By Konden R. Smith
“But it didn’t happen that way! Why is the Church lying to me?”
A common point of frustration many Mormons have found concerns the inconsistencies and contradictions between the official stories being told and the actual history behind those stories. Many then ask, “But it didn’t happen that way! Why is the Church lying to me?” The feeling then is of betrayal and dishonesty, not edification and truth. It is at this point that the larger house of cards come crashing down and whatever truth was once enjoyed in these stories have been eroded into irrelevance and at times bitterness.
I sympathize with these statements. I understand the pain and frustration. At the same time, it is important to remember what storytelling means within a broader religious context. People tell stories, and historical accuracy has rarely been an essential component of conveying a true story. For example, whether or not the Buddha really threw an elephant over the wall or whether or not he walked on water is much less interesting to a Buddhist than what the story is trying to solve and the spiritual or mental orientation such stories are seeking to encourage. A story might be historically false, but it can still be very true. Stories get retold because they are relevant and meaningful, not because they actually happened. We could say they tell principles that happen, even if the events didn’t happen. Another way to look at it is that these stories illuminate internal realities even if the telling of external events proves inaccurate.
This brings us to a recent story that Mormons throughout the world have recently retold in Mormonism’s correlated Sunday School – the Willie and Martin handcart companies and the Sweetwater River rescue.
In the official lesson, President Thomas S. Monson recites the story of the Sweetwater Crossing as written by Solomon F. Kimball in 1914 in the Improvement Era:
“Three eighteen-year-old boys belonging to the relief party came to the rescue; and to the astonishment of all who saw, carried nearly every member of that ill-fated handcart company across the snow-bound stream. The strain was so terrible, and the exposure so great, that in later years all the boys died from the effects of it. When President Brigham young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and later declared publicly, ‘That act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end.'” (LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. HAfen, Handcarts to Zion, 132-33)
This story is both powerful and relevant, but is not historically accurate. For example, as explained by Church historian Chad M. Orton, there were more than 3 (at least 18 rescuers, but at least 5 actually carrying people across while others helped in other ways) who braved the cold waters, none were eighteen (their ages ranged from 16 to 24), only about 1/3 were actually carried, and none of the rescuers appeared to die from consequences of exposure to the freezing water. Beyond this, both Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball publically praised these Sweetwater rescuers, but did not base the salvation of these young men on this one act, but rather this act in connection to a full life of living the gospel and enduring to the end. (Chad M. Orton, “The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look,” BYU Studies 45, no. 3 : 8-12)
Storytelling includes a simultaneous remembering and forgetting that allows for a particular picture to emerge for a specific purpose. The picture that emerges here is one of easily defined savior figures and a theological narrative that connects us to that of the heroics of Christ himself. As Mormons throughout the church re-enact this handcart trek and even the river crossing, they are creating group memories and a shared sense of what it means to be “Mormon.” The handcart story is thus ever-present among Mormons in the 21st century. It didn’t happen in 1856, it happened in 2013.
What then have we chosen to forget in this performance of remembering? The Willie and Martin handcart companies represent the single largest failure of the Mormon westward movement, illuminating also the dangers of overzealous and fanatical leadership and the perils of blind obedience. Yet the story has become one of the most repeated and inspiring of Mormon stories, reminding us of the meaning of suffering and the importance of not criticizing priesthood leaders. The handcarts, though less than 5% of the actual Mormon pioneer system, makes up the majority of our conversations, lesson, and talks about pioneers. In other words, there is something about this story that solves something much deeper than our concern to portray an accurate history.
What does this story solve? The handcart rescue story represents a type of Mormon theodicy, which means it answers the question as to why suffering happens in the world. There were those pioneers who laughed and sang their way across the plains, but our remembrance is on those who died (even when they actually didn’t). We remember that suffering brings spiritual insight and for the rescuers, Celestial glory. But what is forgotten is Mormon leaders like Elder John Jacques and others whose overzealousness and religious fanaticism cost the unnecessary deaths of 200 Mormons and the unimaginable suffering of hundreds more, and that while some gained spiritual insight, others left the church. This unspeakable tragedy not only interrupted the hopes of many faithful Mormons and their never-to-be posterity, but also hurt the society of Saints in the West who desperately depended upon such immigrants for the success and growth of Zion. Because this story is a theodicy, this side of the story does not get retold and thus disappears from the collective Mormon memory.
Storytelling has never been an innocent endeavor. In 1857, stories by Mormons led to the massacre at Mountain Meadows, while stories about Mormons in Utah inspired Pres. James Buchanan to send troops to Utah as a point of philanthropy for a deluded people. Popular rescue stories have also emboldened US imperialism under the logic of rescue. Stories can inspire great heroics (such as the Sweetwater rescue), but can also exploit the powerless, crush dissent and uphold the oppressive policies of the powerful. As history shows, stories can be so powerful, that even the powerless appropriate the very stories that oppress them. It is important then to be aware of how we tell stories and to be careful about what we have agreed to collectively forget. Ignorance mixed with storytelling can be dangerous for any religion, and Mormonism is no exception. Our goal in telling stories then should not be merely to reaffirm what is already comfortable, but to also allow us to complicate and challenge.
Even in its fabrications, this story is true; it is true because it motivates and changes lives. It uplifts and inspires. However important Mormons hold written texts as scripture, this event, together with those who physically re-enact them, create a type of lived scriptural text that renews individual commitment and defines group identity as it relates to the past. Though this story does not take place within the Mormon standard works, it is also powerful and authoritative, becoming a type of “lived” Mormon Scripture. Under such a dynamic canon of Scripture, the Mormon faith has been easily grasped and performed by all, particularly 18-year old young men readying themselves for missionary service. At the same time, there is no reason new stories of this event cannot be told in more historically accurate ways, ones that generate broader discussion; not just about finding meaning in suffering, but of avoiding unnecessary suffering altogether.
The following was originally posted at Worlds Without End: http://www.withoutend.org/truth-untrue-storytelling-mormonism/
I have been thinking along these same lines recently.
As I was pondering the “truth” behind the Martin and Willie handcart companies story, I began to realize that we (most of us) actually prefer a dramatic, motivational, emotionalized retelling of the events. We seem not to care if the details of the historical record don’t match our preconceptions as long as it’s exciting and we can learn valuable spiritual lessons from it.
This is a lot like the movie versions of historical events. The actors are caricatures of the actual people (also more photogenic), the events are often reordered for dramatic or emotional effect, the dialogue is recreated to be more eloquent. We seem to like this. People have always embellished their stories. We are a story-telling species. Why should the scriptures, myths, and past events be any different? Leave accuracy to the scholars. We want drama and meaning. Tell us the moral, please.
The Hollywood Version for us.
I appreciate good fiction. I also appreciate fictionalized history as long as I know it is fictionalized. However, I do not appreciate something false taught as truth, especially under the guise of being “correlated”. Of course you may express your own opinion as to what falsehoods you don’t mind digesting, but it isn’t apropos to presume to speak for the majority.
Thank you Steve. I agree.
Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow man? Its been a while since I heard the exact recommend question but I’m pretty sure that is how it is worded. The organization of the church could not pass its own litmus test for temple worthiness. This isn’t just an issue of wanting to tell uplifting stories. It is a manipulation of emotions to get the members buying into something that they probably wouldn’t have bit on had the story been told correctly. this isn’t just story telling for enhanced purpose…it is manipulation of truth, stretching the truth, etc. When these “stories” are told and they are taught as truth and peoples testimonies are in part based on them then it becomes lying.
In the movie “Big Fish” the following exchange takes place that I think sums it up. The premise of the movie is that this young man’s father tells him these fantastic stories his whole life and he feels a bit tricked and wronged by the idea that he really doesn’t know the true facts about his father’s life. He doesn’t even know the real story of the day he was born. His father had always told an elaborate version involving a fish and a fight to get back a wedding ring the fish had swallowed. The movie follows the son and he tries to come to terms with all of this as his father is dying. When his father is in his final hours in the hospital, the son has the following exchange with his father’s doctor:
Senior Dr. Bennett: Did your father ever tell you about the day you were born?
Will Bloom: A thousand times. He caught an uncatchable fish.
Senior Dr. Bennett: Not that one. The real story. Did he ever tell you that?
Will Bloom: No.
Senior Dr. Bennett: Your mother came in about three in the afternoon. Her neighbor drove her, on account of your father was on business in Wichita. You were born a week early, but there were no complications. It was a perfect delivery. Now, your father was sorry to miss it, but it wasn’t the custom for the men to be in the room for deliveries then, so I can’t see as it would have been much different had he been there. And that’s the real story of how you were born. Not very exciting, is it? And I suppose if I had to choose between the true version and an elaborate one involving a fish and a wedding ring, I might choose the fancy version. But that’s just me.
Will Bloom: I kind of liked your version.
In the end the son realizes his father did tell him about his life, in his own unique way. While the stories he told were embellished, the heart of them was true. Some people want the elaborate version involving the fish and the wedding ring, some people want the other version. I don’t think either of them are wrong.
But the father in that story was not claiming to be the one and only true church….nor was he demanding complete honesty from his son….nor was he using it as a conversion tactic. Regardless of the reason the church chooses to lie about it it is still a lie and is still wrong
If the church can’t be honest with its members why do I have to be honest to enter into the temple. Where is the line? At what point has the feel good story turned to a lie? At what point is manipulation of the truth OK and at what point is it not OK? Is it OK when it benefits you but not OK if it doesn’t benefit you? Is it OK to stretch the truth as long as it makes the other person feel good? Is it more OK for an institution to manipulate emotions? Is it OK for me to stretch the truth to my wife and not show her the true me so she will love me more? The problem is that the church has set up a system to allow for repeated deception and manipulation of truth….all in the name of creating feel good stories that will be faith promoting to the members. This is wrong
It kinda reminds me of that myth about the famous portrait of the Saviour that we use in the church, where a girl saw it be unveiled and recognised it as someone who had saved her from some tragedy (I’m a bit sketchy on the details). That story was widely spread and later revealed to be a complete fabrication. I couldn’t believe that someone would invest the time to make up a completely false story on the premise of it being faith promoting when shared as fact. It really angered me.
The sad truth I guess is that this isn’t too far removed from what the church does with a lot of it’s story telling, where historical recounts are shared not to give insight into the history itself but rather to reinforce a principle that may or may not have had any real bearing on the actual events.
I get what the article is saying, but at the same time I can’t help but be a little disturbed by the church’s endemic warping of history to fit the predetermined narrative.
Agreed, writing this actually brought to light in my own mind just how powerful stories can be in getting us to forget things. My point here was to advocate for a more accurate telling of history so as to challenge these simplistic stories (even contradict them). Mormonism actually has a real problem in discerning history from storytelling. If I had more space here, I would have added this. (perhaps I’ll just write another article on it)
I know you post on here all the time. Have you ever, ever, ever in your life, even one time, had a kind thing to post or say about the church. You are so quick to pile on at every turn. You throw out these inflammatory comments that are rarely substantiated or proven.
Is it more OK for an institution to manipulate emotions?- How does the church manipulate emotions?
The problem is that the church has set up a system to allow for repeated deception and manipulation of truth- Really, how is that?
Again, you throw out these comments as though they are Gospel, you you can’t substantiate them beyond a story here or an indecent there. You call it some epidemic.
Jason, for those of us who have studied Church history independently from the faith promoting version promulgated by the Church, we find your offense to be naive and uninformed. The examples are numerous enough and without exaggeration can fill a book.
Perhaps the saddest example is the slander perpetuated against Thomas Marsh, the apostle who allegedly left the Church because of some undocumented dispute about milk strippings. This tale has been repeated from the pulpit by speakers including General Authorities for over a hundred years. The fact of the matter was that Thomas Marsh spoke out against violence and his life was threatened.
Why can’t the True Church embrace truth as an example of its veracity?
Steve, Thomas Marsh came back to the church in the late 1850’s and was rebaptized. In fact he would go on to recant his story of the violence that occurred in October 1838 that you are referring to. He actually wrote a biography in 1864 recounting his church service and rebellion.
But please, don’t let the facts get in the way of making your point.
Exactly! I think Paul H. Dunn bought into this idea as well…. that the message was worth adding/embellishing/making up part of the story… and we see how the church reacted to that. Interesting that he was caught so publicly doing it they made sure it stopped and he was quietly tucked out of sight.
But the church continues to do this…hmmm
Garrett, I agree with your criticism here, though I think you are missing my point. There is a real problem when religions tell stories and claim them to be literal truth. It’s at that point we start being dishonest and I agree with your point. Mormonism does this all the time, and I think criticisms against the church in this respect are often well deserved. Storytelling can be (and has been) very harmful. I pointed this out in the post. Examples in Mormonism are plentiful. We’ve seen the barring of blacks from the temple and the priesthood (and thus exaltation), simply because of the story of Ham. Mormonism turned this story into a literal historical truth and fabricated bad policy and bad theology from it. They in this instance proved their prophetic ineptitude.
To answer your question, I think the feel-good story has turned into a lie as soon as it is used to manipulate and exploit. My own post here was meant to be a subtle critique against this use of (or abuse of) religious storytelling. At the same time, however, this realization should not put us off from the usage of storytelling in which religion functions and often inspires for the better. This is the realm of religion and we should recognize that and not dismiss storytelling altogether. History is not the realm of religion and they should not be conflated. When religions begin to believe their own stories as literal truth, we call that delusion and distortion. That is the realm of fanaticism. My point was that Mormons need to think about their stories and to ask wonder about what has been collectively forgotten. To me, that is a way of checking the manipulation that goes on. This story of the handcarts is a great example of how this can be done – to notice the fanaticism, the dangers of blind obedience, and that no-one is devoid of personal responsibility in not dying for the sake of over-zealous priesthood leaders.
Well said Konden, thanks for this piece.
“My own post here was meant to be a subtle critique against this use of (or abuse of) religious storytelling.”
I think you were a bit too subtle here. You spent quite a bit more time talking about why religions tell less than accurate stories, and it seemed like you were defending the practice more than critiquing it. I do think you should do a follow-up post as you mentioned above.
And there is definitely a place for religious stories that are meant to inspire rather than recount. They’re called parables and allegories. But you hit the nail on the head when you say these stories should not be confused with history. The problem with Mormonism is that there are so many stories we tell that we think are actual history that to disentangle the two, well, there might not be anything left.
Good stuff Konden. Liked the post. Hard to find a balance.
I enjoyed the post and thought you brought out interesting aspects of the story you used in your example and the different interpretations/meanings that come from the way the story is told.
I agree that if this was your meaning… “To answer your question, I think the feel-good story has turned into a lie as soon as it is used to manipulate and exploit. My own post here was meant to be a subtle critique against this use of (or abuse of) religious storytelling.” it was too subtle.
If only the church’s worst offense was embellishing a pioneer story. Unfortunately it has engaged in misrepresentation at best and lying at worst relative to the most critical events in Mormonism. These are events upon which testimonies are based, not just faith promoting stories. What if members knew the truth about the first vision, Book of Mormon translation and witnesses, priesthood restoration, etc? These are taught as literal events. People base their entire lives on these events. Don’t they deserve to know the whole truth? The truth may not be faith promoting, but let people make decisions with all the cards on the table. If the church is “true” what does it have to fear?
Wonderful post. I wish we could all learn to understand this. Life of Pi is another example I would add to Big Fish. I think they have something profound to teach.
This post was ridiculous. I didn’t know that the Willy and Martin handcart company story was fabricated but so what. The rescue was still heroic. And “pioneers” are those who both pushed handcarts and rode in wagons and walked. They’re all pioneers. And to Monday-morning quarterback church leaders who encouraged Saints to come to Utah. I mean seriously? Are we suppose to forget that they were chased out of everywhere they went or that weather turned ugly and some simply got stuck.
The constant nitpicking and criticism of some is so tiring. I just want to tell some of the authors and posters to get over themselves. Some are valid, but some just grasp at straws.
Jason, let’s just chalk up your disagreement to some people valuing truth more than others. You apparently don’t, and that is fine.
Thanks for your genuine concern Steve but I am comfortable with “the Truth” as you call it.
But I have moved on.
Perhaps you should to. Good luck mate.
Jeffrey R Holland at the last conference. “Brothers and sisters, this is a divine work in process, with the manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.”
I loved that talk and it gave me a lot of piece and comfort at the time, I was really struggling with the church. However, the fact is that truth must be told and taught. I constantly used to hear that as long as you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, as long as you believe that the first vision did in fact happen, then everything else in the church must be true or can be overlooked because of the overarching truth the church has. Well the “stories” told in the church about Joseph Smith are not accurate, then where does that leave the church? Crumbling from the foundation… I am having a hard time not “hyperventilating” when the foundation of this being “the most true church” is a lie or misrepresentation or told in a way that makes it a better story.
Steph- hyperventilate if you feel like you have to. I get that the history of the church can be messy and perhaps if you looked hard enough as the author has, you can find inconsistencies or fabrications. But I see things through another lens. I nearly died as a baby and was blessed to full health with a Priesthood blessing. I read the Book of Mormon and found it to be the word of God. I believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet. Elder Holland rightly points out that God has on had men (with their weaknesses and such) to ever rely on to lead the church. So any errors, or whatever else I may not agree with, doesn’t lead me to conclude the church isn’t true.
I am so happy that you can find peace, one day I hope to also. This is not where I expected myself to be, and not where I want to be. However I have to address these issues before I can progress, ignoring them simply put me in a standstill. I am now trying to rebuild my faith in a whole new light. Trying to discuss the issues and figure out how/if I can make sense of them and rebuild my testimony of the LDS Church. I have no doubt that there is truth in the church, just like there is truth in other churches. I am just not sure if they actually have more truth than other Christian churches.
Good luck in your journey. I think Elder Holland’s talk was very powerful. They get that some things don’t make sense or that there are/were mistakes along the way. And though I believe in the church, I am very imperfect and have issues from time to time with policy and such. But in the church, I receive peace and comfort and understanding on how I can return home someday. No, it isn’t perfect, but it works for me. Good luck to you.
Why is it hard to find a balance? The solution is simple….you tell the truth and teach lessons from the real stories. There is enough good stuff that can be taken from real life events. What is the purpose of turning everything into something faith promoting….that is not real life, never has been and never will. The balance is simple….if the church is going yo rely on historical events to teach of the truthfulness of the gospel then it must teach the truth. In the real world we call it deception otherwise.
I appreciate your voice and perspective and agree with what you are saying. Truth is paramount. Trust me I have done my fair share of eye rolling during some classes at church.
I was not trying to imply a balance between truth and lies, but a balance between myth and history (myth as in the traditional story as opposed to purely fictitious sort). Religion has a miraculous part to it that historians will not usually approach and which no historian would likely be willing to call “history”. Why? Because it does not make sense with current science.
See the two quotes below from people that are smarter than me:
“Historians working with miracle stories turn out something that is either periphrastic of the faith, indifferent to it, or merely silly.”
– Jacob Neusner
“Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past. They cannot show that a miracle, the least likely occurrence, is the most likely occurrence. The resurrection is not least likely because of any anti-Christian bias. It is the least likely because people do not come back to life, never to die again, after they are well and truly dead. But what if Jesus did? If he did, it’s a miracle, and it’s beyond historical demonstration.”
-Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)
Hope this is making sense.
Jason, I could substantiate every claim many times over. The church has done a lot that has hurt me. Do not judge me when you do not know my experiences
I don’t know your experiences but I know that you never miss an opportunity to say a bad thing about the church. Just try being fair and intellectually honest. The church does tremendous good for others, and when you throw out general statements without explanation, it comes across as petty and nitpicking instead of factual. I hope you find peace with regard to being wronged once before.
I think it’s hilarious that you are telling me to be fair and intellectually honest when you have done neither. You call me ou for nitpicking and yet that is what you do with any person that doesn’t hold the same close minded view as yourself. There are examples after examples of ways that the story has been changed in Mormonism frm the way that the first vision was told, to the way the polygamy narrative was told, to why Joseph Smith was really in Carthage jail and murdered, to pioneer stories, to any number of events. The church turns everything into a faith promoting experience even when it wasn’t necessarily close to faith promoting. They can’t ever just tell the story and let people learn from it…there is always a twist….always something extra or changed so that the narrative can teach us a faith promoting experience. When history is altered or manipulated at the expense of a false narrative then yes there are problems with it. Thousands and thousands are leaving the church every year partly because of the false narratives from the church. If I can’t trust the church to speak and act and teach with truthfulness then I am left wondering at what point is it truth and at what point is it an embellished story to help me “feel the spirit” a la Paul Dunn? The problem is there is no way to tell until the truth is uncovered that the narrative was altered and then my arithmetic was based on events, things said,etc that didn’t happen…or at least definitely didn’t happen as they were purported to have happened. I will go back to something I originally said. If a member is expected t be honest in all their dealings with their fellow man in order to obtain a recommend to enter the temple then the organization and it’s leaders that require that honesty must live up to the same standards….and they are far from it. If the church was able to attempt to get a recommend for entrance to the temple it would be denied for its lack of honesty. Stretching the truth when it is convenient, embellishing stories to make them faith promoting n
When convenient, and changing the narrative as it is convenient for the church are all forms of deceit and lying and need t be stopped. There is no justification for it
Garrett- It was said at conference, referring to you and others like you….
It seems that history continues to teach us: You can leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone.
I hope you find the peace someday that has alluded you.
Ah…the lovely quote that you can leave the church but you can’t leave it alone. It’s ok for you to continually try and “rescue”, love bomb, and coax me back to the church but it is not ok for us to talk about the truths that we have found out. Last conference didn’t address anything….elder Hollands talk did nothing to actually address the issues other than pretend that they never happened. His speech in a nutshell….you may find unsavory things with the church, pretend you didn’t find those things out and return to the state you were in prior to finding out that the church has lied to you and fabricated many stories. Once you find those things out you can’t unlearn them. If you want those who have left the church to leave the church alone then leave them alone, quit trying to rescue them. Quit talking about them like they are lost souls in your meetings. Quit pretending that life for anyone outside the church is miserable. Quit preaching to us and we’ll leave you alone
Grab Brother Denver Snuffer’s book “Passing the Heavenly Gift.” It helped me accept a more balanced believer’s view of the “Church”. I have always leaned skeptical of the church history, now I better understand why it is the way it is today. More importantly Bro. Snuffer pointed me to Christ and opened the scriptures revealing a path to salvation that the Prophet Joseph Smith lived and taught.
Great article. Meaty.
The storytelling is selectively dealt with by different folks–as Paul Dunn case shows.
I feel like I go around and around and around and around in circles with you. I am not your home teacher. I HAVE MADE NO EFFORT TO TRY AND BRING YOU BACK TO THE CHURCH. YOU ARE CLOSE MINDED AND CLEARLY HAVE SOME AX TO GRIND AGAINST THE CHURCH. I WON’T BE PICKING YOU UP FOR CHURCH THIS SUNDAY MORNING (UNLESS YOU WANT ME TOO).
Look, you are free to have your opinions, but don’t tell me that I am trying to rescue you or coerce you back because I’m not and I haven’t. I have only sought to defend a church I believe in. I have my issues and questions about it too, but I still believe in it. You don’t, and that’s fine with me. We will somehow have to manage to go without you with us each week.
For the record, I don’t preach to you. And about finding peace, you pointed out recently about the “tremendous hurt the church had caused you”. That’s why I hope you find the peace that has alluded you.
Sorry about my name, my phone does this weird thing and I can’t erase it.
Anyways, I guess that’s why we don’t or we shouldn’t base our testimony on these stories. They’re nice to listen to but gaining your own personal revelation of the truth of the Book of Mormon. And on if the apostles and prophets are truly called of God.
I think it’s sad no not sad (my phone won’t let me backspace) I think it’s untrue that we are told that or testimony should be based on Joseph Smith and the first vision. Yes that is part of a basic testimony of the Church, but I think the foundation should be on Christ, his teachings and the scriptures.
Thanks. Also sort if it’s hard to understand…my phone is crazy.
The church has created a very uncomfortable sticky situation for themselves using this idea of telling a story in a way to be faith promoting even if it means altering the story. In the past many of these alterations were not known to very many people but with the advent of the internet and increased media those are becoming available to anyone with a computer throwing the church into a dilemma:
-do they correct the now documented alterations to the stories to make them more accurate and in doing so show that inaccurate alterations have been passed on now for years (many in our official manuals/lesson materials)? This will raise the question from some members as to why/how these false alterations started and why the church let them go on so long – even after many of them have been documented to be inaccurate. This could cause members to have doubts about their ability to trust the leaders. They may wonder what other things they’ve been taught are not completely accurate.
-do they continue to hope that these alterations aren’t found out by most of the members so they don’t have to address the issue? They could do this by having talks by GA’s about the dangers of the internet and ramp up fear about what you might come across. They could encourage members to continue to only go to official sources for their information and since they control those sources they can control the information. They could continue to highly correlate all material thereby continuing to perpetuate the inaccuracies knowing that most members will listen to the council to not read/look outside to anything that contradicts the official narrative.
-do they slowly try to replace some of these inaccurate stories with more accurate ones so that these changes happen over lots of time and perhaps won’t be as noticeable and cause members issues? How slowly should this happen and how much of the more accurate details should they release? Should they just release the minimum amount to make it look like they are trying to be more accurate and transparent but not all of it for fear of what that might do to members trust/testimonies? Maybe they can let off-shoot unofficial groups handle these issues like FAIR, BYU and that way they can continue to remain silent without making any official statements and admitting to anything and yet have the information get discussed and slowly more known.
You see the entire thing is a mess! Let’s face it for years and years…. the leaders have been made aware of some issues and they have continued to ignore them (we have some pretty well documented evidence of this – one example B.H. Roberts). They have made conscience decisions to correlate the material so they could control the outflow of the details and stories in order to have them be more faith promoting (we have evidence of this too in printed talks given by GA’s) and they have resisted changing that correlated material to be more accurate…. why we don’t really know because they don’t talk about it.
There is no way around this…. this is a big deal and a lot of members are leaving the church as a result of this “storytelling”. It will be very interesting to see how they navigate this and how fast they can adapt. There is too much information now out by very qualified scholars many of which are still believing members (Givens, Bushman, Compton, etc.) to discount this is an issue or to continue to paint it as anti-lies by enemies of the church. We now know there are inaccurate portrayals and significant issues/questions regarding some of the history of the church: Joseph Smith – his first vision, the BOM, the BOA, Council of 50, Polygamy(specifically JS’s behavior in this regarding how he chose his wives and asked them, their ages and Emma’s knowledge), early doctrines/teachings that are no longer referred to and even discounted now to be false (even though they were taught as doctrine by prophets/apostles).
A recent example is the official statements released recently about the priesthood changes made when all worthy males would be eligible. Those official statements/explanations do not reflect accurately the history of the priesthood ban at all…. they say the church/Brethren do not know exactly how/when this began or why…. all you have to do is read the direct quotes from Brigham Young who declared as prophet that it was doctrine from God and why it was doctrine. The early church leaders were not bashful at all about declaring why God was not allowing certain men to hold the priesthood. The official First Presidency statements that were published during this time to the church were pretty clear…. you just can’t hide this stuff anymore. The interesting thing is most members don’t even know those statements/quotes exist – why because they aren’t in any of the correlated material.
Their continued reticence in addressing these issues, admitting to these inaccurate narratives/explanations and correcting them is backfiring and will continue to do. This is not going away.