I Have an Answer

Questions to Gospel Answers

First published in Mormon Women's Forum, vol. 6, no. 4 (1995)

ANSWER: Faithful LDS historians and writers should focus on only those parts of Church history that are faith-promoting.

QUESTIONS: What does “faith-promoting” mean? What is inferred or implied when information is included, altered or withheld? For example, what is the effect on a person's faith when they find out that Joseph Smith had a gun at Carthage? Or drank wine? Or took plural wives without Emma's consent? How can one ascertain how this kind of information might affect someone's faith? How is it measured?

Do we accept as accurate a primary source, such as a diary or journal account, only on those points which coincide with modern practices and attitudes? Do we reject those same sources on other points if they clash with our expectations? Do we hold back some details because they detract from a particular image? What is the effect on faith when a history book is published containing misstatements or inaccuracies which have become quite widely known and identified as such, at least among well-read members? To whom are the publishers trying to appeal? Whose “faith” is strengthened? Whose faith is being judged as unimportant to consider?

Had the Church been forthright from the very beginning, standing for truth instead of fearing that our enemies would use that truth against us, we would not be having to deal with the compounded consequences at this late date, which potentially jeopardize the faith of a far broader spectrum of members than necessary. If the Church fails to tell a more accurate account of the truth in the face of evidence produced from its own archives, then the faith of better-educated saints may be damaged.

If the Church admits to the unpleasant and hitherto avoided “inaccuracies” in its own recorded history, then the faith of those brought up to believe the sanitized version may be damaged. At the moment, it seems the Church is adhering to its historical stance of “protecting” the untruth it has propagated on the grounds that it is “protecting” the faith of this latter category of people.†

The irony is, of course, that “the truth will out”: often the people whom the Church is presumably trying to “protect” learn about the things the Church is hiding. Isn't it better to learn the truth from the Church than from outside sources? Some saints are seriously shaken and leave, but the majority really do accept the humanity of the leadership in tandem with divine guidance and can deal with such “revelations.” Indeed, most people find it far easier to come to terms with the problematic aspects of our history than with the Church's continued efforts to cover them up.

Anti-Mormons unnecessarily derive strength from the Church's dissembling. “If they lied to you about thus-and-so, don't you see that they could be/are lying about this-and-that?” is a powerfully persuasive argument. The Church is ultimately ill-served by its unwillingness to tell its own story as fully and as truthfully as possible, warts and all.

Finally, what does it mean when the Church places more value on public relations than it does on truth?

Update, 15 Jan 2013: Just a few weeks ago, the church began publishing on its official website some fairly frank essays or responses about the priesthood ban on blacks, the different versions of the First Vision, and so on… all information that has been widely available on the internet for at least a good long decade. Too little, too late for some people, no doubt… and possibly far too much for others.