Truth in Church History: Excerpts from the Religious Educator’s Q&A with Elder Steven Snow

11.08.2013 | Blair Hodges

Elder Steven E. Snow recently replaced Elder Marlin K. Jensen as the Church Historian and Recorder. BYU’s Religious Educator features an excellent conversation with Elder Snow on the topic of Church history. This post contains a few highlights, but the entire article is great. You can subscribe to the Religious Educator here. —BHodges

On the Church’s increasing openness with regard to history:

“My view is that being open about our history solves a whole lot more problems than it creates. We might not have all the answers, but if we are open (and we now have pretty remarkable transparency), then I think in the long run that will serve us well. I think in the past there was a tendency to keep a lot of the records closed or at least not give access to information. But the world has changed in the last generation—with the access to information on the Internet, we can’t continue that pattern; I think we need to continue to be more open.”

On improving Seminary and Institute curriculum: 

“That is where we need to improve. Fortunately Seminaries and Institutes and Curriculum have really stepped up and said in essence, ‘You know we really want to take this on, we would like to talk about these sensitive issues in our seminaries and institutes.’ It’s one thing to tell a fourteen-year-old some of these sensitive things and they say, ‘OK, that’s great.’ But sometimes when you are twenty-something, it comes across a little differently. I think we can build faith and better prepare people if we will weave some of the unusual threads in history into the curriculum.”

On the claim that only believing Latter-day Saints can write an accurate history of the Church:

“I don’t agree with that. I think it depends what you call Mormon history and Church history. If you are making a distinction between those two, then maybe you could say that. I think the facts are the facts. We may not understand all the reasons and we may want to make some explanation. We are not always in possession of all the facts. I think we need to be as accurate as we can, as faith promoting as we can, but we need to continue to seek new truths and insights. . Every week is like discovery time. There are new treasures that come to light, and it deepens our understanding. We can find things that may shift our thinking a little bit.

“Every generation rewrites history a little bit with their own methods and perspectives; that’s okay. We try to tell the story as accurately as possible and then we hope there will be those of faith who will step forward and add other insights. Many with whom you associate at BYU write faith-promoting works based on the history we find. I think we need to be very careful that we are accurate, because if we aren’t, it can come back to really haunt us. It’s good to tell the truth.”

On dealing with difficult aspects of Church history:

“You have to approach it with faith, and you’ve got to balance faith with reason. We hope people study Church history. We hope they study Church history a lot. But I would add, don’t forget what brought you to it in the first place. Don’t give up. Don’t jump out of the boat. Stay in the boat and rely on the faith and testimony that you do have. Because in my view, the more you study, the more your faith will grow and develop. There will be a few questions we are just going to have to put on the shelf and get to later. Some we will answer in this mortal existence, others we may have to wait. But the big questions, the important questions will get answered if we exercise our faith.”


From Richard E. Bennett and Dana M. Pike, “Start With Faith: A Conversation with Elder Steven E. Snow,” Religious Educator 14, no. 3 (2013): 1-11.