Transparency about Church History

“Transparency about Church History,” Topics and Questions (2023)

patron looking at old record book

Church and Gospel Questions

Transparency about Church History

Seeking answers to our questions can draw us closer to Jesus Christ if we apply sound principles. Striving to understand the past in its proper context can be important when seeking answers to gospel-related questions. See the topic “Work to Understand the Past” to explore more tips on answering questions.


History has always been important to the Lord’s people, including members of His latter-day Church. On the day the Church was officially organized, the Lord commanded, “A record shall be kept among you.” Church history helps us see the Lord’s hand in directing His latter-day work. It serves as a reminder of “how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until [this] time.”

The technologies of the information age make it possible for information about Church history to be shared on a scale that was previously unimaginable. Because of this, many people have found information about Church history they have never heard before. Unfortunately, some of this information is inaccurate or misrepresented. Some of it is just unfamiliar because it has not been a central focus of the Church’s teachings. Many have sincere questions about aspects of that history that are difficult to understand or that seem inconsistent with current Church teachings.

The Church seeks to provide accurate and reliable information about its history to help members and the public find answers to their questions. This effort includes a significant investment in preserving, digitizing, and publishing Church history.

Related gospel study guide:

  • “Truth”

Exploring Your Questions

Why am I learning about aspects of Church history for the first time after being a member of the Church for many years?

The Church’s primary purpose is to help people “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” Leaders and teachers in the Church seek to fulfill this purpose by focusing their instruction on the core principles and ordinances of the gospel, which bless the lives of all God’s children, no matter their background and culture. While our history is important to us, not all aspects of Church history are central to that purpose, so they aren’t often emphasized in Church teaching.

The Church has occasionally published perspectives on misunderstood aspects of Church history. And Latter-day Saint scholars have studied and written extensively about them for decades. Their work, sometimes published by Church-affiliated organizations such as Brigham Young University and Deseret Book, offered valuable insights on these issues from the perspective of faithful Saints but were not official Church materials.

Today, people find more and more information about Church history online, from both reputable and questionable sources. The Church seeks to provide reputable sources on its history. This effort has led to major projects such as the Joseph Smith Papers, which publishes Joseph Smith’s documents without redaction. This project required a commitment to transparency. Other examples of the Church’s commitment to share its history include the four-volume history Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, digital publications such as Topics and Questions, Church curriculum, and other materials and resources for Church leaders and teachers, including the Gospel Topics Essays. All of these resources are available in the Church’s Gospel Library.

Why were the Gospel Topics essays published?

The Church began in 2013 to publish essays on several sensitive and sometimes misunderstood topics. The purpose of these essays, which were approved by Church leaders, was to provide accurate information to help Church members better understand these topics.

The essays are one example of the Church’s efforts to be transparent about its history. Other examples include the Joseph Smith Papers and the Church’s four-volume history, Saints. The Church has now published Church and Gospel Questions, which responds to specific questions, outlines principles for seeking answers, and connects readers to resources that will help them build their testimonies on the central doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It also includes links to the previous essays. Together, these resources can help Latter-day Saints follow the Lord’s counsel to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”

Does the Church limit access to some records?

The Church’s historical materials are widely accessible. Over the past few decades, the Church has invested in technologies, professional expertise, and other resources to make its vast collection of historical materials more available to the public. For example, the Church History Library has digitized and made available online tens of millions of pages of historical sources. Church leaders have also directed that all records related to Joseph Smith be published in their entirety in the Joseph Smith Papers.

Understandably, the Church limits access to records or portions of records containing sacred, private, or confidential material. Records that are restricted under current policies typically contain the following types of information:

  • Temple records and details of sacred temple ceremonies.

  • Official minutes and correspondence of the presiding quorums and councils of the Church.

  • Confidential administrative materials. These records include the privately created papers of General Authorities, General Officers, Church employees, ecclesiastical leaders, and others holding positions of trust. They may include financial materials, business papers, operating records, and membership records. These records are often reviewed and over time may be made accessible to the public.

  • Information gathered in confidential settings such as confessions or membership councils (except as required by law).

  • Materials that are restricted by copyright or privacy regulations.

The Church’s vast collection of records preserves powerful witnesses of God’s work and sheds light on the experiences of Church members in all their variety and complexity. The public can access these records using the Church History Catalog.

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