The church has a history of high level leaders making sweeping pronouncements that are later deemed incorrect, speculative, or unauthorized, yet in each case, church leaders are reluctant to make public correction of those presumptions. This tolerance sometimes results in dogmatic voices flourishing, drowning out those same tolerant voices that have graciously granted them access to the open mic.
This problem is similar to the problem of freedom of speech. Do you only allow freedom of speech until someone says something you don’t like? Those with less dogmatic viewpoints are also less likely to condemn the sweeping pronouncements of others for the same reason they don’t make them. They may be more self-critical and more reluctant to express their opinions when those opinions will affect others.
Here are a few examples of this problem (many of these are included in the book David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism):
- Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine. This was published without prior authorization from the FP under the most presumptuous title imaginable. While Pres. McKay was highly incensed over it, requiring two apostles to research and find over 1000 errors in the book, no public correction was made other than to tell BRM that the book should not be republished. BRM accepted the private correction, but repeatedly requested that the book be allowed to be republished. Eventually, in his dotage, Pres. McKay gave a sufficiently cryptic response that BRM took it as license to republish. Among the worst criticisms of the book:
- It referred to the Roman Catholic church as the Church of the Devil, stating that this was what was meant by the Book of Mormon’s “harlot of the earth” reference. It was so harsh that it caused RC Bishop Hunt, a friend to Pres. McKay, to come to Pres. McKay with tears in his eyes asking if this was what McKay thought of him.
- It propounded the inaccurate “Cain” doctrine (borrowed from Protestantism) as justification of the Priesthood Ban.
- It prohibited all caffeinated beverages from the Word of Wisdom (despite Pres. McKay’s own personal affinity for Coke).
- And many many more . . .
- Ezra Taft Benson’s association with the John Birch Society. As an apostle, Benson was staunchly anti-communist. He quickly became enamored with the newly formed John Birch society and was repeatedly courted by founder Robert Welch to join the society and to use his apostolic influence to encourage other Mormons to join. Pres. McKay refused to consent to both Benson’s membership and endorsement of the John Birch Society, but Benson persisted and even resorted to trickery to try to convince Pres. McKay to be featured on the cover of the monthly magazine of the society. Again, no public disavowal of the organization or Benson’s tactics was ever made, and many members were led to believe that the church endorsed the John Birch Society.
- Joseph Fielding Smith’s Man, His Origin and Destiny. The book states authoritatively (yet without authority) that evolution is false, a matter of Joseph Fielding Smith’s personal speculation. David O. McKay specifically said he believed evolution was a true scientific principle; yet no corrective action was taken to diminish the book’s significance.
- Paul H. Dunn’s stories. While not dogmatic, they are riddled with hyperbolic glurge that purports to “prove” the church is true, which can be faith demoting when individuals discover the stories are fictional.
- The Priesthood Ban. This is a pretty basic one. While David O. McKay was the first to acknowledge this was a policy (therefore “of man”) and not a doctrine (no originating revelation), there was no public repudiation of the rampant racist rhetoric of the time until much later when the ban had been removed, and the rhetoric had continued in justification. In fact, this is a great example of a time when Bruce R. McConkie (much later) fell on the sword publicly, apologetically stating that the things they had said were all wrong.
- Spencer W. Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness. This was written in 1969 and contains errors that are potentially harmful to those who read it if they are in a vulnerable emotional state or prone to take things far too seriously, such as:
- It’s better to be killed than to be a rape victim. This also implies that those who don’t die as a victim of a rape attempt were somehow willing participants, a particularly disturbing notion for both victims of rape and children of incest.
- It states that wet dreams are sinful, implying that they are voluntary and not biological.
- It has been criticized alternately as too harsh (by internal critics) and as un-Christian (by external critics) in diminishing the power of the atonement to redeem by focusing on human efforts.
In the above cases, the standing prophet was unwilling to make public correction, instead preferring to hope that the inaccurate information would die out on its own over time. There was a desire not to reduce the influence of the General Authority who had erred in speculation through public correction. The actual effect seems to have been that the tolerance and generosity of the standing prophets has caused these individuals’ voices to be the loudest of all, to the point that their doctrines and interpretations are mainstream or orthodox over the more tolerant religious views.
Is this the way of the world? Do the loudest voices always win? Are the loudest voices always the most harsh and dogmatic? Was it always this way, or is this simply the current trend? Or is this how we learn humility? Is this a human condition that is just a natural byproduct of all organizations or a particularly Mormon trait? Is this an example of those who act (those who prefer to take charge and define requirements for others) vs. those who are acted upon (those who prefer to “go with the flow,” or be passive & tolerant)?