The Importance of History

The first sin ever recorded was historical revisionism. Satan said, “Did God really say that?” The serpent took advantage of a very important principle: What people believe in the present is largely shaped by what they think about the past.

Unfortunately, Mormonism has been less than forthright about its history, sanitizing its founding events and the lives of its leaders. Some have promoted a philosophy of “faithful history”, where the dissemination of unflattering information about the Mormon hierarchy is seen as spiritually jeopardizing. Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer said:

“You seminary teachers and some of you institute and BYU men will be teaching the history of the Church this school year. This is an unparalleled opportunity in the lives of your students to increase their faith and testimony of the divinity of this work. Your objective should be that they will see the hand of the Lord in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now… Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer… There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not… Some things that are true are not very useful… That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities… Do not spread disease germs!” (“The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect”)

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks said:

“It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947, ‘when we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’ … The Holy Ghost will not guide or confirm criticism of the Lord’s anointed, or of Church leaders, local or general. This reality should be part of the spiritual evaluation that LDS readers and viewers apply to those things written about our history and those who made it.” (“The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect”)

History is important. As Christians we have been called to herald the truth not only of God’s word, but also the truth of what has actually happened in the past. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). These fruits are recognizable in the context of history. Instead of disrespecting people with the attitude of “You can’t handle the truth!” we should instead treat people with dignity by allowing to make informed decisions based on the facts. After an introduction to factual history, many Mormons have started an important journey to the truth.