The following is an email I sent a couple of years ago to a family member who had lost her faith in the Church. At the time, one of the big issues for her was that the Church had “supressed” it’s awful past in an attempt to deceive people into belief. She gave a couple of examples (it was like pulling teeth to get any specifics at all!). Below is my response. Any deletions are marked […] and additions are [inside brackets].
Thank you for narrowing your email down. We can now discuss your original topic of “the suppression by the Mormon Church.”
“The current Mormon Church suppresses its non-faith-promoting history.” That is your original allegation. Webster’s Dictionary defines suppress in the following manners: “1: To put down by authority or force 2 a: to keep secret b: to stop or prohibit the publication or revelation of 3 a: to exclude from consciousness,” etc. I believe all of those definitions generally fit with the way you have used the word thus far.
In order to give supporting evidence to your claim that the Church “suppresses its non-faith-promoting history” you refer to the use of a pistol by Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail, the denials of Joseph Smith about his own polygamy, and the lack of information concerning Brigham Young’s polygamy in the 1998 Church manual. I will address each of these issues specifically.
Before discussing the two topics there are two questions that have to be asked.
Why would the Church want to suppress x y or z?
What evidence is there of suppression of x y or z?
Let’s first turn our attention to the Brigham Young manual, then Carthage Jail, then to Joseph Smith’s lying about polygamy.
First then, why would the Church wish to suppress the fact the Brigham Young was a polygamist? To this, I have no answer. I see no motive for it.
Second, what evidence is there of suppression? None at all. If the Church is trying to suppress this fact, it is doing a poor job indeed. I have yet to meet a member of the Church that wasn’t aware of this fact or even a non-member who had heard of Brigham Young that didn’t also know of his practicing polygamy. By definition there can be no suppression where the knowledge is already common and readily available. It is not suppression to NOT mention that the sky is blue. Everybody already knows that.
You also have to observe the context of your allegations. If the church were trying to suppress its history on polygamy it wouldn’t print information about it anywhere. It would be extremely silly to “suppress” it in one place and not in another. As a matter of fact, the Church cannot be accused of suppression at all so long as it makes the information available. Interestingly, polygamy is mentioned in the Joseph F. Smith manual, the John Taylor manual, and the Wilford Woodruff manual. There is even a
picture of Joseph F. Smith’s plural wives in that manual on page 349 for those who prefer looking at pictures to reading. Of course it is also found in the institute manuals, the Church History volumes as well as the Doctrine and Covenants. Also, thousands of people tour the Beehive home of Brigham Young in Salt Lake every year where the full-time missionary tour guides mention his polygamist family and the practical day-in day-out routines associated with the chores of such a large family well as many stories of the polygamist wives and so forth. This I know from two different individuals who served full-time missions there and on Temple Square. The overwhelming evidence is that although the manual doesn’t mention his polygamy the Church has not and is not trying to suppress its polygamist roots.
Why then doesn’t it mention it in the manual? Well, I believe that question is answered by understanding the purpose of the manual. I quote from page v. of the introduction. “This book reflects the desire of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to deepen the doctrinal understanding
of Church members and to awaken within them a greater desire to know the things of God.” The book is composed of “extracts from Brigham Young’s sermons to the early Saints” arranged topically.
Mentioning Brigham Young’s polygamous practices would in no way add to the focus of the manual to deepen doctrinal understanding or to help members of the church to have a greater desire to know the things of God. The book is set up in sections according to doctrinal, not historical or biographical, topics. Therefore the obvious lack of history and biography in the book.
There are a few changes in the text where Brigham Young was preaching on how a man should treat his “wives.” The text replaces “wives” with “wife” since no Latter-day Saints are currently polygamist. Further, the text notes the change in the book by placing the word in [brakets]. Further there are references, most of which come from the Discourses of Brigham Young (a very popular book) to which any member can refer for more information. There is no attempt at concealing the change.
Accusing the Church of suppression for not mentioning the well-known fact of
Brigham Young’s polygamy in a book that is not historical or biographical in
nature is like accusing a music teacher of suppression for failing to
mention that the sky is blue while trying to teach students an appreciation
I think the case for suppression here is very weak and completely unfounded.
Joseph Smith’s use of a gun at the martyrdom at Carthage Jail.
You said in your first email to me that “the church doesn’t tell this fact in the Carthage Jail tour, its lessons or talks.” Therefore, the church is trying to cover up this fact because it could be damaging to or less than “faith-promoting” for the members.
In response, I don’t personally know whether they have or do mention it in the Carthage Jail tour. Both mom and dad say they heard it there before, but it could have been years ago. Further, it may very well depend on who the missionary is that is guiding the tour and what questions those receiving the tour ask. So, as far as that goes, in order to be perfectly honest, I would have to say I do not know for certain as to whether it is mentioned consistently or at all at the Carthage Jail tour. I was there exactly two years ago, but I don’t remember if it was mentioned or not.
[But, the church history museum has the very pistols used on display on the first floor. So much for trying to suppress them!]
As far as lessons go, you can find it mentioned in the Institute manual entitled “Church History in the Fullness of Times” on page 282. This manual is used in all institute classes on Church History as well as all the church history classes offered at BYU. The Church encourages college-aged students to take as much Institute as possible. The manual is available to any member who would like a copy and is often found in ward libraries. The institute teachers encourage the students to read their manual. Therefore,
the church openly encourages members to read the manual and discuss its contents, some of which refer directly to the fact that Joseph Smith successfully fired three shots and wounded three men in Carthage Jail.
As far as [other church materials] go, it is mentioned THREE times in the June 1994 ensign. The Ensign is the biggest media organ of the Church. The first mention is in the First Presidency message of the Ensign in June 1994 where Thomas S. Monson mentions the use of a gun by Joseph Smith in Carthage jail. The
First Presidency message is given to home teachers to relate to their families whom they are responsible for. All families of the church, active or inactive, have home teachers assigned who are supposed to visit them [monthly] and share the message with them from the ensign. Therefore, every family of the
Church should have had the opportunity to hear or read about it for themselves. Further, the ensigns from the last thirty years are all found on lds.org and can be searched or read by any person in the world at any time. Where is the basis for suppression here? How many times does it have to be mentioned in the ensign in order for it to not be “suppressed” (‘2 a: to keep secret b: to stop or prohibit the publication or revelation of’)? It is mentioned two more times in the same June Ensign (See “Martyrdom at
Carthage,” Reed Blake).
In conclusion, there is no real evidence of suppression here. Further, there is no obvious reason or need for suppression to start with. There is nothing to hide and nothing has been hidden.
Did Joseph Smith lie about his polygamous practices?
You quoted a public denial of Joseph Smith concerning his practice of polygamy. You thereby insinuate that Joseph Smith was purposefully suppressing the truth because it was not “faith-promoting.” Further you stated that the church is suppressing the fact that he may have been deceptive.
Let’s have a look at the facts and consider the context of Joseph Smith’s denials.
Joseph Smith and Latter-day Saints saw polygamy as a religious practice instituted by God (D&C 132). In the 19th century such a practice was appalling to [Puritan] tradition and often contrary to the law. The state of Illinois had an anti-bigamy act during the days of Nauvoo. A public announcement of the practice in the 1840’s in Illinois would have provoked more persecution from the anti-Mormons and could have brought consequences imposed by the state. What was Joseph Smith to do?
It has long been held by American citizens as well as many people throughout the world, that government has no right to coerce the God-given conscience of man. “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience…” (D&C 134:2). In other words, government has no place in coercing the free exercise of conscience. What happens when government does pass laws that conflict with human conscience? Should man submit to government? Is the government the ultimate decider of right and
wrong? No, not unless you believe in fascism. As far as freedom of religion and exercise of conscience, “We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilty, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” (D&C 134:4) In other words, so long as a person’s religious views do not infringe on the rights of another citizen, the government has no right to proscribe laws to govern religious practice or human conscience. In this, only to God are men amenable. Further, “We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the
laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy” (D&C 134:7).
Gandhi was like-minded. “Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?-in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.
The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.” That is, when your conscience conflicts with the “law” of the land, you must choice to follow your conscience. A great example of this is found in Nazi Germany. Would you be willing to “illegally” harbor Jews in your home to protect their lives or would you suppress your conscience in order to follow the will of the government?
Now, in context, Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints all held polygamy as a revealed truth from God (Whether you agree or not is a non-issue at present). Therefore to practice polygamy, though considered illegal by the state or later by the nation, was a matter of the conscience. The question Joseph Smith had to answer was “to whom will I be obedient, the State of Illinois or to God?” Ultimately, he chose God. Thus the “illegal” practice of polygamy in Illinois. Your accusation of Joseph Smith committing
“adultery” is thus true on a technical level and in the strict sense of the law then in operation in Illinois, but not before the eyes of God, in the mind of Joseph Smith, or others who embraced the principle of polygamy contrary to the laws of the land.
Concerning his “lying” about polygamy-What were his options? Should he publicly announce polygamy and thus bring down the wrath of the anti-Mormons, the state, and even some of the Mormons who were as yet unprepared for the principle? That could bring about great conflict, loss of lives (both Mormon and non-Mormon), the destruction of Nauvoo, and so forth. On the other hand, if he could teach the principle privately to the prepared and keep the practice in secret until the time came that a public statement would do no great harm, the troubles could be avoided. What is more important? Sometimes there are conflicts between moral choices.
Just think of the Nazi example. You listened to your conscience and harbored the Jews to protect their lives. The Nazi’s knock on your door and ask you if your harboring Jews. You have several choices:
1. You can decide that “honesty” is the most important moral value and tell the truth at the cost of lives of the your Jewish guests
2. You can refuse to answer the question by remaining silent and thereby appear guilty and possibly infuriate the Nazi’s to kill you and your Jewish guests
3. You can “lie” to the Nazis and perhaps even lie to your friends and neighbors in order to keep them from revealing your secret and to protect your Jewish guests.
Which would you chose? You could place “honesty” above the life of the Jews or your own life or you can lie in order to protect them and yourself from a “law” that in reality is contrary to the will of God.
Joseph Smith’s circumstances were not much different. When faced with questions about polygamy on a public level he could
1. Tell the truth and thereby reap devastation to the Church at the cost of lives, loss of property, and great persecution
2. Refuse to say whether he practiced polygamy or not and thereby appear guilty and possibly reap the same response as in example 1.
3. He could publicly “lie” about the practice (even to his friends and neighbors) while continuing to teach it to all who he could trust, thus preserving the Church, lives, property, great persecution, and the practice itself that he saw as divinely instituted.
There is no real choice for a person of any moral integrity in either the Nazi situation or in the situation that confronted Joseph Smith.
Now, the question naturally arises-did any prophet of the past ever have to “lie”? Did God ever command [or condone] deceit? I’ll here examine a few examples.
Abraham and Isaac lied about their marital status in order to preserve the lives of their families (Gen. 12:10-20; 26:6-13). The Egyptian midwives ignored the murderous instructions of the Pharaoh, the civil leader, to kill the Israelite baby-boys and then lied about why they hadn’t killed them because they “feared God” more than Pharaoh (Exodus 1:16-19). A more interesting example is that of the commandments of the Lord to Moses. Here he gives him his prophetic call to lead Israel into the Promised Land.
“And I [the Lord] have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17)
The Lord clearly gives his intent to liberate the Israelites from slavery and to lead them to the land of promise. But, in the very next breath as it were, He tells Moses what to tell Pharaoh-the “public story.”
“And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the
Lord our God” (Exodus 3:18).
The “public stance” and the “truth” are really two different things. The Lord gave both to Moses. The Lord intended to free the Israelites from bondage but told Moses to tell Pharaoh that they were only going to go sacrifice for “three days.” Why? Undoubtedly because the Israelites would have been killed before leaving Egypt had the Pharaoh known the full story. Moses, who was the greatest prophet in Israel (Deuteronomy 34:10) to whom Jesus Christ was likened (Deut. 18:15-19; Acts 3:22-23), “lied” by
command of the Lord. Isn’t this identical to the “lying” of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo? The parallels are striking indeed.
Joseph Smith’s deception was no more suppressive in nature than was that of Moses, Abraham, or Isaac. Indeed he was a prophet as were they.
Lastly, there is no basis for the church “suppressing” this information. It is found in the History of the Church as well as the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (which was overseen by two apostles). The Encyclopedia of Mormonism actually gives a recommendation to read “Mormon Polygamy: A
history” by Van Wagoner, which happens to spend an entire chapter on Joseph Smith’s deceit concerning polygamy. If the church were suppressing this fact, don’t you think they could do a better job? You only feel that it is suppressed because you never took the opportunity to learn it for yourself until recently. There is no suppression.
In conclusion, anti-Mormons have for years tried to accuse the Mormon Church of suppressing “the facts” in an attempt to make people think there is something to be suppressed. If there is something to be suppressed then something must be wrong. Well, there is nothing wrong and nothing to be suppressed and therefore there is no suppression. It would be welcomed relief to see such arguments blasted away by a big dose of honesty and to become a thing of the past. However, I don’t see that as a real possibility
for people who are generally more concerned with propagating their message than with personal integrity or honesty. Purposefully baring false witness in an attempt to tear down another person or religion is sin. A person who thus lives knowingly in sin, according to the Bible, does not know Christ
nor is his disciple and cannot receive eternal life. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4, cf with John 17:3).
Why would the lying continue then?
“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall no them” (Matt. 7:20)