Times and Seasons’ 2014 Mormon of the Year: The Authors of the LDS Gospel Topics Essays

Times & Seasons is proud to announce the 2014 Mormon of the Year:  Authors of the Gospel Topics Essays. The Mormon of the Year is our annual designation of the Mormons who had the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism during the year.

Beginning in 2013 the LDS Church has published a series of essays on LDS.org, under the heading of Gospel Topics, addressing controversial topics involving the church and its history. These special essays, currently covering 9 topics, represent a new approach both to public outreach and to informing the church membership on these subjects. While the publication of these essays is a step taken by the church as an institution, we feel it is appropriate to recognize their anonymous authors as the 2014 Mormon of the Year, because it is in substantial part because of these authors, and others doing related work, that the church is able to take this new approach. The essays have changed how many members understand Church history and doctrine, and offered a Church-sanctioned explanation of difficult issues for many others. As these essays have been released, they have increasingly received attention from both members online and in the press, culminating with the recent set of essays on polygamy published this past fall.

Topics such as whether and in what sense Mormons are Christian, distinctive Mormon teachings on the human potential to become like God, and questions from Mormon history about polygamy and race have been a source of puzzlement, controversy, and even confusion for many both inside and outside the Church. While these topics have been addressed in depth by a variety of unofficial sources, from various perspectives, official sources had spent little attention on these issues for some years prior to the publication of these essays. Some might say that these issues are peripheral to core church teachings on faith, repentance, baptism and other saving ordinances, the eternal family, and so on. Others would observe that many questions surrounding these subjects are simply not settled by Church revelation in a definitive way. Yet others have felt these topics raise urgent questions that the Church needed to address more directly.

The Gospel Topics essays inform readers about the facts surrounding these points of controversy, and suggest constructive ways to understand them, without pretending to settle all questions. They provide an official Church source, while directing interested readers to unofficial sources for further exploration. Thus they represent an important development in the content of Church publications.

At the same time, they represent a fresh style and method in the production of Church materials. In their composition, their content, and the sources they refer to, they represent a joint effort between independent scholars and the institutional church to address these complex subjects. They inform in an academic manner while addressing the human poignancy and spiritual weight of their subjects. As the LDS.org page reinforces, these essays provide a model for learning both “by study and also by faith,” that informs while leaving room for a range of opinions. Both the anonymous authors and others, cited and uncited, whose research has fed their thought have had an important impact by preparing an array of unofficial examinations and placing them in perspective in a way that makes these essays possible.

The impact of these essays has been significant and will likely increase, as they and their content are integrated into church curricula. For many adult Church members, they are simply unlike anything that they have seen in their lives.

*  *  *  *  *

The Mormon of the Year designation is a recognition of the effect that the person or group of persons recognized has had during the past year. It is not a prize or award, so nothing of value is being given to anyone as a result of this designation, and it is not necessarily meant to honor the person or persons recognized, so no effort will be made to contact or notify any of these authors (who are not identified and remain largely unknown).

We were very pleased by the interest in selecting the Mormon of the Year. The Times and Seasons readers and staff nominated a total of 22 candidates. We learned a lot from those nominations, especially the range of our readers’ beliefs and feelings and about Mormons who have done significant things and really deserve to be on a list of possible Mormons of the Year.

The LDS Church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were excluded from nominations.

We also appreciate those who dropped by and participated in our online vote, which taught us a lot about the passion that many people have for their friends and those that they admire. Nearly 4,300 people voted in our poll, more than any year except our first year. We hope that those who dropped by enjoyed Times and Seasons and will drop by again.

Please plan on participating in next year’s Mormon of the Year nominations and designation. I’m sure that many of the nominees will show up next year, and those of us who were unfamiliar with some of the nominees can use that time to become more familiar with them. Certainly we will re-nominate some of them next year.

74 comments for “Times and Seasons’ 2014 Mormon of the Year: The Authors of the LDS Gospel Topics Essays

  1. It’s a good and understandable choice, but I was secretly hoping we’d see for the first time ever the same person as T&S Mormon of the Year and the BCC Gentile of the Year.

  2. is the winner chosen by the vote? or is the vote just one piece? i never saw the poll, can anyone link to it? thx in advance

  3. The readership’s nominations, discussion, and poll/votes inform our deliberation and have a real impact there. The final decision is made by the T&S permabloggers, as described in the earlier posts.

  4. Nice – a pleasing recognition of a real step forward. Let’s not let the fact that it isn’t all that some of us might hope for spoil our acknowledgment that it is, indeed, something pretty cool.

  5. Blah. A couple of essays that include historical omissions, errors, and half-truths, buried so deep in the lds.org website that most members don’t know they exist or how to find them, and posted with zero ability to comment, hardly constitutes groundbreaking work. The church actually blocked Signature Books’ efforts to advertise the book, “In Sacred Loneliness” – which is cited in one of the essays – in the Deseret News. So much for wanting folks to know the truth.

  6. I look forward to the day when the writers’ identities are declassified and they can receive the recognition they deserve.

    That said, this is a little bit of a weird selection. Pretty much everything in the essays had already been written independently, probably including by the same individuals who wrote the essays, in non-official or semi-official publications. What made the essays unique was that they were published on the Church’s website as essentially definitive statements on the topics. So the people making history weren’t so much the writers as the decision-makers who approved the essays, giving them official status.

    Perhaps the real Mormons of the year are the New Mormon History historians who did the groundbreaking work in the 60s and 70s to first present this more nuanced and accurate understanding of our difficult past. As just one example, D. Michael Quinn was key in bringing about a more complete understanding of Joseph Smith’s treasure digging, post-Manifesto polygamy, and much more. I would argue that his work and choice to study challenging historical issues was key to those issues now being officially acknowledged in these gospel essays. It is precisely because he and others bravely tackled these issues, and the internet made the information widely available, that the Church made the decision to publish these essays. So maybe next year it can be Unnamed Intellectuals Whose Studies Are Finally Being Acknowledged in the LDS Gospel Topics Essays.

    As for the reader’s poll, next year I suggest that you just announce the Mormon of the Year and call for a sustaining vote.

  7. BTW, John Dehlin will soon be entering Katie Kelly territory according to the NYT today. Maybe he’ll be up again for 2015 as a result.

  8. Meh.

    These sorts of things are only interesting if you name a single, named individual. Have you learned nothing from Time magazine’s decline?

    Aaron B

  9. I’m disappointed in T&S’s choice. Even though I don’t agree with everything Kate Kelly and John Dehlin do, I think that they both have had a more significant impact on the Church in 2014 than the authors of the essays, which were, for all intents and purposes, entirely interchangeable. If they hadn’t written them, the Church would have found other historians willing to do so.

  10. On the day that John Dehlin announced his excommunication hearing. I find this ironic as the church still wouldn’t have fessed up if it weren’t for people like Dehlin.

  11. I’m confused. In the votes I saw John Dehlin, Jeremy Runnels and Kate Kelly were leading by a landslide over everyone else yet you selected the authors of the LDS essays? What was the point of us voting if you were just going to pick the one you wanted? I also find it interesting that none of those essays would have been written if not for John Dehlin and Jeremy Runnells asking questions and bringing facts to the forefront of mainstream Mormon culture.

    Really bad choice.

  12. Carl Youngblood: I have to disagree with our assessment. The authors of the essays, anonymous though they be, and committee though they probably are, clearly will have an impact that will continue for a long time. It is the “inoculation” that people have been suggesting for years.

    Alice: I have to disagree with you as well. There’s no proof that Dehlin “caused” the “fess up” as you put it. One of my biggest problems with his format is that it takes hours (which I and others really don’t have) to work through them and then when you’re listening you really don’t have any evidence that you can fact-check. I found Greg Smith’s Interpreter review highly informative. Check it out and you’ll see that its not a “personal” attack at all, but it is putting Dehlin’s public statements in context and shows that they’re often contrary depending on his audience. Those like me, who are inclined to view Dehlin one way will make our judgments and those who see it otherwise can overlook it if they want to.

    Having said that, I DO agree that historians of the past (like Mike Quinn and others) have laid a foundation for which they haven’t been given sufficient credit (hopefully that will be remedied at some time). I do not count Dehlin or his ilk (and I use that word intentionally) in that group.

  13. Good choice. They are ex-ing anyone who says anything remotely controversial so if you value your membership you need to keep it vanilla.

  14. T&S Permas obviously didn’t want to risk excommunication by “promoting” someone who didn’t bother to have their views, writings, observations or contributions reviewed by a church committee.

  15. “They are ex-ing anyone who says anything remotely controversial so if you value your membership you need to keep it vanilla.”

    “T&S Permas obviously didn’t want to risk excommunication by “promoting” someone who didn’t bother to have their views, writings, observations or contributions reviewed by a church committee.”

    There’s always that to be considered.

  16. Seriously? A nameless committee whose work is only influential because it has the official stamp of approval from the COB on it? Over people who have put their actual names, reputations, and personal social standing on the line in order to make a contribution and get hard conversations started?

    This is just silly.

  17. The fact that the Mormon of the Year is an anonymous committee of authors holed up somewhere in the COB is in my mind fairly indicative of the state of Mormonism in 2014. In that respect, I find this choice fitting and maybe even a somewhat astute social commentary. This seems a strong statement of reminder that in the end it is the manager and bureaucrat which define this moment in Mormonism. Bravo and brava for having the guts to recognize it.

    On the other hand, however, it is partially breaking a rule of the award given that it is a certainty that the 12 or some subset of them was intimately involved in signing off on the content of the essays. This should be clear for astute observers of the church that comprise the T&S committee.

    Regardless the choices made by those who have been barred from or refuse to claim their work, historian and apostle alike, will reverberate throughout Mormonism for the next 30 years – at least. Specifically, the choice to double down on the divine origins of polygamy and embrace such noxious ideas as “the Law of Sarah” will, i predict, be a thorn in the side of the church for another generation. Sadly, they could have chosen to remain silent or at least embrace the huge ambiguity in the historical record on this. It may be the greatest tragedy of 2014 in Mormonism for Mormons across the faith spectrum. A complete distaste for Law of Sarah style polygamy may be the one thing they can agree on!

    So I give this choice an enthusiastic slow clap and raised eyebrow.

  18. I agree that this is a good choice. But certainly it begs the question of what the role of “voting” is. Last year, Darius Gray won after receiving 24 votes, or 1.08% of the votes, not even “holding his own.” (By this I mean that there were 32 candidates, so each candidate ought to recieve about 3% of the vote.) This year, the award winner received 203 votes, or 4.68%, barely “holding their own.” (22 candidates, so each would randomly receive 4.5% of the vote.)
    Perhaps you could spend a bit of time explaining your thought process. By this I mean why you felt that the vote should be completely disregarded, not your explanation of why the candidate is deserving. I don’t deny that both of the recipients of the last two years were certainly “worthy” of the “honor”, but don’t you think that some sort of detailed analysis is called for if you expect us to vote/participate?
    Better, for next year, let’s have a nice discussion and debate during the nomination process, and then forego the voting. Whomever makes the choice can go ahead and do it. That wouldn’t bother me.

  19. Terry writes: The authors of the essays, anonymous though they be, and committee though they probably are, clearly will have an impact that will continue for a long time. It is the [beginning of the] “inoculation” that people have been suggesting for years.

    Other than the correction I just suggested, :), I agree with that statement, and would also second Terry’s views on Dehlin’s effect on controversial issues. I suspect that, first, the looo-ooo-oong podcast format is off-putting for many, as it is for me, and that many people who have an opinion about Dehlin’s work haven’t actually listened to a whole lot of it. Second, as Terry mentions, if you’re really interested in evidence, as opposed to what you think someone should have believed or said, Greg Smith’s Interpreter articles are a must-read. None of us can judge John Dehlin’s heart (although I’m sure that his stake president will try), and I think that we all sometimes go back and forth on our positivity/negativity spectrum as John probably has. But we can certainly get a good look at Dehlin’s actions and statements, and Smith does a very good – an exhaustive, in fact – job of laying that out.

  20. As one of the voters in the final results, I’d be happy to publicly declare my own selection (the voting is rarely unanimous), but I’m not sure that is allowed.

    That said, the fact that the public vote may be largely discarded is, in fact, spelled out clearly every year when voting begins.

  21. “why you felt that the vote should be completely disregarded”

    The popular vote does not have a lot of value when you can track the various threads at disaffected websites sending serious traffic our direction saying “hey let’s all go flood the vote!” There were no such incoming threads for e.g. Sister Missionaries or the Essay Writers.

  22. “THE WINNER OF THE ONLINE VOTE IS NOT NECESSARILY THE MORMON OF THE YEAR!!!”
    “I imagine that the results will likely be the deciding factor in anything close to a tie, for example, as well as in any number of possible scenarios.”

    Both of these are a far cry from “We will repeatedly entirely ignore the results of the vote.”

    It would seem to me that voting has no purpose. I had the idea, clearly wrong, that if the permabloggers had the sense that the vote was being hijacked by an individual or group, that they would over-ride that.
    It feels petty and small for me to complain. I’m just saying that the voting, based on two year’s results, appears to be a charade or a sham. I’m not complaining about the result, but on the process. There’s just a small note of irony that the awards process is just as back-room and obscure as the process of generating the essays themselves.

    Like I said: Let’s have a good debate during the nomination process and stop the voting since it appears to have no purpose. It would be entirely satisfied by that. I’m just chafing at why we would brag about the large number of votes that are then resoundingly ignored.

  23. Yes, it is axiomatic that popular vote is superfluous. Modeled after presidential campaigns and the Federal Judiciary, no doubt.

  24. the Mormon of the Year is an anonymous committee of authors holed up somewhere in the COB

    Those who say don’t know; those who know don’t say.

  25. Ben S. If there is information that the vote is being hijacked, it would be of interest. Is that the case?

  26. Count me in the group that thinks this choice is an interesting commentary on the current “moment,” but nonetheless disappointing.

    The rules clearly exclude the FP/Q12 because otherwise they would always win. So why is it acceptable to give the award to a committee chosen and overseen by the FP/Q12? What if next general conference announces that the church is building BYUs in Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines? Can the award then go to “the educators who are working to building the new BYUs”? Including church committees which carry out the directions of the FP/Q12 seems like eroding the rule that the FP/Q12 are ineligible. It would be better to extend the exclusion to the entire COB, general authorities, and any other project being done at the direction of the FP/Q12.

    Here’s a better option for this year (I know, too late): give the award to the Mormon scholars whose work first brought to light the history acknowledged and explained in the essays, many of whom were vilified as anti-mormons and are now vindicated as having taught truth. As an example, D. Michael Quinn.

  27. Further to my previous comment (#44), it seems clear that the award needs to be limited to people/projects that are *outside* the control/direction of the church. Otherwise, if we’re aiming to award whoever had the biggest impact on Mormonism, these groups should be the clear front-runners for 2015:

    * Church Missionary Department
    * Church Building Department
    * Church Education System
    * Church Legal Department
    * Perpetual Education Fund

    etc. (you get the point).

  28. I agree with the choice of ‘Authors of the Gospel Topics Essays’ being chosen the Mormon(s) of the Year for several reasons, the main one being: it’s a good start for presenting historical information. Those who come after will build on their beginning (even though, yes, there have been others before). I think the T&S made a brave and wise choice.

  29. Heh, this happens every year, people vote in the polls without reading the background and then complain when the permas pick someone (or a group of someones) that didn’t poll well.

    Though personally I would have left Dehlin and Kelly off the poll; it was entirely predictable that their fans would skew the vote and then swamp the thread complaining when neither was chosen.

  30. Argh! I am so aggravated that the blog I never read but whose vote I came here from an exmormon website to rig did not let me succeed in affecting the vote and compelling them to select the barely Mormon person I want to win an award for Mormons that has no consequence whatsoever!

  31. If you take Kelly, Dehlin, and Runnells off the list, the “authors of the essays” option did get the most votes. Next was sister missionaries, then the GIvenses, then Neylan McBane.

    And FWIW: the founders of Mormon Women Stand, who have 33,000 Facebook followers as opposed to Ordain Women’s sixty-four hundred, didn’t even get nominated.

  32. Good call. Dehlin and Kelly may be making big news (much of it self=promoted, such as press releases by them on their church courts) right now, but a few years down the road they will be remembers about as much as Sonia Johnson. The articles that “inoculate” the Saints are important and we’ve waited for them for decades. They will impact the Church for decades.

  33. a few years down the road they will be remembers about as much as Sonia Johnson. The articles that “inoculate” the Saints are important and we’ve waited for them for decades. They will impact the Church for decades.

    The Sonia Johnson who apparently is remembered? Or a different one we don’t remember? As for inoculation, I’m not sure the polygamy essay is going to have that impact on those who happen to find it.

  34. I had not considered the value of inoculation. Good point.

    The essay that confirms Joseph Smith was commanded by an angel with a flaming sword to “raise up seed” with teenage girls and married women will absolutely inoculate people against believing the Church is true.

    That idea used to be anti-Mormon garbage but now it’s confirmed by the church itself. That’s a difference that will be felt for decades.

  35. Hey! I voted for the selection the Permabloggers chose! Imagine that 1/22 chance. Seriously, if you googled Mormon News in the months of October and November, it got tiring seeing headlines for ‘Mormons acknowledge Joseph Smith Practiced Polygamy” come up. I haven’t done a headline count to compare it to the headlines of Kelly or Dehlin. That one essay saturated the media for days/weeks. I like that the ‘Mormon of the Year’ being given to an anonymous author does send a message to the church that these authors are valued and that the lack of identification of the authors limits their ability to get an awardless recognition.

    NOW…having said all of this, my mind actually changed after I cast my vote. I had a chance to read about Operation Underground Railroad in the Mormon Times and the incomparable degree of humanitarian service performed by that group, the president and face of which is LDS. No, it may not have had an effect of advancing public opinion or practices on Mormonism, but the rescue of 236 children from sexual (and other) slavery is benevolent to the point of being in a separate class of nominee. How can anything else compare to those lives saved.

    BUT, either choice is impressive and my hat’s off to the Permabloggers.

  36. Excellent choice as these essays begin to fill a long and puzzling gap in the publication of LDS history; these publications are a refreshing beginning. Hopefully the trend will continue.

    Years ago as I sat in a BYU Church History class and began to realize that the officially sanctioned version of LDS history had been polished to an unrealistic shine, my testimony warped for the first time in my life. It warped further when the instructor (a professor not a teaching assistance) would not acknowledge the unrealistic biases his curriculum contained. Although he would not acknowledge the biases neither would he deny them. How in the world was I to apple the “Patterns of Logic” principles learned in freshman English 101 to Church history?

    Early Church leaders and members were great, courageous, and tough LDS members that laid the foundations for today’s Church with their testimonies, actions, and at times errors. They were not perfect (as presented in Church History class). People tough enough to move across the wilderness of the United States rebuilding a thriving culture and community time and time again are to be revered and respected and understood in real terms. I’m convinced that by unrealistic polishing LDS history many great accomplishments, teaching moments, and gospel insights have been lost.

  37. Boo.

    I suspect latent and unintentional sexism to be at the core of this decision as 1. The essays were widely criticized as being written by men and predominantly about men, which was especially problematic in the essay about polygamy which notably lacked women’s perspectives and 2. Kate Kelly was by far the most influential and most notable mormon this year, raising these issues.

  38. I recall reading a long comment thread somewhere on an article about Kate Kelly. About every 30th comment was somebody dismissing Kate Kelly as someone who would soon be as forgotten as Sonia Johnson. Apparently Sonia Johnson is remembered by everybody as the go-to forgotten Mormon feminist.

  39. Don’t usually write a comment but just learn from others however, as someone who does remember Sonia Johnson, her family, and her efforts. Mostly because I am just that old. I will have to add that both Sonia Johnson and Kate Kelly , as has been noted by others, is not a player in the lives of the majority of the members of this world wide church however, the writers of the essays are read, quoted and referenced in church meetings, missionary lessons, and gospel discussions regularly. Looking at the rules for the selection It is clear why these authors were selected. I would have to support also the selection of sister missionaries. They are now over half the missionary force and their influence on missionary work has created a might change.. As these sister missionaries return home, I am sure we will see their influence throughout the wards and stake of the church. as to names in individuals who wrote the essays- that would be as difficult as naming the individual who created the correlation system.

  40. I think what frustrates me about this outcome is that it appears that there’s an orthodoxy criterion being used to exclude some candidates that y’all aren’t being upfront about. In the nomination post, Kent said “As in the past, the choice does not mean that the person is a good Mormon or even a good person.” But when push comes to shove, two years in a row, you have ignored the person who is in my mind the obvious best candidate because she wasn’t orthodox enough. I think it’s fine if you have “must be orthodox according to our standards” as a criterion, but please state it up front, and don’t allow people like Kate Kelly to be nominated if you’re not going to seriously consider her.

  41. Ziff, Kate Kelly has been excommunicated, so that kind of disqualifies her. “Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful latter-day saints.” That seems up-front enough, doesn’t it? Anyone who was surprised Kate wasn’t chosen was deluding themselves.

  42. So faithful LDS people shouldn’t even *talk* about those who have been excommunicated? That’s news to me!

    You’ve missed the point, Cameron. My complaint is that if the T&S bloggers were going to exclude her in their decision-making process, they should be upfront about it. They should say something like you said, like “This is a place for faithful latter-day saints; we won’t consider nominees who we don’t believe are sufficiently orthodox.” But they didn’t say that. Instead, they explicitly said that people don’t have to be “good Mormons” to be nominated. When Kate was nominated, they accepted her as a candidate and included her in the poll. I’m just saying that if they’re going to exclude people like Kate, they should say that they’re doing so at the beginning of the process.

  43. I’m perplexed by the assumption that because so many voters from the outside skewing votes for Kate Kelly et al. that seems to have been taken to read that votes from your normal readership for any of those candidates don’t count at all.

  44. Why were Kate Kelly, Jeremy Runnells, and John Dehlin listed as candidates for Mormon of the year in the first place if they couldn’t have possibly won the vote?

  45. Since when does Kate being excommunicated disqualify her? The term “Mormon” is not synonymous with being a member of the LDS Brighamite church.

  46. “if the T&S bloggers were going to exclude her in their decision-making process”

    For the record.
    She was not excluded from the decision-making process.

  47. Great! Than how did she manage to lose? I’m just saying it looks like at some point there was an orthodoxy test proposed, and y’all decided that you didn’t want to be like Time magazine who named Hitler and Stalin as man of the year in consecutive years, and you’re only going to consider “good” Mormons. Which is fine, but I just wish you would acknowledge it upfront, at the beginning of the process.

  48. Kate Kelly would pass my personal orthodoxy test just fine. But I will acknowledge (whether I agree or not) that a plausible argument can be made that the essays had greater impact on Mormons and Mormonism during the year. And I do recall a few years ago, when Harry Reid was selected, that all hell broke loose because T&S had such lax orthodoxy standards as to include Reid. You really can’t win. Whatever reasons why they made the choice they did, I don’t think orthodoxy was the deciding factor.

  49. Who and what motivated the LDS church to release this series of unsigned essays after decades of presenting a sanitized, if not Disneyified, version of its history to members and nonmembers?

  50. maybe what this year’s vote and winner proved is that this particular contest’s time has come and gone and it’s time to retire the feature.

  51. Indeed. It is probably time to retire the feature. We have an anonymous group of winners who only got like 4% of the readership vote and actually came in 4th place.

  52. Regarding them “Anonymous essay writers.” Maybe they’re translators instead of writers and don’t want to reveal their methods or sources. Stone in a hat tip to em!

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