The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long had three missions: Perfecting the Saints, Proclaiming the Gospel, Redeeming the Dead.
A fourth was recently added: Caring for the Poor and Needy.
But all along, the LDS Church has had a fifth mission–Suppressing the Truth.
What truth is it the LDS Church actively suppresses? Any information that reflects negatively on Church leaders, its history, doctrine and practices.
Why does the LDS Church suppress this truth? Because it may negatively impact the testimony of its members and prevent them from being saved in the Kingdom of Heaven.
But does the suppression of truth have other consequences? Yes, it does.
And are some of these other consequences problematic? Yes, they are.
Specifically, the most serious consequence of suppressing the truth is the impact it has on the agency of humankind.
Does the Fifth Mission Destroy the Agency of Man?
People primarily base their decisions on information. Sometimes the information on which they act is incomplete; sometimes it is just plain wrong; but most would generally agree that the more information a person has, the more likely a good decision can be made.
The fifth mission of suppressing the truth makes sure we get only one side of the story–the “faith promoting” side. There are no grays in the LDS Church; only black and white. The Church wants to make sure we hear only the white. No element of black will be allowed to seep through.
All information that does not conform with the faithful narrative is systematically suppressed, excised and removed from the narrative. The tools for this mission are not fire and the sword, but white-out and the shredder.
Because the Church allows only the faithful side of the story to be told, people will necessarily choose to follow the restored gospel and be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven. They could choose nothing else. They would be unaware that any other choice could be made.
Are there problems with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; historical anomalies and even contradictions? There are. But with this fifth mission in mind, nobody need know about them. The Church will sweep them under the rug so they do not detract from anybody’s testimony.
LDS leaders would make of their church a new Garden of Eden—but with the Tree of Knowledge removed.
The LDS Church would become one long episode of The Outer Limits.
There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear.
If salvation can be accomplished only by suppressing the other side of the story, so be it. If people can’t make an informed decision because they know only one version of the facts, it is a small price to pay. If the Church has to “destroy the agency of man” in order to save them, who can complain?
The ends justify the means.
And what should happen if, in spite of the Church’s best efforts, a member begins to ask difficult questions–questions that challenge the one-sided narrative promoted by the fifth mission? She will be told to sit down and shut up. Politely, of course. Church leaders are, above all, gentlemen. But if she refuses to be silent, she must be culled from the herd in order to prevent her disease from spreading. She will be branded with a scarlet “A” as a warning to the other sheep to not “go and do thou likewise.”
The Church will not leave the ninety-and-nine to “go after the one.” It will send a sniper up a tower to take out the one.
Remarkably, not only does the LDS Church have a long and established track record of suppressing the truth, Church leaders have from time to time actually said this is exactly what they are doing.
Under this head, let us examine statements from three current apostles of the LDS Church.
Boyd K. Packer
In speaking to CES instructors, Boyd K. Packer said, “Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer. There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting. Some things that are true are not very useful.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” 1981 BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 259-271.)
Notable is the tacit admission that Church history “may be a faith destroyer” if all the truth is told. The injunction is to teach only one side of the story; the side that is a “very powerful tool indeed for building faith.” Unspoken and unwritten must be those truths that are “not very useful.”
The “temptation” is “to tell everything.”
The ability to choose must be restricted by providing members access to only one side of the story; to only one set of facts. If their agency is destroyed by so doing, it is a small price to pay for building faith.
In his defense, Elder Packer is not willing to do something to others that he is not willing to do to himself. If he will attempt to deprive others of free agency, he will set the example and show the way. In a 1976 General Conference address, Elder Packer said this:
“I knew what agency was and knew how important it was to be an individual and to be independent, to be free. I somehow knew there was one thing the Lord would never take from me, and that was my free agency. I would not surrender my agency to any being but to Him! I determined that I would give Him the one thing that He would never take—my agency.”
One can only imagine God’s reaction to such an act. What God would not allow Satan to do to others, Elder Packer did to himself. In response to the issue that sparked a war in heaven, Elder Packer laid down his arms and surrendered. God, who liberated the captives by the spilling of his own blood, finds them voluntarily putting their chains back on.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks
But Elder Packer is not alone in proclaiming he wants only one-side of the story to be portrayed—the faith promoting side. Elder Dallin H. Oaks bears his apostolic witness that any contradictory facts, though true, must be suppressed.
“My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS Church, namely the authority of the priesthood, testimony regarding the restoration of the gospel, and the divine mission of the Savior. Everything may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts.”[i]
In his 1985 address to the CES Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History, Elder Oaks said:
“It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true.”[ii]
Elsewhere Elder Oaks indicates that the “value” of not depreciating church leaders is a “virtue” that leads him to suppress the truth.
“Truth surely exists as an absolute, but our use of truth should be disciplined by other values. . . . When truth is constrained by other virtues, the outcome is not falsehood but silence for a season.” (The Ensign, February, 1987)
In a particular revealing statement made in the 1985 CES address referred to above, Elder Oaks says:
“Balance is telling both sides. This is not the mission of official Church literature . . ..”
This makes for a jarring juxtaposition with what the LDS Church teaches about honesty in its 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. . . . Satan encourages us to justify our lies to ourselves. Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.”
What did that just say? Satan tempts people to not speak the whole truth? Is Elder Oaks resisting this temptation? Or succumbing to it?
And if Elder Oaks is committed to telling only one side of the story, is he justified in so doing as long as his goal is the salvation of his audience?
Elder Russell M. Nelson
Even Elder Nelson has gotten into the act. I say “even Elder Nelson” because while Elders Packer and Oaks have long come across as crusty and curmudgeonly, Elder Nelson has always struck me as bright, warm and chipper.
Regardless of the tune, the lyrics to the same song come through loud and clear. In a talk ironically titled, “Truth—and More,” Elder Nelson solemnly warns “anyone who, because of ‘truth,’ may be tempted to become a dissenter against the Lord and his anointed.” (The Ensign, January, 1986.)
Now, we all know that when Elder Nelson talks about the Lord’s “anointed,” he is referring to Church leadership.
For Elder Nelson, it seems that when the choice comes down to truth or sustaining the Lord’s “anointed,” it is always truth that must be sacrificed on the altar of devotion to Church leaders.
Lending a touch of the surreal to his address, Elder Nelson quotes all four verses from a famous LDS Hymn, including the line, “Yes, say what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize to which mortals or Gods can aspire.”
Sing it with me, now!
Elder Nelson is clear that what he decries is only the revealing of negative information about leaders; and specifically Church leaders. His warning is only for “any who are tempted to rake through the annals of history, to use truth unrighteously, or to dig up ‘facts’ with the intent to defame or destroy.”
(Elder Nelson does not explain why he feels constrained to put “truth” and “facts” in quotation marks.)
If he isn’t making himself sufficiently clear, Elder Nelson goes on, “We now live in a season in which some self-serving historians grovel for ‘truth’ (how does one “grovel” for truth?) that would defame the dead and the defenseless. Some may be tempted to undermine what is sacred to others, or diminish the esteem of honored names, or demean the efforts of revered individuals.”
To tell the full truth is the “temptation.” Elder Nelson apparently does not see it as a temptation to keep quiet about the truth that would give a fuller and more accurate picture.
What was it that Gospel Principles Manual said again? Oh, yeah. “Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.” I almost forgot.
And finally, Elder Nelson agrees with Elder Oaks that the best course in dealing with problematic truths is not to deal with them at all—to simply be quiet about them. “Indeed, in some instances, the merciful companion to truth is silence. Some truths are best left unsaid.”
Considering its content, a more accurate title for Elder Nelson’s talk may have been, “Truth—and Less.”
Of Questions and Avenues
The Church recently released a statement saying members are “always free” to ask “questions about Church doctrine, history, or practice.”
Church spokesperson Ally Isom followed suit: “There are many avenues to express that and discuss (our doubts and opinions).”
But isn’t this a little like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy one more time to hold that football so he can kick it? Of what use is the freedom to ask questions when Church leaders have told us in advance the answers will not be given? What good are “avenues to express” doubts and opinions when we know beforehand that all such avenues lead to a dead end? And why should we expect any other result than that Lucy will once more yank away the football at the last moment, leaving us yet again flat on our backs?
The recent discipline of Church members for voicing variant views has prompted me to reflect on the Grand Council in Heaven. We all know the story. I won’t repeat it here.
What has been brought into sharp relief for me, however, is that the crux of the story is how Lucifer wanted to do the best thing imaginable by doing the worst thing imaginable.
He wanted to save all of God’s children. What could be better than that?
But in order to accomplish this laudable goal, he would have to “destroy the agency of man.” (Moses 4:3) Nothing could apparently be worse.
What does this teach me? It teaches me that trampling on the agency of human beings is something God cannot tolerate; even if the reason for doing so is the best reason that could possibly be imagined—the eternal salvation of the person whose agency is being destroyed.
And God appears to have practiced what he preached. God could have simply struck Satan dumb so he could not spread his poisonous opinions, like Alma did with Korihor. Or God could have told Lucifer it was all right for him to have his own opinions, so long as he didn’t express them in public. Or God could have told Lucifer that he could ask questions, but only to his bishop and stake president.
God appears to have done none of these things.
God realized that allowing free agency necessarily involved letting his children have their own opinions together with the freedom to voice those opinions publicly.
God realized that allowing free agency is a messy business. But if God were going to allow his children free agency on earth, he was going to have to allow it to them in the pre-mortal existence.
In spite of the best efforts of the Lord’s anointed, the truth about the history of the Church is coming to light. It began with a trickle but has become an avalanche with the advent of the Internet, accompanied by a commensurate cascade of members leaving the Church.
Perhaps, in the final analysis, this is why the LDS Church’s fifth mission to save humanity could never have worked—because it is simply not possible to keep so much problematic information a secret. The truth will out. Nature finds a way. “For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ.”[iii]
And when the truth does finally come out and the member who has been taught only the “faith-promoting” side of the story discovers the skeletons in the closet, the experience is usually coupled with feelings of bewilderment and betrayal. “The skeletons are scary enough, but why wasn’t I told they were there? Now I have to question whether anything the LDS Church tells me true.” And so the strategy of telling only one side of the story in order to build faith ends up destroying faith when the truth comes to light.
This is why the course of suppressing the truth is a minefield. Everything is fine and dandy until somebody steps on one.
We have seen that it is the professed goal of Church leaders to teach only the “faith promoting” aspects of the LDS religion. In light of this, we must ask whether their intentional suppression of the rest of the picture will deprive members of the ability to choose anything other than adherence to the general authorities and the church over which they preside. We must ask whether Church leaders are willing to “destroy the agency of man” in order to ensure that all are saved; that “one soul will not be lost.”
And ultimately, on a personal level, what I am asking is for Church leaders to stop suppressing the truth regarding the history, doctrine and practices of the LDS Church.
Just tell us the truth.
We can handle it.
[i] Robert D. Anderson, “Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon,” (Signature Books, 1999), p. xliii, footnote 28. It should be observed that the footnote references for this quote is to Linda King Newell, “The Biography of Emma Hale Smith,” 1992 Pacific Northwest Sunstone Symposium, audio tape #J976. Not having access to this audio tape, I am unable to ascertain the source Ms. Newell cites. To the best of my knowledge, however, Elder Oaks has never denied making this statement, though it has been in print for at least 15-years.
[ii] Dallin H. Oaks, “Reading Church History,” CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium, Brigham Young University, 16 Aug. 1985, p. 25.
[iii] Hamlet, II, 2