Methods used by the LDS church to maintain belief in its members

There are a number of methods, new and old, which the LDS church has employed especially since 2010 to encourage members to maintain belief and to discourage them from leaving the movement.  Several of these are outlined in this work.  The are loosely categorized into different types of techniques, but there is often significant overlap.

Background – The Faith Storm Brewing

In November of 2010, a fireside with a few high level church leaders was held for a group of about 25 Swedish church member members who had questions regarding church history.  Shortly thereafter the members were given the choice to “get in line” or have their names removed from the church.  This and surrounding events have been termed The Swedish Rescue.[1]

Concurrent with this “mass apostasy” in Stockholm and Goteborg Sweden, there was a study conducted by Greg Prince, John Dehlin and others about why members were leaving the LDS church.  This was presented to Marvin K. Jensen in 2011.  Possibly in response to these events, the church began working on answers or faith-promoting responses to historical and scientific issues which seemed to be at the heart of large numbers of educated individuals leaving the church.  These responses were published in the form of the Gospel Topics Essays starting in September 2013.

Behind the scenes, a purge of activists on both the right and the left was taking place.  L Whitney Clayton is rumored by multiple sources to have been one of the main people involved in the decision making or direction of these excommunications in at least 3 of the 4 actions according to various sources.[2]  Clayton was a member of the presidency of the Quorums of the 70 and previously practiced as a lawyer.  Some high-level excommunications include:

  • September 2013 – Denver Snuffer (“the Remnant” movement)
  • June 2014 – Kate Kelly (Ordain Women)
  • Jan 2015 – John Dehlin (Mormon Stories)
  • June 2015 – Rock Waterman (Pure Mormonism blog)

The excommunications of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were initially correlated based on when their letters were received.[3]  After an article appeared in the New York Times, it appears that John Dehlin’s excommunication may have been delayed to avoid a backlash similar to that which occurred after the excommunications of the September Six.[4]

In October of 2015, Clayton became the senior or presiding member of the presidency of the Seventy.

A new way of thinking

Jan 13, 2013, Deiter Uchtdorf of  the 1st presidency gave a CES fireside entitled “What is truth?” in which he outlined principles of discerning between truth and lies ultimately concluding that the best method for finding truth was to rely on the “holy ghost” or emotional experiences.

In the same year in the October General Conference in a talk that may have been a response to the article in the New York times regarding Hans Mattsson[5], he admitted for the first time that, “there have been times when members or leaders in the church have simply made mistakes.”

Members when confronted with new and uncomfortable facts regarding the LDS movement have in some cases questioned the truth narrative and left the movement[6].  Starting around 2010, the movement has taken several concrete actions to try to minimize the impact that this new narrative is having on the membership.  They have done this in a number of ways.

Methods of maintaining belief

Providing information from friendly sources

The Gospel Topics Essays

Articles on controversial subject in church history were released between 2013 and 2015.

The articles were written by historians and other members and/or apologists including people working at/with FairMormon and sent to “the Brethren” (groups of 70s and the 12 apostles) for review by committee.  Long essays, some about 50 pages in length were written in the initial draft.  Originally the intention was to have long, short, and medium responses for members to read[7].  After they were condensed and revisions were made, the articles were published and presented as “Gospel Topics Essays”.  The 13/14 articles are as follows:

In about 2015, the topics were listed along with dozens or perhaps 100s of other topics in an alphabetical index, so finding the controversial new entries without using a search engine was difficult[15].  One of the essays (polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo) was left out of the index so that the only way to find it was via a Google search[16].  Later, they were grouped together and made easier to access.  About May 23, 2016, the polygamy essays were nested within each other making it less likely for members to accidently come across information about polygamy during the Kirtland and Nauvoo eras[17].  The number of clicks required to access the essays increased significantly at this time.  However, they remain easy to access on the Gospel Library app for I-phone & Android.  The Polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo has been moved around more than any of the other essays, possibly due to its controversial content including the admission that Joseph was married to at least one 14 year old when he was about 38[18].  An internal study to determine who was viewing the essays, how much, and how people felt about them was conducted by the church in 2014[19].


In the 1970s, Arrington as the church historian introduced the concept of inoculation.  Tidbits of church history such as the use of the brown seer stone to produce the book of Mormon was included in the children’s monthly magazine.  The theory behind this was discussed by believing historian and BYU professor Michael Quinn in 1981:

…believing Mormon historians like myself seek to write candid church history in a context of perspective in order to inoculate the Saints against historical “disease germs” that apostates and anti-Mormons thrust upon them.[20]

Elder Ballard repeated the concept, this time with the full backing of the first presidency in 2016:

The effort for gospel transparency and spiritual inoculation through a thoughtful study of doctrine and history, coupled with a burning testimony, is the best antidote we have to help students avoid and/or deal with questions, doubt, or faith crises they may face in this information age.[21]

Steven Snow also reiterated that the purpose of the Gospel Topics essays was to provide an inoculation to members regarding troubled historical facts and practices of the church.[22]  The second major work in this series is the new church history whose first volume is entitled, “Saints: The Standard of Truth”.  It was released in 2018 and according to one of the authors took 6 years to complete.  This means that the project was likely begun around 2012, or about the same time as the Gospel Topics essays.

Increased transparency – Line upon line

A common complaint of many former members is that the church has not been transparent and honest in teaching about its history.  Perhaps in an effort to address this, the LDS church started the Joseph Smith Papers project in earnest about 2005[23].  The stated goal of the project is to arrange and publish all of the writings of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries about Joseph Smith.  The 2017 supplemental guide for D&C includes some controversial topics including the possibility that Joseph Smith took inspiration from the health codes of his time when crafting the Word of Wisdom.  A four volume church history written in narrative format is currently scheduled for publication between 2018 and 2022.

It should be noted that with each of these projects, pieces are coming in installments.  The Joseph Smith papers project for example releases about 1 volume per year.  The new history narrative is also released at a pace of 1 volume per year in paper format, but is being released online prior to publication at the rate of about a chapter per month.  Additional online resources including videos are being released in conjunction with the written publications to try to reinforce and explain the new narratives.

Using only the correct or approved sources

One of the most often recurring themes is that members should only seek spiritual truth from approved sources including the scriptures and church publications[24].  This theme seems to have been emphasized in general conference much more between 2014 and 2017 than the preceding 3 decades.  Consider the following examples:

Speaking to teachers in the church’s education religious education program, Ballard stated in 2016:

For you to understand the doctrinal and historical content and context of the scriptures and our history, you will need to study from the “best books,” as the Lord directed. The “best books” include the scriptures, the teachings of modern prophets and apostles, and the best LDS scholarship available.

Larry Kacher warned in 2014:

Another man I know, a onetime faithful Church member, had questions regarding certain doctrine. Rather than ask Heavenly Father for answers, he chose to rely solely on secular sources for guidance. His heart turned in the wrong direction as he sought what seemed to be the honors of men. His pride may have been gratified, at least temporarily, but he was cut off from the powers of heaven.[25]

In Oct 2016, Apostle Rasband allowed for some secular sources as long as one remained faithful.  He stated:

Ponder the scriptures regularly, and remember the thoughts and feelings you experience as you read them. Seek other sources of truth as well, but heed this caution from the scriptures: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”[26]

From 2017 (David Evans of the 70):

Our search for truth should focus on “the best books” and the best sources. Among the very best are the scriptures and the words of living prophets.[27]

Ask God, not Google

Members are encouraged to not use Google when they have questions about the church.  This policy was laid out by a member of the 12 apostles, the primary governing body of the church in 2016:

Teach them about the challenges they face when relying upon the Internet to answer questions of eternal significance. Remind them that James did not say, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him Google!”

Wise people do not rely on the Internet to diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and physical health challenges, especially life-threatening challenges. Instead, they seek out health experts, those trained and licensed by recognized medical and state boards. Even then, prudent people seek a second opinion.

If that is the sensible course to take in finding answers for emotional, mental, and physical health issues, it is even more so when eternal life is at stake. When something has the potential to threaten our spiritual life, our most precious family relationships, and our membership in the kingdom, we should find thoughtful and faithful Church leaders to help us.[28]

Uchtdorf previously indicated an awareness of Google and the reliance of members on it as a source in 2014:

God sees infinitely more than we do.  Even in our time of internet and Google search and whatever.  He knows more.  His perspective is infinitely more complete and profound than ours.

Church News articles from 2017 belittled Google and the information which it can provide:

(Doctrinal Mastery – the new Seminary Teaching program) is good because we are getting help from somebody who … is a true source, not from Google or something.[29]

In a devotional recently given for college aged students, the author encouraged individuals to ask questions and then noted (in the footnotes):

A pattern of not seeking help from heaven blocks revelation and leaves a person alone with downward spiraling thoughts or seeking out like-minded doubters in the blogosphere.

A recent video promoting some new church publications proclaimed:

…When I’m hanging out with friends and things are being thrown at us.  “Just Google it” (um) But sometimes you can’t just Google something.  Church History (the book) can help us, not only understand the church, and how it came to be, and what a blessing it is, but it can help us understand ourselves and understand what our purpose is in life.[30]

Limiting the effect of challenging information

Doubt your doubts

In a talk given in 2013, Uchtdorf urged listeners to

…doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.[31]

This phrase has become popular among members.  It has also been republished in many forums[32].

In the “proper context” and the idea of Presentism

In 2014, Neil Anderson stated the following in General Conference:

You may understandably question what you hear on the news, but you need never doubt the testimony of God’s prophets. We might remind the inquirer that some information about Joseph, while true, may be presented completely out of context to his own day and situation.

The concept being proposed is that when facts are in context, even the most salacious seeming claims will somehow seem normal.

The LDS church study guide for 2017 is entitled: Revelations in Context: The Stories behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants.  The book attempted to provide a more complete and nuanced view of church history than was previously presented.  Also in 2017, the word “context” was used 7 times in General Conference.  This was over 3x the frequency that it was used during the previous 30 years where it appeared on average about 20x per decade.

Closely associate with the concept of context, is that of presentism which is emphasized especially by Mormon apologist groups.  FairMormon states:

“Presentism” is an analytical fallacy in which past behavior is evaluated by modern standards or mores. We take our twenty-first century way of think and assume that individuals living in the nineteenth century should have viewed the world the same way that we do today.[33]

The article goes on to argue that polygamy wasn’t as bad as it seems at first because marriage standards and practices were different in the 19th century than they are today[34].

Putting things on a mental shelf

Members are told that questions which do not directly affect their eternal salvation are not important and will be answered in the afterlife.  This concept is not new and dates to at least 1975 when Camilla Kimball, wife of then prophet Spencer Kimball was quoted as saying:

“I’ve always had an inquiring mind. I’m not satisfied just to accept things. I like to follow through and study things out. I learned early to put aside those gospel questions that I couldn’t answer. I had a shelf of things I didn’t understand, but as I’ve grown older and studied and prayed and thought about each problem, one by one I’ve been able to better understand them.”

She twinkles, “I still have some questions on that shelf, but I’ve come to understand so many other things in my life that I’m willing to bide my time for the rest of the answers.”[35]

This concept is actively taught on official LDS web-sites:

First, ask yourself, “How vital is this question to my overall understanding and testimony of the gospel?” …If you find that a question isn’t that important, set it aside in your mental “To Be Answered Later” file.

Because we choose to press forward in faith even though we don’t have the answer to every question, some people may accuse us of exercising “blind obedience” or of being “anti-intellectual.”[36]

All of the negative information is old/recycled

Apostle Anderson stated in 2015:

For example, questions concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith are not new. They have been hurled by his critics since this work began. [37]

Similarly, FairMormon observes:

Anti-Mormon literature tends to recycle the same themes.[38]

Inferred in these statements is the concept that if the claims are old, they are false and have already been disproven.

Our leaders were fallible humans.  Give them a break.

Apostle Anderson stated in 2015:

To those of faith who, looking through the colored glasses of the 21st century, honestly question events or statements of the Prophet Joseph from nearly 200 years ago, may I share some friendly advice: For now, give Brother Joseph a break! In a future day, you will have 100 times more information than from all of today’s search engines combined, and it will come from our all-knowing Father in Heaven.[39]

Leaders teach that God and Jesus are infallible, but that all humans, including prophets are fallible.  When prophets do something good or teach something good, they are acting in the name of God.  When they do something which turns out to be evil (such as creating or enforcing institutional racism), they were acting as men.  We should not criticize them because we are human too[40].

Limiting access to accurate information

The following is a non-inclusive list of some methods (either intentional or unintentional) which cause Mormons to be uninformed regarding an accurate history of their movement.

  1. Needle in a haystack: By placing the new or controversial information into large directories of groups of topics, they make it difficult for a member to find the information unless they are looking for a specific topic.[41]
  2. Linking to obscure or time consuming sources.[42]
  3. Failure to link to easily accessible, accurate sources[43].
  4. Discouraging inquiry: Controversial topics which members are discouraged from investigating are labeled “anti-mormon” or “not essential to salvation”.  Early church history often falls into this category for active Mormons.
  5. Just too busy: Members are required to read from the Book of Mormon 30 minutes per day.   Other callings, meetings, and church assignments can take 4-10 hours per week for many members, and even longer for those in leadership callings.  When combined with caring for children and full-time employment, many members simply don’t have the extra time required to investigate topics related to the church’s past.

Psychological tactics

Appeal to Emotions

Focus on the Good – “the Fruits”

Focusing on the “Fruits” of Mormonism

One way to maintain belief or at least activity that is widely encouraged and used by members is to “focus on the fruits”.  The basic argument is that the church does good and encourages service, so whatever its faults may be, it is helping humanity and making the followers more Christ-like.  Some claim that the perceived good that the church and its members do is evidence of its divinity.

…We can know the truth by observing its fruits… During His great Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said:…“ by their fruits ye shall know them.”… We invite all to study the fruits and the works of this Church.  Those who are interested in the truth will be able to recognize the difference that the Church and its members make in the communities where they are established. They will also note the improvement in the lives of those who follow its teachings. Those who examine these fruits will discover that the fruits of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are delicious and desirable.[44]

As indicated in the above figure, there is does not appear to be compelling evidence that leadership is currently using the “fruits” argument more than they have in the past.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that a period of great turmoil within Mormonism occurred between 1910 and 1930 and that this period with high usage of the “fruits” argument corresponds with major changes in Mormon doctrine and practice.

Between 1922 and 1927 key changes were made to the temple ceremony which shortened it from as long as about 8 hours to about 3 hours and put it in it’s modern form.  Glossolalia (or speaking in tongues) was formally abandoned as was the temple ordinance of baptism for healing .  The temple garment which had as late as 1917 been defined as unalterable was shortened and the symbolic tie on the front was removed.

The Holy Ghost as the ultimate source of truth

Person Revelation related terms used in General Conference

Study is encouraged when it leads people into believing the truth claims of the movement.  However, the ultimate source of truth is considered to be the Holy Ghost, what outsiders would describe as an emotional evangelical experience.

In 2016 Mark Bassett commented:

In this modern age, we have come to expect that knowledge can and should be obtained immediately; when information is not easily known or accessible, it is often dismissed or mistrusted. Because of the abundance of information, some unwittingly give more credibility to available sources with an unknown origin rather than relying on the Lord’s established pattern for receiving personal revelation.[45]

The Apostle Oaks stated in 2016:

The Church is making great efforts to be transparent with the records we have, but after all we can publish, our members are sometimes left with basic questions that cannot be resolved by study. That is the Church history version of “opposition in all things.” Some things can be learned only by faith (see D&C 88:118). Our ultimate reliance must be on faith in the witness we have received from the Holy Ghost.[46]

…intellect alone cannot produce a testimony. You cannot think your way to conversion, because you cannot convince your mind of something your heart does not feel.[47]

Usage of the word truth within the movement is ubiquitous, and the most common form of bearing testimony by members is to say that they “know that the church is true”.  The new history released in 2018, meant to be more informative and accurate than previous attempts is entitled:  Saints – The standard of truth.

Belief as a virtue – the “Believing Heart” concept

Belief in God or anything else is viewed as a virtue, regardless of the effort required to obtain such a belief.  Lack of belief in seen as a vice, even when this lack of belief is the result of years of study or hard work.

In matters of religion a skeptical mind is not a higher manifestation of virtue than is a believing heart, and analytical deconstruction in the field of, say, literary fiction can be just plain old-fashioned destruction when transferred to families yearning for faith at home.[48]

We need the believing heart of a child.[49]

These precious children of God come to us with believing hearts…. Katie’s believing heart and example of faith helped bring eternal blessings to her family…. Have some of life’s experiences taken from you the believing heart and childlike faith you once had? If so, look around at the children in your life.[50]

Some people are blessed with a believing heart—for them, faith seems to come as a gift from heaven…. Daniel believed. Daniel did not doubt.[51]

Choosing to believe

“Choose to Believe” in General Conference talks

In Apr 2015, Clayton proposed a new way of dealing with doubts[52].  Belief was framed as a matter of choice.  Each of us get to choose.  He effectively coupled belief in the gospel to the value of freedom – one of the most important values in American society.  Framing things as a choice changes the way that people react to information.[53]  He states both that belief is a choice and that we are making this choice when we keep the commandments espoused by Mormonism, such as reading from their canonized scriptures, praying, paying tithing to the church, etc.

Clayton states:

Every day each of us faces a test. It is the test of our lifetimes: will we choose to believe in Him and allow the light of His gospel to grow within us, or will we refuse to believe and insist on traveling alone in the dark? The Savior provides His gospel as a light to guide those who choose to believe in and follow Him…

Prophets across the ages have encouraged us and even implored us to believe in Christ. Their exhortations reflect a fundamental fact: God does not force us to believe. Instead He invites us to believe by sending living prophets and apostles to teach us, by providing scriptures, and by beckoning to us through His Spirit. We are the ones who must choose to embrace those spiritual invitations, electing to see with inward eyes the spiritual light with which He calls us. The decision to believe is the most important choice we ever make. It shapes all our other decisions.

God does not compel us to believe any more than He compels us to keep any commandments…

Belief and testimony and faith are not passive principles. They do not just happen to us. Belief is something we choose—we hope for it, we work for it, and we sacrifice for it. We will not accidentally come to believe in the Savior and His gospel any more than we will accidentally pray or pay tithing. We actively choose to believe, just like we choose to keep other commandments.

We… must give place for the hope that we will find spiritual light by embracing belief rather than choosing to doubt. Our actions are the evidence of our belief and become the substance of our faith. We are choosing to believe when we pray and when we read the scriptures. We are choosing to believe when we fast, when we keep the Sabbath day holy, and when we worship in the temple. We are choosing to believe when we are baptized and when we partake of the sacrament. We are choosing to believe when we repent and seek divine forgiveness and healing love.

…do not give up—ever. Go right on believing in Him and in His gospel and His Church. Align your actions with that belief.

Choosing to believe has been encouraged by the Church’s leading historians for those who become familiar with a more accurate history of the movement.

We begin with the kind of naïve faith—the childlike faith—in an ideal world where prophets and pioneers and parents are perfect…But that naïve faith will not withstand the rigors and forces of the real world if members do not mature in their faith.

Some people choose to fill the gap between naïve faith and mature faith with cynicism.  In the gap, we discovered that some of our naïve assumptions are not true. We run up against facts of history that cause us to rethink assumptions of our naïve faith. In the gap we have choices to make: Do I still believe what it is that I believe?[54]


Usages of the terms “science” “logic” and “faith” in General Conference

The apostle Packer pointed out the intellectuals were a threat to the church in 1993:

The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.[55]

In 1989, another leader observed in his General Conference address:

One activity which often leads a member to be critical is engaging in inappropriate intellectualism…Inappropriate intellectualism sometimes leads one to testify that he knows the gospel is true but believes the Brethren are just a little out of touch. [56]

More recently, Uchtdorf stated in 2014:

Throughout the record of sacred history, we find that our Heavenly Father teaches His children over and again not to place their trust in the wisdom of the world—not to overvalue what the world holds in high regard. He teaches us that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”[57]

As indicated by the above figure, mentions of science and logic in general conference have decreased to less than 15% of their peak level obtained in the 1930s.

New Definitions

One method of making the church more plausible is changing absolutist definitions to more nuanced ones.


In 2005, Bushman stated:

Maybe we do need to have another word… I think we certainly need to make clear to our children as we teach them or whoever that when we refer to a translation, is carrying the message from one culture into the language of another.  Not necessarily using the dictionary word.  So we do have to generalize or change the meaning of the word translation from its ordinary usage.[58]

In about 2013 the church claimed that Joseph Smith had no special knowledge of these languages and that all of his “translating” is not “translating” in the traditional sense, but rather receiving inspired words via the Holy Ghost.

We do know some things about the translation process. The word translation typically assumes an expert knowledge of multiple languages. Joseph Smith claimed no expertise in any languageBy the gift and power of God, Joseph received knowledge about the life and teachings of Abraham.[59]

Translation and related terms
Translation and related terms

As shown in the above figure, in addition to redefining translate, the church seems to be avoiding this and related terms word more than in the past


Early church leaders believe that the words they delivered from the pulpit constituted the revealed word of the Lord and the doctrine of the church.  The view that the living prophet and apostles delivered words which constituted doctrine was believed from the days of the early church through at least about the 1980s.

Brigham Young stated:

“The Lord is in our midst.  He teaches the people continually.  I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture.  Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. [60]

George Q. Cannon asserted that general conference talks (published as the Journal of Discourses[61]) were among the standard works of the church. [62]  In 1956, J. Reuben Clark clarified that only apostles (Quorum of 12) could make or interpret doctrine of the church on an official level[63].

President Howard W. Hunter taught that the words spoken in conference were an extension to the Doctrine and Covenants and could be considered a supplement to the scriptures.[64]

In May 2007, the church narrowed this definition significantly when posted the following on its official website[65]:

  • Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine….With divine inspiration, theFirst Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (…), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

In Apr 2012, Christofferson reiterated the above and added clarification indicating the doctrine could come either by inspiration to the president of the church or via decisions taken by councils:

The President of the Church may announce or interpret doctrines based on revelation to him (…D&C 138). Doctrinal exposition may also come through the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (… Official Declaration 2). Council deliberations will often include a weighing of canonized scriptures, the teachings of Church leaders, and past practice. But in the end, just as in the New Testament Church, the objective is not simply consensus among council members but revelation from God. It is a process involving both reason and faith for obtaining the mind and will of the Lord.[66]

The above statement, was repeated by a general authority in 2013 (in a slightly modified form):

The prophet and President of the Church can receive revelation individually that becomes doctrine when it is sustained by the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[67]

Many church leaders define doctrine as being something which is unchangeable:

Our understanding of God’s plan and His doctrine gives us an eternal perspective that does not allow us to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them. And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable.”[68]

Appeal to fear or hate

Where will you go?

In Oct 2016, Ballard gave a talk entitled “To Whom Shall We Go?”

If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do? The decision to “walk no more” with Church members and the Lord’s chosen leaders will have a long-term impact that cannot always be seen right now. There may be some doctrine, some policy, some bit of history that puts you at odds with your faith, and you may feel that the only way to resolve that inner turmoil right now is to “walk no more” with the Saints. If you live as long as I have, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves. An inspired insight or revelation may shed new light on an issue. Remember, the Restoration is not an event, but it continues to unfold.

Never abandon the great truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Never stop reading, pondering, and applying the doctrine of Christ contained in the Book of Mormon.

Never fail to give equal time to the Lord through honest attempts to understand what the Lord has revealed. As my dear friend and former colleague Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “We should not assume … that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.”

So before you make that spiritually perilous choice to leave, I encourage you to stop and think carefully before giving up whatever it was that brought you to your testimony… Stop and think about what you have felt here and why you felt it. Think about the times when the Holy Ghost has borne witness to you of eternal truth.

Ballard seems to be making an appeal to fear of the unknown and encouraging listeners to rely on their feelings which are commonly described as spiritual experiences or the “holy ghost” by adherents to the faith.

Demonization of “apostates”

In 2013, Uchtdorf of the first presidency stated:

(Satan) has caused many members of the Church to stumble when they discover information about the Church that seems to contradict what they had learned previously.[69]

This comment reflected earlier statements made by a general authority in the late 1980s:

The second category of critics is former members who have become disenchanted with the Church but who are obsessed with making vicious and vile attacks upon it… What credibility can possibly be given to a person who mocks beliefs held sacred by another?

…It seems that history continues to teach us: You can leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone. The basic reason for this is simple. Once someone has received a witness of the Spirit and accepted it, he leaves neutral ground. One loses his testimony only by listening to the promptings of the evil one, and Satan’s goal is not complete when a person leaves the Church, but when he comes out in open rebellion against it.[70]

Bruce R. McConkie taught in 1965:

The basic cause of apostasy is sin. Men leave the Church because they are sensual and carnal. It is not a matter of rejecting gospel doctrine, or preferring a more liberal interpretation or application of revealed truth. These are excuses. The basic reason for rebellion against the truth is a desire to enjoy the lusts of the flesh.”[71]

If sin is the cause of apostasy, it follows that those who leave the faith are immoral and/or weak in their commitment.  This reasoning continues to be taught and emphasized[72].

Encouraging a fear of a literal Satan that can possess people

Mormons are taught that Satan is a literal being that can inhabit people’s bodies and influence their decisions.  The first “miracle” performed within the movement was the casting out of a devil.  A literalistic view of Satan continues to be emphasized.

[Young people] face important life decisions during a time when Satan is raging in the hearts of men and women everywhere.[73]

Opposition to the leaders is bad

Oaks stated in 2016.

Some of this opposition even comes from Church members. Some who use personal reasoning or wisdom to resist prophetic direction give themselves a label borrowed from elected bodies—“the loyal opposition.” However appropriate for a democracy, there is no warrant for this concept in the government of God’s kingdom, where questions are honored but opposition is not.[74]

Doubt as a negative emotion

Since at least 2010, doubt has been viewed as a negative emotion within Mormonism.  It has been compared with sin, unbelief, and other vices.[75]

Eyring stated in 2017:

Contention in families and communities as well as inner struggles with fear, doubt, and unfulfilled expectations also leave us in turmoil.

Apostle Renlund added in 2018:

That doubt which feeds and grows upon itself, and, with stubborn indolence, breeds more doubt, is evil… Stagnant doubt does not lead to knowing the reality of the Savior, Jesus Christ; it does not lead to really knowing that we have a kind, loving Heavenly Father. We can come to know the truthfulness of this latter-day work, but it requires that we choose faith, not doubt, and that we go to the right sources for our answers.[76]

Here Renlund addresses 3 reoccurring themes simultaneously:

  • That doubt is evil
  • That one must choose to believe (or choose faith as he calls it)
  • That members have to go to the “right sources” for answers to questions.


The practice of shunning, or removing people from your life who have left the faith (apostates), is not practiced among Mormons in the same way or to the same degree that it is among the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Scientologists (disconnection).  However, in some cases it has been encouraged both in public speech and private council including encouraging divorce of a spouse who has left the faith.

In 1981, the following remark was presented in General Conference:

.. 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.[77]

A member of the quorum of the 12 added in 2014:

the admonition to prefer Christ above all others, even our closest family members, applies also to those who may have been born in the covenant…The challenge we may confront is remaining loyal to the Savior and His Church in the face of parents, in-laws, brothers or sisters, or even our children whose conduct, beliefs, or choices make it impossible to support both Him and them. It is not a question of love. We can and must love one another as Jesus loves us…But, the Lord reminds us, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” So although familial love continues, relationships may be interrupted and, according to the circumstances, even support or tolerance at times suspended for the sake of our higher love.

In reality, the best way to help those we love—the best way to love them—is to continue to put the Savior first… If (or I should say when) the moment comes that a beloved family member wants desperately to turn to the only true and lasting source of help, he or she will know whom to trust as a guide and a companion. In the meantime, with the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide, we can perform a steady ministry to lessen the pain of poor choices and bind up the wounds insofar as we are permitted. Otherwise, we serve neither those we love nor ourselves.[78]

The following comments were made at the BYU commencement address in 2016 by L. Whitney Clayton:

A few of you may have run into some who have ceased to hold fast to the iron rod, have wandered off the strait and narrow path, and have become lost. They started sometimes with online tours of the territory of the faithless. This indiscretion is often accompanied by failing to earnestly study the Book of Mormon every day and by the companion problem of gradually becoming lax in keeping other commandments. This sometimes leads to listening and then hearkening to those who mock the Church, its leaders, or its history.

The faithless often promote themselves as the wise who can rescue the rest of us from our naïveté. One does not need to listen to assertive apostates for long to see the parallels between them and the Korihors, Nehors, and Sherems of the Book of Mormon. We should disconnect, immediately and completely, from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith and instead reconnect promptly with the Holy Spirit.[79]

Appeal to Duty

Appeal to prior commitments, esp. “Covenants”

When a person enters the church, they participate in a ritual called baptism.  After an interview, the applicant is immersed in water, but says nothing as part of the process.  However, the person is informed that this ritual carries significant meaning and that they have made commitments to both God and the LDS church.

When we were baptized, we entered into a covenant with God. We promised to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, keep His commandments, and serve Him to the end. We renew this covenant each time we partake of the sacrament.[80]

Mormons are strongly encouraged to go to the temple as adults, though they often have little or no prior knowledge about what will occur when they “take out their endowments”.  The ceremony is required for young men around age 18 prior to serving missions and women historically participate in the ceremony in preparation for marriage (sometimes on the same day).  As part of ceremony or ritual, the applicant makes 4 promises including the following:

You and each of you covenant and promise before God, angels, and these witnesses at this altar, that you do accept the Law of Consecration as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, in that you do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.

Each of you bow your head and say “yes.”

Appealing to prior commitments is not new within the Mormon movement.  The first major push to do this may have been in 1856 with the start of the Mormon Reformation[81], a movement which occurred at the height of polygamy and which led at least in part to the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  In General Conference, Wilford Woodruff made the following appeal:

The Presidency have called upon us to reform our ways, to renew our covenants, and to commence to live the lives of Saints. I take this liberty because I have the opportunity of speaking to you. I say then that they have called upon us to put on the whole armor, to reform our conduct. Men having authority have called upon us to forsake our wickedness and our follies…[82]

Later, the phrase “renew covenants” is generally associated with the weekly ritual of taking the sacrament (or Eucharist).  The phrase “baptismal covenant” was first used in General Conference in 1984, though the concept of making covenants associated with baptism has been present and discussed in general conference since at least the 1850s.

General Conference relative usage of “covenant” related terms

The phrase “Temple Covenants” was first used in General Conference in 1951.[83]

In 2005, the term “Covenant Path” was introduced by Holland.  It was first used in General conference in 2006 and has experienced increased usage since that time.

General Conference usage of “covenant” related terms

The emphasis on covenants appears to have started in the 1980s, prior to the present internet crisis.  However, the changing emphasis in terms and usage can be seen as one of several attempts to limit disaffection with the movement.

The Eternal Struggle

For those who are doubting, they are encouraged to undertake a struggle to maintain or regain their faith.  Those who fail to make such a struggle are often characterized as being immoral by leaders of the movement.  There is no time limit given to the struggle – members are encouraged or required to continue this struggle for their entire lives.

Are you willing to engage in the wrestle? In an ongoing spiritual wrestle?… Champion wrestlers tell me that it isn’t necessarily the strongest wrestler who wins. It is the wrestler who knows how to leverage his strength to overpower his opponent. Spiritual wrestling leverages the strength of true doctrine to overpower our weaknesses, our wavering faith, and our lack of knowledge… questions, especially the tough ones, propel us to engage in a spiritual wrestle so that the Lord can lead us along…

Uchtdorf explained further:

There will be times when it may appear that things are going badly for the truth of God—that the evidence of the world contradicts God’s utterances. For my part, I have learned to be patient, knowing that in the end things will work out. God’s kingdom will continue to grow.[84]

Daily tasks of obedience/compliance – Behavior control

Encouragement to perform daily tasks such as journal writing, scripture study, and prayer as a movement started long before the current crisis.  However, this is one of many methods still being employed to limit disaffection.

Emphasis on some “daily” terms in General Conference

Questions vs. questioning

Since about 2015, LDS leaders have emphasized the difference between “asking questions” and “questioning”.  The evil form (questioning) is associated with an attitude of disbelief and having a series of questions rather than a single one.

Asking questions is essential for learning. But how you ask a question can make a huge difference in where it leads you….

There are basically two different ways we can approach our questions. For our purposes here, we’ll distinguish between these approaches by labeling them questioning and asking questions. When it comes to matters of faith, there can be a pretty big difference between the two. The difference has to do with how and why you’re asking the questions, what you hope to gain from them, and where they’ll eventually lead you.

Questioning, here, refers to challenging, disputing, or picking something apart. When it comes to religion, the result of this approach is often not to find answers but rather to find fault and destroy confidence.

So, your attitude and your motive in asking a question can make all the difference in where it will eventually lead you. For instance, if you’re studying the scriptures and come across a passage that seems to contradict a Church teaching or a scientific or historical fact, there’s a big difference between asking “How could the scriptures (or the Church) possibly be true if … ?” and asking “What’s the full context of this passage and what does it mean in light of … ?” The first question may lead you to a hastily drawn conclusion based on skepticism and doubt rather than actual knowledge or logic, whereas the second is more likely to lead you to greater insight and faith.[85]

Another prominent LDS leader stated the need to only ask question within the defined framework of the movement:

Questions are good if they are inspired questions, asked in faith, and asked of credible sources[86] where the Spirit will direct and confirm the answer.[87]

In some settings, leaders teach that those with questions use those questions to justify immoral behavior:

One girl’s questions propelled her to become a seeker of truth. The other girl used her questions to justify her immorality.[88]

When in doubt, bear testimony

When members are confronted with information which causes them to doubt or question, they are encouraged to “bear strong testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel”.

Oaks stated in Aug 2018:

“When you are asked a difficult question, such as a puzzler about Church history or doctrine, be honest and, if necessary, say you don’t know,” said President Oaks. “But then be sure to say what you do know: ‘I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.’”[89]

Appeal to Logic

Spiritual questions require spiritual answers

According to this argument, the only one qualified to answer spiritual questions is a church leader or God (in the form of the Holy Ghost – or an emotional answer).

Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.[90]

Wise people do not rely on the Internet to diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and physical health challenges, especially life-threatening challenges. Instead, they seek out health experts, those trained and licensed by recognized medical and state boards. Even then, prudent people seek a second opinion.

If that is the sensible course to take in finding answers for emotional, mental, and physical health issues, it is even more so when eternal life is at stake. When something has the potential to threaten our spiritual life, our most precious family relationships, and our membership in the kingdom, we should find thoughtful and faithful Church leaders to help us.[91]


By combining various new and old approaches, the LDS leadership appears to be working hard to limit disaffection.  The main methods identified include:

Encouraging the use of Friendly Sources

  • Gospel Topics Essays & “Saints: The Standard of Truth”
  • Teaching the history of the church in controlled environment in order to “inoculate” students
  • Provide new publications offering increased transparency including the Joseph Smith papers, the new series of church history books, and the new D&C supplemental manual. In some cases this information is easily accessible and in other cases it is difficult to access.  When it is difficult to access, the primary methods used to prevent dissemination include:
    1. Providing large volumes of information, but in some cases allowing these to be inaccessible due to the volume of raw information released.
    2. Encouraging members to simplify their studies and ignore information which does not apply directly to the key teachings of the church.
  • Encouraging members to limit their searches to church-approved sources including and the scriptures
  • Encouraging members to rely on their feelings and “ask God and not Google”.

Limiting the impact of new information

  • Encouraging members to “doubt their doubts” and labeling persistent doubts as being evil.
  • Encouraging the belief that the historical events that seem shocking or immoral were actually normal in the context that they occurred
  • Encouraging members to delay confronting their concerns and to “place them on a shelf or in a file”.
  • Encouraging the belief that all negative information associated with Mormonism is based on concerns that were known and vetted long ago. Because this information is old (and presumably has been addressed), members should not spend time considering the validity of the concerns raised.
  • Encouraging the belief that past leaders may have been fallible humans, but that it does not follow that the product which they produced (i.e. the church structure and teachings) is in any way flawed.
  • Making accurate information difficult to access by using one or more of these techniques:
    1. Needle in a haystack: By placing the new or controversial information into large directories of groups of topics, they make it difficult for a member to find the information unless they know in advance what they should be looking for or what topics they should ask about.
    2. Pointing to original sources which are time consuming and in some cases difficult to access.
    3. Not pointing to well respected sources by non-believing scholars.
    4. Discouraging inquiry: Controversial topics which members are discouraged from investigating are labeled “anti-mormon” or “not essential to salvation”.
    5. Just too busy: Members are required to do a number of tasks which, hen combined with caring for children or full-time employment, may make it difficult for members to find the extra time required to investigate topics related to the church’s past.

Psychological tactics

  • Focus on the Good – arguing that if the movement “does good” then it must be good and of God.
  • Teaching that the “holy ghost” – and emotional response – is the ultimate guide to spiritual and temporal truths. Encouraging members to have this spiritual or emotional experience (or connection to key beliefs/truths) and to use this experience to validate all aspects the movement.
  • Framing belief in God (or anything that is unprovable) as a virtue.
  • Presenting religious belief as a choice or liberty rather than the natural result of a moral or logical inquiry.
  • Discouraging some forms of intellectualism and scholarship.
  • Introducing new, contradictory definitions to old terms to allow one to escape various logical fallacies that are becoming more obvious with increased access to information.
  • Appealing to prior commitments made by the individual even when the individual may have made the commitment without full access to information about the movement.
  • Defining life as an eternal struggle to maintain belief. Those who fail to make this struggle are characterized as weak, lazy, or sinful.
  • Encouraging fear for members considering leaving the movement by inferring that their life would be worse outside of the movement and that they have nowhere meaningful to go.
  • Encouraging members to not associate with former members.
  • Demonizing those who have left the movement, and inferring that those who question or talk to members after they have left the movement are doing so because they are aligned with the devil. Labeling those who actively leave the movement as apostates.
  • Demonizing activists within the LDS church who strive to achieved social change, whether or not this change relates to church doctrine.
  • Encouraging the idea that having limited questions is okay only if one approaches these questions with a pre-determined opinion that they can be answered effectively with faith-promoting answers.
  • Encouraging members to state that they “know” unverifiable beliefs to reinforce their core religious convictions.
  • Creating a special category for religious questions which should only be asked and addressed with believers in a religious setting.




[3] Both letters were received in June 2014.


[5] Hans Mattson was an area authority 70 from Sweden who actively questioned the church’s truth claims around 2010 and who was interviewed by the New York Times in 2012.  See

[6] See for example:


[8] This essay was written in part by Paul Reeve.  See

[9] Probably written by Kathryn M. Daynes or Kathleen Flake.

[10] This essay was largely written by Ugo Perego.  See: .  A larger paper on this topic was published by Perego here:

[11] Possibly written by Terryl Givens.  See

[12] Some sources consider this to be one of the controversial Gospel Topics entries.  However, Church sources do not list this entry as part of the project.

[13] Bryan Hales was purportedly involved in this project.

[14] Possibly written by Kathleen Flake.  See and

[15] Bryan Hales was purportedly involved in this project.  See

[16] According to at least one purported former church employee, this was intentional.  See comments by “VeritasOmnia”.


[18] The essay heavily infers that he did not have sex by taking some quotes out of context.  The bulk of the evidence however points to the conclusion that this was a sexual relationship.


[20] D. Michael Quinn, 1981. On being a Mormon historian   Quinn was excommunicated in 1992 for his writings.



[23] The project stemmed from earlier work and publications originally begun under the direction of Leonard Arrington, but received additional emphasis and official backing when it was moved back to church headquarters in 2005.  See for a more complete background.

[24] For an additional example, see:







[31]   Uchtdorf was paraphrasing F. F. Bosworth – an evangelical healer – in his book: Christ the Healer (1924), 23.  In the book the author equates sin with physical sickness and argues that Christ is the most effective healer of both.

[32] See for example: and


[34]  While it is true that some societal norms were different, polygamy was by no means the norm or socially acceptable in the Victorian Era, and the abuses which women experienced due to the practice were well recognized and publicized by the greater society during the time of its practice.  This lead to a national outrage against Mormons and polygamy, including the inclusion of the abolishment of polygamy as one of the two core planks in the 1860 republican platform.






[40] This concept is loosely taken from Jesus’ teaching in the new testament:  “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”

[41] This technique was intentionally used when the Gospel Topics essays were first released.  The following parody accurately describes how the topics were hidden when they were first released:

[42] Many of the links in the new “Saints” history are to primary sources, some of which are difficult to obtain.  Many of these sources are handwritten and difficult to decipher.

[43] Of the approximately 600 sources listed in the new “Saints” volume, several of the most prominent historical sources were not linked.  These includes:  No Man Knows my History – Brodie; Early Mormonism and the Magic World View – D. Michael Quinn; Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet – Vogel.  Sources with compiled information were generally only included when they were friendly sources written from a believing perspective.  This includes:  Joseph Smith’s Polygamy – Brian Hales; Joseph Smith:  Rough Stone Rolling – Richard Bushman.









[52] The first modern mention of the concept of choosing to believe in General Conference was given by Russel Nelson in 1988 in a talk titled “Addiction or Freedom”.  Choosing to believe (in God) was the second of the 6 principles that he listed and closely mirrors step 2 from alcoholics anonymous.  In 1994, Patricia P. Pinegar, Primary General President stated, “But we needed to participate. We needed to do something. We needed to choose to believe in the Savior and His love; we needed to ask for His help, and then we needed to practice thinking about Him all through the day.”  There were a few references to this talk in the Ensign and other church magazines, but it does not appear to have had a lasting effect.

[53] See

[54] Steven Harper, LDS church historian as quoted in:




[58] 51 minutes into the recording.


[60] Journal of Discourses, 13:95.

[61] The Journal of discourses was an annual publication of the writings and teachings of the presidency of the church and some apostles which was regularly published between 1855 and 1886.  It is roughly the equivalent of the modern General Conference Ensign issues.

[62] “The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of ‘the light that shines from Zion’s hill.”  See “Preface”, Journal of Discourses 8:3.

[63] “They possess a special gift; they are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching of the people. They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the overall power and authority of the President of the Church. “  Quoted in Roy W. Doxey, The Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1963), 1:ix–x.  See

[64] “Our modern-day prophets have encouraged us to make the reading of the conference editions of our Church magazines an important and regular part of our personal study. Thus, general conference becomes, in a sense, a supplement to or an extension of the Doctrine and Covenants.”  The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1997), 212; emphasis added, quoted in Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, 73; bold in original.







[71] Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, vol. 3, pp. 426-427.

[72] See



[75]“I testify that by the power of your unwavering faith in Christ, you will become free of the captivity of sin, of doubt, of unbelief, of unhappiness, of suffering” and “You may feel that your life is in ruins. You may have sinned. You may be afraid, angry, grieving, or tortured by doubt.”



[78] CES fireside by D. Christofferson (Quorum of 12 apostles) Sept 2014.




[82] Journal of Discourses, V3-4 pg 97.

[83] “Our eldest daughter at sixteen took her endowments. She went through college. She suffered at times some little inconveniences, but she thanks God today for the sobering influence that came into her life through the holy temple covenants and obligations.”  German E. Ellsworth, General Conference, 1951.



[86] “Credible sources” include literature produced by believing members which is approved by the church.  Some believing sources (such as Quinn) have been excommunicated for their writings.






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