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Sure, the LDS Church gets praise for tackling tough historical and theological issues in its recent essays, but many Mormons don't take the effort seriously because the articles are unsigned.

They ignore them despite the fact the headline-making pieces are posted on the Utah-based faith's official website. In addition, a memo last September from LDS officials to the church's all-male local lay leaders urged members to read and study the "Gospel Topics" essays — which discuss polygamy, race relations, revelation, scripture and translation, among other issues.

Some Mormons — if they are aware of the essays at all — are waiting for that all-important stamp of approval from the governing First Presidency.

Well, it's always been there, according to a video featuring LDS Church Historian Steven E. Snow posted on the church's newly designed Web page, where the essays are collected.

The articles were "approved by the presiding brethren of the church," Snow says. "I think that will give many of our members confidence that they can rely on [the essays'] answers."

They were written by "scholars outside the Church Historical Department … known LDS scholars," who have done "extensive research," Snow says. The project "has been groundbreaking."

The writers "submitted a draft of their paper to a committee of historians here in the Church History Department," Snow explains, "as well as [LDS] general authorities."

These reviewers offered suggestions, he says, and the edits were made with the permission of the original authors.

Each essay was then "submitted to [the church's] presiding quorums," including the three-man First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Snow says, "and then published in Gospel Topics."

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "are surprised" by what they read about their faith's 185-year history, he says, and so the church decided to pull together "accurate information" to help Mormons "understand those historical chapters in the context of time and place."

The essays' information has now been included in the LDS Institutes of Religion curriculum, aimed at Mormon college students — though some observers believe the church manual, "Foundations of the Restoration," overemphasizes attacks from outsiders and underplays the role of women in LDS history.

"There is so little, too little, practically nothing that I saw wherein women were mentioned or quoted until Page 39," writes blogger Emily Jensen on By Common Consent. "And then after that, few and far between."

That's a shame, she says. "They should know better."

Mormon women resources are widely available at the LDS Church History Library, Jensen says, "and in this digital age, a curriculum supplement would not be difficult to add."

There's no reason not to use them. The Gospel Topics essays are meant to be helpful, Snow says in the video. "As the information is upon us … we feel we owe it to the rising generation to provide good reliable information."

Peggy Fletcher Stack