Question: Why does '''TIME''''s report make it appear the Pres. Hinckley is downplaying Joseph Smith's statements in the King Follett Discourse?


Question: Why does TIME's report make it appear the Pres. Hinckley is downplaying Joseph Smith's statements in the King Follett Discourse?

TIME omitted the portion of Hinckley's remarks that clarified what he was saying

It is important to note thatTIME's report did not include the entire citation, and President Hinckley was not denying or downplaying Joseph Smith's statements in the King Follett Discourse. It is important to note which question was being asked. Lorenzo Snow's famous "couplet" on deification reads as follows: "As man is now, God once was; as God is now man may be."[1]

There are two parts of the couplet:

  • As man is now, God once was
  • As God is now, man may be.

President Hinckley was asked about the first part of the couplet, as the citation above demonstrates. (The second part of the couplet is typically the focus of LDS doctrine and practice, since it is something over which mortals have some degree of influence.)

The exact question asked was:

Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.
A: Yeah.
Q: ...about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?

President Hinckley's complete response was:

A: I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it. I haven't heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don't know. I don't know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don't know a lot about it and I don't know that others know a lot about it.
[The portion in italics was omitted from TIME's reporting.]

He did not deny or renounce the doctrine. Quite simply, President Hinckley asserted that:

  • we don't emphasize it.
  • we don't tend to teach it much in public discourse.
  • he doesn't know much about this topic, though he understands the philosophical underpinnings.
  • no one else in the Church has much information on it either.

Ambiguity

The question is also somewhat ambiguous. TIME says they asked "whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man." But, the actual question was "Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?" {emphasis added)

"Teaching" can be understood in at least two senses:

  • "doctrine"/"belief," in the sense of "does the church still hold this belief?"
  • "something that is taught or preached," "actively taught"

The reporter seems to have meant the question in the first sense; President Hinckley seems to have responded in the second sense—the first part of his answer was "I don't know that we teach it" (emphasis added). That is, it is not topic upon which the Church or its leaders spend much time, simply because very little is known about it. This misunderstanding of the sense it which "teach" is understood is a good example of the logical fallacy of amphibology at work.

Furthermore, President Hinckley seems to have understood the question as he did because of the reporter's prelude to the question. The interviewer noted that "[t]his is something that Christian writers are always addressing." I suspect that he meant that "This is a point of LDS doctrine which always troubles non-LDS Christian authors, and they write a lot about it."

President Hinckley's reply that "I don't know that we emphasize it" seems a clear response to this idea—other writers or other denominations may spend a lot of time on the issue, but we don't. Again, this shows that he understood "teaching" in the second sense, and not the first.

Notes

  1. Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, compiled by Clyde J. Williams, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), 2. ISBN 0884945170.