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Church history reliable, FAIR speaker says

SANDY, Utah — Is LDS Church history reliable when that history is produced by the church itself?

Church historians today employ rigorous standards, a longtime member of

the Church History Department said Thursday during a presentation at

the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research conference.

Ronald O. Barney is a volume editor for the Joseph Smith Papers Project

and executive producer of the KJZZ television series about the project.

"I know something about the rigor that has been applied to ensure that

these volumes will stand for a long time and have a long shelf life,"

Barney said. "I don't believe we have to make any apologies to

anybody." Dozens of outside reviewers have scrutinized it to ensure dependability, he added.

The annual conference continues Aug. 7 at the South Towne Exposition

Center in Sandy. FAIR is an independent group that defends the church against

attacks on its faith, doctrine and history.

Barney, who has spent 32 years on the staff of the LDS Church History

Department, said that any history about the church, regardless of who

produces it, should be scrutinized."We can't be lazy about this," he

said. "This religion is too important, and it is very defendable."

He acknowledged a sentiment of years past that the church has not been forthright in publishing its history.

He said things changed in 1972, when the Church Historian's Office

became the Church Historical Department. At that time, a cadre of

professional archivists "served as the platform to create an

environment whereby the church could not only produce an excellent

history, but could ensure that it was dependable," he said.

A milestone occurred in 1984, he said, when staff member Dean C. Jessee

published "The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith." Jessee followed that

up in 1989 with publication of the first volume of an intended

multi-volume work on the papers of Joseph Smith.

The project stalled, then was jump-started at the end of the 1990s by

what has become the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Barney said it has had

as many as 59 people at a time working on it. The first of an

anticipated 30 volumes was published last fall, and the second is due

out in September.

Barney spoke of a lesser-known project he called "one of the most

significant things the church has done in its history." The effort

included publication of 31 selected collections from the church's

historical archives made available on 74 DVDs, including the entirety

of the Joseph Smith collection and 1,000-plus volumes of the Journal

History of the Church. Some 450,000 scanned images from the archives

are included in the published discs, all in high resolution and, in many

cases, easier to use than the originals.

"It's completely accessible and purchasable by anyone," he said of the set.

Barney said the current lesson manual on the teachings of Joseph Smith,

used by adults in the church in priesthood quorums and Relief Society

meetings, was prepared from a database furnished by the Church History

Department that grew out of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. That

database assigned a ranking to recorded statements of Joseph Smith

according to their reliability.

"We passed that electronic database on to the writing committee, and

they produced what I think is a manual that has great power," Barney

said, "something that it would be foolish to ignore if one wants to get

to morsels of Joseph Smith's teachings."

He said that after 32 years, there is not much he hears about Joseph

Smith that surprises him anymore. "I feel more strongly about Joseph

Smith and the truthfulness of this religion today than I ever have in

my life. We do not have to cut corners."


E-mail: rscott@desnews.com