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LDS Prophets Always Speak the Truth?

by Sharon Lindbloom
7 February 2022

On January 23rd (2022) the Newsroom of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a short video: “A Summary of President Nelson’s Remarks for Latter-day Saints in Europe.” This video contains highlights from a virtual broadcast that went out to Latter-day Saints living in 48 countries across Europe. The current LDS president, Russell M. Nelson, was not the only one to speak. He was joined in the devotional presentation by several others, including his wife, Wendy. It’s Wendy Nelson’s remarks that I’d like to look at today.

At about the 1-minute mark of the summary video Mrs. Nelson says,

“Today it can be difficult to know who speaks the truth. But my testimony is that prophets of God always speak the truth. For this new year, let’s put an exclamation mark after every statement from a prophet, and a question mark after everything else we read, see, or hear.”

Mrs. Nelson’s testimony is somewhat old-school. It reminds me of counsel given in an LDS church lesson published in 1945:

“When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they purpose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy.” (Improvement Era, June 1945, 354)

In this lesson, the thought of placing a question mark after something an LDS leader says was strongly discouraged. And that counsel has been repeatedly given through the ensuing decades by other church authorities including N. Eldon Tanner when he was First Counselor in the First Presidency:

“We are most fortunate to have a living prophet at the head of the Church to guide us, and all who heed his counsel will be partak­ers of the promised blessings which will not be enjoyed by those who fail to accept his messages…Whose side are we on? When the prophet speaks the debate is over.” (N. Eldon Tanner, “The Debate is Over,” Ensign, August 1979, 2)

Mrs. Nelson’s testimony that “prophets of God always speak the truth” is in agreement with lots of LDS sources that claim the prophet can never lead the church astray. But Wendy Nelson’s testimony disagrees with Mormonism’s history, and its first prophet, Joseph Smith.

In early 1843, in order to correct the misunderstanding of “a brother and sister from Michigan” who thought “a prophet is always a prophet,” Joseph Smith told them that “a prophet is a prophet only when he was acting as such” (History of the Church, 5:265). This supports the idea that Mormon leaders could say things that are, in the words of LDS apostle Dieter Uchtdorf, “not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrines” (“Come, Join with Us,” General Conference, October 2013). And, indeed, this possibility was demonstrated as a reality by Joseph Smith on occasion. For example, when he was less than truthful about his participation in polygamy. In 1844, while actively the husband of more than 30 women and girls, Joseph complained publicly, “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one” (History of the Church, 6:411).

Images of the Restoration

Joseph also demonstrated that even while acting in the capacity of prophet, prophets might not always speak the truth. Early in the history of Mormonism, Joseph received a revelation instructing that several “brethren” go to Canada and sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon in order to procure some much-needed cash for the U.S. printing of the book. The men went to Canada, but returned empty-handed. When they asked Joseph how it could be that a “revelation from the Lord” had failed,

“Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: ‘Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.’” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 1887, 31. Spelling and punctuation retained from the original.)

About this incident, assistant church historian B.H. Roberts explained,

“The revelation respecting the Toronto journey was not of God, surely; else it would not have failed; but the Prophet, overwrought in his deep anxiety for the progress of the work, saw reflected in the ‘Seer Stone’ his own thought, or that suggested to him by his brother Hyrum, rather than the thought of God… in this instance of the Toronto journey, Joseph was evidently not directed by the inspiration of the Lord.” (A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:165)

Tenth LDS president Joseph Fielding Smith also agreed with Joseph’s teaching, as reported in The Salt Lake Tribune,

“President Smith said he believed, as did LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, that there are three kinds of revelations: ‘revelations from God, from man and from the devil.’” (The Salt Lake Tribune, January 25, 1970)

The possibility of being deceived by those who appear to be messengers from God was addressed in a revelation Joseph Smith received in early 1843. Here it was revealed that the correct nature of such messengers could be recognized by applying the test of a handshake (History of the Church 5:267). This canonized revelation can today be found in the LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants, section 129.

So, according to at least two Mormon prophets, prophets can receive revelation from three different sources, only one of which would necessarily be the truth. And apparently (putting this charitably), the LDS prophet might not always know the difference.

Mrs. Nelson bore her testimony that “prophets of God always speak the truth,” and encouraged Latter-day Saints to “put an exclamation mark after every statement from a prophet, and a question mark after everything else we read, see, or hear.” According to her own counsel, as she is not a prophet, we should be putting a question mark after her testimony: LDS prophets always speak the truth? No, Mrs. Nelson. No, they don’t. Therefore, proclamations from Mormon prophets should not be followed by an exclamation point, but rather by a question mark.

As a matter of fact, this is what God Himself says to do. In 1 John 4:1 God’s Word says,

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

These false prophets may claim visions. They may claim prophetic dreams. But God says “do not listen” to them. “Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the LORD, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them…” (Jeremiah 23:16, 32).

If someone comes in the name of the Lord proclaiming visions, dreams, or “reckless” revelations, they must be questioned — for many false prophets have gone out into the world. It is my testimony that LDS prophets fall into that category. Readers, please — append my testimony with a question mark. Then search the Scripture, the Bible, to learn the truth.

To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.

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