Join me now as I interview historian Dr. Matt Harris about his new book entitled “The LDS Gospel Topics Series: A Scholarly Engagement” published by Signature Books. In this episode we will provide an overview of the book, and discuss the events that led to the release of the essays by the LDS Church.

Please purchase this book!  It’s an amazing read, and is filled with super important history and analysis!


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Timecodes (for YouTube video):
00:00 Introduction
02:48 Overview of Matt’s book about the GTEs
06:43 Events that lead to the release of the Essays
20:22 Elder Marlin Jensen telling answers to questions are underway. Further events
30:34 Rise of the internet & Journal of discourses available.
37:58 A few shoutouts. Other people playing into the story
43:02 What do you say, what do you not say?
44:53 Timeline of publishing the research
51:54 Transparency& Church leaders trying to walk back on comments that get leaked.
57:15 “Uber-theme” in research – the feeling of being deceived
1:01:28 Going back to the timeline. Mixed responses after the research is presented to LDS headquarters
1:09:15 Uchtdorf gets involved. Confirms research results.
1:19:02 Martin asking why Uchtdorf said what he said. “We’re aware.”
1:27:50 How the essays got created. ‘Soft rollout.’
1:36:10 Who are the scholars writing the first drafts? Focusing on essays
1:40:58 No attribution and no date. Revisions
1:46:58 Knowledge about the essays in church management and members
1:54:30 Church between a rock and a hard place when publishing. Their strategy
2:03:12 “Who wants to talk about polygamy?”
2:07:40 Addressing social issues today and provide a place to talk about them
2:09:36 Too little too late. Freefall in large parts of the world
2:15:52 Chosen release strategy might be very wise after all
2:20:24 Are there essays that are higher quality than others? The polygamy essay
2:25:06 Facts about marriage in the region at the time
2:34:05 1890 Revelation. Mitt Romney.
2:39:12 Were the essay gaslighting? Were they candid?
2:44:18 Overarching questions about the Essays
2:51:30 Issues like LGBTQ, sexuality. Striking at the core of the plan of salvation
2:59:10 A little about mormon “revelation” related to the 2015 decision
3:03:59 Unpublished or to be published essays? Other plans?
3:06:12 Matt’s book by Signature books
3:08:52 Closing words


  1. Steve December 11, 2020 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    I have enjoyed Dr. Harris’s insights and presentation. Also, thanks for your comments and analysis John. His historical research is first rate. I wish to enter the conversation. I think those who are leery of the intent and presentation of the Gospel Topic Essays come about it honestly. The LDS Church has a long history of being disingenuous and of lying for the Lord. I disagree with Dr. Harris’s analysis of why all essays are unattributed and undated. President Oaks was brought into the Quorum in large part for his legal experience and I suspect the same is true of Elder Cook. The Essays have plausible deniability written in invisible ink all over them. One can’t hold the essays up as ground-breaking or any other “gee-whiz” descriptor without comparing them to similarly described documents such as the Proclamation on the Family, Christ proclamation or the recent restoration proclamation. It’s also common to see First Presidency supportive statements in class manuals and other less public publications.

    His explanation of why there are no names or dates associated with the Essays just doesn’t hold up to examination. In the current era of electronic and online publication, changes are simple. Organizations requiring the publication of policies and procedures (his own university included), which is nearly any organization subject to legal scrutiny or who need internal continuity and clarity, publish these documents. The documents ALWAYS include among several items that are pertinent to the Essays: 1) Who owns the documents (The LDS Church); 2) Approval (The First Presidency); 3) Date of approval or date of origin or of the latest iteration. It’s not difficult as Dr. Harris said. His university and every other complex organization keeps track of, and indicates changes, of each policy. The Church does exactly that with their internal operational policies.

    The first time I heard of members saying the Essays can’t be real (hacked) or that the First Presidency didn’t approve them made guessing the process easy. We’ve seen this Church movie before. So, the Church is opening up- but not really unless they are brought kicking and screaming into the twilight (they never move into the bright light).

    Love hearing Dr. Harris and look forward to reading more of his work.

    • robert Bridgstock December 22, 2020 at 12:25 am - Reply

      Completely agree.

  2. Michael Wehrle December 19, 2020 at 11:37 pm - Reply

    This interview with Matt was great. We need to be able to talk about these things at church –absolutely. But in my experience growing up in the church, it was always a sterile environment where everyone tried to impress others in their Sunday best. Time to get real and have real conversations about real issues that effect us all.

    • charles s adams September 11, 2021 at 4:32 pm - Reply

      What About Church Theology in the Now, who is Jesus and His relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, as God the Son or the Word, as described in Gospel of John, The first Vision was it a Lie or an exageration?/

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