3 Criticisms Following the Quentin L. Cook Face-to-Face Devotional

On September 9, 2018 Quentin L. Cook sat down with young adults across the globe to answer some difficult questions regarding the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (hereafter referred to as the Mormon Church for simplicity). The modern day apostle did his best, aided by two church historians (complete with PhD's), to answer the questions posed to them. However, those who would prefer evidence to back up truth claims may have found their answers inadequate at best.

To fully appreciate my critical look at this event, I encourage you to watch the devotional yourself and see if you feel put on in the same areas as myself.

I’ll just assume you watched it, but I won’t hold it against you if you didn’t get through it all. Here are my top 3 criticisms of the above proceedings, although I have a few that I’d rather not get into here.

Downplaying Legitimate Questions to Keep the Focus on What is truly “Important”

The first question asked is a valid one. Why isn’t the church more open? Dr. Holbrook gives the answer that the church doesn’t hide anything, they simply don’t emphasize the more questionable parts of their history. Then she shifts the focus to the “main work” of the church which she defines as “repentance, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and building a relationship with God”.

This sentiment is reiterated by Dr. Grow who says these difficulties are not talked about because the main purpose of church meetings is to teach the gospel of salvation.

Elder Cook joins in by explaining how it is difficult to find a balance between teaching that which is essential to salvation and answering difficult questions regarding church history — as if finding answers to these questions is not essential.

This idea, that getting answers to difficult questions about church history is secondary to activity in the church, is reinforced by all three members of the panel.

This seems to be a recurring theme for Dr. Holbrook as she demonstrates when asked about polygamy and the translation of the Book of Mormon. Her strategy seems to be to skirt the question posed and then shift the focus to what she believes is truly important.

The question never really gets answered and we get to move the devotional along. However, anecdotes and testimony about church doctrine are hardly answers to logistical and empirical questions about church history.

The issue here is that life in the Mormon Church is predicated upon the veracity of Joseph Smith’s claims regarding the First Vision and the Book of Mormon. These claims often come into question when one looks into legitimate sources focused on the history of the Mormon Church.

That is why people struggle when they learn unsettling things about church history. The doubt one has about the history is directly tied to the doctrine. So, it does no good to shift the focus away from ugly historical facts to living the doctrine — in this case they are one and the same.

The Misleading Notion that “Good” Answers Come Only from Church Approved Sources

Dr. Grow takes the lead in answering the question regarding what sources are available for understanding church history beyond church resources. His answer is basically that there are none. Let’s take a look at Grow’s criteria for determining what a good source for truth actually is. A good source:

  1. Should not contain an excess of emojis or exclamation points.
  2. Does not seek to tear people down.
  3. Is based on direct records.
  4. Is fair to those who wrote the direct records.

Dr. Grow may disagree with me, but I would argue that the infamous CES Letter meets all his criteria. The CES Letter has one crucial focus, and that is to seek the truth. I believe Dr. Grow would disagree with me because he states that we should seek good answers within “church settings, seminaries & institutes, and families.”

I agree that good answers can be found within these settings, but I would say it is foolish to limit oneself to these settings exclusively — and I believe that is what Dr. Grow is suggesting we do.

The only real measure of a good source for truth is whether it tells the truth or not.

It does not follow that if a journal entry is particularly brutal towards the character of Joseph Smith that the entry is a misrepresentation of Joseph’s character. Anything critical of the church could be viewed as tearing it down, and thus discarded, even though it tells the truth. This course of action is dishonest.

Dr. Grow continues, “It is easy to play got’cha with the past”. This is a fair warning, but it’s also fair to say anyone can “play got’cha with the past”. The church’s narrative could be just as much a misrepresentation of the past as any other source — this is not so much an accusation as an observation.

The fact of the matter is there are many resources today that take an objective approach when analyzing the history of the Mormon Church, and their only goal is to find the truth.

When seeking the truth one ought to be willing to relinquish even their dearest beliefs. You may not need to, but if you are not willing to do that, then you will not accept the truth when you find it if it is unfavorable.

The Claim that “‘Saints: The Standard of Truth’ is a True Story” Lacks Supportive Evidence

Elder Cook kicks off the evening by introducing a new book presenting the history of the church from the its own perspective. The book is called Saints: The Standard of Truth. Elder Cook states, “Though it reads like a novel, the story is not fiction. It is a true story…”

I would not mind his statement if he would have qualified it by saying, “If Joseph Smith told the truth…” but he did not.

He makes the claim that it is true, even though in the first two chapters of the book we read Joseph Smith’s account of the first vision. This vision may or may not have happened, and I do not seek to validate either argument here.

The point I want to make is that we cannot know whether this event took place or not, and the entire history laid out in this new book assumes that it most certainly took place.

The book is a version of history, but for it to be true you must be willing to allow one very large assumption.

One may argue that you can know whether this event took place by earnestly praying about it and seeking an answer via the holy ghost. This method is not a valid path to truth.

The Jews would claim that Jesus was not the Messiah by the same method — a direct contradiction to Christianity, including Mormon beliefs. If you can arrive at contradictory conclusions by the same method, then that method is not valid.

The temperature is as much an objective truth as the veracity of the first vision. It either happened or it didn’t; it is either 65 degrees Fahrenheit or it is not. If you wish to know the temperature outside, do you consult the holy ghost, or a thermometer?

Do not take anyone’s word to determine such an important truth. Do not use unreliable tools to determine objective truth. Do not accept anything as truth until you have sufficient reason to do so resulting from demonstrable evidence.

I’m excited to read this new history, and especially to peruse the works cited section which compiles so many source documents. But, I refuse to accept it as a true story until it is demonstrated to be such by verifiable evidence.