One of the many charges anti-Mormons level against Mormons is that they lie.
Let me help those in more neutral grounds understand the truth of the matter.
Mormons do lie. We also lie, cheat, steal, murder, and commit adultery. Mormons are not perfect. No one is. God has made it clear that dishonesty is a sin.
However, I want to help you understand first, what a “lie” is; Second, examples of righteous people and even God himself “lying”; and finally, the so-called lies that Mormon leaders have been accused of telling.
First, what is lying? There are many definitions, but the broadest I see, and the one I try to live by, is to never cause deception, either through speaking or lack of speaking. However, and this is a big however, we cannot be expected to correct every mistruth out there, nor can we expect that every word that comes out of our mouth to be the absolute truth, in every way someone may interpret it.
The broad definition of lying is considered deception, that is, causing people to understand something that isn’t true. The narrowest definition could be saying something that isn’t exactly true in any context. Under the broad definition, lawyers “lie” and they do it all the time. Under the narrow definition, no lawyer lies, and if they do, they would lose their law license or worse.
I strive to live by the broad definition. I would hope everyone does. That’s the ideal—living in a society where misunderstanding simply doesn’t exist. Imagine a world where everything is exactly the way you understand them to be! How many problems and economic costs would disappear? I can’t count them. Indeed, honesty, or the lack of deception, is what makes business possible in the first place. The cost of verifying every statement is so high that business could not happen at all without some degree of trust.
In order to stamp out deception, we must first be very careful in what we say and how we say it. Under the broad definition, not only do we need to say things in a way that is true, but ensure that the way people hear it is true as well. This means we must understand our audience and speak in a way that communicates, clearly, our thoughts to their minds. I challenge anyone to live their life this way. I boldly declare that it is impossible, but a noble goal nonetheless.
We must also live our life so as to correct deception when it occurs without out action. In other words, do not allow it to continue by inaction. Of course, this is equally as impossible as the former goal; no one can know the mind of everyone around them. Even if they could, no one could spend the time required to correct every misunderstanding of deception they believe. Indeed, who would want to live with a compulsive pedant?
So, in the end, I try to live my life so as not to cause misunderstanding, and yet I find it impossible. Some of the things I say are incorrect, even according to my current understanding. Others are not understood correctly. And there are a lot of things people around me think that I will not bother correcting unless it becomes important.
Let’s talk about examples of righteous people, even God himself “lying” in this way.
The easiest examples of lying are those who lie, sometimes outright and boldly, to their enemies as part of war. I think this kind of lying is just as excusable as the “crime” of “murder” during warfare. If you get to the point where killing someone is a good thing, then lying to them is not a bad thing either. Go ahead, search the scriptures, there are plenty of examples of this behavior.
What about lies to protect one’s self or loved ones? Certainly, when Abaram (Abraham) went to Egypt, he lied to the Pharaoh about his wife, claiming she was his sister. Of course, we know this was outright deception because the Pharaoh brought his “sister” in to become, eventually, his wife. This was not the only time Abraham lied about his wife; he did the same to Abimelech.
Latter-day Saints believe God himself told Abram to lie to Pharaoh. So this lie was supernatural; it was much more than Abram lying to Pharaoh.
I am sure we can easily excuse this behavior as we can excuse the behavior of killing someone in self-defense. If it is no crime to kill someone who is going to kill you, then it is certainly no crime to lie to the same person, and that’s exactly what happened here.
Are there instances of God lying? If you use the broadest definition of the lie, permitting misunderstandings to continue, then our entire existence is an exercise in God lying to us. What excuses this behavior? Why does God sit by, allowing us to wallow in our ignorance? Aren’t we expected to correct misunderstandings, particularly when the misunderstanding is between us and another person?
I can invent a moral excuse or explanation for this lie, the same as the moral excuse that permits killing. That is, this lie is a necessary one. Did we not live in ignorance, we could not progress or grow or accomplish any part of God’s plan. Of course, if we base our morality on God himself, then anything God does is moral and good and just, and we cannot complain even the slightest.
So perhaps, in our moral universe, we have come full circle. In trying to be moral, we must lie in certain circumstances. Just like the general who deceives his adversaries, just like Abram lying to Pharaoh, perhaps the “truth” is the “lie”. In other words, perhaps the most moral course of action is to deceive the people around us.
We are left wondering what the real definition of lying is, or rather, immoral dishonesty (dishonesty that is evil), as opposed to moral dishonesty (dishonesty that is nonetheless good) or even immoral honesty (honesty that is nonetheless evil.) If you are confused, you are not the only one. All 6 billion of us struggle with what “good” and “evil” really are, and none of us can pin our finger on a universal definition that works everywhere, although we have lots of rules of thumbs that seem to work in most situations.
God hasn’t revealed to us what the definition of morality is. Nowhere in his scriptures does he declare unto us a formula that we can use to choose the right in every case. Sure, we have commandments, commandments which end up not being as universal as we would like them to be, but commandments which we are promised if we obey we won’t be held accountable for the consequences. In some cases, God shares with us tidbits of his reasoning, and we can try our best to apply them. The best advice in the scriptures is to follow the Spirit, wherever it leads, which means, basically, turn over our moral compass to God.
Now, to instances of modern LDS leaders lying. I am going to make my argument simple. Let’s suppose that the leaders of the church did what exactly you claimed they did: they committed sins, and not just any kind of sin, but the gross sin of lying. Let’s suppose that God did not command them to do this, and he did not, in any way, justify them. (I do not believe this to be the case in every instance, but perhaps there are a few where I may believe such to be true.)
So we say that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and all the prophets, including Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monsen , are liars. Very well, they are liars.
Let’s put things into context.
First, they were called by God to be his prophet. Are you challenging God in this matter? Do you think you really know better than him who should be prophet? Do you really think you can manage the complex work of preparing the earth for the Second Coming? If so, then you are the worst sort of person, the person who believes he is superior in one way or the other to God.
Second, they have been forgiven by God. Do you question the power of Christ to forgive people of their sins? Or do you believe that Christ, the one who called them to be a prophet, will not forgive them?
Recall that Christ said that by the same judgment we use to judge men, we will be judged. Are you, perhaps, holding the prophets to a higher standard than yourself? Do you expect them to be better than you are, and condemn them for failing? If they have no hope for salvation, what hope do you have?
If only there was a clear-cut way to see through all the clutter that mortality imposes on us. There is, and it is called the Holy Ghost. Do you think Mormons preach this doctrine, just to bring people into the church, and then abandon it once they have joined? No, we use the gift of the Holy Ghost every day and in every way you can imagine. We use it to discern which points the teacher is teaching that are needed for us. We use it to discern how to interpret the commands that the Lord’s prophets give us in our every day lives. We use it to discern when God has forgiven someone and when he has not.
We do not “lean unto our own understanding” or “trust in the arm of flesh”. We do not count our learning as greater than God’s wisdom, and we do not allow observations to supplant the tender feelings of the Holy Ghost. If it is true that Joseph Smith and Gordon B. Hinckley were liars of the worst sort, and you could prove it in the court of law, it would have little if any relevance to us. We do not believe them as prophets of God because they were more honest than anyone else; we believe them as prophets because the Holy Ghost tells us so.
I add: If God called these men to be prophets, and they violated our understanding of morality, is it God that is flawed, these men who are flawed, or perhaps our understanding of morality that is flawed? Or are we not supposed to question the things within us, because we automatically assume that to be correct, and things in contradiction outside of us to be wrong?
I think we live in an age where, if you only trust your eyes and ears and your understanding of morality, you will find no reason at all to believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I cannot deny that. Perhaps there was once a day when you could believe the church just based on objective analysis, or maybe there was never such a day, it doesn’t matter. If you want to drag us into a court of law or into a research laboratory, you could probably build a clear case that we are not who we claim to be. You could probably convince every member of the church that the evidence the world has and the wisdom that men have show the church to be a fraud.
But we also live in an age when the Holy Ghost is boldly testifying to everyone everywhere, and that is why we are baptizing and growing as a church despite the evidence that appears against us. You cannot explain our growth by anything but this.
I think, in the end, we will all be surprised by who God really is. We expect him to be this perfect God, and he is, but our definition of perfection is grossly flawed. I don’t mean it needs work on the edges, I mean fundamental assumptions we may have are simply backwards. For instance, we expect God to be peaceful, loving, kind, and gentle, but he is also a God of absolute justice, war, wrath, and obscene power and destruction. The same God that made the earth also made earthquakes and typhoons and has killed countless billions of people. (Everyone that dies, after all, dies because God said they would.)
It’s our understanding of perfection that is flawed, not God’s nature. We make a mistake when we try to impose our pathetic understanding of morality on God, rather than working the other way around.
When you measure the church by God’s standard, you would be lead to conclude that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (as opposed to its members) is the only church with which he is pleased. After all, that’s what God said, through his prophets.
If you do not agree with me, all you have to say is, “I do not believe God called Joseph Smith to be a prophet.” You don’t have to try and show how Joseph Smith fails to live up to your expectations of what a prophet should be, or how he has committed sins in his life. That is wholly irrelevant. He could, after all, be perfect in every way, yet lack God’s authority on earth, in which case I would no longer believe he was God’s prophet. Or he could, after all, be imperfect yet obtained God’s authority. And I would accept him as prophet, warts and sins and all. What’s important is the authority, and that is all. Nothing else matters, not a whit.