Mormon News, November 24–28

In the News

As one of the first high-profile Mormons to recoil in the face of the new openness on the part of church officials and bloggers, BYU political science professor Ralph Hancock is denouncing what he considers creeping secularism in Mormon scholarship. Much of the online brickpantsdiscussion of Mormon history and scholarship, especially in the bloggernacle, is inappropriate and “assumes the moral superiority of intellectuals to church authorities,” he has written. The antidote is retrenchment, he insists. This may be the inevitable result of how the church has been wrestling with its history and doctrine. Whenever a religious institution shifts its position, one can expect to see people push back and argue for the status quo, giving us dire warnings about a slippery slope leading to hell.

It is in this context that we might also consider the discovery of hidden recording devices in BYU religion classrooms. Provo police say they are investigating, after a BYU spokesperson said the devices were not put there by the administration. It is unclear if there are students recording lectures so they can stay in bed instead of attending class or if students or professors want to catch colleagues saying something considered detrimental to the faith.

The Huffington Post, a popular left-leaning online news site, recently profiled thirty-four of Joseph Smith’s known or suspected wives. Author Carol Kuruvilla approached LDS Public Affairs for a list of wives and was referred to the Signature Books publication,  In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by historian Todd Compton. When Compton’s book first came out, it was banned from LDS Church-owned Deseret bookstores and was unfavorably reviewed by apologists at the BYU FARMS think-tank. Now the book has been cited by the church in its essays at and is considered to be a credible, balanced, academic treatment of Joseph Smith’s polygamy.

In Books

Jedediah S. Rogers’s book, The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History, is available for pre-order in hardcover and Kindle formats. Rogers has been working on the project for some five years, but interest in the Council of Fifty skyrocketed after an announcement by the Joseph Smith Papers group of its intent to publish the minutes of the Nauvoo, Illinois, meetings. Rogers’s book covers the council’s stormy history from 1844 to the mid-1880s, including the minutes for the Utah meetings and, perhaps more importantly, eyewitness accounts for both the Illinois and Utah periods. Three individuals—Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor—were serially anointed “king of Israel on earth” and the council entertained plans to colonize Oregon and Texas; the body of some fifty-three men also parceled out land and oversaw law enforcement activities in Utah, among other responsibilities.

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor