Chapter 18: We Believe in Being Honest

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Howard W. Hunter

The Lord admonishes us to be honest.

Scripture is replete with admonitions to be honest, and commandments are myriad to the effect that we should be honest. We think of them in bold type: THOU SHALT NOT—thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not covet [see Exodus 20:15–17]. …

Some of the more common examples of dishonesty are these:

  1. Stealing.I seldom read a newspaper without finding a number of reports of burglary, robbery, purse-snatching, shoplifting, car theft, and a thousand other things. Even in our chapels there are reports of petty theft.
  2. Cheating.Newspapers carry similar accounts of fraudulent transactions in security dealings, in business transactions, cheating in investments, and other things that are called to public attention. There are some who would cheat their way through school and some who would cheat in examinations.
  3. Violations of Word of Wisdom standards.These are Church standards. They are not violations of the standards of the world. But you have been given the word of the Lord on this subject.
  4. Violation of traffic ordinances.One cannot be basically honest and violate laws formulated by society and government for the welfare of other persons.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” [Exodus 20:16]. Primarily this commandment has reference to false testimony in judicial proceedings, but it is extended to cover all statements which are false in fact. Any untruth which tends to injure another in his goods, person, or character is against the spirit and letter of this law. Suppression of the truth which results in the same injury is also a violation of this commandment.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” [Exodus 20:17]. To covet means to desire, to long for, to crave that which belongs to another person. The desire to acquire good things is not a violation, but the desire to take them away from another unlawfully is a wrong. In this respect it is well for us to understand that good or evil commences not when the act occurs, but when one sets his heart upon a thing.

The Lord hates a proud look, a lying tongue, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, [and] he that soweth discord [see Proverbs 6:16–19]. As Latter-day Saints, can we afford to do anything the Lord hates? How often has he spoken against dishonesty!

Being honest is important. Of course, I’ll give Hunter that much! And what should the course of action be for those who have been dishonest? Can anyone say “repent”? According to LDS scripture, though, repenting is not enough. Instead, a person must cease doing whatever sin is that sin. D&C 58:42-43 says,

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins — behold, he will confess them and forsake them.

Citing this passage several times in his short tract Repentance Brings Forgiveness, President Spencer W. Kimball stated:

The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.

Yet keeping God’s commands are do-able, according to D&C 1:30-31:

 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.

According to these passages, God cannot tolerate sin. In Mormonism repentance is not meant to be done over and over again; rather, success in keeping the commandments is required. Those Latter-day Saints who have a habit of returning to their sins need to learn to cease committing them. First Nephi 3:7 in the Book of Mormon says,

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

If God doesn’t give commandments unless it was possible to keep them, my question to the inquiring Latter-day Saint is, “How are you doing in matters of repentance and not committing the same sin again?” In my estimation, the Mormon gospel is impossible for anyone (except Jesus!) to keep.

We cultivate honesty in the little, ordinary things of life.

If we are sensitive to our relationship to the Savior, we must be honest in little things as well as the big.

As we strive for achievement and success, so much of our time is consumed in thought and study of the complex that we seldom take time for the simple—the simple things, the little things that are in reality the basis upon which we build and without which a strong foundation cannot exist. A structure may tower to the sky, and we may look at it with awe because of its stature and great height; yet it cannot stand unless its foundation is anchored in rock or in steel and concrete.

Character must have such a foundation. I draw your attention to the principle of honesty. Why is it so many believe in the high and lofty principles of honesty, yet so few are willing to be strictly honest?

[Many] years ago there were posters in the foyers and entries of our chapels that were entitled “Be Honest with Yourself.” Most of them pertained to the little, ordinary things of life. This is where the principle of honesty is cultivated.

There are some who will admit it is morally wrong to be dishonest in big things yet believe it is excusable if those things are of lesser importance. …

I recall a young man who was in our stake when I served as a stake president. He traveled around with a crowd that thought it was smart to do things that were not right. On a few occasions he was caught in some minor violations. One day I got a call from the police station and was told he was being held because of a traffic violation. He had been caught speeding, as he had on a few other occasions prior to this time. Knowing the things he was doing might prevent him from going on a mission, he straightened up, and when he was 19 years of age, he received his call.

I shall never forget the talk we had when he returned. He told me that while he was in the mission field he had often thought of the trouble he had caused by the mistaken belief that the violation of little things was not important. But a great change had come into his life. He had come to the realization that there is no happiness or pleasure in violation of the law, whether it be God’s law or the laws that society imposes upon us.

Let me reiterate that I have no problem teaching the importance of honesty. Consider what Dallin Oaks said about protecting Joseph Smith:

My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS church, namely the authority of priesthood, testimony regarding the restoration of the gospel, and the divine mission of the Saviour. Everything may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts. Thus, if Mormon Enigma [a book written about Emma Smith] reveals information that is detrimental to the reputation of Joseph Smith, then it is necessary to try to limit its influence and that of its authors (Robert D. Anderson quoting Dallin Oaks, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon, Introduction, page xliii, footnote 28, Brackets mine).

Does this sound honest? Mormon Enigma, authored by two faithful LDS members, was controversial because they showed how Joseph Smith married many women behind his wife Emma’s back. When he married sisters and a mother/daughter, it is appropriate to disagree with this practice. And when it is understood that a third of Smith’s wives were teens as young as 14 and another third were married to living husbands (polyandry), integrity ought to be in question. To say this information ought to be stiffled merely for the sake of trying to protect the “reputation of Joseph Smith,” questions ought to be raised.

Or consider this quote from Apostle Boyd K. Packer:

Some things that are true aren’t very useful. And there are those in the past who have looked at the leaders of the Church, for instance, and found out that they’re human and want to tell ev­erything. There are steps and missteps that don’t help anything. Some think that to be totally honest they have to tell everything. They don’t. If they’ve got the mindset for that, then they’re al­ways grumbling — they have an appetite for it. They’re free to do that, but it isn’t really productive, it doesn’t really make anybody happy (“President Packer Interview Transcript from PBS Documentary,” July 20, 2007, Newsroom).

In other words, Packer is saying that only that information that makes the leaders of the LDS Church look good ought to be publicly disseminated; information making them look bad should be held back. Francis Lee Menlove explained this attitude in more detail:

The demands of honesty are inherent in the mission to seek truth. What then are the motives behind dishonesty? Perhaps the most common is the desire in everyone to protect that which they love. If one admits that the past had its disasters, its misdirections and failings, then it becomes possible to wonder if the church is not in some way faltering now, a notion which is devastating only to those who fail to realize that the church is made up of human beings who possess human frailties. Another motive behind some kinds of public dishonesty is the belief that the naked truth would be harmful to the simple believer. The assumption here is simply that the believer remains better off with his delusions intact, that faith suffers when it bumps into reality. The reasoning of those who distort or suppress reality, or alter historical manuscripts to protect the delusions of the simple believer, is similar to that of the man who murders a child to protect him from a violent world (“Belief and Honesty: The Challenge of Honesty,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring/Summer 2001, p. 7).

So how should the philosophy advocated by BYU professor Robert Millet be judged?

Whenever a person asks me an antagonistic question, I never an­swer that question, but rather, I answer the question they should have asked. That’s why I grouped this under, “answer the right question.” For example, and this will lead into the next principle in just a second. For example, if a person out of the blue, that I don’t know from Adam, walks up to me and says, “So you’re a Latter-day Saint.” Uh huh. “Tell me, uh, you folks believe that man can become like god, huh?” See, how do I respond? This is a total stranger. I don’t know what he knows about the church. It may not be the smartest thing in the world to say, “Yeah, yeah, let me quote the Lorenzo Snow couplet for you and then I’m gonna get the teachings of the prophet, and I’m gonna read to you King Follet Discourse.” Now that may not be our best approach. It might be a much wiser approach to say, “Well that’s an interesting question. It is asked frequently. But, you know, let me begin this way. In the spring of 1820, there was a young man named Joseph Smith Jr., who was concerned about the subject of religion and wanted to know which church to join, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot.” What did I just do? I just answered the question he should have asked. …We never provide meat, when milk will do. We never provide meat when milk will do. We always use, we never use meat, when milk will do (Robert L. Millet, speaking to a “Mission Prep Club” at BYU, March 2004. Ellipsis mine).

Is answering the question someone should have asked rather than the question that was asked really honest? Motivational writer Steven Covey is accurate when he wrote:

If I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivat­ed, to love me and each other — while my character is fundamen­tally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity — then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do — even using so-called good human relations techniques — will be perceived as manipulative. It simply makes no difference how good the rhetoric is or even how good the in­tentions are; if there is little or no trust, there is no foundation for permanent success. Only basic goodness gives life to technique (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 21).

We can serve God by being honest and fair in our personal and business dealings.

Religion can be part of our daily work, our business, our buying and selling, building, transportation, manufacturing, our trade or profession, or of anything we do. We can serve God by honesty and fair dealing in our business transactions in the same way we do in Sunday worship. The true principles of Christianity cannot be separate and apart from business and our everyday affairs.

In business dealings there are some who will take a dishonest advantage if it is placed before them. They rationalize and justify their position by saying that in business one is expected to take every offered advantage. Such transactions can amount to large sums of money, but in principle are no different than the failure to return a penny that has been overpaid by the cashier to one who notices the error. It is a form of cheating.

Recently, Bill McKeever and I did a Viewpoint on Mormonism series discussing the problem of pyramid schemes and other shenanigans perpetuated by Latter-day Saints. (See Utah: The Gullible and their Money soon being parted.) According to these articles, the vast majority of those who had been swindled were LDS who had put their confidence into fellow Mormons (including a church leader) who were supposed to invest their money. Utah–a state that is officially 60% LDS–is known for being one of the top pyramid scheme capitols of the United States. No wonder the LDS Church decided to bring back Hunter’s words!

May I suggest a definition of “honorable employment.” Honorable employment is honest employment. Fair value is given and there is no defrauding, cheating, or deceit. Its product or service is of high quality, and the employer, customer, client, or patient receives more than he or she expected. Honorable employment is moral. It involves nothing that would undermine public good or morality. For example, it does not involve traffic in liquor, illicit narcotics, or gambling. Honorable employment is useful. It provides goods or services which make the world a better place in which to live.

Despite the problems with what I wrote above, let me go on record as saying that I have had very good dealings with LDS business people since I moved to Utah in 2010. Having employed LDS plumbers, electricians, and contractors, I was impressed with each and every dealing.

Integrity protects us from evil, helps us be successful, and will save our souls.

An English teacher friend of mine (the late Terri Littlefield) used to assign an essay on “Integrity” to her seniors during the first week of school. The paper needed to define “integrity” and provide examples as support. I remember a young woman who came into my Bible class and asked, “Mr. Johnson, do you want to hear my thesis?” She proceeded to tell me that, for her, “integrity is whatever you do when nobody is looking.” I think her point was as concise a definition of “integrity” anyone could ever ask for!

This great quality of integrity is fully available to us. If effectively used, it will solve all of our problems in government, religion, industry, and our individual lives. It would wipe out the awful scourge of crime, divorce, poverty, and misery. It would make us successful here and save our souls hereafter.

One of the greatest accomplishments of our lives is to promote an honest, earnest integrity within ourselves. This means that we become spiritually sound, intellectually sincere, morally honest, and always personally responsible to God. Integrity is that golden key which will unlock the door to almost any success.

Let me add one more thing. I think integrity is having the ability to look at all sides of any issue, including those involving faith. I believe many Latter-day Saints ignore the points separating the teachings of Mormonism from the Bible. How often I have heard, “We will find out in the end” about who was right or wrong! It’s too late after we’re dead (Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 6:2; Alma 34:32ff). A reasonable faith is honest and considers other possibilities; the conclusion is consistent with the evidence and reality. If you’re a Latter-day Saint, I want to commend you for reading through this review of your church’s manual. Even if you disagree with my conclusions, at least you’re willing to consider the possibility that you might be wrong when it comes to ultimate truth. If Mormonism is true, then what I am proposing cannot also be true. Yet if Mormonism is not true, then an honest person will not have the ability to remain loyal to an orgnaization that is deceptive.

To read other reviews of the Howard W. Hunter manual, click here.