Jenny Reeder and Janiece Johnson: How Church History Can Help Rather than Hurt Your Faith
“All In” host Morgan Jones talks with two historians, Janiece Johnson and Jenny Reeder, who work to uncover and bring to light the stories of women in Church history. Janiece and Jenny discuss how Church history has strengthened rather than weakened their testimonies, the women they most admire from the past and what it means to be “All In” the gospel of Jesus Christ. They also discuss the historicity of “Jane and Emma” and whether it is okay to fictionalize history in film.
MORGAN JONES: For those of us who might be a little bit intimidated by a study of church history, maybe because we're scared of what we'll find in the past, maybe because we don't know where to start, this is the episode for us. Today we've got two historians who have devoted their lives to a study of women throughout church history.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, "What does it really mean to be 'all in' the Gospel of Jesus Christ?"
You might recognize Jenny and Janiece's names from recent projects that they've worked on. Together they authored The Witness of Women: Firsthand Experiences and Testimonies from the Restoration. Janiece Johnson is a Willis Center research associate at BYU's Maxwell Institute. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Leicester, in England. Her research has focused on women in early church history and most recently The Book of Mormon's reception in 19th century America. Jenny Reeder is a women's history specialist for the Church History Department. She received a Ph.D. in American history from George Mason University. She assisted with the book, The First 50 Years of Relief Society, and was one of the authors of At the Pulpit: 185 years of discourses by Latter-Day Saint Women. And some of you may recognize Jenny as a presenter for Time Out for Women.
Jenny, Janiece, thank you both so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here with us today.
JENNY REEDER: Oh I love any time getting out of my busy schedule to talk about Mormon women's history.
JANIECE JOHNSON: We're happy to be here, thanks.
MJ: Thank you so much. So I hear the two of you have been spending quite a bit of time together you just came back from Italy.
JR: Yeah we had quite the adventure we even rented a Fiat and drove all over Cinque Terre and Florence.
JJ: And I felt like a cartoon because my head should have fit out the sunroof.
JR: But the sunroof didn't even open and we couldn't figure out how to get the seat down.
MJ: Did you get a picture of that, at least?
JR: No. What's wrong with us? We got very few pictures of us that some really great views.
MJ: You definitely should have gotten a picture in the Fiat I feel like.
JR: yeah well I will find the cartoon that exactly is what I looked like driving that Fiat.
MJ: So, in light of that, in light of this time that you all have spent together, I'm curious Janiece what should people know about Jenny, and Jenny what should people know about Janiece?
JJ: We should know that Jenny is supremely passionate about women in Latter-day Saint history, that she wants, she believes very strongly that we all are better off knowing about these foremothers from our past, and whether they are our ancestral mothers or our spiritual foremothers, that we all can learn from them and that they have many varied and really important experiences that can help us in our own lives.
MJ: Supremely passionate.
JR: Yes, Janiece you're gonna make me cry. It's all so true.
Let me tell you about Janiece. Janiece has an incredible gift of teaching, she is a master teacher. She has taught at BYU Idaho and at BYU and has a way of teaching people about tough topics and explaining them in a way that is faith-promoting and helps college-age students really understand the difficulties of church history and doctrine. She's amazing. She's an amazing lecturer and has a penchant for accuracy.
MJ: So supremely passionate and a penchant for accuracy. I think here's the thing—
JJ: I appreciate that description.
MJ: I've noticed that Janiece, you don't shy away from these things in church history that some people would be terrified of tackling.
JR: No, she doesn't. She's really good at it, but I don't think that my description of Janiece made her cry like hers of me.
JJ: I think there were-- I got a little teary. But I think that it's we're both really passionate about addressing things head-on and we both believe really strongly that the past has something to offer us and as we better understand our past, we can actually better navigate and negotiate our future as Latter-day Saints.
MJ: All right. So I think it's interesting, first of all, maybe, hopefully, if we kind of talk about your history. How did both of you decide to become historians?
JJ: Okay I'm getting the look to go first. I never planned to be a historian. I was a political science major at BYU as an undergraduate and I always planned to go to law school. That seemed to fit my skill set. But I came home from my mission both interestingly, both of my mission presidents were attorneys and I came home and I really liked them both, but I didn't want to be an attorney anymore. But I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. And so I had kind of some different ideas. I was going to take a year off of school and take the GMAT and the Lsat and the GRE, and kind of decide if I wanted to do a Ph.D. program in political science or go to law school. And the week before I was supposed to graduate, I had an epiphany. And the Lord pretty clearly said I needed to do history, and this was kind of one of the things that were brewing in my mind. One of my religion professors, Stephen Robinson, who was a really important mentor to me, had at one point said, "Have you ever thought about teaching religion?" And I hadn't. I grew up in California where seminary was a calling. I had never really thought about that as an actual career path. But I had this epiphany and I suddenly knew that I should do history. And so a week before I was supposed to graduate I actually begged them not to make me graduate so I could start taking history prerequisite classes. I hadn't taken a history class as an undergraduate and started taking those classes and then got a Master's in History at BYU, and that started me on this path.
MJ: And you've always been glad you did it?
JJ: Yes, definitely. I have always felt very clearly that this is what I'm supposed to do. The path has-- just knowing that has not made the path straight. It has always been really circuitous but knowing that has been-- that knowledge has remained really clear to me.
MJ: And that's Stephen Robinson he's the author of "Believing Christ," right?
MJ: I love that book.
JJ: Yeah. And he was-- before my mission, I had kind of religion classes that I just didn't get the point of. I didn't understand. And I read Believing Christ on my mission, it was actually forbidden, but my grandma sent it to me and it came at a really important time for me and my spiritual development. And so when I came home I was like, oh I can take a class from him. This is an amazing thing. And I ended up taking all the classes I could from him. But he was really an important mentor for me.
MJ: That's so neat. And I think it's interesting because having that foundational testimony, I would imagine, is important in your career and we'll talk a little bit more about that later. Jenny for you, how did you get started in this?
JR: Well like Janiese, I've also had a circuitous route. I always thought I wanted to be a high school English teacher. And so I did my undergrad in humanities and English teaching with a minor in Italian. And I did my student teaching and realized that wasn't going to be my top choice for a career. And so I graduated and my bishop, I had a very kind Bishop who is very influential in my life, and he said I think you should get a master's degree in communication. So I actually went and got a masters at Arizona State University in human communication and I quickly realized it wasn't my thing but I'm not a quitter. So I finished and the summer in between-- actually, let me back up, when I was still an undergrad at BYU-- do remember the BYU bookstore they used to have a table of clearance books? And I found a book called Women's Voices, and it was by the Godfrey's and Gilder and I was like I wonder what this is about. And I picked it up and bought it and flipped through it a couple of times, but didn't think much of it. Later, as I was doing research for my thesis at Arizona State. I came across a BYU devotional that was given by Carol Cornwall Madsen and she talked about Emmeline Wells. And this pushed me back to my old book, my old discount book, "Women's Voices," and I realized there's so much more to this than I had understood previously, that there's a huge story that I didn't know existed. And so I asked Carol, without ever having taken a history class as an undergraduate if she needed a research assistant. And so I worked for her as a research assistant at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at BYU, and found a whole bunch of stuff about Emmeline Wells and then pretty soon I was working for both Carol and Jill on the Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes. And as I worked on those Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes, I felt those women whispering to me: Emma Smith and Eliza R. Snow and Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Zina Young and so many others. And I realized this is what I was born to do. So they told me I needed to go get a Ph.D., and I applied for Ph.D. programs but because I didn't have a master's in history I had to apply for a master's in history. So I got a master's degree at NYU and then a Ph.D. in American history and the whole time I have known that I wanted to do Mormon women's history. And people always said to me, "You know you should probably do something a little outside of that so you don't marginalize your career as a Mormon women's historian." And I appreciated that advice but I knew that was what I was born to do. And I too have had a somewhat circuitous route with a lot of health issues and challenges, but I'm delighted to be where I am right now.
MJ: It's incredible. It's incredible to me how neither one of you planned to go into this and yet, here you are. And it does seem like it's something that you were meant to do and meant to accomplish. One thing that is interesting to me right now, in our current environment as members of the church, is that there seems to be this hunger for church history. There's been this recent release of Saints which is a narrative history of the church. How can people best dive into church history if they want to look outside of a book like Saints How can they dive into church history and yet avoid some of the negative resources that are out there in regard to the history of the church.
JR: I think that's a really good question and I actually think Saints is a really great place to start. So I was involved with a team that wrote topical essays to go along with Saints. So if people, if readers want to know more about a person or an event or a location, they can go to these topics essays that are listed in the footnotes and these topics essays are short, they're between five and seven hundred words, and they also have additional resources. So I actually think that that is a good jumping-off place and I think Saints is excellent because it's such an easy in and it's so accessible and so approachable. But then I think once you understand sort of the foundation, you can dig in deeper wherever you're interested, wherever your interest lies.
JJ: And I think that both Saints and the Gospel Topics essays give us good resources, going to the footnotes and looking at the essays that have been created as well as the sources that are footnoted themselves. And that gives people an ability to get into things more deeply. I think that my boss for a long time was Rick Turley, and he would always say the problem is not church history, the problem is not reading enough church history. And I think for a long time a lot of people have been happy with kind of a basic primary understanding of church history and everything fits into nice little neat boxes with bows on top. And we have inspirational stories, but real life is messy. And understanding the past is a foreign place and it is going to take us our ability to deal with some messiness to be able to really understand what has happened in the past. And I believe that the real story is always better than the fake story, but it often takes requires more work on our part. And we have to be willing to deal with the messiness and to say, okay this source says this and this source says this. And so the truth is probably somewhere in between there. But we have to learn to kind of be historians ourselves and be able to look at things critically and analyze them and understand them and not just accept everything that's presented before us without that sense, without doing some evaluation on our part. And that's always going to require a little more than this nice prepackaged thing with a pretty bow on top.
JR: As historians, we're trained to really be careful about our sources and to understand who's writing what, what time period they're writing in, and how those things can influence the tone and even the presentation of facts. In my dissertation, I talk about the creation of a usable past. Because I think we use the past according to our needs in the present. And there's no such thing as an objective history, it's always subjective, you're always looking at it from a specific lens. But if you can recognize who's talking, who's giving the sources, who's giving the facts even, you recognize that there are some kind of biases.
MJ: That's really interesting. What would be your advice to someone, who right now may find themselves in the middle of the messy?
JJ: I would say start with— I actually think Saints is a really good place to start. Again just this week I was talking— I have a number of research assistants, and we decided that we were going to split up Saints. So to just make sure that there weren't any new sources that I wasn't aware of, that we hadn't looked at already, and they had all individually started reading it on their own. And they were all really excited about it. And I think that that's a good foundation. Some things that people have felt, perhaps a sense of well, why didn't I hear about this in seminary? Or, I went to seminary and I went to institute or I went to BYU and went to religion classes, why didn't I know about seer stones or why didn't I know about you know polygamy? Or whatever the thing is. The sources have always been there, well, for the most part, there have always, for a long time been sources that we can deal with. But we've learned a lot more over time. And if we start with a good base, a good foundation, which I think Saints, definitely provides then that can be a good jumping-off point. I think the Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org are also a really important place to start. You're not going to learn everything you need to know about race in the priesthood or about polygamy from those essays, even though there's four on polygamy, but that gives you a basic, solid foundation and then you can move on from there.
JR: Another resource that I would add is the "Revelations in Context." And that, along with Saints, and the topical essays and the Gospel topic essays are all found on the Gospel Library app. Revelations in Context" is a book of essays about the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. And it gives a historical context and gives us a little more of the background and the story of it— the people involved in this section. So one other thing that I want to say about doing history is the importance of recognizing context. I think it is so valuable to see what is happening when that historical event happened or when that person was alive and to recognize what is informing that cultural event, but also to recognize where we are today. And as historians, we a lot of times, we'll talk about presenteeism and how we're seeing things from our 21st-century point of view and how important it is to recognize the context that surrounds those people and those events and separate that in some way, however, we can.
MJ: Yeah. I actually just had a conversation last night with a friend about that and about how he had been talking to his grandma about how in high school they did things completely differently at school dances and she was explaining it to him and he was like, "That's so bizarre." So even in like 45 years, things have changed so much, and how much more have they changed in regard to church history. You two are experts in women in church history and so I definitely want to take advantage of that while we have you here. Are there specific women that you've studied that have made an impression on your life?
JJ: Today I've been thinking about Laura Farnsworth Owen. I think because she is kind of-- her life doesn't follow the standard trajectory for what we would expect from a 19th-century Mormon woman. She joins the church after her husband, who is not a member of the church, and this is actually her second husband. Her first husband was abusive and she and her son divorced him, and after he had deserted them she divorced him and they left this situation. And her second husband encouraged her to go hear the missionaries. He didn't want to listen to himself, but he thought she would like it, and she thought it was kind of ridiculous. She said, "I didn't want to go and hear them preach epic old Bible." But when she heard the missionaries, she actually said them preaching about the Book of Mormon opened up the Bible for her in a way that she had never. She'd love the Bible all her life and it opened up the Bible in a way that she never expected. And she joins the church her former congregation, she's a Presbyterian, moves to excommunicate her. And her minister actually wants to kind of shut her mouth because she keeps sharing the gospel with other people. And so he makes this formal move to excommunicate her and, according to their canon law, they have to give her an opportunity to say, you know, to give a testimony, to give a witness response to these accusations against her. And he doesn't want her to talk any more. He's had it with her talking. And so she actually writes this pamphlet, this tract, and it's you know, perhaps not entirely convincing for 21st-century sensibilities, but it's this beautiful example, I think, of this woman who wants to witness and to share the truth that she's found. And even though her way, in one direction, has been cut off, she still knows that this is important and she's still going to do that.
MJ: I love that. Jenny?
JR: I love that Janiece has brought up a name that probably most of us have never heard.
MJ: I had never heard of it.
JR: I had never heard of it until I have started working with Janice and realized how cool Laura Farnsworth Owen is. I think a lot of times we get caught up in the women that we know and those are mostly Emma Smith, and Eliza R. Snow, and Lucy Mack Smith, and the lady that blessed the oxen, right? That's Mary Fielding Smith. My problem is that every time I do research, more and more research on one particular woman, she is suddenly on my "very favorite women list." Their lives are so incredible and when you look at the details of their lives and what makes up their lives, and like Janiece said, that their lives are messy and hard, it makes them all the more real to me and all the more I read them to know that I'm not alone. I love the phrase from "Shadowlands," "I read to know I'm not alone." And that's exactly how I feel about these women. Right now, one of my favorites is Louisa Barnes Pratt. Her husband was sent on a mission to French Polynesia and she had to build a home and raise their daughters in Nauvoo. And he's still in French Polynesia, the saints are leaving Nauvoo, and she asked, "Well, should I just wait for my husband to come? And they say no, you've got to just figure out how to get there or to leave Nauvoo yourself. And so she's like, "All right, I'll show them that I can do this." And she just-- all along the way she has really hard things happen to her, and things don't happen the way that she plans. She gets really really sick with scurvy and loses her front teeth. And they don't see her husband, I think, for like five years. And when he comes back, the youngest daughter doesn't even recognize him. And then they go to Salt Lake and then he's sent on another mission back to French Polynesia. And they're going to join him, but they have to wait a year to join him. So then she gets to French Polynesia, and it's all great and tropical and fantastic fruit and all this. But he's traveling all over the islands, and she's back at home trying to learn the language and trying to teach the women but also learning from the women. And she writes in her journal about having these nights where she would go and pray and ask for comfort and for assistance and for help. And in her story, the thing that I love about it is that you have to look at the whole thing, not just this one little snippet. I think it's the same way with Amanda Barnes Smith. There are so many things that, when you put them all together, they blow your mind. And so often we just hear the story of Amanda Barnes Smith, about how her son's hip was shot at Hauns Mill. And she prayed for help and was given revelation to know to use a slippery elm poultice to help heal her son. But there's so much more to this story and that's what I love about these women. I feel like they're leaving little crumbs for me and that they want to be heard and they want to be found and they want to be remembered and known.
MJ: I like how you left us on kind of a cliffhanger with Amanda Barnes Smith. We're gonna have to look her up ourselves.
JJ: There are so many good stories!
JR: The tricky thing is they're so hard. Like I don't know where you would find all of the pieces of her story. Just come to Time Out For Women.
MJ: Okay. You're gonna hit everybody with it there? In light of the Excel Entertainment film, Jane and Emma, which focuses on the friendship between these two ladies, I want to talk a little bit about them and their friendship, but what you've found in history by studying them. What do you love about Jane Manning James and Emma Smith?
JJ: I love Jane. I love Jane's strength and her conviction through difficult things. I think one-- sometimes, when we talk about women and these women's lives, we tend to talk about things that are really hard for them. But the miraculous thing, to me-- and I think that that's important for us to learn from things that are really hard to them for them. But I also think that there is joy to be found admits the mundane and there is joy that is found in the middle of sometimes really great hardship. And Jane's life is an example of that for me. I think the movie has done a really good job of showing us a narrative of her life and things that she's written about in her autobiography. But her life was very difficult. She was born free, but that didn't mean that her life was without enduring some really significant racism and really significant hardship throughout her life, from people outside the church but also from people inside the church. And yet Jane's conviction remains strong. And when she converts, that's it, she converts and her whole self is there. And though it's really hard, at times, and it can be really difficult. She still has that tenacity to continue and to move forward.
MJ: It's beautiful.
JR: I love Jane. And I think I love her for the exact same reasons that Janiece does. She just keeps going. She doesn't give up. She is a fighter and she's a hard worker and she is committed to the very end. I love that she petitioned so many times between 1884 and 1904. Twenty years she petitioned to have her temple work done and to be sealed to Joseph Smith and to her own family. And I love that, even with the disappointments that came when that request was turned down, she still kept going and she went and wrote another letter and she kept going to church and donating money to Relief Society or to the temples. She took great joy in reading the scriptures and in teaching her children. She was like this Energizer bunny that never gave up. She was amazing.
MJ: Yeah. I think they did do a very good job of portraying that in the movie. I felt that. What about Emma?
JR: Emma. I've had a conflicted relationship with Emma. And I think part of it is the more that I've studied about her, the more that I've seen her for who she is. I've seen her and the choices that she made, the difficulties that she had, and the way that she's influenced, for both good and bad, in the Relief Society and among other women of the church. But I had a very interesting experience working on At the Pulpit. I felt like we couldn't have a book of Latter-Day Saint women's discourses without having something from Emma Smith. And the only record that we have of her talking comes from the Nauvoo Relief Society. And so those meetings are recorded in the minute book, and they're more of a discussion than a sermon or a talk or a speech. And so as I was trying to put together some of her different comments that she's made, she's very strong and firm and there's a lot of scholarly discussion about the underlying things that are happening at the time, particularly plural marriage. And so I was grappling with these and trying to figure out how to make an accurate historic representation. And I had a meeting with the General Relief Society Presidency, and we were talking about the book and Sister Burton said, "Don't forget that Emma Smith is an 'Elect Lady." And that completely changed my perspective. I realized that she was an "Elect Lady," just like she had been told in Section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants. That she had power and authority and that it was my responsibility to respect that and to illustrate that. And after that, I've changed my understanding of her and I've seen that she did so much good. Of course, she had very difficult things happening to her, with her children and with her husband and with the loss of her husband. But she was a strong woman and she was dedicated to her family and to the knowledge of the restoration of the church. I love the portrayal of Emma in the movie because there's not a lot of personal writings by Emma and she becomes a real person. I think the actress did an amazing job. She's a real person, she's happy, she's confident, she's mad, she's sad, she is a real person and it's beautiful to see that in her relationship with Jane.
MJ: Yeah I think it's interesting what you said about Sister Burton because when you first said it I thought oh wow that's amazing that Sister Burton, making that one comment, could kind of change your perspective. But it wasn't sister Burton's words, it was the Lord's words. In Doctrine and Covenants.
JR: It was. But I also realized that Sister Burton, at that time, was the "Elect Lady," and she too had the authority and she had that connection with Emma and I had such a great respect for her and for that role.
MJ: That's really neat. Janiece, would you add anything about Emma?
JJ: Yeah. I think that you know, as a church, we kind of-- our relationship with Emma collectively ebbs and flows. And it changes over time. And I think that Emma, I really appreciated in the movie because it was quite forthright with things that were really hard for Emma. And Brigham Young struggles with Emma because Emma is strong-minded and she knows what she wants and she's trying to take care of her family and trying to take care of herself, and I cannot fault that. I don't know how I would have dealt with the immense amount of pressure that was on her at that time. And I think that for all of the difficulties, Emma stayed true to Joseph and went forward with what she felt like she should do. And I have to be able to respect that and her strength, but also just her devastation. I think that sometimes people forget or discount just how much she loved Joseph. And that adds to why some of polygamy, for example, was so incredibly hard for her. These aren't just words for her. This is her life. And I think, I really feel like we make judgments of Emma at our peril. Like we don't recognize just how problematic that is and when we make those kinds of judgments on other people, but also on someone historical. if I had those same choices to make, I can't say that I would make different choices. And I really appreciated the way in which the movie demonstrated some of those struggles that she had and that, yes, Joseph belongs to everyone. He is the church's prophet. He is the world's prophet. But he is also hers. And I really was impressed by that. I think just as, the movie does a really good job, kind of giving us these vignettes that go back in Jane's life which follow the sources, and which we don't have a lot of sources for Jane but the movie, as it goes back into these past moments, the majority of them come from her autobiography. And also with Emma, these little vignettes that we get in the movie, help us to kind of understand Emma as a whole person. And sometimes it's just a little comment that she makes, but helps us to better understand her. And I think that when we can better understand someone it's much easier for us to have empathy and to really love them and love who they are when we make that effort to try and understand them.
MJ: One thing that's interesting, and you kind of touched on this, but there are these vignettes that are very historical. But then this night that the movie is portraying, where Emma and Jane are together and they're having this kind of heated discussion, actually is fictional as far as we know as historians. How does that go over with you?
JJ: I, perhaps, am a little grouchy, just generally, about historical movies because a historical movie always has to make some concessions. I also think that historical movies tend to sometimes make things that they don't have-- to make concessions that they don't have to make. And there are parts of the narrative that I think could, perhaps efforts could have been made to make them a little more historically accurate. But as I think about the movie I really appreciate the mechanism of this evening, of creating this night that the movie takes place, and gives us an entrance and a foray into their lives. And so I'm not really concerned with the fact that this was made up. And honestly, in comparison to some other historical movies, I think we're actually on pretty solid ground with this movie. Because this night, it is fictional, but it's used as a way to access their whole lives and to tell this narrative and this really powerful story of these two women. we know that they had a relationship, we believe that that relationship was important and the mechanism enables us to learn more about those two women. And I think that that's really powerful.
MJ: I think the very first thing that trips me up about the historical accuracy of the movie was it was set in like either February or November. Like it was bitter, raw, no leaves on the trees, and obviously, Joseph Smith died in the end of June. And so at first, I was like, well the timing is all off on this. But as I was drawn into their lives, I realized that that timing, that season was so accurate in describing the emotion between these women and around this event and it worked so well for me. There were certain things that, like Janiece said, that I think really display this emotion. There's one scene in particular, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a thunderstorm-- go see the movie you'll know exactly what I'm talking about-- that just makes these women real. As historians, it's really hard to throw in dialogue because we don't know what their conversations were. We know mostly what's recorded in journals or letters or reminiscences even, in Jane's case. I do think there's a very liberal perspective on Joseph Smith and race. There are a few things that we do actually have his words on. That said, I think this is a movie for our day. I think we, as Latter-day Saints, and as people of other faiths, we need to be that inclusive and that loving and we need that idea or perspective of race to be ingrained in who we are. However, having said that, we don't want to whitewash our history and make it look like it's always been like that.
MJ: Right. That it's always been super clean.
JR: And there wasn't a period of time where Jane wasn't allowed to go to the temple.
JJ: And I think that the epilogue, of course, adds to that and identifies that. So that's not whitewashed there. I think that as I've been thinking about the movie, I also feel like it does a really good job of voicing some of the experience of those of African descent in the church. I have had a lot of students both, African-American and students from the continent of Africa, who have been very forthright in sharing their experience in the church, and it, for many, it has not been a pleasant experience. Or they grew up in the church on the East Coast and never felt racism in the church until they came to the west. And I think the worst thing that could come out of this movie, would be Latter-Day Saints going to this movie and saying, "Oh isn't this nice?" And, "Isn't this nice that it is all in the past?" Because it is very clearly not all in the past. And that is on us and we need to work to eradicate any of those racist intentions or feelings or comments that degrade the infinite worth of another human being.
MJ: I love that you said that because I think that that is a call to action, right? That gives us something that we can do better. Now, we obviously can't change the past but there are things that we can do now, in our own lives. For both of you, in having studied church history to this degree and to this level, how has that study strengthened your faith? And have there been moments where there have been things that have caused you to question or doubt?
JR: I have had several moments of question and doubt. And I think I remember one in particular, when I was working down at BYU doing research for Jill and Carol, I was in special collections and I was reading something about Joseph Smith and polygamy. And I was sitting there and it was like my mind was being blown and I was completely disgusted.
MJ: Not in a good way.
JR: Not in a good way, no. I was like, what is this? And that feeling has come up several times as I've been looking at different sources about polygamy. For some reason, that's one thing that has been hard for me to understand. But as I've prayed about it and as I've thought about it and as I've tried to use my historical lens, historian's lens, I realize that I'm looking at it from a present his point of view. Or, I look at the source and recognize this is an enemy of Joseph Smith, writing about him in a way to bring him down. So I actually think that the study of history has allowed me to learn how to prioritize and-- not prioritize that's not the right word-- but to recognize sources and to recognize context and to recognize bias and to recognize the need for me to find out for myself and to pray for myself. One of the things that I love about studying women and plural marriage, especially early in our Nauvoo is that they had to come up with their own testimonies and they had to come up with their own witness of plural marriage. And it was so grading to what they believed in their time in their culture. And part of me is really grateful that I didn't have to be there and that when the clipboard was passed around in heaven, I did not sign up for Nauvoo. But the other part of me is completely respectful of them and their experiences and I believe them and I recognize the torment that they had to go through, but also the power of personal revelation.
JJ: For me, I've spent a decade of my life on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and I have had to live with, I think our darkest moment in church history for a long time. Towards the beginning of this project, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, let's be honest. But Rick Turley, who is my boss at the time said, you know, as he started this project, he realized he had to be able to layout and deal with OK what's what is the worst thing that can come of this? And in his mind, the worst thing was that Brigham Young ordered the massacre. And once he came to terms with, even if Brigham Young ordered the massacre, the church is still true. He could move forward with it. And for me, that was a really important lesson: that I know that that history is messy. And when you've got human beings who are full of opposition, it is always going to be messy and whether we're talking about polygamy or we're talking about the Mountain Meadows Massacre or a host of other things, when we're dealing with difficult topics, with human beings who are limited and mortal, there is going to be messiness. And I believe that if we approach the messiness head-on, there is strength and power in that. The gospel will still be true. I'm really really glad that Brigham Young did not order the massacre and it's-- I'm really glad about that. Then we don't have to figure out how to understand and how to how to negotiate that. But I know that there are other things that aren't going to turn out the way I want them to.
JJ: ut as I am methodical, as I lay things out, as I try to understand and I always use the spirit as a guide, I'm gonna be OK. And I think that we have to pay attention to the spirit. It helps us and helps us to find truth in all aspects of our life. And sometimes, that means we're gonna go through some painful parts in the process. Everything is not always gonna be rosy and smiley. But we also won't learn anything. And the point of mortality is to learn and to be tested and tried and we have to be willing to be able to deal with some uncertainty if we want to learn and we want to grow.
JR: I think the other part of that is seeing this messiness, in these people's lives, in our past, helps me realize that my messiness in my life is OK. And that, as Janiece I said, that this is part of my mortality, which is again why I read these women's stories to know that I am not alone.
MJ: Yeah. I actually, when Janiece was talking, I was thinking this is making me feel better about myself. And I think that that is one gift, one reason that God has given us this ability to look at the past. Throughout our conversation today we've been talking about these examples of people throughout church history that encountered these incredible hardships, but remain committed to their faith-- Jane Manning James, Emma Smith, and they remained all in. What does it mean to you to be "all in" the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
JJ: For me, it means that I learn how to receive revelation. I learned that, Sister Beck said and Julie Beck said, that the most single most important skill we learn in mortality is that I learn how to receive revelation, how God speaks to me and that I let go of fear and act on it. Too often, for me at least, I think fearfulness can get in the way of being a real disciple. And a true discipleship requires sometimes doing stuff we don't want to do and that is hard for us. But I believe that it's worth it. And if I truly want to be a disciple, then when I hear God's voice I act.
MJ: Thank you. Jenny?
JJ: I think one of the benefits of being a historian is that we can look back and see the whole span. We can see how it all fits together, all these different little pieces. And so often in my own life, I'm stuck in this moment. But when I think about how this is just a small part and I realize the choices that I've made that have led me here and that have guided me here and that have magnified me and helped me through really hard times will continue. And if those same experiences happen to these women, then they can happen to me too. And I want to be all in because I love them, and I want to meet them and be with them at some point. So I'm all in because they're all in.
MJ: Well thank you both so much for taking your time to be here with us and to share with us these things that you've learned. I think they're so valuable and it makes me want to study church history more. So thank you both so much.
JJ: Thank you.
A huge thank you to Jenny and Janiece for joining us. We hope you loved listening to this podcast. And if you haven't already seen it, you don't want to miss Jane and Emma. To hear more episodes of All In, visit LDSliving.com/AllIn