them and their missionaries. We received friendly letters from prominent Latter-day Saints who have told us that they were glad to have such a book to give to their non-Mormon friends.

Once more, Happy Birthday.


Leonard J. Arrington

Director, History Division

[LJA to Boyd K. Packer, 10 Sept., 1979]

Howard Searle came in today and said that his dissertation had been accepted by UCLA. He had a certificate that he had completed the requirements and they now refer to him as Dr. Searle. He had to turn over two more copies to their archives and his wife is now typing them.

I talked to him about the possible publication of the dissertation and encouraged him to submit it to BYU Press. He is to deliver to me one copy of his dissertation for me personally and one which I am to deliver to Howard Christy of BYU Press, and submit foe possible publication.

Howard said that he was working now for the curriculum department of the Church and he is quite disturbed at the trend of things, which seem to be anti-history. He told about a 3 1/2-hr. talk which Elder Packer gave to the institute of religion faculty at the U of U in which he cautioned them not to teach this and that–very restrictive, very confined. He doesn’t feel that that is necessarily the right approach, and so he’s naturally very cautious. 

[LJA Diary, 15 Oct., 1979]

Notes on the address of Elder Boyd K. Packer, August 22, 1981, at the concluding session of the 1981 Church Education System Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History. The address was delivered in the DeJong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, on the campus of Brigham Young University.

(Note: The setting for this address was the fact that the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History is the topic that will be dealt with during the 1981-82 school year in the Seminary program of the Church, arid this was the general topic of the symposium being held. A specific title was not announced for the talk, but it centered around the theme: “The Mantle is Greater than the Intellect: Some Cautions on the Writing and Teaching of Church History.”


Elder Packer began the talk by indicating that he knew the sensitive nature of it, and that he had prayed very hard over the subject.

There is a tendency for those with academic training to judge the Church, past and present, by the principles of their own profession. But it should be the other way around. We should judge the professions of men by the revealed word of the Lord. 

Many people have lost their testimonies because of the learning of the world, in many academic disciplines.

Elder Packer told the story of an LDS teacher who went away to a major Eastern university to get a Ph.D. degree in Counseling and Guidance. He wrote a dissertation dealing with the role of the Mormon bishop as counselor. Elder Packer helped him obtain permission to get interviews with Mormon bishops on the subject, which were necessary to his research. When he wrote the dissertation, he included in it the spiritual aspects (i.e., the role of inspiration and revelation). The committee, however, denied him the dissertation because the spiritual aspects were there and this did not square with the professional standards. The teacher came to Elder Packer for advice, and Elder Packer advised him to change the wording so that it simply read “Mormons believe…” with reference to inspiration and revelation. He did this but was still not passed. He was told, however, that if he left the spiritual references out entirely he would pass. In addition, he was told he would probably get the dissertation published, and that he had the ability and intellect that would eventually make him one of the well recognized experts in the field. He did take out the references to revelation, and was awarded his degree. It was not as scholarly as it could have been,  however, if he had left revelation in (for as it stood it did not tell the whole story). That teacher is still in the Church Education System. He is not prominent and famous in his academic discipline, for he has chosen not to go that direction. But he brings spirituality into what he does, and he is better off for it. (Elder Packer was speaking in tones of genuine approval of what the teacher has done by sacrificing fame for the spirit.)

“The mantle is greater than the intellect.”

There are many LDS scholars who leave out the spiritual in what they teach and write.

Teaching Church History this year is an unparalleled opportunity to build faith–to show students that the Lord has watched over the Church. 

Four cautions to teachers and writers of Church History:

1. There is no such thing as an accurate, objective history of the Church that ignores the spirit.

One cannot, for example, write a biography of Mendelssohn without mentioning music. Music and the inspiration that came from it was such a basic part of Mendelssohn’s life that it cannot be ignored by anyone writing about him. (By analogy, the spirit is so basic to the Church that to ignore it is to not tell the true story.)

Most of us are not immune from the danger. We are actually more vulnerable than other disciplines. If not properly written or taught, Church history may be faith destroying. If we write on the pretext that the world will not understand the spiritual side, then our writing will not be scholarly. If we write without the spirit, it will not be spiritual. (I.e., he was making the point that genuine “scholarship” or “objectivity” must take into account the spiritual, must be spiritual, and that anything less than this with regard to Church history is therefore not scholarly.)

Do not put scholarship first and faith second. Do not let our professional training prevent us from seeing with the eyes of faith.

If someone writes without the spirit, no matter how well trained, anyone who reads it can tell that he does not have the spirit. 

Unfortunately, we have had some sad experiences with that kind of history over the past few years.

2. There is a temptation for writers to want to tell everything, whether it is faith promoting or not.

If you have an exaggerated loyalty to the idea that “everything must be told,” you will distort.

One historian gave a talk on Brigham Young in which he seemed to delight in pointing out weaknesses and failings. One who did not really know Brigham Young would come away from such a talk doubting. (i.e., doubting his prophetic calling.)

The scriptures teach that we must give milk before meat. There are some things that must be taught “selectively.”

Some historians write and speak as if the only people listening are other professional historians, but thee will destroy faith. It may be unintentionally, but it will nevertheless be wrongly.

The historian who talked of Brigham Young the way this one did has destroyed faith. He had devised a way to find weaknesses, and in the process he has destroyed faith.

(Elder Packer concentrated, at some length, on historians who want to find weaknesses. Those who dwell on these things destroy faith, and those who destroy faith stand in eternal jeopardy.)

He told of a conversation with Elder Henry D. Moyle regarding a teacher who was hurting faith. Pres. Moyle said that this teacher was not a member of the Church. When someone in the group observed that he had not heard that any action had ever been taken to excommunicate the teacher, Elder Mole replied that the man had cut himself off. 

One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession regardless of what it does to members of the Church is in jeopardy. He does not realize that they are not ready for “advanced history.”

We will be judged for our intent as well as for our effect (i.e., if the effect is to destroy faith, we will be held accountable.) 

Some historians try to bring great Church leaders down to their own level for self-justification.

It destroys faith to point out faults and weaknesses of Church leaders. (But some historians follow the tenets of their profession instead of the tenets of the faith.)

3. In an effort to be objective, writers of history may tend to give equal time to the adversary.

Some historians are careful to include criticism in their writing, because they want the praise of their professional colleagues. They seem to feel ashamed of their commitment to the gospel.

By analogy, Elder Packer referred to 1 Nephi 8: the vision of the tree of life. He quoted, in particular, verse 28: “And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.” The important word here is “after.” He likened this to some historians who have tasted of the gospel, but after that became ashamed because of the scoffing of their profession.

There is no such thing as impartial history. You cannot be detached (impartial) and defend the kingdom.

We are at war with the adversary. We have the special obligation to build the faith. The patience of the Lord and of the brethren is short with those who are under covenant to defend the kingdom and do not.

Those who have purged their work of faith should expect no help from the Church in their research.

He used the example of a lawyer who is defending a corporation against the onslaught of a rival corporation. What would we say of the lawyer who, once he has been given access to the secrets and files of that corporation, gives the information to the other? He has violated a trust, and would not again be trusted by the corporation. (This was, by analogy, directed to those who provide information in their writings that help the cause of the adversary.) 

He warned that those who steal documents from the Church for selfish purposes are in trouble, and he warned those who use such material.

We should not join any organization or contribute to any publication whose spirit and intent is faith destroying.

As an example, he told of a group of men who invited him to a luncheon at Harvard Business School. They wanted him to join a certain organization, but he declined. One man said words to the effect that “we are all good, faithful members of the Church, however…” It was that word “however” that bothered Elder Packer, and this was the reason he did not join the group. If the man had said “we are faithful members of the Church, ‘therefore,’” then he would have joined them.

We cannot walk both sides of the street. 

There was a seminary class in which a debate was held on the subject: “Resolved: Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” Unfortunately, the “negative” side won, because the students assigned to that side were the sharpest, most clever debaters. But what did this do to the class, since, regardless of the outcome, Joseph Smith was still a prophet of God? All the argument in the world did not make Joseph Smith not a prophet. But the seeds sown in a class like that were dangerous.

How do you find out about a person–from his friends or from his enemies?

Too few of us are in the business of defending the faith.

4. There is a fallacy in the idea that so long as something is in print, or in some other source, and available, then there is no harm in reproducing it. 

Students may not be ready for “advanced history.” 

He warned against getting items from our detractors, and cited Ezra Taft Benson’s address to this group of several years ago. Here, Elder Benson warned against buying or subsidizing the work of apostates, even if it is only to get the information you think you need. Using such information can plant seeds of apostasy in the minds of youth.

For example, he told the story of a young missionary who went to the MTC and then confessed to committing a very terrible sin. It was the type of sin that was so grievous in nature that the young man could hardly have thought about doing it without some prompting. Elder Packer asked him where he got the idea, and, to his great surprise and shock, the young man answered that he got it from his bishop during his missionary interview. The bishop had asked the young man, as part of the interview, “have you ever done so and so…?” and then proceeded to describe the sin in detail. The young man had never done it, but the idea so worked on him that, in a final moment of weakness before his mission, he committed the sin.

Elder Packer emphasized the idea that even unknowingly you can put a dangerous idea in someone’s mind.

Cited Moroni, chapter 7 (verses 16 and 17?). 

(At one point in the talk Elder Packer was emphasizing the importance of teaching and writing by the spirit, and told an illustrative story of an experience he had in California. He was going to the coast on an assignment, and the President of the Church called him and asked him to go a day or so early in order to investigate a matter that could require some Church disciplinary action. He went early, held the appropriate interviews in order to get the facts, then went to a park and sat there for two hours thinking about the situation. He finally used a pay telephone to call the President of the Church and report the facts to him. The President asked Elder Packer what he thought should be done. Elder Packer replied with words such as “I do not think we should act now, but if you tell me to, I will act.” He will never forget, he said (with obvious deep emotion in his voice), the words of the President as they thundered back over the telephone: “Don’t you ever go against the spirit!” As a result, Elder Packer did not act. The implication for teaching and writing history, of course, was that it should be directed by the spirit.)

There are several indispensable qualifications needed for one to teach the history of the Church.

1. Do you believe that God the Father and His son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith? (That is, an actual appearance, as real beings.)

2. Do you know that Joseph Smith’s testimony is true, because you have experienced the same kind of testimony of the spirit?

3. Do you believe that this Church, restored through the prophet Joseph Smith, is the only true and living Church on the face of the whole earth? (See D&C 1:30)

4. Do you know by the spirit that the present day prophets receive revelation?

He noted, especially, that academic qualifications were not among the qualifications listed as essential to those who would teach Church history.

(Miscellaneous closing comments:)

What about the historian who defames early or present Presidents of the Church? You can find in the story of Alma the younger one who did worse than that. (But, the implication of this statement was, Alma the younger repented.)

He told the story of a prayer he heard a recent president of the Church offer concerning one historian who had defamed an early prophet. The prayer condemned the teachings of that historian in the strongest terms, and asked that his fame would diminish and that the “stinking odor” of his work would follow him into his grave where the earth would swallow it up.

Elder Packer said that he sometimes moans in agony at all the research that has been done in the archives of the Church, when so much of the secular comes out yet all the spiritual material that is there does not emerge in what is written.

He read from a letter of Joseph Smith to W. W. Phelps,

22 July 1840 (See Joseph Smith, History of the Church 4: 162-64). Phelps had turned against Joseph Smith and then come back and was received into full fellowship again. Included in the portion quoted were these words: “Believing your confession to be real, and your repentance genuine, I shall he happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship, and rejoice over the returning prodigal.”

Oh, Elder Packer commented, what we would have lost if Phelps had not come back, and he stressed Phelps’ contributions to the Church, particularly in the area of music.

(These comments seemed designed to suggest that anyone who had offended could still come back. He told of a young man who had been excommunicated from the Church. Elder Packer happened to see President Kimball one day just as the President was getting into his car on the way to the airport. When the President learned that Elder Packer had been dealing with that particular situation, he had him get in the car and talk. Elder Packer said something to the effect that it would be a long time before that young man’s blessings were restored, whereupon Pres. Kimball patted him on the knee and said, “maybe not so long.”)

Elder Packer commented on the weaknesses of the brethren, saying “you do not know our weaknesses,” but indicating that the brethren then and now were men, with the weaknesses of men. Joseph Smith, for example, could not even spell correctly, so how he must have been grateful for the help of scribes who could help him prepare his documents in the proper manner. He also told the story of going into President Kimball’s office one day, shortly after he became President, and finding him crying. When Elder Packer asked why, President Kimball replied: “I am such a small man for such a big job.” All this is an indication of how much help the brethren need in their work.

You who are the scholars and the intellects, we need your help. We do not have time to research and write about the history of the Church–we are called to organize and administer the Church, for we have the keys to the ordinances and power of the priesthood. You are needed to help us.

It may be that you will lay your scholar acclaim and the praise of the world at the alter, and sacrifice it for the sake of the Church. But note that Abraham found out that it was not necessary for him to sacrifice Isaac-only to be willing to do so.

Teach for faith, teach for testimony.

Quoted from Joseph Fielding Smith and Stephen L. Richards on the role historians should play in building the faith. Their purpose should be to use the history of the Church to build faith.

Ended by leaving his apostolic blessing with the teachers. 

[Notes on Elder Packer address; LJA Diary, 22 Aug., 1981]

I was told that Elder Packer’s secretary recently resigned. As she was telling a friend while crying bitterly she said, “Elder Packer in twelve years of me being his secretary never once leveled with me or confided in me. He would not let me type his speeches because he didn’t want anyone to know in advance what he was going to say. He would never confess how he felt about anything to me and so when people came by to inquire I could not give them any response. He never once let down his hair. Everything was very formal and serious and humorless. I finally decided I couldn’t take it any longer.”

Another person told me that Elder Packer gathers his family together once a week for a family home evening. It’s a large group, maybe 40 persons all totaled. He sometimes invites outside speakers to speak with the family. The person who discussed this with me said that he had been invited to talk to the group. He felt uneasy during the presentation. He had the impression that he was being measured, not enjoyed. That he was invited in to talk about the subject but to be judged as to how he would present the subject. He was interrupted a few times by Elder Packer who when he got to a certain topic would say let’s not talk about that at this time, let’s move on to the next subject. In other words, he felt a certain tension, felt he was being led as to what he could say and should say by Elder Packer. 

[LJA Diary, 27 Aug., 1981]

Dear Children,

James already knows of what I’m going to write about, so I’m sending this only to Carl and Chris and Susan and Dean.

One of those significant events, milestones, epoch-making happenings, has occurred at BYU this week, and it is possible you will not hear of it except for this letter. An independent newspaper has been founded at BYU. Called the Seventh East Press, it expects to come out once a week. It sells for ten cents a copy, and something like 1200 copies were sold last week. It was well received. The founders, Elbert Peck and Ron Priddis, are both students at BYU. One of them sold his car to get the money; the other got a loan with his car as security. Neither student is a journalist. The paper is on sale at the BYU Bookstore and in newspaper venders around town. Students are also selling the paper at apartment complexes.

The paper, in the first issue, had a headline “Elder Packer Counsels Historians.” The last of August Elder Packer had given a talk to seminary and institute teachers about teaching church history. Not a word has appeared about it in the press until this. Resembles the talk he gave a few years ago on rock music; later another on modern art. Now history.

The paper also has a story on the fact that the Raintree Apartments requires applicants to have bishops interviews first. It carried some brief news. I learned, for example, that Omer Kader, an Arab Professor of Government at BYU, chosen by Blue Key Club to be professor of the month, but the BYU administration turned them down and they had to choose another one. Also Duane Jeffrey, professor of zoology (and a graduate of USU and formerly our mission president in USU stake) was chosen by the Honors Program to be professor of the year. The administration turned him down because he wrote an article for Dialogue on Science and Evolution (a great article), and Honors had to find another suitable professor for the honor. Pretty damaging. And welcome to have this information. If it proves embarrassing to the former administration at BYU (Bob Thomas, administrative v.p.), so be it.

Anyway, a pretty important development. Of course, it may not pay financially and may go the way of many such papers. But in the meantime, we’re getting some fresh air at BYU, and it will be interesting to this historian to see what is revealed next.

I’m sending along a few items, and may send some in weeks to come if any seem significant.

Love, Dad 

[LJA to Children, 10 Oct., 1981]

Elder Boyd K. Packer

Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-day Saints 

47 East South Temple 

Salt Lake City, Utah 84105

Dear Elder Packer:

I have just read your address entitled, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater than the Intellect,” which you recently delivered to institute and seminary instructors at B.Y.U. Since I am an historian by profession and have occasionally written in the field of Mormon history, and since I am also an active member of the Church and an instructor in my High Priest’s Quorum, I found your address especially interesting, provocative, and relevant to a wider audience than only those who had the opportunity to hear you.

Having attended an eastern, secular graduate school I can personally identify with many of the issues you so thoughtfully raise. To cite just one example, the week I arrived on campus I was introduced to a well-known political scientist who had recently won a Pulitzer Prize. He asked, “Where are you from?” I replied, “Utah.” Then he said, with considerable sarcasm, “Well, then you must believe that God has hair on his back,” and walked away.

Because I share your religious concerns, admire your frankness, and agree with many of your insights, I hope that you will be willing to consider some observations about some of the major points you make in your interesting address. These observations are offered in a spirit of friendship and commitment. Because your “cautions” to those of us who teach history are weighty ones, and since you invite your readers to come forward and help in the cause, I have taken you at your word and offer the following thoughts for your further reflection.


The young man’s statement that “the mantle is far, far greater than the intellect” is an attempt, I think, to rank things that cannot fairly be ranked. The mantle, as I understand it, is the authority that emanates from the spirit of God and is rooted in revelation. The intellect is understanding based on reason and empirical evidence. The spirit and intellect have fundamentally different roles. To say that the mantle (spirit) is greater than the intellect is like saying the heart is greater than the mind or the hand is greater than the foot. Allow me to explain why this comparison can be misleading. 

The intellect is paramount in the material world where problems are most easily approached by critical, empirical analysis, where data or tested theory are at hand, and where replication is possible. The essence of this approach is inductive, relative, and tentative. The intellect deals more in questions than answers, and helps us to be tolerant of diversity and discord–both of which are important aspects of all human life. As Bacon said, the intellect “hangs us with weights” to keep us from “leaping and flying about” excessively. The intellect is our contact with the material and the secular.

The intellect assists us in moving beyond the simplistic and sterile categories of hero vs. villain, defense vs. attack, and member vs. nonmember so prominent in the writing of Mormon history in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It allows us considerably greater freedom and accuracy in dealing with the more secular aspects of our past. It encourages a healthy corporate introspection. The great achievement of the intellect is a massive body of reliable knowledge commanding near universal agreement in the scientific and secular world which is largely responsible for our rising standard of living.

The spirit, as you know better than I, serves us equally well but in a radically different way. If the intellect supplies us with weights, the spirit gives us wings to soar above our mundane selves, to extend our reach, to inspire. It helps to establish ultimate values, political unity, and discourages narcissism and anomie. It is our crucial contact with God and the sacred.

The spirit gives us a meaningful place in the universe, roots us in a power larger than self, and makes possible the full development of the human personality. It ties us with both past and future generations. Without the spirit we are, as T. S. Eliot so well said, “hollow” men living in a “waste land.” 

Clearly, both the spirit and the intellect serve very different but equally useful purposes. The spirit gives us certainty, but it cannot be examined empirically. The intellect reminds us to question even that which seems certain. The intellect and the spirit are our two eyes. Either used alone is lacking in depth perception. But like the placement of our eyes on our faces, the spirit and the intellect function best side-by-side, not one over the other.


Your call for a better balance between the intellect and the spirit among those of us who teach Church history is well placed, I believe, but when you quote those who suggest that we should see “in every hour and in every moment” the hand of God, you ask of history something that vehicle is unable to carry. Let me explain. Any serious attempt to see God’s hand in every single act, policy, or pronouncement of every Church prophet contradicts, it seems to me, Joseph Smith’s statement that a prophet is not always a prophet, and requires us to defend things that need not and cannot be defended. Mistakes have been made by our leaders and are freely admitted as such. Joseph admitted he was wrong to try to sell the copyright for the Book of Mormon in Canada. John Taylor, when he became president, thought Brigham Young’s united order an unwise “experiment.” David O. McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith disagreed on evolution. Brigham Young and others modified Joseph Smith’s history, and so on. To require our teachers to say all this was inspired, to try to make consistent that which is inconsistent, is to create rather than diminish doubt. A good person does not have to be completely perfect to be acceptable to God. Should an organization be any different?

Many things in our history are exceedingly difficult to explain. Exactly who was to succeed Joseph Smith as Church president is surely unclear no matter how hard we try to understand it. Some changes in doctrine are influenced by governmental action, as for example the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing the practice of polygamy. Surely that tribunal had some influence on President Woodruff’s decision to end the practice of polygamy. To say that the Manifesto was not influenced by governmental action is simply to raise other, harder questions. Such as, why did God wait until 1890 to cease the practice? Why not 1879 when the Reynolds decision was handed down? Or, if the timing was just right, why then did a majority of the Twelve take additional wives after the Manifesto?

Many statements by Church leaders were made in the heat of battle and some prophesies were demonstrably wrong, e.g., Brigham Young “prophesied” a week before Appomattox that the Civil War would last another year. Life is complex and so is history. Natural forces, like gravity, play their role, too. And why not? Once we recognize no one is infallible, that there is a secular as well as a sacred side to our history, we don’t have to defend everything. Less certitude now may produce greater certainty in the long run.

You suggest that apostles are human. Certainly professors are. We should allow the same latitude to our collective efforts we call church history. By trying to make our history, our policies, and our leaders too perfect we set up our students for potential disaster. All the opposition has to do is to show, by our own documents, a few of our warts to cause doubt. Some have had a field day demonstrating, from our historical records, inconsistencies, changes and so forth. Their impact has been substantial because many of our members have been taught that our leaders never make mistakes and that our doctrines never change. Consequently, many expect too much and hence their faith is easily shaken.

The statement that God directs everything in every moment implies that everything is of equal importance. It equates every minor eccentricity with the divine will, every church policy with ultimate, enduring truth. It implies that the Church leadership is infallible and that any criticism of policy is heresy. It makes it nearly impossible to learn from our mistakes and makes needed changes hard and slow. By promising less will we not accomplish more? 


On page six you state that “there is a war going on,” that we should be “belligerents,” and hence we must be “one-sided” in teaching our history. This approach could alienate many of those who have gained respect for the Church and come to our defense in recent years. In my experience, non-Mormon scholars are far more sympathetic to the Church today than at any time in our history. Your call to do battle with them may offend them as the one-sided attack on Mormons in the nineteenth century offended us. Historians cannot be divided into those who fight for God and those who battle for the Devil. All of us, both inside and outside the Church, are limited in our ability to reconstruct the past, each seeks understanding according to his own abilities, and none has a corner on the truth. Being deliberately “one-sided” could destroy our credibility with our non-Mormon friends, tarnish our good name, invite counter attacks, and diminish the possibility of fruitful dialogue with other Christians facing similar problems.

Taking a “one-sided” approach to our history could also undermine the credibility of our teachers with our own members. Our students will soon recognize that they are being spoon-fed and discount our lessons accordingly. Many will see this approach as a form of censorship to present the spread of ideas thought to be dangerous and will resist it openly. Others will turn to non- and anti-Mormon sources to “get the real story.” In essence this approach treats our members as if they were children, unprepared to face the realities of life and too immature to be trusted with the family car. 

Taking a one-sided, faith-promoting approach to our history is basically as limiting as taking a one-sided, faith-destroying approach to our history. It tells only the “good” side, only that which promotes faith according to the teacher’s or writer’s point of view of what is good for us to know. Many of us find our faith enlarged by having the whole picture and not just the “smiling aspects of life” set before us. Let me again illustrate. I know of no one who has lost his faith because he read carefully Juanita Brook’s, The Mountain Meadows Massacre. When the whole story is told, in all its pathos and tragedy, understanding and sympathy for both sides usually is the result. Nor do I know anyone whose testimony was strengthened through ignorance-at least in the long run.

Your second “caution” that history teachers should not “tell everything,” your third that they should not give “equal time to the adversary,” and your fourth that they should avoid discussing some things already “in print,” convey a strong impression to this reader that you seem to be afraid of our past, that you think there must be a lot of disturbing things in the archives, and that many of us could be spiritually contaminated if we get too close to these records. My impression is buttressed by your further comments that we should not purchase or read anything from apostates, that their work is like a “disease.” By implication, one should not, I suppose, read non-Mormon authors who are critical of some of our doctrines. Is this really how you feel? Or have I misread your speech? 

I think your apparent fear of our past and our historians who try to be objective and fair is unjustified and overly sensitive. Most of the historians I know who have delved most thoroughly into our past are still faithful and active. Certainly our forebears who created the history you seem to fear were faithful. Nor did our early leaders only tell the Saints what was uplifting. That is what makes them so interesting.

I do know many, as I am sure you do, who have lost their faith by having had a naive, saccharine understanding of our history and then who have been exposed to our actual historical documents, some of which are less than faith promoting, without being able to turn to a knowledgeable and understanding teacher for assistance. By instructing our institute and seminary teachers to be “one-sided” and informed only about the “good” side of religion, you are, it seems to me, denying thousands of members the opportunity to turn to knowledgeable people within the institution who can help them with their spiritual difficulties.

You seem to be arguing that ignorance is the best defense against the challenge of secularism. This impression is based on your comment that “some things are to be taught selectively” and only to those “who are worthy,” that historians know things that others should not hear, that we cannot “safely” be neutral, and so on. It seems to me that such an approach is like building a house without a roof to protect us against bad weather. The rain will fall whether we like it or not. Our job is to be prepared when it does. We need to strengthen the ability of the Church membership to face contradictions, controversy, and the underside of the Church like they face the underside of life generally. The great historians in our Church have always done this, particularly B. H. Roberts. We cannot escape the challenge by our past by ignoring it, postponing it, or dealing with it selectively. Why not face it early on, head on, and all out like Roberts did? Knowledge was his defense, and it was a very noble one. Can ours be any less noble?

A “belligerent” and “one-sided” approach to history is by its very nature placing the study and writing of history in the same category as hard-sell salesmanship and publicity-it promises much and delivers little. We the teachers are being told to become publicity agents of the faith rather than objective and scholarly advocates of the truth. This approach places penalties on expressed doubt; gospel messages tend to be “packaged” in pleasing colors and sometimes deceptive containers; image is everything! “Selling” the gospel in this fashion downgrades our most cherished values to the same level as toothpaste, soap powders, and deodorants. It turns our missionaries and scholars into corporate sales-reps. Its emphasis, so far as potential converts are concerned, is on credulity rather than faith, and certitude more than certainty.

Your suggestion that there is “a war going on” and that we should be “belligerent” and “one-sided” in defense of the Church encourages a siege mentality with little room for any middle ground. It encourages denunciations of those who respect objectivity and discourages scholarship generally. 

By saying that teachers who do not always “build faith” are “a traitor to the cause” (p. 8), you place all the blame on the messenger and put no responsibility on the recipient of the message. Does not the membership have some obligation to prepare themselves to receive all truth as scripture suggests? Should the messenger always carry the full blame for the “bad” news he sometimes brings? After all, historians did not create the past, they are merely trying to understand it. 


The alleged conflict between the intellect and the spirit is usually most intense on university campuses, at least that has been my experience. There are a lot of deeply committed, tough-minded Latter-day Saints on our campuses, people who are well informed and faithful too. They have been toughened by exposure to disturbing facts and conflicting points of view. They have been broadened by contact with the world. Most important of all, their faith has been deepened because it has been tested, which after all is why we are here.

People, like Gods other creations, are made stronger by exposure to the elements. Hot-house plants may be more beautiful than plants in their natural setting, but they are also more fragile. Membership in the Kingdom is for the long haul and for those who can endure. Can we endure without being tested? Of course some will fail the test, but is that not better than having a congregation of hot-house Mormons, Mormons ignorant of their own traditions, Mormons cowering in their chapels and afraid to go to the library because they might read something disturbing?

What some find threatening others find stimulating. Our job as teachers should be to assist our students in going the whole way, not in halting their spiritual growth before the challenge even begins because we, their teachers, assume they are unequal to the task.

Finally, allow me to raise for your consideration a point I think is often overlooked. An effective way to survive the “shocks” of learning the underside of our history is to examine the underside of secularism as well. Once the weaknesses of the secular approach are well-perceived and digested, the choice between informed commitment and inactivity or apostasy is not all that troublesome. Once the limitations of the intellect are fully understood, the limitations of faith do not loom so large. Once the “culture of narcissism” is as fully appreciated for its weaknesses, the value of religion looms larger.


Both spirituality and intellectuality have suffered immeasurably when one or the other has been raised to a position of predominance. When one pits the eternal and the temporal, spirit and matter, passion and reason, mind and heart against each other, each comes away the loser. Indeed, to attack one set of values in the name of the other is to threaten both. What we need is not a rejection of one or the other but an integration of both, a reaffirmation of their joint dependency and usefulness. Placing faith and reason at odds with each other puts us at war with ourselves; placed in harmony together we are in both intellectual and spiritual repose.

You have “cautioned” historians on the need for greater spiritual insights–and rightfully so. All of us in the profession need to be required to rethink and at times modify our assumptions, methods, and goals. My modest effort here is to the same purpose: to raise some cautions for you to consider. If I have spoken frankly it is out of respect for your office and a desire not to patronize. If my ideas are offensive in any way, please be assured that they are directed at your ideas, not at you. If even one of these considerations causes you to reflect further and positively on this most important subject I shall be grateful.

Respectfully your brother,

James L. Clayton 

cc: President Gordon B. Hinckley

[James L. Clayton to Elder Boyd K. Packer; 19 Nov., 1981]

Elder Packer gave a speech a couple of weeks ago about history and historians. Without naming anybody in particular he says we have not built faith enough. Various historians are reacting to that and we’ve had papers by Larry Foster, Mike Quinn, Jim Clayton, and others. Frankly, it didn’t bother me and I do not think it will have any effect on us. We’re sailing right along doing what we’ve always done and what we expect to continue to do. Elder Packer’s admonitions, in my judgment, should not cause any alteration in our work. If they embarrass anybody, they embarrass him.

[LJA to Children, 25 Nov., 1981]

Elder Boyd K. Packer 

Council of the Twelve 

47 East So. Temple 

Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

Dear Elder Packer:

I have read and reread the entire printed text of your recent address “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect” and noted with great interest and satisfaction your eloquent and welcome call, even plea for help. “We need your help” were your exact words.

May I respond to both your address and your plea? First a little background: I guess you could say I have been studying Church history most all my life. I started publishing in the field over thirty years ago in the Millennial Star. This great love of and interest in Church never left me and even though my Ph. D. from Columbia is in East European history, I have studied and published in Church history throughout my professional career. I also belong to all the appropriate professional associations and for over twenty-five years I have known well almost all the important professional and non-professional students of Church history.

What I am trying to suggest, Brother Packer, is that my background may lend some weight to what I am about to state. And that is simply this–I know of no other group of men or women in the Church who collectively have stronger testimonies of the Restoration or who more willingly wish to lay their gifts upon the “altar of sacrifice” to build and better the Kingdom than professional Church historians.

One of the sources of our strong testimonies is Church history itself. That is why we diligently research and publish as we do. We are far more interested in helping others gain stronger testimonies through a deeper and more thorough knowledge of Church history than the “Scholarly reputation and the acclaim of your [our] colleagues in the world…” (your words once more.).

And yet I do not know personally of a single instance in which faithful Mormon historians have ever suffered professionally for their living and working in accordance with their testimonies. Most of us are honored and do very well in our profession.

Never have I had to alter a word in any lecture, book, or article for any committee or editor or done anything professionally which would have required me to compromise my faith or understanding of Church history. 

I have advised my share of M.A. and Ph.D. candidates, some of whom have worked in Mormon history. None of them has ever suffered by holding to the faith. I can well understand your great concern over the doctoral candidate who came to you for advice and felt he suffered professionally for his beliefs. He did, however, have one other option. He could have written the dissertation to satisfy his committee and then have rewritten it to satisfy himself and searched around for a publisher. All dissertations have to be rewritten for publication anyway, for dissertations are a peculiar art form unto themselves. It might very well have been possible for this young man to have had the mantle AND the intellect. Elder Packer, the very idea that the mantle and the intellect are mutually exclusive is disturbing. I personally claim to have it and believe that most of my colleagues in the Church do too. It is a very easy thing when one falls short of ones professional aspirations to decide that “holding to the iron rod” was the cause of such failure; this is a most comforting rationalization.

I too have “walked that road of scholarly research and study and know something of the dangers” to use your words again; in fact, I suppose I live on that road, or at least by its side. I can state categorically, however, that it is the collective experience of professional Mormon historians that an in-depth study of Church history is faith promoting, even uplifting, not hurtful to testimonies. 

What kind of testimonies are we building in the Church, protecting in the Church, if the fact that some of the sons of Brigham Young smoked is so shocking? Rather weak testimonies I would judge. Our unusual concern over the truth regarding the evolution of the Word of Wisdom does not strengthen the youth of Zion, rather, it leaves them vulnerable to anti-Mormons who delight in pointing out these unadmitted truths. I wrestled with this for years while writing the life of Heber C. Kimball who certainly did not worry much over the Word of Wisdom. I am happy to say, however, that my responsible (and prayerful) treatment of his full life has won for me the love and respect of the great Kimball Family Association.

If such relative trifles are of such import, what are we to do with holy scripture. I take great comfort for the fact that the authors of the Old and New Testament and the Book of Mormon were not censored. In a responsible manner they presented balanced pictures of our religious heroes, and only One was unflawed. Scripture does not offer us two-dimensional cardboard cutouts for our heroes. I believe millions have taken courage from the Bible and Book of Mormon and concluded that perhaps there was hope for them too, if even those annointed sometimes struggled under the burden of perfection.

In my biography of Heber C Kimball I quote what George Q. Cannon noted that President Lorenzo Snow said, “I saw Joseph Smith the Prophet do things which I did not approve of; and yet…I thanked God that he would put upon a man who had these imperfections the power and authority which he placed upon him…for I knew myself I had weaknesses and I thought there was a chance for me. These same weaknesses…I knew were in Heber C. Kimball, but my knowing this did not impair him in my estimation. I thanked God I saw these imperfections.” 

Over the ten years I worked on the life of my great-great grandfather and grandfather to the current president of the Church, I spent much time on my knees praying for guidance which I verily received. Important, though not always pleasant, truths can be told responsibly.

I perceive of three levels of understanding of Church history. First the simple, standard, Sunday School version. Second, a level where some problems appear to contradict the first level. It is at this level that critics of the Church operate. It is this level which so disturbs the Saints at large–for they are not prepared to cope with it when critics of the Church draw it to their attention. (As a professor of history of over twenty years and an Institute instructor for over eight years, I have counseled with such disturbed Saints and, with one exception concerning the Book of Abraham papyri, not only helped them quiet their fears, but emerge from the experience with even stronger testimonies.

The method is simple. All I did was take them carefully to level three, the bedrock of Church history. At that level the problems of the second level are answered and the simple presentation at level one is fully confirmed.

Now you may ask, if going to bedrock merely confirms level one, why bother? That would be permissible if…if only anti-Mormons would do the same thing. But they do not. Their stock in trade are the problems of level two and they are too successful for we have not properly prepared the Saints to understand what anti-Mormon literature is all about. Trying to prepare the Saints to meet these challenges is one thing professional Church historians strive to do and believe to be part of their “calling.”

As an experienced institute instructor, I would recommend a new course titled “An Introduction to Anti-Mormon Literature.” In this course, I would take my students through all three levels of understanding of selected events in Church history. I would try to follow the admonition of the Savior to help them become as harmless as doves and as wise as serpents. There is no way one can be as wise as a serpent and not thoroughly understand Church history.

Let me tell you of one case in particular. Some years ago, a member of our library staff, a BYU graduate, return missionary, and married in the temple had just come across an anti-Mormon book and read it out of curiosity; ashen-faced he later came to me because he felt his testimony slipping. I asked him to bring me the book and arranged to have lunch with him a week later. At that time, taking the book chapter by chapter, I showed him how each problem disappeared at level three. Slowly I showed him that all anti-Mormon literature is a two edged sword. Anti-Mormons use certain arguments to cut against the Church; persons with an in-depth understanding of Church history can skillfully turn the sword back on such detractors of our faith.

Let me quote you my concluding paragraph to an article on the Anthon Transcript which I published in the Spring, 1970 issue of B.Y.U. Studies. 

“For a variety of reasons most institutions, especially religious ones, ultimately face the necessity of preparing a detailed history of their own origins. While the early generations are so close to the beginning that their personal knowledge is adequate and their faith strong, succeeding generations have to acquire their knowledge second-hand and therefore require written accounts, not only to buttress their own faith, but to answer the ever present critics and doubters. This generation must now utilize fully the art and science of history to recapture the past and properly narrate and interpret its own origins; we must search out more fully the sources of the Restoration…”

I was especially arrested by your “Second Caution,” concerning “the exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told.” What “theory” is this? It certainly never formed part of my extremely rigorous training at Columbia University during the years 1955-59. Only rank amateurs tell everything. My colleagues are not such. Whatever this theory is, it is not held by professional Church historians.

In all the arts what one leaves out is as important as what one puts in. Telling everything is not only unprofessional, it is unreadable; in fact, it is not even history, chronicling perhaps.

Elder Packer, I could continue, but perhaps this will suffice. Permit me to close with a plea to you, in the same spirit in which you made your eloquent plea to us. I am confident there are those in the Church who needed your dressing down and your office carries great weight. I hope those who need to hear, hearken. I fear, however, if your address as it now stands is issued as a separate pamphlet, appears in the Ensign and in BYU Studies it will do serious harm to those of us who do not write the kind of history you deplore. We have always been a history keeping and minded people and, for the most part, have trusted and appreciated our historians. Some have even been called and sustained by several Prophets. In spite of such callings even now the Historical Department of the Church has been seriously down-graded. Your address is another most serious blow to some of the most faithful and dedicated men and women in the Church.

We affirm that the glory of our God is intelligence, intellect, and strive to place what little intellect and mantel we might have in His Service.

If the position of professional Church historians and those of us that write Church history is further undercut, if the Saints are caused to lose faith in us, how will Church historians be able to effectively defend the church against calumny, distortion, incrimination, slander, libel, anti-Mormon propaganda, and such acts? Professional Church historians, or professional historians of Church history, form the Church’s first line of defense concerning our past. Certainly, is not your intention to weaken this line of defense.

It is a very sobering experience to read the original history of the

Church as published in the Times and Season, the Millennial Star and the Deseret

News. Those Church historians, personally acquainted with Joseph Smith and other early leaders, were far less inhibited in their writing of Church history than contemporary professional historians in the Church.

Could you not clarify your position, making it clear that you are addressing those in the Church who do violate the cannon of good historical writing and not give the impression of tarring with the same brush many of us so anxious to lay our gifts on the altar, trying to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause?”

Since you and Elder Gordon B. Hinckley were at one time advisors to the former Historical Department of the Church, I feel it might be appropriate to share these thoughts with him.


Stanley B. Kimball


cc: Elder Gordon B. Hinckley

P.S. Elder Packer when some of the prophecies of Heber C. Kimball come to pass, the Church will need all the faithful professional historians it has and the saints will need to have faith in them. After prayerful consideration, I have decided that perhaps I should send a copy of this letter to President Kimball. 

cc: President Spencer W. Kimball 

[Stanley B. Kimball to Elder Boyd K. Packer; 1 Dec., 1981]

There is an additional item which probably should be drawn to your attention. Elder Packer’s recent BYU address concerning Church history has produced some results that perhaps were not intended. The effect has been to isolate intellectually some of our fine LDS people from their Church leaders. The possibilities of creating a negative and difficult-to-manage image for the church are rather serious. Some of those consequences can be minimized or avoided, and if I can assist in this I would be pleased to do so. . . .


Leonard J. Arrington

[LJA to Gordon B. Hinckley; LJA Diary, 21 Dec., 1981]

Elder Gordon B. Hinckley 

First Presidency 

47 East So. Temple 

Salt Lake City, Utah, 84150

Dear Elder Hinckley:

Since you became a member of the First Presidency I am even more proud of the fact that many years ago, during the early 1940s, I served with you in the Sunday School of the Denver First Ward.

After considerable prayer and thought I have written the attached letter to Elder Packer. For reasons beyond my comprehension the Historical Department of the Church has been under siege for some time, in fact it no longer exists.

Elder Packer’s address recently at the “Y” further undermines the position of Church historians who form the first line of defense for the Church against calumny, distortion, incrimination, slander, libel, and anti-Mormon propaganda.

I know you are very busy, but perhaps you can find the time to glance over this letter and maybe this situation can be ameliorated.


Stanley B. Kimball 


[Stanley B. Kimball to Gordon B. Hinckley; LJA Diary, 2 Dec., 1981]

We’ve heard rumors that Newsweek is coming out with an article on the Church and censorship. We’ ye also heard that they’ve ordered photos of Mike Quinn, B. H. Roberts, and myself. Nobody has contacted me about it, for which I can be thankful, I guess. I’m afraid it will be negative toward the Church. This will put us historians on the spot–do we go with the Church because of our loyalties there, or do we go with truthful historical writing because of our loyalties there? Actually, I don’t see things are as bad as some think. We still have a healthy Mormon History Association, publish most everything we wish in suitable places, and have good budget support from BYU. I hate for something to come up that may cause BYU to clamp down on us, or on Mike Quinn, or on research in the Archives on Church history. I wish these journalists would leave us alone to do our thing–which is research and writing, and which we are doing satisfactorily right now. My days of intrigue are past. I just wish people would let me alone to write, which I could do quite unobtrusively if people wouldn’t get upset about things that have happened. 

[LJA to Children, 13 Jan., 1982]

I prepared a little statement to make for Newsweek in case Ken Woodward called to ask me for a statement. He has not called so I will put this into my diary record.

We have had many indications that there is an audience out there that respects what we do. Naturally, we can’t please everyone. And we don’t claim to be immune from criticism. Some think we betray a bias in favor of the church; others think we raise too many questions or show a willingness to appreciate the point of view of those outside the Church. As historians who have studied other faiths must know, it is a narrow line. All I can say is that we try to maintain a proper balance. We do our best. We have accomplished much in the past ten years and feel confident that the interest and activity in Mormon historical scholarship will continue. 

In case he asked for an additional statement I had prepared the following:

Those of us engaged in Mormon Church history have recognized a need to publish some of the important documents that have survived from the past century. We have also recognized the need for a fresh, scholarly approach to many individuals, periods, and problems in the history of the Church. 

If he raised a number of questions with me and wanted replies for attribution, I made the following notes: 

1. In addition to being one of the most brilliant and productive young American historians, Michael Quinn is also one of the most faithful and devout members of the Church. In his talk, given to a few senior honors students and graduate students in history, his sole purpose, as I understand it, was to express confidence in the work our historians are doing and to express his belief that it was being done in the interests of truth, the Church, and the building of the Kingdom of God.

2. Elder Packer’s talk was his own and does not necessarily represent agreed-upon Church policy.

3. Michael Quinn is loyal to the church and its best ideals. He was seeking primarily to express these in his response to Elder Packer’s talk.

4. The transfer of historians to BYU was designed to place them in an academic setting where they might feel more free.

5. The authors of the sesquicentennial volumes are free to publish elsewhere if the Church should not decide to publish them.

6. The Church continues to be committed to fair and accurate history and to the operation of its archives on a professionally responsible level. 

[LJA Diary, 25 Jan., 1982]

Which brings me to the Newsweek article. It was pulled from this week’s issue, probably because of the rescue of General Dozier, and is due to appear in next week’s issue, which comes out (here) on Tuesday. I’ve been told that Ken Woodward, author of the article, was angry at Church Communications for not cooperating in providing pictures, etc. I’ve also been told that it is a reasonably fair presentation. Maybe a little hard on Elder Packer, but gives praise to the efforts of our historians to tell an honest and yet edifying story of the Church. I feel sure Mike Quinn is in no danger, nor is our Institute and historians, and maybe the article, corning as it does from a prominent outside source, will help our cause of doing history the way it ought to be done. I have not seen the article nor heard it read, but this is my feeling about it based on the conversations I have had. In essence, Ken Woodward may be doing us a service. 

I have enjoyed reading some of the things our historians have produced in recent weeks and months and feel good about any role I may have played in getting “good” history written–by that I mean, accurate interpretive history. 

[LJA to Children, 3 Feb., 1982]

I’m enclosing a copy of the Newsweek article on “Apostles vs. Historians.” It came out yesterday here, so no time to get any reaction one way or the other. My own feeling is that it was fair and balanced, accurate, well-worded, with no low blows. It could have been much worse. In other words, it was responsible, informative journalism. And if Elder Packer didn’t like it, he shouldn’t have given the talk in the first place. I do not see the article as damaging to the Church, to Mike Quinn, or to our historical efforts. So I’m relieved, if not pleased. It gives due credit to Mike for “standing up” on a question very important to all of us. 

[LJA to Children, 10 Feb., 1982]

Possible Responses to Ken Woodward if He Calls

1. On our present status:

Actually, those of us engaged in Mormon history have received a great deal of encouragement. We have recognized the need to publish some of the important documents that have survived from the past century, and we have done so. We have also recognized the need for a fresh, scholarly approach to many individuals, periods, and problems in the history of the Church, and we have done our best to meet that need. We have accomplished much in the past ten years and feel confident that the interest and activity in Mormon historical scholarship will continue.

We have had many indications that there is an audience out there that respects what we do. There are those who think we betray a bias in favor of the church; others think we raise too many questions or show a willingness to appreciate the point of view of those outside the Church. As historians who have studied other faiths must know, it is a narrow line. All I can say is that we have done our best to maintain a proper balance.

2. On Mike Quinn:

In addition to being a brilliant and productive historian who is struggling with these things, Michael Quinn is also a faithful and devout member of the Church. Sincerity and reality don’t necessarily agree with everything and how he said. In his talk, given to a few senior honors students and graduate students in history, his primary purpose, as I understand it, was to express confidence in the work our historians are doing and to express his belief that it was being done in the interests of truth, and the mission of the Church. 

3. On Elder Packer’s talk:

Nothing new. I see his talk as in the tradition of those who are concerned with scholarly history of religious experience. An understandable concern. Admonitions and cautions, and I believe this is what Elder Packer was trying to do. We have had no indication that this represents any change in Church policy. As far as I have been given to understand, the Church continues to be committed to fair and accurate history and to the operation of its archives on a professionally responsible level.

4. On our transfer to BYU:

The transfer of historians to BYU was designed to place them in an academic setting where they might feel more free in pursuing their research and writing projects.

5. On the sesquicentennial history:

The authors of the sesquicentennial volumes are free to publish elsewhere if the Church should not decide to publish them. 

[Possible Responses to Ken Woodward if He Calls; LJA Diary, file 15 Feb., 1982]

Apostles vs. Historians

Unlike other modern religions, Mormonism is a faith cast in the form of history. Not only is the Book of Mormon itself a collection of personal narratives and other records purporting to describe God’s dealings with an extinct race of pre-Columbian Americans, but the church’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith Jr., directed all Latter-day Saints to keep personal journals-which many Mormons still do-so that the church might have records of its own Acts of the Apostles. Today the LDS archives in Salt Lake City contain what may be the most extensive trove of historical data ever assembled about an American church-giving Mormon historians an unparalleled opportunity to sift their past and tell their history as it was. However, a major conflict is brewing between professional Mormon historians and a group of church elders who insist that LDS scholars write only “faith-promoting” accounts of the church.

In a series of lectures to Mormon teachers and writers, Elders Ezra Taft Benson, who is next in the line of succession to become the church’s “Prophet, Seer and Revelator,” and Boyd K. Packer, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, have been harshly critical of the methods and motives of LDS scholars who attempt “objective” histories of the church. What particularly exercises Benson is the effort made by scholars to place what are supposed to be divinely inspired church doctrines in a relevant social and historical context. For example, he rejects the notion that Joseph Smith’s 1833 revelation on the evils of alcohol may possibly have been influenced by the non-Mormon temperance crusades of the time. Benson also objects to historians who link Smith’s theological ideas to the general nineteenth-century movement known as “Christian Primitivism.” And, as a staunch anti-communist, he is disturbed by historians who use the word “communitarianism” to describe Smith’s early social experiments in which all Mormons shared the ownership of their worldly goods.

The sharp criticisms from the church’s leaders have cast an intellectual pall over the extensive Mormon educational system. “Some of us who teach students from the better universities are wondering how we fit into the system,” says William Cottam, who teaches religion to Mormon graduate students attending Columbia University and New York University. “Our students are learning to think critically about their religion, and we teachers have to be intellectually honest. But it appears that we are being asked to indoctrinate and overlook uncomfortable facts.”

Saga: According to the dicta of Benson and Packer, Mormon history should be presented as a sacred saga so that students can-in Packer’s words-“see the hand of the Lord in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now.” In a no-holds-barred lecture that has been distributed to all Mormon educators, Packer denounces the professional scholars who “write history as they were taught in graduate school, rather than as Mormons.” He enjoins LDS historians to write “selectively” about the church-especially the faults and contradictions of church leaders-and he directs them to defend the church with the dedication of corporation lawyers or soldiers at war.

To be sure, most religions begin by recounting their history as a sacred story in which every twist and turn is directed by God alone. But the guardians of sacred history eventually come to terms-however uneasily-with scholarship that deals in more mundane historical facts. Will the Mormons be an exception? In the past decade and a half, a number of distinguished Mormon historians have proved to hierarchs and scholars alike that they can write responsibly about their church. To date, however, only one of them has stood up publicly to the Benson-Packer attack.

In a stirring defense of intellectual integrity, historian D. Michael Quinn of Brigham Young University recently warned his school’s student history association that the “so-called ‘faith-promoting’ Church history which conceals controversies and difficulties of the Mormon past undermines the faith of Latter-day Saints who eventually learn of the problems from other sources.” Defying the demands of Benson and Packer, Quinn argued that Mormon historians would be false to church doctrine, human conduct and the documentary evidence “if they sought to defend the proposition that LDS prophets were infallible in their decisions and statements.” Such a history of “benignly angelic Church leaders…would border on idolatry,” declared Quinn, who at 37 is the most accomplished of the Church’s younger historians.

Duty: Although a few other LDS historians have complained privately to the apostles, Quinn did something far bolder: he violated the Mormon taboo that proscribes the faithful from publicly criticizing “the Lord’s Anointed” by name. In doing so he not only challenged the right of apostles to question the motives and faith of historians, he also defended the duty of Mormon scholars to challenge an apostle’s intellectual competence. “When apostles speak on a subject that involves secular knowledge, then what they say must be subject to scrutiny,” he says.

By last week it appeared that Quinn’s counterattack had put Benson and Packer on the defensive. Packer’s history-baiting speech was originally scheduled to appear in the February issue of the Ensign, an official church monthly. But when the magazine rolled off the presses, another apostle’s address appeared in its place. “The conflict is really between those apostles who are liberal-minded and politically conservative and those who are relatively more open,” says Mormon historian James Clayton of the University of Utah. That conflict is a long way from being settled, but the scholars may have the advantage. If faith in Mormonism means faith in the church’s history, then they would seem to have the edge over their adversaries.


[Article in Newsweek; LJA Diary, 15 Feb., 1982]

I learned more yesterday about the on-going church controversy over history. In the meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve on Thursday, September 1, Elder Packer commented that the Church ought to do something to prevent the Sunstone Symposium; it was damaging because it generated criticism of the General Authorities. No person picked up on the comment, however, so there was no discussion and no action taken. Apparently, others present either thought there was nothing that could be done, or nothing that should be done, or that the comment was unfair. In any case, Elder Packer, in this instance, seems to have been a lone crusader.

I learned also that Elder Haight had been assured by some friendly persons that Sunstone wasn’t anti-Mormon. It was an open forum, and things were said and written that might be regarded as anti-Church. But the objective was an open forum, not the perpetration of anti-Mormon literature, All concerned were active church members. Apparently, Haight later corrected another person who had reportedly made a statement in his presence that Sunstone was anti-Mormon and said that it was merely non-Church, not anti-Church.

I learned also that a vice president of BYU had been challenged about the “anti-history” statement of Jeff Holland in his talk to the faculty. The vice president said the BYU administration had full confidence in the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, and that Jeff’s remarks were not intended to be applied to history at all, but to the drama department. And perhaps Gary Browning as well, who had published a friendly Russian article in BYU Today.

[LJA Diary, 9 Sept., 1983]

I was informed by a friend that Elder Boyd Packer had told a friend of his (or her–the friend) that with respect to historical matters they (Elder Packer and perhaps others) had told Elder Durham, upon his appointment to be Manager of the Historical Department, that he should turn things around 90 degrees. The department was like a locomotive, chugging along in one direction. Elder Durham had made the 90 degree turn, and it was now chugging along in the right direction. And in making the turn no one fell off, and there was no diminution in the speed of the train.

I was also informed that various people in the Religious Instruction college at BYU were fluttering around about my testimony as it appeared in Sunstone; it was not an orthodox testimony, and they didn’t know what to think of this kind of a testimony. Apparently Bill Nelson, Elder Benson’s secretary telephoned the head of church curriculum to tell him to “look into this Arrington piece.” Whatever that means.

[LJA Diary, 4 Feb., 1985]

News from the Church Historical Department, Tuesday, January 14, 1986

This morning Elders Packer and Oaks introduced Earl Olson’s replacement, Richard Eyring Turley, Jr. He is a 29-year-old lawyer. Turley served a mission to Japan and later worked there for a couple of years before joining a law firm. His grandfather was from the Mexican colonies and became a stake president in El Paso, possibly the first stake president there. His father recently returned from service as a mission president in Mexico, and is apparently a university professor in engineering. His only previous contact with the Historical Department was research he did on family history. He is reported to be a pleasant young person.

Elder Packer says the historical fire is burning, almost out of control, but the Lord will see to it that all turns out to the good in the end. The Historical Department must be shipshape, must be strengthened and professionalized, much as Elder Packer distrusts that term. Some employees may have to give up some of their prejudices…I’m not sure just what this point focused on. Elder Packer said archives throughout the world don’t just let people in off the street without some kind of screening process.

The Historical Department meeting at which this business was transacted was apparently quite brief.

Other word: Ron Barney has recently been moved out of acquisitions, and occupies a desk outside Grant Anderson’s office, in the Archives Search Room. Apparently that is part of an upgrading process for the Search Room. At this point there is no word on the plans for acquisitions.

Some had anticipated that Glen Leonard would be named director of the Arts and

Sites division replacing Florence Jacobsen, who recently resigned. Nothing was said about that this morning.

[Ron Esplin?; LJA Diary, 14 Jan., 1986]

Ron Esplin telephoned today to say that Elder Dallin Oaks had telephoned him to say that the First Presidency had today approved the proposal he had presented to allow us (the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute) to publish the diaries of Joseph Smith. This includes the diaries of Willard Richards, and the portion of his diary in the First Presidency vault in the Law of the Lord book. Elders Packer and Oaks to be liaison with us to forward the project. Deseret Book to be the publisher. To be delivered to them in 1987. Dean Jessee to be the editor.

Ron was almost ecstatic, and said he was confident President Jae Ballif of BYU would be equally so. This is the first time the First Presidency have given us the go-ahead on anything since Elder Packer attacked the historians for being too negative. 

[LJA Diary, 18 Dec., 1986]

Dear Children:

Two or three events which have happened in the last three days prompt this letter. We watched General Conference both sessions on Saturday and on Sunday. The talks were fine and I’m glad I listened. In my judgment the two outstanding talks were by Howard Hunter, who talked on the gospel as a global faith with an all-embracing message not limited to any race, nationality, or culture. Latter-day Saints must have a positive and inclusive approach toward others who are not of our faith. They are our brothers and sisters; we are all sons and daughters of the same Heavenly Father. The other outstanding talk was by Aileen Clyde, counselor in the Relief Society Presidency, who discussed the charitable, compassionate service of the Relief Society. We must bear one another’s burdens. The Gospel will comfort us as we extend ourselves in help and love to those who need us. But, it is not charity or kindness to endure any type of abuse or unrighteousness that may be inflicted by others.

The one talk that marred the tone of the conference for me was Elder Packer’s talk asserting that studying doctrine without the spirit is dangerous. Intellectual study of Mormon doctrine without the spiritual component is wrong, he said, thus indirectly criticizing symposiums and study groups which, he said, concentrate on doctrine and ordinances and measure them by the intellect alone. This statement is false, in my experience, since no symposium, especially Sunstone Symposium, studies by the intellect alone to the exclusion of personal testimony and “the spirit.” My talks alone are proof of that.

[LJA to Children, 8 Oct., 1991]

Ron Walker, who was at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion in 1976, said Bill Nelson orchestrated the movement to ban Story of the Latter-day Saints. He looked for people who would write what he wanted them to write. 

Gary Bennett, not trained in history. Why not Ron Walker? “Because he wouldn’t write what I want him to write.” 

Elder Mark Petersen sought a reviewer who was not too well trained or read in history.

Bill Nelson orchestrated the whole business. He didn’t like liberals.

When Gene England learned of the Committee to Control Members he went to Nelson. “Why?” “I want to get rid of every liberal in the Church!” He, Nelson, persuaded Elder Packer to vote against Tom Alex as Redd professor because of his article on the reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine. Maxwell and Oaks later talked Packer into withdrawing his objection and Tom got the post.

[LJA Diary, 10 Dec., 1993]

James and Susan and I made our annual pilgrimage to Boyd Packerto deliver two of Mama’s luscious pecan pies. He received us cordially.

[LJA Diary, 24 Dec., 1976]