“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.” manual/gospel-principles:chapter-31-honesty
“If an offense come out of the truth, better is it that the offense come than that the truth be concealed.” Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles
On November 19th of 2017, two apostles of the Mormon Church held a question and answer session for members of the Church. Elder Ballard said this in response to one of the pre-prepared questions,
“It’s this idea that the Church is hiding something, which we would have to say as two apostles that have covered the world and know the history of the Church and know the integrity of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve from the beginning of time–there has been no attempt on the part, in any way, of the Church leaders trying to hide nanything from anybody..”So, just trust us wherever you are in the world, and you share this message with anyone else who raises the question about the Church not being transparent. We’re as transparent as we know how to be in telling the truth. We have to do that. That’s the Lord’s way.”
I do not know if this man is purposefully ignorant of church history or if his nose was growing while making that statement. I do know we can weigh his statement, measure it, and find if it is wanting. Is the Church transparent and honest?
Let us begin our examination with the Joseph Smith himself. The first example involves Joe trying to make the moves on the daughter of Sidney Rigdon.
In the beginning..“In mid-April  Joseph had asked Sidney Rigdon’s nineteen-year-old daughter Nancy to become his plural wife. Bennett had his own eye on the girl and forewarned her, so she refused Joseph. The following day Joseph dictated a letter to her with Willard Richards acting as scribe. It read in part, ‘Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. . . . That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. . . . Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason therof til long after the events transpire.’
“Nancy Rigdon showed the letter to her father. Rigdon immediately sent for Joseph, who reportedly denied everything until Sidney thrust the letter in his face. George W. Robinson, Nancy’s brother-in-law, claimed he witnessed the encounter and said Joseph admitted that he spoken with Nancy but that he had only been testing her virtue.”
(Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith–Prophet’s Wife, ‘Elect Lady,’ Polygamy’s Foe” [Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1984] pp. 111-12)
Wagner described these events with this narrative.”George W. Robinson, a prominent Nauvoo citizen married to another of Rigdon’s daughters, wrote to James A. Bennett, a New York friend to the church, on 22 July 1842, that ‘Smith sent for Miss Rigdon to come to the house of Mrs. [Orson] Hyde, who lived in the under-rooms of the printing- office. . . . According to Robinson, Nancy ‘inquired of the messenger . . . what was wanting, and the only reply was, that Smith wanted to see her.’ Robinson claimed that Smith took her into a room, ‘locked the door, and then stated to her that he had had an affection for her for several years, and wished that she should be his; that the Lord was well pleased with this matter, for he had got a revelation on the subject, and God had given him all the blessings of Jacob, etc., etc., and that there was no sin whatever.’ Robinson reported that Nancy ‘repulsed him and was about to raise the neighbors if he did not unlock the door and let her out’ . . . .
“Nancy’s brother, John, recounting the incident later, remembered that ‘Nancy refused him, saying if she ever got married she would marry a single man or none at all, and took her bonnet and went home, leaving Joseph . . . .’ Nancy withheld details of the situation from her family until a day or two later, when a letter from the prophet was delivered by Smith’s personal secretary, Willard Richards. ‘Happiness is the object and design of our existence,’ the letter began. ‘That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right uner another.’ The letter went ont to teach that ‘whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof til long after the events transpire. . . . Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in his views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.’
“Nancy showed the prophet’s letter to her father and told him of the incident at the Hyde residence. Rigdon demanded an audience with Smith. George W. Robinson reported that when Smith came to Rigdon’s home, the enraged father asked for an explanation. The prophet ‘attempted to deny it at first,’ Robinson said, ‘and face her down with the lie; but she told the facts with so much earnestness, and the fact of a letter being present, which he had caused to be written to her on the same subject, Richard S. Van Wagoner, “Mormon Polygamy: A History” [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1986], pp. 30-31, 73)
How did Joseph Smith respond when Nancy’s brother went public with the incident? Was he transparent and openly admit what he had done? Hardly! He did what we see too often today when powerful men are caught trying to sexually manipulate a young woman. First he denied everything until that inconvenient piece of evidence was presented to him. He then changed his story and engaged in attacks on Nancy. According to historian Michael Quinn, Joe published affidavits that Nancy was sexually impure. This is not the only woman Joe did this too. He publicly attacked women who refused his advances and spoke out about it. Does that sound like honesty and transparency?
2. This next case takes place in Nauvoo in June of 1844. The Mormon City Council was angry that a newspaper, The Nauvoo Expositor had exposed Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. For this, Mayor Joseph Smith called the City Council together to declare the paper a “public nuisance” in order to have the press destroyed.
Here’s how John Tayor, a member on the City Council, explained that meeting:
“…the apostate ‘Mormons’, associated with others, commenced the publication of a libelous paper in Nauvoo, called the Nauvoo Expositor… It was, however, no sooner put in circulation than the indignation of the whole community was aroused… As it was among us, under these circumstances, it was thought best to convene the city council to take into consideration the adoption of some measures for its removal, as it was deemed better that this should be done legally than illegally. Joseph Smith, therefore, who was mayor, convened the city council for that purpose; the paper was introduced and read, and the subject examined.”
“All, or nearly all present, expressed their indignation at the course taken by the Expositor, which was owned by some of the aforesaid apostates, associated with one or two others… Various attempts had heretofore been made by the party to annoy and irritate the citizens of Nauvoo…”Brigham Young, History of the Church, Vol. 7, p.62-63
Was the irritation a lie? No, in fact it was Joseph Smith who had been lying about his practice of taking other men’s wives and daughters as polygamous partners.
The next City Council meeting was described by Joseph Smith in his personal diary:
“Monday, June 10, 1844.—I was in the City Council from 10 a. m., to l:20 p. m., and from 2:20 p. m. to 6:30 p.m. investigating the merits of the Nauvoo Expositor… An ordinance was passed concerning libels. The Council passed an ordinance declaring the Nauvoo Expositor a nuisance, and also issued an order to me to abate the said nuisance. I immediately ordered the Marshal to destroy it without delay, and at the same time issued an order to Jonathan Dunham, acting Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, to assist the Marshal with the Legion, if called upon so to do.”
“About 8 p. m., the Marshal returned and reported that he had removed the press, type, printed paper, and fixtures into the street, and destroyed them. This was done because of the libelous and slanderous character of the paper.. The posse accompanied by some hundreds of the citizens, returned with the Marshal to the front of the Mansion, when I gave them a short address, and told them they had done right and that not a hair of their heads should be hurt for it; that they had executed the orders which were given me by the City Council; that I would never submit to have another libelous publication established in the city; that I did not care how many papers were printed in the city, if they would print the truth: but would submit to no libels or slanders from them. I then blessed them in the name of the Lord. This speech was loudly greeted by the assembly with three-times-three cheers. The posse and assembly then dispersed all in good order.”
– Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, p.432
3. The next example involved Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Smith, who wrote a book, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith. It was published by Apostle Orson Pratt in 1853. By 1865, Brigham Young was frowning upon this book. Brigham ordered that it “should be gathered up and destroyed, so that no copies should be left” (Latter-Day Saint’s Millennial Star, vol. 27, pp. 657-58).
The biography had been started shortly after the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, and into 1845, Lucy Mack Smith dictated her recollections and family story to Nauvoo schoolteacher Martha Jane Coray. Coray worked with her husband to compile these books of notes and other sources into a manuscript, which was then copied.
One copy was given to Brigham Young, and the other stayed with Lucy Smith in Nauvoo. Eventually, Apostle Orson Pratt obtained Lucy’s copy and published it in 1853, with some omissions and new material added. One of the omissions was a reference to folk magic practiced by the Smith family.
After its publication, Brigham Young declared the book to be a “tissue of lies” and wanted corrections made. There was no “corrected” version until the church published a 1901 serialization and 1902 book.
To review this point. Orson Pratt deleted a passage about folk magic and Brother Brigham wanted all copies burned so members would not read the book and get ideas that maybe the Smith family held the rights of the priesthood instead of Brigham. This would not be the only time changes were made to a book or one was banned.
4.Many people are unaware that over the years the Church has made thousands of changes to its scriptures. Leaders have added and deleted words and tampered with previously published revelations by writing in new material and falsely attributing it to an earlier date. A a true believing member, I had been told these changes were small grammatical and spelling errors that needed to be corrected. While this does account for many changes, there are significant changes to words that change the meaning of passages. Did I see these changes in official published material from the Church? Like most people, I had to do research outside of official publications to find out the Church had been less than forthcoming about scriptural changes.
5.History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a history of the early Mormon movement during the lifetime of Joseph Smith. It is largely composed of Smith’s writings and interpolations and editorial comments by Smith’s secretaries and scribes.
The History was completed in August 1856 by historians who wrote it as if it was written by Joseph. Brigham Young required the historians to write it that way. Sixty percent of the history was written after the death of Joseph Smith. The church consciously let members believe that the official history was written by Joseph Smith. (Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1971, pp. 466, 469, 470, 472 Ken Clark) In the 20th century, after the deception was pointed out by critics, the church acknowledged this truth.
6.Church President Heber J. Grant required B.H. Roberts to censor some documents in the seventh volume of the History of the Church. Roberts was furious. ‘I desire, however to take this occasion of disclaiming any responsibility for the mutilating of that very important part of President young’s manuscript,’ Roberts replied to President Grant in August 1932, ‘and also to say, that while you had the physical power of eliminating that passage from the History, I do not believe you had any moral right to do so.’” Michael Quinn, Sunstone, February 1992, pp. 13-14
7.Censorship of historians during the twentieth century was one way leaders attempted to control the narrative. One example of this was Fawn Brodie. She published her seminal biography on Joseph Smith, titled No Man knows my History in 1945. Her depiction of Joseph Smith as a fraudulent “genius of improvisation”upset Church leaders. Although he refused to read her book,Apostle J. Reuben Clark asked the Deseret News to publish his long review of the book. The Church also asked a young church apologist, Hugh Nibley to write a rebuttal. His pamphlet No Ma’am, That’s Not History was a classic ad hominem attack, not addressing the historical claims. Brodie was excommunicated for writing a book that did not idolize the founder of the Church.
Another example is how Michael Quinn was excommunicated from the Church, in part for publishing research detailing how polygamy continued in Utah even after its termination had been officially announced by President Wilford Woodruff in 1890.
8. A picture is worth a thousand words:Censorship in artists depictions of events in Church history is well documented on the internet. When I served a full time mission for the Church, my companions and I carried a small flip chart that contained pictures that we had received straight from Church headquarters in. We had no idea we were assisting the church in a false narrative about Church history. One picture had Joseph and Oliver translating the Book of Mormon with the gold plates sitting on a table. It was only years later did I learn the Gold Plates were never used and Joe stuck his head in a hat to look at his rock. I can see why this would be censored. Another picture we used involved the Angel Moroni (or was it Nephi?) visiting Joe in his room. The picture does not show his siblings who slept in the same room. Over the years, millions of Mormon missionaries have shared this false narrative, often unaware even to themselves. The position of Church apologists have been to blame the artist for getting it wrong.
9. Censorship in the manuals: The Church used a manual titled, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church for any years as the official study guide for all adult members. The Church used carefully placed ellipses to obscure teachings on various topics. This is discussed in a previous post of mine titled Censorship in Manuals.
10.Various quotes by Church leaders regarding censorship.
“Some of those who speak on these subjects have been called and given divine authority to do so. Others, whom I choose to call alternate voices, speak on these subjects without calling or authority.
In the five years since I was called as a General Authority, I have seen many instances where Church leaders and members have been troubled by things said by these alternate voices. I am convinced that some members are confused about the Church’s relationship to the alternate voices.” Apostle Dallin Oaks April 1989 Conference. This quote was widely interpreted by members they were to learn about Church history only from approved sources.
“I have a hard time with historians… because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting; it destroys. Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting.” Apostle Boyd K.Packer 1994 as quoted by Michael Quinn.
“Remind them that James did not say, If any of you lack wisdom, let him Google” Apostle Russel Ballard 2015.
When the book Mormon Enigma was published in 1984, it won the Mormon History Association Best Book award, the Evans Biography Award, and the John Whitmer Historical Association Best Book award. This drew the attention of Church leaders, who instructed local leaders not to allow the authors to speak in Church meetings.
When one of the authors met with Apostles Dallin Oaks and Neal Maxwell to discuss this ban, Oaks told her,
“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.”
“What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.” Joseph Smith. He made this comment at a time he had taken numerous wives.
The Morning Breaks and the shadows flee for a brief season: In the 1970s, the Church historian’s office was run by professional historians, such as Leonard Arrington and Dean Jessee. According to Arrington, “historians, at Brigham Young University and elsewhere, were given full access to the Church Archives and commissioned to write accurate and reliable treatises on a variety of assigned topics” (“The Writing of Latter-day Saints History,” Dialogue, 14:3 [Autumn 1981], p. 126). Several publications came of the new openness from the historian’s office.
In the early 1980s,the openness ended, access to the church archives was severely restricted, even for trusted church historians, and Arrington and his staff were transferred to Brigham Young University.It marked a demoralizing end to a “Camelot” era for Mormon scholars.
“The attempt to suppress problems and difficulties, the attempt to intimidate people who raise problems or express doubts or seek to reconcile difficult facts, is both ineffective and futile,” Arrington wrote to his children. “It leads to suspicion, mistrust, the condescending slanting of data.”
Conclusion: Unlike scholars and intellects who regard history as an important guide to the present and the future, religious leaders with fundamentalist views, frequently see the study of history as a potential threat to their authority and to the belief system that has been carefully assembled like dominoes. Since most fundamentalist leaders fear members knowing the historical complexities of the religion, they carefully guard the past and attempt to censor the writing of historians to prevent members from knowing facts that they think might shake their beliefs. In this case, truth becomes secondary to a faith promoting narrative.
The Church has a long history of reacting to events the leaders never saw coming. In the 1970s, the Church could almost completely control the flow of information to its members, but it chose not to do so. Today, the church has lost all control of information and is reacting in various ways.
It has quietly published articles with a faith promoting angle about various controversial topics. Looking for these articles on a Church website is more difficult than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Leaders have attempted to pretend the Church has always been open and transparent by referencing some obscure article that can be found by cleaning out the shed and finding it in the box at the bottom, titled “Do not open under any condition'”. Elder Ballard engaged in these type of gaslighting with the first part of the quote we started with. He said this, “Some are saying that the church has been hiding the fact that there’s more than one version of the first vision, which is just not true. The facts are we don’t study, we don’t go back and search what has been said on the subject. For example Dr. James B. Allen of the BYU in 1970, he produced an article for the church magazines explaining all about the different versions of the first vision. .” In this case, Ballard’s words are as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
Members and leaders have engaged in victim blaming and question why no one cleaned out the shed and looked through every box to find the desired information.
The Church had to be pulled into the age of information, all the while kicking and screaming. Today, there are faint rays of hope with a new openness that was imposed upon the institution. May it continue….
“In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four.”
― George Orwell, 1984