Somebody asked this question recently on the LDS subreddit:
“What are some anti-Mormon lies?” the poster asked. “I’ve been told to beware them, but I’ve yet to see any.”
The poster’s implication, of course, is that there are no anti-Mormon lies. Perhaps that there are no anti-Mormons. Critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints love to fight against the title “anti-Mormon.” They insist they aren’t anti-Mormon, they’re simply pro-truth. “How could the truth be anti anything,” they ask.
Of course, it doesn’t take long to encounter some genuine lies in the world of anti-Mormonism. Here’s a few that I’ve seen, and the principles that create them.
Outright Lies – Yes, there are people out there who simply make up facts about Mormons and our faith. One example is my best friend’s youth pastor who taught that we raid graveyards at night, dig up corpses, and take them to our temples where we baptize them. Ew. These flat out misrepresentations or lies can range from the absurd (Mormon temples include missile silos and paramilitary bunkers) to the argumentative (Mormons aren’t Christian / don’t believe in God.)
Lack of Information – Far more common is the claims made without full information. This happens very frequently. An anti-mormon will make a claim based on the information that he has read, but doesn’t realize he is wrong. “Steel didn’t even exist back then,” he might say, not realizing that steel artifacts have been discovered in ancient Jerusalem. It’s not really his fault, he’s just using a playbook created by somebody who either didn’t know or didn’t care what the truth was. In our internet age, it’s impossible to know everything, so making this mistake happens to all of us. However some people CHOOSE to be ignorant because it helps their claim. Start a website to accept stories of abuse in the LDS church? It’s far better to avoid verifying any claims in order to boost your numbers.
Spin Doctoring – This is probably the most common form of lying about the church. It’s taking something–anything–about the faith, and presenting it as a negative. There’s a few ways to do this. Did the LDS Church just donate $25,000 to an LGBT support group? Complain about it as being not enough. Only mention it in comparison to something expensive like the cost of a temple, the church’s real estate investments, etc. so that it seems small. If you want to make your negative view of the church more important than the truth, then there are a hundred ways to spin a positive into a negative.
Lies of Omission / Cherry Picking – Along with Spin Doctoring, this is a common one. For example, if you did a little research and found that this LGBT support group asked for only $20,000 as a donation and that the Church increased its gift by 25% over what was asked, that’s pretty positive. Anti-Mormon liars will simply omit that part. Keep out the good and then move on to the usual spin-doctoring. Did President Hinkley improve millions of lives, inspire goodness, encourage the downtrodden, improve interfaith relations, increase humanitarian aid in the world, and otherwise transform the world into a better place? Anti-Mormon liars will ignore ALL of that in favor of only bringing up one or two negative things they can find about him.
Ascribe Motives / Make up Facts – If you visit an Anti-Mormon forum you are sure to see this one. Whenever there is even a little ambiguity (which in examining people and history there always is) they will assign the worst possible motives to the people and present them as facts. “Monson is only saying that so he’ll look good.” “Of course the church gave a donation, it’s PR disaster recovery.” Nothing good can be done with pure motives in the mind of the anti-Mormon. After all, if the people doing good really are good people, what does that say about those who fight against them?
Conviction by Contradiction – Ever see the old Perry Mason tv show? The witness is on the stand, testifying. Suddenly, Mason reveals a startling fact: “The cigarette was the wrong brand!!” The jury gasps! The suspect must be guilty! This is a common TV trope called “Conviction by Contradiction.” What’s funny about it is that the “contradiction” doesn’t prove anything except that there’s a contradiction. But the tv show treats it as proof that the entire story was a lie! Life, of course, is full of contradictions. This includes the reality of thinking one thing one day, then changing your mind the next.
The church and our members are the same. We learn and grow. That means some things that were wrong before are made right, and sometimes we make mistakes. Those contradictions are treated by Anti-Mormons as PROOF that the entire church is a fraud. Of course, contradictions are only proof of their own existence. But to an antagonist of the faith, they are inflated to become capital-T Truth of their claims against the church.
Conclusions, not Facts
All of these methods of lying lead to one common behavior: presenting conclusions as facts. This is usually a sign somebody has made up their mind, as they’re not talking about the facts of the matter but rather their preconceived story. Claims like “Joseph Smith copied the Book of Mormon from text X” is not a fact, it’s a conclusion being presented as if it were a fact. “The Mormon Church’s teachings make teens suicidal” is not a fact, it’s a conclusion being presented as a fact. Sharing your conclusions as if they were facts, not allowing your listener to know the underlying truths behind your conclusions, is yet another way to lie.
But are these really Lies?
I know for sure there are some people reading this list and thinking “Is that really a lie though?” Certainly a standard for truth and lies must be set before describing all of these as “Anti Mormon Lies.”
To be honest, I don’t consider all of these to be lies. In particular, saying something untrue just because you don’t know the full truth doesn’t seem to qualify as a “telling a lie” to me. However, many people consider that behavior to be a lie, especially Anti-Mormons! The best example of this is our own church history and the anti-Mormon reaction to it. As historians operate with partial information, they decide to incorporate faith-promoting stories into the manuals they create, which they believe are true. Those manuals are given to teachers who also believe they are true. The real truth is discovered later, but by then it’s too late. The church has been teaching the wrong thing for decades. Does that mean “the church lied to you?” Did your teachers lie? I don’t think so. But the Anti-Mormons love to spin-doctor this into malicious whitewashing by a faceless organization. The irony, of course, is that if speaking something false without knowing it’s false can be called a malicious lie, then there are truly an abundance of Anti-Mormon lies out there.
Three Methods to Examine Facts & Lies
Many people have described 3 ways to approach ambiguity in facts and the conclusions we draw from them. There’s no unified terminology so I’ll use a few ideas to present them.
Optimist / Thesis – The optimist sees only the good and refuses to admit the bad exists. He lives in a world of “sunshine in my soul” and figures ALL claims which run contrary to his views are “anti-Mormon” and de-facto lies. Ironically, this person makes the same mistake as the anti-mormons by relying on conclusions to the rejection of contrary facts.
Cynic / Antithesis – The cynic has recognized there is light and dark in the world and rejects the light as a lie. They see only the bad. To this person, there is no spin-doctoring, only a cold, hard look at reality that can only be interpreted in the most pessimistic way possible. The cynic doesn’t know how you could say he’s “Anti-Mormon” since, in his view, Mormonism is self-evidently Anti itself.
Builder / Synthesis – This is the person who knows that “nuance” isn’t a dirty word. He sees that the optimist’s conclusions aren’t completely accurate, and the cynic’s conclusions aren’t entirely false. He sees the encircling gloom AND the kindly light. G. K. Chesterton described this sort of person as the only one who can actually improve the human condition because it is only the builder who is willing to both acknowledge that a problem exists and yet retain enough genuine loyalty to do something about it. He compares these people to women who are loyal to their husbands even as the husbands make terrible mistakes:
Some stupid people started the idea that because women obviously back up their own people through everything, therefore women are blind and do not see anything. They can hardly have known any women. The same women who are ready to defend their men through thick and thin . . . are almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of [their] excuses or the thickness of [their] head[s]. . . . Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind. [G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy(Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1959), pp. 69–71.]
I suppose the best conclusion is to point out the facts: All of those methods of lying used by anti-Mormons? There are some of us faithful Latter-day Saints who use the same tools.
Yes there are anti-Mormon lies. And you need to watch out for them. Don’t let people use despicable tools in their efforts to make you feel negatively about your faith, or to deconvert you. But don’t you ever fall into the same trap. Some of their “lies” are not entirely false, even if presented in a deceptive way. We do have room for improvement. We can do better. We don’t have to look at everything in a cynical way, but we can be on the lookout for ways to do more good than we’ve done before.
It’s okay to focus on the good. We should. The kindly light is the most important thing, not the encircling gloom. Let’s help others focus on that light as well. But let’s not pretend the encircling gloom doesn’t exist. As Eliza R. Snow said:
Think not when you gather to Zion,
Your troubles and trials are through,
That nothing but comfort and pleasure
Are waiting in Zion for you:
No, no, ‘tis designed as a furnace,
All substance, all textures to try,
To burn all the “wood, hay, and stubble,”
The gold from the dross purify.
Think not when you gather to Zion,
That all will be holy and pure;
That fraud and deception are banished,
And confidence wholly secure:
No, no, for the Lord our Redeemer
Has said that the tares with the wheat
Must grow till the great day of burning
Shall render the harvest complete.