Definitely a must-watch….


  1. Mark D. December 28, 2007 at 1:04 am - Reply

    I think Ms. Whitney is wrong to claim that there is a contradiction between the assertion of a generic definition of Christianity and the claim of unique divine authority. That is a complete non sequitur. There is no logical reason why the semantic boundaries must be identical, and there is no practical reason short of advocacy of a watered down universalism for such an equivalence to be maintained.

    However, I agree completely with the proposition that Latter-day Saints should get out of the apologetic-denial-of-historical-truth business. It is enormously counterproductive.

    I do not agree with the implication that Mormon doctrine and history are equivalent. Most of this historical Mormon racism business is a witch hunt for an error that was committed by authorities long since dead and corrected some thirty years ago. Don’t you think that the statute of limitations has expired by now?

  2. Jettboy December 28, 2007 at 10:31 am - Reply

    What an idiot. She doesn’t seem to want to understand Mormons, just spout anti-Mormon beliefs about Mormon views on their own beliefs. I don’t trust her and wish someone would tell her off and point out her bigotry.

  3. Gerb Jones December 28, 2007 at 11:12 am - Reply

    what doesn’t she understand about mormons? put the history out there and the truth will set us free.

  4. Bruce Nielson December 28, 2007 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    Let me just summarize her argument so that people who don’t want to watch the whole thing can skip it:

    “Mormons should state their beliefs using the same language as the 19th century Mormons rather than reword it to reflect the truth using more mainstream language. Though this will cause ridicule (and already does) Mormons most “own” their beliefs in this way or people will not trust them.”

    I really don’t understand where she is coming from. It seems to me that “the truth” is the underlying thought, not the specific language being used.

    To use one of her examples, if to be “a god” is the same as being “like God” in my mind (this is a fact) I don’t agree with her that one is a dodge and the other a truth. Indeed, it seems to me that the connotation in this case is everything; if both mean the same thing but one will be ridiculed and smeared, it seems very reasonable to me to state it as “like God” to someone that has not theological basis for understanding “a god” except from a classic polytheistic point of view. (Which Mormons do not hold.)

    More over, the idea that people will not trust Mormons because until they “own” their beliefs via use of older 19th century language strikes me as disingenuous. The truth is that people are not likely to “trust” Mormons until they can understand “Mormon beliefs” as the Mormon understand them. Indeed, the fact that there are bigots out there that intentionally try to find embarrassing ways to frame Mormon beliefs is going to happen no matter what Mormon say or do, so I fail to see how her advice is helpful at all.

    I guess I do agree with her on one thing. I do believe Mormons need to “own” their history better. Avoiding talk of polygamy, for instance, at the Library of Congress symposium on Joseph Smith doesn’t, in my mind, make a lot of sense. So I’ll agree with her on that.

    On the other hand, the fact that she prefers to spin Mormon history via her own bias point of view fails to impress me. For example, she makes a huge deal out of modern Mormons feeling polygamy isn’t necessary for salvation but failing to reconcile it with the fact that 19th century Mormons taught it was necessary for salvation.

    She is wrong in her assessment. I feel Mormons have done a very good job of reconciling these two points of view. Kathryn Daynes has done a very good job collecting quotes on this subject and found that the actual doctrine taught in the 19th century was that you had to be *willing* to practice polygamy — because it was a commandment of God at that time — to receive the highest form of salvation. If he/she didn’t have an opportunity to do so (say for economic reasons), this did not hold them back in the next world. So this is nothing like “baptism” for the rest of the Christian world, as she asserts.

    And, this is completely consistent with the modern Mormon teaching that one must be valiant in their testimony to receive the highest rewards. For a 19th century Mormon, this would naturally be understood as not shirking on polygamy if you had the opportunity. For a 21st century Mormon polygamy would obviously not be included. There is so much consistency of belief here that I fail to see how it can even be interpreted as a change of doctrine at all. The underlying belief in exaltation only being for the valiant was taught then and is still taught now. This is not a change of doctrine, only of application of the doctrine.

    Also, she conflates salvation and exaltation here. A common mistake, even by some Mormons. I.e. We sometimes say ‘salvation’ and mean ‘exaltation’ but for her to use the terms this way without explanation is incorrect and leaves an incorrect impression.

    But I’m most deeply concerned that Whitney seems unwilling to allow Mormons to speak for themselves! Her insistence that Mormons must “own” the doctrine that polygamy is required for modern Mormons or they can’t obtain salvation is tantamount to a renunciation of all truth claims by the Mormon Church, and she knows it. So if I understand her argument correctly she is saying that she is going to have a problem with Mormons that don’t accept her biased view of our doctrines. This is logically just the same as saying “I will accept no Mormon that doesn’t admit his/her religion is false.” So much for tolerance.

  5. Nick Literski December 28, 2007 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    That’s right, Jettboy. Helen Whitney is LYING when she says that Mormonism teaches that men can become gods, right? Just like she’s LYING that plural marriage was a core belief of the LDS church in the 19th century, right? Tell us all about the REAL TRUTH, then, Jettboy! Tell us all about those “anti-Mormon LIES” she’s “spouting,” so we can be enlightened like you.

  6. Bruce Nielson December 28, 2007 at 3:20 pm - Reply


    Yes, Helen is saying something that isn’t true. She may or may not be “lying” depending on her own personal level of knowledge/ignorance. I made a long post explaining, but it’s not showing up. Hopefully it’s just in a queue somewhere.

  7. Nick Literski December 28, 2007 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    I think Helen Whitney makes important and valid observations concerning how many modern LDS downplay unusual aspects of Mormon doctrine and history. Unfortunately, those who most need to hear what she has to say will simply plug their ears, and cry “persecution!”

  8. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    Things that Helen states that are not true:

    1. Polygamy was to 19th century Mormons as baptism to Christians. – This is not true. It’s a misunderstanding of what 19th century Mormons actually taught about polygamy. It’s also a misunderstanding of the concept of “exaltation.”

    2. President Hinckly disowned the doctrine that man can become divine through the grace of Christ. – This is not true. He disowned the idea that God the Father was once a “man” not the other way around. He was correct to do so. I need to write an article about this to explain the complexities here. But the short version is that Joseph Smith in the King Follet discourse taught that God was a “man” but not that God was once a “sinful mortal man.” I believe the actual context was that God the Father once set down his life and took it up again as Jesus did – i.e. Joseph Smith actually taught that God the Father was always divine as is Jesus. God the Father was only a “man” in the same sense that Jesus was a “man.” There is a lot of equivocation that goes on here as “man” can also mean a sinful mortal man. I know of know teachings by Joseph Smith affirming this at all.

    3. Mormons want to have it both ways – they want to be both the only true Church and allow for salvation of all. – Sorry, Hellen, but Mormons don’t *want* to have it both way. Mormons *have* it both ways! That’s just it, Helen. Mormons are the only religion on earth that actually believe in a perfectly loving God that is also perfectly just and meriful. Mormon beliefs include both a general salvation for all in one of three heavens as well as a special higher reward for those that enter into covenants with God. So this is not a dodge, like her example of the Pope. This is simply an accurate understanding of Mormon theology (which Helen does not seem to have here.)

  9. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    >>> I think Helen Whitney makes important and valid observations concerning how many modern LDS downplay unusual aspects of Mormon doctrine and history. Unfortunately, those who most need to hear what she has to say will simply plug their ears, and cry “persecution!”

    I disagree. But it would be interesting to see what you mean by this. Certainly none of the examples Helen gave were valid (well, except for the part about history at the Library of Congresss symposium… I would have to agree with that point she made alone.) Do you have better examples that she didn’t mention?

  10. Clay December 28, 2007 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    I think she absolutely nailed it. I don’t know how you could be more fair and objective as an outside observer.

    We DO believe that we are literal children of God and can possibly become glorified beings similar to how God is now. If that is not official doctrine, then it needs to be officially corrected by a prophet because that is what rank and file members believe.

    From the time that Brigham Young brought the church to Utah, up until 1890, it was repeatedly taught by prophets and apostles that polygamy was an essential principle that must be accepted for exaltation. That is not anti-mormon lies. It is plain ole history. Whitney did not say we still believe that, but the fact that at one point in time it was considered essential is totally accurate.

    David O. McKay, during his time as prophet, stated in private conversation that the priesthood ban from blacks was not a doctrine but a practice and that it would change (said in 1954, according to Sterling McMurrin). Obviously Spencer Kimball felt similar. President Hinckley recently said that to believe that a man was not worthy of any blessing of the gospel because of race or ethnicity was completely contrary to the gospel of Christ. Yet, it is simple fact that most mormons believed, and many still believe, that the ban was due to a curse from God and that it was a divine doctrine. Many prophets and apostles spoke openly to this effect (Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc.) Helen Whitney is not just talking about the fact that modern Mormons disagree with the doctrinal racism, but that they wish to pretend like it was NEVER officially considered doctrine, which would be false. President Hinckley’s conference comments were the closest anyone has come to really setting the record straight in a public way, and even that was very careful and unspecific.

    The masking and hiding of information that might be unflattering that the church does is actually much more harmful to the church’s public image than anything Helen Whitney could say or produce. In fact, to a certain audience, Whitney’s work is actually helping the church because it is putting these things in context.

  11. Nick Literski December 28, 2007 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    (1) Perhaps Whitney was a bit strong in saying that plural marriage to 19th century Mormons was as important as baptism was to other christians, but her point remains. Modern LDS have tremendously downplayed the importance which this practice held among faithful 19th century Mormons. It is one thing to say that after 1906 (i.e. the JFS third manifesto) the practice was made a cause for excommunication, and was no longer considered vital. It’s quite another to claim that plural marriage has always been some sort of side-issue. Any responsible student of Mormon history is aware that “celestial marriage” for 19th century Mormons meant plural marriage. Monogamy was not touted as “celestial marriage” until the rhetoric of post-manifesto leaders.

    (2) You are correct that Whitney was inaccurate in her characterization of Hinckley’s denial. Hinckley discounted Joseph Smith’s teaching that god was once a man “like yourselves.” Frankly, however, this is an indirect disavowal of Joseph Smith’s entire doctrine of divinization. After all, if the only examples of men becoming gods are two beings who never committed sin during their mortality (as in your suggestion that god the father was a sinless mortal, if a mortal at all), then there is no worthwhile basis to believe that mortals who commit sin can repent and be exalted. Frankly, your odd rationalization of Joseph Smith’s teaching on this matter is reminiscent of Talmage’s invented claim that “celestial marriage” had no reference to plural marriage in early Mormonism. Like Talmage’s misrepresentation, however, claims such as yours will no doubt be touted someday as “what Joseph Smith always meant, and the church never taught otherwise.”

    (3) As I heard it, Whitney’s “have it both ways” comment was in regard to LDS who scream and gnash their teeth at not being considered “christians,” all the while teaching that other “christians” are in apostacy (“not christian enough,” as she put it). She has a valid point. I’ve never agreed that Mormons, who believe in a post-apostacy restoration, should be desperate to be considered part of the apostate “christian club.” If anything, real Mormons should be very, very concerned when so-called “christians” embrace the LDS church as one of their own.

  12. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    >>> Frankly, however, this is an indirect disavowal of Joseph Smith’s entire doctrine of divinization.

    Nick, we need a link to what Hinckley actually said. My memory may be wrong here, but I specifically recall him stating that we did indeed believe we can become “gods” when he was asked. My memory is that he poetically said “it’s a hope and a dream” but then when specifically asked stated “yes” as the answer. *Then* he was asked if God was once a man like us and he said he didn’t know that we taught that. In other words, if my memory is correct, Hinckley explained Mormon doctrine dead on here. Again, if I am remembering correctly, there was nothing even close to a disavowl as you are saying.

    >>> After all, if the only examples of men becoming gods are two beings who never committed sin during their mortality (as in your suggestion that god the father was a sinless mortal, if a mortal at all), then there is no worthwhile basis to believe that mortals who commit sin can repent and be exalted.

    Non sequitur

    >>> Frankly, your odd rationalization of Joseph Smith’s teaching…

    To the best of my knowledge, I am simply stating the truth as I understand it. I can understand that different people will interpret Joseph Smith’s teachings differently here. I can understand if you want to say that you personally interpret it differently here. But I have a concern if you are going to try to insist that my interpretation is in some sense “invalid” compared to yours. I simply read what was written and formed an opinion.

    Here is what Joseph actually said. Let people decide for themselves rather than try to force yoru opinion as being the only possible interpretation:
    “The scriptures inform us that Jesus said, As the Father hath power in Himself even so hath the Son power – to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious – in a manner to lay down His body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did and take it up again. Do we believe it?”

    This does not strike me as a statement of God being a sinful man on some other planet.

    Concerning Mormons being “Christians”:
    I have strong feelings about this that are based on personal experiences in my life. I once knew a man that decided to join the Mormon Church. He brought home a picture of Christ the missionaries gave him to his sister. She loved it. But when he told her it came from the Mormons she said “well then who is it?”

    The sister had been told, presumably by those in her religion, that “Mormon’s aren’t Christian.” She naturally assumed that this meant we did not see Jesus as fully divine and as the son of God and savior. The problem isn’t hers, it’s those that told her “Mormons aren’t Christian” with no additional explanation that by “Christian” they didn’t mean the dictionary definition of “Christian” (for surely Mormons qualify if you are using *that* definition) but they meant a private definition of “Christian” that was formed to exclude Mormons.

    My issue here isn’t that Mormons are being called “non-Christians.” I don’t care if they call us that or not. My issue here is that they are lying when they fail to explain that they are using a non-standard definition.

    In other words, I would have no problem with other religions saying “Mormons are Christian as per the dictionary, but they aren’t Christian as I personally understand the word: I believe one must accept the Nicean creed’s teachings to be considered Christian.”

    If all Christian did this, I would personally have no problem with it.

    There is no dual standard here. There is no “gnashing of teeth” here, as you are assuming. Again, this is my honest opinion. I believe Mormons are hurt by the implied lie, not be the actually drawing a circle to keep us out. I believe the issue here is not wanting people to have an incorrect opinion of us — not considering us outsiders.

  13. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    >>> From the time that Brigham Young brought the church to Utah, up until 1890, it was repeatedly taught by prophets and apostles that polygamy was an essential principle that must be accepted for exaltation.

    Clay, did you even read what I said? You failed to even address the argument I made.

    Clay, I am sure you are an honest person doing your best to be fair. However, it is not right for you to insist that your interpretation of things is the only possible one. It seems to me that this is what you are doing.

    Not everyone that looks at the facts you are quoting are going to interpret them in the same way. The simple truth is that we don’t know what was in the mind of the speaker and we are left to piece it together. Honest and intelligent people will look at the same facts and disagree. You need to start acknowledging this. Stop pretending that the most unfriendly interpretation of the facts is the only one available.

    >>> We DO believe that we are literal children of God and can possibly become glorified beings similar to how God is now. If that is not official doctrine, then it needs to be officially corrected by a prophet because that is what rank and file members believe.

    Clay, if I’m remembering correctly, I believe Hinckley affirmed this and denied the idea that God was “once a man” was necessarily a doctrine. This would be a true statement. If you have the actual quote to disprove my memory (and heaven knows it wouldn’t be the first time) then I might agree with you here. But please don’t start with Helen’s understanding of what Hinckley said and assume it was what he actually said. I simply don’t remember it that way. Even Nick admits this.

  14. Gerb Jones December 28, 2007 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    The church needs to face the music. It is becoming the flip flopping religion. They teach polygamy then deny it, etc.

  15. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    >>> The church needs to face the music. It is becoming the flip flopping religion. They teach polygamy then deny it, etc

    Gerb, aren’t you going to at least tackle my possible explanation for this? Or does that not matter?

  16. annegb December 28, 2007 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Well, polygamy was important. Now, it’s not. It may be a backhanded compliment that people not of our faith get upset when we change things around. All the other religions have changed things that are important to them.

    She sounds frustrated, but also a little self important because “of course, I understand Mormons better than the rest of you and this is what is truth about Mormonism.”

    I couldn’t even make that statement definitively and I’m a sixth generation Mormon.

  17. Clay December 28, 2007 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    > Clay, did you even read what I said? You failed to even address the argument I made.

    No, I didn’t read what you said. Your post was not there yet at the time I started mine. I am on the way out the door now, but I may respond to you later.

  18. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    Cool. Thanks Clay.

  19. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 6:22 pm - Reply

    >>> of course, I understand Mormons better than the rest of you and this is what is truth about Mormonis

    If there is one common thread amongst detractors of Mormonism, it’s their inability to let Mormons speak for themselves.

  20. matt howell December 28, 2007 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    A continually changing religion, Flip Flopping doctrinal teachings, denial of church history then admission of a little guilt (MMM). I truly though GOD was the same, yesterday and forever. So if God changes his doctrine, then he must be flawed. I guess I worshipped th wrong GOD since he can’t make up his mind.

  21. annegb December 28, 2007 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    Well….Matt….did he change his mind when he allowed Solomon to take all those wives? Jacob?

    I think God is one of the most inconsistent people on earth. Nah, you know what I mean. You can trace all kinds of varying doctrines and beliefs through the bible, many which directly contradict each other. I think God rolls with the times.

    He never varies from Love Thy Neighbor, though.

    Well, yes, He did, when He made Joshua kill all those children.

    See, God is so NOT the same yesterday, today, and forever. That is so Donnie and Marie.

  22. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Was anyone else beside me absolutely horrified by Whitney quoting an anonymous scholar as saying that Mormons will have some sort of future violent uprising? Where did that comment come from?

    What possible basis did this anonymous person have for saying that? Was it a tolerant thing to say? Was it backed up by some sort of information?

    For just a moment, substitute African Americans or some other minority into that statement:

    Whitney states (with my substitution): “… He still didn’t trust African Americans. Even as they move into the mainstream, that move, he felt, was a facade. They are potentially dangerous, radioactive, and could ignite though ont in his life time.”

    Will anyone here be willing to step up and admit that the above statement isn’t the worst kind of racism and bigotry?

    It makes no difference just because it was said about Mormons. This is a horrifying statement and it’s exactly the kind of socially accepted bigotry against Mormons that worries me so much. If Whitney had said this about African Americans, she would almost surely lose her job over it and everything she said afterwards would be stained and considered untrustworthy.

    If we don’t treat her statement about Mormons as the same, we are being inconsistent.

  23. Matt W. December 28, 2007 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    I don’t see the scandal in anything she said.

    I don’t however see a difference in the terms godlike and being a God.

    I think a lot of the things she points out are absolutely correct. The Church does need to stand forward and say “We did at one time believe these things, we have moved on, by the Grace of God, and do not now believe them.” Spencer W. Kimball did this with Adam-God, McConkie did this with Blacks and the Priesthood, and there are probably many other areas where this needs to be done, even if only to open the playing field back up to “We don’t know” in some regards.

    Thankfully, I believe the Church has been making an effort in this direction at least for the past 9 years I’ve been a member of it.

  24. bnielson December 28, 2007 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    Matt W.,

    What if I disagree with her interpretation of Mormon history? What if I’ve studied the very topics she brings up and I find her to be wrong? (As I already pointed out) How do I “own up” to something that I don’t agree with or even believe? Shouldn’t we at least make room for differing opinions here? And yet I don’t see her as making any room at all for anything but accepting her opinions as factual. I either agree with her that polygamy is to Mormonism as baptism is to the rest of Christianity or I’m not owning “the bold ideas of Mormonism” in her mind.

    Matt, do you see her suggesting that Mormons are dangerous as not scandalous? I see this as a pretty huge problem, personally.

  25. Eric December 29, 2007 at 12:38 am - Reply

    Good questions, Bruce. Good discussion, all.

    Could the unnamed scholar be Damon Linker, who wrote an article on the subject of Mormon fanaticism in the New Republic last year as the Romney campaign was heating up? The article is archived here:

    One relevant excerpt: “The truly radical implications of this view were brought home to me during two years (1998-2000) I spent as a (non-Mormon) visiting professor in the political science department at BYU. Like good teachers everywhere, another non-Mormon colleague and I posed moral and ethical dilemmas in our classes in order to encourage our students to reflect on the character of the beliefs they brought to the classroom. What would they do, we wondered, if the prophet in Salt Lake City commanded them to commit murder in the name of their faith, much as the God of the Old Testament supposedly instructed the ancient Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites? More than one pious young Mormon invariably responded by declaring that he would execute the prophet’s commands, no matter what.”

    The lack of a statistically sound summary of the straw poll is disconcerting.

    The analysis disconcerted none other than Richard Bushman, who responded on the website, as quoted here:

    One relevant excerpt from Bushman’s response: “Your essay chooses not to look at the historical record, because specific facts are irrelevant in explicating fanaticism. It is the logic of revelation that counts. The Mormons have to be interested in world domination because their doctrine requires it of them. Furthermore, they are all dupes of the chief fanatic and will willingly do anything he requires. You cite as proof of this extravagant claim “more than one” undergraduate who said he would kill if commanded. No mention was made of students who said they would have refused. That method is in keeping with the management of the fanatic stereotype. There is no effort to give a balanced picture. Certain key facts or incidents are made archetypal. In unguarded moments or exceptional instances the true nature of the fanatic mind reveals itself.”

    For your consideration.

    (BTW, I tried posting this once already, and it appears to have been eaten by the web server. Hopefully this rewriting will go through. If it shows up twice or more, then I apologize.)

  26. Matt W. December 29, 2007 at 8:41 am - Reply


    She said Kathleen Flake said polygamy was as baptism.

    She said an unnamed scholar (My guess is Bagley, Toscano, or Quinn, but that’s my bias showing)said we are dangerous.

    I think in saying we need to own up to our history- ie acknowledge that polygamy happened, acknowledge racism happened- Whitney is not saying anything out of line with the GAs.

    -note- For those unaware- Kathleen Flake is probably the most highly acclaimed LDS female scholar in our day, if she wants to say polygamy was like baptism, she has the right.

  27. Hellmut December 29, 2007 at 8:51 am - Reply

    bnielsen, I am sorry, man, but nothing could validate Helen Whitney’s argument better than your behavior.

    Denial, rationalization, and spin, anything but taking responsibility for our actions. It’s always somebody else’s fault.

    That’s why people don’t trust us.

  28. bnielson December 29, 2007 at 9:33 am - Reply


    Aren’t you going to at least tackle the question of whether or not if she had said it about African American’s you wouldn’t have considered it racist? I made a specific point here and you are ignoring it.

    Matt W,

    Yes, I acknowledged she was quoting someone else. Does that matter? Would you feel comfortable quoting someone else approvingly like that if it were about another minority? Mormons are certainly a minority.


    Yes, I see your point that this is probably what people are worried about. I’ve never seen Mormonism as teaching that you do whatever the prophet says and Mormons certainly don’t “do whatever the prophet says.” I’ve always understood it as “you have to get your own inspiration to confirm it.” Certainly that is the proper answer to the question you are posing from a Mormon point of view.

    In any case, I wouldn’t expect everyone to understand that, so, yes, I can see why someone might be “scared” because they don’t understand.

    However, that really wasn’t my question. I was really asking “is it tolerant to make a statement like that (approvingly) with nothing to justify it?” Or is it just plain old bigotry?

    To follow through with my previous example, let’s say that someone made the statement above about African Americans and then, rather prophetically, 200 years from now there is an African American uprising. Does this make the statement any less racist in your mind?

    Look at this statement again:
    Whitney states (with my substitution): “… He still didn’t trust African Americans. Even as they move into the mainstream, that move, he felt, was a facade. They are potentially dangerous, radioactive, and could ignite though ont in his life time.”

    I don’t care if it turns out to be true or not 200 years from now. This is a straight up racist statement and shouldn’t have been said. The fact that Mormons are a religion and preceived as white and middle class does not reduce the problem of a statement like this.

  29. bnielson December 29, 2007 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Matt W,

    >>> I think in saying we need to own up to our history- ie acknowledge that polygamy happened, acknowledge racism happened- Whitney is not saying anything out of line with the GAs.

    If this is what she meant that she didn’t really say anything at all, did she? If she just meant that we need to acknowledge our past then I feel that we are doing that, right? But I can’t acknowledge the specific examples she gives because I disagree with them. Do you see my concern?

    >>> -note- For those unaware- Kathleen Flake is probably the most highly acclaimed LDS female scholar in our day, if she wants to say polygamy was like baptism, she has the right.

    By “LDS female scholar” do you mean she *is* LDS or *studies* LDS? She isn’t a Mormon, in any case. I like what she has to say in her extended interview with PBS. That being said, her word is no more law that anyone elses. Now Kathryn Daynes, who I suspect you are confusing Kathleen Flake for *is* the foremost LDS female scholar and, as I stated above, she disagrees with the assessment that polygamy was taught as a requirement for salvation. Just read her book “More Wives Than One.”

    Now of course her word isn’t law either *but* she does back up her point of view with quotes that are pretty convincing:

    She quotes BY as saying: “If you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists *at least in your faith*” (p. 74)

    She gives several other quotes and then concludes: “those who do not bleieve [at all] in plural marriage will be damned, not those who do not practice it.”

    She follows up with a quote from Joseph F Smith to prove her point: “I understand the law of celestial marriage to mean that every man in this Church who has the *ability* to obey and practice it in reigteouness and *will not* shall be damned.” (p. 74 – emphasis is hers both times)

    George Q Cannon: “I believe there are very excellent, very worthy, very true and very faithful Latter-day Saints of both sexes who have not entered into the practice of plural marriage; and it is not for me to cast reflections upon any of my brtheren or sisters about not having obeyed that principle, unless there has been positive disobedience” (p. 74)

    Her conclusion: “The crux of the issue was faith in the princple and willingness to obey it, not that one had entered plural marriage.” (p. 74)

    Guys, it’s time to at least put this issue behind you. This *is not* the same as baptism. Period. I know this issue is a favorite amongst detractors of Mormonism, but it was a false issue from the outset. (Or at least it can be very plausibly interpreted that way and thus you are wrong to try to force the issue.)

    Incidently, the idea that “Celestial Marriage” and “Plural Marriage” were one and the same is not entirely true either. It *is* true that many Mormons spoke using the two terms interchangeably. It’s not true that a sealed marriage that was monogomous was *not* refered to as an “eternal” or “celestial” marriage.

  30. annegb December 29, 2007 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Everybody has the right to say what they think, Matt, you don’t have to be “the most acclaimed LDS scholar.” Nobody’s perfect or correct all the time, either. I’ve never made that leap (polygamy as important as baptism), it’s never even crossed my mind, and isn’t it true that in actuality a very small percentage practiced polygamy?

    Kathleen Flake could be wrong, just like the rest of us and that is her opinion only.

    I don’t hear bnielsen denying as much as pointing out the incorrect statements Helen Whitney made. Jon Krakauer made some crucial mistakes in his book, many do. People who read their books accept these things as factual and if we don’t correct them, we are also responsible.

    A factual error is a factual error. A good writer and historian avoids those and if they are made aware of them, they correct them. One Mormon’s OPINION is not a fact. It doesn’t matter how educated that person is.

    Helen’s dismay at avoidance of unpleasant history is valid; however, she’s focusing on those things, at the expense of the things that need to be complimented and recognized.

    When she does a similar expose on Catholics, who have the most inconsistent doctrinal history on the planet, I’ll believe she intends to be fair.

  31. Nick Literski December 29, 2007 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    If there is one common thread amongst detractors of Mormonism, it’s their inability to let Mormons speak for themselves.

    If there is one common thread among too many LDS members, it’s their inability to let anyone else speak about Mormonism, without immediately calling them a “detractor.” Helen Whitney is not a critic of the LDS church, nor was the documentary negative. It was frankly a beautiful production, and overall showed the LDS church in a very positive light. Non-LDS I’ve spoken to didn’t come away panicking over the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Instead, they were truly impressed by what the documentary showed about the powerful role of the LDS faith in its members’ lives. I think it’s a terrible shame that anything that isn’t generated BY the LDS church is automatically labeled “anti-Mormon” by some members.

    It reminds me of the experience of a friend of mine who worked in the LDS historical department library. He was given the task to recategorize many works. What he found (and corrected) was that literally every book about Mormonism written by a non-LDS was classified as anti-Mormon.

    Was anyone else beside me absolutely horrified by Whitney quoting an anonymous scholar as saying that Mormons will have some sort of future violent uprising? Where did that comment come from?

    It came from between your ears. The statement said nothing at all about “violent uprising,” but you chose to interpret it as such. Given how you spin (and very selectively quote) statements by Joseph Smith and Gordon Hinckley, this isn’t particularly surprising. I have a shocking statement for you—the entire world really is NOT out to get you.

    I don’t however see a difference in the terms godlike and being a God.

    You truly don’t see a difference, Matt? I don’t know how to say this without potentially being offensive, but let me try. You note that you’ve only been a member of the LDS church for 9 years. That time period has been characterized by a general deemphasis on the unique doctrines of Mormonism. That time period has been significantly different than the earlier years of my own membership in the LDS church, which began in 1979. To those with an earlier background and experience in Mormonism, substituting “becoming godlike” for “becoming a god” is a complete dodge at best, and a dramatic reconfiguration of doctrine at worst. Divinization is one of the truly beautiful doctrines of Mormonism. It teaches of a deity who truly wishes to share ALL that he has with his children. It distinguishes Mormonism from other faiths, where deity is an altogether different species, who created mankind for no other purpose than to entertain and “praise” him. I think it’s very sad that modern LDS are so defensive regarding this doctrine, nearly to the point of denying it. For that matter, a few frequent bloggernacle posters DO deny this doctrine, despite being active members of the LDS church.

    bnielsen, I am sorry, man, but nothing could validate Helen Whitney’s argument better than your behavior. Denial, rationalization, and spin, anything but taking responsibility for our actions. It’s always somebody else’s fault.

    More blunt than I wanted to be, but brilliantly and truthfully said, Helmut.

  32. Matt W. December 29, 2007 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Kathleen Flake was making a qualified statement, of course, Annegb. She was essentially saying that accepting polygamy (not living in polygamy, but accepting it as doctrinal and ok) was paramount in LDS theolgoy for a period of time in the 19th century, just as accepting Baptism is paramount in mainstream christendom.

    I don’t neccasarily agree with the Context that Helen Whitney puts it forth in, but I also do not believe she is a brigand out to destroy the church.

  33. Clay December 29, 2007 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    >She said an unnamed scholar (My guess is Bagley, Toscano, or Quinn, but that’s my bias showing)said we are dangerous.

    Dude, that is not just bias showing, its ignorance. Sorry to be rude, but that is messed up. I’m not familiar with Bagley, but as for Michael Quinn you could not be more wrong in your assumptions. Even Paul Toscano would not say something like that. Toscano always fought for Christian love in the face of the beauracratic church leadership and his beef was with authority, not the people.

    Quinn LOVES Mormonism and its people. The job of character assassination that has been done on him is almost unparalleled. The more recordings of Quinn that I’ve listened to, the more I see that he has been singled out and discredited more vigorously than any other scholar because his work was so solid and respectable, and he personally was so devoid of bitterness and ill will, and he was employed by BYU, thus he was the greatest threat to the spotless facade of the church. He was a scholarly version of John Dehlin in his motivations. The whole reason for his work was to make the past easier to handle when people came upon it. To put it in context. Unfortunately Elder Packer had a personal objection to telling the bad parts of history, even for the sake of easing the impact. He seemed to believe that the dark things could be hidden forever.

  34. bnielson December 29, 2007 at 3:35 pm - Reply


    Your context for Kathleen’s statement makes a lot more sense than the way Whitney used it. The way you phrased it makes it sound more like a vague approximation. Do you have the actual quote?

    I doubt that Whitney is “a brigand out to destroy the church”, Matt, but annegb didn’t accused her of being such. Don’t put words into his mouth here. Annegb’s point is valid.

    Matt, I can tell you are honestly trying to play “moderate” here and actually I think you are handling it very well. But it leaves me confused where you stand.

    I don’t disagree with you that the LDS Church (and I say that as if it’s some monolithic entity, which it’s not) has not always been the most forthcoming on it’s past.

    But I fail to see how *that* point can be validated through the examples she uses. She was wrong about all of them as far as I can tell.

    I think you need to take a stand here, Matt. Do you agree or disagree with the points she made? If you agree with some, which ones?

    Do you believe Mormons used to that no monogamous person will be exalted and that modern Mormons are denying this now?

    Do you believe that Presidently Hinckley disowned the doctrine of deification or do you believe he only disowned the idea that God was once a mortal man “like us”?

    Do Mormons really try to have it both ways, both accepting other religions but failing to reconcile with their absolutist claims? Of is she wrong and Mormon theology does in fact allow for both general and absolutist claims?

    You can’t have it both ways, Matt. You need to take a stand here. She is either appropriately explaining Mormon history and doctrine or she isn’t. (Or perhaps in some cases she is and some she isn’t.) Besides the general point that the LDS Church hasn’t always fessed up to their past, did you agree with anything she said? Did you think any of her examples were relevant to that point?

  35. matt howell December 29, 2007 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Hinkley denies every uncomfortable doctrine taught in the LDS church. I wonder if he even knows what the church is anymore. He denied we would become GODS. He denies and is against Polygamy although section 132 is still in the canon of scripture. (take it out if it doesn’t jive anymore and be done with it or you fuel more critics of it). So many things our Prophet won’t agree to. I can see it now: “Let’s tell our followers one thing, but deny it to the non-mormons so they don’t think we’re weird!”.

  36. bnielson December 29, 2007 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Okay, all this talk about Presidently Hinckley saying that the LDS Church doesn’t teach that man can become like God (or gods, if you prefer) got me to google for this. I’ve got to say that I can’t find a full transcript anywhere (it may not exist) and it only taken out of context.

    But FAIR has an article on this:

    Here is what they say:
    Mr. Ostling replied with a handwritten memo stating, “Here’s the transcript of my question and President Hinckley’s response to me. This came just after a long discussion on whether men can become gods, which the President affirmed. You can judge Mr. Watson’s “out of context” assertion for yourself.”

    Here is the portion of the transcript in question:

    Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.

    A: Yeah

    Q: …about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?

    A: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.

    Sorry, guys, but it looks like my memory was right on this one. Presidently Hinckley did not deny the doctrine of deification. He simply said he isn’t willing to make a specific interpretation on God the Father having once been a man like we are. He even went so far as to say he understands the philosophical reason for the teaching. This didn’t even come close to a denial as so many, even on this site, made it sound.

    Looks like Hinckley nailed LDS Doctrine here, at least in my honest opinion. Looks like its time to drop this one as an issue also. And Whitney was obviously misrepresenting this.

    I suppose I can understand why some people might feel Hinckley could have been more forth coming… but let’s at least not pretend that he denied deification because he didn’t.

    Besides, if you start with the assumption that President Hinckley honestly feels it’s wrong to give meat before milk, it’s hard to really complain much about what looks to me to be a relatively straightforward and truthful answer.

  37. bnielson December 29, 2007 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    >>> He denied we would become GODS.

    matt howell,

    Oops, I was a bit too slow and posted my posting right after yours.

    Please take a look at the evidence I’m presenting. It really looks to me like you have incorrectly heard what Presidently Hinckley actually said. Ostling (that would be the interviewer) states that Hinckley did not deny that we can become gods. I fear you’ve fallen for an anti-Mormon trap here. You’ve made the mistake of believing hearsay. Please take a look at the actual evidence and please look at the link. Then please tell me if you feel you should retract your statement or not.

    All this todo about nothing, it would appear.

  38. annegb December 29, 2007 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Matt: agreed. I think she honestly thinks she understands and that she honestly feels just as frustrated as many of us do when we would like to be more open and just say, “this is what we believed. Now we don’t. Get over it.”

    I’d like to see your answers to bnielsens questions, not to trap you or anything, but to better understand where you’re coming from.

    For instance, I am one who has stated uncategorically in Sunday School that I believe the priesthood ban was racism. Boy, did that go over like …..something that doesn’t go over very well. There are men in our ward who will probably never get over it and I assume my name is on the troublemaker list in Salt Lake.

    I’m not advocating dishonesty. But like Krakauer, (I liked his book, by the way), Helen, who professes admiration and respect for us as she criticizes, she has failed to recognize the gist of some of the issues she is discussing.

    Krakauer totally left out the First Vision from his story of how our church started. I agree with, is it Stegner, who said, “I could never write about Mormonism because there’s too much to explain.”

    Again, I don’t here Helen griping about all the inconsistencies in Catholicism. Why do people expect perfection from us when they’re so blase about the flaws in other religions and their leaders? Where is Huckabee on Jimmy Swaggart?

    Oh, that was totally off the subject, sorry, I’m still back in another discussion. But it bears the point that we are unfairly targeted and nitpicked. What other Christian religion on earth could hold up crystal clear and clean under such scrutiny?

    Why don’t we just write to Helen, call her on her bad word meaning excrement and ask her to re-phrase her opinion? John, can you discuss this with her?

  39. Matt W. December 29, 2007 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    matt howell, you are being a jerk and trying to push a polemic.

    bnielsen, I went back to the source, and I was actually surprised by it. Here is where Whitney pulled the baptising from, so far as I can tell:

    I think doctrinally people miss the significance of polygamy. … This desire to become like God included thinking about God as Father and themselves as fathers and mothers. Of course, one of Smith’s teachings was there was a God the Mother as well. So this idea of becoming like God included this idea of becoming like God the Father and God the Mother. So parenting was hugely important, and this parenting occurred in these kinship structures, whereby you not only parented by giving birth, but you parented by adopting families into your family. So it’s a web. It’s a creation of kinship that has to do with salvation or exaltation as the Latter-day Saints would believe.

    So to walk away from that was not just walking away from a sexual arrangement, which is how it was generally discussed. For Mormons to walk away from polygamy was to walk away from an entire kinship structure that not only gave meaning to their most intimate associations but also was related very directly to their understanding of how one was saved.

    So this was a big deal. It was a major debate. And sometimes I think it’s easier to think of if you went to another Christian and said: “The United States is going to legislate against baptism. You can’t baptize anymore.” Well, what would they do? They would start doing it in swimming pools; they would dig a hole in their basements. They would still baptize.

    So Mormons were still performing these celestial marriages, because to them they were related to salvation. This is what gave you an endowment of power from on high through which to engender a particular kind of holy life within your children certainly, but also within this larger network of kinship. So … before the bar of judgment, I think what Mormons think — it is to be standing there with all their kin, not their actions, not their ascent to God’s sovereignty, not their acceptance of Jesus as their savior only. The force of it is to stand there with their kin, people they love, that love them, and who will say: “Yes, this person helped me in my spiritual growth and my spiritual life. This person participated in my salvation with you, Jesus.”

    It’s here for the whole thing:

    Perhaps there is something in the elipses?

  40. Hellmut December 29, 2007 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    <a href+”Here is the link to the interview:

    Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?

    A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.

    Q: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?

    A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.

    Clearly, Hinckley is taking a position with national media that he has not previously shared with the membership of the LDS Church.

  41. Hellmut December 29, 2007 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    Anne, I am not sure if it is reasonable to expect of Helen Whitney that she share something positive about Mormonism every time she talks about us. In her documentary, she shares plenty of positive aspects about the LDS Church, our culture, and our people.

    In this case, Whitney is exploring the role of secrecy in Mormonism. For reasons that she explains, she considers secrecy a negative.

    It would be silly to “balance” that with unrelated information just to please segments of the audience.

    It ought to be possible to look at aspects of the Mormon experience that are unpleasant for their own sake.

  42. bnielson December 29, 2007 at 7:05 pm - Reply


    Look at your own quote:

    “Clearly, Hinckley is taking a position with national media that he has not previously shared with the membership of the LDS Church.”

    But you back it up with a quote that doesn’t say anything but what Mormons do in fact believe, I think.

    By comparision to your assessment, Hinckley quite forwardly admits to the first half of this, that we can become gods: “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.”

    The part he isn’t sure about is the reverse, that God was once a “man”. This seems like an appropriate place to not speculate to the national media on, personally.

    Now look at the quote I put up. Ostler states that Hinckley affirmed the doctrine of deification.

    Based on this, I’m not sure what you are getting at. Are you agreeing with matt howell that Hinckley denied that we can become gods, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary now? Or did you mean something else? If you meant something else, what was it?

    >>> It would be silly to “balance” that with unrelated information just to please segments of the audience.

    Whether she needs to show “balance” or not, I cannot say. But I think being factually correct probably matters a lot more. Are you saying she was factually correct, Hellmut? If so, how do you justify this with the evidence I’ve put up for you to review?

    Hellmut, I don’t know you so please understand that I can’t possibly understand your background or where you are coming from. I’m not trying to play hard ball with you here. But if you are going to hold the LDS church to a certain high standard of truth, do you see that it makes sense that you are held to it to?

    I have specific evidence for you to consider and frankly you’ve completed avoided it so far. Isn’t this the very error that you claim the LDS Church is making? Show me that you hold yourself to the same standard of truth that you use with the LDS Church, please.

  43. Clay December 30, 2007 at 9:09 am - Reply


    To get back to your earlier point about polygamy being required for exaltation, how much of this statement from Brigham Young is about interpretation?

    “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.”

    Now, keep in mind that I am not saying it is a continuing secret doctrine of the church they are hiding, but just that at one point in the history it was absolutely required that everyone accept it in their hearts, and those asked to do it were required to comply at risk of their exaltation.

  44. Clay December 30, 2007 at 9:20 am - Reply


    What exactly puts you in a position to call Matt out to take a stand, or demand that he come correct with you about where he stands?

  45. Trevor December 30, 2007 at 9:28 am - Reply


    You ask:

    “Was anyone else beside me absolutely horrified by Whitney quoting an anonymous scholar as saying that Mormons will have some sort of future violent uprising? Where did that comment come from?”

    No, I was not absolutely horrified, because it was pretty clear that she thought this person’s view was extreme.

  46. bnielson December 30, 2007 at 10:49 am - Reply


    I see what you are saying is a possible interpretation of Whitney. Though I think you are reading in more than she actually implied, I can see your point.

    But answer me this, even if Whitney was feeling that it was an extreme point of view, if it had been said about a racial minority, would you honestly feel it wasn’t a racist statement for her to make? If you can honestly say you still feel okay about it, I will stop bother you on this and I will accept that you have an honest and consistent disagreement with me on this.

    But if you can’t say in good conscience that you are okay with that statement being made as it was (unfounded and without any sort of direct denunciation), then I feel you need to admit that this was a prejudice statement on her part.

  47. bnielson December 30, 2007 at 11:08 am - Reply


    >>> but just that at one point in the history it was absolutely required that everyone accept it in their hearts, and those asked to do it were required to comply at risk of their exaltation.

    I am not understanding the point you are making, Clay, because it would seem we are now in completely agreement. ???

    Whitney stated that the Church required an actual plural marriage to receive savlation and that Mormons saw it the same as baptism. Now you are acknowledging that the actual doctrine was simply that you had to believe in it. (Btw, Daynes covers that very quote from BY, so yes, I was aware of it.)

    Again, I have to ask if Whitney was making a factually correct point? Do Mormons see plural marriage the way other Christians see baptism? Yes or no? If no, why aren’t you acknowledging that she was factually wrong in her assessment?

    I agree with you that 19th century Mormons believe that they had to accept plural marriage as a doctrinally correct principle to receive exaltation. Today Mormons still accept that for the 19th century Mormons it was a doctrinally correct principle and that they had to accept it to receive exalation. What am I missing here? I’m not only not seeing a change I’m not even seeing a lack of “owning” the true doctrine that was taught.

    Clay, I’m expressing an honest point of view based on my honest best attempts to study this matter out. I am not see the point you are making. I am not seeing Whitney as being correct and in fact it seems that what she said was a fairly serious distortion of the facts.

    >> What exactly puts you in a position to call Matt out to take a stand, or demand that he come correct with you about where he stands?

    I want to apologize to Matt W on my statement “You need to take a stand here.” Clay is right that I have no right to make this a “demand.”

    On the other hand, I do feel that it is correct for Matt to not make general statement but instead to deal with the actual facts and counter facts being presented. Thus I respectfully request (not demand) that Matt express his honest point of view about the facts being discussed rather than just take a general stand that he feels Whitney is not a “brigand out to destroy the Church.” Again, I apologize if what I said came across as rude.

    Please understand that if you were sitting here in front of me and we were discussing this where you could hear my actual tone of voice that this statement would not have seen as bad as it must seem in text. Since I can’t take the text back I can only apologize for it and throw myself at Matt’s mercy and then remake the actual point I was trying to make but failed to do so.

  48. bnielson December 30, 2007 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Nick Literski,

    Somehow I missed your response in #31. Up until I read that post, I really thought you were being quite reasonable, even if we disagree. Now you’re just being rude.

    For example, since when does someone presenting counter facts the same as rationalizing or denying something? Yet you easily support Hellmut’s emotional outburst without any discussion at all.

    Your point about Mormons calling anyone else a “detractor” is merely an opinion, so I can hardly agree or disagree with it. It seems likely there is some truth to what you say, but it seems inappropriate for you to lump me in to that crowd just because I came back with facts to disprove what Whitney was saying. (And ironically it makes you guilty of the very thing you accuse Mormons of.)

    Heck, you even agreed with me in a previous post that she misrepresented actual Mormon teachings in some cases. Why the sudden change of heart from honest discussion to emotional insults flung for no reason?

    I realize that sometimes the line between rigorous debate and “insult” may be blurred when we are just typing text.

    We all hold tightly to our religious beliefs and we are all biased towards them. For you, Nick, I realize this is a strong fundamentalist bent. (From a different post, not here.) Thus I actually see where you are coming from. You dislike the fact that the Church is less bold in how they state their doctrines now, carefully rewording things to reduce the misunderstandings to outsiders.

    In all honesty, if I believed as you did, I would probably agree with you. But I don’t, I’m afraid. I’m quite happy to see the Church dismiss some of their “doctrines” that later revelation proved false or to be more sensitive to connotations inherit in words. I simply do not share your view that “become like God” vs. “become gods” is somehow fundamentally different.

    So Nick, please really note that I’m trying my best to not be insulting or throw insults or do to anything but actually present facts and explain my honest point of view and to ask for input from the rest of you on how you see those facts yourself. I would respectfully ask that you do the same.

    I’m concerned that so few (really only you so far) have felt comfortable admitting that Helen Whitney did indeed misrepresent modern Mormon beliefs. For those that say she didn’t, it would be really nice to have them at least explain how they interpret the facts I’ve presented differently than I do.

    I can’t show my tone of voice here. I suspect that many of you think I’m being harsh or insulting. Nick’s sudden move away from discussion to insults certainly suggests this. But please look over what I’ve said so far and try to read it without a negative tone of voice — for that is how I am thinking it in my head.

    I am being factual and I’m expressing honest opinions and asking for input. The one time Clay suggested I had said something that was disagreeable I apologized immediately. You all need to take this into consideration.

    I’m not sure what else I can do to coax the rest of you into actually responding to what I’ve presented. I get the feeling that emotions run so high on negative feelings towards the LDS Church’s past transgressions about their own history that when no trangression has been committed that many of you simply can’t admit it now. Maybe this is a correct impression of you all, maybe it’s not. I simply cannot tell.

    All I can tell is that I have presented facts that I personally feel prove that Whitney was mistaken on some fairly significant points she made. I have no idea why the rest of you feel that her points were valid.

  49. bnielson December 30, 2007 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Matt W,

    I just noticed your post #39. I get the feeling some of these posts simply didn’t show up a while ago.

    Wow, just wow! I remember reading Flake saying that previously. It didn’t strike me until you posted it that I actually already read it.

    Yes, I have NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER with what Flake says here. The analogy, as she used it, was entirely accurate.

    Matt W, my concern was never with what Flake said. It was with Whitney’s out of context use of it.

    Whitney: “[Polygamy] was as important, as Kathleen says in the film, as baptism was for the ordinary Christian.”

    Be honest with me here. Do you really feel that Whitney correctly quoted and appropriately used Kathleen’s example? Do you see why I take exception to it?

    I should probably note that Whitney says this in response to “some Mormons” telling her that polygamy was never central.

    Let me take some middle ground here. I can’t possibly know who these “some Mormons” are so I have no way of knowing if Whitney is correctly quoting them or not.

    It would not suprise me that perhaps a modern Mormon, looking to the Book of Mormon teachings on polygamy as an exception, not a rule, might in their minds properly characterize plural marriage as “not central” but with full knowledge that 19th century Mormons had to accept the principle to be exalted. If this is what they meant, then I agree with them and I feel Whitney is doubly wrong here.

    However, if these Mormons in fact meant that 19th century Mormons used to believe that polygamy was not related to be valiant in following the commandments of God, then I in fact do agree with Whintey that these Mormons are incorrect in their assessment of actual Mormon historical teachings. Does that help clarify?

    In any case, I would tend to see it as the former, not the later. And considering how badly Whitney butchers the quote from Flake, it seems very likely she also butchered the actual understanding of the statement the “some Mormons” made.

    Forgive me for imputing movtive here (though note that many have imputed motives for me) but I do believe Whitney, as a non-Mormon that is considered an expert, is biased in her views of Mormonism and that she’d have a hard time telling the important but nuanced difference between the two interpretations I just suggested. I do not believe this makes Whitney a brigand. I just makes her a typical biased human being.

    However, it still makes her factually incorrect.

  50. bnielson December 30, 2007 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    Oh, I just noticed something else. While relistening to Whitney so that I could get the quote about baptism and polygamy straight, I noticed that she says that President Hinckly seemed to disown the idea that man can become gods on Larry King Live.

    I am fairly certain that she is mistaken. I do believe she is refering to the Ostler interview with Time.

    In any case, I have two transcripts of Hinckley with Larry King:

    Dec 26th 2004:

    Sept 14 2001:

    I’m not seeing any questions at all about men becoming gods. Is there possibly another interview that I missed? Did I possibly miss the question? I post here so that we can all look at the facts and discuss openly without prejudice.

    In any case, I’m still thinking she meant the Time / Ostler interview. But if I’m wrong and there is indeed a Larry King quote where Hinckly seems to disown the doctrine of deification, then let’s get it up here and let’s address it. If Hinckly did disown this doctrine, I’ll be the first to say he was wrong to do so.

    However, I stand by the truth here: Hinckley did not disown the doctrine to Ostler and Ostler admits this. This is the quote most people use and it’s taken out of context. Truth is truth. Even if you dislike some aspects of the LDS Church, you all have a duty to not misrepresent it. I would appreciate if at least some of you would admit that much.

    If Hinckley did disown the doctrine to King, then Whitney is correct. But I’d like to see the quote just to be sure.

    Update: I just reviewed a collection of quotes from Hinckley on They have two quotes where Hinckley claims to not know if God was once a man as we are. One is the Time/Ostler interview. The other is for the San Fran Chronicle. I can find no disavowls at all of the doctrine of deification. (i.e. that men can become divine.)

    If Whitney was wrong, let’s admit it and let’s admit she misrepresented Hinckley and move on with our lives. We should not treat her differently than we treat the Church. Both must be held to the same standards of truth.

    If Hinckley did in fact disavow deification, let’s admit he was wrong and move on.

    I suppose I can see Whitney hearing an anti-Mormon rumor and believing it (because of her biases), even though it was just an out of context quote. I suppose I can see Hinckley being put on the spot and saying something that wasn’t right. I’m open to either possiblity here. They are both just human.

    But let’s get the truth and admit to it. Let’s stop saying things like:

    “what doesn’t she understand about mormons? put the history out there and the truth will set us free.”

    “Tell us all about those “anti-Mormon LIES” she’s “spouting,” so we can be enlightened like you.”

    “I think she absolutely nailed it. I don’t know how you could be more fair and objective as an outside observer.”

    “I think a lot of the things she points out are absolutely correct.”

    These quotes are not appropriate if Whitney was in fact factually wrong on her key points.

    Okay, that last comment isn’t so bad, I admit. Personally, I’m not entirely sure she said anything that was factually correct. She made some “opinion” statements that I can hardly attempt to prove or disprove, however.

    I’m holding myself to the three points that I feel I’ve proven are incorrect.

    1) Hinckley didn’t disown deification as a doctrine. Unless someone can produce the quote, I think my point should stand. I have no problem with being proven wrong here.

    2) Mormons don’t disown 19th century plural marriage nor did they (the 19th century Mormons) once see it as the same a other Christians see baptism.

    3) Mormons do not downplay their truth claims when they recognize general salvation for all. They are not trying to “have it both ways” like the Catholic church.

    Matt W, I really appreciate you talking this out with me without getting angry just because I’m asking challenging questions.

    Nick, I appreciate that you acknowledged, at least in part, the errors she made. I hope you’ll move back to that mode and make this a discussion again.

    Clay, you recently produced a quote from BY but I didn’t understand the point you were making. I hope you’ll continue the discussion. I’m not saying you are right or wrong, I’m saying I don’t understand what you are getting at.

    Hellmut, I hope you’ll stop being insulting and actually address the points I’ve made.

    matt howell and Greb Jones, I hope you’ll stop spreading around statements that frankly seem to be disproven at this point. Instead, try to make this a productive conversation by backing what you are saying with facts like I am doing. (Again, I may be wrong about Hinckley and I’ll admit it if I am.)

    Trevor, I do not disagree with what you are saying per se. I am open to an intrepretation of Whitney’s statement that isn’t bigoted. However, I feel that it’s wrong to have a “dual standard” so I would appreciate a response on my question concerning whether or not you would feel the same about her statement if it had been about a racial minority.

    Eric and annegb, I really appreciate your insightful comments both of you.

  51. bnielson December 30, 2007 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Oh, and #4: I am asserting that to most Mormons there is in fact no underlying conceptual difference between “being like God” and “being gods” so I’m asserting Whitney was wrong about this too.

    Did she actually make any other points besides these four? I think she mentioned that the priesthood ban had possible race implications, or something like that. I guess that’s vague enough to be true. She also made the point that the LDS scholars held a symposium about Joseph Smith without a single session on plural marriage. I already agreed with Whitney on this. (Though I am perhaps not as cynical as her here. I suspect that the speakers chose their own subjects and that “The Church” had nothing to do with this at all and would have had no problem with a discussion on plural marriage.)

    Did I miss any of the points she made? So I am asserting that she got 4 out of 6 wrong and was vague on one of the remaining ones and overly cynical on the other. No wonder I didn’t think much of what she said.

  52. bnielson December 30, 2007 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Sorry for the million of posts. Here I’ll do one more to apologize. ;) I just missed some previous statements and I think it was that they didn’t show up previously, but it may just be my own fault.

  53. annegb December 30, 2007 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    You’re right, Hellmut, sorry. I wonder how I, loving many Catholics notwithstanding, would do at interpreting their beliefs.

    I had never heard that quote by President Hinckley disavowing the “little couplet”. I always thought it was doctrine. CS Lewis came to the same conclusion on his own, I think we should quote him instead.

    bnielsen is right about at least one thing: she did make some errors and you have failed to admit that she did. That’s two things. Well, and you refuse to admit that the errors she made matter.

    Which I don’t care that much about one way or the other, because nobody’s gotten us right yet.

  54. Clay December 30, 2007 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    My overall point is that I think those offended by Whitney in this video are just missing her tone, and likely being a little too defensive. I really did not get the impression that she was trying to be specifically negative when she brought those things up.

    We Mormons like to think we are a peculiar people, and we are more peculiar than we even realize. We think that everything is so neat and clear and black/white. If Whitney mentions anything negative, she’s against us. I just don’t think that is the case at all. Most educated people outside of Mormonism are capable of taking these quirks in our history alongside the good stuff and not getting worked up about it. For most Mormons, its persecution for anyone to even talk about it.

    We could progress as a people so much more if we could all just get over ourselves.

  55. Devin December 30, 2007 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Even though these three doctrines are controversial, they are wonderful to consider if we view the church as a living, growing church reaching to understand the will of God. If we want to say the church is true (whatever your definition you want to use) than you have to attempt an understanding of these doctrines: blacks denied the priesthood, polygamy as a requirement for salvation, and deification. If God’s hand is in the work, then we must understand what God wants us to learn from them.

    First, consider the practice of denying blacks the priesthood. I believe the lesson we learn from this is that our prophets are fallible and struggle to understand the will of God and rely upon their own understanding. The doctrinal practice changed as the prophets became enlightened to the will of God. With this idea in mind, when the fullness of the truth was been restored, maybe that meant that humanity was no longer denied God’s presence rather than the concept that all truths were restored.

    So, what is the lesson to be learned from polygamy? In my opinion, polygamy is a representation of our relationship with God – those of us who follow the will of god as best as we can are a representation of many wives. It does not make sense that polygamy will be lived in the life here after because the concept would imply that God values males more than females, and it is believed that he is not a respecter of persons.

    The doctrine of deification is perhaps the most interesting. Take in mind the fallible nature of doctrine. We cannot assume because something is taught and believed that it represents the will of God. As was previously mentioned, Joseph Smith taught that God may have been like Christ on a previous world, and the scripture are clear that Jesus alone will inherit all that God has. Humanity only becomes coheirs with Christ – He is the God while we join in his work.

    And, if we believe that the Church is a restoration of the ancient Church, we have to bear in mind what they understood deification to be. None of the Church father’s presumed we would be just like God, but that we would join in His nature united in a similar fashion as that of the Godhead. Christ is the groom while we are the bride.

    Given what the Scriptures teach, the Church Father’s believed, and Joseph taught it would not be too far of a stretch to suggest that Jesus alone will be God, and maybe our role in the eternities will be similar to the present – each of us bearing and rearing spirit children who worship not us, but God. We are joined in his nature and like him, but not him.

    Of course, these are my opinions and feelings as I’ve pondered what has been written. And, I’ll point out that they are justified based on our understanding, which is why we need to own the doctrines. We will never understand the will of God if we think his revelation is complete. Nor will we have lasting faith if we assume our prophets completely understand God’s will. We have to understand that doctrines will change as we and our prophets are willing to accept new truth, and in this way we prepare ourselves to stand in the presence of God and be like him (whatever that may be).

  56. matt howell December 31, 2007 at 12:09 am - Reply

    It’s pointless to discuss with bnielson and the others calling me a polemic or whatever. As for bnielson and his “anti-mormon” trap bologne; that is ridiculous. I grew up being taught we would become gods. You know damn well you were taught that in manuals, lessons, etc. Hinckley knows it was taught. I don’t care if you can find a quote or not. It was taught. My dad was a bishop, stake president and he taught it. My Mission President taught it. My temple president taught it.

    Lay it down. You’re apologetic rhetoric is completely stale and shows your tunnel vision. You know damn well the god thing is a big issue for mormons, exmormons, non-mormons, etc. Don’t act like it’s no big deal. It is a big deal for many of people.

  57. Doug G. December 31, 2007 at 2:24 am - Reply

    Helen Whitney’s perceptions are HER realities…Everyone has a bias, bnielson seems reasonably sure of his and I’m reasonably sure of mine.

    I feel it’s unfair to attack her opinions about Mormon doctrine when many members of the church have some of the same misconceptions. I’m sure we can lawyer-up the interview and poke holes in many things she and others have stated about Mormon beliefs. In this contents, the actual truth of the doctrines is not nearly as important has the frustration she experienced in interviewing members and leaders of the church about those beliefs.

    The General Authorities of the church were very pleased with the balanced approach her documentary used in presenting “The Mormons”. We were encouraged to watch it over the pulpit and from the Ensign. Helen Whitney is highly acclaimed and well respected by most for her fairness and evenhandedness. We would do well in this forum to be as fair to her as she was to us…

  58. Eric January 1, 2008 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    First of all, Happy New Year! to you all.

    Second, I apologize that I have not been able to keep up with all of the comments. Skiing Utah snow and spending time with family (synonymous) have interrupted.

    I did notice something that I thought was relevant to Bruce’s question regarding bigotry. I watched an interview of Patrick Byrne (on Utah’s KUED with Doug Fabrizio), who received a lot of recent Utah publicity because of his public and somewhat acerbic support for school vouchers. Fabrizio asks Byrne what his least favorite thing is about Utah. As a self-proclaimed “lapsed Catholic” “from Vermont”, he decries the anti-Mormon bigotry that seems rampant in many circles in Utah. Worth a watch.


  59. Eric January 1, 2008 at 1:54 pm - Reply
  60. bnielson January 2, 2008 at 10:56 am - Reply

    That interview was very interesting.

    I actually disagree with him that the only two remaining groups that it’s okay to be bigoted against are Arabs and Mormons. I think intolerance is still quite widespread in our culture today. We just have a hard time making the leap between “intolerance against racial minorities” to other equal forms of intolernace.

    For example, there is still quite a bit of intolerance to overweight people. They are stereotyped on TV shows and made the butt of jokes in much the say way African American’s once were.

    Likewise I was appalled as the bigotry displayed in the (relatively) recent movie “V” against Evangelical Christians. It was sickening. And this from a guy that doesn’t hesitate to point out how often Evangelical Christians are themselves intolerant of others. (At least the vocal ones that make the news, anyhow.)

    I think we just don’t realize that intolerance in all forms is really the same thing. One type of intolernace is not better or worse than another type. They are really just the same disease.

    Yes, there is a great deal of intolerance, stereotyping, and bigotry against Mormons. But we really aren’t particularly singled out. Human beings seem to have a very natural tendency towards prejudice that requires strong cultural changes to overcome.

    I don’t think prejudice or intolernace is going way in the near future. And we are all guilty of it from time to time.

  61. Matt W. January 2, 2008 at 12:24 pm - Reply


    my point of view- I think Helen has done the church a wonderful service by producing her excellent documentary and by dusting off these issues and putting them forward in an extremely respecable format. I think her point is that the Church needs to make an effort to acknowledge it’s history in an effective manner and move on from there. I believe the Church agrees with this perspective and is working toward doing the same.

    Some of her examples she uses are problematic, but her point is valid, nonetheless.

    fair enough?

  62. jayspec January 2, 2008 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Boy, a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth on this one! I found Whitney’s remarks to be pretty right on. I think the Church tries to have it both ways. And, we are “Protestantizing” our image with a “wink-wink” toward our doctrines and beliefs. We do not want to appear to be anything but mainstream Christians with extra scripture. But yet, teach the great apostacy in Sunday School and the need for a restoration of the “True Church.” Polygamy is part of our history and remains a doctrine of the Church with its practice suspended.

    I, myself was attracted to the Church because of the unique doctrines which made much more sense than the prevailing Christian ideas, that made no sense to me at all. Like the Trinity, like the concept of Grace with no accountability and the ideas that we are being acted upon by opposing force with little to no responsibility for our own actions (if it is good, it is God, if it is bad, it is the devil).

    Some of the reaction to Whitney that I see here is similar to the ones I got while leading a discussion in Gospel Doctrine class before the lesson. I asked the question, ” Did anyone watch ‘The Mormons” this week? if so, what did you think?” The responses from the class was pretty uniform. “Lies, damn lies!” Only a few saw the real value of the program to others outside of our faith. Most objected to what they saw as “errors” and failed to see the big picture. In order to evaluate Whitney’s comments on the clip, it seems to me important to view the whole video for the proper context.

  63. Matt W. January 3, 2008 at 10:01 am - Reply

    jayspec, I was also disappointed in the reaction of many to “The Mormons” video.

    Anyway, as for the church wanting to appear to be mainstream, I wanted to comment that we had a fireside about a year ago with the person in charge of advertising for the Church. One of the main purposes, he reported, of the “Truth Restored” campaign is to reemphasize the unique teachings of the church. I don’t know if it happened, but one thing he mentioned was taking out ads in newspapers with things like “God has a body” or “Families can be together forever” or “We lived before we were born” etc etc.

  64. Equality January 3, 2008 at 10:57 am - Reply

    “Anyway, as for the church wanting to appear to be mainstream, I wanted to comment that we had a fireside about a year ago with the person in charge of advertising for the Church. One of the main purposes, he reported, of the “Truth Restored” campaign is to reemphasize the unique teachings of the church. I don’t know if it happened, but one thing he mentioned was taking out ads in newspapers with things like “God has a body” or “Families can be together forever” or “We lived before we were born” etc etc.”

    None of which, ironically, is a unique teaching of the LDS church. Which raises an interesting question: are there really any unique teachings in the LDS church? If so, what are they? It seems to me that the uniqueness of the LDS church is seen only when numerous doctrines and practices are viewed together–it’s the amalgamation of non-unique doctrines into a coherent (or, perhaps, semi-coherent) system that makes Mormonism unique, rather than any one specific doctrine.

  65. jayspec January 3, 2008 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    One aspect of the Truth Restored campaign that I liked was that it was supposed to be real people saying things from their heart. I was touched by the videos I saw on the website.

    The fact is that the Church and the Gospel does have a very profound and emotionally positive effect on people who embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Looking at those videos confirms it as well as the numerous experiences that I have had.

    It troubles me greatly that we see people leaving the Church and foregoing the “peace the gospel brings.” It’s a shame.

  66. Equality January 3, 2008 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    “The fact is that the Church and the Gospel does have a very profound and emotionally positive effect on people who embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Looking at those videos confirms it as well as the numerous experiences that I have had.”

    I think it might be more accurate to say that the church has a positive effect on some people, including yourself. On others, it has a mixed effect. Still others have a profoundly negative or traumatic experience in the church.

    “It troubles me greatly that we see people leaving the Church and foregoing the “peace the gospel brings.” It’s a shame.”

    Let not your heart be troubled, dear japyspec. And there is no shame in following one’s conscience, mind, and heart out of Mormonism if that is where they lead. There is peace and joy aplenty to be found both in and out of Mormonism.

  67. jayspec January 3, 2008 at 8:23 pm - Reply


    Since we already know that you come from a position of negativity as far as the Church is concerned such that even positive statements must be couched with a “not everyone has this experience.”

    I was merely alluding to the fact that some folks willing give up the Gospel for things that they see wrong with the Church. The Gospel is the perfecting agent, not the Church organization, which is full of imperfect people.

    For example, I hate drivers who talk on their cell phones while driving. I don’t give up driving because of that. Also, I despise how corrupt and unrepresentative our government has become, but I don’t give up voting.

    In other words, I am unwilling to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    But I agree that there is no shame if someone decides to leave the Church and pursue another spritual journey. But, I find it strange that some that do, such as yourself, can’t seem to leave the church alone.

  68. bnielson January 3, 2008 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    I wish to make a final post on this subject, since I’ve unfortunately dominated this discussion but I feel wrong leaving things as they are.

    We all have varied and different backgrounds and thus varied world views. The concerns of one are not always the concerns of another. But despite this we, as humans, form communities out of what we have in common with one another.

    The LDS Church is such a community. So is Though very different in some ways, I don’t see the professed mission of either as odds with each other. I was attracted to this site precisely because it was about building bridges.

    No one here knows my history, if you’ll pardon the pun, though many have already assumed much about me. I came here because many of my goals matched those I saw here. Like many of you, I have a concern about the candor of the LDS Church (and by that phrase, I mean the full body of the believers, not just “the brethren”) and I also share concerns over it’s failures to address its history fully. My favorite “LDS Book” is Rough Stone Rolling. I ate up every minute of “The Mormons” finding it to be amazing in its historical details and context.

    Part of building bridges is to understand the values of those you build the bridge with so that you can advance your values without undermining theirs. This is a messy process, to be sure, but one worth pursuing.

    In spite of my love for Whitney’s work in The Mormons, I am very uncomfortable with the snippet of her conversation presented here. In my sloppy way I tried to express this. Perhaps the failure to communicate is primarily mine.

    I have two issues with this snippet that are very simple:
    1) If Whiney wishes to ask Mormons to own up on the facts of their history, it is only right to expect her to have the facts correct.
    2) While it is right to expect someone to accept facts, it is not right to expect them to interpret those facts in only the ways you wish to see them interpreted. My fear is that Whitney, as well as many in this community, confuse “candor” with a specific interpretation.

    My concerns expressed are valid concerns, to me at least. They would be valid concerns to many LDS people. Thus they should be a concern for any community interested in building bridges to the LDS community in general.

    An example of the first concern was Whitney’s statement that President Hinckley disowned that men can become gods to the public but then affirmed it to a group of Mormons. I believe I’ve adequately proven that wasn’t the case. But this is a lesser concern to me.

    My bigger concern was the second: a Mormon saying “polygamy was never really central to Mormon belief” is not necessarily a denial of its importance to 19th century Mormon views of salvation. How one chooses to define “central” is key here and I see no way to build a bridge if there is insistence that the very phrase mentioned is proof positive of a failure to own up. Indeed, it sounds more like an opportunity to either seek further understanding of that person’s view of this complex issue, or to apply tolerance to varied interpretations. Whitney’s misquote of Flake likening polygamy to baptism did nothing but to strengthen my concern here.

    I did not expect everyone to agree with me on the level of importance of these problems.

    I was not prepared to have no one at all in this community acknowledge the facts of the case and only one dissenter in the crowd to admit its importance to other Mormons.

    For expressing my concerns I was attacked personally (#27 and #31) or told I had a persecution complex (#7, #54). My “tunnel vision” did not allow me to understand. (#56)

    But what concerned me the most was having my opinions marginalized by being simplified into a black and white view that I never stated nor held. My having a concern with a specific statement by Whitney is irrelevant to what I thought of her PBS special, for truth must always stand alone irrespective of the speakers past record. Likewise, it does not matter how many mistakes the LDS Church has made in the past, they do not affect the truth or falseness of Whitney’s statements in the least.

    But most importantly, agreeing with Whitney’s point in general is not a reason to fail to address factually based concerns.

    In summary, I do not see anyone here that either interacted with the facts I presented – even if only to explain their alternate point of view – nor anyone that acknowledge my concern by saying “that’s a valid concern, let’s talk about it.”

    I fear that I am to blame. I wrote too much and trusted that my intended even tone would come through in text because I was making no personal attacks and explained my concerns with facts and candor rather than with personal attacks.

    In my own stupidity, I forgot the rule that writing a lot will be interpreted as “gnashing of teeth” by many.

    If I were to use an analogy of the Mormon Stories community as a ward, I was the crazy guy that ran into testimony meeting bring up uncomfortable facts that no one wanted to touch. A few decide to insult me, most refused to acknowledge my presence (i.e. just ignored what I was saying and wouldn’t answer me), and a few were willing to be friendly but refused to discuss my concern because the gospel was true and nothing could invalidate that.

    But my concern remained and was still valid in my mind. No bridge was built.

    But if my analogy of this community as a ward is valid, I would have to admit the fault is primarily mine for not first understanding the appropriate way and forum to bring up my concerns.

  69. John Hamer January 5, 2008 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    It’s very sad that so many Mormons are now so insecure that when a sympthetic outside observer tries to give a little constructive criticism along with some good, pragmatic advice, they shut the gates and reflexively go into defensive mode.

    Helen Whitney’s advice to “own” Mormonism’s bold ideas does not deny that a person can quibble their way into arguing that soft-pedalling the ideas means the same thing. Of course you can argue that “becoming like God” is the same as “becoming a God,” and of course you can disect that there shades of difference between how essential polygamy was for exaltation compare that with how essential baptism is to salvation for a Methodist.

    Her point is not that you can’t make those hairfine arguments; her point is that behaving that way is the problem.

    She wasn’t citing the “anonymous scholar” (obviously Harold Bloom) who talked about not trusting Mormons because she shares his bias. She was citing him to illustrate that a general distrust of Mormons still exists, even among some of America’s leading intellectuals. She is illustrating a phenomenon (non-Mormon distrust of Mormons) and explaining the cause of that phenomenon (because Mormons quibble like this and routinely give outsiders duplicitous answers), and finally she’s advising Mormons how to fix the problem (be brave, be bold, and be proud).

    Her constructive advice is that in today’s world of transparency, if Mormons want to have the trust of non-Mormons, they need to “own” their beliefs by owning up to them directly. If you believe that humans have the potential to become Gods and Larry King asks you about it, explain your honestly and openly. People who don’t share your belief will respect that a lot more than if you give some evasive, duplicitous answer that in your mind you can still quibble is honest.

    I believe that if the LDS church took Helen Whitney’s sympathetic advice, it could do much to end latent distrust non-Mormons have in Mormons and it would even have the potential to arrest the steep declines the LDS church has absorbed in the North American conversion rates since the 1970s.

  70. bnielson January 5, 2008 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    John Hammer! You are my new personal hero!

    At long last, someone that interacted with the facts I put up with intent to explain their alternate point of view!

    John, though you were very critical of my views, it hardly matters because you did exactly what I asked — exactly what everyone else avoided doing!

    Thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Of course I still disagree with you completely, but that wasn’t the point.

    I won’t be visiting this site much more… just wanted to see all comments made to the one thread I posted on. I really wish I could discuss this issue with you more somehow offline so that I can get more of your point of view. (While hopefully sharing mine.) Alas, I see no way to do so.

    Needless to say, you gave me an interesting new perspective to think about.

  71. John Hamer January 5, 2008 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    Bnielson, I’m sorry that we’ve run you off, but I’m glad to have been of some use. (Clobbering new posters seems to be one of the things that bboards are best at.)

    When I was thinking about the “reflexive defensiveness” Mormons commonly have to criticism from outside observers, even sympathetic ones, I wasn’t meaning to single you out. I actually was thinking of Dr. Richard Bennett’s response to Helen Whitney at the last Mormon History Association conference. Richard is an excellent historian — in my opinion, his book “Mormons at the Missouri: Winter Quarters, 1846-52” is not just the standard work on the topic, it’s one of the best books in the whole field of Mormon history. But in responding to Helen, I felt that he completely missed what she was doing and saying and I thought that his response was just standard reactionary talking points that you would use to dismiss criticism that was hostile.

    If you’d like to contact me, I post under my real name, John Hamer, so I’m easy to contact. I’m the executive director of the John Whitmer Historical Association and all of my contact information is available on the association website:

  72. Equality January 5, 2008 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    jayspec said: “But, I find it strange that some that do, such as yourself, can’t seem to leave the church alone.”

    Oy vey, never heard that line before (insert eye-rolling emoticon here).

    What you seem to be saying is that if someone has a criticism of the church, they should just keep it to themselves. If they voice a criticism, it is evidence that they “can’t leave the church alone.” Your attitude is one that would silence dissent and criticism, of which I guess you think the church ought to be immune. I respectfully disagree. BTW, I haven’t left the church so I guess your cliche doesn’t apply to me. But I will say that I think the notion that people can leave the church but not leave it alone is demonstrably false. The data does not support the assertion. The vast majority of baptized Mormons do leave the church (or at least “go inactive”). And the great majority of those who leave don’t blog about it, don’t post in online discussion boards, don’t write books, don’t buy billboard ads in Logan, Utah, etc. They just stop going and get on with their lives.

    Of course, there are those few, like John Hamer, who leave the church but still feel a connection to their heritage, who study the church’s doctrine and history and sociology and enjoy discussing it and writing about it and maybe even working to change attitudes of those who are still connected with the organization. I, for one, am thankful for folks like John Hamer who have left but choose not to leave it alone. I think they add a perspective and a voice that is useful and constructive.

  73. Eric January 5, 2008 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    I can’t keep up with all of the discussion! I hope this note finds you all well and getting a good start on 2008. I have already managed a few bumps and bruises, including two to the head yesterday.

    I did just read John Hamer’s post (#69) after reading the NY Times Magazine article that John Dehlin posted. The issue of duplicitousness does indeed seem to be a real issue. Let’s be forthright. Let the work go forth boldly and nobly.

  74. matt howell January 6, 2008 at 12:12 am - Reply

    The church needs to lay its cards on the table. The history that they have written is not completely true or accurate. If they acknowledge the truth, many of us would not be so sidelined. It’s as simple as that.

  75. bnielson January 6, 2008 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    John, I will contact you… eventually…. when I have time. It takes so much time to post on a blog, I just can’t do it that much.

    John, I’d appreciate it if you were to send me what Richard Bennett said about Whitney, posting it here if possible. I fear I must warn you that there is a high probability that I’m going to agree with him.

    You gave me an interesting perspective to think about by actually talking to my concerns directly. However, I fear that any bridge to be built involves people meeting half way. I, hopefully, can come half way. The other half is impossible for me alone.

    So long as there are still people that say things like “The church needs to lay its cards on the table” without any discussion as to what that means or how there might be more than one legitimate concern (or legitimate interpretation for that matter) there can never be any real dialog.

    Matt said that quote and believe me I actually agree with him, though I understand it very differently than him.

    But I think matt is a good example of what I’m talking about. He wants to the Church to lay all the cards on the table, but fails to even make the attempt to understand other points of view. At #35 he says President Hinckley denies Mormons believe we can become gods. At #37 I speak to him directly trying to get him to read my post #36 because I made (what I felt) was a convincing argument that this was factually not true. In my post in #50 I tried to temper what I said admitting that I can’t possibly know everything Hinckley ever said and invited someone to find the interview Whitney was referring to (which I don’t believe even exists because I think she confused two interviews.)

    After all this effort I put in, what was matt’s response? See #56! Apparently never having reviewed my actual argument and apparently completely misunderstanding what I wrote, matt asserts that it is true that Mormons teach men become gods — exactly like Hinckley and I both affirm.

    Herein lines my concern, John. (And I’ll speak to you more off line about this.) I agree the Church needs to lay it’s cards on the table along with their interpretation of the facts. But just as much needed is for those in a community like this to acknowledge the cards that the church has already laid on the table.

    I’m afraid I’m just not seeing this happening, not even from your own very well put together post. Half way is the only way here. I don’t see a lot of compromise or attempt to understand the legitimate concerns of a believing Mormon’s point of view.

    My point is that many answers she and you see as duplicitous are not duplicitous at all. Your point, if I understand you correctly, is that it doesn’t matter because they will be taken this way and she’s giving advice about this.

    My counter point is that I find her advice unimplementable and thus not useful to a believing Mormon.

    Indeed, as I read the recent NYT article that was so good on this subject, I find that the author seems to understand this very problem: Mormons can’t hold their beliefs without people taking them out of context and making them look worse than they are and thus persecuting them for it. This isn’t a persecution complex, this is a reality. Thus *his* advice was to actually change our doctrines! He understands what Whitney does not.

    And by the way, believe it or not, I agree with him — though again perhaps not as he intended.

    But that begs the question: if Hinckley is in fact changing “doctrine” on the subject of God once being a man (and I’m fine with phrasing it this way) then the rest of you need to back off and let him. Period. This doctrine wasn’t scripture from the beginning and is thus a candidate for such reinterpretation without going against the revelations Mormons believe in.

    I see on this board anger that Hinckley would change doctrines when frankly it’s the very thing the people here have asked for. We have piped and you have not danced. He really can’t win here. If we change (or reinterpret) our doctrines to be more palatable then it’s a lie. If we don’t then we are pariahs and deserve to be treated that way for our weird doctrines (as per the NYT article).

    There is nothing to be done, from this point of view, but to admit we’re wrong from the beginning (I suppose that would make many people happy) and dissolve as a religion. Not gonna happen. Thus the advice of Whitney really does seem to me to be unhelpful.

    Here is what I propose as possible middle ground. I believe the Church does have to own up to the bold idea of Mormonism. But I disagree with
    Whitney what those are. To me they are:

    1. Only true church (though this is intentionally tempered by general salvation.)
    2. Priesthood authority and ordinances
    3. God the Father as literal Father
    4. Men, angels, and gods as a single race
    5. The plurality of “gods” (which I believe can and should be interpreted or reinterpreted as you prefer to phrase it as: “like God”.)
    6. No creeds – i.e. open interpretations on many subjects
    7. Salvation through active faith in ones life rather than through mentally accepting certain doctrines
    8. Exaltation is to become like God is: to have a family and raise it (though I do not specify how this happens)
    9. God’s true characteristics: Love, Mercy, Justice – and those mean exactly what humans believe they mean. There is no “mystery” or “paradox” on these subjects. For one thing, it means a temporary hell and general salvation for all (or almost all).

    I’m sure I could think of more. I don’t want to see the Church back down on any of it’s bold ideas and I believe we have and it’s hurt us. (Though I’m not cynical here, I believe it to be an honest mistake that is now being corrected.)

    I do not see polygamy as one of our bold ideas except as it directly connected to #8. Polygamy was taught in the Book of Mormon as an exception, not a rule and the Church is right to emphasize this.

    I do see the need to rephrase some of our bold ideas to help outsiders understand: thus “godlike” rather than “gods” when speaking to outsiders in sound bites. To this is not avoidance.

    I do not see God the Father once being a man as scriptural and I’m fine with it being defined (or redefined if you prefer) as non-scriptural and thus not a directly taught doctrine any more. I have studied this quite a bit and frankly I’m no where near as convinced as many of you that there was ever a unified interpretation here. In my post #12 above I covered this topic and was completely ignored.

    The priesthood ban is also not one of the bold idea of Mormonism as I understand Mormonism. Heck, we can’t even agree if it was a policy or doctrine! We can’t agree who started it or why. It’s time to let that dead horse die in peace. I’m in favor the church boldly acknowledging it happened, not in boldly holding to the lame explanations of it from the past. (I also believe the Church needs a more definitive statement of this point. McConnkie’s is correct, but maybe too weak. Besides it’s been too long.)

    In short… I would like to see people in this community acknowledge my point #6 above: Mormonism is non-creedal! It is supposed to be open to interpretation on many points. Get over it! The vast majority of arguments I see here wither the moment Mormonisms non-creedal nature is acknowledged.

    Sorry, to be so passionate, but I’ve now had may say.

    I’m sorry I can’t really justify sticking around with this community. I love what I’m seeing in general, but I would always be a pariah here. My views will always be hated and, as I’ve seen, facts do not matter.

    I don’t think people realize how much effort I put into collecting the facts above and trying my best to engage people with valid questions. I do not think people realize how frustrating it is to be ignored to the degree I was.

    I should be your ally, but I’m not. For me to be your ally, this community has to want to build a bridge to someone like me and meet me half way.

    Let me just officially say that I really believe in John Delin’s mission for this site. It’s needed and, for me at least, wanted. I’m sad that I couldn’t be a part of it more directly.

    This is not a condemnation of what is being done here. At a minimum, a site like this serves as an outlet for the frustrations that I’m sure many of you share. Outlets like this are needed. When I had my own growing concerns with Church history a few years ago, by far the hardest part was feeling alone. I’m not sure anything else was a problem for me.

    But I’m afraid I do not see this community as bridge builders. They just aren’t there yet and maybe it’s not possible to be both the outlet and the bridge builders.

  76. jayspec January 6, 2008 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    John Hamer:

    Excellent post #71 and I agree 100%. Not sure why Mormons can’t seem to embrace a friendly, but critical voice.


    “I, for one, am thankful for folks like John Hamer who have left but choose not to leave it alone. I think they add a perspective and a voice that is useful and constructive.”

    Me too. but the difference is, he is constructive, you are not.

  77. John Hamer January 6, 2008 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    Dear Bnielson,

    You say, “My point is that many answers she and you see as duplicitous are not duplicitous at all. Your point, if I understand you correctly, is that it doesn’t matter because they will be taken this way and she’s giving advice about this.”

    Actually, I was saying that it doesn’t matter if they aren’t false. However, it does matter that they are duplicitous. The statements may or may not be false, but they are duplicitous. There is a big difference and the difference is what matters. I picked word “duplicitous” (from the latin duplex, double-meaning) rather than “dishonest” very precisely. The idea is that the statements are phrased in such a way as to convey double meanings.

    In this form of phrasing the speaker is choosing his words very carefully so as to say something that may be true in a word-by-word sense, while overall he is deliberately conveying a different message to the general listener.

    The most famous recent example of this is President Clinton’s famous line, “I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.” I hope you defended President Clinton for standing up and telling the truth when he said that, because it is “true” in the same way that we are discussing. (I.e., Clinton had not had sex with her because “having sex” was defined as vaginal penetration and nothing less than that act qualified under the definition). Thus Clinton made a statement that may have been true in a sense, but was deliberately designed to be misleading and was thus duplicitous.

    If President Hinckley is actually changing the doctrine (as you suggest might be possible) why would he be doing it through seemingly evasive statements on Larry King Live? Again, Helen’s advice here is to own the doctrine. If you are changing it, why not say so directly? Stand up at LDS General Conference and say, “Bretheren and sisters for many years good Saints and leaders have speculated about the nature of God the father. These were honest inquiries by faithful men and women who want to come close to Him. These speculations are not essential to our salvation or exaltation and so I have hitherto refraned from commenting on them. However, because confusion has arisen and because confusion has the potential to lead men and women into darkness, I will here say what the Lord has said concerning these matters to his prophet through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. ‘Thus saith the Lord, I am your Heavenly Father and I am Eternal. I have always been. Although I am the father of mankind, I was never a man. But through adherance to the Gospel all mankind may become like me.’ That is the great purpose for which you were born into the world.” Add a section to the Doctrine and Covenants while you are at it. That’s how you “own” a doctrinal change.

    I’m not advising that he make that doctrinal change and neither is Helen Whitney. But I would advise — and I’m sure she would agree — that if you are going to make such a change, you do so in a way that is open, forthright and proud. (And if the traditional understanding is still doctrine, say that clearly instead.)

    I’m sorry, but I think that the New York Times article is absolutely wrong. Noah Feldman has clearly spent a lot of time talking to Mormons, and so he has been able to digest and write what many Mormons tend think about this topic, but I think they are wrong too. Mormons are not “persecuted” because of their “weird beliefs.” That’s simply not the cause of the problem. As insiders, Mormons think it’s the problem because they hear outsiders make jokes about “holy underwear” and they feel this effect — whether the feeling is embarrassment or frustration or anger or whatever. The natural thought is that one is being persecuted because of weird beliefs. But this is a misunderstanding of the root cause of the problem of outsider mistrust.

    Weird beliefs do not cause mistrust. If anything, America is an ever more pluralistic society that is ever more tolerant of weird beliefs than ever before. I myself have a friend who is a believing Hindu and others who are believing Sunnis and Shi’ites. If you think Mormons have weird beliefs, ponder what it takes to be a gay liberal believing Shi’ite Muslim like my friend ‘Ali. I have friends who have some pretty weird beliefs about New Age stuff, wicca, crystals and whatever. I don’t find these beliefs compelling, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect these people. Likewise, I respect my orthodox LDS Mormon friends, even if I’m not convinced by their beliefs in a personal, religious sense. Do people joke about all the Hindu gods? Think about Homer Simpson offering Apu’s shrine to Ganesh a peanut. (“No offense Apu, but when they’re were handin out religions you must have been out taking a whizz.”)

    Since weirdness is not the cause of the problem, the advice to curtail weirdness by continually soft-pedalling and watering down Mormon doctrinal distinctiveness is not an effective solution. Frankly, it’s bad advice. And it’s bad advice that LDS church leaders seem to have been taking for decades. You yourself say, “I don’t want to see the Church back down on any of it’s bold ideas and I believe we have and it’s hurt us. Though I’m not cynical here, I believe it to be an honest mistake that is now being corrected.”

    I agree with you. I don’t want to see the LDS church abandon its (non-harmful) distinctive beliefs either. I agree it was a mistake to back down that I agree that backing down had negative consequences, but I also agree that it was an honest mistake. I don’t imagine that LDS leaders implemented anything other than what they thought would be the most successful and effective policy. However, intentions aside, I think the strategy was flawed and that it’s had unintended negative effects.

    You say: “I see on this board anger that Hinckley would change doctrines when frankly it’s the very thing the people here have asked for. We have piped and you have not danced. He really can’t win here. If we change (or reinterpret) our doctrines to be more palatable then it’s a lie. If we don’t then we are pariahs and deserve to be treated that way for our weird doctrines (as per the NYT article).”

    (First off, everyone who posts comments here on John Dehlin’s blog has their own story and their own ideas, just like you and me. You can’t expect there to be a consistant response among a cacophony of independent thinkers.)

    That said, this is the exact problem that Helen Whitney’s advice addresses. This is the crux of it: Mormons have created a false dilemma for themselves and the NYT article agrees with you. “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” Wrong!

    Other than eliminating harmful things (like the past deletion of racism and the future elimination of sexism), do not change your doctrines to be more palatible. You don’t have to trade in all your spades for hearts, but if you want to earn the respect of outsiders, the effective way to do it is to call a spade a spade.
    Saying things like “heck, we can’t even agree if it was a policy or a doctrine,” about priesthood discrimination is an illustration of the problem. Think about how PR works, how politicians work, how the news cycle works, so that we can see how human nature works. We can see that from an outsider’s perspective today, the LDS church’s past racial discrimination is seen to have been a negative thing. It’s obviously something that happened, and it’s obvious that it was a negative thing. In a PR sense, how do you effectively recover from a known negative? Does it help to say, “that was never a doctrine of the church, it was just a practice”? No. That statement does nothing to improve your image to an outsider — it just sounds like you are quibbling and you refuse to own up to your mistakes. You clearly made a mistake and you won’t admit it. In this sense, it does not matter if your statement might not be false, you are doing nothing to address the issue; in fact you are being counter-productive. Now you have two negatives instead of one. The outsider still thinks you made a mistake in the past; now the outsider also thinks you may not have learned from your mistake and that you may not be honest or credible in general.

    What’s an effective strategy? How do you turn a negative into a positive (or at least avoid adding extra negatives)? You take responsibility. You say, “Priesthood discrimination is a terrible blight on our history. Although Brigham Young was a great leader who accomplished many things, ultimately he was a man of his times and he was a terrible racist. And frankly, his preaching against blacks cast a long shadow on our church and it’s an embarrassment that it took until 1978 to remove it. However, I myself know that the past doctrine was wrong and I have a testimony that the revelation which ended it was from God.” When you know you’re going to take a hit, it’s much more effective from a PR standpoint to take it straight on.
    That’s the advice. I think it’s much more effective than the advice to delete beliefs like the Plan of Salvation or even that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. What’s wrong with either of those beliefs? Nothing. And only a small percentage of outsiders will even care if you have those beliefs, if you take pride in them, explain the idea behind them, and are just generally open about them.

    Unfortunately, your simplified theological list doesn’t address the problem. So those 9 things are what’s important to you; that seems great. But now an outsider asks you, “So what was the deal with Mormons and polygamy?” How does the list help you? You say “that’s not on the list”? It’s not a solution to the PR dilemmas we’ve outlined.

    This post is way too long, so just one more thing about bboards and then one about me. Putting a lot of effort into posting something and then having it ignored or misread really has to be viewed as one of those things that happens on any bboard or blog as part of the nature of the beast. It’s no fun but ultimately it’s like throwing spaghetti on the wall; sometimes it will stick and you’re rewarded for your efforts. Meanwhile, this response took a little while, so that’s something for your efforts.

    About me: I’m not offering advice because I’m frustrated with the LDS church; I’m not. It can really do what it wants and as an observer, I’ll contentedly observe whatever direction it heads. Rather, I’m offering advice because I like Mormons and I think I have a little bit of a different perspective as someone who was raised a 7th generation DNA Mormon, but who hasn’t had any involvement religiously with institution since my teenage years (20 years ago). So, I’m offering advice because I have the vanity to think my odd vantage can let me look at a problem from the outside — while having a feel for the inside that Noah Friedman and Helen Whitney can’t — in such a way as to allow me to propose alternate solutions that complete insiders also might not be able to see.

  78. Equality January 7, 2008 at 8:26 am - Reply


    I hope you will stick around. Do not assume that your posts are being ignored just because someone doesn’t respond to specific points you have made. I saw somewhere recently the stats for this blog and they are quite impressive. There are far more people reading this blog than posting on it. So your well expressed thoughts may be having more of an impact than is apparent just from subsequent comments. Your voice is valued and I know John D. would like you to continue posting here. He welcomes a variety of viewpoints and, actually, would prefer to have more folks posting here from a devout Mormon perspective.

    jayspec said:
    “Me too. but the difference is, he is constructive, you are not.”

    jayspec, it appears your irony detector may be malfunctioning. May I constructively suggest a scripture verse for prayerful contemplation today? Luke 6:28. Peace, bro.

  79. bnielson January 7, 2008 at 9:54 am - Reply

    John Hammer,

    I really appreciate you talking so much time to give a long response. I think what you say is very insightful. No, I don’t agree with it all. I think you have an over simplified view of human nature, or at least a misunderstanding of the need for certain religions (Evangelicals for example) to define themselves in terms of other religions. I also think you misunderstand what my real concern here is. As such, I do not see “duplicitousness” as the underlying issue as you do, though I’m open to it being a related problem.

    What I am really saying is that the Church has no stance on many of these subjects (such as God once being a man) and thus it would be wrong to take a stance. In fact, it would be dishonest.

    Yes, that might mean that some LDS people will form their own assumptions and assume God the Father was once a sinful man living on another planet. That’s okay. It is not *at odds* with our doctrine. It could even be true, though I doubt it. The key point here is that Joseph Smith (the supposed author of this doctrine) never taught that in that way. The only reason why it’s an issue is because Evangelical’s intentionally try to dig up the past of other religions and find the most colorful quotes and display them everywhere using their network of believers. (While ignoring the fact that the same could be done to them but no one is really doing so.) The fact that this teaching is “so well known” certainly didn’t come from people hanging out at the average LDS Church house where such a doctrine will rarely, if ever, be talked about. It is a case of Evangelical’s trying to define other religions as part of their self definition.

    There are probably 100 other possible views on this doctrine. *All* are equally valid.

    I referred to Hinckley changing this doctrine for the sake of those that just can’t see it any other way. From a certain point of view, it is a change… for those that held it incorrectly as being scriptural, which it never was.

    To many, my view that it was never fully accepted will seem duplicitous. I’m afraid that I can think of no way to convince these people otherwise. But there is nothing duplicitous about it. It’s just part of accepting a non-creedal religion. The fact that I can show contradictory points of view from the past and present will never change. There will be contradictory views in the future. As I said, its part of what I like about Mormonism.

    You say Mormons can get around this by owning up to there teachings. I’m saying Hinckley owned up to *exactly* what is taught — that we don’t have an official teaching here and don’t know much about it. To state that we don’t believe it would be just as wrong as stating that we do. Duplicitous? I think it could be viewed that way. But it’s not.

    An interesting point that I am taking away from you is “how could it have been worded better?” You are open to Hinckley openly changing this in conference. I consider that a non-option and would find it offensive.

    Perhaps it would have seemed less duplicitous if he had said “well, some people have taught such and such in the past, but there are varied points of view.” But this still leaves me with what I consider the “sound bite” problem. In short, I don’t trust the media to convey the message correctly if they can find a juicy sound bite and this just might be too much for the media to handle. You are free to disagree with me on this, but this is my honest point of view.

    I should probably note that just a few days ago I broached a related subject with someone. Not having to worry about the “sound bite” problem, I walked her through the idea that Mormons believe we can become like God and to us that means we are creators. She completely bought it when it was put that way. I also explained the concern she had that this mean women would be, as she put it “eternally pregnant.” I told her we have no doctrine on how one creates and there have been varied points of view and there is no scripture to back any of them. However, I would not laugh at a Mormon that thought sex and pregnancy was the means of creation, though I personally don’t buy into that idea and have never really met a Modern Mormon that does. (Completely true.)

    She did not feel I was being duplicitous. But it sure isn’t a sound bite ready answer. I would never say such a thing to the media.

    While I appreciate your advice, and think you are maybe even on the right track, I still am not at all convinced I can use much of it yet. I will have to give it more thought and try to come up with what I feel are stronger answers that are both a) correct, and b) don’t sound so duplicitous. But in my heart, I feel my original point is still right. So long as there are people that want to define our doctrines for us that have as much political power as they do, and so long as we refuse to define some of our own teachings (which we should not do) I’m afraid it will always be all to easy to cast us as being duplicitous no matter how we answer the question.

    I will chat with you offline later

    I also commend you for being consistent in your approach. You disagree with the NYT article but agree with Whitney. This is good because the two are dramatically at odds with each other. You seem to be the only person that has really caught on to this. I think most people seem to think that because both mention Mormon secrecy (a source of vindication of point of view) that they have completely missed that the two articles can’t possibly both be “dead on” as they are mutually exclusive.

    I do find it somewhat disconcerting that you and I are the only ones so far that have mentioned this inconsistency. I think this could be taken as a form of duplicitous-ness of the others if someone wanted to cast it that way. But I know better. I understand the problems of trying to explain complex ideas.

  80. matt howell January 7, 2008 at 10:05 am - Reply

    When will the church practice truthful honesty? It is a simple as that. Tell the truth of what happened good or bad and let the members decide. For me and others I know, we’d come back if the church chose the right and told the truth rather than muck it up with double speak, long winded spins and denials.

  81. bnielson January 7, 2008 at 11:00 am - Reply


    I’m expressing as “devout Mormon” is that I’m uncomfortable here. I’m the crazy guy that keeps wanting to talk about the various controversies in church history while in testimony meeting or priesthood.

    The issue here is that a site like this is needed for people to vent frustrations. As such, it’s formed an “orthodoxy” all it’s own that is maintained. It’s not that other voices, like mine, are “illegal” per se, but I will never be treated in a way that I’ll be comfortable with.

    The more I think about this, the more I really think there is no problem with this. We all need to be part of likeminded communities. That’s why I attend church. And when someone makes a consistent point at church to be the raiser of issues, they get uncomfortable and usually leave and find another church. Is this a problem? I guess not. It seems somewhat natural.

    I’m not going to fight this battle here. I’m not even sure it’s a worthwhile cause for me to do so. Yes, I might, bitwise eventually temper some people’s views here — which frankly I find to be overtly negative towards the LDS church more than the LDS church deserves. But it would require a lot of effort and a stomach for personal criticism that I just don’t seem to have. So naturally, I move along and find another church.

    The problem is that for me to be comfortable here I think the “orthodox view” (I hate that term but can’t think of a better one right now) would have to be at least vocalized. I called up John and talked with him, for instance, about his criticism of the LDS church answers on I like their answers better than his. For people like me to stick around that alternative voice has to be vocalized even if disagreed with — but at least discussed. But there’s the rub. If the “orthodox” view is constantly being vocalized, the site stops serving it’s purpose as a place to vent frustrations and presumably those here to do just that go find another church instead. Do you see what I’m driving at? I don’t think we can have our cake and eat it too. This isn’t a condemnation of anyone or anything. It’s just a solid recognition of reality that finally dawned on me.

    I plan to go to lunch with John and try to still make some connections here and maybe I can occasionally post, etc. I like much of what I see here. I like the intellectual challenge, for one thing. And I like expressing myself. But I just don’t have the stamina that would be required of me to be the guy that goes against he grain all the time — which is frankly all I can aspire too here.

    I do not find the LDS church to be duplicitous. I’m sorry I don’t. John Hammer points out that they are by accident. Okay, perhaps that’s true. But since I fundamentally understand LDS non-creedal views different than he does, it does not seem likely that we’ll ever see eye to eye on this. (Nothing wrong with that, I might add.)

    I know that a lot of people here see themselves as being hurt by the LDS church. I admit there is some truth to this, having experienced it myself. But I think this community’s relationship with the LDS Church can never heal (if that is a desired thing) without taking some responsibility yourselves.

    I seem to know all the same controversies you guys do. John Delin pointed this out to me. Little or none of my knowledge came from “anti-Mormon” or even “buffet-Mormon” sources. I got it all from Deseret book. I just can’t agree that Church isn’t laying the cards on the table to a degree far far beyond what anyone here seems to believe. I’m living proof that it’s not true.

    And while we are on the subject, I don’t have nearly the level of faith in myself that many of you seem to have. You think you can go read Fawn Brodie *before* reading “History of the Church” and you think you have the smarts and ability to determine truth from error. I don’t believe it for a moment. I know I’m less than capable in that department so I don’t believe any of you are either.

    I subscribe to the Black Swan there. (From the book “the Black Swan.”) When an ice cube melts, you can predict the puddle, but if you have the puddle, you can never predict what the ice cube looked like. None of you have any idea what Joseph Smith’s intents were or even how much is rumor vs. truth precisely because no one can *ever* know that via history.

    Using the facts in the sources, there are an infinite number of possible interpretations that still fit those sources. Your choice to see the LDS Church as negatively as you do is just that — a moral choice. I do not presume to judge you on this choice. You should not presume to judge me.

    Intelligent human beings will look at the same facts and arrive at different points of view. That’s okay. I do not foresee that ever changing.

    I know that when you find something you didn’t hear in Sunday School (a place specifically set aside for promotion of faith through stories adapted for a general audience) that a first human impulse is to think maybe you’ve been lied to. But that really isn’t the truth. The truth is that you just didn’t do much study on your own when you should have.

    Fawn Brodie doesn’t expose new facts so much as she pulls them together into a very convincing pattern that is hard to break out of. But that’s a known biological human failing (see the Black Swan) that is an artifact of evolution. Once someone has created a pattern for us, we have a really hard time releasing it until the evidence becomes overwhelming. That is as true for me as for you, yes, so I don’t mind you accusing me of the same.

    In my view, the LDS church’s failing is that they didn’t act fast enough to get their own view of the facts in the sources into a convincing pattern fast enough. The LDS church’s failing is not that they don’t admit to the facts.

    This wide gap between me and everyone else, as far as I can tell, can’t be filled.

  82. bnielson January 7, 2008 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Oh, I have to add this. All emotion and passion aside now. I know well that my examples above are just for effect and so I know someone is going to say “Ha! I did read History of the Church before Brodie!”

    Yup. Everyone is different. I get it. I was just saying that for effect. Hopefully you’ll try to understand the underlying view I’m trying to express rather that see this as an argument to be won.

    Use John Hammer as your example here. I’ll bet the guy puts me to shame when it comes to knowledge of LDS history. Heck, he’s in charge of the John Whitmer Historical Society. I’d not attempt to arm wrestle him in LDS history knowledge. (But I’d let Richard Bushman do so any day.) My point being that John knows more but knowing more doesn’t really mean as much as you think.

    And John seems to sense this and takes a very friendly attitude towards me and just tries to express opinions rather than argue.

    Like I said, John Hammer is my new personal hero. ;)

  83. John Dehlin January 7, 2008 at 11:46 am - Reply

    We should start a group blog (now that MS is ramping down).

    Ya’ll want to start a group blog?

  84. bnielson January 7, 2008 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    What is MS and what is a “group blog?”

  85. jayspec January 7, 2008 at 1:57 pm - Reply


    “jayspec, it appears your irony detector may be malfunctioning. May I constructively suggest a scripture verse for prayerful contemplation today? Luke 6:28. Peace, bro”

    I guess so, boy am I a dofus!

    Sorry, no time for the New Testament. I am teaching the first 7 chapters of the historically unproven Book of Mormon next Sunday.

    Nice scripture though. Matthew 5:9 right back at ya!

  86. Equality January 7, 2008 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    Thanks, jayspec. I always thought that was “cheesemakers.” Nice to know I don’t have to live in Wisconsin to get the blessings. :-)

  87. John Dehlin January 7, 2008 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    MS is Mormon Stories. A group blog is where 5 or 10 people run the blog and post entries — instead of one person (like this one). is an example.

  88. bnielson January 7, 2008 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Ah, like Times and Seasons. Got it.

  89. Devin January 7, 2008 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    Hey John,

    I’m not sure if it was an open invitation, but I’d love to run a blog with you – if not, I’m sure I’d comment all the time.

  90. Equality January 7, 2008 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    “now that MS is ramping down”

    What does this mean? Say it ain’t so, John!

  91. bnielson January 7, 2008 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    How does a group blog really work? Sounds chaotic.

  92. bnielson January 8, 2008 at 7:53 am - Reply

    oops, that last message went out by mistake. What I *meant* to say is “how do you organize something like that?” Do you call a presidency and counselors and hold weekly meetings and bring refreshments? :P

  93. jayspec January 8, 2008 at 8:31 am - Reply

    “Thanks, jayspec. I always thought that was “cheesemakers.” Nice to know I don’t have to live in Wisconsin to get the blessings. ”

    I always felt a little guilty about loving that movie!!!! ;)

  94. John Dehlin January 8, 2008 at 9:47 am - Reply

    It’s really easy….Clay and I will plan…we just need to know who’s in. I think we need at least 8 permabloggers.

    And maybe a theme/mission/slant for how our blog differentiates from others…..

  95. Aaron June 29, 2009 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    I like what Helen Whitney has to say. We are very protective about our beliefs and our past. Also, we want to keep our unique beliefs (and I think we should), but also fit into mainstream Christianity (even though they feel many of our beliefs are heretical). I am proud of my beliefs, but even I have a tendency to be vague as possible when answering my friends’ questions about what Mormons really believe. Maybe, at some point of time, we as a whole can be more open in the public conversation, but that will take some time to reach that point.

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