Gospel Topics page helps members understand complicated issues, says religion professor

Written by: 
Hunter Pons

Although the Internet is full of information and opinions about the LDS faith, the Gospel Topics page on lds.org is where people should go for information about controversial topics, according to Assistant Professor of Religion Dan Sharp.

The page, which began in 2013, features in-depth essays written by various historians that can answer questions about the Church’s stances on issues such as: polygamy, race and the priesthood, seer stones, different accounts of the First Vision, gender issues, and a Heavenly Mother.

The introductory page reads, “The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications and place it in the Gospel Topics section of lds.org, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.”

When asked about the significance of the gospel topics essays, Sharp said, “It’s not different than what the church has done before, but it’s in a place where more people know how to find it.” The essays are easily accessed from the lds.org homepage by simply scrolling over the “Scriptures and Study” tab then clicking “Gospel Topics” under “Learn More.”

Preston Moss, a senior from Oregon studying art and anthropology, said he used the paged to better understand the history of blacks with the priesthood. He said, “If someone brings up some controversial point in church history, you stand to profit from having a thorough understanding of the topic at hand.”

Moss continued, “An active understanding of the Gospel is essential to a strong testimony.” He said, “This means taking the time to think clearly about issues your seminary or Sunday school teacher may have glossed over because of time and lesson constraints.”

Sharp said, “We’re living in a time where more kids are turning to Google for answers, and it’s more important than ever for our testimonies to be built upon religious experience, upon the experience we’ve had with the divine, our Heavenly Father. That’s what’s going to convert us and hold us to the gospel.”

According to Cole Johnson, a freshman from Idaho studying English, the page is also a great resource for missionary work. “There was a week on my mission where there were three solid investigators in the zone who all came across anti-Mormon literature in the same week, specifically focused on polygamy. I was so frustrated. When we asked our mission president what to do he directed us to the Gospel Topics page and we read through all the stuff on polygamy together. We were later able to help some of the investigators work through their concerns, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that without the Gospel Topics page the Church put out.”

The essays have become even more relevant in recent months due to Elder M. Russell Ballard’s address to CES educators on February 26 concerning the importance of the essays. He said, “Church leaders today are fully conscious of the unlimited access to information, and we are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration. A prime example of this effort is the 11 Gospel Topics essays on lds.org that provide balanced and reliable interpretations of the facts for controversial and unfamiliar Church-related subjects.”

In response to what the website can do as a study supplement to the scriptures, Sharp said, “It’s also important to have reasons to believe what we do and the lack of an argument can create a vacuum where faith can’t exist. I think part of the goal of the gospel topics essays is to give Latter-day Saints reasons for what they believe.”

Sharp continued, “I hope to see over the next few semesters more of our classes aligning with the Gospel Topics, using them as resources as we would the institute manual and integrating them into our teaching as Elder Ballard has instructed us to do.”

Uploaded May 16, 2016.