Episode 112: Church News reporter Trent Toone on family, faith and choosing Christ
Toone talks about Church history, the Joseph Smith Papers project and his coverage of the fan-funded television series ‘The Chosen’
Episode 112: Church News reporter Trent Toone on family, faith and choosing Christ
Toone talks about Church history, the Joseph Smith Papers project and his coverage of the fan-funded television series ‘The Chosen’
In 2023, the Joseph Smith Papers will publish its final two volumes, marking the end of a monumental project that has spanned decades.
Trent Toone recently joined the Church News as a reporter and has documented this important project. Before moving to the Church News, Trent worked as a journalist for the Deseret News faith team, focusing on coverage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about his faith and family, Church history, the Joseph Smith Papers projects, and his coverage of the fan-funded television series “The Chosen.”
Trent Toone: I think about this from time to time, especially in Church callings, when I sometimes get discouraged, and things aren’t perfect. But I have a good stake president who would often remind us that, “Hey, the gospel is supposed to make you happy.” It’s a good perspective to keep. And for me having a family who supports me, and then I have the opportunity to serve in the Church and the members that I am around, they bless my life. And you know, my work as a journalist. So many wonderful uplifting experiences have come to me because of those opportunities. And so I look at my life as a whole: How can I not feel joy, and know that Heavenly Father and the Savior have been involved in the details of my life. I don’t know where I’d be without the gospel. But I’m sure grateful for it and know that God is aware of me and that He’s taking care of me. And that brings me joy every day.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the spring and summer of 2023, “The Joseph Smith Papers” will publish its final two volumes, marking the end of a monumental project that has spanned years and goes back decades. Trent Toone, who recently joined the Church News as a reporter, has documented the journey. He joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about Church history, “The Joseph Smith Paper[s]” project, family history, his own family and, of course, his coverage of the fan-funded series “Chosen.” Before joining the Church News, Trent worked as a journalist for the Deseret News faith team with a focus on coverage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was raised in northern Utah and graduated from the University of Utah. Welcome, Trent, to the Church News podcast.
Trent Toone: Thank you, Sarah. I’m deeply honored to be a member of the Church News staff and to be a guest today on the podcast.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I am delighted that you would make time to do this with us and so excited to learn more about you and your insights after covering the Church and Church history and so many other aspects of faith for so long for Deseret News. You just joined the Church News staff a few months ago. We were delighted to have you, but you’ve been writing about the Church and Church history for quite a while. What have you learned as you have written about the history of the Church and how has that strengthened your testimony?
Trent Toone: Well, Sarah, I think I first really gained a passion and love of Church history as a teenager when I read Gerald Lund’s series “[The] Work and the Glory.” And something about that just brought it to life for me and as I’ve joined the Deseret News and now Church News, that’s only deepened my love for Church history.
I have two thoughts that have come to mind when I think about what I’ve learned about Church history. And the first came when I had an interview with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve as the Church released the first volume of “Saints” in 2018. I asked him, “Why is it important for members to know and understand Church history.” And he said something to the effect of, that it’s important to have a total picture and transparency of the whole story that tells the full true account in context and when we see it in that way, that it can be a faith promoting and faith building experience. So many things in Church history have been taken out of context or seen in small ways, but the way that the Church is now sharing its history allows it to be seen in a complete picture, then that will bless lives for generations to come. And that has always stuck with me and I’ve seen that to be true. And the more I’ve studied, the more I’ve written about people and events in Church history that has strengthened my faith, especially reading the courageous and inspiring accounts of those in Church history.
The second thought I had was my experiences with “The Joseph Smith Papers” project. And one of the first interviews I had with one of the historians, he brought out some of Joseph Smith’s journals and flipped through the pages, and I got to see the handwriting of many of his scribes and some of Joseph Smith’s handwriting. And that really brought it to life in a way that I had never really thought of it before. And I found that to be very powerful. And especially, one of my favorite experiences was with Robin Jensen, one of “The Joseph Smith Papers” editors and historians, who’s also a friend of mine from Bear River High School. He showed me fragments of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon and I realized how close at that moment I was to the actual divine process of Joseph Smith translating the ancient record to bring forth the Book of Mormon. And that was really powerful for me. So, these and many other experiences of covering “The Joseph Smith Papers,” learning more about Joseph Smith, has really strengthened my faith and taught me a lot about the foundational importance of the Church history and the restoration.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, I had a similar experience. I remember covering the Church’s Face to Face that Elder Quentin L. Cook and Church historians did right in front of the Nauvoo Temple a few years ago and they spoke with total transparency about Church history. But on that day, Elder Cook talked about how everyone everywhere should care about Church history. He said, “Wherever you are in the world, whatever lineage you come from, you are important. You are part of Church history. We very much need you and want you and you will bless people’s lives.” And so, you know, what he was saying is as we study Church history, and find its relevance and find strength in the history of the Church, that then we can move forward and show that kind of relevance and testimony today. And so I want to talk to you about how Joseph Smith and learning about Joseph Smith has actually influenced who you are.
Trent Toone: Well, certainly writing about “The Joseph Smith Papers” and reading parts of the volumes, I’ll be honest, they’re very thick, academic, scholarly volumes so I can’t say that I’ve read every single word. But I have appreciated the important things that historians have pointed out to me and that we featured in some of the articles. And it’s really served to impress me more and more the more I learned about Joseph Smith and how his prophetic calling brought forth important things in the restoration.
I remember doing an interview with Matthew Godfrey of “The Joseph Smith Papers.” And I agree with what he said on that occasion, he said, he sees a man who’s doing his best to fulfill his divine calling as a prophet at the same time trying to be a husband and father and friend to others and because of Joseph’s humility, and willingness to navigate the trials with faith and God, he was able to do a great work.” And so seeing that makes me believe that God can do a great work through all of us, despite our weaknesses and imperfections, and if we just do our best with what He has asked us to do, we can accomplish that. So studying Joseph’s life has helped me to become more confident in myself and my abilities to do hard things, while also increasing my testimony of him as a prophet. And I remember also, Elder Neil L. Anderson in October 2015 giving a talk in general conference where he said something like, “May I offer some friendly advice: For now, let’s give Brother Joseph a break.” And I love that, because, you know, Joseph’s human. And I think that’s another big thing that I’ve seen through “The Joseph Smith Papers” is that he was doing all this as a mortal man and it’s important for us to remember that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And that is such an important context to remember and to actually include in this podcast, because so often, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are going to be called upon to defend Joseph Smith and to testify of him as the prophet of the restoration. And what a beautiful opportunity that is. And how many opportunities have we been given, now, to come to know Him, especially through the papers project. I have a daughter. She’s a history buff. Several years ago, she said, “I want to collect these published documents on all ‘The Joseph Smith Papers.’” So for every birthday and Christmas, we started buying her one volume of those books. Well, it’s been years and years, and she doesn’t own half the series and she probably hasn’t been able to study them. The study of his life through those historic documents is so broad and deep and it would take all of us a lifetime to discover them. But I’m so glad that somebody did that so that as we have opportunity, we can delve into that.
Now, you mentioned that Joseph was a husband and father. I think all of us can learn so much from his life and his relationships with his family and the hardships he faced. And so I want to talk to you a little bit about your family. You grew up in northern Utah. I’m not sure, but I suspect that Trent’s from one of those towns that believes in faith and family and football every weekend. And for those who have never seen Trent, he’s a tall guy. I bet he played some football in his day.
Trent Toone: It’s true, it’s true. I did, I played for Bear River High School back in the mid 90s.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So Trent, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
Trent Toone: Sure. My wife Lisa and I are the proud parents of four children. A little bit about my wonderful wife, before I tell you about our children, the funny story is that I met Lisa after she’d been on some dates with my older brother. He took her to homecoming. He showed me her photo and I said, “Wow, bro, you did really well. Got a beautiful date.” And well, they went on a few dates and then they were just friends. And later on, Lisa served a mission in Spain in Barcelona and I served my mission. And then we were back at our homes for the summer and went to the singles ward and we bumped into each other. And one date led to another and then within a year we were married. And so that’s our exciting courtship in a nutshell.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you have four children.
Trent Toone: Yes
Sarah Jane Weaver: Your oldest son’s on a mission. Where’s he serving?
Trent Toone: Our oldest son Trevin is serving in South Africa Johannesburg mission and he just surpassed one year and we’re really proud of him and grateful for what he’s doing over there. Our second son Kalen is 17. He’s a senior at Bear River High. We have a special needs daughter named Elise who’s 14 and the the angel of our family. And we also have our youngest is Emma, who is nine.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Great, well, besides football, there’s got to be things that your family does together.
Trent Toone: Absolutely, we love to spend time together. We like to pop popcorn and watch a movie. We’ll occasionally go, you know, visit relatives. And we, we just like spending time at home, because it feels like it’s so much work to go anywhere. So we’re kind of homebodies.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, so, let’s talk about what it is like to raise a special needs child. Can you tell us about Elise?
Trent Toone: Absolutely. Elise has what we believe is Rett syndrome. It’s a rare genetic neurological and developmental disorder that affects brain development, primarily in females. And it causes progressive loss of motor skills and language. So she stopped thriving as a baby around six months to a year old. Those with Rett syndrome are referred to as silent angels. So we just take care of her every day. We get her ready in the morning. We put her on a bus, special needs bus that picks her up to go to school and then get her when she comes home and they take really good care of her. We appreciate all the people out there who care for her and help her in any way.
And a few things that our family has really learned in taking care of Elise, one, it’s opened our eyes to be more sensitive to the needs and circumstances of those around us. It’s taught our family the value of teamwork. We have to work together to take care of her each day. And it’s also taught us a lot about charity, the pure love of Christ, because we’re doing things for her that she can’t do for herself. And some days we wake up and we don’t feel like it but we put on our socks and shoes and we do it anyway. And, and she is just such a special spirit in our home and in our lives and it brings us joy to see how her smile and light brighten the lives of others. People really seem drawn to her and that has been really sweet to witness.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to go back a little, because all of us have things that happen in life that are unexpected. Sometimes they turn into blessings and then, like you said, they still make life hard each day. Of all the social media posts that I’ve seen you post, the one that I remember the most was a picture of your oldest son before he went on his mission saying goodbye to her and how tender that was and how sweet that was.
Trent Toone: Trevin and Elise really seem to have a really special bond. Yeah, that moment you described, that was one of the tender moments we’ve had with her. Anyway, we’re just really grateful that the Lord blessed us with her in our family and we are continuing to learn a lot as we take care of her and learn about her life’s mission.
Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the great advantages to working at Church News is the opportunity to cover general conference. I love being able to study the talks and write summaries of the talks and, in the process, become very familiar with the words of the brethren that are shared twice a year through that special event. One of the disadvantages to working at the Church News is not being able to watch general conference with your family. I have now participated in 54 general conferences and never seen one of them with my husband and we have to find other ways to do that. You know, we always do a family night after conference where we talk about the talks and we found other ways to compensate for me being at work. But during this last general conference, you had an opportunity to actually take one session of general conference coverage off and attend general conference with your family. I thought that that was very sweet and I also was so impressed with your wife because you were at work all day and she got your daughter and your other kids to the conference center. Can you share something about that experience with us?
Trent Toone: Oh, I’d love to. Well, let me first say how much I’ve enjoyed covering general conference for just under a decade. I’m not even close to, you know, however many
Sarah Jane Weaver: 54
Trent Toone: 54, that’s, that’s impressive. But yeah, I’ve loved that experience has been one of the highlights of being a reporter for the Deseret News and the Church News. But this last conference was special, because we were able to get tickets to there Saturday afternoon session and go there as a family unplugged. My son couldn’t get on any device. He was forced to listen, basically. And so not only was there a great, peaceful feeling and just the spirit of general conference and being able to hear the messages, but our son, who’s 17 who’s listened to conference many times, really had a special experience this time. And it was just amazing to watch. As a parent, you appreciate those moments so much and you claim every victory you can. He came away from that amazed that it went by so fast and then said to us how much peace and happiness and how light he felt after that experience. And we just knew that that was a great experience for him and we were so grateful for that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And wasn’t it fun that you got to be watching general conference at the very same time that your missionary son was also hearing those same words? I always felt connected. So you served a mission in Santiago, Chile. What an exciting time for the Church in Chile, we’re seeing more temples there. President Nelson dedicated the temple and Concepcion a few years ago. Share with us your feelings about Chile.
Trent Toone: Oh, wow. First of all, shout out to all my fellow missionaries from the Chile Santiago West Mission who might be listening. Chile has always, since my mission Chile has become sacred ground to me, because I went through some good trials there that really strengthened my faith and testimony and taught me about the Lord’s kingdom and loving the people and doing what the Savior would do if He was there. And it’s helped me to learn how to do hard things and to do what the Lord needs me to do. And, anyway, I just have so many great memories of serving in Chile. And it really, you know, made me think about how our lives have been changed by having a son out, now as a missionary. For me going out, it was like it was an adventure. And I didn’t really maybe appreciate how much my family would miss me. But now that our son is out serving, I can appreciate that a lot more and it’s really opened our hearts to the people of South Africa. When I met my wife and learned that she’d served in Spain, it opened my heart to the people of Spain. And so I feel like the Church has really shrunk down and I have a greater love for people in all these places, even if I haven’t been there, just through the love of missionary work in the Church.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m sure you don’t like Mondays at all.
Trent Toone: Those are my favorite days, because that’s when we get to have a video chat with our son.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, every missionary parent has one day a week they live for. And it is an interesting blessing, our first daughter served and the first half of her mission we did the old fashioned way by weekly emails, and what a blessing that was. And in all honesty, the first half of her mission is much more documented than the second half, because she reported to us every bit of her weekly happenings in those emails. And then the day came when we could actually speak to her on the phone. And everyone set aside that time and it became such a wonderful time for our family where in real time we could hear about who she was teaching and we could pray for those people and then we could get, you know, real time updates. So, yeah, hurray for Monday missionary calls.
Trent Toone: Absolutely.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I also want to talk about something else, when we think about missionary work and, and our Church’s efforts to draw people closer to the Savior Jesus Christ. You have recently had an opportunity to cover another phenomenon that has drawn people closer to the Savior. And that is as a reporter for the Deseret News, you followed the fan-funded “The Chosen.” Now I wanted to put a full disclosure here — “The Chosen” is not a Latter-day Saint program. It is not officially endorsed in any way by the Church, but a lot of our members have seen this program and have followed chosen on the app. And it is a way that many, many people across the globe have come to understand some aspects of the life of Jesus Christ. And so, what has it been like to write about that?
Trent Toone: Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity I’ve had to cover “The Chosen.” It is unifying a lot of different people with various religious backgrounds to believe, or at least explore more, their relationship with the Savior and that’s been really marvelous to see. And as I’ve gone to the Church’s Goshen site, Jerusalem set, where they have filmed the Bible videos and Book of Mormon videos, where they allowed “The Chosen” to film scenes from their show there. And I’ve met people from these other faiths and we’ve had some interesting conversations. I’ve also traveled to Texas to their other set near Midlothian, Texas. And then I recently went to Atlanta to the Fox Theater, where they had the premiere of season three of “The Chosen.” And it really is marvelous to see how all these people have come together to celebrate the Savior and His mission as taken from the New Testament.
I’m a visual learner and to see it on the screen the way they portrayed it in a new and different way and the way that, you know, everyone talks about how they can relate to Him. And they see how He treats other people and blesses their lives and just see that understanding and compassion and love from the Savior has really touched a lot of hearts. And I think that’s the unifying effect that it’s having. And it’s just been really fascinating to write about that and tell those stories. And the stories told through the eyes of those around the Savior. So, it’s not necessarily exploring His life, but it’s the experiences that others are having around Him. And that’s something that we, too, can have as we study and learn about the Savior’s life. And I think that’s what’s been so powerful about it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I too, have been so touched, that there are people who are starting to care about Jesus Christ, because of “The Chosen.’’ My real hope is that they take the next step and then what they see on the big screen actually drives them to the New Testament and they can read the Savior’s words, as written by His apostles.
Now, it’s interesting, because President Nelson recently gave, what I would consider, a beautiful and historic address. I know everything that President Nelson does is historic. But he spoke to members in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. And he, in this address, offered six steps to becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ. It was a really, really beautiful address. And I’m just going to read what they are, because I think that they’re relevant when we talk about fan-funded programs like “The Chosen.” As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we’re so lucky that we can be members of the Savior’s Church and that we have modern prophets and apostles that can give us steps to draw closer to Him. And so, President Nelson said, The six steps to becoming better disciples of the Savior are: “One, increase your capacity to receive revelation. [Two] to fill your life with truth. [Three] to refuse to let opposition to truth, weaken your testimony.” Now, that’s, I think, one of the hardest, because it means we really have to be deliberate with what we believe and our commitment to it. “Four, serve and worship in the temple as much as you can.” That’s absolutely been a hallmark of President Nelson’s ministry. [Five] “to realize just how vital you are to the gathering of Israel.” Isn’t that amazing that the prophet says every member of the Church of Jesus Christ counts, that every member is vital? And then his last one was my favorite. And he said, [Six], “expect joy.” Living the gospel of Jesus Christ brings true happiness.” And so before we conclude our podcast, what joy has the gospel of Jesus Christ brought you?
Trent Toone: Oh, thank you for that question. I think about this from time to time, especially in Church callings when I sometimes get discouraged and things aren’t perfect, but I have a good stake president who would often remind us that, “Hey, the gospel’s supposed to make you happy.” And that really is. It’s a good perspective to keep. And I feel like, for me, having a family who supports me, who helps me in so many ways, I have an amazing wife who has a strong testament of the gospel who is an inspiration to me and wonderful children. And then I have the opportunity to serve in the Church and the members that I am around. They bless my life. And, you know, my work as a journalist with the Church News and the Deseret News. So many wonderful uplifting experiences have come to me, because of those opportunities. And so, I look at my life as a whole, how can I not feel joy and know that Heavenly Father and the Savior have personally been involved in the details of my life? And they have allowed me to have joy through many, many, many experiences. And so, I don’t know where I’d be without the gospel, but I’m sure grateful for it and know that God is aware of me and that He’s taking care of me and that brings me joy every day.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m so glad you mentioned the opportunity to work for a publication that allows you to write or, as we like to say at Church News, be part of documenting of living record of the restoration. I certainly went to college and graduated from BYU with different desires than that. I wanted to be a political reporter. I spent some time covering cops and courts and those are heavy things. And they, at the end of the day, they leave you feeling empty and burdened. And it’s been such a joy to spend the last 27 years doing something that is so totally different. And so recently, you made the decision to come to Church News. What was that like?
Trent Toone: It was actually pretty easy. I have been watching Church News for several years now and always thought that it would be fun to join the Church News staff. I was not unhappy where I was. I was getting a lot of great opportunities with the Deseret News and working with great people. I’ve always worked with great people and appreciated that. But it was easy for me to make the decision, because I, number one, I felt good about it, but also, because I just felt like it was an opportunity to help magnify and amplify the message of the Lord’s chosen servants and to help spread the gospel message across the earth. It’s an exciting time to join Church News, as you see the global growth and more content being translated into other languages and the opportunity to travel and, you know, see the members of the Church and see their faith. And I just felt like that was a win-win situation.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, when I was given the opportunity to work for Church News, it came when I was young and it was unexpected. And as so many of us do, when we’re at those hinge points in our life, I sought advice from a woman who had been a friend and a mentor to me and I’ll never forget what she said. She said, “Well, Sarah, if you go to Church News, I hope you have a testimony, because you’re going to need it.” And she was saying that as we have the opportunity to maybe have a front row and view the inner workings of the Church, or observe Church leaders, that it may cause us to question our testimony. Now, in all fairness to her, that probably was something that she thought would happen. It has never happened. Nothing in my life has ever been less true, because every interaction I’ve had with leaders of the Church, every interaction I have had with members who sacrificed so much for this gospel, even being able to see the organization and employees who choose to work in Church employment, has strengthened my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so I’m so grateful for that. And I can testify that the closer you get, the closer you observe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the more you are going to see that you like. Church leaders are kind. They are committed. They left very, very prestigious careers, almost across the board in so many various fields, to serve the Church and to be a special witness of Jesus Christ. And so what a blessing — and I’m so glad you think it’s a blessing — to be able to document that, and to be able to share that with others who also believe in the Savior.
Now, at the Church News podcast, we have a tradition. And so we’re gonna wind this podcast episode down. And I’m going to ask you the same question that we always ask everyone, and then give you the last word. And so, Trent, the question is, “What do you know now?” And so, after being a journalist that has covered The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and having the opportunity to write about Church history, and learn about early prophets and reflect some of those teachings of prophets and apostles in your own life, what do you know now?
Trent Toone: What I know is that God is real, that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know us all personally and love us. I know that my Heavenly Father has guided my life and given me great experiences and opportunities that have built my faith, strengthened my faith, and put me in a position to help others. And I know that we’re led by a prophet, and Joseph Smith was a great prophet, and that he restored the Church for us today. I just know that the gospel is designed to bring us happiness and that as we follow the commandments and we do what we’re supposed to do, that things will work out, no matter what circumstances or trials we have. I’m grateful for that and I’m grateful for a wonderful family. I’m grateful for the gospel. And I know that our Heavenly Father loves us, that He’s mindful of us and that our Savior loves us and that He is personally in the details of our lives. And I don’t know where I’d be without this and I’m just really grateful for it and honored to be able to share the message of the gospel through reporting for the Church News.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.