On November 22nd a link to a Church web page (here) appeared in my Facebook news feed that dealt with the First Vision accounts. What intrigued me was that the word account was plural. This was unusual for an official church publication. I quickly read the article and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was indeed an official church publication that dealt with multiple accounts of Joseph’s first vision. The article provided summaries and links for 4 accounts of the first vision while briefly mentioning others. It also detailed several classic arguments that focused mostly on variants along with Church rebuttals. Even though I thought the Church’s responses were weak I was still pleased. I was hopeful that other problematic issues for the church would be dealt with similarly.
The following day I dedicated some time to tracking down its first appearance on the Internet. I couldn’t find the original pointer. I crowdsourced it at a Mormon Facebook group, and the best reply I got was that at differing times on the 22nd someone thinks they may have seen it on reddit. HA! So I went to the main page of the Church’s website to find the link and/or newsroom update. Nothing. After some trial and error I found it; the path looked like this- www.lds.org—> Improved Gospel Topics Study Experience —> Gospel Topics—> First Vision Accounts or select “F” in the Browse Alphabetically option (Since that time the direct link to Gospel Topics has been removed from the main page). I was growing more irritated by the minute. I couldn’t believe the church put this out there without really putting it out there. This was beginning to feel more like a page 6 retraction. I stewed thinking of this statement,
“these documents have been discussed repeatedly…”
Wrong. It may have been discussed amongst a few English speaking Euro-American academics and history buffs but it surely wasn’t discussed with non-English speaking members like Tongans (of which I am one). Making something available to a very small percentage of the church does not equal discussed repeatedly within a multilingual church. Publishing something randomly and infrequently in obscure church material or academic publications does not mean the church has aggressively taught something. Placing something in a dark corner doesn’t mean it has been brought to light.
When I’ve made these types of observations in the past someone always brings up the Internet in defense of the church crying- “Behold! Google Translate!” That’s fine I guess, but it doesn’t really make sense if you consider Google has no Tongan translation available. The Internet penetration percentage of Tonga is only 34.9% so even if there were translation options it would still only reach a small percentage of Tongans. We have the largest number of Mormons per capita of any nation in the world and the church can’t throw us a bone by publishing these oft discussed phantom references in Tongan? I looked at the entire African continent, and they fare even worse than Tongans. Samoans barely even register. Obviously, the Church’s Euro-American imperialist view of the world is still a major obstacle.
So who cares about the wonderful article if no one knows it exists and couldn’t read it even if they did!?
Sadly, what I’ve learned from this little incident is that the church, despite what appears to be their best effort, is still failing miserably when it comes to presenting responsible history. Partial measures avail us nothing. Until the brethren quit half-stepping and take the plunge we are a church in danger of…a great many things.
Which brings me to my final point. I understand that the Church is not in the history business; it is in the business of spreading the gospel, however, as long as it uses its own history in the presentation of the gospel it has the responsibility to do so with integrity and honesty.