Mormon apostle Dallin Oaks caused quite a stir in late January. In an interview related to the Church’s news conference on LGBT issues and religious discrimination, Mr. Oaks expressed his view that apologizing for the Church’s “harsh rhetoric of the past” wasn’t a good idea. According to the Salt Lake Tribune,
“‘I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them,’ Oaks said in an interview. ‘We sometimes look back on issues and say, “Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,” but we look forward and not backward.’”
Shortly thereafter Mr. Oaks restated his position for clarity. During an online video chat, interviewer Jennifer Napier-Pearce asked Mr. Oaks about his previous comment that “The Church doesn’t seek apologies and we don’t give them” and “how that comports with Christian theology” (beginning around the 25 minute mark in the video). Mr. Oaks responded,
“I’m not aware that the word ‘apology’ appears anywhere in the scriptures — Bible or BOM. The word ‘apology’ contains a lot of connotations in it, and a lot of significance. We do not seek apologies. When our temple was desecrated in CA, when people were fired and intimidated, when a lot of other coercive measures were used, we sought no apology. That’s what I meant by saying ‘we don’t seek apology.’ We think that the best way to solve these problems is not a formal statement of words that a [sic] apology consists of, but talking about principles and good will among contending viewpoints.”
Mr. Oaks did not really answer the question, and his response was apparently unsatisfying to many. The Salt Lake Tribune subsequently published an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack titled, “No apology? Really? Mormons question leader Dallin H. Oaks’ stance.” Ms. Stack noted,
“Many Mormons across social media have reacted with dismay at hearing an LDS apostle reject out of hand the idea of apologizing.”
Mr. Oaks’ comments were in the context of LGBT issues, but he stepped outside of that context when he justified his position by stating that the word “apology” does not appear anywhere in the scriptures.
So I began to think about the Gospel Topics essays the Church has posted on its website regarding its controversial past. The essay on Joseph Smith’s polygamy mentions the facts of Smith’s lying and adultery (my words), but the Church does not apologize for the poor treatment women and girls have suffered (and continue to suffer) because of the doctrines Smith and his successors taught. Nor does the Church apologize for its past misrepresentation of these facts as “anti-Mormon lies.”
The essay on race and the priesthood mentions Brigham Young’s introduction of what became the Church’s institutional racism, but the Church does not apologize for the poor treatment Blacks have suffered because of the false doctrines Brigham Young and his successors taught. Nor does the Church apologize for the fact that these leaders clearly led the Church astray.
The essay on violence among 19th century Latter-day Saints mentions the “heated rhetoric of Church leaders” that may have led Mormons to think that they should murder 120 unarmed non-Mormons who were traveling through Utah Territory on their way to California, but the Church does not apologize to the victims’ descendants for this indefensible atrocity. Nor does the Church apologize for its blatant and continual misrepresentation of this massacre that spanned well over 100 years.
In 2007 Bill McKeever attended a memorial service commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. At that event Mormon apostle Henry Eyring expressed “profound regret” for the victims’ suffering, and for the misplaced blame the Paiute people were forced to carry for 15 decades. Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune both reported that the Church had finally apologized for the massacre, but they were mistaken. According to an Associated Press article, “Church leaders were adamant that the statement should not be construed as an apology.” LDS Church spokesman Mark Tuttle insisted, “We don’t use the word ‘apology.’ We used ‘profound regret.’”
About this, Bill McKeever wrote,
“Such a comment speaks volumes. It not only confirms in the minds of many that the leadership continues to display a type of infallible arrogance, but it will also be understood by many that the LDS Church is not sorry for what happened under Brigham Young’s watch. For me that is the big issue. I fully understand that there is no one currently living who was personally responsible for the [Mountain Meadows Massacre]. However, there is a corporate responsibility that the LDS leadership wants to continue to deny. Brigham Young was the ‘prophet, seer, and revelator’ of the LDS Church and he was also the ultimate head of every LDS militia in the Utah territory. True leaders understand that when things go wrong, the ‘buck’ has to stop somewhere, and in a real world it usually stops with those who are in charge.”
“I think most church leaders honestly don’t feel the church as an institution has ever done, or can ever do, anything wrong. It would not be in the program, and you don’t rise up the ranks of church leadership unless you’re a company man who believes exactly that.”
If Mormons hope for any apologies from their church, it appears that they will always be disappointed. It seems the Church and its leadership are not ultimately interested in repentance and reconciliation (a position, of course, that does not “comport with Christian theology”); as Mr. Oaks said, what the Church is interested in is achieving its goals and moving ahead.
In 1996, responding to a question about the Mormon Church’s racism, Mormon prophet Gordon B. Hinckley told 60 Minutes’ journalist Mike Wallace, “Look, that’s behind us. Don’t worry about those little flicks of history.” This is right in line with what Mr. Oaks expressed to journalists last month. I guess believing that Mormonism is God’s one true church means never having to say you’re sorry.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)