LDS Church News

Scholars gather in Texas to discuss Mormon history

By R. Scott Lloyd

LDS Church News

Published: Saturday, June 14 2014 12:10 a.m. MDT


Meeting in the “Alamo City,” with its famous Riverwalk, Tower of the Americas and championship-contender San Antonio Spurs basketball team, the Mormon History Association convened its 49th annual conference June 5-8.

Composed largely, but by no means exclusively, of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the conference attendees considered a diversity of subjects including the Joseph Smith Papers, Liberty Jail, the Missouri period of Church history, the Mormon exodus, plural marriage and post-Nauvoo temple traditions.

Conference presentations also concerned contemporary issues, particularly with respect to increasing cultural diversity as the Church expands globally.

“It is particularly exciting,” wrote Richard E. Bennett, this year’s president in the conference’s printed program, “to see such a mix of young scholars, established authorities and interested amateurs rubbing shoulders together in a quest for knowledge and understanding. Not all will agree with each other, which makes for an exciting conference, but all promise to be responsible and respectful.”

Brother Bennett, chairman of the Department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, strongly promoted this year’s conference theme, “The Immigration of Cosmopolitan Thought.”

“There are many, many beneficial influences that have changed and shaped the what we are and the way that we see things,” he said in a conference plenary session June 6. “As Mormonism in all of its various expressions moves into the international forum in such a profound way, we couldn’t think of a better topic to explore as our history looks forward to its future.”

In the conference’s opening session, Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton, welcomed attendees.

“I have great respect for the Church, for its legacy here in San Antonio,” he said. “I live in Colonia Mexicana, the traditional Hispanic neighborhood. I live in my grandparents’ old home. And it’s not unusual to see two young men with black pants and white shirts riding bicycles through our neighborhood on their missions.”

He said the Church’s San Antonio Texas Temple is about four blocks from his house, and he spoke of its positive influence on the neighborhood, where residents work hard to keep their own property in good shape because of the presence of the temple.

“When I meet people who are converts to Mormonism in our community,” he said, “I know they have committed to solid values, and it’s good for their families, and they’re going to make an impact in the community and work harder than most.”

A particularly well-attended session dealt with the upcoming publication of the Nauvoo-era Council of Fifty minutes, a document that has long been subject to some speculation — much of it unfounded, as it turns out — with regard to its content.

Richard E. Turley Jr., LDS Assistant Church Historian and Recorder, and two of his colleagues, Matthew J. Grow and Ronald K. Esplin, gave a glimpse into the record, soon to be published as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, according to an announcement made in the Church News article of last Sept. 7.

The records are to be published as footnote material in upcoming volumes and are expected to be published in full in late 2016.

Brother Turley defined the Council of Fifty as a deliberative body of the Church formed in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1844 that provided a pattern of political government, the nucleus or focus of God’s latter-day kingdom. The council was later revived in Utah, but in the Joseph Smith Papers Project, only the Nauvoo-era minutes will be published, as footnote material in upcoming volumes and eventually in one self-contained volume.