The first question is, how is an official position of the Church expressed?
Maybe the clearest statement of official positions is the Articles of Faith, which have been canonized. However, these are expressions of belief, and the 8th article of faith leaves a lot of room for individual variation:
11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Another interesting aspect of the Articles of Faith is that they were included in the Wentworth letter, published in the Times and Seasons on March 1, 1842. Joseph explained the purpose in the opening paragraph:
“March 1, 1842.—At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. Mr. Wentworth says that he wishes to furnish Mr. Bastow [Barstow], a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands is that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.”
Joseph considered the letter to be a complete statement as it was. The extraction of the articles of faith is useful because of how they were framed, but because Joseph specified that the letter be published “entire,” we can wonder whether the articles of faith are any more or less inspired than the rest of the letter.
IOW, if the articles of faith are now the “official position of the Church” on the covered topics, would not the rest of the Wentworth letter also be the official position of the Church on the covered topics? If not, why not?
I raise this because of the well known suppression of an important part of the Wentworth letter in Chapter 38 of the manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.
If you want to read the entire letter, you can see it in the Times and Seasons link above, or on lds.org at this link: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2002/07/the-wentworth-letter?lang=eng
But you can’t read the entire letter in the lesson manual because the following passage was omitted:
“Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.… This book … tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection;”
Original letter (with the omitted portions in red):
“Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.
“In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His Resurrection;”
It turns out, Joseph didn’t need to worry about Mr. Barstow declining to “publish the account entire.” Instead, he needed to worry about the Curriculum Committee.
It’s bad enough that they deleted the important passage in red, but they even deleted the “also” so readers would have no idea that the Book told us something else important.
I’ve asked around but haven’t been able to discover why the Curriculum Committee deleted this passage. I’m left to wonder why. Here are some possibilities, and if anyone who knows the real reason, let me know and I’ll edit this post to explain it.
For which of the following reasons did the Curriculum Committee delete the passage?
1. Because it is no longer considered an “official position” the way Joseph Smith himself considered it.
2. Because it contradicts the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory.*
3. Because it contradicts what modern anthropological and evolutionary science tells us about the history of humanity.
4. Because the Committee doesn’t want members to know about these issues, let alone discuss them.
In my opinion, #2 is the most likely reason. The two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories (Mesomania) are so widely held that many people take them for granted, unexamined and unchallenged. The last thing the Mesomania advocates want is for members of the Church to read that Joseph Smith said “The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country” and for that to be considered the official position of the Church. [D&C 28, 30, and 32 say the same thing, which is a little more difficult for Mesomania advocates to avoid, so they just don’t mention those sections. See the display of the Mission to the Indians at the Church History Museum as an example. That’s the famous exhibit that explains “Early members of the Church believed the American Indians were Lamanites,” instead of explaining that the Lord identified the tribes in New York and Ohio as Lamanites, and that there are still some members today who believe what the D&C says.]
Mesomania is also why you’ll never read Letter VII in anything approved by the Curriculum Committee. The Joseph Smith papers had to publish Letter VII because Joseph had his scribe copy it into his personal journal, but even when they cite it, they refer to “a hill in New York” instead of “Cumorah,” which Letter VII unequivocally identifies as the hill in New York where three important things happened: (i) the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites; (ii) the site of Mormon’s record repository; and (iii) the site of Moroni’s stone box from which Joseph obtained the Harmony plates.
We’re left wondering what is an “official position” at this point. If one part of the Wentworth letter is official (i.e., the Articles of Faith), but the rest is not, why would Joseph insist the account be published “entire” when he wrote it?
A related example is Letter VII itself.
Not only was it written by the Assistant President of the Church, Oliver Cowdery, with the assistance of Joseph Smith.
Not only did Oliver receive the Priesthood and the keys of the gathering together with Joseph Smith.
Not only was Oliver commanded to select things to publish “as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him.” (D&C 57)
But Joseph Smith specifically endorsed all 8 letters, including Letter VII, on at least three occasions after they were first published in the Messenger and Advocate. He did not do this for any other written material besides these letters and the formal revelations.
Part of Letter I was included in the Pearl of Great Price, but the others were never formally canonized, possibly because of their length, but more likely because Oliver had left the Church (although that didn’t stop Joseph from endorsing the letters so they would be reprinted so all members of the Church would have them).
In part 2, I’ll look at what some people say is an “official position” about Book of Mormon geography.
* As you can imagine, Mesomania advocates have managed to contort Joseph’s plain language into a Mesoamerican setting. Joseph was living in Nauvoo, Illinois. He wrote to Mr. Wentworth, an editor living in Chicago, Illinois. The cities were about 250 miles apart. They shared the same state, the same “country” (in the sense of a nation, the United States), and the same “country” in the generic sense of an expanse of land. But you’ll find Mesomaniacs using sophistry to claim Joseph really meant the entire Western Hemisphere and just mis-wrote this one word in the entire letter.
Source: Book of Mormon Wars