Monday, April 30, 2012

Free will and "lying for the Lord"

As I mentioned in my post about the doctrine of hell, free will is a central tenet of many religions.  Nowhere is this more true than in Mormonism, where it is referred to as "free agency."  Mormons even believe that the "War in Heaven" was fought over free agency, resulting in about 20 billion spirits being denied bodies.

Mormons also praise the virtue of compete honesty.  According to the LDS Gospel Principles manual, honesty is more than simply not lying.  It can involve concealing relevant information.
"Lying is intentionally deceiving others. Bearing false witness is one form of lying. The Lord gave this commandment to the children of Israel: 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour' (Exodus 20:16). Jesus also taught this when he was on earth (see Matthew 19:18). There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest." - Gospel Principles, chapter 31, "Honesty"
There is an interplay between honesty and free will.  One can manipulate a person's behavior through dishonesty.  For example, by concealing negative information, a church can retain members that would otherwise leave if they had the whole story.

The Mormon church has consistently lied to its members about unflattering events in its history in an effort to whitewash the past.  "Lying for the Lord," as it is referred to by ex-Mormons, existed in the early days of the LDS Church and exists today.  Mormons are great at utilitarian thinking.  Anything is justified -- from lying to murder (in some extreme cases) -- if it advances the agenda of the Church.

A good example from early Mormonism was Joseph Smith's lying about polygamy.  In 1844, Joseph Smith had over 30 wives, many of whom were under age (as young as 14) and almost a third were married to other men at the time, sometimes with the knowledge of their husbands.  When accused of polygamy, Joseph Smith denied that he had married multiple women:
What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers. I labored with these apostates myself until I was out of all manner of patience.
"Address of the Prophet—His Testimony Against the Dissenters at Nauvoo", delivered Sunday, May 26, 1844. Printed in History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 408-412. Available at

More recently, the church has engaged in a consistent pattern of concealing information, resulting in many people feeling betrayed when the lie becomes apparent.  An example of LDS teachers being instructed to lie found in an address by Boyd K. Packer, one of the Church's Twelve Apostles:  
"You seminary teachers and some of you institute and BYU men will be teaching the history of the Church this school year. This is an unparalleled opportunity in the lives of your students to increase their faith and testimony of the divinity of this work. Your objective should be that they will see the hand of the Lord in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now... Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer... There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not... Some things that are true are not very useful... That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities. ... Do not spread disease germs.
Boyd K. Packer. "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect". A talk given at the Fifth Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators' Symposium, 22 August, 1981, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. For an official transcript see Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981.

Whatever its justification, the Church's habit of "Lying for the Lord" has resulted in thousands of defections.

This video provides many examples LDS leaders lying to the media, including recent half truths and bald-face lies made during a BBC interview.

Here is another good example of institutional lying:  telling missionaries how to answer the question that "should have been asked" (i.e., lie).  Thanks to Winston Smith for posting this in his comment.


  1. Here's a pretty blatant example the BBC missed, BYU religion professor Robert Millet explaining the ins and outs of lying to a gathering of missionaries.

    1. Excellent. Thanks! I'll add it to the blog. By the way, 1984 is one of my favorite books.