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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Church History

Then: “.. there is no authentic statement in the history of the Church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay, and personally, I do not believe that this stone was used for this purpose.  ( Joseph Fielding Smith Doctrines of Salvation 3:225-226)

Today: "In fact, historical evidence shows that in addition to the two seer stones known as “interpreters,” Joseph Smith used at least one other seer stone in translating the Book of Mormon, often placing it into a hat in order to block out light. " (Ensign, Oct 2015)

This is only the most recent of very many historical errors from official sources. In the October 2014 General Conference, Elder Nelson stated, "No Prophet has ever been elected."  Yet Brigham Young himself said, "I was unanimously elected President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (Winter Quarters, Dec 27, 1847, Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Signature Books, 2009, page 267).

Here are others:


  • For decades, the church actively misrepresented Joseph's practice of polygamy.
  • For decades, the church lied about plural marriage after the 1890 manifesto, claiming either that there were no church sanctioned plural marriages after 1890 or that the only sanctioned ones took place in Mexico where it was legal. Both were lies, as polygamy was just as illegal in Mexico and Michael Quinn documented very many sanctioned marriages post 1890 (authorized by the first presidency, and not just in Mexico).
  • For decades, the church said that Brigham Young's policy of not ordaining blacks to the priesthood and banning them from temple ordinances was a commandment from God. THIRTEEN subsequent presidents of the church maintained that position, calling the priesthood ban "not a matter of the declaration of policy but of direct commandment from the Lord." (Aug 17,1951 - Official First Presidency Statement). Of course, President Monson's administration has said that Brigham was wrong, and that it wasn't a commandment.
  • The church continues to misrepresent the history of the Nauvoo temple, which I have detailed elsewhere on this blog.

  • These omissions and misrepresentations should be no surprise to those who have noted that it is official policy to intentionally hide anything that doesn't fit the official narrative, whether it is true or not:

    "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."
    - Apostle Dallin Oaks, footnote 28, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon, Introduction p. xliii

    “That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith....Do not spread disease germs!"
    - Apostle Boyd K. Packer, "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect", 1981, BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 259-271

    "Indeed, in some instances, the merciful companion to truth is silence. Some truths are best left unsaid."
    - Apostle Russell M. Nelson, “Truth—and More,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, page 69

    "It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. ... The Holy Ghost will not guide or confirm criticism of the Lord's anointed, or of Church leaders, local or general. This reality should be part of the spiritual evaluation that LDS readers and viewers apply to those things written about our history and those who made it."
    - Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, "Reading Church History," CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium, Brigham Young University, 16 Aug. 1985, page 25. also see Dallin H. Oaks, "Elder Decries Criticism of LDS Leaders," quoted in The Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday August 18, 1985, p. 2B

    "Truth surely exists as an absolute, but our use of truth should be disciplined by other values. ... When truth is constrained by other virtues, the outcome is not falsehood but silence for a season. As the scriptures say, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,” Ensign, Feb. 1987, page 68)

    "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." (Apostle Boyd K. Packer, "The Mantle is Far,Far Greater Than the Intellect," 1981 CES Talk).

    This policy neuters members' ability to exercise their agency in an informed matter. It seeks to give members shallow emotion-based "testimonies" that cannot stand the abundant opposition existing today. It arms adversaries who need only state the truth to get members to become angry atheists who lose their faith in Jesus through realizing that church leaders, who claim to represent him, have lied to them.

    As someone with unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ, and a testimony of Joseph Smith informed enough by facts that no one has been able to rationally argue against it, I advocate for giving members full access to the history of their church. In the information age, it is the only remedy for the seen and unseen bleeding of members from the church due to discovery of historical omissions and misrepresentations.

    Given the vast contradictions in "official" historical accounts past and present from the church, either one is right and one is wrong or both are wrong.

    Given that the change did not occur from the appearance of any new sources, we can only conclude that the differences are due to willful omission or exceeding negligence.

    Nevertheless, the church recently gave this counsel:
    "To help members with their study of Church history and doctrine, the Church publishes reliable information on topics of current interest. This information is found in the Gospel Topics section of the Church’s website, at lds.org/topics.
    The purpose of the Gospel Topics section is to provide accurate and transparent information on Church history and doctrine within the framework of faith. It includes an article titled “Gospel Learning: Seek Learning by Study and Also by Faith,” which explains principles of seeking truth.
    When Church members have questions regarding Church history and doctrine, possibly arising when detractors spread misinformation and doubt, you may want to direct their attention to these resources. Also help them understand that prayer, regular study of the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets, the exercise of faith, and humility are fundamental to receiving inspired answers to sincere questions." (Letter to Bishops and Stake Presidents, Sept 9, 2014)

    Given the propensity towards error, to trust the LDS church in matters of history OR historical doctrine, you'd have to have a compelling reason to believe that somehow something has changed and the church is now avidly studying its own historical sources without bias and with honesty, whereas in the past they have not done either. I cannot find such a reason, and therefore will continue to seek non-official sources that provide our best access to LDS history (which the church continues to keep locked away from the public eye).

    For doctrinal history, check out:
    -"Words of Joseph Smith" (the original source material that was edited to create "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith) If you can't find a copy, email me and I will give you one.

    The must-read list for every member include:
    -"David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism" (which is based on President McKay's diary)
    -"Mormon Heirarchy" books one and two (written from notes taken during the 10 year window when the church opened the archives to historians)
    -"Passing the Heavenly Gift"

    We should not fear true history. We must resist the pernicious tradition in the church that there is a such thing as non-faith-promoting history. History, if true, is truth. The efficacy of truth is not dependent on its source or how it is presented. Truth "is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;" (D&C 93:24). It is NOT things as we wish they had been. When you learn new truth, you can guarantee that it will affect your belief structure. However, whatever you lose as a consequence of truth wasn't helping you get closer to God, anyway--even if you thought it was. Saul was probably very disappointed to find out that all his pre-theophany Phariseeism was actually leading him away from God, despite his contemporary beliefs to the contrary. Still, he recognized that what Jesus had told him--the truth--would draw him closer to Christ than all that Phariseeism ever did. He said, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." (Phillipians 3:8). Paul had no sacred cows, no false idols he wasn't willing to let go of when provided the opportunity to embrace mutually exclusive knowledge of God. Are you willing to embrace truth at all costs?

    ALL church history is faith promoting, because the only thing it can displace is something that isn't true. And falsehoods can never save you. False traditions damn us. They prevent us from progressing towards God. You cannot have real faith in something that is false. Alma wrote that "If ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." (Alma 32:21.) Even when it is painful, true church history will bring you closer to Christ through freeing you from false tradition. The heading in a chapter from the Joseph Smith priesthood manual says, "The gospel of Jesus Christ embraces all truth; the faithful accept the truths God has revealed and put aside false traditions." Joseph taught that “To become a joint heir of the heirship of the Son, one must put away all his false traditions.” (Joseph Smith, HC 5:554) It is not false tradition, but knowledge that leads us to eternal life.

    What Latter-day Saint can say that they are not interested in church history, when their very salvation depends on rooting out the many false traditions present in their understanding of the gospel, which can only occur through knowing church history? This attitude is opposite of what Joseph demonstrated. He said, "When things that are of the greatest importance are passed over by weak-minded men without even a thought, I want to see truth in all its bearings and hug it to my bosom." (HC 6:477)

    If we fear church history, if we neglect our opportunities to study it, if we just take someone else's word for it, it says an awful lot about where we stand. It says that we fear the truth, that we don't dare discover that something we worship turns out to be a false tradition. It says that we fear that we might have false idols in our lives. It says that we fear that our personal relationship with God might be so dependent upon others as to be unable to sustain the absorption of true facts.

    As an institution, we need to repent of our dishonesty, even if it requires a serious and reaching reevaluation of fundamental claims. God will not honor anything built on lies. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." (Proverbs 28:13)