Healing When Trust is Broken with The Church

Man sitting in mountains contemplating

Unsettling Discoveries

A few days ago I received an email from a friend (we’ll call him John) explaining that his brother (we’ll call him Bill) was quitting the Church. Why? Bill feels he’s been lied to by present and past prophets.  Apparently Bill discovered what he thought was disturbing information about the manner in which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.

The information changed the way Bill viewed the prophet—it made Joseph Smith seem like either a gullible magic-influenced hick, or a clever conman. Either way, the information wasn’t very complimentary to a man who is revered as a Prophet of God.

To make matters worse, Bill discovered that defenders of the Church didn’t deny that Joseph used “magical” tools from his environment to translate the Book of Mormon. Why, Bill wondered, had he never learned—in over 40 years of attending church—that Joseph used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon?

In all his years of Primary, Sunday School, Seminary, Institute, and Priesthood meetings, he had never once heard of such a thing. He had always been taught that the plates were translated by way of the Urim and Thummin—he even saw artwork depicting the translating process in the Ensign. But that’s not what happened. And even the Church now admits as much. He had been lied to!

Translating the Book of Mormon
Artist’s conceptions often distort real history

An Issue of Trust

When we hear the word “infidelity” most of us probably think of adultery. The word infidelity, however, has a broader meaning. It comes from a Latin word that means unfaithfulness as well as faithlessness and is the source for the word “infidels”—which in past times referred to unbelievers as well as someone who could not be trusted. In modern times the word infidelity often refers to broken marriage covenants but also refers to other acts of disloyalty when trust is broken.

Infidelity, in any relationship brings out feelings of hurt and betrayal, and the more committed we are to the relationship, the more painful the feelings. Committed Latter-day Saints are not just in a relationship with Christ but are also in a relationship with the Church by way of local leaders and General Authorities—both past and present.

If we feel betrayed by prophets—if they’ve lied to us—we will naturally feel hurt and angry. Unfortunately those feelings create barriers to reconciliation. If you discovered what seemed to be overwhelming evidence that your spouse had cheated on you, it becomes difficult to consider any denials, explanations, or other evidences that may relieve your pain. Every resolution offered by your spouse will be viewed with skepticism and suspicion.

Marital infidelity need not even be the result of an affair. Infidelity in a marriage can be caused by anything that makes you distrust your spouse. If you think that your spouse has been lying to you, especially on important issues (money, achievements, childcare, education, etc.), your marriage will take a hit—perhaps a fatal hit. Who wants to stay in a relationship where there is no trust?

Bill’s story is repeated frequently in twenty-first century Mormonism. Sometimes it’s the discovery of Joseph’s use of a seer stone, other times it’s the discovery that Joseph practiced plural marriage, and other times it’s the discovery that early leaders—including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—had very human weaknesses, opinions, and ideas. If we discover that a prophet didn’t act in a way that we think a prophet should act, we may lose trust in that prophet and we may feel that the Church has lied to us by hiding those facts.

when trust is broken despair sets in
Which is more difficult? Finding a place for new information, or feeling like that information was hidden?

The Trickery of Hurt

As noted above, feelings of betrayal are powerfully painful and might make reconciliation impossible or, at the very least, difficult. It’s hard to regain trust. In my nearly two decades of helping people who have had their testimony challenged by “intellectual” hurdles (in other words, they didn’t lose their testimony because they found the LDS lifestyle too difficult to live, or they stopped believing in God because their son got cancer). I have found that the feeling of Church betrayal becomes the motivating reason to leave the church rather than the hurdle that initially shook their faith.

In Bill’s example above, for instance, it is likely that Bill will be unwilling to seriously examine the arguments which demonstrate that Joseph Smith could still be revered as a prophet in light of the fact that he used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. For the member who feels he or she has been lied to when she realizes that Joseph practiced plural marriage, they are less likely to listen to arguments which demonstrate that a number of Joseph’s marriages were likely dynastic (they didn’t involve intimacy) and that the Lord had some very good reasons to reinstitute plural marriage as in the days of old.

two people conversing on a train track

Answers are Available

The fact is, there are logical evidence-supported arguments which answer virtually every anti-LDS claim—arguments which address the meat of the issues but also show that challenging issues can be reasonably understood in a worldview that accepts the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and the Church he was instrumental in restoring. FairMormon.org, for example—a volunteer organization of which I am part—produces articles, a wiki, podcasts, a conference, and videos which response to difficult issues.

FairMormon has even published my book addressing these issues: Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt. Not only are there solid arguments which answer the claims of critics, but there are a multitude of evidences which support the belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon text is based on an authentic ancient American document (some of these evidences are briefly discussed in my Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith).

The problem, however, is that these pro-LDS arguments and evidences are often treated as moot nonsense by those who are pained by feelings of infidelity. Shoot down one argument and they’ll simply find another to put in its place. Once the pain of “being lied to” shifts a member’s worldview from believer to hurt non-believer, the capacity to push aside the painful feelings and listen to the arguments is severely diminished.

Torn pieces of paper with question marks and the word truth
A person who feels betrayed won’t trust answers.


This is one of those perfect examples where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we can learn more about the early church and its leaders from within a faithful framework, it’s less likely to cause testimony damage. In recent months we’ve seen the Church—by way of LDS.org—take a proactive approach to discussing topics such as plural marriage, Joseph’s seer stone, the First Vision, and the translation of the Book of Abraham.

These preventative measures are not unlike medical inoculations or vaccinations. By teaching members about potentially challenging issues from within a faithful context, most members will strengthen their testimonies, enabling them to withstand the interpretations presented by hostile sources.

Some may ask, however, “Why is inoculation necessary nearly two hundred years after the Church was restored? Why are we just now being confronted with these stumbling blocks? Why didn’t we know about the challenging issues before? Were we really being lied to?”

The answer: “No, we have not been lied to.” The reason that many members have been unaware of some of these topics is complicated but one on which I hope to shed some light. I see at least three contributing factors to the problem: 1) De-emphasis, 2) Alternative Focus, and 3) General Ignorance.

medicinal syringe
Learning unsettling facts from trustworthy sources as our faith matures can inoculate us against shaken faith.

In Our Weakness

In my opinion, the single most profound scripture which helps us understand how God communicates with his children is found in D&C 1:24:

“Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”

We mortals are unable to fully comprehend the things of God. Part of our human condition is the unavoidable fact that we—all of us—are weak physically, spiritually, emotionally, and even mentally. Our worldviews are weak and formed by our circumstances and environment. We have biases, misunderstandings, and false assumptions.

No human language is able to fully communicate our ideas with complete clarity. Recall the many times you couldn’t think of the right words to express your ideas, or how often someone has misunderstood you—especially in an email or a text.

Despite our many weaknesses, the Lord nevertheless knows how to communicate with us—using our language, our words, our worldviews, so that He can work in us and through us and lead us to becoming more like Him. Like a parent communicating with a toddler, The Lord speaks to us in our language using terminology and metaphors which we understand. As we (individually and collectively) mature, our language matures as well and we put aside our childish language.

Child peeking during prayer
God communicates with us in ways that fit our maturity.

De-emphasizing the Less Important

While I do not plan to focus this post on the Book of Mormon translation process, it needs to be pointed out that the Lord utilized Joseph’s worldview understanding of seer stones (his “language”) in order to help Joseph translate the golden plates. As Joseph matured in Gospel understanding he put aside the seer stone as he recognized how to receive revelation without his earlier childlike translating tool.

His initial use of a seer stone was de-emphasized. It wasn’t denied, just de-emphasized because it was a relic of the past which, in hindsight, simply played a role as a tool to help Joseph’s focus during his revelatory communications. With this de-emphasis, future generations (who no longer had worldviews that included seer stones) began to mingle the use of the term “Urim and Thummim” (which in Joseph’s day was applied to both the seer stone and the Nephite Interpreters) with the Interpreters which were included in the stone box that once held the golden plates.

Church leadership didn’t lie about his translating methods, but instead simply forgot the real details as the story of translation morphed into the language of subsequent generations of Latter-day Saints. The details were still available for those who had an interest in history and we find occasional mention of Joseph’s seer stone in a variety of official and quasi-official Church publications (including a Children’s Friend article from 1974).

Most Latter-day Saints, like most people in the world, are not professional historians. Prior to the digital age of the Internet and digital scans of early documents, even professional historians had a hard time finding some of the obscure details of the past. The average LDS member (like the average member of any community) is typically ignorant of historical oddities unless they are mentioned in the news or in some other venue which makes a big deal out of it.

Studies show that most Americans are pretty ignorant on a variety of historical, scientific, and scholarly issues—issues that should be in the realm of “common knowledge.” If most adults are woefully ignorant about important things in the past history of their country, it’s understandable why many Mormons have remained ignorant on some of the less important (but odd by today’s standards) aspects of their religion’s history.

Along with de-emphasis, one of the things which has led to a general ignorance of Mormon history is the fact that the focus of the Church is concentrated on spiritual rather than historical topics. When a member complains that he was never taught about Joseph Smith’s plural marriages in Sunday School, we need to step back and examine the purpose of Sunday School. Anyone who has taught a Sunday School class knows that the focus of each lesson is to bring the spirit to the lesson so that class members can increase their devotion to God and become better husbands, wives, children, neighbors, siblings, etc.

Lesson manuals must focus on topics that help an instructor bring that spirit to the class. Study material must be presented in a manner that can be understood by the non-scholar, the average member—a member who may not have any interest or understanding of history or science, or may read at a junior high school level.

Sunday School teachers are volunteers, just like bishops, nursery workers, and home teachers are volunteers. While some may be very educated or scholarly, the Church can’t assume that everyone who is called to teach has a firm historical background or the critical thinking skills to engage and discuss challenging issues.

Teaching an LDS Gospel Doctrine Class
LDS lessons are written so anyone can teach them and anyone can understand them.

Hidden in Plain Sight

I should stop to make the important point that while many historical topics have been de-emphasized, they have not been entirely missing from LDS publications—including class study publications. The Ensign and its forerunner, the Improvement Era, as well as some of the Sunday School manuals, or publications published by the Church’s university, have touched on most every supposed challenging issue which has caused anxiety among modern Mormons. De-emphasizing is not the same as lying.

In my book Shaken Faith Syndrome I quote one Internet Mormon who makes the common claim that Church “desperately” tries to hide from members the fact that Joseph practiced plural marriage. The truth is, however, that Joseph’s plural marriages were mentioned in numerous Ensign articles and even in the 2007 Teachings of the Presidents of the Church.

Bill claims that he had never been taught that Joseph used a seer stone during the Book of Mormon translation (a claim I’ve heard from several others who have struggled with their faith), yet Dallin H. Oaks mentioned it in a 1987 Ensign article. In a post entitled “Hiding the Facts of Church History in Plain Sight Using Church Publications” FairMormon has gathered an impressive list of the most common challenging issues and where they have been mentioned in various Church publications.

Seer stone in a hat
Many not-well-known facts about church history have been explained in church media.

Come Unto Christ

Why are these things not discussed more expressly in Church? What good comes from a Sunday School lesson that engages the history (which is fragmented) of plural marriage? What are the chances that the typical class instructor will be able to understand and discuss the topic in a way that will answer every class member’s questions and concerns and still bring the spirit of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to the class?

By focusing on saving principals rather than historical details (details, which as noted above are not only controversial and open to differing interpretations but are often fragmented and incomplete) the Church maintains its core mission of bringing people to Christ.

Latter-day Saint General Authorities were once taught by these same kinds of volunteer instructors or taught classes from the same lesson material that is given to the weakest of Saints. There is no School of Prophets for modern Latter-day Saints who plan to someday become a Stake President or General Authority.

Those called to the highest leadership positions are chosen by revelation based often on the individual’s worthiness and willingness (including past experience) to serve. The callings are not based on their scholarly achievements or insights or what bits of obscure knowledge they may have about past Mormon history. Leaders aren’t necessarily any better informed on historical issues than any other member. Unfortunately the lack of qualified education on these past historical topics pretty much guarantees that few members will know about them.

The Internet, with all its good and bad, has opened the vaults and the windows and has illuminated things which were once lost. Internet disclosure does not, of course, automatically give context to the information which is shared. Context often leaves open the door of interpretation and, like many things of controversy, interpretations can vary widely (a topic for another future post).

Unfortunately, some members—who are discovering this information for the first time—come away with the false assumption that they have been “lied to” and that this new information unmasks a Mormonism with which they are not only unfamiliar, but one that undermines the spiritual claims of the Church.

It’s sad to see such reactions. This type of knee-jerk response is fundamentally based on feelings rather than critical thinking, the incorrect assumption that information was deceptively withheld, and the false conclusion that these new insights automatically refute LDS counter arguments, discredit pro-LDS evidences, and ultimately invalidate a spiritual witness.

woman studying online
Not all online information is reliable. How can we judge what is true?

By Study and Faith

LDS scholars and students celebrate the exposure of documents which were once difficult to find by the finest scholars. As these believing Latter-day Saints scholars and historians have typically found, there is nothing in the history of the Church which serves as the critic’s silver bullet. When understood from within a context of belief, all historical findings of the Church simply serve to help us better understand the founding figures in our restored religion and how Heavenly Father worked miracles through men and women who were human, just like the rest of us.

The cure for intellectual apostasy is better education. The Church is responding to the apparent lack of historical knowledge among members by discussing potentially challenging topics and by exhibiting scores of early Mormon documents—the Joseph Smith’s Papers Project has painstakingly reproduced hundreds of early Mormon documents, so that they can be enjoyed by scholar and layman alike.

For those who find themselves in John’s shoes and have a friend or loved one who feels lied to, it’s important to recognize that their pain and anxiety are real. It doesn’t help to disparage their anguish and concern. We can sympathize with their feelings without sympathizing with what they see as the source of their discomfort—the belief that the Church lied. While it’s not the Church’s fault that they didn’t know about challenging issues, it’s not really your loved one’s fault either. From their perspective it may look like the Church lied.

Arguing certainly won’t help, since the spirit of contention is of the devil (3 Nephi 11:29). The best approach is to show, with genuine love and relying on the Spirit, that the Church hasn’t lied because A) these things have been mentioned in Church publications, B) the primary focus of the Church curriculum (Sunday School, Relief Society,  priesthood classes) is to bring us to Christ, not to discuss historical issues that meant something different to past generations than they mean to us today, and C) that there are logical answers (some sources noted above) which explain all of these issues from within a framework that still accepts the truth claims of the Church.

Once we and the struggling “Bill’s” recognize that a lack of emphasis doesn’t mean a lack of honesty, we can put aside feelings of hurt, anxiety, and suspected infidelity, and open our minds to the precious insights that have come with a renewed interest in early Mormon history. Easing this discomfort can allow our hearts to perceive the confirmatory whisperings of the Spirit that Christ stands at the head of this Church.



  • doctorjohn

    Some valid points; I’m open to learning. There are many ‘market segments’ that you need to consider. People high in anxiety are not only bothered by learning history; it can affect our sense of hope and scare the hell out of us! When I read Brigham’s and Joseph’s words regarding ‘some sins are not forgivable’ stuff, that is not something that should be taken lightly. They are saying that Christ’s atonement is not enough, period. That completely shifts lifelong assumptions about Christ – and robs people of hope. There are some choices these guys made that the GA’s must deal with in an aggressive manner. Hope is fundamental. Yes, these are from Journal of Discourses and other validated original sources. To me, Brigham Young was a deplorable man. I think Smith had more honest intentions, regardless of mistakes. Young was barbaric according to his wives. All this truth needs to be discussed, like all healthy relationships. Don’t bury issues that have emotional and spiritual implications.

  • deplorable918

    As for the lying thing, we have been lied to in the past by a GA (Dunn) and he was released from office with “Emeritus” status. He also admitted he lied, but for some reason the LDS library still has his talks on it where he lied about his expoits in war. If known and proven lies are left up there for everyone to read, what else is there?

  • Commander Fun

    To anyone still holding on to the illusion that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, please disabuse yourself of that notion. Polygamy is, and always will be, an abomination before the Lord. So serious it is that Jacob referred to it as a “crime.”

    Joseph Smith repeatedly and vehemently denied any involvement and excommunicated members for practicing it. If he openly declared it an evil whilst practicing it on the side, we must necessarily declare him a liar and a deceiver. That’s not a charge I’m wiling to make.

    If polygamy is a “true” principle, how do we reconcile Jacob 2 and D&C 132, which directly contradict each other? One of them has to be wrong. It’s now well known that Brigham Young, or one of his conspirators, fiddled with what we know as section 132 (and many other historical records), so the smart money is on Jacob 2.

    Read Hyrum Smith’s letter to the Brethren at China Creek written shortly before the martyrdom. It was published in the Times and Seasons and bears Hyrum’s signature. Hyrum, being co-equal with Joseph, was well within his rights to make such a declaration.

    As for Brian Hales, I don’t know him so I don’t know what his motivations are. Whether or not his status in the church, his books or his speaking engagements have anything to do with his pro-polygamy position, I cannot say.

    I believe the church remains under condemnation–as it has since 1832. Coming clean about the failings and sins of Brigham Young, John C. Bennett, Chauncy Higbee and others.

    As always, by the Power of the Holy Ghost you may know the Truth of all things. And the Truth shall set you free.


  • Lynda Wilson

    I’ve just been reading the 1903-1904 Young Men’s Improvement Association Manual. It contains material from “A New Witness for God” written by B.H. Roberts, about the Book of Mormon that was intended to build faith in the youth of the church in that day, by having a high level discussion about all kinds of Book of Mormon issues. In discussing the way in which the Book of Mormon was translated, Roberts matter of factly describes the Urim and Thummim, the seer stone which he mentions Joseph found while digging a well, and the hat which he used to exclude the light while using it. This was a church manual for young men! The church, as the entity that published the MIA manuals, wasn’t hiding anything and was in fact, completely unselfconscious about these facts that seem to trouble so many today. But at the turn of the century we were still an intermountain West centered church that felt a bit hunkered down in the midst of Babylon. We were still on the defensive. So what changed?

    Things changed after World War II. Members of the church began moving out of the Intermountain West into other states. We wanted to be seen as normal, not peculiar, but just good neighbors like everyone else. We emphasized the family friendly, patriotic gospel principles and just didn’t think it was the right time to bring up things that made us seem weird, and for which we had been persecuted in the past…like polygamy.

    I don’t think there was any kind of plot, or conspiracy to hide the past of the church. I believe that a certain mentality took over, and we all did “our part” to try and polish our image a bit for the sake of missionary work and to get along in the new world in which we found ourselves. That mindset became its own control mechanism and perhaps we are all complicit in leaving the odd and uncomfortable things packed away in the attic. But the idea that church leaders purposely kept things hidden as part of a concerted effort is just not true. Yes the mindset can take on institutional aspects as it filters into CES manuals, etc. But it was still an organic thing that grew up as part of our new relationship with the rest of the country and the world, as we became better known and accepted by our non-LDS neighbors, friends and co-workers.

    As we succeeded and did become more accepted in the 20th century, acquiring our well-known image as a family friendly, patriotic, more mainstream kind of church, we just sort of let the oddities like the seer stone in a hat, slip quietly into the shadows. Why bring that stuff up now? Isn’t our new image a good thing? Look how the church is growing! Won’t the doors just start slamming again if you bring up seer stones in hats and Joseph’s polygamy?

    But now it turns out that the next generation, and the one after that, have turned on their grandparents and great-grandparents and said “Why did you lie to us!?”
    Lie to you? That hurts. It is not correct to say that anyone lied to you. It was always there actually and if you had any interest in church history you would find out all this stuff without any difficulty. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s when we were doing our darnedest to seem mainstream. But even so, I managed to learn about Joseph living polygamy and using a seer stone without too much trouble at BYU just because I was curious and read widely in church history-because it was interesting and I enjoyed it.

    I have a theory that many who are feeling “lied to” today grew up in families that didn’t have a culture of intellectual curiosity and interests. Just a theory of course, but among my friends and family that grew up in intellectually stimulating families, where people read Hugh Nibley and whose favorite general authority was Neal Maxwell, there was already an effective kind of inoculation going on. The flip side of this was thinking that you didn’t need to read about anything if you just had a copy of Mormon Doctrine in your house. Being willing to accept what you’re told without ever doing any of the intellectual legwork, (like reading!), makes people vulnerable.

    So I don’t believe there was a plot to cover anything up. Maybe were all just emphasizing the positive, something Mormons are great at. Maybe we got so good at it that we airbrushed our image a little too much. After all, hadn’t we been so vilified and persecuted in the 19th century for polygamy? I think it just seemed like the sensible thing to do to emphasize the mainstream values and de-emphasize the hard to understand things.

    But today it’s a new world–not the 50’s, 60’s or even the 90’s anymore. This generation needs their vaccines. OK. We can do that. We are adaptable. The church, after all, is still true.

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  • RWF

    Somebody actually said thery had an intellectual testimony from a young age – because he was inoculated…?

  • Craig

    I just want to say how impressed I am with the critical thinking and mature approach taken by the commentators in this thread. I also appreciate Michael Ash’ willingness to engage in the discussion, considering the number of well-reasoned critiques of his article. I am so encouraged at the erudite contributions of those in this thread who have worked hard to get to the bottom of Mormon foundations and found it fundamentally wanting as I have. I can’t really add anything to the discussion beyond that.

  • Debbie

    Wow, that is quite the apologist masterpiece – pretending to recognise valid concerns, offering the church essays on controversial topics as if they tell the whole truth rather than present the issues with finely honed PR spin, carefully explaining away why the church lies, and had long lied, to its members. If only it were the least bit convincing. It’s hard to heal a relationship after the trust is gone – even moreso when the other party is still lying to you and is a shameless bully to boot. Why work so hard to convince yourself that the church is true when it is so clearly not?

    • Grey Ghost

      . . . And Brother Ash rests his case.

  • “a number of Joseph’s marriages were likely dynastic (they didn’t involve intimacy) ”

    But what about those that did involve intimacy. especially those women that already had husbands? Fellow LDS apologist Bryan Hales has acknowledged that there is strong evidence he had sex with at least 3 of the 11 women that already had husbands.

    • Number6

      Well then, that means Joseph Smith had sex with them. That does NOT mean he was abusive or a false prophet. Abraham had 4 wives, if you recall. He too was a prophet. I simply do not understand why people are so willing to suddenly believe Joseph Smith was Warren Jeffs just . . . because, and yet they will sit down and read their scriptures without blinking.

      By their fruits.

    • Lynda Wilson

      Those three that Bryan Hales acknowledges were alienated from their husbands and not living with them at the time of the intimacy with Joseph Smith. If someone was living together as man and wife, then the sealing with Joseph was eternity only. There was never any adultery. Bryan Hales makes this clear if you actually read his admittedly very long works on the subject. I did and appreciate the scholarship he has added to the discussion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Of course if you want to hate the Mormon church and your mind is already made up, you won’t bother.

      • doctorjohn

        some of us want to put all the pieces together, not simply find wrong doing. help me understand how the 3 women and Joseph did not constitute adultery? Were all 3 legally divorced? Where all Joseph’s marriages legal by state law? If not, they were not marriages. Joseph was quoted in a journal having said: those who commit adultery can’t receive the highest glory – that’a a lot of current LDS folks! Why bother going to the temple? In modern corporations, use of technology allows senior leaders to communicate with ‘customers’ – the church needs to have a site where we can ask serious questions in order to put these conflicting statements by prophets to rest. See my point? I want the truth. It’s a waste of my time to just want to criticize. I’d like to go to the prophets to get their views on matters related to prophets of old. Trying to guess when they spoke as men or prophets is impossible.

  • I simply believe that personal study is fundamental in our learning of the gospel. Many topics will not be discussed at church because they’re just not too relevant or crucial for our salvation, and that’s when our personal study enters into game, and if we have any doubts or questions, let’s go back to the basics! Read, study, ponder and PRAY! We often forget to apply what we constantly hear in church meetings.

  • John

    Negative Thinker always finds the problem.
    While Positive thinker always finds the solution.

  • Janet

    Most of us humans can easily be condemned by life/others for our many weaknesses….very glad God sees into our hearts. Those issues mentioned herein, causing people problems, are all things I learned about/became aware of while growing up as an ordinary church member, and the fact that I love to read/study. What is sad to me, is it being used as reason to let doubts lead to leaving the church. In our day, it is challenging to be and stay accountable………much easier to go off on whatever interests or addictions a person has or struggles with. And I speak for myself on this, as I, a puny human, have my struggles, and it would be much easier to deal with them if I didn’t seek/want to seek to live by God’s covenants. The best thing to do is not blame God, prophets, absolute truths, etc…….for human frailties and challenges. I weigh ‘evidence’ against the fact that God calls men to be prophets that, yes have human struggles, but are moral and decent. I know, I know, many say Joseph Smith was not moral, yet God called him and he had to fit within the standard God set, so I choose to trust God on this….He assigns the prophets, He knows what He is doing, will I trust Him though I cannot see into the heart like God can??? As I have studied scripture: God’s blueprint for prophets emerges very very plainly for the ordinary person like me to make a judgement. Lies, and twists, and out of context, can happen easily to the human view: we must seek the Holy Ghost as guide in every judgement and not assume anything ever. As I take a shocking look at my weaknesses and faults, I can see how others could so very easily charge me with problems that I don’t actually have……they don’t see the whole picture, and certainly they don’t see into my heart.

    • Jack

      Hi Janet.

      I don’t think asking the questions “how is polyandry justifiable?” or “how were non-white people classified as the cursed descendants of Cain and now aren’t ?” Or “why was an interracial couple in my home stake disciplined for marrying in the 70s” is the same thing as trying to judge the heart of the prophet or anyone else. They are a sincere recognition of conflicting doctrines and practices and a sincere desire to know how to reconcile them– especially in light of personal promptings of the conscience which tell one something is not right. There is nothing judgmental or hypocritical about that.

      • Debbie

        Where is the ‘like’ button when you need it?! Thanks for that comment. It’s so true. There are some things about Joseph Smith and church history that SHOULD cause people to question, and the answers the church gives are unconvincing. When you start with the assumption that the church is true, and must be true, it is far too easy to dismiss any troubling issues by thinking that there has to be some explanation that we just don’t know. It’s only when people are intellectually honest and sincerely question the claims of the church from an objective perspective that the whole thing just falls apart at the seams.

        • Kari

          The gospel and church need to be approached both intellectually and spiritually, there really is no other way. The weight a spiritual witness of something carries is not only huge when it comes to increasing and maintaining faith, but prevents the fabric of the church “coming apart at the seams” when faced with difficult questions. This is where many Lds people come from, including myself. I have explored the questions around Joseph Smith and polygamy, Book of Mormon translation, the Book of Abraham, the temple endowment etc. Etc. For me intellectually, there is a framework that works. God works with all of us as imperfect people, including prophets. Through mistakes, trial and error and even sin of the natural man, He still manages to produce what He needs, to perpetuate His work here on earth.
          Then add to this intellectual framework a spiritual witness that we are all challenged to seek and you have a recipe for belief.

  • Katherine

    My testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes through reading the Book of Mormon and the other scriptures, and through my relationship with my Father in Heaven. There is no way in this world that I can understand Polygamy and various other things. People are presented with many things in this life that are painful and not wished for such as the death of a child or spouse, or a spouse who decides to walk away from a marriage…and so many other things. I am speaking from my heart, and I’m definitely not an intellectual and would never win in an argument and don’t wish too! : )

  • Steve Smith

    This argument that the more controversial aspects of the history of the church are in plain sight is disingenuous. They aren’t. There is no reason to expect that the average member in the Mormon belt, let alone the non-English speaking areas of Mormondom, would know about the finer and more damning details of Joseph Smith’s polygamy or the prejudiced sentiment of past church leaders towards black people. In fact, for decades, members have been routinely cautioned by high-ranking leaders, local leaders, and other members of the rank and file about reading supposedly anti-Mormon literature lest they ‘lose their testimonies.’ Furthermore, is it reasonable to believe that the average member, upon encountering information about polygamy and other controversial issues, is supposed to just regard these things as insignificant and not feel unsettled in the least?

    Of course, in the world of Mormon apologetics, such concerns of past wrongdoings on the part of prophets is dismissed as expecting too much from them and not realizing that they were human and had their foibles. Marrying over 30 women, largely behind your wife’s back, about 10 of whom are already married and a couple of whom are 14 because you think that an angel with a flaming sword essentially coerced you to do so is on a whole other level of bizarreness and seeming wrongdoing than something insignificant such as accidentally insulting your wife. The latter is a slight human weakness that many of us have and can correct. The former suggests that Joseph Smith had an unbridled lust for women that he tried to fulfill in the worst way possible (cloaking his lusts in religious garb). And the explanation for the polygamy on lds.org, to “raise up seed,” is nonsensical given the fact that apologists regularly insist that Joseph Smith never consummated many marriages and bore no children from them. So while there may be answers to supposedly “anti-Mormon” charges against LDS church figures in history (and many apologists confuse anti-Mormon with simple fact), the answers aren’t always what a believing Mormon wants to hear.

    • Steve Smith, I truly appreciated your refreshing, honest and intelligent response – much food for thought.
      Thank you,

    • Debra

      I belatedly agree.

  • Rotorhead

    Someone please help me understand why there are so many disaffected LDS members who feel it is their “hell-bent” duty to drag every other Mormon down and out of this church? OK, I get it that there are those who disagree with LDS history, doctrine and its claim of Christianity. But, honestly, if someone “truly” believes that the LDS Church is a hoax, founded on lies, deceits, and every other false premise — why then even bother to hang around? Go find an organization that is compatible with whatever god you want to worship. Trying to scandalize, crusade or otherwise demean another’s religious beliefs so as to validate your own lack of faith speaks volumes about one’s character, or lack thereof… just let it go… please.

    • Bryan Leggat

      Rotorhead, the more I analyze this phenomena, I think it is similar to Lehi and the tree. As members, we use his dream or analogy to motivate us to share the “desirous fruit” with others. Those people that find out new things or information that rings true to them, a new truth in their mind, have been brought up in a culture where it is now their responsibility to share this to “save” those that have been naive to this info. To me it seems pretty logical that they would do this, especially since their whole foundation has been broken, and they are rebuilding a foundation with new beliefs. Many have spent their whole lives, decades believing one way, that this rocking of their foundation is jolting to their whole way of seeing life. It wouldn’t be so simple just to walk away, as one would walk from one room to another. I’ve learned to try to show empathy to these people, as some are very close to me and I still love them.

    • heart broken

      I would like to address your comment on why disaffected members don’t leave and stop demeaning other’s religious beliefs. I was a faithful member until recently when serving as a Primary President and ward missionary, I was continually in situations of teaching with the missionaries, sometimes on a daily basis, and being asked questions about the church that I could not honestly answer nor could the missionaries.
      Myself and my husband, the ward mission leader, both started a prayerful, open and honest research to find the answers to the questions every church member is afraid to ask. It is not a lack of faith or sin that has brought us to the conclusion that the church is neither inspired or true , but a sense of integrity that we can no longer preach the falsehoods that we ourselves had accepted without doing due diligence and looking at the church’s own records that are now available to everyone with the courage to look. Why do I continue to comment and not just leave? I was such a great member that I convincingly and completely brainwashed my 5 children to accept the gospel without questioning, and now 3 of my precious sons are serving full time missions and unwittingly perpetuating the lies. That’s why I can’t walk away. The church has my children and it is out of my control. Their mission presidents keep them from speaking to us as now we are dangerous apostates. ” When an honest person discovers they have been mistaken, they either cease to be mistaken or cease to be honest”. It’s a shame the church leaders refuse to repent of all the cover up. If they were honest and did repent, perhaps then all the disaffected members might be more forgiving .

      • Christie

        My heart breaks for you. I understand where you’re coming from. I left the church a few months ago. I used that exact quote in my blog post about trust. You are not alone.

    • ‘Rotorhead’, no one is dragging you or any other faithful Church member anywhere.
      Perhaps you’re familiar with the term “free agency”?
      You refer to the information/belief sharing zeal of disaffected LDS members as “hell-bent”.
      Have you considered the information/belief sharing zeal of the Church and its members?
      (Hundreds of thousands of missionaries and billions of dollars spent over the years in proselytizing).
      I myself have served an honorable full two-year mission, put many tens of thousands of dollars and many hundreds of hours into the Church embracing and promoting what I truly felt was the truth. Nothing has changed.
      I find your ‘why can’t you just let it be’ argument and the demonizing of those who are simply sharing their beliefs (just as Latter-Day Saints do) not only severely narrow minded but also grossly hypocritical.

  • Jennie

    I can’t help but have a sarcastic reaction to this article.

    Something is supposed to be common knowledge because it was mentioned once in a 1987 Ensign article!? I guess that’s what I get for not diligently studying my backlog of Ensigns from the year before I was born!

    You can argue semantics all you like, but “de-emphasization” and the church’s lovely phrase, “carefully worded denials,” are synonyms for lies.

    I agree with a previous comment that this is a great example of victim blaming. It’s their fault for accepting the story they were told and for not questioning it after being told not to question it or their eternal salvation would be in jeopardy.

    I can’t believe that the “de-emphasization” and “refocusing” happened with entirely innocent motives, as this article seems to suggest. I am positive certain leaders and members of the correlation board were very interested in making sure rank and file members weren’t exposed to anything but “faith-promoting” material, whether it fudged the truth or not. When something is shown in only one light and presented as absolute truth, there is ALWAYS another side. And you can’t blame the people who discover that other side for having reasonable doubt about the story they were told or wondering what else they have been lied to about.

    • At interesting take on things Jennie. I’m curious to know how you are “positive certain leaders and members of the correlation board were very interested in making sure rank and file members weren’t exposed to anything but ‘faith-promoting’ material…”

      It’s a simple fact that the “historians” of the early/mid nineteenth century saw “history” differently than we do today. Even in today’s modern “history” various aspects are emphasized or de-emphasized. In Joseph’s own day some parts of the early LDS history was deemed less important in the context of the more important points of the restoration and were therefore de-emphasized. Nothing unusual about this and it is not unique to Mormon history.

      • MTB


        What are your thoughts on how things were handled with Leonard Arrington? Arrington provided an unprecedented level of openness and access to church archives. The church then abruptly transfers his History division to BYU in 1982, releasing Arrington in the process, and the era of openness is suddenly over.

        Was Elder Packer behind any of this? Was it someone else? Someone was calling the shots. We do know that Packer mentioned “intellectuals” as one of the three greatest threats to the church. We also know that Packer said: “some things that are true are not very useful.”

        And Mike, when do you think we will see the seer stones that Joseph used, the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, Oliver Cowdery’s journals and the Council of Fifty minutes? These are all things that the church has in its possession. Why won’t they let daylight shine on these items? What are they afraid of?

      • Richard

        Mr Ash . Are the missionaries teaching the truth , the whole truth , and nothing but the truth ?

      • Debbie

        “I’m curious to know how you are “positive certain leaders and members of the correlation board were very interested in making sure rank and file members weren’t exposed to anything but ‘faith-promoting’ material…”

        Because the development of church manuals from first outline to final product is carefully supervised by General Authorities. The manuals are correlated into one big learning program. They control what is taught, and what is not. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1983/04/teaching-no-greater-call?lang=eng

  • Steve Lowther

    “Church leadership didn’t lie about his translating methods, but instead simply forgot….”

    Really? How many times have adults heard this very statement when catching a child in a lie?

    • Hi Steve. As I explain in the article, it was a process. First it was de-emphasized, then then forgotten. Church leaders are no different when it comes to historical training than almost any other member. If early members failed to talk about some past issues, those issues were forgotten to future generations until historians started uncovering them again. Hope this helps.

  • KO

    This is an excerpt from a link in this article: “In obedience to the command of the living prophet, Newel and Elizabeth Ann gave their daughter Sarah Ann in marriage to Joseph Smith. Nearly a year later, Joseph Smith dictated the general revelation about the eternity of marriage and the nature of plural marriage, and Newel asked to have his own copy, a providential request, since the first copy was destroyed. Thus, Newel’s desire to have the word of the Lord has blessed the entire Church by preserving what is now Section 132 [D&C 132] in the Doctrine and Covenants.”

    Does anyone know why or how the first copy of D & C 132 was destroyed?

    • Greg

      Emma burned it. Brigham told us this in 1852 and corroborated by other witnesses.

      • KO

        Can you recommend a resource where I can read about this?

  • Here’s a great visual of scriptures that help with doubts and questions.


  • Jason

    I enjoyed the article, but think you glossed over an important aspect of a life-long member “discovering” de-emphasized historical facts. I recently discovery these de-emphasized facts for myself at the age of 40. Initially my reaction was to feel betrayed and lose the ability to trust as you suggest. However, the fact that the true history/beliefs of the church were hidden from me (or de-emphasized as you suggest) was not the deciding factor in my disassociation with the church.

    Discovering unknown facts was the catalyst for a reexamination of all of my beliefs regarding religion. There are things that I have been taught since I was three years old that I simply “believed”. I am not sure that I ever thought about them seriously or considered not believing them. Things such as, the golden plates, the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s prophetic calling, temple ceremonies, etc. When I learned something new that was not part of my lifelong belief, that the Church admitted was historical true, such as, seer stones for translation and polyandry, it was necessary for me to examine whether I believed those things to be truly of divine origin. Once the door was open for examination of this new information, I felt compelled to examine the other fantastical things I have believed since childhood. It has been a painful process. In that process I searched FAIR for answers, which, as other comments suggest, made every effort to confuse the issue at hand and avoid answers. (As an attorney who regularly presents evidence in court I find the FAIR explanations laughable.) After examination I came to the conclusion that I could not believe not only the new things I have learned but the things I was taught as a child also.

    I do think you are correct that if the Church intends to “cure” this problem it must better indoctrinate its youngest members (or educate as you call it). Had I been told to believe these things as a child, I don’t think I would have ever had the courage to question. Believing in seer stones for translation is no more difficult than believing in the First Vision (whichever account you prefer). I noticed recently that many of the church manuals online have been edited slightly to include some of these difficult de-emphasized historical facts (First Vision accounts, Book of Abraham, etc.). The only way the church is going to stop young people from leaving the church is to start inoculating them to these issues at a young age. I am glad they weren’t inspired enough to start doing this 35 years ago or I may never have found the catalyst to my first real examination of my beliefs.

    • calista

      Yes. Discovering a few things leads you down the rabbit hole, as they say.

      “the primary focus of the Church curriculum is to bring us to Christ, not to discuss historical issues that meant something different to past generations than they mean to us today,” How do you separate the principles and doctrine from where they came from? When you realize not everything is straight from God, then a lot of stuff changes. This is completely overlooked in SO many articles.

      We grow up having it drilled into our heads that EVERY LITTLE THING is inspired from God. No. Throughout history people claim God’s name for their words and actions. In our church too. When you start waking out of our conditioned rhetoric, you start questioning everything. As you should. And yeah, perhaps we can carefully add some stuff back, but it starts with waking up and cleaning out.

      I like parts of this article, but yeah, the patronizing attitude is here, on Fair, in conference. Keep us all at the junior high level. Everyone thinks they are complicated and others are simple.

    • I don’t think there is anything wrong with discoveries becoming a catalyst for further inquiry. We all want to get at the “truth.” Eventually, everyone who does a little intellectual inquiry will find that there is more to search and that some truths allude us.

      You wrote: “In that process I searched FAIR for answers, which, as other comments suggest, made every effort to confuse the issue at hand and avoid answers. (As an attorney who regularly presents evidence in court I find the FAIR explanations laughable.)”

      Surely, as a lawyer, you’ll agree that not all evidence is equally convincing to all equally intelligent people. What you find “laughable,” “confus[ing]” and “avoid[ing] answers” other equally intelligent people (including a number of lawyers and top caliber scholars, find reasonable, logical, and persuasive.

      We do agree on the potential impact of inoculation and, as I touched on in this article, I believe that the Church recognizes this as well as is making steps to remedy this problem.

      • MTB


        Thoughts on Meg Stout’s “meat commerce” apologetics?

        She’s a seemingly very intelligent, yet her twisting of what “carnal intercourse” means displays the worst of apologetics. She appears willing to do and say anything to protect an existing point of view. And this is how much of the apologetics comes off (even though there are very intelligent people -including lawyers and top caliber scholars – behind it). Most logical, rational people are absolutely unwilling to go to the same lengths.

        • Hi MTB. I’m not familiar with Meg Stout’s “meat commerce apologetics”. All of us humans will manage a number of mental juggling pins to protect our views– it’s an inescapable part of human cognition. While some apologetics may come off this way, I disagree that this type of apologetics is typically produced by FairMormon. While you may disagree with the conclusions, the thought process is logical, and rational, and follows a line of evidence.

  • Mahonri

    Naturally you have permission from the copyright holders to use each image on the page, right?

    As for the railroad photo – did the photographer have permission to be on railroad property, or were they trespassing?

    • Christopher D. Cunningham

      We either have permission for the images, hold the copyright for the images, or the images were published using a CC license that allows us to use them.

      Sometimes, images can be stolen and then published by someone else who then gives away a CC license. And like many content sites, we can become victim to this. If you’re aware that anyone holds copyrights to these images from whom we haven’t gotten permission, please let us know.

      The railroad photo wasn’t done in house, so I can’t speak for how it was made.

  • One of my friends had commented on this and I thought it was good to share too.

    “Ye Are Babes” referring to our knowledge as finite compared to that of God’s. Really great scriptural references. http://www.adamblackdesign.com/yearebabes/yearebabes.pdf

    • anon

      Great, except that this exact reasoning can be, and often is, employed by cults and violent religions and can be used to justify just about anything.

  • Sorry my friend, you’re simply wrong. These generalizations about (info always being there in student manuals) us just untrue. Info has been covered up for decades.

  • Kevin

    I’m still upset that they glossed over that whole “Lot’s daughters” thing in my 12 year old Sunday School class. Why did they hide the truth of the church from me?

    …And yes the personal attacks on “apologists” and claims of shaken faith syndrome over information that has been available for years sound that silly.

    I am happy to see the church heading off some of the attempts by critics to “shock” people about their own history, by dealing with some of the touchier subjects on their website. However, the information has been available for years for those who cared to crack an institute manual, study church history, or even read their scriptures. Now if someone thinks the bulk of Sunday School should be devoted to the finer points Adam God theory, or polyandry in the Nauvoo period, I’m not sure anyone can satisfy them.

    • MTB


      Can you point me to the institute manual, “faithful” church history book, or scripture that details Joseph Smith’s practice of polyandry? I was always taught to only study from “church approved sources.” And I was committed to this counsel in order to stay from those lying “anti-mormons.” Unfortunately, this approach ensured that I was unaware of Joseph’s polyandry until age 37 (while serving in a Bishopric). And I can assure you that every Bishop, Stake President and General Authority that I asked about polyandry knew even less than I did about this issue, among many other issues.

      BTW, thanks Michael Ash for allowing the conversation to continue about a tough topic.

    • steve pregman

      Wow! I am sorry but the only word to describe that comment is “obnoxious”. I am a still attending, still believing but genuinely concerned LDS. Apologists like yourself seem to want to silence critics and well meaning faithful members like myself by shaming them into thinking these facts were known to anyone with half a brain. What a way to treat people! I am a convert. For years whenever I tried to crack an obscure book of LDS history I was told by leaders that everything we needed was in the CURRENT church approved materials. Then, when I find out I am wrong, I get told by people like yourself and this article that I was “ignorant” of facts that were available to anyone able to read.

      You might want to reconsider your approach unless you are simply trying to give some of us the last push we need.

      • Nathan

        Steve, your concern is understandable. If I haven’t confused Mike for someone else, I think he, also, was once concerned and maybe left the Church for a while over these same issues. The answers aren’t as simple or as complex as anyone thinks. Yet they are super simple from one perspective and too complex from another. The simplicity in it is that what happened, happened. What God did, God did. The people He used, He used.

        We can look an just about any institution that existed 100 years ago and find huge change in it. One could say the same about the Church but there would likely be some fundamental differences between some of the changes in other organizations and those in the Church. The Church has taken a course of advocating the doctrine of Christ, as found in the Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible. While it seems to me that the core values of many organizations have changed, not so with the Church.

        I see evidence of a continuing influence within the Church, from its founding to the presence. If that influence be Christ, it is Christ. If it be Satan, it is Satan. Look at the Church today. Do you see fruits of evil or fruits of good?

        What do you see in the lives, of converts who remain in the Church? Improvement or loss, compared to their lives before coming in? What is the overall picture of this tapestry?

        If you see something entirely different than what others see, it may be possible that one or others are seeing a different side of the tapestry. The back side of the tapestry is not supposed to look like the front, and the front is not supposed to be judged by the back.

        Jesus informed his New Testament apostles that false prophets would be known by their fruits, their effects. What have the effects of today’s Church been? What have the effects been of the Book of Mormon?

        There is simplicity in looking at the front of the tapestry. Doing so makes it all simpler than we can imagine. Trying to figure things out from the back side can be way too challenging.

        Of course people have tried to steer you in the direction of the front side of the tapestry, the “approved” Church materials being among the main proponent of this side of things.

        But the back has always been there. “Ignorant” is not a slander word. It is a technical term meaning “not fully informed.” That means all of us. Please don’t take offence if some of us ignorantly use the term. None of the believers are trying to slander you.

        Apologists would be apologetic about offending you by using that word but all of us are in the dark about so many things on the back side of the tapestry. And although you have been steered toward the front side, no one threatened you with excommunication if you were to look there.

        I am glad that I had an intellectual testimony of the Church from an early age and that my dad inoculated me against these things.

        I don’t know whether I could have stood the test you face but I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is led by a continuing influence, and that that influence is led by someone who cares to be known of by mere mortals by the names of Jesus Christ, God the Son, etc.

        Inspect the back of the tapestry all you like. If you are trying to learn how to make tapestry from such a study, I think the usual way of learning is a little different but there is no harm in seeking learning by study and by faith in style you wish. Goodness knows that I have inspected the back side.

        Just don’t take offense, please, when apologists try to defend the Church. It is far more satisfying and insightful to consider the front side of the tapestry than to take offense when someone points out that the other side has not been hidden but rather “de-emphasized.” Frankly, the word “de-emphasized” looks pretty shaky to me. But what artist doesn’t display the front side? And the faithful serve the Artist.

        As I’ve said, I’m glad I had an intellectual testimony and inoculations from my early years. I don’t know that I could otherwise follow my own advice. But I can. And I am glad I do.

        • Jack

          Cute metaphor, Nathan, but in case you missed it, Steve, I and many others commenting herein are the “fruits” you mention– as are th many leaving the church. We have been marginalized, shunned, hurt and damaged by these lies. And not metaphorically or intellectually. Members with children or family who are LGBT, suffering from mental illness, in low income situations, who are in so-called mixed race marriages, or part-member families, and even those who just have questions (but “taboo” ones). Have been and are hurt in real and damaging ways by this phenomenon of lying and manipulating. It is by definition, a bad fruit. It doesn’t mean that the church is under satan’s control. It means the church needs to stop these particular things, beginning with a clear admission that they are wrong and are hurting people.

  • Bruce Hanks

    While I’m sure you’re well meaning with thus article, to me – your thesis is absolute rubbish. The twists and turns a modern day Latter Day Saint must (mentally and emotionally) take to defend Joseph Smith’s behavior have simply become too much! It must truly be exhausting for you and other LDS apologists to maintain the facade of a “holy man” and a heaven given doctrine which (as Oliver Cowdery most aptly said) is a dirty, nasty affair – and remains so today: despite all of the misdirection and whitewashing as conducted by today’s (so called) prophets, seers and revelators. Nice effort though….

    • Hi Bruce,

      Unfortunately, it’s a well-known fact in psychology that every single (normal thinking) person on earth must mentally and emotionally become involved in their beliefs. Their is no possible way to approach things such as religion (from either a believing or non-believing perspective) from a purely rational view. I personally have tried to be as objective as possible in my search for truth and in my examination of the evidence for and against the Church. My analysis has led me to conclude that most of the LDS-critical arguments have no real bearing on the primary doctrines of the Church (and the belief that Joseph Smith restored the Gospel and that it is lead by a prophet today) and I also have found that there are many exciting evidences which buttress belief.

  • Nate

    Lying is intentionally deceiving others. Bearing false witness is one form of lying. The Lord gave this commandment to the children of Israel: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). Jesus also taught this when He was on earth (see Matthew 19:18). There are many other forms of lying. When we [or the church] speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we [or the church] lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.
    When we [or the church] are completely honest, we [or the church] cannot be corrupted. We [or the church] are true to every trust, duty, agreement, or covenant, even if it costs us money, friends, or our lives. Then we [or the church] can face the Lord, ourselves, and others without shame. President Joseph F. Smith counseled, “Let every man’s [or the church’s] life be so that his [it’s] character will bear the closest inspection, and that it may be seen as an open book, so that he [it] will have nothing to shrink from or be ashamed of” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 252).


  • “His initial use of a seer stone was de-emphasized. It wasn’t denied, just de-emphasized because it was a relic of the past which, in hindsight, simply played a role as a tool to help Joseph’s focus during his revelatory communications.”

    Your explanation does not only work in this instance but gets at a much larger issue. The use of seers stones in the BoM translation vs the U&T is not secondary at all but gets to the heart of whether Joseph Smith’s claims as prophet and translator have merit. The seer stones were not mere tools but when one looks at Smith’s use of seer stones for treasure digging and other clearly superstitious activities their part in early Mormonism becomes far more important.

    The larger point being, the Church has chosen to de-emphasize seers stones and the like NOT because they aren’t key to evaluating the claims of Mormonism but because they clearly are problematic—and people who come across these things aren’t unaware of that. They can see what these things mean and why they have been “de-emphasized.” That’s where the feelings of betrayal begin. And honestly, this article only adds to that sense. To suggest a very few references to the use of seer stones in a few obscure talks amounts to any real openness is not only not accurate but somewhat insulting to many who have trusted the Church to be a reliable source for it’s own history. And while selective de-emphasizing is not the same as full on lying it is certainly on that spectrum.

    From the current LDS Gospel Principles Manual:
    “There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, BY SILENCE, OR BY TELLING ONLY PART OF THE TRUTH. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”

    • Marti Melville

      @LDSRevelations – Thank you for expressing so eloquently what I could not. This article read unbelievably condescending to me.

  • Adam

    The approach you take here when approaching the “offended” party is very similar the mental/emotional abuse tactic of gaslighting.

    When you say someone “feels betrayed” after they have clearly been betrayed, what you are doing is purposefully shifting responsibility onto the victim of the betrayal. You purposefully use “feels” because it creates uncertainty where there is no uncertainty and you have a very clear and obvious goal to shift negative attention away from the offending party.

    When the church publishes and distributes information, written or pictoral, that it knows is false, it is lying. When members receive that information, they are lied to. They don’t “feel” lied to. They *are* lied to.

    If the only way you can successfully defend this institution is to gaslight or use other mental or emotional abuse tactics then you need to think carefully about what you are hoping to accomplish.

  • Polygamy is clearly explained in the 2nd chapter of Jacob in the Book of Mormon, it’s purpose, when it is to be practiced, and when it is to be stopped. It is very clearly a commandment of God. In fact, it is only practiced WHEN commanded by God. I have examined both the published first copy of the Book of Mormon, as well as one of the actual original first editions, and the text regarding polygamy is EXACTLY the same as it is in the current edition of the Book of Mormon. And the original Book of Mormon was of course published years before Joseph Smith and others ever practiced it.

    • Will Roberts

      So I take it you have a great explanation as to why Joseph Smith married other men’s wives?

      • steve pregman

        (I hear crickets chirping and tumble weed blowing down the hall)

    • You really need to read the part about the biblical references to polygamy.

  • Natty

    Disingenuous at best. At worst, the author can not speak as an authority on the topic or on behalf the the religion. Such articles perpetuate a dishonest representation of reality of the information ratio. To defend at all costs is to dismiss the individual or the honest evaluation of historical record, manuals, and journals. Further Michael makes the assertion of knowledge of the intent of God or the leadership of the church(past and present) in his presentation. To do so is to exercise an authority or a perception of authority which even leaders will not definitively do.

    Let’s define lie, let’s define hidden. Imagine I communicate to colleagues I majored in Business Management and I refer to this over and over. I leave out the part that I applied to Duke, was accepted but didn’t even get past my first year of general classes before I quit college. Who is at fault? My colleagues for thinking I had a degree in Business Management from Duke University? Or is it me for not completing that sentence with the exception of one time, when I was in my employment interview back in 1991? Now, answer that honestly.

    Don’t defend for defense sake. It’s like a parent who defends their misbehaving child “Isn’t he an angel? My boy would never do that! His intentions are always good! There is no way he hit your child, your kid must be lying” It’s unbecoming a parent and serves the child nothing; only encourages further infractions leading to larger and larger issues, while developing his sense of entitlement and justification for his actions. Equally, its unbecoming any member who has awareness of the messy past. It serves the church nothing to defended at the expense of reality, at the expense of the general membership and more importantly at the expense of those who discover the unsavory bits after years of the white washed fairy tale.

    For if it’s reality was based in a supposed gods truth there would be nothing to “de-emphasize” let alone rationalize. Further more, it’s intellectually dishonest to imply the information has been readily available when members, past and present, seeking honest scholarship of the history have been excommunicated for their inquiry and publication of findings. Food for thought, “It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”
    – Thomas Paine
    Never once have I witnessed a seeker of truth shrink from inquiry, even inquiry which challenges or threatens to change their worldview or perspective. However, seemingly daily I see people rooted in dogma unable to ask even the most basic question, the question which opens honest inquiry, “what if I’m wrong”

    • Natty, I’m sorry you feel that way about my article. I would like to address some of your concerns. First, I don’t claim to be an authority but in the areas of consideration in this article there is no single authority (and I must warn against logical fallacies that lean on argument from authority and the closely related ad homimen). My arguments must be dealt with for their merits or the lack thereof, not for any supposed authority that I do or don’t have.

      It’s incorrect that a feel a need to “defend at all costs” and I certainly don’t “dismiss the individual or the honest evaluation of historical record, manuals, and journals.” There’s only so much that can be written in a single blog post. Also, it’s inaccurate to claim that I shrink from inquiry or suggest that anyone else do so.

      Lastly, it’s a reality that not all information is conveyed nor carried forward in future generations. I offered some reasons why this is the case in Mormonism regarding history. It’s a complex topic and more reasons can be added (for both the official loss of information as well as individual with-holding of information). In the end, however, it’s over simplistic, and I believe inaccurate, to claim that the Church “lied” to members who discover information for which they were previously unaware.

  • Tom Richins

    Great article. I do wish it told a greater explanation of church history. For many years the history of our church was hidden. The excuse of milk before meat and there are members who are not ready for deeper understanding. I believe that because of the internet, we have entered an information age. Therefore, the church has reversed its policies of concealing our history, to a position of embracing our history. I am thankful for the reversal of thought in the churches behalf. I believe that our good and bad, our victories and losses, our embarassing moments, and even the areas where there is confusion, will help us grow as a church.
    I feel I have read both side of all the controversial issues. I feel I believe in the easy issues, and I feel there are a couple of concerns that will be resolved at a later date. But, I am glad that I have all of the informstion to feel, I believe my testimony is stronger because of more informstion available, I think we are on a good path.
    I love our church, our people, and our history.

  • GP

    I am recently disaffected from the church after nearly 40 years of very active and devout membership. I won’t get into the definition of a “lie”, but I will say that the church is very late to admitting this uncomfortable history and by their own admission, are doing so now only largely because of the ease of accessing this information now due to the internet. As a grown adult, I expect to be told a full and accurate truth of an account so that I can make my own decisions. I expect this when making a purchase, when choosing where to live, etc. Suffice it to say that my disaffection is very simply because I do not believe in the actual history of the church… and this is going off of even what FairMormon admits to (not just so-called “anti” sources). My testimony was built upon a narrative that was incomplete and in some circumstances partially or completely incorrect. When that washed out from under me and was attempted to be replaced with a history that I did not believe or supported, I was left with determining how to proceed in my life… live in comfort in the church and be untrue to myself and others or to live authentically. I chose to live authentically and although I am saddened at my “loss of faith” and a loss of some relationships over this decision, I am happy to be authentic and honest with others.

    As for the claim that “The fact is, there are logical evidence-supported arguments which answer virtually every anti-LDS claim”, I respectfully disagree. I will stand with you and encourage the readers here to visit FairMormon and make their own conclusion on if the answers are logical or not. In my case, I tried my hardest to accept FairMormon’s apologetic theories as logical (I say “theories” because many times there is no official GA-supported church position), but they fell very short of that mark. That said, I recognize that others may have their own opinion of what constitutes “logic”, so perhaps others feel otherwise… so long as they are authentic and honest when they claim such logic.

    I will say this, out of many of the articles on this topic recently, I do feel that you handled parts of it fairly well, especially this quote: “For those who find themselves in John’s shoes and have a friend or loved one who feels lied to, it’s important to recognize that their pain and anxiety are real. It doesn’t help to disparage their anguish and concern.” I don’t really mind if other members agree with me or not as I don’t have an agenda to lead them away from the church. However, the membership deserves to know the complete story… and develop empathy for those who are unable to honestly reconcile the difficult and less-known narrative of church history.

    • MTB

      GP, well said.

      I have also recently left the church, after decades of commitment to the church that I loved. Your story appears very similar to mine. I have no agenda to lead others away from the church. However, I also believe that we all should have the benefit of informed choice. That we should have all the “facts” (realizing that the definition of this word could be debated) before decisions are made. Unfortunately, the church has not seemed to have the same level of interest in allowing members and investigators to be fully informed.

    • JTL

      “As for the claim that “The fact is, there are logical evidence-supported arguments which answer virtually every anti-LDS claim”, I respectfully disagree. I will stand with you and encourage the readers here to visit FairMormon and make their own conclusion on if the answers are logical or not. ”

      I have taken that challenge and I disagree with your conclusion. When I came across the so-called “troubling” facts of Mormonism about 8 years ago, I took to Fair for answers. Except when I did so, I promised myself and God that I would not let my emotions dictate my conclusions. My own conclusion is that FairMormon makes excellent conclusions and does a thorough analysis – in fact I have found that, ironically, the anti-Mormon sources frequently leave out facts and/or distort them. Fair is very thorough. Just because they come to a different conclusion than you, hardly means their answers are not logical.

      • Dan


        “My own conclusion is that FairMormon makes excellent conclusions and does a thorough analysis – in fact I have found that, ironically, the anti-Mormon sources frequently leave out facts and/or distort them.”

        That’s interesting because I found the exact opposite. In fact, I found that FAIR was much more likely to use logical fallacies in their arguments. They continually obfuscated the issue at hand. I felt like the information from FAIR convinced me more than any “anti-mormon” material that the church wasn’t what it claimed.

        • Brian

          Same here. When I read the CES letter, I heard about FAIR’s response. I was genuinely looking for answers that the church was true. All FAIR did was push me farther over that line. I also felt that they lied in some spots, pulling information from what felt like their posterior. And like Dan stated, the logical fallacies are just emanating from their so-called answers. They are the true anti-mormons in my book.

        • Rick

          I found Fairs explanations even more troubling. The way they tried to muddle and confuse the issues they were trying to explain made me feel even more they were trying to hide a truth they knew was problematic.

      • Steve Smith

        I used to rely a lot on FAIR for explanations to what I once thought were “tough questions” about LDS church history. Gradually I became increasingly unsatisfied with their explanations. Instead of providing solid evidence to substantiate Joseph Smith’s claims and defend his character, they try to place the burden on the questioners and doubters to falsify his claims. The seeming thoroughness of their research often appears to be more of an obfuscation of reality (with the intent of deliberately confusing the questioner) than a set of clear answers to central questions. The authors of much of the FAIR material are full of clever philosophical tricks but little on substance.

  • Jack

    Growing up in the church, these things were not just overlooked they were intentionally dismissed and hidden. All through my young life I researched church history because I wanted answers– I wanted to know if the things people were saying about our origins were true. I had to do it myself because no primary teacher, Bishop, Stake President, etc. would even tolerate the questions. I was told to take it on faith and that such questions were unimportant at best and apostasy at worst. I was given superficial and conflicting clichés to shut me up. Yet I was taught that knowledge was the only thing that we could take with us from this life. I was taught that the prophet cannot make mistakes, yet all men are mortal and imperfect. I was told to blindly follow authorized leaders, but that personal revelation through the guidance of the holy ghost is paramount. I was taught that anyone of color was a cursed descendant of Cain or Laman unworthy of the priesthood because of the curse. Yet now, the church leadership renounces that. So tell me, which side of each of these contradictions is true? Both? Or perhaps, like so many others, you will tell me that none of them are conflicts, but artifacts of my own misunderstanding. How are people not supposed to feel manipulated? Should we blindly follow into current and future mistakes, or be responsible for our own conscience? When we choose the former, where is cherished agency? When we choose the latter, where is the demanded obedience? If we cannot even ask the questions and seek the true answers without risking being shunned, disfellowshiped, or excommunicated, how are we in any way interested in agency or knowledge? I do not think God sanctions this kind of manipulation, nor does he condemn a man for wanting to know the truth so that he can act in good conscience and responsibility. I am not leaving the church, but the church has made mistakes and so have the prophets. I believe that the feelings of betrayal you describe in this article will only abate when the church clearly resolves these things that have been perpetuated, officially and intentionally, in manipulative ways for so many years.

    • Hello Jack. It’s an inescapable fact that prophets are still human even though they hold divinely appointed callings. This means that they will act and speak as men most of the time, but will speak as the Lord directs when called to do so. While there is an obvious grass-roots teaching that “the prophet cannot make mistakes,” that is not a teaching of the Church– President Uchtdorf acknowledged as much in a recent conference address. Yes, we are asked to search, learn, and study things out. We can only study so far, however, and must, at some point, be willing to accept some things on faith. As a lifelong member of the Church myself for over 50 years, I’ve never been told to blindly follow my leaders and the scriptures certainly don’t suggest this.

      While I can appreciate your frustration, your assumption that we’ve been manipulated is an assumption of a perspective, and not one of a different perspective. Just as you and I are left to our own devices for most of our thoughts, the same is true for the prophets. They aren’t given all answers and are mostly left to understand revelation in light of their own opinions and world-views. Sometimes those assumptions are incorrect. The Lord lets us (and prophets) feel our way. Sometimes that leads to incorrect conclusions. It’s all part of the growing process of humanity. Let your personal revelation be your guide, but keep that approach humble knowing that God is speaking to you through a glass-darkly just as he speaks to the prophets through bits and pieces of truth as they are able to accept and understand things.

      I would suggest to first have a spiritual witness that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ. After that, we can receive a spiritual witness that Joseph Smith was prophet at that Pres. Monson is a prophet. From there, it’s a matter of using both our intellects and personal spiritual guidance to help us understand things that have both been said in the past as well as those things which are shared today. We all have our moral agency. No one is forced to follow the current prophet’s directives. We can use our own personal revelation and moral agency as guides– but keep in mind that if you already accept the Prophet as a man who can receive directive from God, then we should seriously consider his words and weigh them not just intellectually, but spiritually and test them to see if they bring us closer to Christ. Hope this all makes sense.

      • Jack

        Mike, you make a lot of assumptions yourself. I am quite aware of Elder Uchtdorf’s words in last general conference, primarily because they were so groundbreaking. It is not the “grass roots” who are responsible for the content of official church publications and manuals from which these things were both taught and read to me. Lastly, you assume that because of my perspective I haven’t already sought and found spiritual witness of God and Christ, and tried desperately to do the same for these other matters. But someone like you would never accept that the witness I got was that the church has indeed lied and manipulated in ways that are not sanctioned in any way by God.

        If polyandry or polygamy were justified by God to “increase number of members” Or to create a so-called dynasty in this life or the next why stop? And if membership is so important to God that he changes moral law for it, why not change it again to stop the hemorrhaging of membership today? No. God is just not that fickle. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. It was made up by men then and covered up in the name of God since– and not by the grass roots.

  • Michael Shea, MD

    Who cares? The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to help us lead the sort of life that develops Christ-like attributes such that we can ultimately be perfected and return to the presence of our Father in Heaven. Polygamy isn’t part of that practice for people of our time; this it is irrelevant to us. Perhaps it was relevant to those of an earlier time, but what was relevant then is not necessarily relevant now. Does the gospel as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints help you live a better life? If so, what’s your problem? If not, try something else. I became a Theravadan Buddhist for years, and it was a great experience that brought me right back to the LDS church as a much better member with a much improved, stronger testimony. I am grateful to God for my opportunity. He knows my heart, and he knows yours. Do what is right, and you will not be disappointed. But if you get bent out of shape over small things that aren’t part of your “probation,” you will be disappointed. It’s a guarantee.

    • MTB


      I have a friend whose first wife tragically passed away shortly after they were married/sealed. He later remarried/sealed. His second wife is a wonderful woman. They have now been married for a couple decades. They have a whole bunch of kids. Do you feel that polygamy is “irrelevant” to her (his second wife)? She constantly worries about polygamy. She is very concerned about her life and place in the eternities. She anticipates second-wife status. She worries about her kids being sealed to the first wife (due to some teachings and practices of early church leaders). It is a constant source of emotional and spiritual pain.

      Polygamy was a defining doctrine and practice of the church for over 50 years. The lingering effects of this practice are still felt. D&C 132 is still canonized. Early prophets that are revered in our day, were prolific practitioners of polygamy. It’s hard to find people in the church that do not feel like it will be, somehow, practiced in the next life. Do you really not see how polygamy is a problem for many people (particularly women)? Is it really “irrelevant?”

      • MTB, I can appreciate your friends frustrations and concerns. The reason that I said that polygamy is not relevant to current Latter-day Saints is because we don’t practice it in mortality. Do we practice it in the hereafter? Personally I don’t think it will practiced in the way that we think marriage is practiced. While eternal-polygamy is a topic for a much different discussion, the fact is that we really don’t have many answers. We don’t have revelation on all the factors involved in the when and whys of all sealing practices. I have my own personal thoughts on the issue but they are based on how I understand the scriptures and what God might have in store for us– in other words, they are my personal opinions and assumptions.

        Maturity, in both the secular and spiritual worlds, recognizes that ambiguity is part of our existence. Negative feelings– jealousy, anxiety, etc.– are mortal emotions. If we can receive a spiritual confirmation that God is watching over us, and that the Restored Church is His Church on earth, we have to trust God. That can be difficult, but if we recognize that he loves us and ultimately wants us to be happy, we have to let go of things for which there are no answers and trust that if we work on becoming Christlike in this life, that in the hereafter we will have incomprehensible happiness with our loved ones by our sides.

        Believing that God is good and loving should free us from the yoke of anxiety about polygamy in the next life. Eternal rest and pure joy in the next life will not include things that will cause depression, jealousy, and sadness. If we faith in God, we need also have faith that whatever we think of mortal family relationships in this life, the Celestial world will not be a place where those relationships will cause anyone pain.

        • MTB

          “Believing that God is good and loving” has caused me to entirely reject the theology and practice of polygamy. In my view, it’s absolutely not of God. Polygamy is demeaning and hurtful to women. I have been amazed at the level of peace I have attained once I finally stopped requiring myself to defend the practice and to realize that Joseph wasn’t commanded of God to restore/practice it. Of course, this is my personal opinion. I realize that others feel differently.

    • Will H

      The history of polygamy in the church is certainly relevant. Beyond that, the church still practices polygamy today. Men are allowed to be sealed to more than one woman, and deceased women can be sealed to multiple men. For those familiar with temple ordinances, polygamy is still very much part of the instruction and ceremonies.

      It is fine that you don’t have a problem with. It is disingenuous to say ‘who cares’, and dismiss it by pretending it is not still practiced today, and ignore the fact that it is a huge part of Mormon theology.

  • Adam

    Not sure I agree with the supposed reasons for de-emphasis. In the case of polygamy I sense a general embarrassment in the church and a feeling, especially amongst women, that polygamy was a mistake. I believe it is not discussed much because of these reasons.
    Saying that these things have been addressed in church manuals and magazines is rather misleading. They are very rarely touched upon. Controversial topics such as polygamy are treated as best left in the past. This is puzzling, as it was a practice commanded by God, and as such should be embraced, not hidden under the rug.

    • Paul

      Polygamy served its purpose quite well, which was to grow church membership. My great great grandmother, Elizabeth Mills, was in a polygamist relationship and hated it. She even witnessed men in the church that abused polygamy. But in the end, she acknowledged it was a good thing for the LONG TERM. She witnessed that many great people were born, even in these abusive relationships many fine individuals that did great things were born that otherwise wouldn’t have been. I estimated that some of my ancestors that were early members of the church have 50,000+ descendants. Whoever was leading the church understood EXPONENTIAL GROWTH! But at this point, there is no need for polygamy. The church can grow more effectively in other ways. Hence, the de-emphasis.

      • MTB

        Regarding “to grow church membership” or “to raise up seed”:

        The problem is that women in polygamist relationships typically produce fewer children then women in monogamous relationships. Brigham Young is a good example of this. He had 55 wives and “only” 56 children. He may be a statistical outlier as some argue that he wasn’t sexual with all of his wives. However, the data that I continue to see confirms that monogamous relationships typically produce more children than polygamous relationships.

        • Steve

          While it’s true that monogamous relationships tend to produce more children in general, polygamy does allow for more children to be sired by church leaders. In your example, Brigham Young probably couldn’t have sired 56 children with a single wife. There’s still a troubling subtext, however, that implies that church leaders are superior to run-of-the-mill male members, which I believe is still extant in the church today.

          • MTB

            “… polygamy does allow for more children to be sired by church leaders.”

            Unfortunately, we also hear this kind of talk in the FLDS community in the present day. This thinking allows preferred FLDS priesthood holders to create massive patriarchies, exerting even great power and control over women. I guess they need to find some way to rationalize and defend the practice, just like many in the mainstream LDS church still do.

      • Will H

        In addition to MBH’s point that polygamous relationships resulted in fewer children than monogamous relationships. The argument of ‘raising seed’ is also based on the assumption that these women could not have had ‘Mormon’ children where they not in a polygamous relationship. I think this goes back to the false idea that there were more women than men in the early church as a result of persecution and the trek to Utah. The reality is there where plenty of Mormon men available to marry and raise a family with these women. In several cases the women were actually participating in polyandrous relationships.

    • Adam,
      Mormons do not practice it today, therefore no one can really share a testimony of it being a command of God. There are journals and other writings that do these things, if that is what you are looking for, you can find them. However, if you read the scriptures, once can at least have a testimony that what one reads in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants, miraculously all agree on the topic, or in the case of the New Testament, are silent on it. If you care to take the time, here is additional perspective: http://www.scott-thormaehlen.com/sensationalism-and-realities-of-early-mormon-polygamy/