Elder McKay the official Church Historian, with no credentials for history, but a career lawyer and executive gave a devotional at BYU-I in April 2023 titled A Sure and Certain Foundation. He detailed to students and young adults how to strengthen their faith in the church and how to face doubts.
Elder McKay, Church Historian
McKay feels drawn to “gather up histories and writings and things that would be of value to the Church and the rising generations that would grow up in Zion.” When called as the Chuch Historian in August of 2022, he stated “I have felt drawn to the rising generations and to protect them and to build their faith.” Previous to becoming the Church Historian and Recorder, he was the assistant executive director of the Church History Department for three years and stated that during that time “In addition to the mechanics of the department, I have learned more about history, and that’s been fascinating.” Interesting that the church called him as the official Church Historian when his background is as an attorney, Vice President at Kroger, and CEO of Unitah Advantage (a company building an oil refinery in Utah). He attended BYU for both his BA in English and his Law degree. These aren’t usual qualifications for historians, in fact, the announcement when he became a general authority didn’t mention a single thing about history, but at least he’s learning more about history on the job! It’s interesting to note that lawyers are not trained to find truth, they are trained to advocate for one side no matter what the truth may be. It’s fitting that the church seems to be led by later types more and more. That is a need of the church these days, and exactly what McKay is doing with this talk: advocate for the church no matter what the truth is.
In all fairness, McKay even understands that he’s not qualified for the position, he said “I’m called the Church historian, but in truth, the real historians are the people I work with.”
Devotional at BYU-I
Sadly, it appears that Elder McKay still has more to learn about what makes a historian. His devotional is a master class in becoming a horribly unscholarly historian.
The role of a historian is to study and interpret the past in order to understand and explain historical events, societies, cultures, and individuals. Historians gather and analyze various sources of evidence, such as written documents, oral accounts, artifacts, and other forms of historical data, to reconstruct and narrate the past. But Elder McKay does not follow this same idea of what a historian would care about or focus on.
Choose to Ignore Even Compelling Reasons to Doubt
Is your testimony of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel strengthened by, but not dependent on others? Is your foundation sure enough and certain enough that you can remain unshaken even if someone you admire in the faith makes a mistake now, in the future, or in the past? Is your knowledge and testimony of truth strong enough that you can stare down compelling reasons to doubt and choose to believe?A Sure and Certain Foundation, Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church Historian
McKay challenges students at BYU-I to choose to believe in the church and will their own testimony to be strong enough to withstand doubt. Even if a hero of theirs (past present or future, perhaps someone like the founder of the faith Joseph Smith) makes a “mistake”. What types of mistakes does he have in mind? Polygamy? Polyandry? Storytelling? Treasure digging? Conning people? This statement is working hard to inoculate listeners to issues they are sure to hear about if they haven’t already. This idea that members need to rely on their testimony despite things they learn rather than because of things they learn is counter to studying history. When the official church historian says members need a testimony strong enough to “stare down compelling reasons to doubt” he’s talking about tribalism more than history. He’s teaching that history doesn’t matter, cognitive dissonance doesn’t matter, and mistakes of leaders or the church do not matter and should have no bearing on a testimony.
Appealing Reasons to Doubt are Believable
There will always be some reason or another to doubt the truthfulness of this church and gospel. There are arguments and evidence supporting the proposition that there is no God, that Jesus was just a good philosopher-teacher, that Joseph Smith was simply a charismatic storyteller and that this church and gospel are not true. This evidence, these arguments, are on some level appealing and believable, for there are many who believe them.
The existence of such evidence and arguments should neither surprise nor shake you… In order to preserve our agency in the matter of belief, there must be opposites from which to choose—reasons to believe and reasons to doubt. God does not give us doubts, nor is He the author of error, but He allows them because it is absolutely critical that you and I choose for ourselves to believe or not to believe. There will never come a time, at least pre-Millennium, when God removes all reason to doubt, for to do so would be to remove all agency in the matter of belief.
Now, I want to be clear—by acknowledging the existence of reasons to doubt, I am not legitimizing them, and I am certainly not advocating or excusing doubt itself. Jesus said, “Doubt not.” In the face of reasons to doubt, doubt not.A Sure and Certain Foundation, Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church Historian
He’s not hiding that there are many many reasons to doubt the truthfulness of the church. He even lists off many and shares that there are many who believe these arguments because they are “appealing and believable”. He’s admitting that you need not just faith, but also denial to believe in the church truth claims. He states that this is part of the plan. This is a rather shady way to explain away all these legitimate complaints and reasons to doubt surrounding the church. He explains away every shelf item you may have with the scriptural meme or “opposition in all things”. He sets up a mental gymnastics leap to ignore any compelling evidence or believable argument against the church because it’s simply opposition, and we’ve been taught to expect opposition. He’s surely hoping members don’t realize the church is opposing history, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and more. He encourages members to ignore the reasons for doubt, whatever they are, and simply choose to believe. As if we can put aside our better judgment and not doubt even when the reasons are compelling and believable.
These arguments are appealing and believable not “on some level,” they are *empirically* believable. The arguments are consistent with observable reality! It’s not just because “many believe them,” but because they can be objectively demonstrated regardless of what people choose to believe. Once you have incontrovertible evidence, there’s no choosing to believe. At that point it’s choosing to ignore reality.
McKay also wants to clarify that he’s not legitimizing these reasons to doubt though, even though that’s what he’s already done. He’s said these reasons are compelling, and the evidence and arguments are appealing and believable. He is correct in saying that we are free to choose if we believe things that make sense, or believe things we are told to believe. Choosing to believe him, we must ignore evidence, no matter how compelling, disregard believable arguments, refuse to doubt, and choose to believe in order to prove the strength of our testimony.
Unchanging God, Changing Church
Discovering that God and His doctrine are not shifting or evolving, but everlasting and unchanging, can become a reason to doubt for some.A Sure and Certain Foundation, Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church Historian
He is claiming that God is not changing. But what does the evidence show? Good had been different many times in just the past lifetime. Yes polygamy, no polygamy. No priesthood for blacks, yes priesthood for blacks. Mormon means”more good”, Mormon is a victory for Satan. Word of wisdom is not by way of comment, but it’s more required for being a worthy church member. Mild barley drinks are for the belly, drink no beer or alcohol. … Are these not perfect examples of shifting or evolving?
Study the Errors of Man
So, what do we do with error? You can’t hide or hide from the humanness of humans. But it is equally unproductive to seek out error and wallow in it by making it an emphasis of study. You will never come to know and understand the truths of God by studying the errors of man. Nor has God appointed you, me, or anyone to be an ongoing arbiter of error in His leaders, scrutinizing every word or act of apostles and prophets to make sure they fit within our current understanding of correctness.A Sure and Certain Foundation, Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church Historian
Just as Oaks said it is wrong to criticize church leaders, even if the criticism is true, McKay says that God hasn’t appointed us to be an “arbiter of error in his leaders” (spoken like a true lawyer, this means we aren’t the judge of the leaders). He calls out those who point out the faults of leaders as being small-minded and short-sighted. If we don’t even study history we won’t know of any errors, which may be the goal of the church historian. The church would lose fewer members if no one studied church history, that may be the definition of a lazy learner though. But by studying the errors of man, we can better ourselves! McKay stating that we shouldn’t be “studying the errors of man” is a short-sighted statement. If we don’t study history we can’t even know what others have done, let alone judge it an error or not. We must study history and then examine and interpret it for ourselves. He would rather we only study the stories the church includes in its correlated curriculum, and only the version the church teaches in the official whitewashed manuals. This is the only way the church has found to keep members from finding out about the troubling events of church history.
McKay wants to be clever here too and claim that the church leaders should get a free pass. As Elder Anderson wants us to “Give Broth3er Joseph a break!” They can’t be judged according to current understandings, because obviously, God’s ways are not our ways, so the church leader’s ways are higher than our ways too. In what way could the current understanding of correctness really change? Isn’t God unchanging?
Logical Accurate Conclusions
We are tempted to bypass [The Book of Mormon’s] primary purpose and jump straight to the collateral conclusion that if the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith is a prophet and this is God’s church. These are logical, accurate conclusions.A Sure and Certain Foundation, Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church Historian
Logical and accurate conclusions? This is not true and never has been true. McKay and many other church leaders repeat this false logic over and over. This statement does not represent sound logic. Sound logic requires a valid argument with premises that are both true and logically connected to the conclusion. Let’s break down the statement:
- “If the Book of Mormon is true”: This is a conditional statement that assumes the truth of the Book of Mormon.
- “Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God”: This is a claim about Joseph Smith’s prophethood, which is contingent upon the truth of the Book of Mormon.
- “The Mormon church is true today”: This is a claim about the truthfulness of the Mormon church, which is contingent upon Joseph Smith being a true prophet.
The logic here is flawed because it assumes the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as a premise, without providing evidence or justification for that assumption. The statement also assumes that if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith must be a true prophet, and consequently, the Mormon church must be true. There are many scenarios where one of these statements could be true and the others false as well as many scenarios where all of these statements are false. Any one of these statements being proven true (which is not possible) does not automatically make the others true as well, even if it would make it more likely. This is a logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent.
To evaluate the truth of the Book of Mormon, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, or the truthfulness of the Mormon church, it is important to examine historical evidence, and theological perspectives, and engage in critical analysis. Personal beliefs and faith play a significant role in evaluating religious claims, but it’s essential to recognize that the logical soundness of an argument requires more than just faith-based assertions.
Prayers Are Seldom Answered
Asking, and for that matter, reading from a position of doubt or skepticism will not summon a response from Heaven. “Prove-it-to-me” prayers are seldom answered, and if they are, it is usually to the condemnation, even destruction, of the one demanding proof. Think Korihor and Sherem, for example. Asking in faith—even a particle of faith—implies that you at least have a desire to believe. Lead with this desire and “let [it] work in you.”A Sure and Certain Foundation, Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church Historian
He is correct that”prove it” prayers are seldom answered, but he should continue by saying that prayers are seldom answered if at all! Here he wants us to want it enough that we’ll take literally anything as a sign to mean the church is true. There have been countless stories along these lines where something as inconsequential as a breeze or a cloud passing by was taken as an answer to such a prayer.
Finding Answers Is Not the Solution?
Here is the scariest part of his talk! Especially considering he is the official church historian. He claims having perplexing questions and doubts is not a problem. He says answers to these questions are not the solution. This is as ridiculous as when elder oaks said research is not the answer to questions!
Having perplexing questions that arise from reasons to doubt is not a problem. But please understand, finding answers to these perplexing questions ultimately is not the solution. The solution is a sure and certain foundation whereon if you build, you cannot fall. That foundation is Jesus Christ and His gospel, the fullness of which is found and taught in this Church.A Sure and Certain Foundation, Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church Historian
the statement acknowledges that having perplexing questions stemming from doubts is not inherently problematic. This viewpoint recognizes that doubt and questioning can be a natural part of intellectual growth and personal exploration. It implies that having doubts and wrestling with difficult questions can be a healthy and normal aspect of one’s journey.
However, the second part of the statement suggests that finding answers to these perplexing questions is not the ultimate solution. This perspective seems to imply that the pursuit of answers may not lead to a resolution or satisfactory outcome. It implies that the process of seeking answers may be futile or unnecessary.
While it is true that finding answers to complex questions is not always easy or straightforward, dismissing the pursuit of answers as an ultimate solution raises some concerns. Here are a few points to consider:
- Importance of intellectual curiosity: Seeking answers to perplexing questions can foster intellectual growth, critical thinking, and deeper understanding. It allows individuals to expand their knowledge and engage in meaningful dialogue and discourse.
- Personal growth and resolution: For many individuals, finding answers to their questions and doubts can lead to personal growth and a sense of resolution. It can bring a sense of peace, clarity, and confidence in one’s beliefs or perspectives.
- Decision-making and informed choices: Having answers to important questions can empower individuals to make informed choices and decisions. It can help shape their values, actions, and life paths. Without seeking answers, individuals may be left uncertain or ambivalent, potentially hindering personal progress.
- Community and shared understanding: The pursuit of answers can also foster a sense of community and shared understanding. Engaging in discussions, seeking knowledge together, and finding common ground can strengthen relationships and create a sense of belonging.
It’s important to recognize that not all questions may have clear or definitive answers, and different people may arrive at different conclusions based on their individual perspectives and experiences. However, suggesting that seeking answers is ultimately not a solution may downplay the significance of intellectual growth, personal development, and the potential benefits that can arise from finding resolutions to complex questions.
Jane Elizabeth Manning
His devotional concludes with praise for an example of faithfulness when there are real reasons for doubt, the story of Jane Elizabeth Manning. A black convert to the church who was a servant to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. She petitioned church leaders at least five times to be allowed to enter the temple but was denied at every request. She died in 1908 and was never able to attend the temple during her life, though she remained faithful and even contributed funds to building multiple temples. Funds that she couldn’t easily afford as she struggled to care for her children and make ends meet as a domestic servant. She was allowed to be sealed or adopted into the family of Joseph Smith as a servant. Then church president Joseph F Smith even spoke at her funeral and declared that she would receive the temple blessings in heaven and become a “white and beautiful person.”
Jane Manning James’s story stands as a testament to the resilience and faith of individuals like her, who persisted in their devotion to their beliefs despite facing systemic racial barriers. However, it is also a poignant example of the discrimination and racism that exists within the LDS Church.
While this is an example of faithfulness against all odds, it may not be the example the church would want to parade. It highlights many issues which give members reason to doubt, the racist teaching of the church in the past and still present in the doctrine and scriptures. This is how the church wants members to behave though, to believe against all odds and even when personally mistreated and abused by the church.
Historians play a vital role in shaping our understanding of the past, influencing how we comprehend our present circumstances and envision the future. They contribute to the collective memory and cultural identity of societies by providing insights into human experiences and helping us learn from the successes and mistakes of the past. This talk by Elder McKay shows he is no historian, and has learned very little about how to think like a historian. As an attorney, he is likely in place as the Official Church Historian and Recorder to keep the church image legally “clean” and make compelling arguments to the church members about how faith is much more important than history ever can be in understanding anything about the Mormon church in a faithful way.
Did learning real church history help your testimony or did it overload your shelf and cause a “crisis” of faith? Many Mormons are learning that they are suffering, but it’s not a faith crisis, it’s the church that is suffering a crisis of truth. Share your faith journey story today at wasmormon.org.