“Don’t Speak Evil”

Don't Criticize

The general counsel to Latter-day Saints is to "not speak evil of the Lord's anointed."[1]  This directive contains no footnote authorizing a person to speak evil under special circumstances, that is, if certain criteria are met, such as if it is true.  There is no bracketed insertion saying: "Go ahead and speak evil if it factual and accurate." 

Paul taught: “It is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people” (Acts 23:5).

Joseph Smith explained:  “I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn other, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.”[2] 

On April 6, 1861, Apostle John Taylor assured his listeners that if a “corrupt man” should preside, he would be removed according to God’s time:

Suppose a corrupt man is presiding in a certain place, his corruptions are soon known. People need not strive to turn good into evil because they think that some man does wrong. They need not turn calumniators and defamers, for all will come right in its turn. Then attend to your own business, work the works of righteousness, sustain the constituted authorities of the Church until God removes them, and he will do it in his own time.[3]

George Q. Cannon declared, “God has chosen His servants. He claims it as His prerogative to condemn them, if they need condemnation. He has not given it to us individually to censure and condemn them. No man, however strong he may be in the faith, however high in the Priesthood, can speak evil of the Lord's anointed and find fault with God's authority on the earth without incurring His displeasure. The Holy Spirit will withdraw itself from such a man, and he will go into darkness. This being the case, do you not see how important it is that we should be careful? However difficult it may be for us to understand the reason for any action of the authorities of the Church, we should not too hastily call their acts in question and pronounce them wrong. (Gospel Truth, 1:278.)

On August 25, 1856, the Martin handcart company left Florence (Omaha) Nebraska headed for the Salt Lake Valley to join with the Saints settled there. Their late start for the West and an unusually early snowfall exposed their companies to extreme cold, blizzards and even starvation. Out of 576 who began the trek, at least 145 died due to the difficulties encountered.  Even some who completed the journey remained severely afflicted for the rest of their lives due to frostbitten limbs.

On one occasion years after the disastrous expedition, several Saints were conversing about the incident. Their criticisms of the leaders fell upon the ears of an elderly man who had been a member of the company.  After listening for a while he finally arose and said:

I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about.  Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved...  We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism?  Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives, for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.

I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.

I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one.  I knew then that the angels of God were there.

Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart?   Neither then or any minute of my life since.  The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.  (R.S. Magazine, Jan. 1948, p. 8.)

Criticizing without sufficient faith or knowledge is so easy to individuals in this last dispensation.

[1] Charles W. Penrose, Conference Report, April 1904, p.71; see also Acts 23:5; Brigham Young 16:188-89; Heber C. Kimball, JD 4:46, 12:188-89; John Taylor JD 9:14; JD 9:142-43; George Albert Smith JD 17:163-64; George Q. Cannon, Collected Discourses 5:222.

[2] Joseph Fielding Smith, comp. and ed. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976 printing, 156.

[3] John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 9:14.