FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Question: Has The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deceived its members regarding controversial issues about its origins, history, and/or scripture?
Question: Has The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deceived its members regarding controversial issues about its origins, history, and/or scripture?
Introduction to Criticism
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is routinely criticized for its treatment of controversial aspects of its history and scripture by critics. It is claimed and has been claimed for a long time that the Church deceives their members by not informing them about issues that are supposedly damning to the Church’s credibility. A mantra of many of those that have left the Church is that "Yesterday's anti-Mormon literature is today's mainstream history" or "Yesterday's anti-Mormon literature is today's Gospel Topics Essays".
Frequently accompanying these charges are portrayals of the Church as a money-making scheme. Church leaders are supposedly seeking to increase tithing donations to defraud people of money and use it to buy up palatial homes and other goods.
About this criticism, President Dallin H. Oaks has said that "[i]t’s an old problem, the extent to which official histories, whatever they are, or semi-official histories, get into things that are shadowy or less well-known or whatever. That’s an old problem in Mormonism — a feeling of members that they shouldn’t have been surprised by the fact that this or that happened, they should’ve been alerted to it. I have felt that throughout my life."
This article will examine the assumptions that need to be made in order to believe that the Church has lied to its members about controversial issues and the problems with those assumptions. The criticism is broad enough that we'll need to use a lot of space to unpack it. We'll do so in general terms. Specific cases that critics have pointed to as instances of the Church acting deceptively have been addressed in other FAIR articles and are linked to throughout the course of this article and most especially at the end of it.
Important information is found in both the main body of this article as well as the footnotes. The footnotes contain tangential but still important information related to this topic. We encourage readers to read and explore both.
Assumptions Behind an Accusation of Deception
1. The information must be available
The first assumption we can identify is that there must be information that can actually be discussed. This can be difficult for at least three reasons:
- Some historical documents are not made available to the Church since they can be sitting in personal files of people across the United States and other nations where the Church has had a presence. They may not want to share those documents with the Church or other historians and keep them sacred.
- Many historical documents are still sitting in large historical archives across the nation and haven’t even been processed. This is especially true of the Church’s archives in Salt Lake City where thousands of historical documents are waiting to be processed by professional archivists. The Church didn’t even get professional archivists until the 70s. Prior to that time, the Church History Department was run by non-expert General Authorities.
- Many documents don’t get looked at until a historian starts asking the right questions and actively seeks that information. For instance, we didn’t know about several historic ordinations of black individuals to the priesthood under Joseph Smith’s administration until Lester Bush asked the necessary questions, researched them, and finally wrote his seminal 1973 Dialogue article “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview”.
As aptly stated by Latter-day Saint historians James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, “[t]he history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is constantly changing as new information becomes available and as each generation asks fresh questions about its past.”
2. The information must be correct
The information available to Church leaders and scholars must be correct. The facts upon which interpretations are built must be accurately identified and stated and the interpretations of those facts must be the most likely correct interpretation. This can be difficult since historians typically debate the particulars of many issues for years before coming to a consensus on an issue and the Church isn’t going to publish claims in its official literature based on specious scholarship. Sometimes there's more than one interpretation that works for historical evidence. Sometimes one interpretation of that evidence looks more plausible than it actually is—and that interpretation can be the one that makes it to official publications—sometimes to be walked back and rethought later on.
Keith A. Erekson, director of the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, observes that "[s]ometimes errors of fact go unnoticed in the origin, editing, and publishing process. Church curriculum materials or letters about chapel artwork undergo a doctrinal and legal review but not a historical or cultural review."
Even the Church's newest, most transparent, and most professional official history Saints has this disclaimer near the back of the first volume on page 659:
Saints is a true account of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based on what we know and understand at the present time from existing historical records. It is not the only possible telling of the Church’s sacred history, but the scholars who researched, wrote, and edited this volume know the historical sources well, used them thoughtfully, and documented them in the endnotes and list of sources cited. Readers are invited to evaluate the sources themselves, many of which have been digitized and linked to the endnotes. It is probable that the discovery of more sources, or new readings of existing sources, will in time yield other meanings, interpretations, and possible points of view.
There are many errors that can be made while doing historical scholarship and they all have to do with the historical method. FAIR has an article that gives a brief overview of how to do history and how to answer criticisms of the Church based in it.
3. The information must actually be damning.
The information that is correct must actually be damning either to the character of Joseph Smith, the authenticity of scripture, etc.
This can be a difficult assumption to establish for the simple fact that people can and do react differently to the same information depending on what assumptions they are willing to accept prior to or after confronting that information.
We can take seeming anachronisms in the Book of Mormon for example. Some people might take the presence of seeming anachronisms to be immediately damaging to the credibility of scripture. Others are perfectly fine with the presence of seeming anachronisms since they can be resolved by considering the possibility of loan-shifts. Others might take a seeming anachronism to mean that more information might come to light on it--especially when considering the paucity of archaeological data we have about the ancient New World, preservation conditions for bone deposits, and other factors.
Regarding Church curriculum materials, Keith Erekson observes that "[p]eople draw different conclusions about what is faith promoting, and these judgements, made in the present and influenced by current needs and concerns, have shaped the telling of stories over time. Changes in sensibilities influence what a person or generation deems appropriate for public conversation."
4. Church leaders must become aware of that information at some point
Leaders of the Church have to become aware of that information at some point. This can be difficult for the simple fact that Church leaders likely don’t have time to become aware of controversial scholarly issues.
The late historian D. Michael Quinn observed that "Church leaders have as much experience with the church’s past history as anyone who graduated from seminary, so they are not trying to conceal any concerns or a great secret or mystery, because they are not aware of them. If they haven’t acquired a knowledge of church history before they become a General Authority, they don’t have time to acquire it."
5. Church leaders must take proactive steps to suppress that information
Once information has been found to be correct and damning and general Church leaders have discovered that information, those general Church leaders must take proactive steps to suppress that information. This can be difficult for the simple fact that certain forms of information can’t be easily suppressed.
We can take Book of Mormon anachronisms again as our example. All it takes for someone to find a potential anachronism in our scriptural works is to read those works and compare their claims to the current archaeological science we find from scholars. You can find all that information online or other books that are publicly available.
In the case of historical documents, it’s not that hard to suppress them actually. One need simply burn them secretly if they wished. But there have been exactly zero times when anyone has claimed with credibility that Church leaders have burned documents. The documents that are typically restricted by the Church from public access and stored in its archives are patriarchal blessings of early church members and other temple documents from Church history. The rest is generally open to the public.
This assumption is further complicated by the fact that we have access to information about these issues today. The reader being on the FAIR website and seeing all the claims that critics have made about the Church is evidence that we have vital information on these topics from the Church. The critics couldn’t have made their claims without historical and scientific information being made available for them to formulate those claims. The apologists couldn’t have responded without the critics’ information as well as other info gathered from other sources that help respond to the critics.
This assumption is complicated even further by seeing how many times these issues have appeared in official Church publications, semi-official Church publications, and outside venues over the years. FAIR has compiled exhaustive or near-exhaustive bibliographies for issues like plural marriage, the Book of Abraham, and the First Vision. FAIR has collected smaller yet still revealing bibliographies for most other issues of major controversy. We’ve also collected a number of sources for things like Joseph Smith’s use of the seer stone and/or hat during the translation of the Book of Mormon. Returning to the mantra mentioned before, it's funny that many assert that the Church "is just now admitting" a lot of these facts when they have "admitted" them several decades before the Gospel Topics Essays, for example, were even published. Indeed, nearly all controversial facts that one might find in the CES Letter, for example, can be found in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism published in 1992 and republished in 2007. Critics back then were absolutely sure that the Church "was just then admitting the truth" about a lot of these subjects. They were absolutely sure that the Church was "just admitting" that Joseph Smith utilized a seer stone and placed it in a hat during the translation of the Book of Mormon when Elder Russell M. Nelson mentioned it to a group of new mission presidents and when his talk was published in the July 1993 Ensign. The reality is that nearly all of these issues critics will bring up have been discussed in official, semi-official, and extraofficial literature for a long time.
FAIR also has accurate info and faithful commentary on the artistic depictions of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon that have appeared in Church publications as well as in chapels, temples, and other official Church buildings over the years and that critics say are inaccurate.
Further bibliographic work can be done to find every official, semi-official, and extraoffficial publication done on each controversial issue to further settle debates regarding alleged duplicity on the part of the Church in telling their story. We encourage those interested in this question to do that work. Those interested in doing that work will need to begin their inquiry by first asking when an issue needs to be first mentioned. Because obviously many of the Church's members knew that Joseph Smith was practicing polygamy and polyandry, for instance. But when would that issue begin to be forgotten by church members and need to be researched and discussed in publications? That's when it would become an item of potential duplicity on the part of the Church: if they didn't discuss it when it needed to be discussed. Then bibliographers would need to find all publications that discuss the issue, what controversies researchers faced and had to decide on, when those controversies were decided, when Church leaders found out about the information, when the Church decided to place that information in its official literature, and finally when the claims actually appeared in the literature. Only then can potentially valid criticisms of duplicity arise.
There have been periods of time in which the Church was much more guarded and reluctant to open its archives to outsiders. Non-Latter-day Saint historian John G. Turner observes that Church leaders became such after the publication of Fawn M. Brodie's No Man Knows My History (1945) and Juanita Brooks' The Massacre at Mountain Meadows (1950). Policies for archival access became strict during the 50s and 60s. After Joseph Fielding Smith was relieved of his duties as the Church Historian in 1972, policies for archival access became much more open. From 1972–1982 there was this period of openness to historical research known today among academic historians of Church history as the "Camelot Years," "Camelot Period," or "Camelot Era". Beginning in the 60s and 70s there were attempts to write history about the Church that was more academically-grounded. This work typically did not overtly state that angels, God, and other divine agents were involved in many events of Church history. Rather, phraseology was typically something like "X person claimed to see angels and God." It was called by academics at the time and is still called by historians today "New Mormon History". It presented Church history in a tone that was meant to be palatable to both member and non-member alike. Elders Boyd K. Packer, Mark E. Petersen, and Ezra Taft Benson bristled at this. They wanted to be able to tell the Church's story assuming confidently the existence of God, angels, visions, miracles, etc. Instead of "X person claimed to see angels", they'd say that "X person saw angels". Instead of saying "Joseph Smith, like many other religious figures, sought for a primitive version of Christianity and founded a church claiming to be a restoration of Christ's New Testament church", they wanted to simply say that "Joseph Smith restored the Church of Jesus Christ back to the earth". Since the mid 1980s onward there has been a trajectory towards greater and greater historical transparency and rigor. Beginning in 2001, researchers began the Joseph Smith Papers Project: an attempt at publishing all known documents belonging to Joseph Smith or at least passing through his hands. This project was moved to Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City in 2005 and has been publishing under the Church's auspices since then. Beginning in 2008, the Church planned a new narrative history of the Church to replace B.H. Roberts' old Comprehensive History of the Church published in 1930. Its first volume was released in 2018 entitled Saints: The Standard of Truth. The second and third volumes of this four-volume history have also been published: Saints: No Unhallowed Hand (2020) and Saints: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent (2022). These volumes have consciously been written to address thorny issues in the Church's history and move members' historical knowledge of the church to one that includes "warts and all". The Church has attempted to digitize large and important swaths of its historical archives and interested parties can peruse these documents in the Church History Catalog.
6. Church leaders must take those proactive steps to suppress information with malicious intent
It’s also important to establish that Church leaders must take those proactive steps to suppress information with malicious intent. The author says “malicious” intent because some information seems to have been kept from church members because there was no scholar who could be trusted to take the information and be forthright about its implications while also being sensitive to church members and their beliefs (such as in the case of the First Vision and Joseph Fielding Smith that critics love to talk about). It may take time for Church leaders and other officers to decide how to roll out information to its members so that it doesn’t end up hurting their faith and trust in the Church and it’s past leaders. Often, doubt about the Church is not a matter of information being damning, but the way in which that information is presented that makes it appear as such. It may take time for Church leaders to present the necessary theological and intellectual groundwork that can help other information go down smoothly in members’ spiritual stomachs. As Dallin H. Oaks has observed, “[y]ou don’t want to be getting into and creating doubts that didn’t exist in the first place.” The Church has the right to tell its own story in its own way and at its own time. Not to lie; not to distort the truth; but to present the truth in a way that ultimately advances the Church’s mission of creating Zion and helping others follow God. Church leaders must find the right time (in their incredibly busy schedules and given all the other pressing issues that face the Church and are on the leaders' agendas), the right venue (in the many venues that are available to them and that would be the best conduits to the right hearts and minds), and the right way (given many other circumstances) to present information on these controversial topics. Figuring out all of that is an incredibly tricky task to say the least.
This assumption is further complicated by the fact that the apostles and other General Authorities live lifestyles roughly commensurate with the vocations they held prior to their calls into Church hierarchy. They don't buy up a fleet of yachts nor Lamborghinis just for Church use. Church funds are always geared towards the benefit of the Church. They’re not used for top Church leaders to just live off of the backs of the people. Indeed, they don't need to. They have all the resources, given their stipends and past succesful careers, that they need to live happy, productive lives in their callings and to cover all their necessary expenses. Many critics will doubt that Church leaders aren't trying to just get money—citing things like some General Authorities’ living stipends and the construction of City Creek mall. Information about those topics from an accurate and faithful perspective can be found by following the hyperlinked text.
Finally, it’s doubtful that a lot of information absolutely needs to shared. For example, can one imagine what it would be like if the Church had to announce with trumpet and scrolled proclamation every plagiarism accusation against Joseph Smith? Every argument made against his character? Every argument against other prophets’ characters? Indeed, as Boyd K. Packer correctly observed, "some things that are true are not very useful." Think especially about how you would write the history of a beloved family member that was about to pass and asked you to compile and/or write it. Would you include every single unsavory or negative thing about their life in that history you wrote? Elder Dallin H. Oaks addressed this and urged us to "[s]ee a person in context; don’t depreciate their effectiveness in one area because they have some misbehavior in another area — especially from their youth. I think that’s the spirit of that. I think I’m not talking necessarily just about writing Mormon history; I’m talking about George Washington or any other case. If he had an affair with a girl when he was a teenager, I don’t need to read that when I’m trying to read a biography of the Founding Father of our nation."
7. You must be a good reader.
People need to read to get information. It’s a simple fact of life. It’s also a fact that, as a species, we are fairly bad at reading anything. We aren’t typically interested in something until we feel that we absolutely must be interested in that thing. This is especially true with Latter-day Saints in a crisis of faith: they now feel that their faith is on the line with certain critical arguments made based on history and scripture, whereas before they didn’t feel that and so likely didn’t get interested in Church history and scholarly literature on the scriptures.
As Latter-day Saint apologist Michael Ash has observed:
It [has] been said that America is a nation of non-readers. We are, by and large, literate, but we are often [uninformed] and tend to spend less time reading than watching TV or surfing the Internet. A 2011 survey, for instance, found that the average U.S. adult spends about 7-12 times more time watching TV than reading books. Studies indicate that in the past two decades about 25% fewer American adults spent time reading books. According to another study,
- One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
- 58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school.
- 42% of college graduates never read another book.
- 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year
- 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
- 57% of new books are not read to completion.
When we do read, we often choose pop magazines or novels over nonfiction. Most Americans, for example, are severely uninformed in regards to significant historical issues, current events, or scientific facts. According to a 2003 Gallup poll, a full 83% of Americans could not name the then-current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquisy, and nearly a third of Americans were unable to name the then-current vice president Dick Cheney. According to Carl Sagan, 63% of Americans are unaware that the last dinosaur died before the first humans lived, and nearly half of American adults do not know that the Earth goes around the sun and that it takes a year to do so.
The problem is even more pronounced among [the United States’] teens. One third of U.S. teens, for instance, were unable to associate Hitler with Germany. Pulitzer prize-winning historian David McCullough complains that many high school and college students are unaware that George Washington was commander of the Continental Army, or that the 13 original colonies were all on the East Coast.
One recent study showed that many Americans were significantly ignorant on what should be common matters of religious knowledge. Only 54% of respondents, for instance, knew that the Koran (Quran) is an Islamic holy book. Only 51% knew that Joseph Smith was a Mormon, and only 46% knew that Martin Luther inspired the Reformation. Although the vast majority of the people polled [were] Christian, only 37% said they read the scriptures at least once a week (not counting worship services), and only 45% knew that the Gospels [were] comprised of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Only 63% knew that Genesis was the first book in the Bible, and only 60% knew that Abraham was a figure in the Bible who was willing to sacrifice his son for God.According to one author who wrote about the decline in American religious knowledge, 60% of Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments and 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married. Another study claims that one third of Americans polled believe that evangelist Billy Graham delivered the Sermon on the mount....With such non-reader ignorance, is it really any wonder that a number of Mormons are unfamiliar with Joseph Smith's involvement with plural marriage? To repeat a comment generally attributed to Mark Twain: "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."
It’s also true that we need to be reading the right publications to get the information we’re looking for. Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed that "what is plenty of history for one person is inadequate for another, and we have a large church, and that’s a big problem." The Church, including its leaders and scholars, are going to want to place the information in settings that are designed for specific types of explorations in Church history and scripture. Publications like BYU Studies, the Journal of Mormon History, Church magazines, Seminary manuals, Institute Manuals, Church newspapers, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Interpreter, Element, and others will all have different topics that they are going to want to explore and different levels that they will address them at. They know that there are going to be different audiences that want different content. Even if you are reading the right literature and reading a lot there’s no guarantee that the issues will be addressed the way that you might prefer. This is because the publications might be written in a style, scope, or at particular reading level that simply doesn’t permit the issue being addressed that way.
Some may complain that they wanted the information to be presented in Sunday School classes. But as Michael Ash has observed:
The purpose of Church curriculum. . .including Sunday School, Priesthood [meetings], and Relief Society [meetings] is to support the mission of the Church: to bring people to Christ. Very little actual history is discussed in Church classes. Even every fourth year when the Doctrine and Covenants is taught (which includes some Church history) the primary goal of the class is to help members draw closer to God, seek the Spirit, and understand gospel principles. Thousands of virtually untrained volunteers, with varying degrees of gospel and historical knowledge, endeavor to bring the Spirit into the classroom so that class members can be spiritually edified. While some Gospel Doctrine teachers may be knowledgeable enough to share detailed historical information, the manuals generally give basic historical outlines that specifically relate to lessons focusing on one or more gospel principles and how to apply those [principles] in the lives of members. In short, Church is a place for worship, spiritual edification, and enlightenment, not for in-depth historical discussion."
Along similar lines, Keith Erekson observed that "[t]he common teaching technique of identifying principles for application [by Sunday school and other teachers in local congregations] inadvertently omits facts. A lesson that uses the First Vision as a template for receiving personal revelation rarely mentions all the historical accounts." Regarding the curriculum writing and publishing of the Church, Erekson observes that "[b]ecause of its latter-day mission, the Church has prioritized messages about conversion and salvation, which means that information about some historical events or issues receives less priority."" Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed that "the Sunday School teacher that gives 'Brother Jones' his understanding of Church history may be inadequately informed and may not reveal something which the Church has published. It’s in the history written for college or Institute students, sources written for quite mature students, but not every Sunday School teacher that introduces people to a history is familiar with that."
Along with these points from Ash and Erekson, we would do well to remember that those who control curriculum at the Church Office Building, the Correlation Commitee, can be conservative in their approach and be suspicious of new information being distributed to members. This is especially true if that information has typically come through and been promulgated by anti-Mormon sources. We can also remember that the Church has, for the first 200 years or so, been on the defensive from many, many critics. Our approach for defense has sometimes been to “circle the wagons” as it were and shield people from attack. It's understandable why there might be some skittishness. Thus, some charity is encouraged from those dealing with this concern.
If you want to find information about a particular facet of criticism that the Church faces, then you need to be reading a lot, reading the right things, and to expect the issue to be addressed in a way unique to the style, scope, and audience of that publication.
8. You must remember what you read.
This assumption might seem a bit superfluous, but it may become more relevant with experience with those who struggle with this question. You have to remember what you read. Many people might actually be exposed to good information regarding a topic that addresses the concern but not remember the issue itself or the details surrounding the issue and responses to it that would inoculate them to that issue.
When they’re confronted with the issue again they may feel that the Church deceived them on this or that detail, when in reality they just have innocently forgotten much about the issue when they first confronted it.
Other Relevant Considerations
Many critics will present a faithful member with some fact of church history and would have them believe that this is a new discovery. The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history. In fact, most, if not all of these documents have been well known to church historians for many years. Occasionally, a new document will be discovered which sheds additional light on some aspect of Church history. One such example is the discovery of documents that clarify that the Church was actually organized in Fayette, New York rather than Manchester, New York as some have claimed. However, situations such as this are rare. When a critic presents a "new" historical fact, you can be assured that this very same "fact" has been discussed by Latter-day Saint scholars for many years. There is truly little new information for the critics to draw from.
The critic presents these historical facts in order to shake the member's testimony, hopefully to the point of leaving the church. They attempt to present contradictions, such as "Joseph Smith drank wine at Carthage Jail, and therefore violated the Word of Wisdom." They attempt to catch Church leaders in deceit or portray them as hypocrites. Yet, there are many LDS experts on Church history that remain fully aware, faithful, actively attending church members. There are no facts that unarguably disprove the authenticity of the church. As always it comes down to faith and a personal witness between an individual and the Lord.
Past Histories of the Church Were Written in Line With the Hagiographic Style of the 19th and 20th Century
Apologist Michael Ash has observed that past histories of the Church were written in the hagiographic style of the early 19th and 20th centuries. This sometimes affected what information was or wasn't shared:
Information can be withheld intentionally or unintentionally. First we will discuss the intentional reasons. In the context of early creations of LDS history, we find a tradition among most-nineteenth century biographies (the primary form of historical creations) that emphasized the positive aspects of heroic figures in the hopes of inspiring readers while often exaggerating or even fabricating anecdotes--such as George Washington chopping down his father's cherry tree. Frequently, in cases of early American biographies involving religious or philosophical movements, the movement took center stage and the "history" was a tool for evangelizing the movement. Any information that might harm the movement was withheld from the biography/history.
Apostle George Q. Cannon, whose faith-promoting stories were intended for the youth of the Church, wrote some of the more popular historical accounts of early Mormonism. Such works, like many other non-LDS works of the nineteenth century, were defensive in tone, biased, one-dimensional, and devoted to evangelizing a particular perspective. Today such writings are often referred to as hagiographies. It was not until the middle of the twentieth century that the modern biography—critical, multi-dimensional, and objective (at least in principle)—"began to take its present form." The early faith-promoting histories, however, became the source of historical knowledge for many Church members and launched similar popular works for decades to come. While it can be said that early LDS histories intentionally withheld challenging and non-flattering information, in the context of the times this was not unique to Mormonism and is to be expected.
Early Mormon historians, like many historians of their era, were not trained in history but were instead influenced by the English Puritans whose histories were written as faithful explanations of their events. These Puritans (as well as early LDS historians) believed that, like the Hebrews before them, they were God’s chosen people whose coming to America was part of God's unfolding plan. "Their history and biography" note three prominent historians, "told the saga of God's dealings as seen in their personal lives. In short, Puritan biography and autobiography were simultaneously scripture as well as history." "Accuracy and realism were...largely things of the future."
President Dallin H. Oaks observed that "we’re emerging from a period of history writing within the Church [of] adoring history that doesn’t deal with anything that’s unfavorable, and we’re coming into a period of 'warts and all' kind of history."
The Church has not been perfect in the dissemination of information about its history and scripture. That’s rather expected in any institution managed by imperfect mortals. But to say that it hasn’t done a good job or that it has consistently, deliberately, and/or maliciously hidden unsavory parts about its history and/or scripture from others cannot be taken seriously. There are simply too many confounding variables and complicating data points to validly make this claim. In general, it seems fair to say that anyone could have known about all these controversial issues about the Church; but that does not necessarily mean that they should have known about these issues. We all have busy lives with school, work, families, and other responsibilities. It makes sense that we’re not going to be able to have the time and energy to pursue all of these issues at the depth that others might.
Hopefully everyone will evaluate this issue with faith, hope, and charity. Such will be the only way to come to peace with it.
Critics will want to be aware of these assumptions if they want to try and establish their criticism more fully in the future and defenders will want to be aware of these to know how to approach response to critics.
Defenders should keep in mind, as Dallin H. Oaks has observed about this criticism, that "we will never satisfy every complaint along [this] line and probably shouldn’t."
Appendix 1: Specific Incidents Critics Claim are Examples of Deception
Several specific incidents that critics believe are examples of the Church deceiving its members about controversial aspects of Church history and responses to those critics' arguments are linked below.
Latter-day Saint scholar Paul Reeve has argued validly that the Church attempted to erase from collective memory the ordination of Elijah Abel in order to shore up the authority of the priesthood and temple restrictions on members of the Church of black African descent. His presentation on this can be found here. See under "Restriction is Solidified, 1908".
Appendix 2: Further video content
Church historians Matthew Grow and Kate Holbrook, along with Elder Quinten L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addressed this issue at a youth Face-to-Face event sponsored by the Church. They answer the question from 14:15-20:42 of the video below:
- "Elder Oaks Interview Transcript from PBS Documentary," Church Newsroom, July 20, 2007, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/elder-oaks-interview-transcript-from-pbs-documentary.
- A comprehensive guide to these archives has been published in the book Mormon Americana through BYU Studies.
- James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992), xi.
- Keith A. Erekson, Real vs. Rumor: How to Dispel Latter-day Myths (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2021), 214.
- D. Michael Quinn at Utah Valley State College, 3 February 2005; reported in Caleb Warnock “Historian delivers talk at UVSC,” Daily Herald, February 4, 2005, D1. Cited in Gregory L. Smith, "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication," FAIR Papers, 2005, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/smith-Polygamy_Prophets_and_Prevarication.pdf.
- Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign 23, no. 7 (July 1993).
- For a personal memoir and reflection on this period of time, see Davis Bitton, "Ten Years in Camelot: A Personal Memoir," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16, no. 3 (Fall 1983): 9–19.
- A collection of essays exemplifying this new approach can be found in D. Michael Quinn, ed., The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992). We encourage mature, faithful members and seasoned consumers of Church history volumes to read it. For further reflections on New Mormon History from one of its founders, see Reid L. Neilson and Ronald W. Walker, eds., Reflections of a Mormon Historian: Leonard J. Arrington on the New Mormon History (Norman, OK: Oklahoma University Press, 2006).
- John G. Turner, "'All Truth Does not Always Need to be Told': The LDS Church, Mormon History, and Religious Authority," in Out of Obscurity: Mormonism Since 1945, ed. Patrick Q. Mason and John G. Turner (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 326–27.
- "Time spent in leisure and sports activities for the civilian population by selected characteristics, 2011 annual averages," Bureau of Labor Statistics, at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t11.htm (accessed 9 December 2012).
- "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America," National Endowment for the Arts, Research Division Report #46 (June 2004), xi; available online at https://www.arts.gov/about/publications/reading-risk-survey-literary-reading-america-executive-summary.
- Jerrold Jenkins survey (www.JenkinsGroup.com) posted at http://parapublishing.com/sites/para/resources/statistics.cfm (accessed February 2008). The infographic is no longer there. An updated graphic can be found at http://www.robertbrewer.org/surprising-book-facts-infographic/.
- George H. Gallup, Jr., "How Many Americans Know U.S. History? Part 1." Gallup News Service; available online at http://www.gallup.com/poll/9526/how-many-americans-know-us-history-part.aspx (acccessed 2 December 2012).
- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (New York: Ballentine Books, 1996), 324.
- Joseph Carroll, "Teens' Knowledge of World History Slipping," Gallup News Service; available online at http://www.gallup.com/poll/5785/teens-knowledge-world-history-slipping.aspx (accessed 2 December 2012).
- David McCullough, "The De-Emphasis of History Education," posted 21 March 2007 at http://shrewdnessofapes.blogspot.com/2007/03/de-emphasis-of-history-education.html (accessed 17 September 2012).
- U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, The Pew Research Center (8 September 2010); available online at https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/ (accessed 17 September 2012).
- Cathy Lynn Grossman, "Americans Get an 'F' in Religion," USA Today (14 March 2007); available online at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-03-07-teaching-religion-cover_N.htm (accessed 17 September 2012).
- "What Americans Should But Don't Know About Religion," Pew Research Center Publications (6 February 2008) at http://pewresearch.org/pubs/723/what-americans-should-but-dont--know-about-religion (accessed 17 September 2012). That link is broken and no other link can be found. Readers can find the most up-to-date information about religious knowledge in Pew's 2019 survey on the same topic. Available online at https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2019/07/23/what-americans-know-about-religion/.
- While this quote is almost universally attributed to Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), I have been unable to find the original source for this quote. See James Glen Stovall at http://jprof.com/writing/quotations.html (accessed 14 December 2012). That link is also broken. Try this: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/12/11/cannot-read/.
- Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith Syndrome, 2nd ed. (Redding, CA: FairMormon Press, 2014), 15–16.
- Ibid., 13–14.
- Erekson, Real vs. Rumor, 213.
- Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whitaker, and James B. Allen, Mormon History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 117.
- Ibid., 117, 119–120.
- Ash, Shaken Faith Syndrome, 13.
- Moroni 7:40-45