Meeting with Marlin K. Jensen, the Church's Historian

Several months ago on Jan. 27, 2009, I finally met with Marlin K. Jensen, the Church's Historian, to discuss some of the concerns I had with the church. I should have come home immediately to pen my thoughts, but I got busy with too much work. See my other post on how to lose thousands of dollars. My examples were not figurative. I really did lose more than $100K and it does really affect my free time.

I wasn't too surprised by the meeting really. Most of what I expected to happen, happened. Mr. Jensen invited us into his office at the church office building where he cordially greeted my wife and I. The first 1/2 hour or so of our meeting was spent building a relationship of trust. I recognized the pattern from serving a mission in Colombia. He told us about his family, showed us pictures, asked us about our family, etc. Unexpectedly though, as perhaps a show of good faith, he divulged that some of the members of his own family had faced similar disappointments and concerns related to Polygamy, but even more with relation to the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The latter event I had not gained any knowledgeable degree of familiarity until this meeting.

Mr. Jensen often returned to the topic of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, relating to me the recent not so flattering findings of the incident. I found him candid, open, and willing to share plenty on the topic, even though most of the information was quite negative toward the branch of the church established in Southern Utah at the time. At some time later, I must find my way to study this event in more detail.

As deeply informed about the Mountain Meadows Massacre as he was equaled the shallow depth of his knowledge surrounding my illegitimate lineage to Joseph Smith through Sylvia Porter Sessions and her daughter, Josephine Rosetta Lyon. See this post for a reminder of that discovery.

Mr. Jensen unaware of the allegation that Joseph Smith fathered a child with any other woman other than Emma Hale. He stated that there was just quite a bit that he, and the church in general didn't know about Mr. Smith. Looking back at the discussion, it seems more than trivial or coincidental that this area of Joseph's life is so secret, when he wrote, and rewrote such pivotal experiences such as the first vision so as to ensure he got it just right, but a doctrine so important as section 132, he would record so sparingly. Perhaps the Joseph Smith Papers will have more to tell.

Because of Mr. Jensen's sparse understanding surrounding that part of Mr. Smith's history, I did most of the talking. I related to him what I had learned surrounding Sylvia Porter Sessions, and the current efforts underway to secure DNA evidence to support her death-bed claims to her daughter. I told him about how I had made the discovery in the church history center at my stake center. He found the tale rather amusing and made a comment about the irony of how the church would send members to the church history center to strengthen their testimonies only to have those same testimonies degraded by work. I had to agree with him, because I have found the experience one of those experiences that I'm glad I had. In my life, it has been rare to encounter such living poetry, but as rare as it should be, I still remember with fondness, this experience at the church history center, my experience proselyting, and my Pearl of Great Price class.

After our brief discussion concerning these events, our time was drawing to a close. He apologized for starting late due to his busy schedule, but he wanted to relate something that he had discussed with now President Monson (or perhaps Mr. Maxwell) years back.

He related to me how at one time, he had received a letter from a member, asking for clarification concerning another piece of church history. He recalled extensive efforts by himself and others to research the claim, documenting everything they could find with the intention of clarifying the church's position. In the end, he produced a fairly lengthy and detailed report to discuss with the sender of the letter. Before presenting the document though, he brought the inquiring letter, and his response before Mr. Monson (or Mr. Maxwell) for approval.

The approval didn't come. Instead, he received a response something like what I'll try and represent here:
While there are certainly many events, doctrines, scriptures, writings, teachings, etc that may seem inconsistent, I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet because of my spiritual testimony that I have received concerning the Book of Mormon. Either the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith is the prophet that brought the book, or the Book of Mormon is false, and Joseph Smith is a fraud.
Mr. Jensen then asked me if I had ever felt the spirit concerning the Book of Mormon. I replied that I felt sure that indeed, I had felt what those in the church describe as the spirit of God testifying to me through the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true.
I then continued to explain to him why I now used great caution with my feelings. I explained that although I had felt the Book of Mormon to be true, I have also had identical feelings about other things in my life, and then found them to be false. I related Joseph Smith and the Pearl of Great Price as an example, along with mention of certain other life experiences. I also related how it was interesting to me how all God seeking religions counted on identical spiritual witnesses to validate their own beliefs, including Evangelical Christians, Catholics, Muslims, etc. Members of each of these religions relate their own spiritual testimonies of the validity of their own prophets through study, personal reflection, prayer, etc. Which is more likely, that only one of these churches is indeed divine and chosen of some supreme being, or that all of them believe their church to be divine, but none actually are.
Mr. Jensen kindly acknowledged the dilemma, offering the statement that he would have to be pretty arrogant to insist that his testimony based on feelings were more valid than that of another human being with different beliefs, but that he felt confident it was so.
"And what of these obvious incongruities surrounding Mr. Smith?" I asked.
"I am willing to defer my judgment until I can ask God Himself." He replied.

With that, our time was over, but Mr. Jensen offered his services again should we ever want it. He offered to be our 'friend in court' as it were.
My overall opinion of Mr. Jensen is that his demeanor is sincere, but his desire to know the truth has been suppressed, deferring it until after death, a time when conveniently enough, he won't be able to tell any of the rest of us his results, nor when, if he is wrong, and the Muslims actually got it right, it will be too late to actually do anything about it.

I'm reminded of a tale of the philosopher Socrates about how he was lecturing to a group of students around a body of water. One of the students posed a question to Socrates, "When, great teacher, do I know when I am truly seeking knowledge." Without answering the student Socrates got up and walked over to him, he then pushed the students head underwater and when the student finally tried pushing up for air Socrates let him go. When the student had collected his composure Socrates said to him, "when you desire knowledge as desperately as you were desiring air to breathe you know you are truly seeking knowledge."

I believe that those content to defer their judgment concerning Mr. Smith until after death are not truly seeking knowledge.

I'm not convinced that I am truly seeking knowledge as this student sought air either, but I'm not content to defer.


Swearing Elder said…
Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. I don't remember -- how did you get to a point that Jensen would talk to you?
The claims of Joseph Smith and others that have followed since are not testable except by accepting them on faith only. End of story.
Saganist said…
I like the story about Socrates and truly seeking knowledge. I've never understood how those who profess Joseph Smith to be one of the most important people in history, wouldn't want to know everything they could possibly know about him. It made more sense once I realized that most people (not just Mormons) start with a conclusion and then seek something to confirm it, instead of keeping an open mind and following the evidence wherever it leads.
Anonymous said…
Interesting story. Like many aspects of LDS church history, there just is not enough data to "prove" anything one way or the other, in such a way that would satisfy everyone. It is left to the individual to decide what he or she believes, based on their faith and desires. So what if Joseph Smith really was the father of Josephine Lyon? There are valid arguments made by other researchers that Sylvia considered herself no longer married to Windsor Lyon at the time she was sealed to Joseph Smith. Hers is the only viable, though not conclusive, case of a child of Joseph Smith outside of his marriage to Emma Hale. This incident has similarities to other events from LDS church history, in that there just isn't enough information to make solid conclusions which everyone would agree to. What it boils down to for me is that the evidence FOR Joseph Smith being exactly what he said he was, far exceeds any evidence to the contrary - and not just because I have what is termed a "spiritual" witness. There is plenty of physical evidence as well, for those who take the time to look for it, and whether a person emphasizes the evidence FOR or the evidence AGAINST, depends really on what the desires of their hearts are. There just isn't enough evidence one way or the other to physically prove decisively for everyone, at least not in this brief earthly life. That is also true for a belief in God, or in any religion or of any historical happening(s) about which we just don't have all the details to make solid judgements based on physical evidence.
Th. said…

It's not a matter of wanting or not wanting to know. Clearly he was taking the position any decent academic would take, just in different language. He hadn't any original research before him, did you really expect an intellectual honest person to pass judgment on that?
Brent said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brent said…
Fair enough Th. Mr. Jensen is a very nice man who I found very genuine in most respects. It was a pleasure to meet him.

I'm sorry I'm not explaining myself very well. What I'm trying to refer to, but failing at is Mr. Jensen's statement about the general sense of things that don't make sense, but are verifiable, and that a person can learn about, but then categorizing those things as things I don't understand but will have explained in the next life.

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