Question: Does the prophet ever publish original material in the Ensign?

July 30, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 2:55 pm   Category: Life

As I opened the August Ensign, and went over the prophet’s message, I found it interesting that in Aug 2008, the prophet decided to talk about September 11, 2001. Then I realized it was a reprint.

Yes I know this isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination. President Hinckley did this often.

And I know Monson has been repeating Sermons for 40 some odd years now.

But seriously, does President Monson contemporize his own republishings? Does he even select them? Or is this all done by some Ensign editor who with oversight from some curriculum guy? I’m just curious. Anyone know someone in the know on what the process is here?

*- I’m not bashing the choice to republish or asking for a doctrinal reason for it. I’m just curious about the process and practice thereof.


  1. Interesting question. I have no idea, but I find it sad that the Bloggernaccle has become so judgmental that we have to carefully and explicitly restate our questions lest we be decried as unfaithful (e.g., “*- I’m not bashing the choice to republish or asking for a doctrinal reason for it”).

    /end threadjack

    Comment by BrianJ — July 30, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

  2. BrianJ: Perhaps I am the one who was judgmental of the Bloggernacle for having the statement there in the first place. Sorry if I offend.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 30, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  3. It’s hardly you, Matt. You were just “covering your butt,” and I think it’s unfortunate that you felt you had to.

    Comment by BrianJ — July 30, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

  4. /Threadjack on

    Why not be careful about coming off as unfaithful? Certainly the use of “Monson” without the honorific would reasonably lead one to that conclusion.

    If one wanted a question — or a blog — to be taken seriously, one ought to avoid seeming antagonistic toward ones readers.

    Moreover, the Blogernacle isn’t a monolith. “It” isn’t judgmental. Each of us individually makes judgment about whether or not a piece of writing is worth our time or consideration. As we ought. Mortality is brief.

    Threadjack off.

    Sorry I have no insight on the question at hand.

    Comment by Juan Figuroa — July 31, 2008 @ 7:28 am

  5. *one’s, not ones.

    Comment by Juan Figuroa — July 31, 2008 @ 7:30 am

  6. It seems to me that truly original material is getting more rare as time goes on. Maybe this is inevitable.

    Does revelation tend to plateau?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 31, 2008 @ 8:52 am

  7. I don’t know Eric. I wonder more if revelation reaching the point of plateau if when you’ve participated as a general authority for 40 years, if you’ve basically shared all your life stories and taught every truth that you know. And besides, repetition is the first law of learning.

    I just wonder if this is just completely delegated out or if the prophet thinks about what the first presidency message ought be for the month. It seems like his councilors are producing new material.

    Comment by matt W. — July 31, 2008 @ 10:56 am

  8. Matt,
    You might get some answers as to the process by reading in the July Ensign. They talk about how ‘talks or writings of the other General Authorities may be turned into articles.’ I have included some possibly relevant points below.

    ‘The choices of articles are reviewed by the General Authorities who are advisers to the Curriculum Department.’

    ‘Editors of the Liahona and Ensign discuss placement of articles within an upcoming issue.’

    ‘All of the Church magazines undergo review of their contents at more than one stage. After articles are edited, they are read by assigned reviewers, including a few members of the Seventy…. When the design is finished, the pages are reviewed by members of the Seventy and one or more members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.’

    And, FWIW, I know someone on the materials evaluation committee, and I can tell you that the things they do are not just about whim and will, but about seeking the Lord’s will and about using the council system, which invites revelation. Therefore, what goes into the magazines may not be ‘new revelation’ but that doesn’t mean it isn’t selected by the power of revelation. That’s my thought, especially with how often I have seen articles coming just at the right time, either in a general way, or in a personal way. I have felt that the Lord is very involved in this process, even as imperfect people oversee it.

    And I agree with you about repetition. We really need to hear the basics over and over again, so we shouldn’t be surprised that articles and talks come around more than once over time. I also have noted that most of our leaders have certain themes that they repeat over the years…perhaps they each feel inspired to continue to focus on different things?

    Comment by m&m — July 31, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  9. Oh, here’s the link to that article.

    Comment by m&m — July 31, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  10. michelle:

    Thanks for the reference. Would you say then that someone besides President Monson picks what his first presidency message is for the month? I guess that is what I am curious about. Is it him praying about which message to print, or is it an editor at the Ensign praying about it.

    To put it in perspective of why something like this might matter: A few years back, President inckley issued a challenge to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. Except that talk was one he’d given in the early 80s. So did President Hinckley pray and decide to reissue that challenge, or did an editor at the Ensign?

    Comment by Matt W. — July 31, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  11. The FP messages from Presidents Eyring and Uchtdorf this year have also been repeats of conference addresses (Apr. 97, Oct. 97, Oct. 02).

    Comment by Justin — July 31, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

  12. Personally I think the editors have the final cut of what goes into the Ensign. Here is one story that I heard to validate this point. In the First Presidency Message September 2002 The message from Thomas S. Monson has the line “If the only perfect man who ever lived—even Jesus of Nazareth—was called upon to endure great suffering, how can we, who are less than perfect, expect to be free of such challenges?” (Sept 2002 Ensign 2-7)

    I had a friend who questioned Monson on this line shortly after this was published as he believed that Christ was not the only perfect man, but the only sinless man who ever lived. It was a brief meeting however my friend related that Monson seemed confused by that statement. Never clarifying one way or the other.

    At the very next conference in one of his talks “Models to Follow” (November Ensign 2002 starting on pg 60) Monson states Job and Noah are great models to follow and mentions their perfect. In my opinion a smooth and subtle correction to what was published two months prior. If Monson had the final say of what was published why would he correct himself publicly in such a short time? I am not saying he doesn’t have the final say, however he might be too busy for final editing of all his talks.

    Comment by Dallas — July 31, 2008 @ 2:25 pm

  13. Matt,

    This is an interesting question. I especially like the way you motivated it in #10. As we all know from studying media in general, there is a huge impact to choosing what is reported and what is not reported. Choosing which articles receive emphasis is like that.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 31, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  14. In the case of the August 2005 FP message (“I offer a challenge to members of the Church throughout the world and to our friends everywhere to read or reread the Book of Mormon”), I would think that President Hinckley was involved in the decision to reissue his October 1979 challenge, based on the July 2005 FP letter.

    Comment by Justin — August 1, 2008 @ 6:06 am

  15. Toward the end of his life (1993-94), all of President Benson’s FP messages were repeats and were noted as such in the Ensign (e.g., an editorial note to the January 1993 message indicated that it was “[f]rom an address given by President Benson at the ground-breaking service for a chapel in Hyrum, Ohio, 22 March 1986”). I’m not certain why this editorial practice was used for President Benson’s messages but not for the repeated messages from Presidents Hinckley and Monson during this same time period.

    Comment by Justin — August 1, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  16. Thanks Justin, you are amazing.

    So did the practice of “repeats” begin with Benson?

    Comment by Matt W. — August 1, 2008 @ 7:09 am

  17. The practice seems to predate President Benson. Joseph Fielding Smith’s June 1972 message (published shortly before his death) is derived from an October 1958 conference address, but there is no indication to that effect.

    I checked President Kimball’s 1985 messages, knowing that he was in poor health at the time. The October 1985 message, which appeared shortly before his death, featured this editorial note: “This important address was published in the July 1978 Ensign. At the direction of the President, it is reprinted for renewed individual and family study.” The March 1985 message included a similar note: “This important address was delivered at the April 1978 general conference. At the direction of the President, it is reprinted for renewed individual and family study.” Ditto for the July 1985 message.

    All his 1983 and 1984 messages feature similar notes (e.g., September 1983: “This message is reprinted from previous addresses by President Kimball with his permission and blessing.”).

    Comment by Justin — August 1, 2008 @ 10:06 am

  18. Related question: why is it that more and more the articles in the Ensign appear to be written at a junior high level, compared to even the 80’s and 90’s?

    Comment by Alex — August 1, 2008 @ 11:36 am

  19. Alex: I think this has to do with an editorial effort to make the Ensign and Liahona basically the same magazine, with simultaneous translation. It’s part of trying to turn the Ensign into the JW watchtower.

    Justin: So we can safely say the reprints have been around as long as the Ensign has.

    It’s funny, because the most this does for me is make me feel completely not guilty for never using the FPM in Home Teaching.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 1, 2008 @ 11:50 am

  20. I would check for originality first. Then abandon any feelings of guilt.

    Comment by Justin — August 1, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

  21. Along these lines, remember what President Hinckley said at his last general conference:

    Now, my brothers and sisters, we live with an interesting phenomenon. A soloist sings the same song again and again. An orchestra repeats the same music. But a speaker is expected to come up with something new every time he speaks. I am going to break that tradition this morning and repeat in a measure what I have said on another occasion.

    Comment by Jonathan N — August 2, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

  22. I can take this delegating of messages back even one more administration. Near the end of his life, President McKay was very limited in the energy and focus he could give to work, and only the most critical matters were brought to him. One of the tasks assumed by his secretary Clare Middlemiss was to write President McKay’s editorials (equivalent to the currently styled “Message”) for the Improvement Era and Instructor. These were generally based on President McKay’s previous talks and writings, but Clare “updated” them to include current references. These editorials crossed the desk of Richard L. Evans, the apostle managing church publications, but no one else, least of all President McKay, saw them before they were in print.

    Perhaps it was simply awareness that these editorials had not been vetted by President McKay, or perhaps they sometimes included objectionable material. Whatever the reason, the McKay family objected to the appearance of ghost-written articles over their father’s signature, and after a formal family meeting, President McKay’s son Lawrence took the matter to the Quorum of the Twelve.

    The Quorum minutes of 13 November 1969 indicate how seriously the Quorum took the matter. There are six pages (in my transcription; perhaps twice as many in the less compact original) of discussion of this and closely related matters. When counselors in the First Presidency joined the Apostles’ meeting, President Tanner told them he was aware of the concern and had considered it important enough to place a long-distance call to Germany (a much more serious matter in 1969 than it seems today) to solicit Hugh B. Brown’s opinion. The combined meeting called President McKay’s family to discuss it over speakerphone.

    As far as I can tell (there is no name-by-name vote recorded), Alvin R. Dyer was the only opponent to the united decision (implemented regardless of Elder Dyer’s dissent), which was that President McKay’s signature would no longer be used on any document, including Era editorials, that he had not personally reviewed and approved.

    (Note: Q12 minutes are tightly restricted and are not available to the public. Occasionally, however, minutes of scattered meetings have appeared in other sources. I transcribed the minutes of the 13 November 1969 meeting from a photocopy in Clare Middlemiss’s compilation generally known as David O. McKay’s diary; I don’t have direct access to Q12 files.)

    Matt, I didn’t realize this was going on so long until I proofread. I hope it is on topic, but I’ll certainly understand if you remove it as too much for a comment.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — August 3, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

  23. Ardis: That was awesome. Thanks!

    Comment by Matt W. — August 3, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

  24. I think that repetition of talks and articles is essential.What we may percieve as the `same old message` is always as fresh and invaluable today and yesterday.What? do we suddenly want a new bible all of a sudden?

    Comment by Martin k — August 4, 2008 @ 3:04 am

  25. On the other hand, Martin, continuing revelation is one of the selling points of the restored church…

    Comment by Peter LLC — August 4, 2008 @ 3:44 am

  26. I will not dispute that, peter.Fair point.

    Comment by Martin k — August 4, 2008 @ 4:12 am

  27. However, i would also like to add that the church is not for sale. People join for a myriad amount of reasons—— the main reason being the joy of repentance, followed by unison.

    Comment by Martin k — August 4, 2008 @ 4:54 am

  28. The September 2008 Article originally appeared in the May 1998 Ensign.

    But I am glad for the reprint. It is a really compelling article and brings up that the atonement can change our natures.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 22, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

  29. It appears the Sept. 2009 article is mostly original material, although Uchtdorf has previously shared his mother-in-laws letter at Education Week in 2006. I really loved the article from Uchtdorf this month.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 18, 2009 @ 9:56 pm