Church as transparent as it knows how to be

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Is the Mormon church transparent?

Is the church honest with its own history? What does it mean to be as transparent as you know how to be? Not much actually, but it’s their best excuse and retort when questioned.

M Russell Ballard and Dallin H Oaks had a fireside broadcast with Young Single Adults. They were sure to relate to the younger crowd by using emoji abundantly :-) (-: . They talked a lot about getting married and the responsibility we have in life to get married. They also talked some about doubt and responded to concerns members have been having about the discrepancies between how the church teaches church history and actual history. Things like how to deal with doubt or the fact that there are multiple differing accounts of the First Vision and the church has not been transparent about the differing accounts and even hiding the differences.

What advice/guidance would you give for answering tough questions about Church history when we are asked about them by someone who is struggling with their faith?

(Oaks) I think the first thing is to distinguish between questions and doubts. Some people merge those as if they were the same. A question asked with a sincere desire to increase one’s knowledge and understanding is the way to increase knowledge. We encourage questions. On the other hand, a doubt is an ambiguous word. Sometimes a doubt is a synonym for a question—you just want to know the truth about something. One dictionary definition of doubt is “accompanied by distrust, a rejection of something.” That’s the kind of thing that the scriptures have condemned… Doubt is a confusing word in some aspects. We don’t encourage doubt and the Scriptures condemn it, on the other hand, questions – sincere desires to know that aren’t accompanied with a presumption of rejection, are something that we wish to encourage.

(Ballard) Some are saying that the church has been hiding the fact that there is more than one version of the first vision – which is just not true. The facts are, we don’t study, we don’t go back and search what has been said on the subject. For example, Dr. James B Allen of BYU, in 1970 produced an article for the church magazines explaining all about the different versions of the first vision. (Oaks) How long ago was that article? (Ballard) 1970. That was back in 1970. (Oaks) So, we’ve been hiding that for a long time. yeah (laughter)

(Ballard) But it’s this idea that the church is hiding something, that we would have to say as two apostles who have covered the world and know the history of the church and know the integrity of the First Presidency and the quorum of the twelve from the beginning of time. There has been no attempt on the part, in any way, of the church leaders trying to hide anything from anybody.

Now, we’ve had the Joseph Smith papers, we didn’t have those. Where they are in our hands now and so we’re learning more about the Prophet Joseph. It’s wonderful we are. There are volumes of it, there’s so much of in those books now on my bookshelf. Maybe you’ve read them all, but I haven’t. I’m a slow reader! (laughter)

So, just trust us, wherever you are in the world and you share this message with anyone else who raises the question about the church not being transparent. We’re as transparent as we know how to be in telling the truth. We have to do that. That’s the Lord’s way.

M. Russell Ballard & Dallin H Oaks, November 19, 2017
Face to Face Broadcast (1:43:40)
“Just trust us… we’re as transparent as we know how to be in telling the truth”

(Oaks continues) I had a personal experience that I remember from the time that I had a young teenage son in the household. He came to me with a question about church history. It involved Joseph Smith, I think, neither he nor I can remember what the question was. H told me not long ago, he said “your answer has strengthened me all my life.” I said, “well, what was the question?” He said “I don’t remember,” and I said “what are we talking about?” He did remember the answer, he remembered that he asked me a tough question about church history, and he said, “Dad, you said ‘I don’t know the answer to that question.'” He said, “that was impressive to me, because that’s the first time you ever admitted that you didn’t know something!” That’s his part of the memory but, he said “it was the next part that’s been a strength to me all my life. You said ‘I don’t know the answer to that question, but what I do know is that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God who restored the fullness of the gospel in these latter days.'” He said “that has served as a model for me in my life. I don’t have the answers to all questions but what I know is that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that’s enough to get me through and to await the answers to other things.” 

Dallin H Oaks, November 19 2017
Face to Face Broadcast

What does it mean to be as transparent as you know how to be?

“We’re as transparent as we know how to be in telling the truth.” M Russell Ballard. The facial expression from the ASL translator when signing the phrase is priceless.

It doesn’t mean much actually. These two church leaders and apostles admit that they don’t study the new material because there is too much of it, and they are slow readers. Would that make them lazy? Lazy learners perhaps?

Ballard dismisses claims that the church has not been transparent. He claims the church has never peddled a false church history narrative. He dismisses the claims with reference to an obscure single article from 1970 that discusses the multiple first vision accounts. Oaks dismisses the claims with a joke and laughter. They completely ignore that one of the first vision accounts was cut out of Joseph Smith’s journal and hidden in a safe for decades. This version of the first vision was not published until 1965. Presumably, this is why the church published an article trying to diffuse the confusion as to why there was an earlier account of the first vision and why it was hidden. They also completely ignore and dismiss the contents and real differences in the multiple first visions. They want members to be appeased that yes, there are multiple accounts and we know about them. A smart man looked into it and wrote something a long time ago that dispels the so-called differences between them. We told you about it (that one time) 50 years ago, we’ve got nothing to hide, just don’t go researching it or asking the wrong kind of questions.

They still claim “from the beginning of time there has been no attempt on the part, in any way, of the church leaders trying to hide anything from anybody.” How does that make sense? There has been no attempt to hide anything? The tape in that Joseph Smith Papers journal would beg to differ. The hidden financial dealings of the church would beg to differ.

They then admonish members to “just trust them” because they are “as transparent as they know how to be”. What does that even mean to be as transparent as you know how to be? It doesn’t mean much actually. It doesn’t mean they are transparent or honest. It only means they don’t know how to be transparent. They understand that in being transparent they would potentially damage someone’s faith, and that is the worst thing they can think of, so they do anything they have to to keep people in the boat. It’s not integrity or transparency or honesty or “The Lord’s way” that they follow, it’s the simple aim to keep as many members in the church. Keep them attending and believing and paying and obeying.

If being transparent could mean members wake up and stop trusting them, they don’t know how to do that. If being honest about church history means members struggle to believe in Joseph Smith, they don’t know how to do that. They will continue to present apologetic, dismissive statements. They will continue to ignore facts in Gospel Topics Essays. They will continue to joke about doubt and gaslight members into believing they are being transparent with nonsensical statements and empty admonishments. They will encourage members to put questions on the shelf. That research is not the answer. That they don’t know all the answers. That we should simply trust them, or Give Brother Joseph a break. They will dismiss anyone with questions and doubt as someone “accompanied with a presumption of rejection”. They claim that anyone without the apologetic determination to support the original conclusion of the church being true is plagued with a presumption of error. Isn’t that what they are doing though? Isn’t that the definition of apologetics? They are presumptively rejecting any conclusion that doesn’t match their preconceived conclusion and “testimony”. They are not free to investigate something and let the facts dictate the conclusion.

Oaks drives the point further when sharing the story of his son asking him a “tough question about church history” that “involved Joseph Smith”. Though he claims he doesn’t remember the question and neither does his son, his answer was so profound that it stuck with his son. The answer? “I don’t know.” He says he doesn’t know the answer to the tough question, but that he knows Joseph is a prophet and that’s enough to get him through and await answers to other things. This is Oaks showing how he taught his son about putting your troubling questions on the shelf. That can work, it lets you compartmentalize the concerns, questions, and cognitive dissonance. We’re encouraged to pay attention to our good feelings and hopes that Joseph was a prophet, despite all the evidence to the contrary and the doubt and even honest questions.

Church leaders want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be the experts, but also claim to not know so many things that are clearly knowable with a little research. They deny any questions that could be confused with doubt and condemn asking questions with a preconceived conclusion in mind, even though it is exactly what they ask us to do. They want us to “just trust them” and instead of finding actual answers to questions, we lean on beliefs instead. Despite the fact that many of us can only find this simple belief testimony by bearing it. In other words, we need to work to indoctrinate ourselves so we can satisfy the cognitive dissonance and doubt we experience by putting those hard things on the shelf and learning to rely solely on our desire to believe. This is just begging to be misled. Just whatever you do, stay in the boat.

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