Scott Hales: Becoming “Saints”

Wed Apr 29 10:00:06 EDT 2020
Episode 78

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last published a multivolume history in 1930. Millions from across the globe have joined the Church in the 90 years that have passed since that history and “Saints” is the effort to preserve the story of the ongoing restoration. We are all a part of the story told in the Church’s new history—it is our story of becoming Saints "through the Atonement of Christ the Lord." On this week's episode, we talk with lead writer Scott Hales about the research that went into the book Church members around the world have fallen in love with.

I think the Lord knows the kind of book He wants. And I think He knows the kind of stories that the Saints need at this time, and makes sure that that happens in the process.
Scott Hales

In 1820, a young farm boy in search of truth has a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Three years later, an angel guides him to an ancient record buried in a hill near his home. With God's help, he translates the record and organized the Savior's church in the latter days. Soon others join him, accepting the invitation to become Saints through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

But opposition and violence follow those who defy old traditions to embrace restored truths. The women and men who join the church must choose whether or not they will stay true to their covenants, establish Zion, and proclaim the gospel to a troubled world.

The Standard of Truth is the first book in Saints, a new, four-volume narrative history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fast-paced and meticulously researched, Saints recounts true stories of Latter-day Saints across the globe and answers the Lord's call to write history "for the good of the church, and for the rising generations" (Doctrine and Covenants 69:0). 699 total pages including notes and maps.

Info about the Saints novel on the Church website: See ChurchofJesusChrist.org

Stories Morgan has written about people who have passed away: 
"Morgan Jones: How Greg Madsen taught me how to live after he died," see Deseret.com

"Former LDS bishop who died unexpectedly honored by politicians, friends, ward members," see Deseret.com.

Article Morgan wrote when she met Kelly Clarkson: "What I Learned After Giving Kelly Clarkson a Book of Mormon," see LDSLiving.com 

Show Notes:
1:30- A Lifelong Interest
4:21- The Beginnings of “Saints”
6:08- Transparency
8:14- Complexity
10:58- Writing Style
14:40- Tragic Beauty
16:01- The Writing Process
23:39- Getting to Know Someone
26:44- Spending Time With Joseph
32:30- Gathering the Saints
35:10- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?


Morgan Jones 0:00
You may be one of the people that is absolutely crazy about Saints, the newest history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Or you may be one of the people who isn't quite sure what Saints is. You've heard it's written like a story, so then you wonder if what you're reading really happened? Well, let me go ahead and answer that question with a sentence from the book's preface. "Every scene, character, and line of dialogue is founded in historical sources, which are cited at the end of the book." So how did all of this work? Well, today, we've got the history's lead writer to tell us all about it. Scott A. Hales has been a historian and writer for the Church History Department since 2015. He currently works as a writer and story editor for Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has a bachelor's degree in English from Brigham Young University and a Master's and a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Cincinnati. He has published scholarly articles on Latter-day Saint and American Literature in several academic journals.
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? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so happy to have Scott Hales with me today. Scott, welcome.

Scott Hales 1:29
Thank you.

Morgan Jones 1:30
Well, I am anxious to have this conversation. I think this is a topic that many people are into right now, and that is Church history. But first of all, how did you get into this?

Scott Hales 1:43
So I've been interested in Church history since as far back as I can remember. So on the Saints team, I'm the Lead Writer and what we call the Literary Editor. So my job really is to kind of oversee the story structure and the style and the voice of Saints. And so I have a background in literature. So I got a B.A., a bachelor's degree, in English from BYU. And then I went and I got a Ph.D. in English from the University of Cincinnati and I wrote my dissertation on Mormon literature—Latter-day Saint literature—and so I've been kind of interested in how we as a people tell stories. Anyway, I was looking for a job, and I wasn't finding one. You can imagine that that's not really something that a lot of colleges are looking for, is an expert on Mormon literature. So I was kind of struggling in the job market. And I had a friend who worked for the Church History Department call me up and say, "Hey, I just recommended you for a job. We're right now writing a new history of the Church and we need somebody with your skillset. Somebody who understands how to do academic research, but also somebody who is familiar with storytelling and creative writing." And so I met with the team and soon thereafter I was hired and been there ever since.

Morgan Jones 2:55
That's awesome. So you said that you, before we started recording, said that you grew up in Ohio. Where did you grow up in proximity to Kirtland?

Scott Hales 3:05
So Cincinnati, I grew up in Cincinnati, and Kirtland is about four hours away by car. It's on the other end of the state. So if Ohio is one big box, Cincinnati is in the lower left-hand corner and Kirtland's in the upper right hand. So I actually never went to Kirtland till I was about 18-years-old. But yeah, I remember the first time I went there, 18-years-old—I guess I was 19—just before I left on my mission, and just fell in love with the area and the temple there.

Morgan Jones  3:34
Gotcha. I was wondering if the interest in Church history stemmed from that, but I suppose that it did not?

Scott Hales  3:44
No, I think, I mean, in my house, we had a lot of Church history books around, and I loved to read and so I would read these and I was fascinated by the stories. But, I mean, to a certain extent, it did kind of inform what interested me about Church history because before taking this job, I was always really interested in the early years of the Church, everything that happened there on the East Coast, in the Midwest, you know, Palmyra, Kirtland, and especially Nauvoo. It really wasn't until I started working here with the Church History Department that I began to learn more of Utah's history and the history of the Church here in the West.

Morgan Jones 4:21
Gotcha. So I have a lot of questions about Saints. And I also have a lot of questions about people's perception of Church history. So let's see how many of these we can get through. How many years of research and writing went into Saints and where did that all kind of start?

Scott Hales 4:41
So it's been about a decade, a little bit more than a decade. So back in 2008, the former Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen proposed a new history of the Church, or I guess at the time they were thinking of it as a continuation of B.H. Roberts' comprehensive history, which was the last multi-volume history that the Church put together back in 1930. So the idea was, let's update this Church history. And so Elder Jensen proposed that to the First Presidency, it got approved. And then about 2010, from what I understand, a bunch of historians, others, kind of met together to kind of conceptualize this history. And they realized that probably the best thing to do is not try to update that old history, but completely rewrite the history of the Church because we've learned so much about Church history since 1930. And the Church has grown so much, that it didn't make any sense to kind of update that history, which nobody was reading anyway. They realized we needed a new history for a new generation of Saints. So I came on the project in about 2015 and have been there ever since. So it's been about a decade. But really Saints, as we know it today is really about five years old because the first five years - five, six, seven years - was a lot of planning, a lot of starts and stops, a lot of experimenting with styles. And it really wasn't until about 2015 that we kind of figured out how to make these books work.

Morgan Jones 6:08
Yeah. I want to ask you a question. I think this is a question that a lot of people have. You mentioned that we've learned a lot since B.H. Roberts' history about Church history. How much—I think a criticism of the Church is that the Church has like hidden things from Church history—What would you say to those people that feel that way? And how much of that is just us learning more about Church history as time has gone on?

Scott Hales 6:36
Well, I would say that it's probably a combination of all those factors. I mean, it is true that we as a Church have not always done a great job sharing our history. Like I said, the last time we produced a multi-volume history of the Church was 1930, which was years ago, and way before my time, obviously. So we haven't done a great job of updating our institutional history. And especially in recent years, with the advent of the internet and kind of just, with information becoming more widespread, there's been a greater need for transparency from the Church. And I think that's something that has become a priority. Certainly, since Elder Jensen was Church Historian, certainly since the start of the Joseph Smith Papers and some of the other projects we've been doing as a department. I know that, as I've been working for the Church and the Church History Department, I've been very impressed with the commitment to transparency. I think Saints is evidence of that. You know, we are telling stories in these books that have never been told before. And we're trying very hard to present difficult topics, topics people have questions about, in ways that are comprehensible, that are upfront, and that seek to open the understanding of our readers, rather than, kind of, set them aside or rather than to kind of sidestep them—if that makes sense.

Morgan Jones 8:02
Yeah. I was talking with some people on our team here that love Saints—they're big fans, and they're ready for you to sign autographs after we're done.

Scott Hales  8:12
I'm happy to do so.

Morgan Jones 8:14
But one of them said, "I know someone who is bothered by learning about Joseph Smith's flaws when going through Saints. He struggled with his testimony on it a little until he came out on the other side with a stronger testimony." How can learning about the prophets' flaws actually strengthened our testimony about him? And what would be your advice to someone in that situation?

Scott Hales 8:36
Yeah, that's a very interesting question. Because I think it's probably a common circumstance. I think there are a lot of people who, maybe they've grown up, they haven't really studied Church history, they may not have had a whole lot of interest in doing so. And so, when Saints came out—the first volume—they probably read some things that they never had before. And Joseph Smith was not perfect, and we make that very clear in book. And it's interesting, we had this question in our minds as we were writing the book. You know, what effect will this have on Church members? Because we as a Church have never really produced anything like this for the average Church member. And we had faith that the experience of most readers would be like your friend, like your coworker. That people would come to know Joseph Smith in a new way. And, while they would recognize his flaws, and while that might be challenging for them, we had faith that the work that he accomplished as the Lord's prophet, as the Prophet of the Restoration, would also, at the same time, affirm their faith as well. So I think that's an important point. The more people learn about Joseph Smith, the more they learn about the flaws, but also the more they learn about his exceptional qualities as well.

Scott Hales 9:54
And one of the things that I like to tell people is, if you're struggling with Joseph Smith, if you have questions about Joseph Smith, I say, take the time to learn more about him. He was a very complicated, complex individual, but also a fantastic, fantastic figure to read about. His journals are fascinating. His letters are fascinating and heartfelt. And that's one of the joys I had working on this project was to spend so much time with Joseph Smith day in and day out. That was one of my favorite parts about doing "Volume One" was just spending time with this guy. And the more I learned about him, the more I came to admire him despite his flaws. I still have questions that I want to ask him on the other side. Like, I'm sure there's gonna be a long line of people to meet Joseph Smith, and I'm sure I'm not gonna be a top priority, but I can't wait to get there and just ask him questions. Find out some of his motivations for why he chose to do some things the way he did. But yeah, that's what I say to people. I say take the time to get to know Joseph Smith because you will learn his flaws but you will also learn his exceptional qualities as well.

Morgan Jones 10:58
Yeah. Talking about Saints, I'm fascinated by the writing style. I imagine, Scott, that this is not because you typically write at a ninth-grade reading level. But that this was a very deliberate choice on the part of your team to write in this style. Is that true?

Scott Hales  11:18
Yeah, that's definitely true. So I think one of the things that became clear to everyone on the team, probably almost from the beginning, was this could not be a history written for academics. We as a Church do that, we as a department do that. We write on the Joseph Smith Papers, for example, the Joseph Smith Papers are designed for an academic audience. But we knew that we could not do that with Saints because if we wrote in an academic style, nobody would read it. If we wrote out a 12th-grade reading level, nobody would want to do that. Take the time to read it. It would be too complicated. And most people would get bored because most people get bored with writing that's academic in nature or whatnot or too heady.

Morgan Jones  12:02
If you're like me, you can't even understand it.

Scott Hales  12:04
Yeah. And so that was kind of funny for me because I came pretty much straight out of my Ph.D. program. So I was writing academic writing, which is just terrible stuff to write. I'm embarrassed by the stuff I've written academically. So it was a bit of an adjustment. But fortunately, I had done a lot of creative writing as well. One of the things that we realized as a writing team early on was that we had to be able to reach the masses, we had to be able to reach the average Latter-day Saint. And I remember when they brought us on the team, originally when they brought creative writers on the Saints team, they said that we really want this to be a great literary style. We want people to look at this and say, "Wow, that's really literary." And literary is kind of a word that, I mean, I don't even know what it means. But I kind of interpreted that as they really want some great literature here. They want like Dostoyevsky or something really, really great literature. Tolstoy or whatever. And so we tried, at least I tried writing that way. I tried to write in this really beautiful prose. And after a while, and I remember the moment when this happened, I was walking to the train actually, just kind of frustrated with my inability to kind of express, to write in a simple way, but also in a really literary way. And I remember thinking, you know what, this doesn't need to be complicated. Let's just keep it simple. Let's get rid of all the figurative language because that probably won't translate anyway - this is gonna be translated into 14 languages. Some of these metaphors may not work, let's just keep it simple. And it may not be the kind of writing that you like. It may not be the most beautiful thing ever written, but by golly, it's going to get the history of the Church out to the people. And as soon as that kind of clicked in my brain, the style began to take shape. And I've come to love it. I've really come to love writing in this style because I realized that this is really how communication happens when you are able to connect with an audience and speak their language in a sense. So it was a bit of a trial to kind of find that voice but once we did, we realized it was the right thing to go with and it seems to have worked so far. Although occasionally I see reviews online where people criticize it as like a third-grade reading level but whatever.

Morgan Jones  14:21
You win some, you lose some. People say I don't annunciate my "t"s. So...

Scott Hales 14:27
Well, who does in this state?

Morgan Jones  14:30
Who does in this state? You're right. Thank you, Scott. I think it's been interesting to watch how much, though, to your credit and to your team's credit, how much people have related with this, how much it has spoken to people's hearts, and helped people I think. What kind of feedback has meant the most to you?

Scott Hales 14:55
Well, any positive feedback is good. Mainly because when we started this project, we did not know that it would actually reach an audience. I mean, we knew that people would kind of pick it up, but we didn't know that people would respond so well to it. So anytime we get positive feedback, it's just so nice to hear. The nicest thing I heard, the greatest review I've ever read, the greatest feedback is somebody said that the final chapter of Saints really captured the tragic beauty of the early years of the Church. And I was shooting for tragic beauty, so to hear tragic beauty, to hear it described as tragic beauty just made my day. But yeah, I mean, it's great to hear that sort of thing. It's also really great when we go speak about Saints at firesides, and that sort of thing to afterward meet up with descendants of the people whose stories are told in Saints. So I've met a few of the descendants of our characters. And it's just great to see how happy they are to know that their ancestors' stories are being told, that their family's story is there, that they, in a sense, are a part Church history.

Morgan Jones  16:01
Yeah, I want to talk a little bit, Scott, about this process, because I'm fascinated by it. So first of all, how many people are on your writing team?

Scott Hales 16:11
So it's a really, really small team, actually. So we have—what makes Saints unique is that it combines accurate history with kind of an engaging literary style, the techniques of popular storytelling. And so our team, some of them are historians, by training. Others are creative writers by training or have a background in literature like I do. And what we do is we kind of work together to make it happen. So we have, usually what happens is the creative writer, or the team, will kind of brainstorm ideas for what goes into the book. And then the creative writer will take a stab at the chapter or the scene that we're writing. The historians will check it over, we kind of go back and forth. And then we send it off to review and get more feedback and then the creative writer revises again and revises it again. And ultimately what happens is, it's my job to, kind of, make sure our voice is consistent. Because one of the things, sometimes people say you can tell Church manuals are written by a committee. And we didn't want that to happen. We didn't want this to sound like a manual. And so what we do is no matter who writes a scene or no matter who writes a chapter, all of it comes back to me and I revise it so that we have this consistent voice so that it doesn't sound like it was written by a committee. And that's been one of the things that people responded to the most is just how consistent the voice is.

Morgan Jones 17:34
As a writer myself, I'm curious about how much respect you've gained for historians and their job.

Scott Hales  17:43
A lot, a lot. So yeah, and this is a really, really fascinating thing. So like I said, I did academic work beforehand. And a lot of the work I did in Mormon literature involved history, Latter-day Saint history. And so I did a lot of historical research as well. And so I was a little familiar. I was, you know, fairly familiar with the process, but when I got here, I was so impressed by how knowledgeable the historians are. Our managing historian, Jed Woodworth, for example, he is, I hope he doesn't mind but I'm going to describe him as a human sponge. He knows everything, it seems, about Church history. It's so much so that I'll ask him, "Hey, let's say somebody was living on this street in 1913, which ward in Salt Lake City would they belong to?" And he will be able to tell you. I mean, yeah, it's wild stuff. And so I'm just deeply impressed with how knowledgeable everyone is, but then how precise everyone is as well. So, you know, with Saints we have the historians review everything to make sure it's accurate, but then it goes off to our source checkers who go back to the original sources and go line by line making sure that we've got everything accurate. And so just the meticulousness of it impresses me so much. And they really, in my opinion, they really make Saints work because they're the ones who ensure the accuracy. So our job is to kind of make it come alive, but their job is to make sure that it's right. And so that our readers can trust the information they find in there. And that's an invaluable part of the process.

Morgan Jones 19:10
Yeah. Talking about making it come alive, I think it's so interesting the way that Saints starts—Saints: Volume One—with the volcano. At what point did you guys decide that you were going to start there?

Scott Hales 19:25
That's a good question that I wish I could answer better for you. But that was something that was decided well before I came on to the project. So what happened was the original draft of Volume One was drafted by historians. And when it was finished, it was clear that historians had written it and that it was not as engaging as it could be. And that's when they brought in the creative writers. And so that's when I came onto the team. And so the volcano decision had already been made.

Morgan Jones  19:50
By the historians? Props to them!

Scott Hales 19:52
Yeah, props to them. And the idea for that was they wanted to begin the book with a bang. And I think from the beginning, Saints was always meant to defamiliarize the familiar as far as our history goes. We wanted it to be something new and something fresh. And so every single history I think we've written as a Church begins with, you know, the Joseph Smith family, the Joseph Smith Sr. family, and the First Vision and that sort of thing. And Saints in some ways does that as well, but we wanted to make the scope just a little broader, something far more global, since this was going to be a global history and is a global history. But also just something that's really, you know, like I said, really big, really cataclysmic, but also something that Church members have not really seen before in a Church book or a Church history.

Morgan Jones 20:39
Yeah. How do you decide, once you get into this process, how did you decide what stories to include and which not to include?

Scott Hales 20:50
We have brainstorming meetings where we get together and we talk about what the essentials are for this book. So Saints is meant to be a representative history, meaning we can't cover everything. But we want to give a good sense of what happened during these eras. And so we decide what are the essential events that happened in this period of time? So if it's Volume One, for example, everything up to 1846, what were the essentials? And from there, we kind of take those essentials and plot them out in our story structure. And then it's really up to the writers and the historians to work together to kind of figure out, now that we know what the essentials are, who are the characters then who will help us tell this story? And that's how we identify our characters. So we identify the events, then we find what we call POV characters or point of view characters, people who will help our readers visualize these events. And so it's again, it's a collaborative process.

Morgan Jones 21:50
Okay. Scott, did you see any or did you guys experience any miracles as you were writing Saints?

Scott Hales 22:02
I would say, yes. I mean, I would say we experienced tiny miracles all the time. From, you know, just finding the perfect character when maybe we are writing and we see this gap in our narrative, and we need to fill that gap and don't know what to do about it. Oftentimes, we've had the experience where I'll say, I think we need a teenager from Scandinavia, who settles in Sanpete County, in the 1850s to do this in our story. And then our historians will go look, and our researchers will go look, and they'll find somebody who fits exactly the gap, fits exactly into that gap. So that sort of thing happens all the time. But I think the bigger miracle really is just that this book works. That you can take an accurate history and combine it with an engaging literary style and have people actually pick up an 800-page book or a 600-page book or whatever it is, and read it and learn from it and engage with it. Because like I said before, we didn't know that this would ever work. And it's really hard to do. It's a big challenge to take historical sources which have gaps, and which don't always provide the greatest of details for a creative writer. And to take that and make it into an engaging, detailed story is a hard thing to do. And the fact that it works suggests to me that a higher power is involved as far as making sure that, I mean, I think the Lord knows the kind of book He wants. And I think he knows the kind of stories that the Saints need at this time. And makes sure that that happens in the process.

Morgan Jones 23:39
How did working on this project—or how has working on this project humanize the people that you've read about? You mentioned Joseph Smith. How has it humanized those people and also, how have you gained additional respect for these characters that we know about from Church history?

Scott Hales 24:00
Nothing humanizes a person more than their journal, especially if it's a really detailed or what we might say really juicy journal writer or their letters. Moments when they're writing just for themselves or to a close friend, right? And so I think one of the things that has humanized these people, for me, and I hope for others, are these kinds of documents, these really personal letters or these journals. We've tried to use them as much as possible in the Saints books. There's a part in Saints: Volume Two that I love—Martha Ann Smith, who was Joseph F. Smith's younger sister, was writing to him when he was on his mission in Hawaii. This is when they're both teenagers. And Martha Ann is very, very candid in her letters, she's very lively. And what's funny is so she's writing this letter and she confides to her brother, she says, confides in her brother. She says, "I've met this boy, I've fallen in love with him, but don't tell anyone. Please, please, please don't tell anyone." And something like that is a really human moment for me. You know, it's a little sister confiding in her older brother about this boy she's fallen in love with. And it's moments like that, to me, just make things come alive. Or I think about somebody like Brigham Young, who I think has taken a lot of flack in recent years for some of his views, which were deeply rooted in the very problematic views of the 19th century. And so he's taken a lot of flack. But one of the things that I really came to appreciate about him as I read his letters and read more about him is his determination, his willingness to fight for Zion, and to sacrifice for Zion. And to do all he could to establish Zion. And the thing that really humanized him for me was to learn that that first Vanguard company west, we all know that Brigham Young got sick as he was traveling to Salt Lake Valley, and had to, you know, was in Wilford Woodruff's carriage when he was wheeled into the Salt Lake Valley and he could barely stand up. We all know that story, but what we don't know, and this is what really impressed me about him, is as soon as they got to the Salt Lake Valley, they waited a short period. And then immediately he and others returned and made the journey back again in the same season. And this is while he was still sick, and by the time he reached Winter Quarters, he was emaciated, he was still very unwell. But he had made that trip because he knew that the Saints needed at home, they needed a gathering place. And he was willing to waste away for Zion in some ways, to consecrate his body to that endeavor. And that, just as soon as I learned that about him, my respect for him skyrocketed and he became a very real person to me. And it was just amazing what he did.

Morgan Jones  26:44
Yeah. You mentioned Joseph Smith earlier and the chance that you've had to spend time with him. And I love the way that you put that because I think that that is the beauty of writing about someone. I've had a chance to write a couple of stories about people that have passed, not from history, but just in recent years have passed. And then I would write about them after. And I always felt like I had gotten the chance to get to know them. What were the biggest things that surprised you as you spent time with Joseph Smith?

Scott Hales 27:22
On this project, I'm not sure that he surprised me very often because as I mentioned earlier, I kind of grew up with a deep fascination for Joseph Smith. And I don't know why that is, but I always connected with him. Even when I was really young, I just, I remember when I was 14, I was in the school library and I saw a copy of Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, which was this really controversial biography written about Joseph Smith in the 1940s. Which, as I read it, I realized that what I was learning in this book about Joseph Smith was very different from what I had learned in Church. There were details. And I didn't realize that, I didn't understand at the time that there were issues with Fawn Brodie's interpretation of Joseph Smith. There were problems with her approach to the history. But it was at that moment I realized that there are different ways to interpret historical sources and different ways to interpret Joseph Smith. There are ways to negatively interpret him. And for me at 14 that was a crisis. Like I remember hiding the book in my bedroom because I was afraid my parents were going to find out that I was reading it. But again, I still felt drawn to him and I wanted to know more about him. I wanted to understand him. Because I realized that he was someone who could be and should be understood. And so I took the time to get to know Joseph Smith and as I got older, I continued to study. When the Joseph Smith Papers came out, I think I was one of the few people just, you know, just devouring those volumes, who wasn't necessarily a historian. So I wasn't necessarily surprised by anything as I was writing "Volume One," but one of the things that did strike me was how loved he was by the Saints. And how much what we know about him comes through them. I mean, Joseph Smith struggled to write. And he had a hard time writing and getting his thoughts down on paper. And so he often had scribes, you know, do that for him. And so we don't have a whole lot by him by his own hand. But what we do have is a wealth of information from other people who knew him closely, and so I just enjoyed reading, for example, Wilford Woodruff's descriptions of him and the accounts of his work in Wilford Woodruff's journal or reading reminiscent accounts of Joseph Smith interacting with the Saints.

Morgan Jones  29:58
Yeah. I love that because I think, Scott, it's interesting—anytime that you've admired someone from a distance, there's always that, are they going to be as good as they seem? For example, when I met Kelly Clarkson, she was just as great as she seemed.

Scott Hales 30:17
I love Kelly Clarkson!

Morgan Jones 30:19
Oh my gosh, Scott, we're bonding.

Scott Hales  30:20
I feel like a moment just occurred! Anyway.

Morgan Jones 30:22
A moment like this. Some people wait a lifetime.

Scott Hales  30:26
Wow! Hahaha!

Morgan Jones 30:27
But my friend—on the flip side of that—my friend met another pop star that was popular around that same time. Massive disappointment. I will not say her name to protect her. But I think when you have admired somebody from a distance, and then you get to know them, sometimes they live up to that expectation, and sometimes they don't. And I know that you haven't met Joseph Smith entirely, but having spent all this time with him, do you feel like you admire him even more?

Scott Hales 30:58
Oh, yeah, yeah. The more I learn about him, just, the more respect I have for him. And this really came home to me when I turned 38. Like when I, actually, this is, again, reveals something very dorky about me but like I kind of calculated ahead of time...

Morgan Jones 31:15
I think you're very cool now, Scott. You like Kelly Clarkson.

Scott Hales  31:17
Well Kelly Clarkson is—how can you not like Kelly Clarkson? But, like I calculated when I would be the exact age Joseph Smith was when he died. And it really hit home to me when that occurred, how much he was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.

Morgan Jones  31:32

Scott Hales 31:33
I mean, 38-years-old is not very old. But in that time, as we learn in the Doctrine and Covenants, he, you know, translated the Book of Mormon. He revealed, I mean, he was the Lord's Prophet of the Restoration. He revealed God's word to us, and had, you know, those words have changed the lives of millions, millions of people. He founded a city, he founded a people really. I mean, we're talking today because Joseph Smith had his First Vision, and he did as the Lord instructed him. And so I think that my love for him and my respect for him grows, the more I learn about him. And you know, it is true that he had his flaws. But like I said, take the time to get to know Joseph Smith, and you will learn to love him and learn to admire and respect him for the great things that he's done for all of us. I mean, everything in my life that is good, everything that makes me happy today is because of the Restoration, which came through him.

Morgan Jones 32:30
Yeah. So if you had to sum up your biggest takeaway from Volume One, and then your biggest takeaway from Volume Two, what would they be?

Scott Hales  32:41
Combined I would say that my biggest takeaway that I got was the knowledge that God loves His children. I mean, the more I learn about Church history and the more I learn about, not only the person execution that we faced as a Church in the 19th century but also just, you know, some of the things that occurred, some of the things we did, I mean you see this, especially in Volume Two, some of the terrible things that happened. The more I learned about it, the more I realize that God loves us. And one of the reasons I know this is because He's revealed these truths to us. He's revealed to us a pathway back to Him, He's revealed to us a way for us to repent of the terrible things we do and become better people. And that's really what the title of the book is meant to be. I mean, the title refers not only to the Church members themselves but to what King Benjamin teaches us about saints, about letting go of the natural man and yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. And, really, to me, that speaks to me about God's love for us and His willingness to let us return, despite our flaws through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Individually, I think one of the things about Volume One that I learned is that this Restoration is so crucial to the Plan of Salvation. These things that were revealed to us through the Prophet Joseph Smith are vital to our understanding of who we are, and where we stand in this big grand narrative of the Plan of Salvation. And so yeah, I kind of got that from Volume One. Volume Two, I think one of the things that I took away there is just a better understanding of the fact that God loves all of us, regardless of who we are, where we come from. One of the great things about Volume Two is you see Saints coming to the Salt Lake Valley from all parts of the world and becoming incorporated into the body of Christ and striving to be one, to be a Zion people. And that's something that we'll see as Volume Three comes out and Volume Four, this idea of the family of God coming together in covenant relationships. And we begin to see that happen with Volume Two, and I just love that about it.

Morgan Jones  35:10
Yeah. Thank you. As we wrap up, Scott, I have one last question for you. And it's the question that we ask at the end of every episode of this podcast, and that is, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Scott Hales  35:26
Well, I've already I think alluded to it a little bit when I talked about this idea, King Benjamin's idea of saints. Let me go ahead and just read where that comes from. This is Mosiah 3:19, which is a scripture we all know, but I love it. And I've come to appreciate it more as I've worked on this project. And I think it really sums up for me what it means to be all in. "For the natural man is an enemy to God and has been from the fall of Adam and will be forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the Atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to His Father." And I think for me, what it means to be all in is to have that willingness to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. To be willing, despite our fallen nature, to become like a child, to be submissive, to be meek, to be humble, to be patient, to be full of love, to be willing to submit to the Lord. And that is a hard thing sometimes. Sometimes the Lord asks hard things of us, and we see that time and time again in Saints. But I think our willingness to yield to the Lord, to open ourselves up to the Atonement of Jesus Christ is really what that means to me.

Morgan Jones  36:44
Thank you. Well, Scott, it has been a pleasure talking with you, and thank you for giving of your time.

Scott Hales  36:51
Thank you.

Morgan Jones  36:54
We are so grateful to Scott Hales for joining us on today's episode. You can purchase hard copies or listen to the audiobook of Saints: Volumes One and Two on deseretbook.com or find the book on your Gospel Library app. You can also visit history.churchofjesuschrist.org to learn more. Thank you to Derek Campbell of "Mix At Six" Studios for his help with this episode and thank you so much for listening. Stay safe, everyone.

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