“What counsel has been given on that claim to expose the Church and its teachings?” Ensign, Jan. 1995, 61–62
Response by Gilbert W. Scharffs, instructor and executive assistant, Salt Lake University Institute of Religion.
When President Brigham Young was asked why the Church did not publish the truth regarding lies circulated about the Latter-day Saints, he replied, “We might do this if we owned all the papers published in Christendom” (Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1978, p. 352).
Today, as in President Young’s day, General Authorities usually do not comment on negative information about the Church. Their responsibility is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their primary work is to “bear testimony of the restoration of the gospel and that Jesus is the Christ” (Church News, 18 Dec. 1983, p. 2). They know, as the Lord revealed to Isaiah, that “no weapon formed against thee shall prosper” (Isa. 54:17).
However, when the occasion requires a response, Church leaders do answer specific critics and criticisms in order to set the record straight. Latter-day Saint doctrines and practices are not on trial. Gospel principles are God-given eternal truths that bless faithful members and the world at large.1
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve likened the Church to a great organized caravan following an appointed course. “What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? … The caravan moves on” (Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 85).
The restored gospel centers on teachings that save, strengthen, uplift, inspire, and bind individuals and families. The Church discourages teachings contrary to such goals. Because of their great concern for the membership, Church leaders have given guidance concerning anti-LDS material and have cautioned against those things designed to destroy belief and cause pain and suffering.
President Ezra Taft Benson has advised against purchasing material derogatory to the Church; buying this material will only “help sustain their cause” (address to religious educators, 17 Sept. 1976). And Elder Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy has warned against those who attempt to “sow doubts and to disturb the peace of true believers. … Avoid those who would tear down your faith. Faith-killers are to be shunned. The seeds which they plant in the minds and hearts of men grow like cancer and eat away the Spirit” (Ensign, Nov. 1981, pp. 67–68).
Such advice must not be interpreted to mean that the Church is against honest scholarship or has anything to fear or hide. Nor does the Church ban literature, but Latter-day Saints should be wise in choosing what to read.
This cautionary counsel should not be misconstrued to justify laziness on our part in seeking answers, or giving glib, superficial replies when someone sincerely wants to know the truth after being exposed to anti-LDS material. Church critics and enemies should not be permitted to make what Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve has sometimes called “uncontested slam dunks.”
The Church encourages gospel scholarship and the search for truth. “Fundamental to our theology is belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every Latter-day Saint,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency (Ensign, Sept. 1985, p. 6).
Latter-day Saints should be sufficiently grounded in their testimonies and knowledge of Church doctrine and history that they can answer questions in a non-contentious and informative way. Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve has instructed Church members not to retaliate against attacks. “We encourage all our members to refuse to become anti-anti-Mormon,” he said (Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 63). Paul taught that coming to Christ requires “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
The First Presidency has encouraged Church members to convey their response to questions and criticism “in the form of a positive explanation of the doctrines and practices of the Church” (Church News, 18 Dec. 1983, p. 2).2
Members should invite those with questions about Church doctrine and practices to read latter-day scriptures and to study the restored gospel, thus tasting the gospel fruit for themselves. Only then will they know “whether it be of God” (John 7:17).3
When members lack answers, they should learn what Church leaders and reputable scholars have said and written. There is probably no charge against the Church that has not been adequately refuted by someone. When members can’t find answers on their own, they can turn to home and visiting teachers, quorum leaders, bishops, and stake presidents. If necessary, stake presidents can take questions to area presidencies or other authorities.
During a Church fireside commemorating the restoration of the priesthood, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve referred to the Jews’ undeviating course in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem following their return from captivity (Ensign, Aug. 1983, pp. 68–71). The prophet Nehemiah, who directed the work, would not be lured away by his enemies, telling them, “I am doing a great work, … : why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Neh. 6:3.)
In relating how Latter-day Saints should react to public ridicule of sacred temple and priesthood ordinances, Elder Packer said, “That is what we should do: Go about our work, strengthening the wards and the stakes, the quorums and the families and the individual members. We have a work to do. Why should it cease while we do battle with our enemies? … Do not be drawn away to respond to enemies” (Ensign, Aug. 1983, p. 69).
Those willing to take time to research anti-LDS claims can find answers. The Church is true and will continue to grow. Those who would reap great eternal rewards and joy must wisely use their time to study, ponder, love, and work so they can anchor their convictions in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his Church.