Introduction

On September 9, 2014 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a letter to all Priesthood leaders. The letter instructed Priesthood leaders to send doubting or inquisitive members to a series of essays recently published in the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org. The following is an excerpt from the letter:

"The purpose of the Gospel Topics section is to provide accurate and transparent information on Church history and doctrine within the framework of faith…when Church members have questions regarding Church history and doctrine, possibly arising when detractors spread misinformation and doubt, you may want to direct their attention to these resources."

In 2013, the current Church historian, Elder Steven E. Snow of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy, said the following in regards to this effort:

"I think in the past there was a tendency to keep a lot of the records [of the Church] 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."

The move toward transparency and discussion can be seen in the Joseph Smith Papers project and other sites maintained by Church members such as Joseph Smith's Polygamy. Many of the essays discuss controversial events or topics that haven't previously been addressed by the governing body of the church. Some of these topics include the practice of Polygamy by the church's founder Joseph Smith, the previous ban that prevented African males from receiving the Priesthood, Book of Mormon translation and DNA research, and the Book of Abraham translation. The efforts to be more open with the complete history of the Church will lead to a better understanding of the founding events for both members and investigators.

The complete list of essays is also available on the Mormon Newsroom site and the LDS.org Gospel Topics Essays home page.

The Essays

Click on the links below to read the entire essay on LDS.org.

  • Plural Marriage (Polygamy) in Kirtland and Nauvoo
    When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.
    Published on October 22, 2014 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • First Vision Accounts
    Joseph’s First Vision accounts describe the heavenly beings with greater detail over time. The 1832 account says, “The Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.” His 1838 account states, “I saw two Personages,” one of whom introduced the other as “My Beloved Son."
    Published on November 20, 2013 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Book of Mormon Translation
    Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”
    Published on December 30, 2013 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Book of Mormon and DNA Studies
    Although the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is more spiritual than historical, some people have wondered whether the migrations it describes are compatible with scientific studies of ancient America. The discussion has centered on the field of population genetics and developments in DNA science.
    Published on January 31, 2014 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Race and the Priesthood
    Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.
    Published on December 6, 2013 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham
    Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.
    Published on July 8, 2014 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah
    Accounts left by men and women who practiced plural marriage attest to the challenges and difficulties they experienced, such as financial difficulty, interpersonal strife, and some wives’ longing for the sustained companionship of their husbands. But accounts also record the love and joy many found within their families.
    Published on December 16, 2013 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Are Mormons Christian?
    Latter-day Saints believe the melding of early Christian theology with Greek philosophy was a grave error. Chief among the doctrines lost in this process was the nature of the Godhead. The true nature of God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
    Published on November 20, 2013 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Becoming Like God
    God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him.
    Published on February 24, 2014 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints
    [The Latter-day Saints] were persecuted, often violently, for their beliefs. And, tragically, at some points in the 19th century, most notably in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, some Church members participated in deplorable violence against people they perceived to be their enemies.
    Published on May 13, 2014 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage (Polygamy)
    The end of plural marriage required great faith and sometimes complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions on the part of individual members and Church leaders. Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event.
    Published on October 22, 2014 | Read on LDS.org
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国
  • Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women
    During the 19th century, women frequently blessed the sick by the prayer of faith, and many women received priesthood blessings promising that they would have the gift of healing. “I have seen many demonstrations of the power and blessing of God through the administration of the sisters,” testified Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney, who was, by her own account, blessed by Joseph Smith to exercise this gift. In reference to these healing blessings, Relief Society general president Eliza R. Snow explained in 1883, “Women can administer in the name of JESUS, but not by virtue of the Priesthood.”
    Published on October 23, 2015 | Read on LDS.org
  • Mother in Heaven
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. This understanding is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.
    Published on October 23, 2015 | Read on LDS.org