The LDS Church encourages members to seek the spirit to confirm truth. While the Church encourages sincere investigation, it also discourages questions that are deemed too critical. Like many other conservative religious traditions, the Church regularly asserts that various bold propositions are true simply because they can’t be proven unequivocally false.
Faced with the power of the Internet and the increased transparency the information revolution has ushered into our society, the Church has remained committed to simplistic narratives that scholars and the historical record have shown are questionable or demonstrably false. At times, the Church has persecuted scholars and those who publicly inquire about the foundational claims of the restoration. Seeking truth, even if the journey leads to difficult answers, can be particularly fraught with peril within Mormonism, as the eternal salvation of the entire family hangs in the balance.
LDS ENCOURAGEMENT OF INVESTIGATION
Earlier generations of Church leaders encouraged intellectual honesty, while modern leaders have tended towards a different tact, asking members to “doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”
“I think a full, free talk is frequently of great use; we want nothing secret nor underhanded, and I for one want no association with things that cannot be talked about and will not bear investigation” (Prophet John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, vol 20, 264).
“If a faith will not bear to be investigated, if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined; their foundation must be very weak” (Apostle George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol 14, 216).
“We should be scientific – that is, open-minded, approaching new problems without prejudice, deferring a decision until all the facts are in” (Apostle Hugh B. Brown, A Final Testimony, from an Abundant Life, 1999).
“I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression” (Apostle Hugh B. Brown, A Final Testimony, from an Abundant Life, 1999).
“… convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the Word of God, and we will be ever grateful for the information, and you will ever have the pleasing reflection that you have been instruments in the hands of God of redeeming your fellow beings from the darkness which you may see enveloping their minds” (Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, 15-16).
“The attempt to suppress problems and difficulties, the attempt to intimidate people who raise problems or express doubts or seek to reconcile difficult facts, is both ineffective and futile. It leads to suspicion, mistrust, the condescending slanting of data. The more we deny or appear to deny certain demonstrable ‘facts,’ the more we must ourselves harbor serious doubts and have something to hide” (Leonard Arrington: The Writing of Mormon History, 129).
“The man who cannot listen to an argument which opposes his views either has a weak position or is a weak defender of it. No opinion that cannot stand discussion or criticism is worth holding. And it has been wisely said that the man who knows only half of any question is worse off than the man who knows nothing of it. He is not only one sided, but his partisanship soon turns him into an intolerant and a fanatic. In general it is true that nothing which cannot stand up under discussion and criticism is worth defending” (Apostle James E. Talmage).
CHURCH SPONSORED ART
Images help to create powerful mental visualizations. As one navigates a thoughtful exploration of the Book of Mormon, it is important to recognize that nearly every piece of Church promoted art promotes an idealized and, in many cases, false narrative, including the sailing ship, swords, armor, massive walled cities, horses, Joseph openly scrutinizing gold plates on a table, the 8 witnesses gathered together in one place, etc. Established history and the Church’s own records refute the images.
LAMENTING LOSS OF CONTROL
Apostle Russell M. Ballard openly admitted in 2016 that the Church has been taken off guard by the Internet. In the good ol’ days, he argues, “Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations… It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine, and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the Church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life.”
Ballard instructed the Church’s seminary teachers to inoculate students with church-approved and faith-friendly interpretations of issues like polygamy, seer stones, conflicting First Vision accounts, Book of Mormon historical challenges, Book of Abraham issues, etc.
However, much of the church-approved essays on controversial topics raise more questions than they could ever hope to answer (LDS.org, Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES teachers in the 21st Century, 2016).
The days Russell M. Ballard speaks of, the days when the Church controlled and limited available information, are on display in Boyd Packer’s infamous The Mantle Is Far Far Greater Than The Intellect. Boyd’s talk casts doubt on intellectual rigor and academic training and stands as one of the most infamous assaults on scholarly inquiry within the Mormon tradition. Packer stated: “I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting; it destroys…Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting” (Apostle Boyd K. Packer, as related by D. Michael Quinn, “Pillars of My Faith,” talk delivered at Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 19, 1994).
Then Elder Dallin Oaks’s assertion that “it is wrong to criticize leaders even if the criticism is true,” remains as true among the majority of the faithful today as when it was first delivered over three decades ago.
While addressing members in the Chicago area on February 4, 2019, President Dallin Oaks acknowledged that doctrinal issues have led some to inactivity. He counseled, “I suggest that research is not the answer” to the problems with LDS church history.
TRUST NO ONE
“We can accept nothing as authoritative but that which comes directly through the appointed channel, the constituted organizations of the Priesthood, which is the channel that God has appointed through which to make known His mind and will to the world. …by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church. False prophets and false teachers are those who declare that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a duplicitous deceiver; they challenge the First Vision as an authentic experience. They declare that the Book of Mormon and other canonical works are not ancient records of scripture” (Beware False Prophets, M. Russell Ballard, LDS General Conference, Oct 1999).
Compare Ballard’s 1999 False Prophets talk to his 2016 To Whom Shall We Go? “Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren? …Where will you go to find others who share your beliefs in personal loving heavenly parents…? The danger comes when someone chooses to wander away.” While Ballard’s concern is undoubtedly genuine, is our view of the world so narrow that we fail to see or acknowledge among our non-Mormon neighbors the innumerable families and individuals who build a better world every day?
“A lie is not always told in so many words. It may be a creature of concealment or a misrepresentation by action or a half-truth” (Apostle Dallin Oaks).
“Half truths are used to mislead under the representation that they are whole truths” (Prophet Gordon Hinckley).
“Remember that the power to lead is also the power to mislead; and the power to mislead is the power to destroy” (Prophet Thomas Monson).
“It is unfortunate for the cause of Mormon history that the Church Historian’s Library, which is in the possession of virtually all of the diaries of leading Mormons, has not seen fit to publish these diaries or to permit qualified historians to use them without restriction” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1966, 26).
- 150 Years of Truth and Consequences about Mormon History, Quinn, Sunstone, Feb 1992.
- The Hiding of Church History
- Freedom Of Mind – The BITE Model