“Prominent leaders have at times denied or attempted to minimize the awkward truth that alterations have been made to virtually every LDS doctrine.” “Doctrinal Changes,” Mormon Stories Truth Claims essays (accessed 8 February 2019).
Mormon Stories’ unconcern about footnotes to back their
claims here serves them well. The reader is less well served.
Which prominent leaders? What specific claims were they making? Which doctrine(s)? The change is significant according to whom?
Instead, we are simply expected to trust Mormon Stories and its list of anti-Mormon works at the end of the article. And no, putting up a picture of Greg Prince making the same claim is not “evidence.”
[The attentive reader will notice many close affinities between this section and Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s well-worn The Case Against Mormonism 1:6, p. 131–191. It is telling, though, that Mormon Stories is even less balanced that the notoriously-unbalanced Tanners. The Tanners at least include citations from BYU scholars, BYU Masters’ and Ph D. theses, and Hugh Nibley discussing the Doctrine and Covenants’ editing.
This omission is perhaps not surprising—Mormon Stories may at least recognize what the Tanners did not: how great a terrible secret can this be if it is being freely written about and discussed in BYU Master’s theses in 1940 and 1955? Or a PhD thesis in 1974?
The reader may begin to wonder if the supposed damning denials are talking about something somewhat different—or if they simply aren’t aware of the intricacies of the textual history.]
It is no secret that the Church’s understanding of doctrine
has grown over time. That of necessity means that some previous ideas will be
inadequate or even in error. The Church’s Articles of Faith clearly anticipate
that everything is not known, and that important matters await revelation:
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we
believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to
the Kingdom of God.” Given that every member of the Church (including the
prophet Joseph) was a convert in the first generation, they can hardly have
avoided some mistaken ideas until corrected.
Key doctrines that do not seem to have shifted include:
- The reality of God’s existence, his divine fatherhood, and his character.
- The utter centrality of the life, atonement, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
- The necessity of the receipt of the Holy Ghost to change and perfect the believer.
- The essential nature of the ordinances (such as baptism).
- The inspiration of the Holy Bible and Book of Mormon as the word of God.
- The importance of divine ordination to the priesthood to officiate in binding ordinances.
By way of evidence (finally!) we are presented with a letter from Hugh B. Brown writing an investigator: “None of the early revelations of the Church have been revised, and the Doctrine and Covenants stands as printed including sections 5 and 7.”
President Brown could simply be unaware of the textual history of the early revelations. That would not be surprising—many members have not interested themselves in such matters. But, in that case he would merely be honestly mistaken—he would not be trying to dissimulate or spin the uncomfortable truth as Mormon Stories claims.
Here again, to adopt Mormon Stories’ reading, we must make President Brown into both an evil Machiavelli and an idiot.
If we accept Mormon Stories’ reading, then President Brown knows that he is lying, but hopes that he won’t be caught—the hope of an idiot. But, how likely is this? Discussions of the editing is included in the History of the Church, which likely sat in a majority of Latter-day Saint homes of the period. If he knows about the changes, surely he must know about that.
It is also not clear that the letter is claiming what Mormon Stories says. (But, the reader has already concluded that nuanced analysis or textual sophistication is not among this author’s strengths.)
It is difficult to know to what President Brown refers without the original letter asking the question. This investigator seems to have had questions about Adam-God and Blood Atonement. It may be that the investigator wondered if these doctrines had been in scripture and later been suppressed. If so, then President Brown’s denials are speaking of something entirely different. (And the reader might well suspect that the “investigator” was in fact an anti-Mormon looking for material, which he dutifully passed on to the Tanners. Honesty and forthrightness have rarely been hallmarks of the genre.)
One of the difficulties with plagiarizing someone like the Tanners is that one tends to repeat their mistakes uncritically. For example, Mormon Stories repeats the Tanners’ rather tired quote-mine of Joseph Fielding Smith.
Mormon Stories quotes Doctrines of Salvation 1:170. Like the Tanners, they omit the material that contextualizes President Smith’s comment as referring to the line-upon-line method of the priesthood offices and organization of the restoration (the bold text was cited):
In this restoration it is necessary that the Church of Jesus Christ in its simplicity and truth be restored. All the keys and powers of priesthood held by the prophets of former dispensations must be conferred upon God’s chosen representatives on the earth. In this manner all the authority and keys of priesthood of the past are to flow into the most glorious and greatest of dispensations, like clear streams flowing into a mighty river. The everlasting covenant once given to the ancients, and which Isaiah says was broken, must be restored….Since the prophets predicted that in the last days the Lord would gather Israel and once more reveal to them his covenants, reason demands that these covenants and the keys of this restoration must be given to some chosen messenger. Joseph Smith is that messenger….
RESTORATION: LINE UPON LINE. There is a beautiful thread of consistency running through the scheme of gospel restoration. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery could not foresee the end from the beginning, but the Lord was the Architect, and made known to them little by little, as knowledge and organization were needed, until the perfect structure of the Church was restored.
Inspiration is discovered in the fact that each part, as it was revealed, dovetailed perfectly with what had come before. There was no need for eliminating, changing, or adjusting any part to make it fit; but each new revelation on doctrine and priesthood fitted in its place perfectly to complete the whole structure, as it had been prepared by the Master Builder. Doctrines of Salvation 1:170.
Thus, President Smith is not talking about editing or changing the text of the Doctrine and Covenants, or even a modification of doctrines. He is denying the need to discard ordinances, covenants, and priesthood government aspects of “the perfect structure of the Church” as “knowledge and organization were needed.” (The material above is followed by a discussion of Elijah and the restoration of priesthood keys—another sign that his intent is to discuss priesthood organization, not every written revelation.)
One could also look at the work of President Smith’s son-in-law,
Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
Between the time of the publication of the Book of Commandments in 1833 and the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835, the Prophet, as moved upon by the Spirit of the Lord, inserted some additional revealed truths in the revelations and in an instance or two clarified the existing language. This procedure of course, was in perfect harmony with the two principles: 1. That revelations are necessarily given to men “after the manner of their language” (D&C 1:24); and 2. That the Lord always reveals line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, adding more light and knowledge as rapidly as that already received is known and practiced. (D&C 98:12; D&C 128:21.)Mormon Doctrine (1966), 95.
So, in 1966, Bruce R. McConkie both knew and was telling anyone who would listen that the Doctrine and Covenants’ revelations had been amended and edited. And, he regarded such changes of little moment.
Mormon Stories has helpfully avoided any hint of this problem for the Tanner’s well-worn theory, thereby not troubling their readers with uncomfortable facts.