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Has the Church "whitewashed" its history?

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Question: Has the Church "whitewashed" some of the information about its origins to appear more palatable to members and investigators?

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

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.

The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to 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 they quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims

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.


Question: What are the different levels of knowledge that members may have about Church history?

There are different 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. [1]


Question: Do Mormon histories have a long history of omitting mention of plural marriage as a cause for the Saints' troubles in Illinois?

The claim that six Latter-day Saint histories omit plural marriage as a cause for difficulties in Nauvoo is clearly false

Note: This wiki section was based partly on a review of G.D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy. As such, it focuses on that author's presentation of the data. To read the full review, follow the link. Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

"Mormons accepted as sufficient the explanation that Joseph Smith’s death was due to an angry mob, without caring to know specifically what those Illinois neighbors had been angry about,” writes one critical author, citing five works from 1888 to 1979 (pp. 5, 449–50, n. 105). These references provide a textbook example of footnotes that do not support one’s claims. [2]

The author's claim that these six histories omit plural marriage as a cause for difficulties in Nauvoo is clearly false.[3]

Roberts: Contrary to the author's claim about Roberts’s Comprehensive History, Roberts described plural marriage

Contrary to G. D. Smith’s claim about Roberts’s Comprehensive History, Roberts described plural marriage, concluding, “Bearing this situation in mind, I am sure the reader will better appreciate the many complications which follow in this Nauvoo period of our history.”[4] Roberts’s discussion of the Expositor reminds the reader of “the introduction of the practice of the new marriage system of the church, permitting under special conditions a plurality of wives,” and notes that the dissident paper had “charged the Prophet with exercising illegal authority, both in ecclesiastical and civil affairs; with the introduction of the plural wife system, and other supposed doctrinal heresies; with gross immoralities; and malfeasance in the administration of the affairs of the church.”

Roberts did not deny that errors by the Saints played a role:

This bitterness had been created in the public mind in large part through the misrepresentations that had been made of the purposes and designs of the church leaders; in part by the unwisdom of church members, for whom no claim is made of impeccability, either in word or action; nor is absolute inerrancy in judgment and policy claimed for even the leaders of the church.[5]

Joseph Fielding Smith: Admits the introduction of plural marriage by Joseph Smith and writes that the Prophet was arrested on a charge of polygamy

For his claim that plural marriage was ignored as a cause of Joseph’s death, G. D. Smith also cites Joseph Fielding Smith’s Essentials of Church History. Yet Joseph Fielding Smith both admits the introduction of plural marriage by Joseph Smith and writes that the Prophet was arrested on a charge of polygamy.[6]

Berrett argues that one of the new doctrines that set the Saints apart was "the doctrine of plural marriage"

G. D. Smith’s appeal to William E. Berrett’s The Restored Church for the suppression thesis is likewise unpersuasive. In a section titled “Causes of the Conflict in Illinois,” Berrett argues that one of the new doctrines that set the Saints apart

was especially responsible for bringing persecution upon the Church. That was the doctrine of plural marriage by divine sanction. . . . In 1840, the doctrine was taught to a few leading brethren who, with the Prophet, secretly married additional wives in the following year. This secrecy could not be long kept, yet the doctrine was not openly discussed. This state of affairs gave rise to serious slander outside the Church. . . . He was convinced that the practice of the doctrine would bring bitter persecution upon the Church and eventually cause him to lose his life. . . . The Prophet was aware that the social order he contemplated would arouse bitter opposition in Illinois. . . . And this not because the Mormons were hard to get along with, or because non-Mormons were wicked, but because the teachings of the Church and the existing social orders were so directly in conflict. (italics in original)[7]

That Berrett’s work was originally published by the church’s Educational Department in 1937 (a fact not noted in G. D. Smith’s footnote) is significant.

Whitney tells the well-known story of Joseph requesting Vilate Kimball as his wife

G. D. Smith’s footnote also suggests that Orson F. Whitney’s biography of Heber C. Kimball supports his view. Whitney’s biography tells the well-known story of Joseph requesting Vilate Kimball as his wife and introduces the martyrdom by declaring that “without doubt, the revelation of the great principle of plural marriage was a prime cause of the troubles which now arose, culminating in the Prophet’s martyrdom and the exodus of the Church into the wilderness.”<ref<{{Book:Whitney:Life of Heber C. Kimball|pages=323–29, (emphasis added)</ref>

Arrington and Bitton: “An additional element [that] contributed to the Mormons’ problems in Illinois—as if more were required—were the rumors of plural marriage that began to circulate in Nauvoo"

Finally, Smith appeals to Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton’s The Mormon Experience. These authors again note the contribution of polygamy that G. D. Smith insists Mormon histories ignore. The following language contradicts his thesis: “An additional element [that] contributed to the Mormons’ problems in Illinois—as if more were required—were the rumors of plural marriage that began to circulate in Nauvoo,” and “paradoxically, continuing revelation . . . contributed to the divisions of Nauvoo because of the development during this period of certain unusual doctrines, . . . especially plural marriage.” “From the first, polygamy was an explosive issue,” according to Arrington and Bitton. “A scandal to non-Mormon neighbors, it also caused a number of defections within the Mormon camp even before the death of Joseph Smith. . . . By the fall of 1843 the subject of plurality was on every tongue in the city.” Arrington and Bitton also point out that the Expositor “contained inflammatory allegations about the sex lives of Mormon leaders and members.”[8]

Godfrey: “Saints were accused of believing in plural marriage...this doctrine and practice became a major source of non-Mormon resentment.”

G. D. Smith even goes so far as to claim that “one LDS Educator in 1967 wrote about the ‘causes’ of conflict in Nauvoo and mentioned Joseph’s death as a watershed moment . . . without mentioning plural marriage.” He cites the seventh chapter of Kenneth W. Godfrey’s 1967 PhD dissertation for this claim.[9] This chapter is actually entitled “Plural Marriage.” “As early as 1836,” wrote Godfrey, the “Saints were accused of believing in plural marriage. But it was not until the Nauvoo period . . . that this doctrine and practice became a major source of non-Mormon resentment.”[9]:91 Godfrey discusses the first hints of plural marriage in 1831, the Fanny Alger marriage, and Oliver Cowdery’s angry reaction.

When he treats the Nauvoo period, Godfrey notes that “by 1841 or 1842 plural marriage was secretly being practiced with increased frequency.” Godfrey even follows, without comment, Brodie’s exaggerated estimate of forty-nine wives for Joseph.[9]:95 He also details the secrecy surrounding plural marriage and the deception used to maintain it:

Possibly Joseph Smith, partly because of Gentile opposition, kept the doctrine as secret as possible. . . . It was kept so secret that many members of the Church denied that it was even taught. . . . Even though some members of the Church denied the existence of plural marriage, there are a number of documents to support the view that, among the faithful, many such marriages were being performed.[9]:97-98

Contrary to G. D. Smith’s claim that polygamy’s impact was ignored by Latter-day Saint historians, Godfrey wrote that “gradually rumors became more and more persistent regarding the Mormon matrimonial system,” adding that one author “argues that ‘spiritual wifery was one of the leading causes of the Mormon-Gentile trouble in Hancock County.’”[9]:99-100 John C. Bennett and Oliver Olney had published about polygamy, and Godfrey argues that “such extensive publicity appears to have aroused the public against Mormonism and its marriage system.”[9]:103 Bennett’s claims about a Cyprian order of women “available to any Mormon who desired her . . . was . . . not true but nevertheless it was somewhat effective in arousing the public mind against Mormonism.”[9]:108

Godfrey also quotes extensively from the 25 April 1844 edition of the Warsaw Signal to demonstrate the animus in which polygamy was held.[9]:92n930 As his narrative approaches Joseph’s death, Godfrey argues that “one of the reasons for the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor was to publicly proclaim opposition to the plurality of wives doctrine as taught by the Prophet.”[9]:106-107

The Warsaw Signal listed spiritual wifeism as one of the major reasons for its opposition to the Mormons, and many claimed that the Prophet . . . was a licentious seducer of young women. Such declarations played their role in arousing public indignation against the Mormons and their marriage system. If polygamy was not the main reason for the Mormon expulsion, at least it can safely be said that it aroused the moral indignation of many people.[9]:108-11

Contrary to what G. D. Smith asserts, Godfrey dealt with polygamy as a cause of the hostilities towards the Saints in Nauvoo. His abstract and conclusion summarize his views:

Peculiar religious beliefs held by Latter-day Saints caused some of the difficulties they experienced in Illinois. Such doctrines as plural marriage . . . led to further hostility. . . . Perhaps in retrospect both Mormons and non-Mormons were to blame for the disharmony. . . . The Mormons . . . engaged in a marriage system held by Gentiles to be adulterous. . . . Since polygamy was unannounced yet practiced, credance [sic] was given to the claims of former Mormons which cast even more doubt upon the Prophet’s character. It become [sic] almost impossible to overstress the role exscinded Mormons played in arousing people against leaders of the Church.[9]:2-3, 215

The claim that an “LDS educator” discussed the Illinois troubles “without even mentioning plural marriage” is false.


Question: Why does 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?

The history may have been modified by Joseph's successors for noble or base reasons, and they may have served or harmed historical accuracy in doing so

The basic story is essentially unchanged—Joseph wanted to get rid of Sidney, and did not fully trust him or have much confidence in him even when he continued in his role as counselor. Joseph held out some hope that Sidney would rise to his calling, and it is this that is omitted in the History of the Church's version.

The history may have been modified by Joseph's successors for noble or base reasons, and they may have served or harmed historical accuracy in doing so. It is difficult to determine which at this remove.

If those compiling the history did wrong, this simply demonstrates that fallible leaders are not without faults, flaws, or improper jealousies. Most members, however, would probably conclude that the History of the Church version removed the ambiguity in Joseph's initial response simply because Sidney had clearly failed to measure up—for the compilers, there was ambiguity no longer.

Needless to say, such a procedure does not meet modern historical standards, and ought not be undertaken today.

The two accounts are compared in the table below

The two accounts are compared in the table below (paragraphing has been slightly altered so the accounts will align better for comparison). Red italics have been added, the green text is italicized in the original History of the Church:

Times and Seasons version[10] History of the Church version[11]


MINUTES OF A SPECIAL CONFERENCE. Of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held in the City of Nauvoo, commencing on the 6th of October, 1843.

Friday, October 6th, 10 o'clock A. M.

The weather proving unfavorable, the organization of the conference was postponed until the next day at 10 o'clock, A. M.

Saturday, 10 'clock A. M. Conference assembled and proceeded to business.

President Joseph Smith was called to the chair, and Gustavus Hills chosen clerk.

Opened with singing by the choir, and prayer by elder Almon Babbitt. The president stated the items of business to be brought before the Conference, to be,

1st. The case and standing of elder Sidney Rigdon, counsellor to the First Presidency.

2d. The further progress of the Temple; after which, any miscellaneous business.

Elder Sidney Rigdon addressed the conference on the subject of his situation and circumstances among the saints.

President Joseph Smith addressed the conference, inviting an expression of any charges or complaints which the Conference had to make. He sated his dissatisfaction with elder Sidney Rigdon as a counsellor, not having received any material benefit from his labors or counsels since their escape from Missouri. Several complaints were then brought forward in reference to his management in the Post Office; a supposed correspondence in connection with John C. Bennett, with Ex-Governor Carlin, and with the Missourians, of a treacherous character: also his leaguing with dishonest persons in endeavoring to defraud the innocent.

President Joseph Smith related to the Conference the detention of documents from J. Butterfield, Esq., which were designed for the benefit of himself, (President Smith,) but was not handed over for some three or four weeks, greatly to his disadvantage. Also, an indirect testimony from Missouri, through the mother of Orin P. Rockwell, that said Rigdon and others had given information, by letter, of President Smiths' visit to Dixon, advising them to proceed to that place and arrest him there. He stated that in consequence of those, and other circumstances, and his unprofitableness to him as a counsellor, he did not wish to retain him in that station, unless those difficulties could be removed; but desired his salvation, and expressed his willingness that he should retain a place among the saints.

Elder Almon Babbitt suggested the propriety of limiting the complaints and proofs to circumstances that had transpired since the last Conference.

President Joseph Smith replied, and showed the legality and propriety of a thorough investigation, without such limitation.

Elder Sidney Rigdon plead, concerning the documents from J. Butterfield, Esq., that he received it in answer to some inquiries which he had transmitted to him that he received it at a time when he was sick, and unable to examine it -- did not know that it was designed for the perusal and benefit of President Joseph Smith -- that he had, consequently, ordered it to be laid aside, where it remained until inquired for by Joseph Smith. He had never written to Missouri concerning the visit of Joseph Smith to Dixon, and knew of no other person having done so. That, concerning certain rumors of belligerent operations under Governor Carlin's administration, he had related them, not to alarm or disturb any one, but that he had the rumors form good authorities, and supposed them well founded. That he had never received but one communication from John C. Bennett, and that of a business character, except one addressed to him conjointly with Elder Orson Pratt, which he handed over to President Smith -- that he had never written any letters to John C. Bennett.

The weather becoming inclement, Conference adjourned until Sunday 10 o'clock A. M.


Sunday, 8th inst., 10 o'clock, A. M.

Conference assembled agreeably to the adjournment and opened with singing by the choir, and prayer by Elder William W. Phelps.

Elder Sidney Rigdon resumed his plea of defence. He related the circumstances of his reception in the city of Quincy, after his escape from Missouri the cause of his delay in not going to the city of Washington, on an express to which he had been appointed -- and closed with a moving appeal to President Joseph Smith concerning their former friendship, associations and sufferings, and expressed his willingness to resign his place, though with sorrowful and indescribable feelings. During this address, the sympathies of the congregation were highly excited.

Elder Almon Babbitt related a conversation he had had with Esq. Johnson, in which he exonerated elder Sidney Rigdon from the charge or suspicion of having had treacherous correspondence with Ex-Governor Carlin.

President Joseph Smith arose and satisfactorily explained to the congregation the supposed treacherous correspondence with Ex-Governor Carlin, which wholly removed suspicion from elder Sidney Rigdon, and from every other person. He expressed entire willingness to have elder Sidney Rigdon retain his station, provided he would magnify his office, and walk and conduct himself in all honesty, righteousness, and integrity; but signified his lack of confidence in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.

President Hyrum Smith followed with appropriate and expressive remarks on the attribute of mercy in God, as that by which He influences, controls, and conquers -- and the propriety and importance of the saint's exercising the same attribute towards their fellows; and especially towards their aged companion and fellow servant in the cause of truth and righteousness.

Elder Almon Babbitt and pres't. Wm. Law followed with remarks in defence of elder Sidney Rigdon.

On motion by President William Marks, and seconded by President Hyrum Smith, Conference voted that elder Sidney Rigdon be permitted to retain his station as Counsellor to the First Presidency.




Singing by the choir prayer by pres't. Wm. Law.

Conference adjourned for one hour.

MINUTES OF A SPECIAL CONFERENCE. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Special Conference, held in the City of Nauvoo, commencing on the 6th of October, 1843.

Friday, October 6, ten o'clock, a.m.

The weather proving unfavorable, the organization of the Conference was postponed until the next day at ten o'clock, a.m.

Saturday, ten o'clock, a.m. Conference assembled and proceeded to business.

President Joseph Smith was called to the chair, and Gustavus Hills was chosen clerk.

Singing by the choir, and prayer by Elder Almon W. Babbitt. The president stated the items of business to be brought before the conference to be—

1st. The case and standing of Elder Sidney Rigdon, Counselor in the First Presidency.

2nd. The further progress of the Temple; after which, any miscellaneous business.

Elder Sidney Rigdon addressed the conference on the subject of his situation and circumstances among the Saints.

President Joseph Smith addressed the conference, inviting an expression of any charges or complaints which the conference had to make. He stated his dissatisfaction with Elder Sidney Rigdon as a Counselor, not having received any material benefit from his labors or counsels since their escape from Missouri. Several complaints were then brought forward in reference to his management in the post office; a supposed corespondence and connection with John C. Bennett, with Ex-Governor Carlin, and with the Missourians, of a treacherous character; also his leaguing with dishonest persons in endeavoring to defraud the innocent.

President Joseph Smith related to the conference the detention of a document from Justin Butterfield, Esq., which was designed for the benefit of himself, (President Smith,) but was not handed over for some three or four weeks, greatly to his disadvantage; also, an indirect testimony from Missouri, through the mother of Orrin P. Rockwell, that said Rigdon and others had given information, by letter, of President Smith's visit to Dixon, advising them to proceed to that place [p.48] and arrest him there. He stated that, in consequence of these and other circumstances, and Elder Rigdon's unprofitableness to him as a Counselor, he did not wish to retain him in that station, unless those difficulties could be removed; but desired his salvation, and expressed his willingness that he should retain a place among the Saints.


Elder Almon W. Babbitt suggested the propriety of limiting the complaints and proofs to circumstances that had transpired since the last conference.

President Joseph Smith replied, and showed the legality and propriety of a thorough investigation, without such limitation.

Elder Sidney Rigdon pleaded, concerning the document from Justin Butterfield, Esq., that he received it in answer to some inquiries which he [Rigdon] had transmitted to him [Butterfield]; that he [Rigdon] received it at a time when he was sick, and unable to examine it; did not know that it was designed for the perusal and benefit of President Joseph Smith; that he had, consequently, ordered it to be laid aside, where it remained until inquired for by Joseph Smith. He had never written to Missouri concerning the visit of Joseph Smith to Dixon, and knew of no other person having done so. That, concerning certain rumors of belligerent operations under Governor Carlin's administration, he had related them, not to alarm or disturb any one; but that he had the rumors from good authorities, and supposed them well founded. That he had never received but one communication from John C. Bennett, and that of a business character, except one addressed to him conjointly with Elder Orson Pratt, which he handed over to President Smith. That he had never written any letters to John C. Bennett. The weather becoming inclement, conference adjourned until Sunday, ten o'clock, a.m.


Sunday, 8th, ten o'clock, a.m. Conference assembled agreeably to adjournment.


Singing by the choir, and prayer by Elder William W. Phelps.

Elder Sidney Rigdon resumed his plea of defense. He related the circumstances of his reception in the city of Quincy, after his escape from Missouri,—the cause of his delay in not going to the city of Washington, on an express to which he had been appointed: and closed with a moving appeal to President Joseph Smith, concerning their former friendship, associations, and sufferings; and expressed his willingness to resign his place, though with sorrowful and indescribable feelings. During this address, the sympathies of the congregation were highly excited.

Elder Almon W. Babbitt related a conversation he had had with Esquire Johnson, in which he exonerated Elder Sidney Rigdon from the [p.49] charge or suspicion of having had a treacherous correspondence with ex-Governor Carlin.

President Joseph Smith arose and explained to the congregation the supposed treacherous correspondence with ex-Governor Carlin, and expressed entire lack of confidence in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.


Patriarch Hyrum Smith followed with appropriate and impressive remarks on the attributes of mercy in God, as that by which He influences. controls and conquers; and the propriety and importance of the Saints exercising the same attribute towards their fellows, and especially towards their aged companion and fellow-servant in the cause of truth and righteousness.

Elder Almon W. Babbitt and President William Law followed with remarks in defense of Elder Sidney Rigdon.

On motion by President William Marks, and seconded by Patriarch Hyrum Smith, conference voted that Elder Sidney Rigdon be permitted to retain his station as Counselor in the First Presidency.

President Joseph Smith arose and said, "I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. "You may carry him, but I will not." [Fn 2:This paragraph in Italics appears as footnote in the Ms. History.]

Singing. Prayer by Elder William Law.

Conference adjourned for one hour.

There are only two significant differences between the accounts

Thus, there are only two significant differences:

Times and Seasons version History of the Church version

President Joseph Smith arose and satisfactorily explained to the congregation the supposed treacherous correspondence with Ex-Governor Carlin, which wholly removed suspicion from elder Sidney Rigdon, and from every other person. He expressed entire willingness to have elder Sidney Rigdon retain his station, provided he would magnify his office, and walk and conduct himself in all honesty, righteousness, and integrity; but signified his lack of confidence in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.

(Material in bold was removed from the History of the Church account.)

President Joseph Smith arose and explained to the congregation the supposed treacherous correspondence with ex-Governor Carlin, and expressed entire lack of confidence in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.

(Material in bold was added to the History of the Church account.)

No corresponding text

President Joseph Smith arose and said, "I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. "You may carry him, but I will not." [Fn 2:This paragraph in Italics appears as footnote in the Ms. History.]

A modern historian, of course, cringes at this modification of the original text

In both cases, it is clear that Joseph still does not trust Sidney, even after he has been cleared of the issue with Gov. Carlin's letters. In the contemporaneous text, however, Joseph does express willingness to keep Sidney as councilor if he will conduct himself properly (though he still expresses doubt that he will).

Since Sidney was kept on as councilor, for him to have any chance of success or influence, Joseph could not simply "cut him off at the knees"—that would guarantee Sidney's failure. Thus, the contemporary account allowed for the possibility of Sidney's proper functioning, though Joseph remained publicly dubious, and privately even more so.

By the time the History of the Church was printed, Sidney had nearly torn the Church apart. He had challenged the right of Brigham Young and the Twelve to lead after Joseph's death. Thus, those compiling the history were firmly convinced that Sidney had failed his chance. Those who compiled it may also have not wanted to portray Joseph as at all 'wrong' about Sidney—they may have known (or believed) that Joseph considered his conciliatory remarks to be of little hope. Or, on a more cynical interpretation, they may have wished to undermine Sidney's claims to leadership after Joseph's death.

It should be noted too that this account is not a verbatim transcript—it is an author's summary of what they heard. Some who compiled the history were doubtless present at the same meeting. They may have remembered the matter quite differently, especially with the passage of time and subsequent events which made them more hostile to Sidney. They may well have seen the Times and Seasons report as too biased in Sidney's favor, or (as discussed above) bending over backward to soft-peddle what Joseph had actually said. They may, then, have seen themselves as restoring accuracy which had been compromised.

The note about the Manuscript History is clearly marked as an addition, and was not included in the original account. It may represent:

(a) a properly-remembered public remark of Joseph's that was not inserted into the record at that time to spare Sidney's effectiveness;
(b) a properly-remembered remark of Joseph's to the Twelve or others; or
(c) a mis-remembered or deliberately fabricated remark inserted after Joseph's death to weaken Sidney's claims to the succession.

One's attitude to Joseph, Sidney, the Twelve, and the Church's truth claims will probably determine which explanation seems most plausible to each reader.


Question: Does Oliver Cowdery's blessing and promise to Orson Hyde contain a false prophecy, which was then altered before being printed in History of the Church?

Claims of "false prophecy" rest upon the most narrow, critical reading possible, and ignore important aspects of LDS thought and theology

It is claimed that the ordination blessing given to Orson Hyde is an example of false prophecy. It is also claimed that Hyde's blessing was altered in the History of the Church for propaganda reasons. [12]

Changes made to the text clarify but do not alter its meaning. Claims of "false prophecy" rest upon the most narrow, critical reading possible, and ignore important aspects of LDS thought and theology.

Text of the Orson Hyde blessing was edited in History of the Church?

The original of Hyde's blessing is in the Kirtland Council Minute book. It is compared here (left) with the version as it appears in the History of the Church (bold text indicates differences):

Kirtland Council Minute Book History of the Church

Orson Hyde blessing. Oliver Cowdery proceeded and called upon the Lord to smile upon him and that his faith shall be perfect, and that the blessings promised shall be realized. He shall be made mighty and be endowed with power from on high, and go forth to the nations of the earth to proclaim the gospel. That he shall escape all the pollutions of the world. The Angels shall uphold him, and that he shall go forth according to the commandment, both to Jew & Gentile and shall go to all nations, kingdoms and tongues and shall All who hear his voice, shall acknowledge him to be a servant of God. He shall be equal in holding the Keys of the Kingdom. He shall stand on the earth and bring souls till Christ comes. We know that he loves thee, and may this thy servant be able to walk through pestilence and not be harmed. The powers of darkness shall have no ascending over him. He shall have power to smite the earth with pestilence, to divide waters and lead through the Saints. He shall go from land to land and from sea to sea. He shall be like unto one of the three Nephites.

Oliver Cowdery called upon the Lord to smile upon him; that his faith be made perfect, and that the blessings pronounced may be realized; that he be made mighty, and be endued with powers from on high, and go forth to the nations of the earth to proclaim the Gospel, that he may escape all the pollutions of the world; that the angels shall uphold him; and that he shall go forth according to the commandment, both to Jew and Gentile, and to all nations, kingdoms and tongues; that all who hear his voice shall acknowledge him to be a servant of God; that he shall be equal with his brethren in holding the keys of the kingdom; that he may stand on the earth and bring souls till Christ comes. We know that he loves Thee, O, Lord, and may this Thy [p.190] servant be able to walk through pestilence and not be harmed; and the powers of darkness have no ascendency over him; may he have power to smite the earth with pestilence; to divide waters, and lead through the Saints; may he go from land to land and from sea to sea, and may he be like one of the three Nephites.

The word "shall" was changed to "may"

The majority of the changes alter a phrase like "shall" to a phrase like "may." The critics presumably wish to mislead the unwary into concluding that the initial version gave unconditional promises or prophecies, while the History of the Church version adds a conditional aspect. Yet, the critics are simply ignorant of word usage in the early 1800s. Webster's 1828 dictionary noted of "shall":

In the second and third persons [i.e., when applied to another person], shall implies a promise, command or determination. "You shall receive your wages," "he shall receive his wages," imply that you or he ought to receive them; but usage gives these phrases the force of a promise in the person uttering them.[13]

Thus, "shall" indicates a promise or command—and, LDS theology (with its strong emphasis on moral agency) always holds that man is free to accept or reject the commandments or promises of God. The History of the Church makes this fact more unambiguous for the modern reader, perhaps, in its use of "may." But, this change in no way changes the content of the blessing.

In fact, the ordination given to Brigham Young on the same day includes similar promises, but usually uses "may" instead of "shall." Since Brigham's blessing was given by Martin Harris, while Orson's was given by Oliver Cowdery, this difference is probably best explained by the habits in language between the two men. (Compare Brigham Young ordination blessing.) Latter-day Saints do not believe that such blessings are generally word-for-word dictation from God, but instead are the speaker's best attempt to put into words the information communicated to them by the Holy Spirit (e.g., DC 1:24). Those people who edited the History of the Church understood this.

Critics reading through their own theology and ideas

This is another excellent example of sectarian critics' tendency to read LDS scripture and language through their own lenses—the critics are often Calvinists, believing in God's absolute predestination of events and acts. But, LDS theology has never seen the matter that way. Instead, God gives promises or commands to mortals who may choose to participate or not. As the Lord said elsewhere:

49 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings....
51 Therefore, for this cause have I accepted the offerings of those whom I commanded to build up a city and a house unto my name, in Jackson county, Missouri, and were hindered by their enemies, saith the Lord your God. (DC 124:49,51

Question: Is this blessing an example of a false prophecy?
Answer: No.

Critics go further in claiming that the blessing which says that Hyde "shall stand on the earth and bring souls till Christ comes" proves that this is a false prophecy.

But, the blessing nowhere asserts that Hyde will be a mortal until the Second Coming. Unlike many Christian theologies, the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not place the abode of the dead in another world or realm. Likewise, it does not cause the preaching of the gospel and the redeeming of souls to cease with death. Missionary work continues in the spirit world after death, and the "spirit world" to which the dead go is on earth. Brigham Young said:

When you lay down this tabernacle [i.e., mortal body], where are you going? Into the spiritual world. Are you going into Abraham's bosom. No, not anywhere nigh there, but into the spirit world. Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they both inhabit one kingdom? Yes, they do. Do they go to the sun? No. Do they go beyond the boundaries of this organized earth? No, they do not. They are brought forth upon this earth, for the express purpose of inhabiting it to all eternity. Where else are you going? Nowhere else, only as you may be permitted....

Father Smith and Carlos and brother Partridge, yes, and every other good Saint, are just as busy in the spirit world as you and I are here. They can see us, but we cannot see them unless our eyes were opened. What are they doing there? They are preaching, preaching all the time, and preparing the way for us to hasten our work in building temples here and elsewhere, and to go back to Jackson County and build the great temple of the Lord. They are hurrying to get ready by the time that we are ready and we are all hurrying to get ready by the time our Elder Brother is ready {{ea}.[14]

Thus, faithful apostles would continue their work among the wicked (either as a mortal or among the spirits) until Christ comes.


Question: Did Wilford Woodruff criticize assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson's decision to publish the names of those who were married to Joseph Smith because he wanted to hide the fact that Joseph was married to other women?

Jenson’s material, coming when it did, could have put members in danger

Note: This wiki section was based partly on a review of G.D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy. As such, it focuses on that author's presentation of the data. To read the full review, follow the link. Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

Jenson’s material, coming when it did, could have put members in danger. But G.D. Smith makes it appear that Woodruff was trying to hide the practice of plural marriage in 1887. [15]

What is not explained or acknowledged is that Woodruff’s paramount concern was not to hide history or deny plural marriage

George D. Smith writes that Jenson's article “appeared on the down-side slope of the historical peak in polygamy . . . [and] Woodruff complained to Jenson.” G. D. Smith quotes Woodruff to the effect that “we do not think it a wise step to give these names to the world at the present time in the manner in which you have done. . . . Advantage may be taken of their publication and in some instances, to the injury, perhaps, of families or relatives of those whose names are mentioned” (p. 447).[16]

What is not explained or acknowledged is that Woodruff’s paramount concern was not to hide history or deny plural marriage (the Manifesto was three years in the future: polygamy was hardly a secret).

Woodruff likely feared the very real risk of spies and government agents using the information to prosecute members of the church

Rather, Woodruff likely feared the very real risk of spies and government agents using the information to prosecute members of the church. At this period, women were jailed for refusing to testify against husbands; hundreds of men were in hiding or in prison. “Words are inadequate to convey the feelings of those times—the hurts to individuals and families, to the church. . . . Families were torn apart, left to provide as best they could.”[17]


Question: Did the Church order Ronald L. Poelman's 1984 conference talk to be re-recorded with a "cough track" in order to hide the fact that changes had been made?

Elder Poelman voluntarily edited his talk when he learned that some "fundamentalist" Mormons were using his address as justification for their beliefs

Elder Ronald L. Poelman's 1984 conference talk was edited after delivery and re-recorded with a cough track. Some have claimed that this was an effort to hide the fact that changes had been made. Other have claimed Elder Poelman was ordered to make the changes to his talk. [18]

Elder Poelman voluntarily edited his talk when he learned that some "fundamentalist" Mormons were using his address as justification for their beliefs. The re-recording was intended for distribution to the world-wide Church, and was not an effort to hide the fact that changes had been made.[19]

Elder Poelman was not in any way forced to make changes to his talk

Elder Poelman was not in any way forced to make changes to his talk. In fact, the substance of what he said in 1984 is extremely similar to the things that Elder Uchtdorf said in one of his recent conferences addresses. However, after the conference, members and leaders raised issues about how his talk might be received and used by some who sought reasons to discount the counsel of leaders to justify practices such as polygamy. Because of the questions raised, Elder Poelman was desirous to clarify his remarks so that it could not be used as a license by others to disregard modern revelation or counsel.

Because it is common practice for talks to be edited for publication, it was thought that the "official" record should reflect the clarified intent of the talk

Because it is common practice for talks to be edited for publication, it was thought that the "official" record should reflect the clarified intent of the talk. As such, Elder Poelman himself made modifications to his own remarks for the official record that would be published in the Ensign.

Clearly, producing an "updated" version of a talk that had already been recorded posed some problems

In 1984, producing video records of the conference for home use was relatively new. Clearly, producing an "updated" version of a talk that had already been recorded posed some problems. For one, a recording with no background noise would stand out in contrast to all the other talks with no modifications. In addition, there was likely a desire not to deceive but to give authenticity to the presentation so as to not distract from its actual message.

While perhaps a unwise decision in hindsight, the intent was simply to let the core of the message be the focus, not the distractions of the delivery because of the changes

While perhaps a unwise decision in hindsight, the intent was simply to let the core of the message be the focus, not the distractions of the delivery because of the changes. For these reasons, background noises were allowed to be introduced or were intentionally added. (It is not clear whether the background noise--sometimes termed a "cough track" was intentionally added, or whether those in the tabernacle during the retaping were simply were allowed to behave as they would have during the original presentation, resulting in a low level of ambient noise similar to other talks.)

In the end, the intent and purpose was to make the excellent remarks of Elder Poelman the focus of the video, and to allow him to make changes he himself desired to have made, which were made without any compulsion whatsoever from any other church leader.

Unfortunately, critics have shifted the focus from his beautiful message to a misleading discussion of a "cover up," and attempted even in retrospect to impute meaning to his original talk that he did not intend. If anything, this demonstrates the wisdom of making the clarifications he did, if not the technical means used to circulate the changes.

The most telling comment made by the sources available to FairMormon volunteers was that the late Elder Poelman would be horrified to know people today were using his talk to attack the Church. The intent of his talk, including the changes, were intended to foster faith, not doubt in the Church.

In retrospect, this talk was a beautiful one in its original form, and had it been left as it was originally delivered it would have have never become the focus of criticism for secular and "intellectual" critics, though some "fundamentalist" groups might have embraced and misused its ideas.

Ironically, the changes Elder Poelman introduced promoted the very criticism and fault-finding with the Church that he had hoped to forestall, but one cannot fault a faithful servant for trying to make his offering more effective, or fault those who sought to make the new technological distribution of his talk as congruent with the rest of conference as possible as they prepared the official record for dissemination.

I personally do not consider his talk, the changes, or the potentially misguided efforts to make the video version authentic as anything deceitful. Given that all knew that the original recording existed, with press and others present for the original delivery, it defies reason that there was an attempt at a cover up or deceive. Rather, there was an effort only to allow him to amend his official remarks in both the written and video record, and allow it to be as authentic as all the other recorded talks.


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. 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 wiki
  2. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 449–450. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  3. Other histories that include mention of plural marriage as contributing to the problems in Nauvoo include Church History in the Fulness of Times, CES Manual for Religion 341–43, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2003), 256, 263, 268, 274; Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2002), chap. 13; and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 529.
  4. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 2:93-110. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  5. Roberts, Comprehensive History, 2:221, 227–28.
  6. Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History: A History of the Church from the Birth of Joseph Smith to the Present Time (1922), with Introductory Chapters on the Antiquity of the Gospel and The “Falling Away” (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922), 282, 300–301.
  7. William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 247–48, 251.
  8. Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf : distributed by Random House/University of Illinois Press, [1979] 1992), 55, 69, 77–78. ISBN 0252062361. off-site
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 Kenneth W. Godfrey, “Causes of Mormon Non-Mormon Conflict in Hancock County, Illinois, 1839–1846” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1967). G. D. Smith’s footnote (p. 450) mistakes the title, citing “Non-Mormon Conflict” instead of “Mormon Non-Mormon Conflict.”
  10. Times and Seasons 4:330.
  11. History of the Church, 6:47–48. Volume 6 link
  12. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality?, 5th edition, (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987), 188.
  13. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
  14. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:370.
  15. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 446. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  16. G. D. Smith cites Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 135, which includes a letter from Wilford Woodruff to Andrew Jenson, 6 August 1887.
  17. S. George Ellsworth, “Utah’s Struggle For Statehood,” Utah Historical Quarterly 31/1 (Winter 1963): 66.
  18. Lavina Fielding Anderson, "The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 no. 1 (1993), 23. https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V26N01_23.pdf; L. Jackson Newell, "An Echo from the Foothills: To Marshal the Forces of Reason," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 no. 1 (1986), 27. https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V19N01_28.pdf
  19. FairMormon editors and volunteers have discussed this matter with reliable witnesses to Elder Poelman's actions and thoughts regarding the unwarranted controversy which accompanied his conference talk.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims