SALT LAKE CITY — Standing near a display of foreign-language copies of the new history book, "Saints: The Standard of Truth," two members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave readers the "why?"
Considering all the Church has published in the last decade with an emphasis on transparency, culminating with the release of the multi-volume "Saints" series, why is it so important for Church members, especially young adults, to know and understand the history of the church in greater detail?
Apostles Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder Dale G. Renlund, along with others, each offered their thoughts on this question during a media event announcing the release of "Saints" Sept. 4 at the Church History Library.
"It's a good question," Elder Cook said. "We feel that having a total picture that is transparent and tells the whole story, tells true accounts, that seen in context, almost everything will be faith-promoting and build faith. So many things have been taken out of context, and seen as in a minuscule way. This now allows a complete picture that we think will bless the lives of the rising generation and our generation, even those of us that are older."
Since 2008, Church Historian's Press, an imprint of the Church History Department has published many volumes of the "Joseph Smith Papers," "The First Fifty Years of Relief Society," "The Journal of George Q. Cannon," "At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women" and more. The church has created a list of Gospel Topics Essays addressing complex topics and posted Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision on lds.org. The Church has also published "Revelations in Context" to give background for sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, and most of this content is featured on the Gospel Library App.
All of these things go together, Elder Renlund said.
"This is something that the church can do now that we weren't able to do before," Elder Renlund said. "This coming together of many things, we actually feel that we're seeing the Lord's hand in directing this work and getting it accessible and available, and that as we see it, we actually find it faith-promoting."
A message from the First Presidency in the opening pages of "Saints" draws attention to the word, "remember," Elder Cook said.
"Throughout the scriptures the Lord asks us to 'remember.' Remembering our shared legacy of faith, devotion, and perseverance gives us perspective and strength as we face the challenges of our day," the First Presidency wrote. "It is with this desire to remember 'how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men' (Moroni 10:3) that we present 'Saints.'"
Elder Cook agreed.
"They feel like it will show the goodness of the Lord to his people over a long period," Elder Cook said.
Referring to the scripture in Moroni, Elder Renlund added this insight.
"In Moroni 10, Moroni is giving eight exhortations and the first one is to remember how kind God has been to his children," he said. "The second one is that you can ask God about the Book of Mormon and learn through revelation that it’s true, almost as if this remembering is a foundational piece for receiving revelation. In that sense, we believe that's what this will do. It will, as people read this volume, it will invite the Spirit and confirm to them the truth and the truthfulness of the restored gospel."
When asked the question, Steven C. Harper, the managing historian and general editor of "Saints," recalled an experience in 1993. While doing a semester study abroad, he became ill and lost his memory. What he learned taught him the important of knowing one's history.
"I went out about my day as normal and I woke up two weeks later in a hospital. I didn't know where I was, or who I was," Harper said. "Ever since that I've thought a lot about memory. If you don't have a memory, you don't exist in some ways. Think about how much the scriptures talk about remembering and how important it is to remember. I think there's a link between knowing our history and knowing who we are, and whose we are, and where we belong and how we fit. If we don't know our history, then we're missing something vital about being a Latter-day Saint."
Another worthwhile purpose for knowing church history is the beauty of each life and his or her experiences. In his press conference remarks, Elder Renlund mentioned the names of early Latter-day Saints such as Phoebe Peck, Lydia Bailey, Newell Knight, W.W. Phelps, Elijah Abel and Eunice and Charles Franklin.
"If you don't know who these folks are, 'Saints' is for you," Elder Renlund said. "These real life experiences are threads in the beautiful tapestry of the restoration. The Lord uses individual histories to teach us how to draw closer to him, to repent, and to become more like him. That's our purpose for being on Earth. The purpose for the gospel and the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s one of the purposes for recording the history of this church."
For those in the church who may see "Saints" as just another book or manual, Elder Steven E. Snow, a General Authority Seventy and the church historian and recorder, said there is always something new you can learn.
"We've spent 15 years or more with the 'Joseph Smith Papers' project and we've learned a lot about the history of the Prophet Joseph and that time period of the church," Elder Snow said. "Much of that research is included within this volume. We've tried to get it right. I think anyone who's interested in our history at all will find this very engaging and written in a way that most church history books have not been written in the past."
"Saints" is also a starting place for anyone who doesn't want to read a thick history book, said Matthew J. Grow, director of the publication division for the church and a general editor of "Saints."
"It's intended to be sort of the core narrative that will help you gain that deeper understanding of church history," Grow said. "We live in a time in the information age when there's just so much information about our history available. So much of what passes for historical discussions online about our history produces a lot more heat than light. There's a lot of negativity. There's a lot of misunderstanding. There's a lot of taking things out of context. I think it's important for Latter-day Saints to understand what the history is and that we don't need to be afraid of our history. We need to know the history to understand any challenging issues within their context."