16. "Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain!"

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends stand in awe before the great and powerful Wizard. However, Dorothy notices the diminutive figure in the booth working the gears of the great contraption. Having been discovered, the fraudulent Wizard shouts into his microphone: "Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain!"

The LDS church is an autocratic organization that does not allow criticism of church leaders. Members are counseled to place their faith in the priesthood instead of trying to "look behind the curtain." Pursuit of such concerns is equated with apostasy.

On the surface, members are encouraged to "study it out in their own minds" (D&C 9:7-9) after being taught by church leaders, in order to receive a personal witness to the truth. But in fact the only acceptable answer is the one that harmonizes with what their leaders have told them. If a member concludes that something is incorrect, he is blamed for being out of tune with the Spirit or for having a personal agenda. Thus, the Brethren are always right.

Church members are told that the prophet will never lead them astray, therefore they should always believe what they are told and act accordingly. As declared by President Wilford Woodruff in the Doctrine and Covenants:

"The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty." (Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 1)

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks counseled members to avoid criticism of church leaders and base their testimonies on spiritual knowledge rather than historical facts:

"Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward church authorities, general or local…It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true…Our individual, personal testimonies are based on the witness of the spirit, not on any combination or accumulation of historical facts. If we are so grounded, no alteration of historical facts can shake our testimonies." (Dallin H. Oaks, "Elder Decries Criticism of LDS Leaders," quoted in The Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday August 18, 1985, p. 2B)

Thus Mormonism does not encourage critical thinking by its members, but rather preaches that they should place complete faith in their church leaders:

"When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan-it is God's plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God." ("Ward Teachers Message for June, 1945," Improvement Era, 48 (June, 1945))

Mormons are taught to obey their church leaders, even when their teachings conflict with what is taught in scripture. To illustrate this point, President Ezra Taft Benson shared an experience from President Wilford Woodruff's life (Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets, BYU Devotional Assembly, February 26, 1980):

"I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living oracles and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: 'You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.'

"When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, 'Brother Brigham I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.' Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: 'There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now, said he, 'when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.' That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation; 'Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.'" (Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 18-19)

Church members are indoctrinated that even if what they are told to do is out of harmony with the will of God, they should still obey their leaders and will be blessed for doing so. As illustrated by President Marion G. Romney:

"I remember years ago when I was a Bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home…Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: 'My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.' Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, 'But you don't need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.'" (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78)

Given that Mormon leaders clearly believe that Lying for the Lord is an acceptable practice, it is hard to reconcile that fact with promises that everything will be all right if members just blindly follow the Priesthood. On the one hand, Mormons are told that their prophet will never lead them astray. Yet when one brings up examples of previous prophets teaching false doctrine such as blood atonement, the bias that Blacks are inferior, the Law of Adoption, or the principle that God was once a man, the church is quick to reply that its leaders weren't speaking as enlightened prophets at the time.

Apologist Response

According to Daniel C. Peterson, the above statement that "When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done" should not be taken as the official church stance on learning truth (see however, this response to Peterson's statement):

"The source for the statement in question is actually a June 1945 ward teachers' message, and one should scarcely need to point out that it is not to be found in any Latter-day Saint scripture. For obvious reasons, however, it has become quite popular among certain critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Back in the early 1980s, for example, in an article addressed to intellectually inclined religious skeptics, George D. Smith, the owner of Signature Books, cited the statement as evidence of what Mormonism is really about. One might, of course, have thought that the 1986 publication of George Albert Smith's repudiation of the statement would have euthanized it. After all, at the time he penned this, George Albert Smith was the president of the church-and, as the June 1945 ward teachers' message itself explains, "When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. . . . When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy." But the myth lives on. (How many other ward teachers' messages, from the 1940s or any other decade, are remembered today?) Edward H. Ashment used it, for instance, to flog the church during an address to the 1991 annual meeting of the Mormon History Association. And now, indeed, this obscure ward teaching message, apparently written by a minor church functionary and more than a half century old, has been elevated by at least one critic of the church into a vital passage from the canonical scriptures of the Latter-day Saints." (Daniel C. Peterson, "Traditions of the Fathers", FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1 (1997), pp. 5-28)