Four decades of independent Mormon thought
By Gary James Bergera
Gary James Bergera
In 1965, a small group of young, intellectually oriented Latter-day
Saints living in and around Stanford, Calif., decided to venture where
more timid angels had feared to tread.
Convinced that many Mormons were eager to engage in a lively public
discussion of their faith, they christened their new forum Dialogue: A
Journal of Mormon Thought. Today, 40 years later, Dialogue stands as
the pre-eminent outlet for groundbreaking, thought-provoking
LDS-oriented articles, personal essays, fiction, poetry and art.
In the journal's first issue (Spring 1966), co-editor Eugene
England explained the need for Dialogue: "My faith as a Mormon
encourages by specific doctrines my feeling that each man is eternally
unique and god-like in potential, that each man deserves a hearing and
that we have something important to learn from each man if we can hear
him - if he can speak and we can listen well. Dialogue is possible to
those who can. Such a dialogue will not solve all of our intellectual
and spiritual problems - and it will not save us - but it can bring us
joy and new visions and help us toward that dialogue with our deepest
selves and with our God which can save us."
Joining Dialogue's found- ers was a loosely knit but unified board
of editors composed of some of the church's brightest young minds,
including University of Chicago law professor and future LDS apostle
Dallin H. Oaks.
Their vision reflected the optimism of LDS officials such as Hugh
B. Brown, a member of the church's governing First Presidency, who
encouraged Brigham Young University students in 1969: "We are not so
much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as
we are that you shall have thoughts" (LDS Church News, May 24, 1969).
Less than 20 years later, these same sentiments were echoed by
another First Presidency counselor, Gordon B. Hinckley: "Fundamental
to our theology is belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought,
and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every
Latter-day Saint" (Ensign, Sept. 1985).
Since 1966, Dialogue has weathered a variety of ups and downs while
still managing to
publish an impressive array of insightful, provocative essays. These
include future LDS Church Historian Leonard Arrington's "The Search
for Truth and Meaning in Mormon History," David Buerger's study of
Mormon temple rituals, Lester Bush's "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine,"
Duane Jeffery's "Seers, Savants and Evolution: The Uncomfortable
Interface," Richard Poll's "What the Church Means to People Like Me,"
Michael Quinn's treatment of LDS plural marriage after 1890, George D.
Smith's "Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy," and Richard Van Wagoner's
"The 1844 Transfiguration of Brigham Young."
These, and many other articles, broke new ground and continue to
influence the ways LDS history and doctrine are taught and studied.
Guiding Dialogue are its past and present editors (aided by staff
too numerous to mention by name): Eugene England and G. Wesley
Johnson, Robert A. Rees, Mary Lythgoe Bradford, Linda King Newell and
L. Jackson Newell, F. Ross Peterson and Mary Kay Peterson, Martha
Sonntag Bradley and Allen D. Roberts, Neal Chandler and Rebecca
Worthen Chandler, Karen Marguerite Moloney and Levi S. Peterson.
Their contributions to the LDS Church, largely unheralded, are a
permanent reminder of the value to any organization of independent
thought and freedom of expression. Thanks to Dialogue, and other such
independent forums, the intellectual and spiritual life of the LDS
Church in the 21st century is as vibrant as it is rich.
Gary James Bergera is managing director of the Smith-Pettit
Foundation in Salt Lake City and a past managing editor of Dialogue.
For more about Dialogue, including information about a formal
celebration on Sept. 18, see www.dialoguejournal.com.