Misrepresenting Church leaders for fun and profit

I have a guest post regarding a fairly egregious misrepresentation of Elder L. Whitney Clayton’s BYU Commencement address.

I’ve noticed the same false claims on other anti- and ex-Mormon sites, which suggests that either none of these folks are bright enough to check the original citation, or they are intentionally distorting the record for their own purposes. Or, perhaps some of both is going on.



Cafeteria Christians

As General Conference begins, may I be preserved from any desire to be a “Cafeteria Christian.”

Our relationship to living prophets is not one in which their sayings are a smorgasbord from which we may take only that which pleases us. We are to partake of all that is placed before us, including the spinach, and to leave a clean plate!

Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1978), 74.

Is delusional too strong a word?–Part II

Part II: Previous Remarks from Church Leaders

If Kelly wishes to stick to her guns and declare that anything Church Public Affairs says bears absolutely no relation to the Church’s official position on these matters, we could sigh heavily and pull out some recent—and not-to-recent—remarks from the leaders she claims to want to hear from.

Elder Neil L. Anderson

Elder Anderson directly addressed the question that Kelly and OW say they want an answer to:

Some may sincerely ask the question, “If the power and blessings of the priesthood are available to all, why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?”

When an angel asked Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answered honestly, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

When we speak of the priesthood, there are many things we do know.

We know that God loves all His children and is no respecter of persons. “He denieth none that come unto him, … male [or] female; … and all are alike unto God.”

As surely as we know that God’s love is “alike” for His sons and His daughters, we also know that He did not create men and women exactly the same. We know that gender is an essential characteristic of both our mortal and eternal identity and purpose. Sacred responsibilities are given to each gender….

While there are many things we do know about the priesthood, seeing through the lens of mortality does not always give a complete understanding of the workings of God.  But His gentle reminder, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” reassures us that with time and eternal perspective we will see things “as they really are” and more completely understand His perfect love.

We all willingly serve. Sometimes we feel underwhelmed with our calling and wish we were asked to do more. Other times we are grateful when it is time for our release. We do not determine the callings we receive.[1]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Elder Oaks’ remarks in April 2014 conference got a great deal of attention (if you haven’t read them, you should read them all). Kelly and many others, however, seem unaware that this is not a “new” take on things, or something novel. Elder Oaks taught virtually the same thing (though in less detail) more than twenty years ago:

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the Prophet’s action opened to women the possibility of exercising “some measure of divine authority, particularly in the direction of government and instruction in behalf of the women of the Church.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1965, p. 5.) President Smith explained: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4.)….

Under the priesthood authority of the bishop, the president of a ward Relief Society presides over and directs the activities of the Relief Society in the ward. A stake Relief Society president presides and exercises authority over the function to which she has been called. The same is true for the other auxiliaries. Similarly, women called as missionaries are set apart to go forth with authority to teach the everlasting gospel, and women called to work in a temple are given authority for the sacred functions to which they have been called. All function under the direction of the priesthood leader who has been given the priesthood keys to direct those who labor in his area of responsibility.[2]

The answer that Kelly claims to want has been available the whole time.

Elder M. Russell Ballard

Elder Ballard likewise cautioned us against Kelly’s specific tactics more than twenty years ago:

In these latter days, we see people, increasing in number, who urge others to feel and voice dissent when frustration and hardship enter their lives. They would have us believe that the Church or its leaders are unfair to women, or that women are denied opportunities to realize their full potential within the gospel framework. Sisters, we know that the Church is made up of mortals, that priesthood leaders are fallible, and some may not always handle their stewardships with suitable sensitivity. However, I want you to understand this plain truth: the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the only way for women or men to achieve their full potential as children of God. Only the gospel can free us from the terrible effects of sin. Only by following God’s plan for us, with faith and determination to live ultimately in eternal families, can we qualify for eternal life in His presence. Ideally, the Church and the family do not inhibit our progress. They expedite it by putting our feet firmly on the gospel path that leads us back to God. We each have the privilege to carefully and prayerfully seek the Lord’s will for us regarding our individual challenges and dilemmas. Personal revelation is personal, indeed. It is not based on gender or position but on worthiness. It comes in response to sincere inquiry. However, revelation for the Church comes only through the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators.

In these confusing times, keeping our feet on the gospel path can be difficult. We hear many persuasive voices urging us to turn our backs on revealed truth and embrace the philosophies of the world.[3]

He also pointed out:

Let me also observe that none of the Twelve are shrinking violets. We each have strong personalities. So when we are unified in a decision, you can rest assured that we have counseled together and come to that decision after much prayer and thoughtful discussion. [4]

And, the leaders do not (contrary to Kelly’s caricature) need a massive sidewalk protest to help them realize that this is an issue:

I have heard that some people think the Church leaders live in a “bubble.” What they forget is that we are men and women of experience, and we have lived our lives in so many places and worked with many people from different backgrounds. Our current assignments literally take us around the globe, where we meet the political, religious, business, and humanitarian leaders of the world. Although we have visited the White House in Washington, D.C., and leaders of nations throughout the world, we have also visited the most humble homes on earth, where we have met and ministered to the poor.

When you thoughtfully consider our lives and ministry, you will most likely agree that we see and experience the world in ways few others do. You will realize that we live less in a “bubble” than most people.[5]

President James E. Faust

President Faust could have saved Kelly some tactics that could not work, had she listened. He spoke more than a decade ago:

Continuous revelation will not and cannot be forced by outside pressure from people and events. It is not the so-called “revelation of social progress.” It does not originate with the prophets; it comes from God. The Church is governed by the prophet under the inspiration, guidance, and direction of the Lord.[6]

Even if Kelly doesn’t believe this, she should at least be savvy enough to realize that those in charge do believe it, and so aren’t likely to respond well to her approach—as she was told over and over again.

Sister leaders too!

And, if Kelly even were to insist that she’ll only listen to women—no XY chromosomes allowed—even that message is available, were she willing to hear it. Said Sister Elaine S. Dalton, the general Young Women’s president:

Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report. You will also be the ones who will provide the example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined, and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.[7]

One really has to ask–what’s wrong with all of the above that makes Kelly think she hasn’t gotten an answer until now?



[1] Neil L. Anderson, “Power in the Priesthood,” Ensign (November 2013).

[2] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Relief Society and the Church,” Ensign (May 1992).

[3] M. Russell Ballard, “Equality Through Diversity,” Ensign (November 1993).

[4]M. Russell Ballard, “Be Still, and Know That I Am God,” CES Devotional for Young Adults, San Diego, California (4 May 2014).

[5]M. Russell Ballard, “Be Still, and Know That I Am God,” CES Devotional for Young Adults, San Diego, California (4 May 2014).

[6]James E. Faust, “Come Out of the Darkness into the Light,” CES Fireside for Young Adults (8 September 2002).

[7]Elaine S. Dalton (YW Gen Pres), “Prophetic Priorities and Dedicated Disciples,” BYU Devotional, 15 January 2013.

Church Public Affairs goes Rogue? Riiiight.

It is becoming strangely popular in Church dissident circles to claim that when the Church’s Public Affairs department speaks, this does not really reflect the opinions or positions of the prophets and apostles.

I know, I know. This is the same group who are often claiming that some apostle or other is power-mad and out of control, imposing his will willy-nilly (like making sure a dissident gets summoned to a disciplinary council). But this makes for a strange juxtaposition–an out-of-control Church department full of Church employees that the poor apostles simply cannot rein in or fire, while the apostles nearly simultaneously exert their autocratic influence into wards in Washington, DC or Logan, Utah staffed by volunteer clergy.

An odd claim, to say the least.

Section A: Statements from Church Public Affairs

Church Public Affairs has issued statements that make their role clear:

Church Public Affairs “does not act independently of church leadership,” spokesman Scott Trotter….“Official statements on the [LDS] church websites are approved at the highest level.” He added, “The church is naturally concerned when some members deliberately misrepresent its leaders and actions. In such cases, the church reserves the right to publicly correct the record.”[1]

In 2014, Michael Otterson (managing director of Church Public Affairs) wrote:

First, it’s important to understand that the Public Affairs Department of the Church does not freelance. For Public Affairs to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of those who preside over the Church is simply unthinkable, as anyone who has ever worked for the Church will attest.
As managing director of the Public Affairs Department, I work under the direct supervision of two members of the Twelve apostles, two members of the Presidency of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishop, and alongside a remarkable and devoted staff of men and women.
This group of senior General Authorities often refers matters of particular importance to other councils of men and women leaders, to the full Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to the First Presidency for further discussion or decision.[2]

He elsewhere wrote:

Please also understand that no Church spokesperson…issues statements on behalf of the Church that are not either initiated or approved by members of the Twelve and, at times, by the First Presidency. We stand by the statement that was issued on their behalf, and which was accurate in every detail.[3]

Section B: Statements from Church Leaders

Ah, but my readers are a sagacious and clever bunch. “That’s just what a rogue Church PA office would say, isn’t it?”

Well, I salute to your powers of deduction, gentle reader. Bowing to your logic, I offer Elder Quentin L. Cook’s take on the matter:

It’s interesting. People who disagree with anything that is either sent by letter or put in the Newsroom, or however it’s done, can find interesting ways to say that it really doesn’t mean what it says.

You look back at the history of Wilford Woodruff’s announcement on polygamy in 1890 and there were still people quibbling about that for a long, long time.

The Church uses, the First Presidency and the Twelve use, whatever means will be most effective depending on what the issue is and who it affects. Most often that will be a letter to stake presidents and bishops, and it will be sent all over the world. But sometimes it’s for a particular area.

Sometimes we use news releases. Sometimes we use the Newsroom site to put those up, particularly with community issues that are important. When something is put up on the Newsroom or an announcement is made in a different way, that is the Church’s policy.

It’s interesting to me that the announcement that the priesthood would be available to all worthy male members regardless of race was a news release. Ultimately there was a letter sent out, but it was announced at a press conference with the Managing Director of Public Affairs. Some people have chosen to say they’re not going to believe it unless it’s in a letter. Others have said that the prophet will have to tell them personally. I think that kind of tells you where they are when they make those kinds of statements.

When something goes up on the Newsroom site, you can be sure that the approval process is such that those official statements have the complete support of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[4]

Given the above, on second thought I think the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve could probably squash the sorts of claims we saw in section A–so my wise readers (all five of you–Hi, Mom!) should maybe not toss those out too quickly either.



[1] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Some LDS conservatives now at odds with their church,” Salt Lake Tribune (28 April 2011).

[2] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church Public Affairs), “Context missing from discussion about women,” letter (29 May 2014), 4

[3] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church public affairs), “Dear Sister Reynolds,” letter (April 2014).

[4] Quentin L. Cook, “Understanding Our External Environment,” Leadership Enrichment Series (23 February 2011).

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 8

Joseph F. Smith:

Those who defend us, do so not infrequently with an apologetic air. The Saints are never safe in following the protests and counsels of those who would have us ever and always in harmony with the world. We have our particular mission to perform; and that we may perform it in consonance with divine purposes, we are running counter to the ways of man. We are made unpopular. The contempt of the world is on us, and we are the unloved child among the peoples of the earth.

– Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, edited by John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1919), 118.

Harold B. Lee:

Mark well those who speak evil of the Lord’s anointed, for they speak from impure hearts. Only the “pure in heart” see the “God” or the divine in man and accept our leaders and accept them as prophets of the Living God. …

Conference Report (October 1947): 67.

Boyd K. Packer:

It seems that there comes, each generation or so, a time when the faithful of the Church are under great criticism, even under attack. That has always been true of those who are under covenant to the Lord. As part of our way of life, we must expect, on occasion, to stand condemned by those outside the Church who oppose the standards the Lord has directed us to keep.

Occasionally one inside the Church joins the ranks of the critics. Beware of covenant breakers. It is one thing for nonmembers to criticize and attack the Church and its leaders. It is quite another when someone within the Church does so, after he has entered into solemn and sacred covenants to do otherwise. It makes a very big difference indeed….

Beware of covenant breakers, inside the Church and out. Beware of those who mock the prophets.

– Boyd K. Packer, “Ordinances,” The Things of the Soul (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 193-194 [Address given to 14-stake Brigham Young University fireside, 3 February 1980.]

(One Reason) Why I Love Brigham Young

I’ve let the ol’ blog go a bit to seed.

I’m really not what great bloggers are made of–too many seem to think that people want to read the least thing that drops from their lips.

(And, honestly, on the few blogs I follow that’s actually true–I do simply enjoy those writer’s company. They don’t have to be constantly dropping wisdom and bon mots; it’s a little like a college bull-session between classes. So, hopefully someone out there finds the same pleasure in a few minutes of my virtual company.)

Image But, it occurs to me that it is Brigham Young’s birthday today, and that has shaken me from my slumber. And, in stake conference we were encouraged again to engage in these types of conversations.

Brigham Young

Brigham was the second–and longest serving–leader of my faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He kept the Church together following the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, and got them out of Illinois (and the United States) when citizens of that state and nation were trying to kill them, as other citizens had before.

Much has been said and written about and by Brigham–we have a much more robust record of his sermons and actions than we do of Joseph, for example. He was a powerful personality.

One thing that often gets lost, however, in accounts of Brigham is why he was as successful as he was.

Why was he–despite his rough edges, which were evident even to his contemporaries–almost universally supported, and even loved? Why did people follow him out into a desert, and persist despite persecution, famine, bad harvests, grasshoppers, Indian raids, US Army expeditions, and all the rest?

I found an account from my great-great-great-grandfather’s history that is little known outside the family, and I think it gives a window into part of the answer to that question.[1]

My grandfather’s background

He and his family lived outside of Nauvoo, and they were poor people:

My father was wont to go up to Nauvoo twice a year to attend conference, but never had the privilege of gathering with the saints until long after they were driven into the wilderness….The fact of our [327] being Mormons brought much persecution on our family of which I had my full share. Notwithstanding most of my playmates were relatives of one grade or another, mostly cousins on my mother’s side, I found myself early subjected to ridicule, taunts and many times to blows on this account. Our house was frequently stoned, the windows smashed in. Such was frequently the lawless and mobocratic spirit that prevailed in those days throughout the whole of the western country wherever a Latter-day Saint could be found….

…my father was taken with some disease which disabled him from working more or less for years, and we were as a consequence in poverty and distress, and this was the reason for not gathering with the Saints in Nauvoo….

Impending marriage

Isaiah discussed his love and impending marriage for a non-LDS woman, and noted:

[336] I had already caught the spirit of the gathering, and I knew that sooner or later it was my duty to gather with the Church….I at last laid my entire history before Elder Erastus Snow, one of the Twelve, and asked his counsel as to what I should do. He advised me to keep my engagement with Sarah, to marry her and leave the event with God….

Isaiah was teaching school in an area in which he was the only member. Despite being the only Mormon family, prejudice was sufficient to threaten his lifelihood:

[338]…Many of my patrons became highly incensed at the idea of their school teacher being a Mormon and began to withdraw their children from school and to clamor for my dismissal. I knew that eventually I should have to quit. About this time, an uncle of [my wife’s]…came on a visit….When he learned that I was a Mormon, his fury knew no bounds. Being a giant in physical proportions and strength, he seriously contemplated annihilating me utterly….[My wife] was afraid of him from the first, and when he threatened to follow me to the frontiers, if I started with her and to kill me wherever he found me, her mind that had all the time been wavering on the subject of accompanying me, was made up that she would remain. I told him flatly that I should go to Utah when spring opened and that I would take my wife with me if she wished to go.

In the meantime my once thriving school was now almost deserted, and I saw myself daily become more and more isolated from the community. Very few of my old friends stood by me in this trying hour. If my wife had been one with me I should not have minded it, for I had fully calculated on everything else; but she too was drifting away from me, and this it was that drove me almost to distraction. Still I labored on heartsick and weary until the 6th day of April when I went again to St. Louis to attend conference. While there I again sought the advice of Bro. Snow. After hearing me through he said, “You can have your choice of two things, either go on a mission to England to preach the gospel or go home to the valley. If you go to England your wife will likely repent while you are gone and be willing to go with you anywhere by the time you get back; if she sees you starting for the valley she may change her mind even at the eleventh hour and conclude to accompany you.”

After a night’s reflection on the subject, sleeping none, praying much, I decided to go with the emigration to Utah, be the final decision of my wife what it might. “Very well,” said Bro. Snow, “that is as I would have decided myself. It is the best thing you can do.”

Trip to Salt Lake

Isaiah’s wife did not decide to go with him.

[339]…when I came to part with my wife, my heart sank like lead within me. Henceforth, we were to see each other no more in this life…Hurrying away I entered the wagon that was waiting, buried my face in my hands, and looked not up again until [the town] and all its near and dear associations were left far behind. If I had not turned to a pillar of salt or ice, the sight of my beloved wife standing in the door would have melted my heart within me and I should have returned, and thereby braved the displeasure of the Almighty and perhaps have yielded little by little to the voice of the tempter until I, with her, should have been eternally lost and shut out form the presence of God and the holy Angels. The responsibilities resting upon me were too great. My father, brothers, and sisters tied hand and foot in Babylon with the iron chain of poverty, looked to me as a deliverer; they expected me to go ahead and open the way for them to come. A long line of ancestors who had died without the gospel in the ages past were calling to me with their spirit voices and bidding me go up and assist in rearing a temple wherein to officiate for them that they might come up and receive blessings equally with the living. And last, though not least was the consideration that I was obeying the voice of God and that I was taking a course that would secure my own glory and exaltation and that would eventually either in this life or that which is to come enable me to bind my wife to me in bands that could not be broken. She was blind then but the day would come when she would see….

[344] The year of my arrival in the valleys was one of hard times. The grasshoppers had preyed on the crops until starvation seemed to stare the people in the face. Grave apprehensions were entertained by many, of a famine. Being a thousand miles from the frontiers with no connecting railroad on which to bring supplies, we found ourselves thrown on our own resources of sustenance. Under the same circumstances any other people would have starved to death. But the Saints hearkened to the counsels of the prophet and were saved. A public feast was proclaimed every week and what was thus saved was distributed to the poor. Every man who had bread divided with his neighbor and thus the community was saved from the horrors [345] of famine. I heard of no instance of rich or well-to-do men taking advantage of the necessities of the poor. President Young himself set the example in this respect and dealt out to the people as long as any remained in his bins. Greens, wild roots, etc., were freely eaten by all classes so as to spin out the bread stuff until the harvest of [18]56….

Conclusion: Birth of a son and what followed

We come now to my point about Brigham. It’s taken a bit of time to get here, but you need the background to understand what comes next.

We’ve seen Brigham function on a broader scale–the territory-wide food shortage. But, he remains a somewhat remote figure, as he’d almost have to with thousands of members spread out over a huge area.

In spring of 1856, Isaiah learned that his estranged wife had given birth to his first child, a son.

…[345] I longed for the power of an immortal that I might transport myself in a moment to the side of my wife and babe. I felt as if I were caged, bound hand and foot and I struggled in spirit to free myself. And yet I was not sorry for what I had done. I could not however put out of my mind the intense longing to see my loved ones. It seemed as if I could not contain myself. While in this state of mind I one day met Bro. Erastus Snow and as he had always taken a very kindly interest in my welfare, I told him the news I had received and my feelings in relation to it. He advised me to go to President Young and lay the whole matter before him and then act on any counsel he might give me. I lost no time in adopting this advice.

During the whole of this recital [President Young] sat with one hand on my knee, looking in my face and listened attentively to what I had to say. At the close he took me by the hand in his fatherly way and said, “Bro. Coombs, you had better take a mission to the States this fall to preach the gospel and to visit your wife. Brother Snow had represented your case to me before. He is going to start on a mission to St. Louis in a few days and will be in charge. He would be pleased, I know, to have you as a co-laborer. Travel under his directions; visit your wife as often as you please; preach the gospel to her, and if she is worth having she will come with you when you return to the valley. God bless and proper you.” Such was the counsel of God’s prophet to me and I need not say that it sounded to my ears like the voice of my Father. It was sweet—-it was just what I had hoped he would say to me, and it was entirely satisfying to my soul. I felt as if I had suddenly been transported to the seventh heaven, so great was the joy that filled my bosom (emphasis added).

His wife never did accept Mormonism. Yet, Isaiah would love and honor Brigham for the rest of his life–and was eventually employed as one of Brigham’s clerks.

Here we have a young, poor member of the Church. He was not from Nauvoo; he did not move in the circles of Church power and influence. He doesn’t come in to the histories of the period.

His family was destitute, and still back in the east. He was, quite literally, a nobody—or, so you would think. But, Brigham evidently didn’t think so.

I think Brigham’s behavior and treatment of this troubled, unimportant young man speaks for itself. And, I think it shows why Isaiah and thousands of other Saints loved Brigham, and followed him to the ends of the earth.

So, whenever I hear someone criticize Brigham, I think of this story. And, I think my grandfather would have my hide if I ever turned on “Brother Brigham.”


[1] Kate B. Carter, ed., Isaiah M[oses] Coombs from His Diary and Journal (Salt Lake City, Utah: published by Daughters of Utah Pioneers through Utah Printing Company, n.d.). Page numbers have been inserted into my citations in square brackets.