"We've enlisted the aid of historians, church historians, scholars, church leaders as well as others to work carefully on these matters to make certain we have the facts as right as we know them today," Elder Snow said, "and then to help our members understand them in the context of the time in our history and the time in American history, what was going in the world at the time.
"It's been a very interesting few months of research and scholarly pursuit as we've been able to clearly research some of these issues and chapters."
The race and the priesthood page includes videos of black church members talking about their perspectives.
"It's one of those things you remember where you were and how you felt and what you did next," Darius Gray said in one video about the 1978 priesthood revelation. "It was a remarkable moment. The world had changed in ways that many don't even recognize."
Roger Nicholson is a Mormon with relatives who left the church after being affected by materials they found on the Internet. A software quality assurance manager with a Silicon Valley firm by day, Nicholson helps produce content on the side for FairMormon.org, which counters Internet questions about the church with scholarly answers.
Nicholson has spent years searching lds.org for information provided about some of these topics by church leaders and historians in talks and church publications.
"On the First Vision, the church has had something on the website for years," Nicholson said. "They replaced it with 'First Vision Accounts,' which is much better, but all the information has been in 'The Ensign' (a church magazine) and even its predecessor, 'The Improvement Era,' before. But when it's talked about once in a 10- or 20-year period, it's hard to know or find easily.
"Gathering the best information in easy-to-find topic pages on LDS.org is the missing piece in the gap between all the church has provided through the years and finding it easily."
Joseph Smith recorded that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him in 1820 in four handwritten accounts, in 1832, 1835, 1838 and 1842. The First Vision accounts page provides direct links to the handwritten accounts at the Joseph Smith Papers Project website.
"I don't see how you could make it any easier to access this information," Nicholson said.
That is the idea, Elder Pieper and Elder Snow said.
"We're not trying to cover anything," Elder Pieper said, "we're trying to open up the fullest possibility of everything for people to get in and get their arms around it, but do it with their faith there."
The church's First Presidency approves each of the enhanced topic pages.
"The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve both have been very supportive of this process," Elder Snow said. "I think they sense the need to provide accurate information to our members to counter a lot of sensationalism that tends to come about online or on the Internet over some of these historical topics."
"We want them to be able to go to a place where they can read accurate information and be able to seek to understand those historical chapters in the context of time and place and understand these answers have been approved by the presiding Brethren of the church. I think that will give many of our members confidence that they can rely on those answers."
Nicholson said he will enjoy watching the project unfold.
"I'm really looking forward to whatever else is coming on Gospel Topics."
Elder Snow said one of the next topic pages to be enhanced will be about the translation of the Book of Mormon.
Church leaders are encouraging members to use digital gospel tools where possible. That reduces the costs of printing manuals for the church as well as the need for members to purchase scriptures.
The church published a new set of scriptures this year, updating chapter and section headings, among other things. Those updates were made automatically to apps on phones and tablets, and the church told members not to buy new printed scriptures just because of the updates.
"I was in a high council meeting on Thursday," Nicholson said, "and the stake president looked up and realized everyone was on a phone or a tablet. There was not a single paper copy of the scriptures in the room."
Elder Pieper said he uses church apps like Gospel Library as he rides the train to work in downtown Salt Lake City each day, but he said many members will need help familiarizing themselves with all the new digital tools on the church's website and apps.
"Part of what we'll do with the new adult curriculum in priesthood and Relief Society is we'll teach more about how to use these tools," he said. "You'll be taught on Sundays about how to do some of this."
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