From the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, writing and collecting history has been considered a sacred duty. The founding document of scripture, The Book of Mormon, claims to be an historical document of the ancient Americas. Letters and revelations very early on formed foundational material for spreading the Gospel of the Restoration. Soon after the organization of the LDS Church the position of Church Historian was given as a formal calling. General Authorities were assigned the calling for over a hundred years. Two of the most well known Church Historians would be the prolific B.H. Roberts of the Seventy and Joseph Fielding Smith who would serve for over 40 years in the position before becoming Prophet. These two among others spent years collecting, protecting, and writing historical and doctrinal documents. Some of their works have become classics of great importance, although falling out of favor among academics.
Decades ago a new approach to history was introduced to the LDS Church, but with at best questionable results. For an unknown reason a professional historian, Leonard J. Arrington, was assigned as LDS Church Historian instead of the usual General Authority. There is even a question if he was called or hired, or both. Either way, his approach was far less about defending the LDS Church and spreading the Gospel than conforming to worldly standards. Along with those worldly standards of historical academics came a de-emphasis on miracles and truth claims. Instead it was about economic and social forces, with “objective” consideration of source documents. Almost ten years after the appointment, he was quietly fired and placed as a BYU teacher. Unfortunately the damage was already done and continued with acceleration in the halls of the school. Academia entrenched itself into LDS Church culture, publications, and manuals.
Perhaps the academic and the spiritual narratives of history could co-exist, but the differences became too stark. The academic side wanted desperately to take over. They sought, and in many ways succeeded after a thirty year program, to banish the traditional historians. Among those who were once respected for their work, but now hardly mentioned include B.H. Roberts, George Q. Cannon, Preston Nibley, Bruce R. McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, Hugh Nibley, and Gordon B. Hinkley. Replacing them is a large group of academics seeking to “re-educate” the members of the LDS Church by purging the traditional understanding of historical events and doctrines. Those who challenge the new history and doctrine gatekeepers are denounced as without “mature faith,” simple minded ignoramuses, and stuck in the past.