"Some of those who have commented on the alleged lies told in connection with polygamy have failed to distinguish between the wrongfulness of asserting something that is untrue and the very different circumstance of not telling everything one knows. I wish to comment on that distinction because it is an important one for the legal profession and indeed for all participants in commerce and public affairs.
I begin with an example from Church history. About ten years after the event, a friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith recalled a statement Joseph made on the morning of the day he was murdered. According to Cyrus Wheelock, the prophet said their lives had been jeopardized by revealing the wicked purposes of their enemies. He counseled that they not make such complete disclosures in the future. Joseph affirmed that all they had said was true, but he observed that it was not always wise to recount such truths. (Cyrus H. Wheelock to George A. Smith, Dec. 24, 1854, Church Historical Department; the substance of this statement is found in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 392.)
When I read this suggestion of the prophet, I thought of the Savior's teaching his disciples: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6). The Savior also instructed his newly called apostles: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Also important on this subject are the many instances in the scriptures where a prophet was instructed by the Spirit not to teach or write some important truth (e.g., 1 Ne. 14:28; Ether 3:21; D&C 10:34-37).
These scriptural instructions establish that the obligation to tell the truth does not require one to tell everything he or she knows in all circumstances. The scriptures teach that there is “a time to speak,” and “a time to keep silence” (Eccl. 3:7). Indeed, we may have a positive duty to keep many things secret or confidential. But this principle does not condone violating the ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (Ex. 20:16). When the truth is constrained by other obligations, the outcome is not falsehood but silence for a reason.
Nibley discusses the Christian origins of this distinction. While criticizing the clergy's censorship of early Christian documents, Nibley quotes St. Augustine as saying:
It is permitted for the purpose of building up religion in things pertaining to piety, when necessary, to conceal whatever appears to need concealing; but it is not permitted to lie, of course, and so one may not conceal by way of lying. [Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, vol. 4, pp. 228]
(I believe the statement that St. Augustine would have been clearer if he had said, “so one may not lie by concealing.”)
In a quoted document, to omit parts of the quote without noting the omission is to perpetrate a lie. Earlier standards of authorship may not have required this, as the above quotes suggest, but the standard is clear today. A lie is also furthered when one remains silent in a circumstance where he or she has a duty to speak and disclose. In other words, a person lies by concealing when he or she has a duty to reveal. Some relationships and some circumstances create such a duty.
In contrast, when there is no duty to reveal all and when one has not made an affirmative statement implying that all has been revealed, it is simply incorrect to equate silence with lying. Nibley explains this distinction. He justifies the withholding of some religious knowledge, such as the Savior directed when he told his disciples not to cast their pearls before swine." (From a fireside address was given to faculty, students, and alumni of BYU on September 12, 1993.)
In summary, Elder Oaks believes that it is morally acceptable to allow someone to continue under a false understanding of reality as long as they don't explicitly say they are telling the whole story. Keep that in mind as we get into some specific examples of official church statements later. Also keep in mind that it is not just Elder Oaks who feels that way. For example, President Packer has said, "Some things that are true are not very useful.” It is disturbing that Oaks uses Nibley's good name to support his point, because Nibley was manifestly against this sort of deception. He spoke against Ernest Wilkinson, the man appointed as his boss as president of BYU, and his consistent "shrewdness":
"I got to know [Ernest L. Wilkinson] quite well, beginning with our clash at the very first faculty meeting. He had given a degree to a friend in Washington, and some of the faculty protested that degrees should be bestowed or at least approved by colleges, such being the immemorial practice of universities. Well, a paper was circulated to that effect, and some people signed it. Wilkinson stormed into that first faculty meeting in a towering rage: This has nothing to do with right or wrong, whether it was moral or immoral is irrelevant. The only question is, was it legal? Who would dare question him on a point of law? Who signed this protest? I had signed it, so I stood up, and I was the only one. “Come and see me in my office!” I did, and we became good friends—being a lawyer, he was not at all upset by adversarial confrontation; in fact, he enjoyed it. I was his home teacher at the time, and he started out at the “Y” by familiarizing himself with the students with a fireside at his house, followed by other such firesides, some of which I attended. The theme of his discussion in all of these was, “What is the difference between being dishonest and being shrewd?” He illustrated each time by his own case. When he was in Washington fresh out of law school, he was looking for a job, and so found himself in Senator King’s office. The senator was not there, but the secretary allowed him to use the phone for what he said was an urgent call. It was urgent indeed, for he called up the office of Justice Charles Evans Hughes and said, “This is Senator King’s office speaking. I would like to recommend a certain young man, etc., of high qualifications to work for the Justice.” And so he became a clerk to the celebrated Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes—not dishonest, just shrewd.
At the second faculty meeting we got another shocker. The family that owned the farm on Temple Hill where President Wilkinson wanted the land for expansion refused to sell. President W. would appeal to eminent domain, but it was his introductory remark that rocked us: “I never yet saw a contract I couldn’t break,” he boasted. It's not technically lying." (Oct 9, 1992, here)My purpose here is not to define what is and what isn't dishonest. I am not out to say "this is a lie" "this is not." My point here is to define what church leaders define as "shrewdness" and to demonstrate that it is a tactic that is used often. It is essential for truth seekers in the LDS church to filter anything they see or hear through the expectation that shrewdness is being applied.
Let's get to some examples.
Technically, the 12 are special witnesses. There is plenty of historical reason to believe that apostles have seen Jesus. Joseph Smith said “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 3:30.) Joseph, Sydney, Oliver, and several others saw Jesus during Joseph Smith's life. The book of Acts tells us that an eye witness of Jesus was the ancient requirement for apostleship.
"Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." (Acts 1:21-26)Paul testified plainly of seeing Christ.
“Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? … For the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 9:1–2.)
To the first apostles in this dispensation, Oliver Cowdery said:
"You have been indebted to other men, in the first instance, for evidence; on that you have acted; but it is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony...that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out; although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will therefore see the necessity of getting this testimony from heaven.
Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid His hands upon His disciples, why not in latter days?" (HC 2:195–96)
Elder James E. Talmage wrote in 1909 that "personal knowledge and testimony of the Lord's ministry" was what "qualified [one] to speak as a special witness of the Christ, which qualification is the distinguishing feature of the apostleship." (Talmage, "Great Apostasy")
So, anyone who hears an apostle bear his "special witness" would assume that what they are saying is that they have seen Jesus. However, modern mormonism has lifted the eye witness requirement. President Harold B. Lee said
"I bear you my testimony that I know the Savior lives, that the most powerful witness you can have that He lives comes when the power of the Holy Spirit bears witness to your soul that He does live. More powerful than sight, more powerful than walking and talking with Him, is that witness of the Spirit" (Harold B Lee, Address given at Lausanne Switzerland conference, 26 Sept. 1972, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 8)Joseph Fielding said something very similar:
They [the Twelve Apostles] are special witnesses for Jesus Christ. It is their right to know the truth and to have an abiding witness. This is an exacting duty upon them, to know that Jesus Christ is in very deed the Only Begotten Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, and the Savior of all those who will confess their sins, repent, and keep his commandments. The question frequently arises: 'Is it necessary for a member of the Council of the Twelve to see the Savior in order to be an apostle?' It is their privilege to see him if occasion requires, but the Lord has taught that there is a stronger witness than seeing a personage, even of seeing the Son of God in a vision. Impressions on the soul that come from the Holy Ghost are far more significant than a vision. When Spirit speaks to spirit, the imprint upon the soul is far more difficult to erase. Every member of the Church should have impressions that Jesus is the Son of God indelibly pictured on his soul through the witness of the Holy Ghost." (Joseph Fielding Smith, "The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve," Improvement Era, Nov. 1966, p. 979.)So we get the doctrine that somehow you can be an eye witness of Christ without actually seeing him, because the Spirit can make you as sure about it as if you had. And, to cover all the bases, there is a pseudo-doctrine that witnesses are somehow charged to never actually bear witness, because that is too sacred:
"Occasionally...I have been asked a question. Usually it comes as a curious, almost an idle, question about the qualifications to stand as a witness for Christ. The question they ask is, 'Have you seen Him?' That is a question that I have never asked of another. I have not asked that question of my brethren in the Quorum, thinking that it would be so sacred and so personal that one would have to have some special inspiration, indeed, some authorization, even to ask it....There are some things just too sacred to discuss" (Boyd K. Packer "The Spirit Beareth Record," CR April 1971)I, for one, am very grateful that Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, the meridian 12, the Nephite 12, the brother of Jared, Joseph Smith, and many others did not consider their experiences too sacred to share. Otherwise, we would have no reason to believe in Christ. What an odd doctrine to suppose that people appointed to be a witness of something would be banned from speaking about it.
So special witnesses are still special though, right? I mean, if the witness isn't visual but spiritual, surely it has to be something stronger than normal members experience?
"For a long time, something else puzzled me. Forty-six years ago ...I was called to meet with President David O. McKay. He took both of my hands in his and called me to be one of the General Authorities, an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. A few days later, I came to Salt Lake City to meet with the First Presidency to be set apart as one of the General Authorities of the Church....President McKay explained that one of the responsibilities of an Assistant to the Twelve was to stand with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as a special witness and to bear testimony that Jesus is the Christ. What he said next overwhelmed me: “Before we proceed to set you apart, I ask you to bear your testimony to us. We want to know if you have that witness.” I did the best I could. I bore my testimony the same as I might have in a fast and testimony meeting in my ward. To my surprise, the Brethren of the Presidency seemed pleased and proceeded to confer the office upon me. That puzzled me greatly, for I had supposed that someone called to such an office would have an unusual, different, and greatly enlarged testimony and spiritual power. It puzzled me for a long time until finally I could see that I already had what was required: an abiding testimony in my heart of the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that we have a Heavenly Father, and that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. I may not have known all about it, but I did have a testimony, and I was willing to learn." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Weak and the Simple of the Church," Oct 2007 Conference)And thus we see that in modern mormonism, the only thing that makes an apostle's witness "special" is their office. It is the same thing as a notary's witness vs. a civilian's witness. The notary's witness is special because they have a stamp.
But surely SOME of them have seen the Lord? In all my reading I have only come across three first hand accounts of post-Joseph brethren seeing Christ. These are:
- Hugh B Brown (“The memoirs of Hugh B. Brown: An Abundant Life” pg, 145)
- Orson Whitney (dream) ("Through Memories Halls", 1930, p. 82)
- George Q. Cannon (Newquist, Jerreld L. (Ed.) (1974). Gospel truth: discourses and writings of president George Q. Cannon (Vol. 1))
- Melvin J. Ballard (dream, Savior did not speak) (Bryant S. Hinckley, Melvin J. Ballard, … Crusader for Righteousness, Bookcraft, 1966, p. 66)
- George Richards (dream, Savior did not speak) (Conference Report, October 1946).
I have not viewed the first or last account, as I don't have those books. I did read Whitney's account, and it was in a dream. I don't say that to minimize his witness, but simply to say that it is one thing for God to come to you in a dream, and another to be taken into heaven through a fiery ascent and see with your own eyes, as did Joseph and others.
What about the rest of them? Somehow this quote snuck into the correlated George Albert Smith manual: "I have not seen Him face to face..." It is in chapter 3.
Finally, consider this letter from Heber J. Grant:
Dear Sister:Technically, temple sealing makes your family forever. From the current Priesthood/RS manual: "...temple ordinances...unite families for eternity, sealing faithful people of all generations as members of the family of God." This temple sealing, we are told, is what Elijah restored and what is necessary so that the earth is not wasted at Christ's coming: "To prepare for salvation in its fullest, we must receive temple ordinances through the sealing power." (same source). However, temple sealing actually doesn't seal anything. It is merely a tentative arrangement until and unless God himself seals you together. In the temple, this is worded as, "according to your faithfulness." How often we hear members gushing how happy they are to be sealed to their spouse. Yet, they aren't really sealed...not yet. D&C 132, the only revelation concerning the topic, describes a much different sealing, one where only murder would break the seal. This seal is only efficacious when sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which is interpreted by the church to mean the second anointing.
Answering your letter of the 12th.
I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Sincerely your brother,
[signed] Heber J. Grant
(A letter from Heber J. Grant to a sister, available in the Lester Bush papers at the University of Utah)
"And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever." (D&C 132:19)
So, your temple marriage doesn't actually count, in the church's eyes, until and unless you receive your second anointing.
Technically, LDS leaders are not paid. The official sources are oozing with quotes like these:
- "All of the work in the Church is voluntary. No one is paid for such service." (Preach My Gospel)
- "Tithing funds are used to support the ongoing activities of the Church, such as building and maintaining temples and meetinghouses, carrying the gospel to all the world, conducting temple and family history work, and many other worldwide activities. Tithing does not pay local Church leaders, who serve without receiving payment of any kind." (Preach My Gospel)
- "...the Church has no full-time paid clergy." (Official LDS Statement)
- Mormon.org headline: "Why don’t Mormons have paid clergy?"
- LDS Newsroom release headline "Lay Leadership: Volunteer Ministry of the Church" which highlights how much time members donate without pay.
It turns out that all general authorities get paid, and 100% of the money comes from tithing---because the church doesn't have money outside of what it gets from members (see paragraph on this topic). Some also get a free car and a house. Most of the brethren own very nice property worth over $1 million, even some like Elder Packer who have spent the entirety of their career employed by the church. I am not taking a position on whether or not this is right, just pointing out what is and is not reported. It isn't until we get to the unofficial "Encyclopedia of Mormonism" that we get the full story, and even that is incorrect: "Because the Church has no professional clergy, it is administered at every level through lay participation and leadership, and officials other than the General Authorities contribute their time and talents without remuneration. ...Because the General Authorities are obliged to leave their regular employment for full-time Church service, they receive a modest living allowance provided from income on Church investments." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 510) This fails to point out that mission presidents, who are not general authorities, also have all expenses paid, including housing, clothing, gifts and recreation for family members, and a servant, during their mission (see page 914 of the same for that admission, or google the leaked mission president's handbook).
Technically, GAs do not dictate local discipline. Such would be a violation of the revelations in D&C, after all. "Church discipline is administered at a local level by those who know the circumstances and the individual best and who can be at his or her side throughout the repentance process." (Church Newsroom) "Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters." (Official Statement) However, the church maintains the "Strengthening the Members Committee" (see Wikipedia) The sole purpose of this committee is to gather a file on persons whose behavior poses a threat in the committee's eyes. This file is sent to the person's stake president, who is instructed to interview the individual, ask them to repent, and report back to the GA who contacts the stake president. Several people have publicly claimed that their stake presidents told them to excommunicate them if they did not cease and desist the undesirable behavior, including Michael Quinn, Brent Larson, and Denver Snuffer. I also know a sitting bishop who has read me a letter he received from a member of the committee asking him to discipline a member of his ward and report back to him. But, no worries. You see, GAs can instruct stake presidents to do something and still technically say that they are not directing or coordinating the decisions by local leaders. The stake president can still opt to disobey the counsel they receive from the GA. This actually happened in the case of both Snuffer and Quinn. In the case of Quinn, a new stake president was eventually called who had no problem implementing the suggestions of the GA. In the case of Snuffer, the SP was called in for "training" until he submitted. But they didn't have to listen, so technically the newsroom statements are true. It doesn't matter that everyone who reads them will take them to mean GAs are not involved in discipline, it's not lying, it's just shrewd.
Technically, the manifesto was a revelation. Given, Woodruff never said it was a revelation. Granted, the First Presidency sanctioned new plural marriages before, during, and after the manifesto (making certain statements in it direct lies). But, if you read D&C 68:4 to mean that whatever and Elder says is God's word (which is not what it actually says), then anything Woodruff said was a revelation by virtue of the fact that he said it. No matter that Woodruff didn't actually write the manifesto---it was written by George Reynolds, Charles W. Penrose, and John R. Winder (see preceding link, which really is a must read). Well, most people assume Woodruff wrote it, so as long as we aren't saying he did, we aren't lying, right?
Technically, Presidents of the church are called by revelation. According to Mormon.org, under the big heading, "Who chooses the Mormon prophet," we read: "Jesus Christ is the Head of this Church. The calling and appointment of the Living Prophet is directed by Him whose Church it is." On that same page we read a lot of comments by members affirming that Jesus Christ tells the apostles who the next church president should be. Well, maybe.
How is the next president chosen? Well, unless the living president of the church appoints a successor while he is still lucid enough to represent himself in a contract, the senior apostle becomes the president of the church the second the president dies. Yes, this decision is made instantaneously, before the apostles even know about the death, let alone have a chance to meet, and certainly before they get a chance to ask God who should be the next president. How is that possible, you ask? Well, the church legally organized by Joseph Smith was dissolved by the federal government due to persistent practice of plural marriage, which was illegal. Heber J. Grant reorganized the church in 1917. The articles of incorporation are public record, and you can see them here.
The point is that the succession process is laid out, legally, in that document. So to claim that church presidents are called by revelation, you have to assume that the articles of incorporation were dictated by God himself to Heber J. Grant, and you would have to believe that God wanted every oldest apostle to always and forever be the president of the church, even if he was in poor health/incapacitated mentally at the time of his becoming president. To put this another way, if an angel with a flaming sword appeared at the convening of the 12 upon the death of the president, telling them someone other than the senior apostle was meant to be the president, they would STILL have to make the senior apostle church president.
A lot of the folks in the church, including almost everyone on Mormon.org, say that God calls prophets the same way today as he did anciently. I don't think Elisha became a prophet upon the ascension of Elijah due to the dictates of a corporation sole. Nor do I think Melchizedek was appointed to receive the tithes because he was the sole holder of the properties of God on the earth.
Technically, tithing isn't spent on investments or GA salaries. City Creek (over $1 billion). Philadelphia apartments ($85 million). 2% of the state of Florida (that is the equivalent of the size of Rhode Island) ($565 million). A huge chunk of Hawaii, and a bunch more. Meanwhile, Ensign Peak Advisors, the unpublicized hedge fund owned by the church, trades over a billion dollars per day, according to a vice president there as quoted in Deseret News (see here). You can look up Ensign Peak Advisors on Google maps. Note that it is located in the church office building. What's all this about? The church, since inception, has had two sources of income. Tithing and other donations. That is the only way anything owned by the church came to be. "Other donations" include fast offerings, missionary offerings, and other things like estate donations. All of this, including estate donations, are converted to cash immediately (you can donate stock to the church as well, which most rich people do to gain a tax advantage as they aren't taxed on capital gains of appreciated stock when it is donated to a charity) and deposited in the bank. Here is where it gets fuzzy.
Imagine the following: Each year, the church takes in $X from all contributions, then invests it for Y years with Ensign Peak. Each year, the church "harvests" the investment from Y years ago. Whatever they have gained from investment over $X can be spent on whatever they want and they can still say it isn't tithing money. In fact, they can spend all the perpetual education fund, the fast offerings, mission offerings, and humanitarian aid on whatever they want, and still shrewdly say that the tithing money wasn't spent on anything else. Note this still applies even if they take a loss to their investment. Just remember, all church businesses and all church investments were originally funded by tithing. And whether or not current tithing actually pays GA salaries or pays for malls or apartment buildings or not, the interest from current tithing (which is estimated at billions per year) certainly does.
Technically, we have 15 million members. Most churches, like the Seventh-day Adventists, have some sort of rigorous requirement that needs to be met before they will count you as a member. The LDS church does not. "The membership count includes adults and children, and also include active and less active members" (Wikipedia). In fact, if you are a "child of record" or have been baptized into the church, you will remain in their count until you turn 110, unless you remain active, in which case they will remove you when you die. So suppose you were baptized at 8 and never returned and can't even spell Joseph Smith. You are still counted. Suppose you have not only left the church but you have become an atheist. You are still counted. Suppose you became a Buddhist. Still counted. It doesnt matter what you consider yourself, to the church you are still Mormon.
If the church applied any sort of realism to their count, say only counting those who attend twice per month, the number would be closer to 5 million. It's not like the church doesn't have the data to easily make this adjustment before reporting the numbers. Remember that the ward clerk checks off attendance each week, and that goes into the computer. The inflation is intentional. It allows articles like this to be written. This is a wonderful example of a pattern seen in official church materials: the embellishment of something that isn't really true to cement a conclusion that is likewise tenuous. In this example, the article quotes Melvin J. Ballard's 1926 "prophecy" that "The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies." Then it presents the case that his "prophecy" was fulfilled in modern membership in Brazil. Current numbers are at 1.2 million. But those are the "you are Mormon even if you aren't Mormon" inflated numbers. Unfortunately, in the 2010 Brazilian census, only 225k Brazilians self-identified as Mormon. That means the real numbers are only 20% of the reported ones. This is not a new pattern. Ten years prior, the real numbers were 26% of the reported. So, in actually, contrary to the article, only there were only 26k more members as a result of 10 years of missionary work in Brazil. That is not something to celebrate---it is an abject failure.
The real story worldwide is that the church is shrinking---not growing---particularly in areas with the internet. That is a real problem, which suggests important questions. But this problem and the questions it engenders won't even cross the minds of active members, who get their information from General Conference and the Ensign. Hence the importance of the shrewdness filter.