Subject: Do Mormon prophets really know the Church is true?: What some of them told me
Date: Oct 14 02:29 2003
Author: steve benson
Mail Address:

Introduction: What Do the General Authorities Know and How Do They Know It?

A sometimes-asked question on this board [] is whether the General Authorities of the Mormon Church genuinely believe the Church is true.

They may believe it; they may not.

But do they know it?

I cannot, of course, speak for them. But I can, perhaps, provide a few glimpses into their thinking on this question--based upon my personal contact with some of them and what they told me in conversation and letter.

Ezra Taft Benson

My grandfather's testimony of Mormonism, as expressed to me repeatedly over the years in personal discussions and correspondence, was rooted in two basic beliefs:

(1) The Book of Mormon

He fervently believed that the Book of Mormon was the revealed word of God and an actual historical document. From what I was able to observe, he never, ever questioned its authenticity.

That said, however, I never heard or saw him analyze or critique the Book of Mormon in any real depth on issues relating to its alleged historicity or reliability.

Ezra Taft Benson did admit to me in private that even though he insisted the Church was not neutral on the question of organic evolution, one could argue for or against it from the same Mormon scriptures. In other words, for all his pulpit-pounding confidence in the Book of Mormon, in this particular instance he was not nearly as emphatic or confident in private as he appeared in public about the surety of LDS scripture.

Nevertheless, that seeming qualifier was not enough to shake his unbending faith in the gold plates. To my grandfather, they were without question the translated word of God, serving as a pillar of unshakeable, personal, testimonial faith.

Ranking second only to revealed Mormon scripture in fighting godless Communism, he told me, were the publications of the John Birch Society.

(2) The ranking leaders of the Mormon Church

My grandfather unquestioningly believed, and simply accepted, that the highest leaders of the Church--specifically, the President and his counselors, along with the Quorum of the Twelve--were inspired by God in leading the affairs of the Mormon Church. He insisted that all must follow the Brethren devoutly--and without skepticism.

For example, when he called me one snowy, wintry day in Provo to tell me to break off my engagement to Mary Ann, he introduced himself by saying, "Stephen, I'm not calling as your grandfather, but as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve."

He did, however, privately acknowledge to me that these Church leaders were human, that they made mistakes, that they did not always agree among themselves on doctrinal matters and that some of what they disagreed on was not necessary to one's eternal salvation.

Still, he told me that obedience to the General Authorities--even if what they claimed to be true was, in fact, wrong--constituted a fundamental principle of the Gospel. He assured me that God would bless those who followed the Brethren, even when the Brethren were in error.

My grandfather also told me that he did not want me to publish anything that would undermine faith or testimony in the leaders of the Mormon Church.

In short, he seemed at times more committed to principles of obedience than to principles of truth.

My grandfather never claimed to me (or anyone else that I am aware of) that he had personally seen God, Jesus Christ or other divine beings. He did, however, tell me that he had had an experience in the Salt Lake temple (regarding the announcement by President Kimball on Blacks and the priesthood) that was too sacred to talk about. This supposed experience he would not delve into at all, even though I requested that he do so.

He also informed the Benson family that there were other matters which he was not at liberty to discuss.

He was never specific with me in revealing any particular personal experiences of his that formed the basis for his testimony of the truthfulness of Mormonism--other than to bear witness to knowing that truth through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

Bruce R. McConkie

In a lengthy one-on-one conversation I had with McConkie at his home while doing a BYU research paper on the official Mormon Church position on the subject of organic evolution, McConkie strongly emphasized what was an obvious and fundamental basis for his belief in the truthfulness of the Mormon Church.

That foundation was that the Standard Works of the Church served as the ultimate authority in determining truth.

McConkie said that the canonized LDS scriptures superceded anything that the living presidents of the Church had declared, or might declare. He said that the Standard Works served as the final test--the pre-eminent standard of measurement--in ascertaining the validity of any claim made by Church leaders, including teachings of both living and dead presidents of the Church.

Otherwise, McConkie told me, these scriptures would not be known as the "standard" works.

In making this claim, McConkie specifically criticized two Church presidents whom he said had made uninspired pronouncements while serving as Church president. Their pronouncements were false, he argued, because what they said was clearly contradicted by the LDS Standard Works:

--The first was President Brigham Young, for his teachings on the Adam-God doctrine.

--The second was President David O. McKay, for his advice to BYU students that they study the theory of organic evolution and the geologic history pointing to an ancient earth.

McConkie did not admit to having made any doctrinal errors himself. In this area, his testimony seemed to rest on his own sense of doctrinal infallibility.

In fact, McConkie told me that his claim that the Roman Catholic Church was the Church of the Devil was true, even though this assertion was edited out of the second edition of his book, Mormon Doctrine. McConkie insisted that it was removed not because it was not true, but because it was too difficult for many people to accept.

Spencer W. Kimball

During the course of my BYU research paper on the LDS stand regarding organic evolution, I corresponded with Kimball, who was then Mormon Church president.

Throughout the course of our exchanges, I had a difficult and frustrating time obtaining direct and clear answers from him.

One thing, however, was obvious:

Kimball did not know much about what other Church presidents had said on certain, important doctrinal matters. By logical extension, therefore, whatever faith Kimball had in the truthfulness of Mormonism was not based on official Mormon positions--enunciated by the president of the Mormon Church--about which he admittedly knew nothing.

For instance, on the question of previous First Presidency statements on the physical origins of humankind, Kimball informed me that he was not familiar with the ones I had cited in my initial correspondence with him.

On the subject of faith, the only direction Kimball gave me was to read Henry Eyring's book, Faith of a Scientist, in which Eyring asserted that science and religion both served as tools in the search for truth: the former in helping people avoid myth; and the latter in directing people toward God.

When I subsequently asked Kimball to provide me his views on Eyring's book, Kimball remained stone silent.

Mark E. Petersen

In conducting my research on the question of the official Church position on organic evolution, I also corresponded with Petersen.

Petersen revealed a lack of firm belief in the seemingly official pronouncements of even unsigned editorials in the official LDS publication, the Church News.

When pressed, Petersen admitted to me the following:

--that the editorials written on the subject of organic evolution he had authored himself;

--that they represented his own opinion; and

--that official statements on Church doctrine came only from signed First Presidency statements.

Dallin H. Oaks

In a conversation I had with Oaks shortly before leaving the Mormon Church, he told me that the basis for his personal testimony about the truthfulness of Mormonism took the form of a warm spiritual witness which he felt in his heart.

This witness apparently had particular meaning for Oaks with regard to the truthfulness of official Mormon scripture.

Oaks admitted to me, for instance, that critics of the Book of Abraham seemed at the present time to have favorable arguments against its authenticity. Oaks told me, however, that the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham ultimately came through a personal, spiritual witness.

Oaks further said that the Book of Mormon could neither be proven or disproven by evidentiary examination, but in the end, also had to be accepted on faith.

In admitting that the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon could not be empirically proven, Oaks even acknowledged that portions of the Book of Mormon--albeit insignificant,in his opinion--might have potential problems with plagiarism.

Despite that admission, Oaks informed me that he had received a spiritual witness that served as the basis for his personal testimony that the Book of Mormon was true.

Oaks's testimony regarding Mormonism's prophets was both illuminating--and conditional.

He did not seem particularly impressed with the antics of even fellow members of the Quorum of the Twelve, notably his senior, Boyd K. Packer. After it became public knowledge that Packer had improperly involved himself in the excommuncation of Paul Toscano, Oaks in referring to Packer told me, "You can't stage manage a grizzly bear."

He told me that he would steadfastly stand by the president of the Church, with one notable exception:

He would not defer, he said, to the president of the Church if the president were to come out and declare that the Book of Mormon was not true. If that should happen, Oaks said he would look to the Quorum of the Twelve for a vote as to whether what the president had said about the Book of Mormon deserved support.

Oaks also did not seem completely certain as to the reliability of prophecies uttered by Mormon prophets. He told me that Church members should not be keeping track of which prophecies had been borne out and, further, that prophecies made by Mormon prophets were for private, rather than public, application.

Oaks noted, as well, that the basic Church doctrines were revealed by Joseph Smith early in the history of the Church. He said that the more modern approach of Church governance has been, since the time of President Joseph F. Smith, to "beseech his counselors in the First Presidency to help him, to watch over him, so that they could together make the right decisions that God wanted them to make."

Oaks also downplayed the prophetic role of Mormon Church prophets by asserting that prophesying was only a minor responsibility of prophets. Their major role, he declared, was to testify of Jesus Christ.

When I asked Oaks to share with me his personal testimony that served as a basis for his apostolic calling as a special witness for Christ, Oaks recounted his days as a college student at the University of Chicago, where he said he had questions about the Mormon Church. He did not detail the nature of those questions but said a local LDS Institute teacher helped him find answers.

Neal A. Maxwell

Maxwell was together with, and participated in, the same conversations I had with Oaks.

Maxwell seemed equally unsure as to the evidentiary proof for the Book of Mormon. He told me, for instance, that God would not provide proof of the Book of Mormon until the end--thereby implying that such proof did not presently exist.

Maxwell also told me that one of the purposes of F.A.R.M.S. was to prevent the General Authorities from being outflanked by the Church's critics.

As to how he personally regarded the pronouncements of president of the Church, Maxwell said it was his duty to be loyal to the Church president. Maxwell added, however, that he not agree with everything President Benson had to say on political matters. This was particularly interesting, given that Ezra Taft Benson had earlier declared that God's prophets could speak authoritatively on all matters, including those of a political nature.

Maxwell, like Oaks, warned me against keeping "box scores" when it came to tallying up which prophecies uttered by Mormon prophets turned out to be turned--and which ones turned out to be false.

He further reminded me that prophets spoke as prophets only when they were acting as prophets--but that the teachings about moonmen attributed to Joseph Smith were probably misreported.

Maxwell instructed me as to how revelation for the Mormon Church was actually received. He said that Joseph Smith's role as unilaterally revealing doctrine in behalf of the Church was a practice not continued by subsequent Mormon prophets. Maxwell claimed there are four levels of fundamental Church doctrine:

(1) those doctrines revealed by the prophet speaking alone;

(2) those doctrines revealed by the prophet in conjunction with his First Presidency counselors;

(3) those doctrines revealed in First Presidency statements, with the words of the First Presidency assuming "a special status;" and

(4) those doctrines revealed by official declaration.

(By the way, both Oaks and Maxwell asserted that what the president of the Mormon Church said must be in compliance with the Standard Works of the Church. They also said that that when Brigham Young taught what Oaks called the "false" doctrine of Adam-God, it was because he was a young prophet who was in need of the help of some good counselors).

When I asked Maxwell to share with me his personal testimony as to his apostolic calling as a special witness of Christ, he told me about the time when, as a young boy, he witnessed his father give his sibling a healing priesthood blessing.

Conclusion: Pulling Back the Curtain

The above statements by Mormonism's supposed prophets, seers and revelators speak for themselves.

There are no wizards behind the curtain--only men.

They are men who speak in loud voices, issue solemn warnings, pull lots of levers, blow plenty of smoke and attempt other feeble special effects.

But in the end, they are mere mortals--not godly portals--who possess only human powers, perceptions and feelings. Despite what they may claim in public, they are not the beneficiaries of any special divine witness.

In sum, they are most decidedly not prophets of God.

Subject: Almost all of the GA's think it is true.
Date: Oct 14 09:48
Author: Dent

When they meet together they reaffirm each other's beliefs by association. When they travel throughout the church they are treated as royalty so they act as though they are "in the know" beyond what peon members know. When they speak they know members hang on every word they say, therefore their "reverent" tone of authoritarian voice.

I doubt many of them take time to study anything contrary to the church. They spend all their time around each other or local church leaders. They believe because they haven't taken time to not believe. Even though there is a forest out there, their noses are pressed firmly into the bark of one tree.

Subject: On the other hand...
Date: Oct 14 10:28
Author: Conehead

Earlier in the year I had a private conversation with a leader at the MTC. He related that he has traveled with most members of the 12 and the 1st P. They have all related that they are absolutely certain the the GOSPEL is true; however, they sometimes aren't too sure about the church!

Subject: Kind of disappointing
Date: Oct 14 10:51
Author: Doug

They read and studied and believed. I read and studied and doubted. Both are valid. They got the warm feeling somehow, I never did.

The annoying thing is their mean spirited, vitriolic arrogance pushing their belief over mine. Why can't they just admit that my doubt is a valid path which I have every right to take, and be friendly about it?

I'm OK with their decision and I understand it.

Subject: From a illustrated children's book, Lorenzo Snow...
Date: Oct 14 10:54
Author: NeoTBM

Thank you Steve. That was very informative. Here is an account that I found in a children's history of church leaders. I find it interesting that this type of history was more outspoken in the 19th century church.

Do you agree with me that hearing this type of story from the 19th century church combined with the "I know and not by faith" type statements of the 20th century leaders leads a member to assume one thing only: those leaders have seen Jesus and just can't say it out in the open. After all, what is a Special Witness? Shouldn't it be... special?

What it sounds like from Steve is that either these men had received no special witness or they were cleaver enough to know Steve would "turn" and not cast their pearls before the swine. Read on...

"When President Wilford Woodruff died in 1898, Lorenzo Snow, his successor, was eighty-four years old. In humility he went to a private room in the Salt Lake Temple to learn the Lord's will and to seek his help."

"'I have not sought this responsibility,' he prayed, 'but if it be thy will, I now present myself before thee for thy guidance and instruction. I ask that thou showest me what thou wouldst have me do.'"

"Naturally the prophet of God expected an immediate answer to such a prayer, some special manifestation, some message. He waited and waited. There was no visit, no voice, no answer. Disappointed, he left the room and passed through the celestial room into the large hallway that led to the stairs. It was there that the Savior appeared to him. Standing about three feet above the floor on what appeared to be a plate of solid gold, with glory of such brightness and whiteness that President Snow could hardly look at him, the Savior gave his instructions to the new prophet."

Subject: The typical TBM response
Date: Oct 14 11:20
Author: steve benson
Mail Address:

The TBM first makes an unproveable assumption that he or she affirms must be true, namely that if Mormon prophets do not provide evidence that they are God's specially-appointed servants who have personally witnessed the miraculous, then that is not because they have not had such experiences, but because God has told them not to share these experiences with others whom God has warned the Mormon prophets will abandon the faith.

This way, the absence of divine manifestations in the lives of the Mormon prophets is explained away by shifting responsibility from the Mormon leaders to provide evidence of their claims of divine calling to attacking and blaming those who dare to question them about those claims.

Secondly, the TBM then resorts to offering "proof" that, in fact, Mormon prophets have experienced the marvelously divine by invoking children's stories which recount visions and other supernatural phenomena--none of which can be proved--and all of which are limited in scope only by the imagination and depth of desire to believe on the part of those who are telling them.

Subject: My introduction into Mormonism is of the ETB type. It is that mind set
Date: Oct 14 11:35
Author: SusieQ#1

that does not allow for anything but blind, or nearly blind obedience as anything else is of the devil who is a very real entity to them and part of their daily fight to be worthy.

The older generation of TBM's, in particular, are set in the same mind set as expressed by ETB in these accounts. I know, I am married to one.

That tradition in acceptance, and unwaivering faith in the truth of the Book of Mormon, which is very much a carry over from the original Mormon church teachings, is what drives the culture today, especially in the core of Mormonism.

Reading the post reminded me of what I had heard over and over from years in the Mormon Church.

The only thing that ever came close to anything but that obstinate belief in Joseph Smith Jr and the Book of Mormon came from a comment at a Fireside some years ago, maybe in about 1980 from someone I knew personally and was a descendant to one of Joseph Smith's closet friends (with the same name) and is mentioned in the D&C. I have expected him to become a GA or if not him, one of his children.

He said, to the effect that -- we claim that living the gospel will bless your lives. That was it.

The Fireside had a speaker talking about the archaeological proof of the Book of Mormon and it was apparent there was none. And that was his comment to me about it. The gospel will bless your lives.

That so shocked and stunned me that I have never forgotten that comment.

Nothing was said about Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, a testimony, the truth of the Book of Mormon, nothing.

I wonder if he knows it is all faith based story telling with no basis in anything even remotely plausible.

If so, he will never become a GA.

Subject: Well, that isn't what Maxwell said at a BYU fireside
Date: Oct 14 12:01
Author: Makurosu

I attended a fireside given by Neal A. Maxwell in the early 1990's. After he spoke, he concluded his remarks by bearing his testimony. Maxwell looked around the room, and there was a dramatic silence. He told us that he did not have faith, but that he was a special witness of Jesus Christ and knew the Church is true. He made it very clear that his apostolic special witness was above and beyond any of our meager testimonies of faith.

Steve wrote:

When I asked Maxwell to share with me his personal testimony as to his apostolic calling as a special witness of Christ, he told me about the time when, as a young boy, he witnessed his father give his sibling a healing priesthood blessing.

That makes Maxwell a liar, plain and simple.

Subject: Richard G. Scott did similar thing in MTC, Spring 1993...
Date: Oct 14 12:23
Author: NeoTBM

He said, "I know... ... ... (tries to say something, but can't)... I know and not by faith."

What we all thought? He wanted to tell us, but couldn't.

Subject: Isn't it interesting that Mormon scripture is replete with wondrous accounts of divine manifestations to believers and non-believers alike:
Date: Oct 14 12:36
Author: steve benson

Saul being brought up short on the road to Damascus, Jesus Christ appearing on the American continent and ministering to the people, Alma the Younger being converted through miraculous intervention, Korihor being struck dumb, the apostles going through an astounding heaven-sent experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, etc., etc., etc.

But the Maxwells and Scotts and Bensons of this world--special witnesses for Christ that they claim to be--just can't seem to detail for us any of these personal manifestations in their own lives.

Instead, they get all choked up, they pause dramatically, their voices quiver--and then: nothing.

Why can't they speak to, lay out and describe in any meaningful detail the divinely-manifested proofs in their lives as to the reality of the divine? Others, according to holy writ, have done so openly and honestly.

Why the tied tongue in these latter days?

Subject: Remember this one? Robert D. Hales, October 2000 GC speaks of his recent illness:
Date: Oct 14 13:34
Author: NeoTBM

"I also learned that I would not be left alone to meet these trials and tribulations but that guardian angels would attend me. There were some that were near angels in the form of doctors, nurses, and most of all my sweet companion, Mary. And on occasion, when the Lord so desired, I was to be comforted with visitations of heavenly hosts that brought comfort and eternal reassurances in my time of need."

Subject: Third hand story about SWK.
Date: Oct 14 16:57
Author: Baura

An RM that I knew once met with Spencer W. Kimball while Kimball was traveling on Church business. Kimball mentioned that when he went in for his throat-cancer surgery that it tried his faith and made him look at how strongly he believed in the Church's doctrines of afterlife etc.

The RM (just a missionary at the time) was rather shocked since Kimball was supposed to KNOW these things and not have to have his "faith" tested.

Subject: Thank you, Steve Benson. This is one of the most valuable posts I have ever read on this board. Thank you! nt

Subject: This whole carefully orchestrated and weepy
Date: Oct 14 13:05
Author: Brother X

monotone "witness" that really isn't a "witness," this alluding to some great experience "about which they cannot speak," is just phonier than hell. Anyone outside of Mormonism can see through this manipulative horsesh*t, and so could a lot of TBMs, if they would think carefully about the "Brethren" are actually not saying.

That the leadership persists in these histrionic theatrics is witness to the total moral dry rot that exists at the heart of Mormonism. They know that they have not seen or heard sh*t, they just want people to think they have.

Subject: What about the brethren who HAVE witnessed?
Date: Oct 14 16:18
Author: Squidboy
Mail Address:

According to Quinn's "Extensions of Power," the early members of the quorum of the 12 sought out and purportedly received visionary experiences wherein they were able to see Jesus.

There is also the famous account of Lorenzo Snow who saw Jesus in the S.L. temple.

Then there's also Hugh B. Brown who told of a personal experience where he talked with Jesus face to face in a non-presumptuous manner.

And one final one that many of us here probably won't like, is that at a CES fireside in the mid-90's, BK Packer explicitly stated that he had personally seen much of the next life.


Subject: If you want tales of divine manifestations don't go to the GA's...
Date: Oct 14 16:52
Author: Baura

Go to the polygamists. The GA's are hard-headed business men. The polygamists are religious fanatics. I think nowadays a predilection for having visions would disqualify someone from rising through the Church Hierarchy.


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