By nature, newswriters abhor secrecy, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon”) is the most secretive of America’s large religious denominations.
Headquarters provides no information about church decision-making and finances. Believers are oath-bound to reveal nothing about temple rituals. In 1999 church authorities even won a federal court order to halt Internet postings from the secret “General Handbook of Instructions” that defines procedures and policies for local leaders.
However under Thomas Monson, president since 2008, "Handbook” material is now available to members and the public. Also during recent years a “Gospel Topics” section on the church’s official website has posted revealing historical essays about founder Joseph Smith’s odd “plural marriage” (i.e. polygamy) practices, the ban on full membership for blacks (ended in 1978), disputed matters regarding the Saints’ unique scriptures, etc.
On Sept. 26th, the Church Historian’s Press issued a first-class, lavishly annotated volume in its ongoing Joseph Smith Papers series: “Administrative Records: Council of Fifty Minutes, March 1844–1846,” ($59.95). That title may not sound like anything to set journalists’ pulses pounding, but there’s a great story here. These legendary texts have been kept ultra-secret the past 170 years. And for good reason.
Background: In tumultuous 1844, Smith was assassinated while being held in jail for ordering destruction of a newspaper shop of dissenters in Nauvoo, Illinois, who opposed his polygamy and political designs. At the time Smith was running for president of the U.S. after failing to get promises from the presidential candidates to protect his oft-persecuted flock.