Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: Notice

Problems of the Age: Notice

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 07, 2010

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

Apparently enough questions – complaints, even – had reached the Priesthood Committee about the content of these lessons that in March 1918 the following Notice was issued: The positions taken in the lessons are those of the writer, do not necessarily reflect church doctrine, and “are not authoritative, nor the acceptance or study of them in any way binding.” They were an outline of current problems presented for the quorums to discuss their solution “as it is found in the revelations of the Lord.”

Keepa readers should keep this in mind and not attribute Dr. Tanner’s personal political and social views as necessarily being doctrinal, nor even representative of the thought of other Mormons of the period – some of whom apparently objected strongly enough to these discussions that an alternate course of study (the Doctrine and Covenants) was suggested.


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner


To the Instructors and Members of the Melchizedek Priesthood Classes:

Salt Lake City, Utah, March 30, 1918.

Dear Brethren: – Having received information that some of the articles … on Problems of the Age have provoked unprofitable discussion, and having learned, upon investigation, that the purposes of the articles have not been understood, and by some have been misconstrued, we deem it advisable to offer the following suggestions:

In the first place, it should be distinctly stated that the essays are not intended to convey the doctrines of the Church. They are what the title purports them to be, viz., a presentation of some of the problems confront the world today. The ideas conveyed regarding the nature of these problems are those of the writer, and are not authoritative, nor the acceptance or study of them in any way binding.

The purpose of having the Priesthood classes read them was to have the members consider the solution of these questions as it is found in the revelations of the Lord, as contained in the standard books of the Church.

If there be classes which object to studying the subjects set forth in these lessons, we suggest that instead of the essays the Doctrine and Covenants be made the text book.

The truth to be emphasized is that obedience to the Gospel with strict conformity to the requirements and regulations of the Church of Christ is the solution of the difficulties and problems now vexing the nations. So, in considering these essays, in classes that use them, the problem should be merely stated and the time then occupied in considering its solution in the light of the revealed word. Let no construction or any statement be given in class that will create discord, or in the least degree be antagonistic to the principles of the gospel or to the spirit of patriotism cherished by every true American, and especially by the Latter-day Saints.

Sincerely your brethren,

The General Committee on Courses of Study for the Priesthood.

Rudger Clawson, Chairman.
David A. Smith, Secretary.



  1. Still interesting to me that Clawson stood up for them as a means of fostering important conversation.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 7, 2010 @ 11:08 am

  2. Yes. The Committee certainly didn’t end the course and didn’t criticize any particular essay or thought or approach.

    There’s no way to know, of course, but I wonder how many quorums did switch to a discussion of the Doctrine and Covenants — and even more, how many of those discussions were every bit as political, with opinions every bit as idiosyncratic and firmly expressed, as anything Dr. Tanner wrote.

    My chief purpose for posting this Notice, with a link at the top of all future installments, is not because I think there is anything wrong with these essays in themselves. I don’t want anyone, though, to transfer our present-day assumptions that our manuals have been fully vetted and express the pure doctrine of the Church (which they may or may not do, but that is a widespread current assumption) to these older lessons. No one has any excuse for claiming, for instance, that “Mormons follow false prophets — they taught that rogue submarine pirates would terrorize the world!”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 7, 2010 @ 11:37 am

  3. The following is basically a duplicate of something I posted yesterday regarding Joseph M. Tanner on another part of this site. But since I don’t remember how I got to that part and am too computer-illiterate to figure it out, I will repeat myself. The lessons or essays titled Problems of the Age were published in 1917 and under Church auspices, even though J.M. Tanner was apparently the same man who had abandoned one family in 1911 and married other women at least as late as 1913. Apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley had been removed from the Twelve in 1911 for continuing to take additional wives, so the question arises as to why Tanner, who had already been deprived of other Church employment and office, was able to publish with the approval of at least some Church authorities of high rank.

    Comment by DavidA — April 28, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

  4. David, tipped off by this comment, I looked and found your first one trapped in the filter. Shouldn’t happen again.

    There are probably several things that factor into an answer to your question. One of them is no doubt the different “meaning” of the church magazines in 1917 and 2011. We read something in the Ensign today and assume that it’s more or less the official voice of the Church, both article and author vetted and correlated and approved and integrated. Our magazines were very different in earlier decades. In the 1917 era, especially, the Improvement Era was filled with articles that weren’t even religious in nature — they explored science and philosophy and careers. Some of it was reprinted from popular magazines of the day, and some of it was written by non-members. It’s probably more accurate to think of the Era, including these lessons, as more of a “magazine of interest to Latter-day Saints” than an in-house organ like we’re used to seeing in our lifetime. No explicit approval or permission from Church authorities would have been needed to publish these or any other articles — if the content suited, they were published.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 28, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

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