Mormonism and history/Censorship and revision
This page is a summary or index. More detailed information on this topic is available on the sub-pages below.
Critics claim that the church has "whitewashed" some of the information about its origins to appear more palatable to members and investigators. Some feel that this is done intentionally to hide negative aspects of church history. Others feel that it is done to focus on the good, but that it causes problems for believing members when they encounter these issues outside of church curriculum.
Church historians and church hierarchy are fully aware of its history, yet they maintain strong testimonies of the authenticity and authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Problems arise when faithful members can't reconcile a perfect Savior and his church being led by imperfect people. Developing an understanding that all people, even prophets of the Lord make mistakes. Only Jesus Christ himself was perfect.
- LDS histories over many years omit plural marriage—
Some critics charge that LDS histories have a long history of omitting mention of plural marriage as a cause for the Saints' troubles in Illinois. (Link)
- Sidney Rigdon trial in Times and Seasons versus History of the Church—
Critics charge that the account of Sidney Rigdon's 'trial' recorded in the Times and Seasons differs markedly from the version available in the History of the Church. They claim that this demonstrates the Church's tendency to "rewrite" history after the fact. (Link)
- Wilford Woodruff criticizes publication of polygamists—
Some critics charge that the Church's desire to hide its historical plural marriage is exemplified by Wilford Woodruff's criticism of assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson's decision to publish the names of those who were married to Joseph Smith. (Link)
- Hiding the facts in plain sight using Church publications—
Quite a few items that critics claim were hidden by the Church were actually published in Church magazines such as the New Era, the Ensign and the Friend. (Link)
- Orson Hyde's blessing altered in the History of the Church?—
Critics claim that the ordination blessing given to Orson Hyde is an example of false prophecy. They also claim that Hyde's blessing was altered in the History of the Church for propaganda reasons. (Link)
The presentation of "new" facts from Church history
Many critics will present a faithful member with some fact of church history and would have them believe that this is a new discovery. The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history. In fact, most, if not all of these documents have been well known to church historians for many years. Occasionally, a new document will be discovered which sheds additional light on some aspect of Church history. One such example is the discovery of documents that clarify that the Church was actually organized in Fayette rather than Manchester, as some have claimed. Situations such as this are rare, however. When the critic presents a "new" historical fact, you can rest assured that this very same "fact" has been discussed by LDS scholars for many years. There is truly little new information for the critics to draw from.
The critic presents these historical facts in order to shake the member's testimony, hopefully to the point of leaving the church. They attempt to present contradictions, such as "Joseph Smith drank wine at Carthage Jail, and therefore violated the Word of Wisdom." They attempt to catch Church leaders in deceit or portray them as hypocrites. Yet, there are many LDS experts on Church history that remain fully aware, faithful, actively attending church members. There are no facts that unarguably disprove the authenticity of the church. As always it comes down to faith and a personal witness between an individual and the Lord.
Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history. Yet, these very same critics quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims. This concern often rests on a misunderstanding. It is true that the Church's teachings are primarily doctrinal and devotional—Church lessons are neither apologetic nor historical in scope or intent.
It is remarkable, however, how many of the issues which critics charge the Church with "suppressing" are discussed in Church publications. Various issues are listed in the subarticle below, with references to Church sources which mention them. So, has the Church been suppressing the truth? You might be surprised to find out where some of these facts are actually hidden.
Levels of knowledge regarding Church history
LDS professor Daniel C. Peterson describes different "levels" of knowledge that members may have with respect to Church history.
Many years ago, while a graduate student in California, I heard the late Stanley B. Kimball (a Latter-day Saint scholar who taught at Southern Illinois University and published extensively on both European and Latter-day Saint historical subjects) speak to a small group about what he termed "the three levels of Mormon history."
He called the first of these "level A." This level, he said, is the Junior Sunday School version of church history, in which Mormons always wear the white hats, nobody disagrees, no leader ever makes a mistake, and all is unambiguously clear.
"Level B," he said, is the anti-Mormon version of church history—essentially a mirror image of level A or, alternatively, level A turned on its head. On level B, everything that you thought was good and true is actually false and bad. The Mormons (or, at least, their leaders) always or almost always wear black hats, and, to the extent that everything is unambiguously clear, Mormonism is unambiguously fraudulent, bogus, deceptive, and evil. Much in the level B version of Mormonism is simply false, of course; critics of the church have often failed to distinguish themselves for their honesty or for the care with which they've treated the issues they raise. But, in more than a few instances, level B approaches to Mormonism and its past are based on problems that are more or less real.
The church, Kimball reflected, tends to teach level A history. The trouble with this is that, like someone who has been kept in a germ-free environment and is then exposed to an infectious disease, a person on level A who is exposed to any of the issues that are the fodder for level B will have little resistance and will be likely to fall.
The only hope in such a case, he continued, is to press on to what he termed "level C," which is a version of church history that remains affirmative but which also takes into account any and all legitimate points stressed by level B. Those on level C are largely impervious to infection from level B. Level B formulations simply don't impress them....
Kimball said that he and his fellow historians operate on level C, and that, on the whole, that's where he (as a professional historian) would prefer members to be. He was deeply convinced, he said, that level C was essentially like level A, except that it is more nuanced and somewhat more ambiguous. (He emphatically denied that level A is "false," or that the church "lies" in teaching it.) He acknowledged, though, that, were he himself a high-ranking church leader, he would be hesitant to take the membership as a whole to level C by means of church curriculum and instruction for the obvious reason that moving people from level A to level C entails at least some exposure to some of the elements of level B, and that such exposure will unavoidably lead some to lose their testimonies. Still, he felt that those who make it through to level C are more stable and resilient in their faith than those who remain on level A. 
Specific examples of "changes" in History of the Church
- [note] Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction: Reflections on the Reactions to Rough Stone Rolling and Related Matters," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): xi–liv. off-site PDF link wiki