Monday, December 28, 2009

Pres. Hinckley's Interview with Mike Wallace: He Never Lied

(Thanks to one of the readers who pointed out to me that I have conflated two interviews with Pres. Hinckley. The quote I remembered and referenced here is from an interview with TIME Magazine - not the Mike Wallace interview. Just shows that age is a terrible taskmaster - and that I'm not as mentally spry as Pres. Hinckley was at a much more advanced age - although, in my defense, I did remember it word-for-word. lol)

In an interview published in TIME Magazine a few years ago, President Hinckley said something that others have classified as a lie. Pres. Hinckley was an incredibly intelligent man (as everyone who interviewed him attested - including Mike Wallace), so even those who don't accept him as a prophet have to consider his answers as carefully constructed - even if they don't accept them as inspired.

I will quote the response, sentence by sentence, with commentary. First, however, I need to highlight something about the question Pres. Hinckley was asked:

The interviewer asked,

"Is this [as man is, God once was"] the teaching of **the church** today . . .?"

This does NOT ask if many or most members believe it; it asks only if "the church" teaches it TODAY. That is a critical distinction.

With that background, here is my response to those who accuse President Hinckley of having lied:

"I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know."

First, I was raised in Utah. My own father and father-in-law are from the same basic generation as Pres. Hinckley, as were many of my teachers when I was a youth - most of whom were raised in Utah. I heard almost all of them use the phrase "I don't know that . . ." my entire life as a child and adolescent. Sometimes it meant "I'm not sure that . . .", but it also meant "I wouldn't say it that way." It was a "polite" way of disagreeing - a way to do so without saying, "No, you are wrong." I literally heard it at least hundreds of times in my youth.

(For example, my dad often said, "I don't know that your mother said that" - meaning, "I'm not sure that your mother said that." Another example: "I don't know that Grandma is stubborn" - meaning, "I wouldn't say that Grandma is stubborn." He never told me that Grandma wasn't stubborn [because she was], but he told me more than once that he wouldn't call Grandma stubborn - that he wouldn't say it that way.)

When I heard Pres. Hinckley's interview, I automatically heard what I had heard constantly growing up and understood his words in that usage with that meaning. So, the quote can be rendered more accurately for those unfamiliar with that particular usage thus:

"I wouldn't say that we ("the church") *teach* it. I wouldn't say that we *EMPHASIZE* it."

(In the actual interview, Pres. Hinckley paused slightly then added "EMPHASIZE it". It was very clear, and he actually emphasized the word "emphasize". He said the concept isn't "taught" by "the church", then he defined that even more specifically by saying the concept isn't "emphasized" by "the church".)

"I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse."

(I personally have never heard it discussed in "public discourse" by "the Church" - and rarely in private discourse. Pres. Hinckley had, but he hadn't for "a long time" - at least from before my memory.)

"I wouldn't say it that way."


"I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made."

(None of us do. The only transcripts we have are from records of four members who heard it, and what we have is the summary combination of their records. We know very little about the background of the sermon - the "circumstances under which [it] was made", since they were never recorded and Joseph never addressed it. It literally came out of the blue and was truly unique in many ways.)

"I understand the philosophical background behind it."

(True for many of us.)

"But I don’t know a lot about it"

(Joseph never elaborated on it, since he died only two months after giving the speech.)

"and I wouldn't say that others know a lot about it.”

(Perfectly accurate statement, given how debated it has been over the years.)

Finally, the concept is included in the Joseph Smith manual **as one sentence in a 7 page lesson**. Further, not one of the follow-up questions at the end addresses that sentence. There is absolutely no "teaching of it" and certainly no "EMPHASIS on it" in the lesson, while other things are emphasized.

What Pres. Hinckley actually said is perfectly consistent with the way the concept is handled by "the Church" (as an institution) - included in materials (not hidden) as something Joseph Smith said, but not emphasized in any way. Individual teachers might emphasize it over other things in the lesson that "the church" emphasizes, but "the church" certainly doesn't emphasize it - not even close.

There is no lie in this quote - none whatsoever.


Tony said...

Thank you! I was wondering how to approach those who accuse him of this. Thank you.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Taken all around, it was still a weasel answer. A prophet should speak boldly, not welcome ways to skirt the doctrine.

adamf said...

We all find what we're looking for. People who want to find fault can find it, not just where it actually exists, but many other places as well.

Imho, it's not that different in relationships with something called "negative sentiment override." This occurs with some couples who have been together for sometime, when they interpret not only negative actions as negative, but neutral actions as well, and sometimes even positive actions as negative.

My point? Yes, many members, myself included, would sometimes have on "rose-colored glasses" to all things Gordon B. Hinckley, but it seems to me that *some* who have found fault with his interview have on the "&%$# colored glasses." :)

Papa D said...

You're welcome, Tony.

Alan, it's not a weasel answer if it's totally honest and correct. That's my point. That concept simply isn't part of core doctrine, imo - and I know MANY members who don't believe it. Remember, also, Pres. Hinckley was responded only to the second part of the couplet - NOT the concept that we can become like God. THAT is core doctrine that is taught in the Bible itself.

adam, I agree. That's why I try so hard to parse based on the actual words people use. There are countless times I've heard someone complain about what someone said only to read their actual words and think, "But, that's not what they said!"

This is a perfect example. When you understand his generation and they way they used the phrase "I don't know that . . ." - it's clear to me that he was being straightforward and quite direct, actually.

(As a sidenote, Mike Wallace was roughly of that same generation, and I'd bet my last dollar that he understood exactly what Pres. Hinckley meant and that it never crossed his mind to label the answer as "weaselly" - or in any other negative way.

Anonymous said...

The concept that 'As God is,man may become',is central to my testimony.Unfortunately,I have misinterpreted this response as a backpeddling on this concept,so this clarification has been very helpful.I can take or leave the 'as man is ,God once was' bit.However,I am not much inclined to dissing prophets of God,yet this does seem to lack transparency as a statement to me.I'd love to know his motivation here,that would help as I recognise he would have chosen his words carefully and rarely,if ever,mis-stepped with the media.

aquinas said...

One of the difficulties is that it is not enough merely to state that it is doctrine that God was once a man because that could be interpreted to mean that God was once a man and not God, or that God once experienced a mortal experience. Now, I would suggest that most all Christians understand the Bible to teach that Jesus is God incarnate. This is the whole point of the doctrine of the Incarnation that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Latter-day Saints have no difficulty accepting that Jesus Christ was man and at the same time the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament. However, people have sometimes read Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow and concluded that the Father apparently deviated from that pattern. In other words, some have concluded that unlike Jesus who was God before taking on a mortal tabernacle, that the Father was somehow not God at all. It's not at all clear that this was what Joseph Smith taught for Joseph taught that the Son does nothing but what he sees his Father do. The Son was God before taking on flesh and laying down his life and taking it up again. In the same way, Joseph taught that the Father also had power to lay down his life and take it up again. Mere mortals do not have the power in themselves to lay down their life and take it up again. Given the radically different interpretations it is sometimes not helpful to merely repeat the Snow couplet, which can mean different things to different people.

Paul said...

I think it was a well-crafted response, but don't think he was trying to deceive anyone with his answer. I hope I am so eloquent if I ever field questions in front of a national audience.

What bothers me about it is not this point specifically, but that it is a perfect example of the quagmire that is Mormon "doctrine". Nobody knows what "we" are expected to believe--not even GBH--and this is still the church that has people gushing about how grateful they are to have the answers?

I would love it if the Church would step up and formalize its doctrine, officially sanctioning or rejecting teachings by past prophets and leaders. I know they never will, because the status quo keeps the pews and coffers full--even for members whose testimonies are built upon erroneous "doctrine" that we don't even know if we emphasize.

Papa D said...

anonymous, I think he phrased his answer the way he did because he honestly doesn't know about that part of the couplet - since it's something that never has been revealed, imo.

I agree, Aquinas - which is why I never quote that couplet. I have NO problem with the second half of it - the statement that as God is man may become, since I believe it is a central teaching of the Bible (perhaps THE central teaching, frankly). I just don't quote the full couplet - ever.

Paul, I understand what you are saying, but I personally disagree. I don't want the Church specifying exactly everything I must believe - since not doing so allows me to try to figure it out on my own. Ironically, I'm sure you want that also - deep down, It would be "easier" if we were told exactly what to believe and what not to believe (if "doctrine" were clearly defined), but isn't that the biggest part of your individual difficulty when it comes right down to it? That's worth considering, imo - and I wouldn't change it if I could, even though it means my personal beliefs about many things are unique (or at least heterodox) in the Church.

Being able to be heterodox but still orthoprax is worth the struggle to figure it out on my own.

Ken said...

Doesn't it get tiring doing all those mental gymnastics?

Papa D said...

Ken, that seriously is not worth answering. God bless!

ji said...

President Hinckley's statement was right on -- there are a lot of threads that together form the tapestry of Mormon thought, but many of those threads are more of folklore and less of doctrine. The notion "as man is, God once was" very simply is not doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some saints might believe it, but such doesn't make it doctrinal. Our doctrine is that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the gospel and priesthood have been restored in these latter days.

Firebyrd said...

Ray, normally I very much appreciate your view of things, and I'm hardly one who's trying to look at the church through "&%$# colored glasses," but I have to disagree with you here. He messed up. What he said was, at the very least, extremely badly worded, and at worst, dishonest about what the church does and doesn't teach. He was normally so easy to understand and so well versed in PR, I have a hard time believing that he just "accidentally" worded something badly when discussing one of the doctrines that causes the most strife with other Christian faiths.

I love President Hinkley. I often remark on how much I still miss him. I have a firm testimony that he was a prophet of God. And yet, he himself noted that he was a sinner and nowhere near perfect. While our modern church leaders come off as squeaky clean, particularly when compared to the antics of early leaders, I think this is a case of a fallible mortal proving that he was just that.

Firebyrd said...

Oh, and just as a funny side note, I would have sworn on my life that the exchange happened during one of his interviews on Larry King Live. So many interviews, so easy to mix up!

Papa D said...

Thanks for that input, Firebyrd. I totally respect that and agree it might be the case. As I said in the post, however, I grew up hearing that phrase constantly ("I don't know that . . .), so that is how I understood it immediately.

Just for the record, I'm not saying he didn't "dodge" the question a bit. He did. All I'm saying at heart is that I think he did so carefully and honestly - that there isn't any lie in what he said.

Papa D said...

"the tapestry of Mormon thought"

I really like that phrase, ji. Thanks!

ji said...

I like to differentiate between our doctrine and everything else, and I sometimes call everything else "the tapestry of Mormon thought.". The tapestry is colorful with lots of ideas -- lots of thoughts that influence us generally as a people -- but just as every religious idea espoused by a Roman Catholic thinker doesn't automatically qualify as Roman Catholic dogma or doctrine, and every idea by a Presbyterian thinker doesn't rise to Presbyterian doctrine, also so every idea espoused by a Latter-day Saint thinker (or even prophet) cannot be automatically assumed to be doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As a community of people, we will all have our own ideas from time to time as part of our own learning and growing processes. It is sometimes appropriate to share these thoughts with others. These sharings cause others to reflect and ponder. This can all be good. But danger can arise if any or all of these thoughts are interpreted as the doctrine of our whole community.

We need to be able to differentiate between doctrine and other influences on our thought (or, to use Elder Holland's word, our folklore). We need to remember that the corpus of our doctrine is really quite small. Everything else is someone's help or interpretation or teaching or illustration. But someone's illustration of a doctrinal principle should not enlarge the corpus of doctrine. But such an illustration can become woven into the tapestry of Mormon thought.

It seems to me that any Latter-day Saint who thinks President Hinckley lied or evaded in his answer has already made an error regarding the corpus of our doctrine, having adopted a thread in the tapestry of Mormon thought as doctrine for the whole church. This is a common and unfortunate error within our LDS community.

adamf said...

"I would love it if the Church would step up and formalize its doctrine"

I have thought this a time or two as well, but ultimately I am VERY glad there is no "Mormon Doctrine." I suppose it's a personal issue for me, but the Doctrine of the Gospel is ANYTHING that is true, regardless of the source. I think formalizing this would, at least for me, damage the ability to live one of the most invigorating teachings of LDS History: "We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons."

Nora Ray said...

I use that phrase myself once in a while and I am not quite as old as Pres. Hinckley. When I use it, it is usually to buy time, because someone has said something that requires more than a simple response. I don't use it for deception and I am sure Pres. Hinckley didn't either.

Nathan said...

Alan Rock Waterman: It was still a weasel answer. A prophet should speak boldly, not welcome ways to skirt the doctrine.

Right, because Jesus Christ never gave cryptic or context-determined answers. His answers in public were always the same as his answers in private. When people asked whether he was the Messiah, he always boldly and unequivocally proclaimed, "Yep, sure am," regardless of who asked, why they asked, or what larger audience was listening. Nope, never.