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We need not apologize for the church or its history. Willingly defend the history of the church. We will face the challenges; we cannot avoid them.
—President Boyd K. Packer, “A Defense and a Refuge”, October 2006 General Conference
Wow. This quote was quite interesting. After listening to his thoughts and counsel in his talk “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect” (posted here), it was awesome to hear Pres. Packer say this.
The fact is true that we don’t have to apologize for the Church’s history. Regardless of what may or may not have happened in the past that intrigues the Church’s critics, the fact remains that the Church is true. God spoke to Joseph Smith. We have the Book of Mormon. We have a prophet today. We have the priesthood.
So my question when these little nit-picky historical items are brought to people’s attention (in an often vituperative manner) is so what?
Perhaps it is better summarized by a commenter over at the Times and Seasons:
I think President Packer was referring to events that others have actually heard of. Unless you read some amount of anti-Mormon stuff, you will likely never hear a thing about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. That particular event could be explained sufficiently in a few words really—something along the lines of ”Members of the church, particularly these, were far from perfect.” —Bruce
Another good comment was the following:
You found what you were looking for in Pres. Packer’s talk, as did I. But what I found was a call to stand steady in spite of the perplexing and troubling elements of Church History as they come up. Those elements are there, along with a lot of miraculous and useful, and saving events and truths. In practice, that means that when you bring up the Mountain Meadows Massacre or what have you, I should be inclined to counter with “That is an appalling and horrific aspect of Church History that reflects the limits of the understanding of early Church members.” And then I might remind you of the miracles and other wonderful things that also took place in Church history, and articulate the spiritual reasons why I think those things actually happened and why they are the more useful things for you to focus on.
I think that’s what Pres. Packer was asking for in defending Church history; to assume he was asking for us to lie or obfuscate or what have you implies that he is a liar and that he is intellectually dishonest himself. My study of his life and teachings (flaws and all) has changed my spirit dramatically for the better, so I am inclined to think that my positive and generous interpretation of his remarks is the more realistic one. —Dan
Men make mistakes. Even those called by God. Shocking, I know… God commands us to do something, and then lets us use our own abilities and talents to carry it out. In Rough Stone Rolling, the author describes this in relation to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
Although [Joseph] never doubted his revelations, he was less certain about everyday events. The periodic instructions from heaven were beacons for the Church, but Joseph was on his own in carrying out the commandments. (Rough Stone Rolling, p. 240)
God commands, and we obey. Being commanded to do “many things of [our] own free will“, we have to make decisions. Sometimes we make the wrong ones. Sometimes we make mistakes. We’re imperfect. So are our Church leaders. Big whoop.
To those who bring up these historical facts so as to shed the Church in a negative light, I ask: what do you expect? Perfection?
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother: Let me pull the mote out of thine eye—and behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (3 Nephi 14:3-5)
UPDATE: Margaret at T&S posted about this too.
NOTE: The text of Pres. Packer’s talk differs from what I cited at the beginning. While giving his talk, he included the first sentence, “We need not apologize for the church or its history.” I take that to mean that although his talk was previously prepared to be read verbatim, he was prompted by the Spirit to include this line. That makes it all the more powerful.