History vs Heritage: Maybe We Should Stop Saying That We’ve Been Lied to by the Church

JFSThere is a lot of discussion by disaffected, former, or faith-transitioning Latter-day Saints on social media about the presumably deceptive practices that the LDS Church has historically been engaged in to intentionally cover up the unsavory parts of its past that don’t jibe well with the overly-simplistic narrative taught in Sunday School, Primary, Seminary, and Institute.

While I think that the LDS Church should be held accountable to presenting a responsible history, I wince at the assertion that its treatment of its past has been intentionally deceptive, or that the LDS Church has engaged in outright lies.

I am offering here a few historical observations suggesting that the issues are more nuanced than simple deception. I am also drawing on Lindsay Hansen Park’s brilliant “History” vs. “Heritage” vs. “Propaganda” model that she discussed in a recent Mormon Matters podcast episode.

History_of_the_ChurchFor the sake of simplicity, I am setting Joseph Smith’s History of the Church (also called Documentary History) as the marker for the first attempt at a “comprehensive” history of Mormonism. History of the Church was not penned by Joseph Smith; rather, he commissioned somewhere around twenty writers to ghost write, including familiar names like Oliver Cowdery, Sydney Rigdon, Orson Hyde, W. W. Phelps, Willard Richards, and William Clayton. Although many of the histories were commissioned as early as 1839, the bulk of them were not written until after Joseph Smith’s death. Some of these histories were serially published in the Times & Seasons, but they were not officially collected until B. H. Roberts edited and compiled them into the seven-volume History of the Church, published in 1902. Although the assembled histories offer crucial insights into the events and development of the church, they were unquestionably written in didactic prose—their primary purpose was to prove the Restoration true and Joseph Smith to be God’s prophet. Roberts, skilled as he may have been, followed the didactic style by further downplaying potentially embarrassing details as well as liberally incorporating his own bias. Nonetheless, History of the Church remained the most comprehensive collection for several decades following, and is still quite popular today.

Shortly after the publication of History of the Church, Roberts set about on an ambitious project to author an updated history. Where the former seven volumes conclude in 1848, Comprehensive HistoryRoberts’s A Comprehensive History of the Church brought church history into the 20th Century. Roberts initially began publishing articles serially in the Americana magazine (the official magazine of the American Historical Society) between 1909-1915.  After his final article was published, the First Presidency wanted to publish the entire collection in six volumes, but this did not materialize. It wasn’t until 1928 that Roberts began to update his work for volume publication in 1930. While Roberts still wrote from the position of devotion, the work was considerably more historically sound than his previous efforts. Roberts consciously set about to critically examine some of the common myths and folklores that had been present in History of the Church, and wrote fairly candidly about controversial topics as seer stones and polygamy. Still, his interpretations were carefully guarded.

EssentialsThe most influential work to emerge from the early 20th Century was Joseph Fielding Smith’s Essentials in Church History, published as a single volume in 1922 (in between Roberts’ multi-volume projects). 1922 is an important year as this is during the Church’s early efforts to publish correlated Sunday School materials that began to standardize and clarify what church leaders considered to be official history. Smith, acting as Church Historian and Recorder at the time, also served on the General Board of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association and, until 1918, was the General Superintendent of the Sunday School program. Essentials in Church History became the de facto primer on church history for the following half century. This is important to understand because the majority of the church’s leadership since were weaned on Joseph Fielding Smith’s volume. The 600-page monograph is, perhaps needless to say, primarily a devotional writing scant in critical examination and devoid of anything scandalous in nature. It is true that Joseph Fielding Smith’s history was a setback in historical publishing when compared to the more candid, though still devotional, work of Roberts; it is also true that Smith’s volume did more to shape future generations of church members and leaders than any other historical publication. But before we throw Joseph Fielding Smith into the lion’s den, I think it is important to consider that more than defending the legacy of the church, Joseph Fielding Smith was protecting the legacy of his family. His was a personal and vested interest in a way that Roberts’s was not. Perhaps rather than intending to be deceitful, he was sincerely telling the truth as he saw it—from the perspective of a Smith, the grandson of Hyrum and the great nephew of the prophet Joseph. To say that he was too close to the history is, perhaps, an understatement. While I cut Fielding Smith a little slack for this, I do so while recognizing that the current mess we are in when it comes to the church’s dealing of its history, in large measure, stems from Joseph Fielding Smith’s time as Church Historian. His was a “heritage” account that became the official history that generations of Latter-day Saints have fondly held to.

Story of the latter day saintsFollowing Joseph Fielding Smith’s death in 1972, Howard W. Hunter, who became the Church Historian in 1970, renamed the Church Historian’s Office as the Historical Department. He appointed Leonard Arrington, the first professional historian to serve as Church Historian and commissioned an updated single-volume history to replace Essentials of Church History, with the intent of bringing the history up to date. Published in 1976 and authored by credentialed historians, James B. Allen (Assistant Church Historian at the time) and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints focused on the popular field of social history, attempting to place Mormonism into its historical environment, and it took a decidedly dispassionate tone while representing a faithful Latter-day Saint perspective. The single-volume history was an initial success, selling 10,000 copies in its first month and selling out of its original printing of 35,000 within three years. However, not all were pleased with the more scholarly and less devotional approach. Apostles Ezra Taft Benson and Mark E. Peterson both expressed concerns that the volume was damaging to faith. Still, the volume was supported by Howard W. Hunter and then-president Spencer W. Kimball.

While The Story of the Latter-day Saints was underway, Hunter also charged Arrington with producing the largest and most ambitious updated history of the church to date. With plans to publish for the church’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1980, Arrington announced that the Historical Department had “contracts with 16 persons, each of whom is writing one volume of the [sixteen-volume] set” (Salt Lake Tribune, 26 Apr 1975). Among these authors are noted historians such as Richard Bushman and Thomas Alexander. The project fell apart largely, it is suspected, because of the frankness of presentation by professional historians, which caused no small amount of uneasiness among more conservative church leaders like Ezra Taft Benson and Boyd K. Packer.

Many of the volumes that were completed for the sixteen-volume sesquicentennial history did end up seeing print through a variety of publishers. Although I do not have a complete list of what has been published, here are the volumes that I have personally collected in my library:

Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism; Milton V. Backman, The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-Day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838; Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise; Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-69; R. Lanier Britsch, From the East: The History of the Latter-Day Saints in Asia, 1851-1996; Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930.

(If any readers are familiar with other titles that were published, please post them in the comments below.)

In 1981, Elder Packer delivered an address at BYU to CES religious educators where he infamously said:

There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not.

Some things that are true are not very useful.

Historians seem to take great pride in publishing something new, particularly if it illustrates a weakness or mistake of a prominent historical figure. . . . It matters very much not only what we are told but when we are told it. Be careful that you build faith rather than destroy it.

That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith—particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith—places himself in great spiritual jeopardy.

In the Church we are not neutral. We are one-sided. There is a war going on, and we are engaged in it. It is a war between good and evil, and we are belligerents defending the good. We are therefore obliged to give preference to and protect all that is represented in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have made covenants to do it.

In 1982, the History Division was dissolved and all of the staff historians, including Arrington, were relocated to BYU campus under the newly-created Joseph Fielding Smith Institute of Church History. Arrington was quietly released as Church Historian and named as director of the new department at BYU, while G. Homer Durham, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and former professor of political science at University of Utah, was installed as the Historical Department’s Managing Director. Arrington continued to manage the Smith Institute until his retirement in 1986. Just prior to his death in 1999, he published a telling memoir titled, Adventures of a Church Historian. From 1997-2005, there was effectively no Church Historian. The Historical Department was instead governed by a board of Executive Directors, which included well-known general authorities like D. Todd Christofferson and Marlin K. Jensen. Finally, in 2005, the Church History Department was reopened under the direction of Marlin K. Jensen. Spurred on by the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the publications division of the Church History Department became re-invigorated with initiatives beginning with the 2008 publication of Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, and Glen M. Leonard. To date, this is the most candid look at the history of a troubling event approved by the church; and it was a sign of things to come from the Church History Department (See Gospel Topics Essays), including a forthcoming four-volume history of the church currently underway by the Church History Department that will bring the history up to the 21st Century. While we will have to wait and see how responsibly they represent the past, I remain cautiously optimistic.

So, what happened? Simply put, the non-professional historians won the narrative contest. The didactic approach to telling history remained favorable to the academically-grounded attempt at objectivity and socially-contextualized history. People don’t like “messy,” and that includes our church leaders who were all raised on the same Seminary and Institute curriculum that promoted the Essentials in Church History approach. Borrowing from Lindsay Hansen Park, as a religion we remained more enamored by our “heritage” than our “history.” Perhaps nothing underscores this better than Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was distributed by the church in 1996 to its adult Sunday School classes—a 150-page throwback to Essentials in Church History.

Then the Internet happened.

While the church is, without question, paying the price for promoting an overly-simplified “heritage” approach to history, I don’t think the motive was based in intentional deception; rather, I think the disinclinations towards academic approaches to history were based in sincere love for the church and a desire to protect it. Many, including President Packer, felt that advertising our flaws was tantamount to handing our critics information on a silver platter that they could manipulate against us. I believe that the leaders of the church who were reticent towards candid historical examination were not so because they had some sense that the church was built on lies, but instead because they sincerely believed it to be true; and that they distrusted the historian’s craft that tended to remove the spiritual aspects of the faith that were (and still are) viewed as vital to building and maintaining a testimony. I have no doubt that, in their eyes, they were not suppressors of truth as much as they were being the dutiful watchmen along the tower.

We are paying the price for willful ignorance. We are paying the price for placing “heritage” above “history.” It’s a shame that Arrington and his crew were disbanded and that the church followed the “Camelot Era” with twenty years of “dark ages” that even included a witch hunt of sorts (September Six). It’s a shame, and people are hurting now because of this attitude—people who have invested themselves deeply into the narratives that they’ve been taught since childhood; narratives which were only re-affirmed on church missions, and in Institutes and church-affiliated schools. Their pain and feeling of betrayal is legitimate. But does it serve any good to continue the “We’ve been lied to!” mantra without trying to understand how we got to where we are today?

While I understand that I cannot solve feelings of betrayal, I tend to think that past church leaders believed that they were being honest and responsible about the history of the church, but that they were insulated and got much of it wrong. I prefer to look at the present age as growing pains for the church—both its leaders and its members—as this relatively young religion has entered into an unprecedented age of information availability and is rediscovering its own history.




History vs Heritage: Maybe We Should Stop Saying That We’ve Been Lied to by the Church — 119 Comments

  1. “…I don’t think the motive [for overly simplified history] was based in intentional deceptiion; rather, I think the disinclinations towards academic approaches to history were based in sincere love for the church and a desire to protect it.”

    In other words, Church historians didn’t lie because they were trying to deceive, they lied to protect the institution from messy-looking bits of truth. Fine, I’ll grant that, but they still lied.

    “But it serves no good to continue the ‘We’ve been lied to!’ mantra without trying to understand how we got to where we are today.”

    Absolutely true, unless repeating the mantra a few times allows people to heal — which I guess it may do, for some people, but it’s easy to waste a lot of time chanting it and blaming someone else for the pain of learning the truth. It’s probably more worthwhile to continue trying to learn about God.

  2. The various “approaches” to history are clearly distortions of true fact. I am halfway through the multi-volume “History of the Church” and wasn’t even halfway through the FIRST VOLUME of this work before running into stark inconsistencies in retelling of the history. It becomes plain that the story was created of a handful of individuals developing their own doctrine and rules and then quite deliberately retrofitting it to make it seem as though the story is consistent within itself. IT IS NOT. The work is plainly intended to obfuscate the factual history of the “church”.

    We have been lied to, and we are aware of it. Had I been asked to read this material prior to joining the church, I never would have consented to becoming a member of the LDS church.

    And if church historians did not lie because they were not trying to deceive, they need to cease the lying now, immediately. To continue in the belief that the motives for lying are pure, they are doing far more harm.


  3. What absolute nonsense. This is written by someone who wants the Church to be true no matter what and has put his integrity on the proverbial shelf along with the questions. People who have “the truth” have no reason to lie. Further, they don’t ignore pertinent facts which speak for themselves. Nor do they give anyone a pass, even so called “apostles and prophets” who say stupid things like “doubt your doubts” and “don’t criticize leaders even if they’re in error.”

    Notice his being disturbed isn’t directed on the history of deceit, but those who question, and rightfully so, those who claim authority to lead the Church.

    The internet is allowing people to compare notes and to discover the truth that the Church has kept hidden. Who buys forgeries with Church money that have never been on display? The so called “seer stone” has been in the Church’s possession and is finally being talked about, but not on display at the Visitor’s Center, because the PR department knows just how ridiculous it is. Even now, a painting of Joseph Smith “translating the Book of Mormon” from the golden plates is on display there which is intentionally deceptive. We discover that the Church had undertaken a program to reverse the genetic wiring of it’s gay members in the Evergreen organization. They want religious freedom for them, but not for anyone else. They’re racist to the core and seldom do service without an agenda. I can’t wait for the federal government to do an investigation on their finances and hope that they’re made to come clean.

  4. I am amenable to the basic idea here: lying implies intentional deception, and there are plausible narratives where that intention is not there.

    But I think one can realistically assert another requirement that goes along with and can support or corroborate whether there was intention to deceive. In particular, I don’t think it’s enough to say that a sincere love for the church and a desire to protect it is incompatible with deceptive intent. In other words, one’s intention to protect the church could be one’s deceptive intention.

    To say that the church didn’t lie requires a second element: that the church (however you define it) did not know the truth and promulgate something else despite its knowledge of the truth.

    So, the analysis on lying pins not just on whether the church, its historians, leaders, whatever were trying to protect the church, but whether they knew the truth of the messy historical approach and then chose the heritage approach over the messy historical approach because of the heritage’s approach’s friendliness to the church’s history.

    To argue against the church as liar, one should argue that the church didn’t know the messy history (perhaps those facts weren’t available at the time) or that they didn’t know or believe the messy history to be true (e.g., the facts are in dispute).

  5. Right from the Gospel Principles manual, “Lying is intentionally deceiving others…. There are many … forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”


    By this definition of lying, the church and its leaders are guilty of lying ALL THE TIME. It’s not a just a past-tense problem. Shall we count the ways?

    Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration Movie. Does it depict accurate history? No, lies. JosephSmith.net website, does it depict accurate history? No, lies. Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson Manual, does it depict accurate history? No, lies. When leaders use flirtatious language that implies they have seen Christ, without being forthright about their spiritual experiences, are they being honest? No, they are lying.

    The entire LDS culture is one of lying. Plastic smiles and primary voices. A testimony is gained in the bearing of it and so on. We are pressured to bear testimony and profess a personal witness and KNOWLEDGE of things that we don’t at all “know.” I know such and such to be true. No, you don’t. You believe it, you don’t “know” anything. These are all forms of lying. I’m not sure where the phrase “lying for the Lord” came from, but it’s certainly a thing.

  6. First, Brian it is apparent that you have a lot of knowledge regarding church history. One difficulty for me is that we cannot mention or discuss true church history at any church related meetings. If I teach my children true church history I will be chastised by other members and labeled anti.

    You bring up all the correct narratives, like Boyd’s lecture on truth telling, but you come to all the wrong conclusions. I was trained to always tell the truth and have integrity! Just because an apostles has had his 2nd anointing does not mean I am obligated to parrot or defend their twisting of the truth.

    Is this what the Lord’s church has come to? “Give Joseph a break”.

    I think Martin Luther had so much integrity to stand up to the Catholic church. We as Mormons are well versed in spotting the inconsistencies of other churches. However, Brian, you are asking us to make an exception in this case?

    I know many faithful people like you love the church and your heritage, but when are you going to start telling the truth. We have many children involved and it is irresponsible to not present them the unvarnished truth as difficult as that may be.

    The truth is like a lion, let it loose and it will defend itself.

  7. If we hold current and historical church leaders to the same level of honesty and integrity which they place upon us as members – they lied pure and simple: despite what their heart felt intentions might have been. I will NEVER walk into a church leader’s office or interview again with the same sense of urgency or commitment that I once had. Shame on them all – for basically telling us to “do what I say – not what I do”

  8. Willful ignorance on an institutional level still amounts to lying, as far as I’m concerned, but thanks for the history of Mormon history!

  9. I appreciate this history of the history. But the premise that what has been omitted or whitewashed by so many leaders isn’t really lying doesn’t hold for me. You do offer explanations of why they might lie- to protect the church, to promote faith. I’m not questioning those potentially well meaning motives. (Though protection of power and status can’t be ignored as possible motives too.)
    Maybe this just illustrates the humanity of the men who have done so much harm in an effort to protect their own faith and authority. But it’s understandable that we might expect more, a higher standard, if divine guidance and authority are embodied in the leadership of the church.
    Yes, the internet has torn back the curtain, and believers and truth seekers alike have seen that deception, whatever the motivation, causes pain and destruction of faith for many. Honesty and integrity are taught in our homes, in primary lessons, and over the pulpit. The church as an institution can’t expect us to hold it to a lesser standard because the truth is hard to hear.

  10. The history of the LDS Church’s interaction with history itself is a tortured and problematic from the outset. One can plausibly claim that alternate history is written into the organization’s DNA, since the foundational text of Mormonism presents an alternate history of ancient America that has, to date, not withstood scrutiny all that well. To this problem one might add the very historically situated D&C revelations to Joseph Smith, which he subsequently edited and expanded. Joseph Smith looked at the past in quite a different way than a historian would. For him it seems to have represented an opportunity for revision of both the past and the present.

    So, it is not all that surprising that the LDS Church should continue to struggle with the idea of history today. Since the LDS historical narrative clashes with mainstream Western history in fundamental ways, the Mormon understanding of the past will continue to be challenged by those Mormons who discover the distinction between Mormon historical narratives and the mainstream Western historical narrative. Here, I am not talking about when Joseph started to practice polygamy, et al., but a reading of history in which true Christianity was lost sometime near the end of the first century AD and then restored to Joseph Smith, and so forth.

    People pay a price by adopting these alternate historical narratives as their own. One might argue that this replacement history has fostered widespread Mormon ignorance regarding the mainstream Western historical narrative. Few Mormons even consider the role of Christianity in depth after the first century because, well, apostasy. Those who consider it do so primarily in terms of a teleological arc that stretches to Joseph Smith’s doorstep.

    I am happy to see this piece, and Lindsay Hanson Park’s Mormon Matters interview, delving into the distinctions between different kinds of history. Much more thinking needs to be done, however. Unless the problem of multiple historical narratives is confronted well, Mormonism’s alternate histories will continue to cost the Church members and lost credibility.

  11. Not everyone is a voracious reader when it comes to church history. The history that I grew up with in church alone is WAY different and way more whitewashed and spun to make things appear more moral then they actually happened. Having read a lot more about church history as an adult I was shocked at the inconsistencies and the deliberate omission of very pertinent information that I was presented with in church settings and manuals as a member for over 40 years.

  12. The real fascinating story here is the history behind the telling of LDS history. And I’m impressed with the accurate and detailed retelling of how the “heritage” folks won out over the “history” folks. I would like to believe they would’ve changed their minds if they could have actually looked into the future of the internet age and see what consequences we’re paying collectively as a church by going with that approach. But of course that would have taken the actual gift of seer-ship.

  13. As long as the missionaries are teaching investigators a “faithful” (whitewashed) history, then they are omitting information which permits a person to make an informed decision. According to the church’s own definition of honesty, then they are guilty of lying. What the missionaries teach (as far as I know) hasn’t really changed since I was a missionary nearly 35 years ago.

  14. …should we stop saying we have been lied to by the church? No. We have been lied to by the church…

  15. I’ll stop saying they lie when they stop lying and tell us all truth about history and real doctrine.

  16. I really appreciated how candid you are, Brian. How anyone reads your comments about Packer, the September Six, and the “price” we are paying for heritage over history and concludes you’re just some second-rate apologist, is beyond me. I think too many people, in their pain and anger, fail to understand basic human nature. The world is not divided into camps of good guys and bad guys and of truth-tellers and liars. Hurtling the accusation of “lying” seems like a big deal to me. The equation of lying with factual inaccuracy because people are sincere (but wrong) in their understandings of the past seems deeply troubling to me. Most Americans (including ex-Mormons) have a romanticized view of the past…are they “lying” about American history every time they open their mouths?

  17. You have an interesting hypothesis here. Let me paraphrase what I think you are saying.

    The church leaders had good intentions. They believed that what they were doing was right. But they were insulated and made mistakes (“got much of it wrong”). Which is not a lie. But the results of their actions has caused pain today.

    I would challenge you to look for evidence that can support this position. I would also encourage you to look for evidence where the opposite exists.

    I can lay out dozens of examples where the leaders knew what they were saying was factually incorrect. However, I do not deny they possibly believed that they were doing the right thing (i.e., being faith promoting). However, that is still a lie.

    I am not saying everything they did was a lie. But the history and patters are very present over an extended period of time, even up to today.

    If you cannot see this type of evidence, I would hope you could consider why you are unable to see it when others can.

    But in any case. Either intentional deceit or harm caused through good intentions, I would propose their is really only one productive path forward for the church.

    And that is the path of repentance.

    Either way, the steps are important.

    1) Acknowledge you have either sinned or caused harm.
    2) Express regret for the real or even imagined damage caused to tens of thousands of people.
    3) Explain what you have learned as an organization that will help you to either protect against dishonesty in the future or causing harm through good intentions that are not well founded.
    4) Commit to repairing the damage. Tell the truth in whole. Stop demonizing those who have pointed this out. Create a loving culture.

    and finally

    5) Put checks and balances in place to protect the institution and its members from such egregious behavior in the future.

    If the church cannot name its sins of the past, there is no hope that it will not continue to commit them in the future.

  18. “I think that it is far better to make a bold admission of facts and truth, and do it now, than wait until it is forced down our throats at a later date when it will be embarrassing to us” – T Edgar Lyon’s personal manifesto to writing history

  19. Even though I disagree with the disjunctive logic in this post, I am grateful for this side of the conversation. This question of Lie or Not-Lie is the single greatest question in the debate over the veracity of the claims of the mormon church. Posts like this bring the conversation together and, ultimately, that’s a good thing if we can remain kind and respectful to each other.

    It is not a question of whether past leaders have made erring statements as prophets or as men. It is this:

    Have they made statements that they knew that God had not said to them, but delivered them as such anyway?
    Did they equate righteousness with following said dictates?
    Have any church leaders hunted down to silence or excommunicate any who tried to bring these issues to light?

    No matter how you dance around it, there are ‘yes’ answers to all of these questions. And that is the great lie we should be considering.


    I would have a much easier time with the past if the church leaders would walk the repentance process like they expect any regular to go through – as “7mormonquestions” so eloquently stated.

  20. This entire essay is the rough equivalent of saying, ‘they didn’t lie. They just…bent the truth.’ You might well “wince at the assertion that the Church’s treatment of its past has been intentionally deceptive, or that the LDS Church has engaged in outright lies.” Didn’t we all. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t true, and you’ve said nothing here that convinces me otherwise.

  21. What’s being left out of this discussion is how members, converts, and other can gain a testimony of whether or not the LDS faith is true or not. Is it by studying the history of the church or through prayer.

    While I agree the LDS Church is paying a price for whitewashing its less-than-perfect past, since when has any general authority stood at the pulpit and said that if you study the church’s history you’ll gain a testimony. Conversion, true conversion, comes by prayer and reading the Book of Mormon is what has been taught since the faith was founded.

    While I understand that some may feel hurt or betrayed by revelations of the past, I suggest that spending time studying and praying about the Book of Mormon is probably a better use of time than nurturing any betrayal you may feel. Salvation is up to the individual. In the end all we’ll be held responsible for is our own thoughts and actions–not those of others.

  22. I wonder sometimes if “Fast Sunday” should be referred to as “Cognitive Dissonance Sunday”. Proud parents beam at their Primary-aged children who get up in fast and testimony meeting to bear a testimony of how, at the tender age of 6 or 7, they know the Church is true, when, of course, they know no such thing. It’s false witness but we smile and say to ourselves, “isn’t that cute?” I appreciate the opportunity to serve my fellow members in my calling on Sundays, but I think more and more about bowing out, suspecting I’m doing more harm than good by staying.

  23. Great post, Brian, summarizing the changes in the official LDS approach to writing our history. Folks should keep in mind that history as a field did not “professionalize” until the late 19th century and did not open up to broader racial, ethnic, and gender views until the last third of the 20th century. Historians have decisively rejected the flawed idea that an “objective” or “fact-only” history is even possible. The problem is not that LDS history as written is flawed or imperfect. ALL WRITTEN HISTORY is at least partially flawed and imperfect. That is reality.

    I do sympathize with Mormons who grew up on the simplified LDS narrative and only later got a taste of unvarnished history. And the Church ought to be doing more to make up for that strategic mistake and to make such disillusioned Mormons feel like it is not their fault (local leaders tend to say all the wrong things when confronted with this situation). But sheesh, Brian, this comment thread sure reads like Attack of the Angry Boy Scouts — energetic, uninformed idealists who have acquired a bit of knowledge and use it to blame everyone but themselves instead of getting a little more knowledge. Bushmans’s advice: keep reading, and read from across the spectrum, not just from critics.

  24. People are people and no one is perfect. I believe most people (LDS and otherwise) are good and do their best to navigate difficult circumstances in the best way they can. This life is filled with moral dilemmas in which we can’t do 100% right no matter which way we turn. But the Lord knows the intents of our hearts. I love history, and I enjoy learning about different people and the choices they made in this or that circumstance. While I may disagree with some of their choices, there is simply no way for me to truly understand every aspect of what they were faced with. It’s okay to have opinions and learn lessons from others’ choices, but it’s not really fair to judge people so harshly.

  25. I like your approach, Bryan. I think there is a lot of wisdom in what you’ve written. I appreciate seeing the history of our history being put on display in somewhat less sensationalist tones than one typically sees online.

  26. The LDS church was fabricated by Joseph Smith. All of the initial events upon which he founded his “church” were fiction and every single general authority since has perpetuated the telling of them as truth when they know they are not. This author, like so many others of late, is minimizing the responsibility of church authorities in favor of a “leave Joseph alone” stance. Also, there is a clear pattern of the “church” being founded and perpetuated to get gain. For Smith and his cronies it was money and sex with as many women and girls as they wanted, for modern authorities it’s all about money and, recently, power over the political climate of this country.

  27. Let me be very clear here. I joined the church with my family. These items were never disclosed ever:

    1. A stone found digging a well was used to translate the BOM.
    2. Joseph Smith pleaded guilty to fraud in 1826.
    3. Joseph Smith bold faced lied about the existence of plural marriage to the members for 12 years.
    4. Joseph Smith practiced Polyandry and secretly coerced married women into sexual relationships.
    5. Joseph Smith set up a bank that after prophesying that it would grow to swallow up all other banks, collapsed losing investors money, with Joseph fleeing the state to missouri to escape arrest warrants.
    6. That there was ever more than one version of the 1st version, and certainly that the other versions did not quite tally or align with the ‘main’ version.
    7. That all leaders in the church work for free. That there is no paid clergy. This is not true since we now know GAs get a $300k a year package plus expenses along with free college for kids and best in class healthcare.

    Here are some things that we were told that were misrepresented in both the missionary discussions and in 20 years of sunday school classes:

    1. Black people were less valiant in the pre-existence hence their skin colour change.
    2. The BOA was a literal translation of the papyri, which includes the facsimiles.
    3. The Laminates were the PRINCIPLE ancestors of the American Indians.
    4. Follow the Prophet they cannot lead you astray (unless you are talking about getting the above wrong).
    5. Polygamy happened only because there was a shortage of men and those men kindly took in widows to support them.
    6. Joseph Smith died as a martyr at Carthage – as opposed to the reality of being arrested and having a concealed handgun, smoking and drinking wine the night before his death.
    7. That it is purely coincidental that the Endowment has some similarities to the Masonic rituals (the reality being Joseph ‘revealed’ the endowment just 7 weeks after completing his masonry membership).
    8. That the Jews had Temples and our serve a similar purpose (not even close, there is zero relationship between LDS Temple rituals and Jewish Temple rituals). The only similarity is the buildings are both called temples.
    9. Tithing means one tenth of Gross income – this is a whole story in itself about what it originally meant which has morphed over the decades.
    10. The church has 12 apostles just like the early church did – No, the LDS church has 15 Apostles. There is no precedent for this.

    Some of this are minor issues, but some are major. Not disclosing serious information, like the fraud conviction, and the lying to members for 12 years, and instead portraying Joseph Smith as a pious individual who was maligned throughout his life is a gross misrepresentation of the reality.

    The BOA Facsimiles confirm Joseph could not translate at all. The DNA evidence proves claims Amerindians are laminates is a lie. Polyandry is not doctrinal, there is zero revelation on tis subject. The whole race issue has been disavowed throwing most past leaders under the bus (you know those guys that could not lead us astray).

    This is FRAUD. When you solicit money based on a misrepresentation of the past, it is nothing more than FRAUD. So please, save the apologetics about how the church published the odd dusty book, or didn’t need to discuss all of these things.

    The chickens have come home to roost now, and the modern church, largely focused on a christian based self improvement organisation, carries its history like a moral cancer, eating it from the inside. Modern members try to mentally disassociate themselves from the awful truth of the history. But the church’s claims are founded on this history and as such destroy any claims it makes.

    Had we have been told the truth we NEVER would have joined, and in doing so would have saved tens of thousands of dollars taken from us in Tithing through misrepresentation of LDS history.

    The responsibility for disclosing the truth resides with the church. It chose what to disclose and it chose to hide its true history. Even today, one learns more about the true history of the church from a single reading of the CES letter than one could learn in 20 years attending church Gospel Doctrine lessons.

  28. Actually the entire point of the post is “Let he who is without sin, let him first cast a stone.” All faith is the lie believers tell themselves to keep them on the path God intended for them. I don’t care about the past intention of church leaders to accurately or not tell church history. Their stories are not the basis of my faith. Those stories did help my faith, but I am finding more strength now in the more accurate versions than I did in the less accurate or “whitewashed” versions. It gives me hope to see all the good that “the church” does in individual lives despite the many imperfections and sins of it’s leaders. Yes I have no problem giving good men and women trying to do good work a break when they fail to live up to the perfect standard Christ set for all of mankind. The idea of the church/Zion is far more important and powerful to me than every messy detail of it’s creation.

  29. I could buy the heritage take on this all if the truth were not actually available to the brethren at the time. We know it was available to the brethren because of the “Camelot years”. Also, The church has a pattern of actively going after and excommunicating history writers who have attempted to consolidate much of what could be found in archives and personal journals. Grant Palmer and Michael Quinn to name a few.

  30. There have been no lies.

    When a mother is asked by her grandchildren about their father (her son), she tells the truth that he was a good boy. She doesn’t share that he wet the bed and that he routinely forgot her birthday. She loves him, and she wants to strengthen him. That’s not dishonest.

  31. Excellent post. Well written and concise.I agree with almost everything you said and would add to it by saying that most of the problems with our church leadership in regards to history is ignorance. We do not have a leadership that is well read in our history and they are not theologians and our current corporate model militates away from such. We could talk at some length about what our church leadership model should be. With 15 million members (I know they aren’t all active) and the budget that goes along with it, there needs to be a corporate entity. Adding to your list of the 16 volume history there were many not finished or published.
    The Missouri period-Max Parkin
    The Illinois Period-T. Edgar Lyon
    Crossing the Plains- Reed C. Durham
    1869 to 1900- Charles S. Peterson
    History of the Saints in Europe- Douglas F. Tobler
    History of the Expansion of the Church- S. George Elsworth
    Social and Cultural History 1830-1900 Davis Bitton
    Social and Cultural History 1901-1972 John L. Sorenson

    Brian, if you would like to get with me we could put together a post that looks at the whole 16 volume thing in much more detail.

  32. I feel this blog entry was well-written and thoughtful, and gave a balanced correlation between history and heritage. Sadly, I cannot say the same about the comments folks are writing in response. I assume most of the people writing are divorced, older gentlemen, who probably all have issues with pornography, dieting on cheap food, and harboring ridiculous amounts of angst toward anything LDS; true practitioners of narrative-driven “truth seeking”. (I’m willing to put money on this claim).

    Anyway, metaphorically speaking, when someone writes the history of self, should it be a tell-all, including thoughts, not just action? And should it include events from all time periods of life? If a historian were to do so, we’d all look like jumbled messes of meaningless data points with no rhyme or reason. “…on this date, he thought this; but 10 years later he said this…”. Contradiction is synonymous with life experience; contradiction is also the guillotine to credibility.

    So should the history of self be written to include all, or as some in this thread like to call it, “Truth”? Or is there and overall meaning to one’s life that should be presented as thoughtfully reflecting the deepest desire of the one who lived? <– which I will also call "truth".

  33. It’s old news. The internet has made it available to many. While the information will lead many to leave the Church, it will survive and grow. Time to move on with your lives.

  34. “When a mother is asked by her grandchildren about their father (her son), she tells the truth that he was a good boy.”

    Haha what? My mother delights in telling my children what a little horror I was as a child. If she presented me as an angelic child I would think there was something seriously wrong with her.

  35. oh bless you, Martin. We truth seekers were all waiting for the bottom-feeding ad hominem attacks to begin. Your assumptions are likely the very mechanism that enables you to stay faithful and faith-promoting.
    It’s even interesting that you throw out the porn-card which is laughable considering it was one of the early chinks that I found in the armor of the church… You see, I have a very unique job. I’m an investigator and cyber-professional by trade which means that I got asked all the time to fix other members’ computers. High council, bishops, relief society presidency, ward clerk, girls camp director, even a counselor in the stake presidency once… Guess what all the computers – without a single exception – had in common. They all had traces of recently accessed (though some showed sign of careful excising) and ever so delicately hidden pornography. Men and women all living that tenuous double life. Poor things. Are we to “assume” that you share that category?

    However, the church’s problems do not begin or end with the frailties of its membership… The hypocrisy does.

    So, now that you’ve been willing to bet on something that I know for a fact is not true, at least I can know of myself that your argument is weaker for your assumptions. Please know that there will one day be a place for you also in the realm of former TBM’s.

    May God bless you to find that truth is not just faith, but also a knowledge of things as they once were, as they are, and as they will yet be.

  36. Dear Brian,

    Thank you for linking my piece at Rational Faiths in the opening paragraph. I think you have done the best you can possibly do at giving a counter-argument to what I posted there.

    My take-away from what you have written is that Church leaders did not deceive members about Church history because they wanted members to remain in a religion the leaders knew was false.

    Rather, Church leaders deceived members about Church history because they wanted members to remain in a religion the leaders strongly believed was true.

    I agree completely with this position.

    But the bottom line is that regardless of the motives, Church leaders did intentionally deceive the membership.

    And you need look no further than your quote from Elder Boyd K. Packer to prove the case.

    Regardless of our divergent views on this issue, I appreciate your taking the time to craft a rejoinder to my position.

    I agree with you that whether the Church actively deceived its members is a crucial issue on the minds of many Latter-day Saints.

  37. I’d like to add a couple of positive comments, since the above includes many half-truths that are misleading.

    First, I haven’t seen evidence to convince me that the Book of Mormon is anything other than what it claims to be–a second witness for Jesus Christ. And as such, proves to me that Joseph Smith, with his human failings, is indeed a prophet.

    Second, to clear up incorrect information about payments to General Authorities, Here is a quote from Wikipedia:
    “A modest living stipend”
    Some members of the Church are unaware that at least some General Authorities do receive a modest living stipend. While it is true that some Church leaders receive a living allowance while they serve in a given position, it cannot be said that the Church has a professional ministry in the traditional sense.

    A call to serve as a General Authority usually comes later in life, and none of these men has depended upon their Church service for their “career” or “income.” Given the high caliber accomplishments of those called to full-time service, it is reasonable to expect that they could make a lot more money (with less trouble) in some other field of endeavor.

    The fact that this stipend exists has not been hidden. As President Hinckley noted in General Conference:
    “Merchandising interests are an outgrowth of the cooperative movement which existed among our people in pioneer times. The Church has maintained certain real estate holdings, particularly those contiguous to Temple Square, to help preserve the beauty and the integrity of the core of the city. All of these commercial properties are tax-paying entities.

    I repeat, the combined income from all of these business interests is relatively small and would not keep the work going for longer than a very brief period.

    I should like to add, parenthetically for your information, that the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from this business income and not from the tithing of the people.[1]”

  38. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for your essay. You make several valid observations that deserve serious consideration.

    Where I feel your essay fails (and I do mean *fails*) is in three words that you repeat twice in the second-to-last paragraph:

    “It’s a shame”

    “It’s a shame” when you get to the grocery store and you’ve forgotten you credit card. “It’s a shame” when you’ve not added the proper number of eggs to your cake recipe. “It’s a shame” when you arrive a half hour late to the parent-teacher conference and the teacher has already left.

    As someone who was excommunicated for editing and contributing to _New Approaches to the Book of Mormon_ in the aftermath of the so-called “September Six” and watched families torn apart over issues that the LDS church would never excommunicate someone for today, “It’s a shame” fails on every level to capture what many of us experienced firsthand.

    You’re my friend, Brian, I trust that you won’t find my candor offensive.

    My best,


  39. History is an enigma. It is messy because the contemporaries who experienced it and wrote it are writing from their perspective and understanding of the event. I know as I have written in my journal I don’t record everything, or when I tell of an experience I have had, it differs each time I tell it. The core of the story is the same but the details differ. Why? It depends on my audience. Are they close friends or strangers. Do they know the people mentioned or are they unfamiliar with the people, time or place. Am I lying because I don’t tell the whole, complete story every time? How I tell a story to my children about their grandparents will be different from when they were eight, to when they are 15, to when they are 25. It is dependant on the audience and their level of understanding. Giving too much information to a young mind may not be wise. They also might not be interested at that stage. So it is the same with church history. The telling of the story will be different from when I am a new member, to a member of 5 years, or 25 years. I would be disinterested in learning as a 15 year old the detailed history of George Washington, but at 15 I was interested in the general history of the American Revolution and Washington’s role in it. When I reached my 50’s I learned more detail about George Washington, including his personal weaknesses. But I lost no respect for him for I noticed that he grew and developed in his moral character over time. Not perfect, but worthy of admiration. In a similar way, Joseph Smith had his weaknesses, and the Lord chastised him for them, but he grew and matured by his experiences. Did the early versions of Washington’s history mean it was a lie? No, they were written for a 15 year old, not a history scholar. Is the so called “heritage” version of LDS history a lie? No. they are written for the new LDS member and a 40 minute SS Class. Not a LDS History class at a university.

    I don’t think the Church deliberately tried to hide anything. It just needed to go through its archives carefully using the best historical research methodology then available.
    To identify inconsistencies, and this is what BH Roberts tried to do, that is determine in his research and view, as the church historian, the most feasible. Joseph Fielding Smith was more concerned about a SS Course than a academic volume, but he did not hide the Mountain Meadows Massacre in his essential history. Modern Historians from1970 onwards have access to more material and refined their research methodology to give a more detailed history. Is a detailed history good for those who are not learned historians? My belief is that I must first understand history is an enigma. Otherwise, I will get confused. I must accept history for what it is. Is the historicity of the Gospels true? Are the testimonies of the Apostles true? Did they witness the resurrection of Jesus?
    Can I get the answer to these questions by reading the historian Josephus or by studying and praying the New testament?
    My testimony was gained by reading and praying about the Book of Mormon, not the Joseph Fielding Smith’s Essentials in Church History.
    Oh, by the way. I recall the seer stone being mentioned in a children’s Friend magazine in the 1970’s I think. Not I think a point in church history hidden away from us! And missionaries saying that Joseph Translated the Book Of Mormon by the Urim and Thuminim. Also, in many of the headings of the D&C it says Joseph received the revelation by a seer stone. That’s all I needed to know at the time as teenager. Now that I know more, am I concerned? No. In fact, I find it both interesting and amazing. After all, the book of Revelation says that all those who enter the celestial city will receive a white stone. Should it a chocolate stone? Who cares? As long as it works.

  40. I am aware of the imperfections, mistakes, and yes, sins, of Joseph Smith and others in Church history. You all know prophets are people, right? And that people make mistakes and bad judgment calls on a daily basis, right? I have not seen God or Jesus myself, but my belief in them because of many experiences I have had is strong, to the point that it motivates me to try to keep the commandments. I say try because while I make an honest effort daily I also screw up on a daily basis despite my sincere belief. The spirit truly is willing and the body trully is weak. I truly don’t think that seeing Jesus would make my imperfections and weaknesses magically go away. Prophets and apostles of old were clearly imperfect and made mistakes, the Bible is filled with examples of this. But yet when it comes to modern day prophets, heaven forbid if they have weaknesses or make mistakes or sin in their lives. After all, if they had seen God surely they would never do things that grieve the Lord, right? Really? Is that really your expectation? If so, no wonder you are disaffected. The truth shall set you free. Take your concerns to God instead of relying on views of people who cannot remember or recognize ever having felt the Spirit of God.

  41. The word lie may be too strong but certainly it’s pretty clear the church has continually made decisions to withhold information/alternative narratives and portray things in faith promoting ways. They chose heritage over history….true. That pattern is pretty clear and it’s being changed by the internet forcing their hand. Something doesn’t sit well about that.

    Sure we we can speculate about what their intentions were and why they made these decisions. Was it intentional deception? Was it unintentional deception? The reality is numerous people have been involved over the years in deciding what the official narratives would be and what would be included in our church curriculum. Their decisions were to withhold/alter/omitt information and alternative narratives. Whether to protect the member from confusion, angst, doubts or what……they made the decision to include/exclude stuff. Members made serious decisions based on those narratives and they trusted and believed they were getting complete accurate church history. That’s creating a mess and rightly so. In my opnion they chose preservation of the organization/reputations/family names over honesty and transparency. Not only that but they haven’t admitted that they chose heritage over accurate history! They haven’t apologized for the many people that they disciplined that were trying to discuss and provide accurate history. That’snot OK.

    They haven’t and still aren’t modeling complete honesty or the steps they teach for forgiveness/reptenance when you’ve made mistakes. And mistakes certainly were made and continue to be made as much of this still isn’t in official correlated material and difficult for the average worlwide member to find.

    I appreciate your additional edits you made to this article Brian after the first reading and responses. However, I think the title is still click bait and detracts from your good historical information and I think benovolent ommissions/deceptions are still what they are….ommissions/deceptions.

  42. Lol. Such fancy words to cover up such obvious motives. Fine work for the supposed “One true church of Jesus Christ”. The Mormon Jesus is a suddenly spin-doctor very crafty and lawyerly in his speech. Anyone who can write this stuff with a straight face is a full on 100% raging psychopath desperate to cling to their status quo. You should work for a politician.

  43. The interesting question now is what to do with the huge disparities between the theological version of Mormon history and the scholarly version. Darren Harrop’s anger is not an insignificant thing. There are many, many LDS people who feel this way. What can one do with this? For the individual, the question is one of continued affiliation or not. For the LDS Church, the question is of a rather different order of magnitude.

    Are the leaders of the LDS Church not culpable if they continue to proselyte using a version of history that is unsupportable? Are the leaders of the LDS Church not culpable if they teach a factually unfounded version of history and use it to cultivate the members’ attachment to the Church and obedience to leaders’ authority? At what point does it become important to leaders to find a way of addressing these problems that isn’t simply damage control? At what point does the question of history become serious enough that real intellectual and spiritual effort is expended in addressing these problems?

    At the root of this issue is the connection between historical claims and authority. Greater numbers of people now understand, at some level, that the power to demand big things of the members currently rests on factually dubious claims. It is one thing to say that Jesus will save you in heaven someday. It is quite something else to say that because Joseph Smith miraculously translated gold plates from Reformed Egyptian and received the priesthood from resurrected prophets and apostles, one must be strictly obedient to the authority of 21st century Mormon leaders or fail to gain exaltation in God’s Kingdom.

    Do people pay 10% on their gross income to follow strictly the leader of a splinter group that emerged after the death of a man who wrote an inspiring work of pseudo-Biblical historical fiction and founded a church on the erroneous claim that he had translated a real ancient text from an actual lost Hebraic civilization in the Americas? Is one to believe that obedience really is the first law of heaven if the fellow who told you so was spinning tall tales featuring himself as the hero?

    This is where the rubber meets the road. The question really isn’t one of the existence of different kinds of history so much as it is the trading on an inaccurate narrative to wield authority over people’s lives. Such authority has been used to meddle in people’s personal sexual identities and behaviors. Such authority has been used in the political fight against the civil rights of women and gays.

    I have always loved Morton Dacosta’ classic cinematic musical, The Music Man. The endearing fiction of a con-man, Harold Hill, whose basic goodness got the better of him, and the community that ultimately benefited from what started out as Hill’s scam. Without calling Joseph Smith a Harold Hill character, although the comparison is an attractive one, I would say that I sometimes think of Church teachings as that imaginary idealized boy’s band. Sure, it may be the case that a lot of what one hears at Church is ultimately hokum, but if it encourages people to do good, then it seems like it is, in the balance, a good institution.

    But the analogy falls apart in the difference of degrees. A boy’s band is a salutary shot in the arm, in the form of a healthy and educational pastime, to a dull community. Mormonism presents itself as the answer to everything, and openly teaches that all is demanded from individuals and groups who hope to achieve its greatest benefits. This is the bargain that the LDS Church strikes with its members, and it is an oppressive one.

    Why? Because the Church can never deliver on its promise and does not feel bound to do so anyway. The Church can ask everything, give nothing in return, and still call it a fair deal. The reason it can is because it trades on a mythical version of its own history whose arc is written to convince people that Zion was so very close when evil men like William Law and the Illinois and Missouri mobs took it all away. Members are groomed to expect that God will fulfill the deal in a second act that the Church itself has no power over.

    So members keep pumping in the time and effort, believing firmly in the myths they have been told, waiting with baited breath for the return of Jesus around the corner, the gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman, and the fulfillment of all the promises to the saints. Would they do so if they were aware of Joseph Smith in the light of all of the facts? Would they commit to following their leaders with strict obedience if they had a more realistic perspective on Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and their successors? Would they do so if they understood that the Book of Mormon is not the narrative of an actual ancient civilization in the Americas?

    If there really is a relationship between the miraculous historical claims and the authority of the leaders, then a more realistic understanding of the past will necessarily lead to a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement. I don’t say all of this to criticize the LDS Church or challenge its leaders. This is an observation. At some level, the apologetic enterprise, including this nice OP, is about sustaining the status quo. It is about talking around the problem in order not to face it head on. The discussion of sustainable solutions to these problems has yet to begin.

    Here is another thought. By cultivating and sustaining a culture of strict obedience to authority, the leadership of the LDS Church has placed itself in a position of responsibility and obligation. One cannot say, “do as I say,” and then tell the members to tough it out or come up with their own solutions. Since members’ solutions have repeatedly been passively attacked through the excommunication process, members get the message that they are not partners in coming up with answers, be that individually or, worse yet, in groups.

    The hard facts are that our consumer culture invites people to choose other options if they are chronically dissatisfied with anything. There are other options if people believe there are other options. All the Church can hope is that people don’t start to believe there are, unless the leaders take up their obligation to come up with real solutions, or empower the members to do so. In my opinion, the only viable way out is the latter–to empower the members and accept the consequences, good and bad, of doing so.

  44. Former general authority Hans Mattson and his wife have a slightly different opinion which I found interesting. Like many of us in this thread, they could not reconcile true history and continue to believe, apparent deception played a role in their exit.

    The Mattsons get the sense that the church hierarchy has given up on the current generation. The essays on LDS.org are the first step in damage control; they are posturing for retaining the rising generation.

  45. O for Petes sake, the comments here are ludicrous. The point of the article is that personal beliefs shape the telling of the story. The author clearly states what the outlook and goals of subsequent church historians were. Every history written reflects the bias of the historian. Simply read an American history text from the 50s vs one written today. Did the events change? No. The authors did. To accuse the church of lying is juvenile in the extreme. Hell, haven’t you ever seen Rashumon?

  46. Simply put, the non-professional historians won the narrative contest.

    Which is why it’s a tragedy that Lindsay Hanson Park, someone with no training and no intellectual grounding, is helping to set the agenda for Mormon studies. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, and the fact that her nonsense is part of what Brian uses to help justify his nonsense is just further proof that their approach will dumb things down rather than smarten them up.

  47. The irony of the late President Packer’s unfortunate “Mantle” address, is that he could have said something far simpler, and it would have been perfectly honorable:

    “Look, guys. You’re CES instructors. We’re paying you to teach Church history as a devotional exercise, not an academic one. If you aren’t doing what we’re paying you for, you’re robbing us. Now go do your jobs, dagnabbit.”

    I was particularly troubled by the analogy to a business merger transaction, where President Packer seemed to think it’s proper to conceal relevant information from the prospective purchaser. There are people in jail for doing that.

  48. “Simply read an American history text from the 50s vs one written today. Did the events change? No. The authors did. To accuse the church of lying is juvenile in the extreme.”

    I have no problem accusing Howard Zinn of lying in his writing of “history.”

  49. @Scott Ballard: If you think that the credibility problems of the LDS Church are not a problem for the Church that must be dealt with by the Church, then you are fooling yourself.

  50. When I read Isaiah or Revelation I really buy into the Marriage imagery used in those books.

    There’s one spouse (the Lord) who’s totally committed to the relationship and the other spouse (the Church, its leaders, and us its members) who’s not even close. And yet, the Groom loves His Bride anyway, warts and all.

    If we wait for a group of flawless men and women who will collectively ensure that no misinformation disseminates to the Church before we decide to swallow our pride and actively participate in God’s Kingdom, we will wait till we die and may someday lift our eyes in sub-Celestial realms to forever ponder our foolishness.

    I trust that Priesthood Authority has been restored to Earth, albeit to imperfect vessels. I don’t care if our historians got it wrong, maybe even horribly wrong, my eternal salvation doesn’t hinge upon the precision of historical records for which I wasn’t responsible. Let God be their Judge.

  51. The accidental whitewashed history narrative works until you consider what happened to historians who wrote accurate historical accounts. Fawn Browdie, Juanita Brooks, Todd Compton, and Michael Quinn have all felt the pressure that comes from writing accurate history. Church leadership took punitive steps against the authors and actively sought to suppress their writings.

    After Linda King Newell & Valeen Tippetts Avery published Mormon Enigma a letter was sent from church headquarters banning them from speaking to any church group. Dallin Oaks said:

    “My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS church, namely the authority of priesthood, testimony regarding the restoration of the gospel, and the divine mission of the Savior. Everything may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts. Thus, if Mormon Enigma reveals information that is detrimental to the reputation of Joseph Smith, then it is necessary to try to limit its influence and that of its authors.”

    So it’s not just gently teaching faithful history, it is also aggressively suppressing accurate history and attacking the authors.

  52. Elder Boyd K. Packer publicly stated he was aware of problems in Church history, but specifically directed all Church teachers to hide the problems and not teach about them, at the peril of their eternal salvation.

    This was over thirty-years ago.

    Instead, he counseled Church teachers to portray a one-sided, white-washed version on the grounds that to do less would not be “faith promoting.”

    Sounds like deception to me.

    Not to mention a conspiracy to hide the truth.

  53. Interesting retelling of how the church’s errors in their retelling can be understood against a background of personalities and times. An institution has a right to tell their story in their way. But if there is a lack of candor, then the institution must face the reality that their lack of candor will have consequences.

    Faith is best preserved through truth. Unvarnished truth gives us a Redeemer who descended from a murderous, adulterous King David who, after being confronted by the prophet Nathan wrote many Psalms in the despair and agony of his soul while seeking repentance.

    It isn’t necessary to praise David. He went from being “a man after the Lord’s own heart” to a man who “has fallen from his exaltation.” And we are ALL the better for the telling of his tale.

    When Parley Pratt is made into Superman in LDS tradition, but then is later revealed to be another adulterer condemned to a deserved slaying by a jealous husband (even in Brigham Young’s view), the institution cannot expect there to be no reaction.

    Today’s LDS pretenses likewise benefit no one. Businessmen and lawyers who know practically nothing about doctrine, history, scriptures or Christ should account for their ignorance by something other than pretensions and posturing. Faithful Mormons would never walk away if the truth were told forthrightly. In some respects it may well attract more people to the religion and keep some who are dismayed at the contrast between claims of godliness by men who hardly even have a testimony of the restoration and the empty sermons they deliver.

    The truth is vigorous, daunting, fearsome and wonderful. It draws us in. It inspires us. It humbles us. It is worthwhile in its own right. Confession does a soul good; but it does an institution even better.

  54. I joined the church at age 17, and proceeded to serve a voluntary mission at age 19, to France and Switzerland. Over the years, my test of faith has come largely from the words and actions of fellow church members. “The Gospel is perfect, the people are not” is the common rejoinder in the church. I’ll use a personal incident as an analogy which may help those who are wrestling with their faith.

    In my university years, I once wrote an essay on Abortion as part of an assignment in my Moral Philosophy course. It was an unapologetic, Pro-Life treatment which I remember proudly sharing with my parents, who were then in their early fifties. Years passed.

    My dear mother, the woman I had revered my entire life, left us eventually, succumbing to diabetes. I learned from my father, in one of those heart-to-heart conversations only a father and son can have, that prior to my birth my dear mother had two abortions. The woman I admired, the woman who had nursed me, bathed me, clothed me, nurtured me spiritually even in my adult years, had committed what I considered the unimaginable, and here I was learning about it for the first time in my senior years. You can imagine my disbelief, disillusionment and sadness.

    My involvement in the church over the years, just as my relationship with my mother, has produced many fruits, both spiritual and temporal. How many miracles have I witnessed through the years, especially on my mission as a new convert? Quite a few. How many profound, pivotal spiritual experiences I’ve had in the Temples, in church meetings, in my day to day life? Too many. How many people have commented to me that they had felt the Spirit of God touch their heart during a lesson I taught, or a testimony I bore? Countless. How many acts of kindness have resulted from the impact we’ve had on one another? How many miracles of healing have I witnessed as a result of a Priesthood blessing? How many people’s countenances have I seen changed as a result of them adhering to Gospel truths? It’s a big number.

    Am I saddened to hear there are blotches in our church’s history? Of course. No more no less than learning that my mother had two abortions.

    Had I been alive in 40 A.D. and investigating the original church of Jesus Christ would I have cringed and walked away after learning that Jesus had selected Judas Iscariot, a traitor, as one of his apostles? The Messiah, himself, erring in judgment, not foreseeing his own demise? Would I have questioned the wisdom of appointing Saul of Tarsus, a fanatical persecutor of Christians, to the church hierarchy. Would I have turned by back on the church? Would Peter’s shortsightedness of preaching the Gospel only to the Jews and not to the Gentiles, and then his flip-flop have tested my faith and made me walk away?

    The church has blotches in its history, but compared to what? Compared to my former faith, the Roman Catholic Church?

    Do I feel I’ve been shortchanged by the fact that Joseph Smith had numerous wives, or by historical discrepancies in the Book of Mormon? All things will eventually be brought to light.

    My life events are what anchor me. And, as remotely unlikely this notion is, if I was to leave the church where would I go? What other Christian denomination believes in a pre-mortal life, a chance to progress and be exalted?

    I still revere my mother, perhaps now with a deeper understanding of her complex soul. And, I still affirm my commitment to the Gospel and the Church. Had my father told me about mom’s abortions when I had just finished writing my essay on Abortion, perhaps it would have crushed me infinitely more. I am glad he waited.

  55. What a bunch of interesting comments. They have apparently stirred my own thoughts. Thanks, Brian, for attempting to help clarify the two set of perspectives about Mormonism you lay out. Some respondents seem to simply be the haters who for various reasons think the Church betrayed them, and having seen acquaintances go that route, I feel for them. Others have offered useful perspectives that suggest we need to take things in stride. My sense is that many people expect way too much from the church and its leaders. As an organizational behavior professor doing research on firms and teaching managers, customers, CEOs and union members, I’ve seen lots of corporate craziness. In my decades of work with nonprofits and other churches, I’ve seen even more. But I never found it useful to assume any of them could spell out all the facts, satisfy all my needs, address all my expectations, etc. Not a single one has been perfect, or run by flawless officials. I see them all as human beings. Some try to be as open and honest as they can be, but they aren’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination. There is a range of problems in such ventures. Volkswagen deceived us with its emissions technology. Dupont’s chemicals led to cancer. Ben and Jerry’s make us fat. Some Boy Scout leaders and Catholic priests hurt young kids. That’s part of life, part of the real world.
    I seek to learn as much as I can before investing in or joining with various groups and causes. But I don’t expect such organizations or their leaders to tell it all, to be fully transparent to everyone. It’s just not realistic. Their customers or members are all different, have a mix of thinking skills and competencies, so even the best have to manage relevant information somehow. History itself is too complex to settle all truths. I’m glad I didn’t see everything in Mormon history as a kid that has come to light over the years. I certainly wasn’t ready for some things I know now. But I grew in understanding, line upon line, over the decades. Now I try to embrace all things that are good for my soul.
    Growing up in SLC and now Provo where I have had numerous interactions with the Brethren throughout my lifetime has only strengthened my convictions. I have been lucky to be able to see things up close and personal, as they say. While I’ve occasionally been troubled by what someone may have said, by and large I’ve been able overlook human frailties and to appreciate their love for the saints and the Lord. None has ever claimed they’ve got their act fully together.
    I for one am glad that my understanding of church history was not produced by individuals who wrote many of the comments here. I’ll take the official record over those with many axes to grind above. Some may have simply had a gut reaction to Brian’s perspective. But others merely are prisoners of their own biases, so I’ll take what’s in the church history department, church media, and so forth. Yes, I always have a critical eye because I want to think for myself. But at least I seek to be humble rather than arrogantly think I have a corner on the facts, or that I’m the source of all truth and light.
    Among my many highly educated friends over many years, I’ve seen a few fall away, unfortunately. But most studies have shown that the brighter and more educated Mormons are, the greater is their activity and support of the church. I’ve been glad that some of those who ventured out and joined other faiths, became agnostics, atheists, etc., later returned to the fold. They discovered the alternatives weren’t so good after all. When we overlay the church’s work with the incredible complex of LDS members’ education, ages, gender, diversity, and international cultures, I’m always amazed that the kingdom grows at all.
    For me, it has been a lifetime of scripture and church history study, and yes, prayer, fasting, meditation, and ongoing devotion at the temple that have been my sources of strength and clarity. Along with getting a Ph.D., I’ve sought to explore all knowledge, the good and at times, the bad. Memorizing thousands of scriptures, teaching seminary and institute, serving in many leadership callings, practicing faith, hope and charity have kept my testimony burning. Trying to live the Law of Consecration and Stewardship for many decades has accelerated and deepened my love for the Savior, His gospel, and His church. For readers who have left the church, I hope your pursuits are fulfilling. I wish you well. For those who struggle, may your quest continue to greater understanding.

  56. I am pretty shocked by the posts of Paul Adams and Professor Woodworth. People reveal the most amazing and unflattering things about themselves. Doubtless I am at fault there too. Once again Denver Snuffer appears to be the only believer on the scene who makes much sense. That’s probably because he isn’t busy giving authorities a pass or congratulating himself.

  57. History of the church was hardly written by unbiased “ghost writers” Sidney rigdon and Olivery cowdery were businessmen who capitalized on Joseph’s personality and charm, Joseph’s presidential campaign was proof that he was a natural born politician and fed off of popularity. Going with what others have said, at 8 years of age if I would have known what i do now, I would have not joined and for that, I feel like I have been lied to!

  58. A true statement is one which corresponds to the facts. There’s no question that the Church has failed this basic test in every way when it comes to teaching its history. I’ve come to believe very deeply, during this process of learning the real history of the Church, that for something to be true it must also be truthful.

  59. A simple test if they or in line with true intent would be simply to get them to change the point of view and point out that they were wrong you’ll find you are going to be struck with great resistance they just didn’t accidentally make up a lie they did it with purpose and there I’m not about to apologize admit they made a mistake and from that defensive Stan and justification you shall know the fruits produced from the seeds of their lying tongues

  60. The analogies with Volkswagen and Dupont fall apart when one understands that neither claims to be the one true auto or chemical manufacturer, guided by God and being essential to salvation. But if we view dupont, vw, and the lds church all as greedy corporate entities, interested in little beyond insuring an income stream, then it is apt.

  61. So, the church doesn’t lie, but did not get around to pulishing essays about the B of A, polygamy etc., unitl 2014? They published this stuff because they were finally backed into a corner, and had to admit the lies.

    They won’t provide info on finances to members that pay 10% of their income?

    They won’t modify teaching manuals to include the things they put in their own essays?

    They preach “the internet is evil” in general conference?

    List of lies goes on and on and on.

  62. Well, Gary, I really hit a raw nerve, didn’t I?

    I recognize that people are legitimately frustrated with my suggestion that “we’ve been lied to” is an oversimplification that maybe we should stop saying. I’m not suggesting that people should just believe the shoddy history that has been produced, I’m only suggesting that the shoddy history may not have been produced with malicious intent to deceive the membership–but rather from a shortsighted preference for a “heritage” approach to history over an academic approach. As a historian yourself, you understand historiographical trends and how easily bad history can be produced, even by people with overall good intentions. History has always been manipulated to serve political ends. I’m not saying we should excuse that, but rather recognize it for what it is and move on—cheering when better history is produced and calling the church out when shoddy history is produced. But it’s a misnomer to say that the “facts speak for themselves.” In most cases, the “facts” of history require interpretation. How we interpret them, what lens we look through, is very much a product of what our interests and priorities are the at present. We assume that what is important to us now must have been equally as important to people fifty, one hundred, two hundred years ago. We will never be “done” with History, because we will always find a new interpretive lens to apply on the past and arrive at different conclusions about it. I’m suggesting that the bulk of church leaders for the past half century believed in the overly-simplified narrative that they promoted, and quickly cast aside anything that challenged that narrative without serious examination. Packer’s statements to CES were not, I argue, the remarks of a man well-versed in the history, but rather of willful ignorance. And that is the mess we are in: the result of a “consensus” narrative, willful ignorance, stubbornness in many cases, fear in some cases, and a bias against history that they felt threatened the spiritual aspects of our heritage. I’m arguing that it serves us very little to stand around pointing our fingers, calling out “LIARS!” We would be better served with a modicum of charity; a recognition that the leaders of the church are products of their generation, upbringing, and surroundings, as much as anyone else; and easing up on the “us vs. them” mentality.

    Could I have framed it differently? Or chosen a less “clickbait” title? Sure. Guilty as charged. And I apologize to anyone that I offended through carelessness (ironic, since that’s what my post is about). One of my favorite comments that I think really summarizes why I wrote this is:

    I actually think understanding how and why we got here allows us to approach where we’re at as a church body with more grace, learn from it and move forward in ways to prevent this from replaying in future generations. I think it’s far more valuable than simply assigning blame.

  63. I’ll sum up:

    1. Haters are going to hate.

    2. Consider the motivations of the Authors both in the Church and out, both now and then.

    3. No history is unbiased. (Its not possible as long as its written by a human.)

    4. There is a reason its called “he said, she said.”

    5. Might makes right, because the winners write the history books. Those who lost the war never get to write the histories.

    6. It reminds me of the joke about the difference between Catholics and Mormons…. “The difference between Catholics and Mormon is that Catholic doctrine teaches the Pope is perfect and infallible, but no Catholic really believes that. Mormon doctrine teaches that its leaders are just people and fallible prone to mistake and error, but No Mormon really believes that…”

    I appreciate the increased transparency of the current leaders. Am I shocked or surprised that Elder Packard not only had a biased view but also advocated a biased view? No. Neither should you.

  64. Yes, Boston Cougar, haters are going to hate . . .

    . . . and deniers are going to deny.

  65. I agree with Brian that the facts “cannot speak for themselves.”

    The question, however, is how are the facts to speak at all when they are systematically suppressed and the publishers thereof excommunicated?

  66. Andrew in comment #5 above hits the nail on the head. The only thing I could add to his narrative is the sweet irony that “Gospel Principles” is also a Joseph Fielding Smith volume. It’s been tweaked from time to time, but he came up with it.

    As for my own thoughts, I firmly believe that if the church had been 100% truthful and forthright from the beginning, this wouldn’t be an issue at all. For instance, growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I always knew about Brigham Young’s polygamy. We all knew it. It was just accepted, no big deal. So why the need to hide Joseph Smith’s polygamy? Even as recently as the last five years or so, before the essays, the church was portraying Joseph and Emma’s marriage as a model situation, when it was anything but. There was ample evidence to the contrary. But they still portrayed it as such. Similar are all the paintings commissioned of the BoM translation process, all showing Joseph studiously poring over the plates, inkwell, plume and a few sheets of paper at the ready, with nary a peepstone in sight. Again, the church knew about the peepstone, but withheld it from the narrative.

    Bottom line – If all these things had been honestly and openly acknowledged and taught from the beginning, I would probably still be a member. I’m sorry Brian, but your plea doesn’t work for me. I was lied to. I’m not willing to “give Brother Joseph a break”.

  67. Trevor, revealing the most unflattering parts about ourselves is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a peek at our grimy past, which the Atonement has wiped clean and in the process produced a heart in us that has no desire to do evil, champions the transformative power of Jesus Christ. After all, at the end of the day inner self-improvement, despite what life tosses at us, should be everyone’s aim.

    On the other hand, such transparency can be ammunition for our detractors who are experts at viewing us at our possible worst, only to reminds us even after we are laid to rest, what small human beings we have been on their evolutionary scale. We all judge each other, but detractors are motivated by more than digging in our murky past. They take it a step further in order to discredit the organizations we belong to. They take great pleasure in mocking. Does this remind you of anything?

    Again, the question: would we have joined the Lord’s church in 40 A.D. in view of the divisive issues I alluded to above?

    Perhaps it boils down to spiritual maturity. Perhaps if we looked at each other the way God sees us, as children on a learning curve, prone to make mistakes (with catastrophic consequences at times), perhaps we would then have fewer detractors coming out of the woodwork.

    Perhaps the church is entering a filtering stage, where those who look for perfection in church leaders are sifted from those who can accept imperfection and transformation.

    I could cite many of my deficiencies, past and current. Let me reassure you, they exist. On the whole, I am happy with the changes I’ve seen over the years. That’s my key metric.

  68. When I was a little kid, I learned the Ten Commandments in Presbyterian Sunday school. I thought hard about *why* those rules were chosen. I decided those rules–sometimes unpleasant or difficult to follow–made for a stronger society. When I grew up and got married, I learned that telling my wife the unvarnished truth, no matter how unpleasant or difficult, always works out for the best. Truth is right because it gives the best outcome, not because Moses put it on the list. LDS apostles must tell the truth, historians must tell the truth, devoted members must tell the truth, and missionaries must tell the truth to potential converts. Period.

  69. Brian, just a quick comment on your reply to Gary.

    Boyd Packer didn’t merely engage in willful ignorance. I know this secondhand through a fairly reliable source—Tom Monson. He and I met for an hour or so in November 1983 to discuss my forced resignation from LDS church security (which happened in April 1983 as a result of a few apologetic articles I had written for _The Seventh East Press_). He explained that he favored a more direct approach to Mormon history and gave a specific example.

    When Dean Jessee edited _My Dear Son: Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons_, he had to have it approved by the Q15. In a Q15 meeting Packer objected to the publication of a letter that acknowledged tobacco usage by Brigham and one of his sons, saying that the letter had no place in the volume and needed to be removed. Tom Monson and a few others disagreed and said the letters are what they are and that they either be published as is or not at all. The Q15 approved the volume for publication despite Packer’s *fully informed* objection. (Dean subsequently confirmed these details to me.)

    Bottom line: We need to stop making excuses for the past misbehavior of adults in power if we really want to move on.

  70. Brent Metcalfe:

    I think your account of Elder Mark E. Petersen telling you the members must never find out that Brigham Young taught the Adam-God Theory would fall under this same category.

    P.S. Your interview with John Dehlin is one of my favorite Mormon Stories podcasts.

  71. Quoting a sockpuppet denizen of the web:

    “Whitney’s problem is that the Corporation of the President touts itself as the lord’s church, the vehicle at which god’s oracles stand at the head, that it dispenses “truth”. Don’t recall GM, IBM or even Enron having set its own standard every so high. So, it is by the Corporation of the President’s own standard that it should be evaluated.

    Next problem for Whitney is the Corporation of the President’s historical narrative is not merely the product of sloppy history. If that were the case, that narrative would not be just the dreamy, mythical, all positive version of JSJr. That is the result of a selection process, and deliberate effort to leave out (and thus hide) the unsavory facts and the mundane ones that might lead to it. No, this was a carefully, deliberately crafted fairy tale.

    Third, Correlation is only about the last 50 years of the 185 year history, and much of the “cleansing” of the narrative has occurred during this time. In these 50 years, too, is when the sensen papyrus was found, the KEP was uncovered despite it being tucked away neatly, historian Arrington being replaced with fantasy writers as church historians, the Hoffman forgery debacle, that the black ban from the priesthood went from being a declared in no uncertain terms as a “direct commandment from the Lord” and “doctrine” to being inexplicable policies of men, and even the brown seer stone revealed. All that has come tumbling out, and had to be covered up or were the cover up steps taken since Thomas S. Monson has been one of the FP/12. The current clowns own this, they’ve had just as much a hand in it as their predecessors–and one of them, Anderson, is calling this month that it is time to “give Joseph a break.”

    Whitney’s got this ass backwards. The currently leaders, who live in this information/internet age, themselves know that the manuals etc still being shipped from the COB is a misleading lie. They could stop it, but at best hide short essays in a far corner of lds.org, essays that only admit a bit of what is commonly known BY THE FP/12. For example, what was in the 55 page essay on Race and the Priesthood that got pared out when they dumbed it down to just a handful of pages. The deception continues, by the current FP/12. They continue to crank out the propaganda. They are liars.”

  72. So, either the the leadership doesn’t believe the narrative that they are promoting, but are doing it to intentionally decieve the membership; or they do believe the narrative they are promoting and are willfully ignorant, caught up in a heritage-based spin. You believe the former, clearly. I believe the latter, clearly.

  73. I still see Packer’s attitude as willful ignorance, emphasis on “willful,” as opposed to involuntary ignorance. To me, it’s a perfect example of chosing heritage over history. Was his motive to be deceptive? Or was it to defend the narrative that he has bought into largely because he has not committed himself to serious investigation?

  74. I wonder how early critics and opponents of the church would fare if we looked at their actions and deeds using a Heritage over History dichotomy.

    Maybe the third host of heaven would still be around if Satan had merely labeled his plan “Heritage is more important than History”.

    The bottom line is LDS leadership has taken away member’s ability to decide for themselves what this information actually means.

  75. When Gordon B Hinkley goes on a nationally broadcasted program and says that “[he] doesn’t know that we teach that”, in regards to “as god is man may become…”, I will side with lying.

  76. In the late 1970s my family and another family started a bookstore catering to the Latter-day Saint market in Anchorage, Alaska. I spent many hours working there as a teenager and became widely familiar with the books and other products of Bookcraft, Deseret Book, and other companies, as well as neighbors in my community who had a significant distaste for Latter-day Saints and were eager to fill me in on their views of Latter-day Saint history and doctrine. (Corbin, I don’t know about your report regarding Mark E. Petersen, but I heard the Adam-God theory openly discussed in the bookstore).

    During this season, at about 15 years of age, I listened to my family’s Paul Dunn tapes. At one point I became dismayed because some of his details didn’t seem to match up and thereby I questioned the whole. I was pained but at length I rolled my eyes and continued my mortal journey toward the Tree of Life, my experiences with the Book of Mormon and the Spirit trumped my doubts. Years later problems with Elder Dunn’s stories became newsworthy and I was surprised and amused that what I’d discovered in my mid-teens was only then being “discovered”.

    At about 17 years of age I started reading general history out of love for it. The first book I chose to read was After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection, which reflected my initial recognition that history was complex and tools and interpretation were important. I came to esteem my Sunday School and seminary lessons as first steps rather than conclusive statements.

    In the mid-1980s, while serving as a full-time missionary in the Netherlands and Belgium, my final companion and I discussed same-sex eros and we couldn’t reach accord. With sweetness and great respect for each other we tabled the discussion until our final dinner with our mission president (we were in the same departing group). I posed our discord and two questions about church history. Our mission president was open and knowledgable and discussed the matters with our departing group of missionaries—-we didn’t turn over every stone, in total he probably spoke less than ten minutes, but his responses inspired confidence that when seasons came for me to search deeply I would find people, or books, with answers. I’ve never expected my bishop or stake president or any other leader to be a historical, medical, or even doctrinal expert or to have the time available to help me locate answers to any given question, some of which have taken years, decades of seeking to formulate and find. When I teach classes or fill leadership callings I hope that others extended grace to my shortfalls of knowledge.

    If not here, where shall I go? Is there a God? Was Jesus of Nazareth divine? The most convincing and tangible answers came to me through the Book of Mormon, and thereby I was invited to offer my whole soul as an offering to God and receive the Holy Ghost, and thereby I was introduced to beautiful, tangible, and significant revelatory experiences which are often initially uncomfortable, troublesome, or wounding, or would seem destined to be so, to my self-interest and life instinct. The invitations remain for each of us!

    “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” And blessed are the unpresumptuous for they shall persevere!

    Grace to all!

  77. Moroni f. Kimball,

    There is space sufficient for you to report the full questions and answers posed to President Hinckley on this topic. I will side with President Hinckley!

  78. Brian #79,

    I hope you see the irony in defending the leadership against charges of lying by suggesting that they are willfully ignorant.

    Over the years that I have been observing and later been involved in the apologist/critic dialog, many of the critics have been attacked by the apologists for their ignorance of the messy parts of LDS history – regardless of whether the ignorance was willful or not. These attacks still go on, with apologists claiming that the critics would not be critical if they only educated themselves on the issues.

    Regardless, I don’t see how ignorance is any excuse whatsoever for church leaders. After all, don’t leaders of an organization (especially God’s one true organization) have a duty to inform themselves? And have they not always had access to the information – in a way that the ordinary rank-and-file members have not?

  79. #85 – to clarify:

    “many of the critics have been attacked by the apologists for their ignorance of the messy parts of LDS history”

    should read:

    “many of the critics have been attacked by the apologists for their **PRIOR** ignorance of the messy parts of LDS history, on the grounds that ‘we have always known about that – if you didn’t it is because you have been lazy and intransigent.’.”

  80. How does a church with its own history department have any excuse for ignorance, willful or otherwise?

  81. So using the heritage vs. history approach, if I say that I keep the Word of Wisdom in my next temple recommend interview, knowing full well that my family’s heritage allows for regular alcohol consumption in social settings (myself included), and they’ve always answered to their individual bishops that they are keeping the WoW, would that be not lying?

    My point here is that the church demands a certain standard of honesty, allowing little wiggle room, and rightfully so. If the church considers my example dishonest, despite the fact that I feel it is honest due to the heritage argument, then they are not entitled to a double-standard either.

    It may not be malicious dishonesty, but it’s still dishonesty, and is rightfully labelled as such.

  82. Having grown up around some of the hierarchy and their children and grandchildren, like many here did, I saw and heard and felt the “defend the church at all costs” ethos that permeated almost everything. So, I think they did a lot of “lying for the lord” and I think it was intentional. They may have had a paternalistic motive in trying to protect what they obviously viewed as a good organization and a good way of life. However, it was still misleading and they were very mean-spirited to those messengers of truth who disagreed with their worldview. Further, today, they still don’t see the need to apologize as brother oaks let everyone know loud and clear. So, it’s frankly a disservice to suggest that we move on and don’t fault those good intentioned liars.

  83. Thanks to so many for the thoughtful comments. It certainly seems to me that over the course of time ‘history’ however it was originally conceived of has since been eventually found itself willfully filtered to promote the interest of authorities. Understandable, this is how organizations work.

    The real crux, as many have mentioned, is the contradiction of the claims of truth, prophetic mantles/authority, divine guidance etc. with the information proclaimed from the rooftops (if your ISP is wireless). So many misses. Not without irony do the GA’s quote “Where much is given, much is required.” BKP among others.

  84. I am once more struck by the strangeness of the situation where Mormons are left to view the entrails of a chicken, together with other assorted viscera, in order to attempt to obtain the true intent of Church leaders with regard to this issue.

    It is as if we were talking about people who lived 2,000 years ago and all we have left to dissect are their writings, or what other contemporaries may have said about them.

    Why cannot the Church leaders simply answer for themselves?

    Why are they as remote as the gods on Mount Olympus?

    Why are they content to not speak to the issue but allow undesignated others to carry their water?

    There is a reason Mormons are increasingly feeling their leaders are out of touch.

  85. Can you imagine 600,000 Israelites packed and ready to exit Egypt hearing from Moses:
    “By the way, there is one small detail I forgot to mention: we will be travelling forty years in the desert, we will be famished most of the time, water will be in short supply, and when we finally arrive at our destination there will not be a drop of oil to export…oh, and in case you all didn’t know already, I have killed an Egyptian”.

  86. Pingback: The Doctrine of Divinely Approved Deception | Worlds Without End

  87. Pingback: Leaders Have Lied about Church History, but It’s Not Their Fault | Worlds Without End

  88. I have been a member of the Church for nearly fifty-five years, having been baptized at sixteen after a conversion experience that had gone on for almost exactly a year and climaxed (never has ended) in a manifestation that was simply, utterly undeniable. Immediately–I mean IMMEDIATELY–after I was baptized, and even, literally, minutes before, information began to come to me that I might easily have interpreted as discrediting what I had so recently come to believe and invalidating the experiences that had brought me to that belief. Within a month, I was confronting the basic question: did, or did not, Joseph Smith and his associates receive the “keys of the kingdom,” and were those keys still with the Church? I was unable to deny that the answer to both questions was “yes,” not because of some accumulation of “facts” from which scientific inductions or deductions could be drawn, but because of what I myself had experienced. That Joseph Smith and his associates and successors were liars or were deluded did not explain what I had experienced and does not explain what I continue to experience. Some of you will call me a “true believer” in the Hofferian sense, and all I can say in reply is that I am standing on the existential facts of my personal experience–belief for me flows like a quiet spring of water. I do not deny any of the “messy” facts–if they all are facts–that have come to my attention during these fifty-five years, and I fancy myself to be fairly well informed, but they fall into a certain configuration and take on a certain valuation when seen from the place–the “rock,” I will say–from which I view them. The Lord requires a sacrifice, and if the sacrifice involves a willingness to forgive the imperfections aInd failings of those who have held the keys, then I freely offer it. Meanwhile, where change and repentance are required in this Church that is a work in progress like every one of its members, I will, by the grace of God, do what I can to be part of the change and repentance, and I do not see how anyone can do that from the outside. To judge the Church and the holders of its keys to be unworthy of my loyalty would require a self-judgment of righteousness that exceeds what even I can achieve in my most self-righteous moments, and I can achieve a lot of it. All that said, I recommend that we all spend some quality time with Northrop Frye’s _The Great Code_ before continuing this conversation.

  89. Amen to this post by Colin B. Douglas. My experience almost exactly, except I was 22 at the time of my conversion, which came after much searching. Thanks for a great response. And I know there are thousands and thousands of others out there with similar stories.

  90. Just a question to throw out there.

    When you focus on your skills and achievements in a resume, are you “lying” to your job recruiters?

  91. There was absolute deception going on by those in power. Here is a classic example, that B. H. Roberts copied right into the History of the Church. It’s too long to post here, so here is a link:

    Do I believe that there are some honest “Authorities”? Absolutely. But they can easily be overruled by the majority of the Q12. Until they solidly get behind a practice of full disclosure, these problems will persist.

  92. Respectfully, I disagree. Not absolute deception at all, but rather milk before meat as in Hebrews 5:12-14:

    12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
    13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
    14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

  93. Seth, no more no less than when you are courting a girl and putting your best foot forward.

  94. Anne Bradshaw #101

    I have not found the class in which the adults get the meat. Certainly not taught in Sunday School or in Priesthood class.

    Virtually all of the “meat” I learned was from unapproved sources.

  95. I propose to the critics that you help us out here. Write a Gospel Essentials manual and a Gospel Doctrine manual on Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants that satisfies all your criteria for truth and honesty. Do it with 47 lessons max, and work from the premise that the apostles do in fact hold the keys of the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God; that’s all I ask. While you are at it, work up a disclosure statement of everything that investigators should know about Church history and doctrine before they are baptized, and work up a teaching plan for the missionaries to present it. Show us how it ought to be done. Lead us out of the wilderness.

  96. Unfortunately, the meme of milk before meat in Mormon parlance has come to mean “faith promoting” before “historically accurate.”

    And in case no one has noticed, you never get to the meat . . .

    It’s like that 1980’s commercial with the elderly lady shouting, “Where’s the beef!?”

  97. Responding to malkie #103 and Corbin Volluz #105

    It makes sense not to visit deep waters of doubt in Sunday School and other classes since these groups consist of people with varying levels of faith, testimony, experience, and knowledge. Those who wish to ask difficult questions that would take more than 45 minute to answer and could cause upset to many who are only ready for “milk” can instead go to the Bishop, or higher, and fully question/discuss/search for as long as they want.

  98. One will generally find the “Bishop, or higher” to be as clueless as the most recent convert.

    What then?

  99. I appreciate this article in that it provides better understanding of how the history has been so poorly handled. My feelings concur with those of the author in that I feel it’s not quite acurate to say I’ve been lied to, though I have been deeply troubled by the deception that has none the less taken place. Maybe most troubling for me is the fact that I understand the mind set of the leaders who want to give the people the nicer, sweeter version. It was true – I knew it was! So anything that undermined faith was most unwelcome in my mind. I am sympathetic towards the church full of lovely people living true to their beliefs, but also towards those who for whatever reason have faced the full history and find themselves alone with the facts that most don’t want to face.

  100. To understand the motives that JFS may have had for his version of history gets us to the heart of the problem and not a resolution as you suggest. If his version was presented before Roberts one could be sympathetic and assume he was just not aware. Any LDS historian, post Robers, who has chosen to not address these issues has been selectively deceptive.

  101. The pattern of deception began with Joseph Smith himself and with the early church in Kirkland. The issue of Smith’s polygamy was denied by both Smith and the Church. A quick look at “The History of the Church” Volume 6 page 411 will show where Smith denied he had anymore than one wife. The Doctrine & Covenants Also had a disclaimer until 1876. There also have been attempts to deny the Brigham Young ever taught the Adam God doctrine. This and more the author whitewashes with the idea that they weren’t being willfully deceptive just protective. Balderdash.

  102. To respond to #97 and #98. I certainly appreciate and understand that no one has the right to deny your personal experience. However your truth claim is nothing different than the 1.6 BILLION Muslims around the world who have had a personal experience and believe they know the truth. An appeal to personal experience and popularity does nothing to prove your truth claim. And in this case as a member of the LDS it is not beneficial because 15 million people having an experienced truth claim pales in comparison to 1.6 Billion others of the Muslim faith or the 2.2 BILLION Christians who claim the same personal experience. We don’t simply KNOW something is true because we feel it is true.

  103. Brian as an outsider looking in I’m thankful for the opportunity to read your post and to respond. Thank you

  104. Pingback: Infants on Thrones » Blog Archive » 224 14 Fundamentals of Smacking Down a Prophet

  105. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes it’s not. It all comes down to whether you believe Joseph Smith or you don’t. I asked my fourteen year old daughter, if you saw Heavenly Father and He told you to listen to His son Jesus what would you write in your journal? She said that she would write that she saw Heavenly Father and He told her to listen to Jesus. Pretty simple. In 150 years if someone read what she wrote they would think that She said she saw Heavenly Father and he told her to listen to Jesus. Now anyone could choose to believe her or not believe her but there would be no dispute over what she said she saw-do you see where I am going here? If this is the one and only true church that the Lord leads would he have told Joseph to go home write something down that will confuse everyone so much that they are having to try to figure out what I the Lord was telling You? And by the way don’t tell anyone about this vision for at least 12 years just so we can confuse them even more! Then let’s have different versions written. Then let’s have the apostles that I called, say a whole bunch of other stuff to confuse them all so they can have discussions and call each other names and accuse each other of stuff because that is really Christ like!!!!! It all comes down to whether you believe Joseph Smith. I did with the version I was told. Now that I know I was being lied to-I no longer believe. Sometimes less is more, sometimes it isn’t.

  106. I remember back when the Gerald Lund pioneer novels were de rigeur denizens of TBMs’ bookshelves. My TBM aunt asked my father whether he’d read these “fantastic” books. He replied, “If I want to read historical fiction, I’ll read [the B.H. Roberts] “The History of The Church.”

    My aunt would’ve been hard pressed to choose a more accurate adjective, even if unwittingly ironic.

  107. While I respect the tone and intention of your article, the fact remains that however anyone wants to explain it, the church has been proven to be very dishonest.

    The way the church has treated its history, so many or its members, and engaged in things such as lobbying (can’t do that because of its tax status), and the Hoffman affair, it couldn’t pass a temple recommend interview.

  108. Thanks for this excellent summing up of the evolution of church history. Your article–and all the argument in the comments–makes me think of what Milton Backman said. (Author of one of the histories you mention that was eventually published as a separate book after the larger project was disbanded.) I had Backman as a professor for several classes, and a guide for church history in Nauvoo. Over and over he would repeat the mantra, “You can’t study church history in a vacuum.” This has always stuck with me. He never whitewashed anything. In other words, you must acknowledge the period church leaders lived in, their humanity, and their social culture. You must also compare their efforts to those of other people attempting similar things at the same time. This is not to make excuses–just to point out, as you do, that histories of any kind, of the US of political leaders, of anything, were very biased by nature for a long time. Yes, this church claims truth, but it doesn’t claim that God is writing each word of these histories. Compare them to any history trying to claim followers–even US histories that promote republican democracy over other systems–and you will find a similar struggle. And if anyone is aware of a church that has tried as diligently to fix its historical mistakes, please do point it out. I note that many of these examples are from before the church’s increased post-2005 efforts. It seems they can’t win. In their efforts to choose a better way they can’t seem to gain any forgiveness.

    I think it’s also important to mention that there has always been so much good scholarship going on–without being quashed–besides just the official history. FARMS, essays by Dean Jesse and countless others…my parents always read them, so that’s what I was raised on. My parents taught me about Mountain Meadows, and took me to see it as a kid. The information was out there, not in the official, prominent way it should have been. But families and individuals should bear some responsibility to educate themselves: just as voters should look beyond what they fed by party lines. I get tired of the lack of individual responsibility for knowledge and beliefs. I am grateful church leaders are trying to grapple with the mistakes that were made in the past.

  109. Have the Prophets been truthful?
    Have the Prophets misled us?
    Do they still mislead us?

    Whatever your answer, is the church the only church you would prefer to be a member of? Silly question? well maybe, but we have to make our minds up.

  110. The pattern for institutional deception was put in place intentionally when the church published its initial denials of polygamy and permitted those denials to be canonized in the Doctrine & Covenants. Joseph Smith willfully lied about his polygamy as recorded in the History of the Church vol. 6 page 411 and other prominent Mormons used the formal denial to hide their own involvement in the practice.