A little over two years ago Jerald Tanner left this life for his home in Heaven. Born and raised a Latter-day Saint, when a young man Jerald discovered that Mormonism could not bring him to Christ. When God granted Jerald the free gift of salvation, Jerald spent his life in grateful service to God, researching and publishing information he hoped would help Latter-day Saints recognize the tremendous problems within Mormonism – and help them turn instead to Jesus.
The ministry Jerald co-founded with his wife, Sandra, Utah Lighthouse Ministry, has published a three-part series of articles on the life and work of Jerald Tanner. Authored by Ronald V. Huggins, the last article in the series was published in the November 2008 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger. It takes a look at the integrity that guided Jerald as he examined LDS history and published his conclusions. Wherever the evidence led, that is where Jerald went. And he went there with no regard for a conclusion’s popularity or degree to which it might–or might not–serve his cause. This, of course, is what any good historian would do. However, as Ron Huggins notes in his Salt Lake City Messenger article, scholars today are sometimes more comfortable pleasing their intended audience than telling the whole truth.
Dr. Huggins explains, “It is very much the current sensibility and temperament among historians to write sympathetically about historical religious figures, giving them the benefit of the doubt wherever possible.” After citing two examples of this tendency among modern historians, Dr. Huggins asks, Is there ever a time for the historian to say, ‘Look, what we have here is a religious charlatan, a liar, a manipulative scoundrel who uses his spiritual sway over people to get what he wants.'” Apparently, many modern historians are unwilling to go there.
Dr. Huggins wrote,
“The long and short of this is that current historians do feel the pressure at times to knowingly write what is false or misleading in order to flatter their readers or publishers. As a Christian historian, Jerald no doubt could feel this pressure as well, but he had another point of reference. The Bible both warns against man pleasing, and provides a category that modern historical study finds hard to get a handle on: the false prophets…
“Many Christians may feel the identification of particular individuals, especially leaders of large religious groups, as pseudoprophetai (false prophets), is overly harsh. But the category of religious figures is one presented to us in the Scriptures themselves, and if we wish to claim to be Biblical Christians we have no alternative but to take the Scriptural warnings about such figures seriously. So for us such questions as whether Joseph Smith should be regarded as a ‘religious genius,’ as, for example, Harold Bloom describes him, or whether he was ‘sincere’ in thinking his revelations came from God, are of very little significance for the Christian, whose starting point is the teaching of Scripture. The main thing is to begin by describing the situation accurately, and this is what Jerald did. A false prophet, be he brilliant or stupid, interesting or dull, sincere or hypocritical, is still first and foremost a false prophet, and therefore no safe guide to follow if our goal is seeking and finding the way of God.”
Jerald Tanner told it as it was; he employed no flattery, made no effort to please his audience, and scrupulously avoided fudging on the facts.
But some historians fit into another category, conforming their conclusions to something LDS apostle Boyd K. Packer would be happy with. Mr. Packer once said,
“Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer… There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not… Some things that are true are not very useful… That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. ” (“The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect”)
Which sort of historian do you find more valuable – one who places courtesy and popularity ahead of truth? Or one who always tells the truth, even when it is uncomfortable?