Dallin H. Oaks/It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true

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Elder Oaks on Church history


Question: Did Elder Dallin H. Oaks say that it’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true?

Elder Oaks' comment is taken out of context: he is not saying that one should accept anything a Church leader says as true

Elder Dallin H. Oaks is claimed to have made the following comment at a Latter-day Saint Student Association fireside in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on 4 May 1986:

It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.

This quote is taken out of context by critics of the Church to imply that one should accept anything a Church leader says as true, even if it is not.

Elder Oaks responds to this claim directly in an interview with Helen Whitney for the PBS special "The Mormons"

Elder Oaks answers this claim himself in an interview with Helen Whitney for the PBS special "The Mormons." off-site In the following transcript, "HW" is "Helen Whitney" and "DHO" is "Dallin H. Oaks":

HW: You used an interesting phrase, “Not everything that’s true is useful.” Could you develop that as someone who’s a scholar and trying to encourage deep searching?

DHO: The talk where I gave that was a talk on “Reading Church History” — that was the title of the talk. And in the course of the talk I said many things about being skeptical in your reading and looking for bias and looking for context and a lot of things that were in that perspective. But I said two things in it and the newspapers and anybody who ever referred to the talk only referred to [those] two things: one is the one you cite, “Not everything that’s true is useful,” and that [meant] “was useful to say or to publish.” And you tell newspapers any time (media people) [that] they can’t publish something, they’ll strap on their armor and come out to slay you! [Laughs.]

I also said something else that has excited people: that it’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true, because it diminishes their effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. One can work to correct them by some other means, but don’t go about saying that they misbehaved when they were a youngster or whatever. Well, of course, that sounds like religious censorship also.

But not everything that’s true is useful. I am a lawyer, and I hear something from a client. It’s true, but I’ll be disciplined professionally if I share it because it’s part of the attorney-client privilege. There’s a husband-wife privilege, there’s a priest-penitent privilege, and so on. That’s an illustration of the fact that not everything that’s true is useful to be shared.

In relation to history, I was speaking in that talk for the benefit of those that write history. In the course of writing history, I said that people ought to be careful in what they publish because not everything that’s true is useful. See a person in context; don’t depreciate their effectiveness in one area because they have some misbehavior in another area — especially from their youth. I think that’s the spirit of that. I think I’m not talking necessarily just about writing Mormon history; I’m talking about George Washington or any other case. If he had an affair with a girl when he was a teenager, I don’t need to read that when I’m trying to read a biography of the Founding Father of our nation. (See "Elder Oaks Interview Transcript from PBS Documentary" on mormonnewsroom.org)


Oaks (1987): "it is wrong to make statements of fact out of an evil motive, even if the statements are true"

Dallin H. Oaks

This is an edited version of a talk delivered at a Latter-day Saint Student Association fireside in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on 4 May 1986.

.....

The critical consideration is how we use the truth. When he treated this same subject in his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “If thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy him not with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” (Rom. 14:15.) A Christian who has concern for others exercises care in how he uses the truth. Such care does not denigrate the truth; it ennobles it.

Truth surely exists as an absolute, but our use of truth should be disciplined by other values. For example, it is wrong to make statements of fact out of an evil motive, even if the statements are true. It is wrong to threaten to reveal embarrassing facts unless money is paid, even if the facts are true. We call that crime blackmail. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are forbidden to reveal facts they have received in confidence, even though those facts are true.

Just as the principle of justice must be constrained by the principle of mercy (see Alma 42), so must the use of truth be disciplined by the principle of love. As Paul instructed the Ephesians, we “grow up into” Christ by “speaking the truth in love.” (See Eph. 4:15.)[1]


Notes

  1. Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," Ensign (February 1987).