8. Lying for the Lord

Leaders in the LDS church have time and again deliberately lied about or denied church history and doctrines which have the potential to hurt the faith of its members. In fact, Apostle Boyd K. Packer has stated that LDS scholars and historians are in peril of damnation if they choose to reveal the whole truth about the LDS church:

"Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer…

"There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful…

"The writer or teacher who has an exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told is laying a foundation for his own judgment...The Lord made it clear that some things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy…

"That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith - particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith - places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities…Do not spread disease germs!" (Boyd K. Packer, 1981, BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 259-271)

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks concurred:

"My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS church, namely the authority of priesthood, testimony regarding the restoration of the gospel, and the divine mission of the Savior. Everything may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts. Thus, if Mormon Enigma reveals information that is detrimental to the reputation of Joseph Smith, then it is necessary to try to limit its influence and that of its authors." (Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon, Introduction p. xliii f28)

This outright censorship of the truth has been a cause of consternation for LDS historians, scholars, and scientists with views that may be considered "not very useful" by church leaders. For example, D. Michael Quinn expressed his frustration in an address to a student history association at Brigham Young University:

"General authorities in recent years have criticized Mormon historians for republishing in part or whole out-of-print Church publications such as the 1830 Book of Mormon, the Journal of Discourses (edited and published for thirty-two years under the auspices of the First Presidency), and statements taken from former Church magazines published for the children, youth, and general membership of the Church. It is an odd situation when present general authorities criticize historians for reprinting what previous general authorities regarded not only as faith-promoting but as appropriate for Mormon youth and the newest converts.

"Elder Packer specifically warns against historians using "the unworthy, the unsavory, or the sensational," from the Mormon past, merely because it has been previously published somewhere else, and he berates historians for their "exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told." But this raises the question of personal honesty and professional integrity. If a historian writes about any subject unrelated to religion, and he purposely fails to make reference to pertinent information of which he has knowledge, he is justifiably liable to be criticized for dishonesty…

"Boyd K. Packer demands that Mormon historians demonstrate and affirm that "the hand of the Lord [has been] in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now."…Mormon historians may share the convictions of the Nephite prophets and Boyd K. Packer that the "hand of the lord" operates throughout history and that "His purposes fail not," but they also have an obligation to examine the evidence, reflect upon it, and offer the best interpretations they can for what has occurred in Mormon history…

"The tragic reality is that there have been occasions when Church leaders, teachers, and writers have not told the truth they knew about difficulties of the Mormon past, but have offered to the Saints instead a mixture of platitudes, half-truths, omissions, and plausible denials. (D. Michael Quinn, On Being A Mormon Historian, 1982, pp. 2, 8-10, 13-14, 16-22; revised and reprinted in 1992 in Faithful History: Essays On Writing Mormon History, pp. 69-111)

Quinn's speech was subsequently praised by Newsweek as a "stirring defense of intellectual integrity." The church did not take kindly to his stance however, particularly since he continued to publish historical findings which were accurate but not flattering to early church history. Quinn was ultimately excommunicated from the church in 1993 for his views.


The early practice of polygamy is one clear example of this kind of blatant dishonesty between leaders and the general membership of the LDS church.

Joseph went to great lengths to conceal his practice of plural marriage. H. Michael Marquardt discovered that he even had a pretended marriage performed to cover up his own marriage to Sarah Ann Whitney. On July 27,1842, Joseph gave a revelation to Newel K. Whitney, that he was to seal his daughter, Sarah Ann, "to Joseph Smith, to be his wife." In his booklet, The Strange Marriages of Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, Joseph C. Kingsbury and Heber C. Kimball, Marquardt reveals how he uncovered the fact that Joseph Smith actually performed a "pretended" marriage ceremony between Sarah Ann Whitney and Joseph C. Kingsbury so that his own relationship with her would not be noticed. Marquardt cited the following from "The History of Joseph C. Kingsbury," a document that is now in the Western Americana section of the University of Utah Library:

"…on 29th of April 1843 I according to President Joseph Smith Couscil & others agreed to Stand by Sarah Ann Whitny as supposed to be her husband & had a prete[n]ded marriage for the purpose of Bringing about the purposes of God…"

According to the diary of Joseph's private secretary, William Clayton, Smith would even go so far as to initiate a fake excommunication from the church to make it appear that he did not believe in polygamy:

"Thursday 19…Prest. J…began to tell me that E. was turned quite friendly & kind…He said it was her advice that I should keep M [Clayton's plural wife Margaret] at home and it was also his council. Says he just keep her at home and brook it and if they raise trouble about it and bring you before me I will give you an awful scourging & probably cut you off from the church and then I will baptise you & set you ahead as good as ever." (William Clayton's Diary, Oct. 19, 1843, Andrew Ehat's typed extracts)

Would God command Joseph to secretly take his wife's fellow presidency members in the Nauvoo Relief Society (as well as many others) as his own plural wives? Could it be proper or Godly for him to publicly deny such behaviors and privately practice them? Would a true prophet ever secretly take other men's wives because of his position, stating that he was either testing the faith of their husbands, or offering these women a greater chance for exaltation in the eternities because of his position of authority? It is well documented that Joseph married several women even before telling Emma. Would it be proper to keep such information from his own wife?

The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (1835) included a section denying any practice of polygamy:

"Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 247)

It is interesting to note that this section in the Doctrine and Covenants was in every single edition until 1876, when the Doctrine and Covenants first included section 132 justifying plural marriage.

Note that from the current heading of D&C 132, the church effectively admits the above statement was a lie:

"Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831."

It is also clear that on May 26, 1844 Joseph lied about practicing polygamy, despite proof to the contrary:

"I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can. This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man does not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this…I wish the grand jury would tell me who they are - whether it will be a curse or blessing to me. I am quite tired of the fools asking me…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 410-411)

As expressed by Charles W. Penrose in a letter to John Taylor in 1887:

"…the endless subterfuges and prevarications which our present condition imposes… threaten to make our rising generation a race of deceivers." (B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage, p. 368)

Secret Organizations: The Danites and Council of 50

The Danites were a secret band organized during the time of Joseph under the direction of Sampson Avard. According to David Whitmer:

"In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness…In June, 1838, at Far West, Mo., a secret organization was formed, Doctor Avard being put in as the leader of the band; a certain oath was to be administered to all the brethren to bind them to support the heads of the church in everything they should teach. All who refused to take this oath were considered dissenters from the church, and certain things were to be done concerning these dissenters, by Dr. Avard's secret band…my persecutions, for trying to show them their errors, became of such a nature that I had to leave the Latter Day Saints…" (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Missouri, 1887, pp. 27-28)

As mentioned by Joseph in his personal journal, the purpose of the Danites was to exact justice on those that opposed the church:

"…we have a company of Danites in these times, to put right physically that which is not right, and to cleanse the Church of verry great evils which hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings & persuasyons, This company or a part of them exibited on the fourth day of July [illegible word] They come up to consecrate by companies of tens, commanded by their captain over ten." (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1988, p. 14)

Interestingly, the above journal entry under the date of July 27, 1838 had been crossed out in Joseph's journal in an attempt to conceal it. Due to the efforts of H. Michael Marquardt and subsequently by Mormon scholars Dean C. Jessee and David J. Whittaker, they were able to decipher the words from the original entry. Joseph had in fact publicly denied that any such organization existed:

"The Danite system alluded to by Norton never had any existence." (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 165)

As another example of obfuscation, Joseph secretly organized the Council of 50 at Nauvoo in the spring of 1844. This covert organization was a body charged with the responsibility of setting up a political kingdom of God on earth, with Joseph at the head. For years church leaders denied the organization's existence. It eventually came to light through critical works such as Brodie's No Man Knows My History in 1945, and Klaus J. Hansen's Quest for Empire: The Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History in 1967. (Roger D. Launius, "From Old to New Mormon History: Fawn Brodie and the Legacy of Scholarly Analysis of Mormonism", Reconsidering No Man Knows My History, pp. 215, 218-219)

Book of Abraham

As discussed regarding the Book of Abraham, Joseph blatantly added his own drawings to the original papyri for Facsimiles 1 and 2. For example, he drew in the head of a human priest and armed the priest with a dagger to support his interpretation that Facsimile 1 depicted an attempted sacrifice of Abraham. On Facsimile 2, he added several incorrect pictures (the head of the central figure, the upside-down dove, the boat). Worse, he plagiarized from three random sections of the Small Sensen text to fill in missing portions in the outer circle of Facsimile 2. All of these modifications were made without ever admitting that they were not part of the original papyri.

As Man Is, God Once Was

LDS church leaders have changed their views regarding the doctrine that God was once a man. Despite multiple statements affirming this doctrine by early church leaders, President Gordon B. Hinckley has deliberately obfuscated the issue in discussing it with the press. For example, in a Time interview on August, 1997 he said:

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

"Hinckley: 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?

"Hinckley: 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." (Time Magazine original transcript, Aug 4, 1997)

Covering Your Back

Steve Benson (grandson of Prophet Ezra Taft Benson) described a firsthand experience with Apostle Dallin H. Oaks in which he was requested to hide the truth:

"Oaks expected me to cover for him after he lied in public about what we had talked about in private. In an on-the-record interview with a newspaper reporter, he blatantly misrepresented the truth about Boyd K. Packer's involvement in the excommunication of Salt Lake author, Paul Toscano--who had attracted scowling Church attention for, among other things, suggesting that members need not perpetuate a Cult of Personality by standing up when General Authorities walked into the room. "Oaks had shared the details of Packer's involvement with me in a second, 'confidential' meeting on September 24, 1993 (also attended by Maxwell). There, Oaks confessed that Packer had inappropriately injected himself into local Church action against Toscano, in the process violating Church disciplinary procedures and opening the Church up to a possible lawsuit from Toscano. Referring to Packer as the source of these headaches, a frustrated Oaks told me, "You can't stage manage a grizzly bear." When subsequently asked by the media about rumors that Packer had worked behind the scenes to get Toscano excommunicated, Oaks claimed ignorance and denied that Packer could ever do such a thing. "Had I remained silent in the face of these lies, I would have been an accessory to Oaks' falsifications. Oaks had demanded that I not talk about the conversations we had about the Toscano/Packer affair. Oaks had then prevaricated on the record about what we discussed. Finally, once the cat was out of the bag, Oaks had expected me to cover his keister by covering my mouth." (Steve Benson, Conversations Behind the Mormon Curtain: A First-Person Account of Meetings Between LDS Apostles Dallin H. Oaks, Neal A. Maxwell, and Steve and Mary Ann Benson, November 21, 2002)

Apologist Response

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks explains the church's stance on "Lying for the Lord":

"As far as concerns our own church and culture, the most common allegations of lying for the Lord swirl around the initiation, practice, and discontinuance of polygamy.

"It is clear from the record of history that Joseph Smith introduced the doctrine and practice of polygamy to a select few in the 1830s and 1840s, but it was not announced publicly by the church until the revelation was read aloud at a Church conference in Salt Lake City in 1852. It is also clear that during the federal prosecutions of the 1880s, numerous Church leaders and faithful members were pursued, arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for violations of various laws forbidding polygamy or cohabitation. Some wives were even sent to prison for refusing to testify against their husbands, my grandfather's oldest sister being one of them…

"I do not know what to think of all of this, except I am glad I was not faced with the pressures those good people faced. My heart goes out to them for their bravery and their sacrifices, of which I am a direct beneficiary. I will not judge them. That judgement belongs to the Lord, who knows all of the circumstances and the hearts of the actors, a level of comprehension and wisdom not approached by even the most knowledgeable historians.

"I ask myself, "If some of these Mormon leaders or members lied, therefore, what?" I reject a "therefore" which asserts or implies that this example shows that lying is morally permissible or that lying is a tradition or even a tolerated condition in the Mormon community or among the leaders of our church. That is not so.

"I suppose most mortals employ some exaggeration and a little of what someone called "innocent after-mindedness." But does this mean we condone deliberate and important misrepresentations of fact in a circumstance in which they are clearly intended to be believed and relied upon? Never! Lying is sinful, as it has always been, and there is no exempt category for so-called "lying for the Lord." Lying is simply outside the range of permitted or condoned conduct by Latter-day Saints-members or leaders." (Dallin H. Oaks, Gospel Teachings About Lying, address to faculty, students, and alumni of BYU on September 12, 1993)