A Closer Look

Jesus' Commission to His Twelve Apostles

" He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward." - Matthew 10:40-41


The CES Letter seeks to make the case in this section that it's not rational to listen to prophets since then can make mistakes. (see LDS Truth Claims video). This section is a classic case of "cherry picking" (a logical fallacy).  One could cherry pick the few instances of almost any piece of information as a reason to not believe in it. The core question in this section essentially asks: how can we trust human fallible prophets who sometimes get it wrong? Similarly, one could ask, how can I trust a human fallible pilot who is flying my plane?  And then go on to give examples of where planes have crashed as justification for not flying.

Similarly, the CES Letter cherry-picks five cases where he believes the brethren got it wrong. Rather than call these five cases are exceptions over the churches 200+ year history, Runnell's calls it a "ridiculous and inconsistent" track record.

The first two points of this section discuss Adam God & Blood Atonement. Both are obscure teachings by Brigham Young that were never fully adopted by the church. The next two points are polygamy and the priesthood ban. Both practices the church sub-sequentially changed. The final example used in this section is con-artist Mark Hofmann, who sold the church leaders fraudulent documents. Runnell's believes that prophets would have been able to detected the fraud.

CES Letter Thesis Claim

"Yesterday's doctrine is today's false doctrine. Yesterday's prophets are today's heretics."

As stated above, Runnell's views change and new revelation as a negative thing. He also believes that the brethren should always get it right from the beginning and if they don't they not only can't be trusted but are heretics. This is contrary to what the Bible, Book of Mormon and modern prophets have all taught. 

"Line Upon Line"

We have a church that is built upon revelation. Article of Faith #9 says, "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” We also believe that the Lord teaches us "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” (2 Nephi 28:30). Thus, we should expect to see things change. That's the beauty of revelation.

Past Prophet's Aren't Heretics

Runnell's says "yesterday's prophets are today's heretics." Very unforgiving and harsh language not used by our prophets to describe changes we make. Just because polygamy isn't practiced today it doesn't doesn't mean previous prophets who did teach it are heretics. Same goes with the priesthood ban or Brigham Young's teachings on Adam God and Blood Atonement what were never widely accepted by the church. Bruce R. McConkie calling Brigham Young's Adam God teaching as a heresy is the closest thing we have to the Runnell's language. Which is still far short of labeling all previous prophets as "heretics."


CES Letter Core Question

Did Brigham Young teach that Adam was actually Heavenly Father?

Yes he did but it was never widely accepted or adopted on a large-scale level. Brigham Young gave 388 sermons that are included in the Journal of Discourses between 1852 and 1877. The Adam God teaching is a handful of cherry-picked cases.  Joseph F. Smith said in 1897 on this topic, "Prest. Young no doubt expressed his personal opinion or views upon the subject. What he said was not given as a revelation or commandment from the Lord. The Doctrine was never submitted to the Councils of the Priesthood nor to the Church for approval or ratification [p.2] and was never formally or otherwise accepted by the Church. It is therefore in no sense binding upon the Church nor upon the consciences of any of the members." 

David Buerger, who provided one of the most extensive analyses of the topic concluded:

In sum it appears that Brigham's Adam-God doctrine never became thoroughly established in late nineteenth-century LDS theology. While it is evident that many of the leading authorities of the Church endorsed Young's teaching during these years, there was not a unanimous view even among the hierarchy. The published writings of church authorities in these years avoided any endorsement of the doctrine, and evidence suggests that it was not widely accepted among the general membership of the Church."

Dialogue Magazine, The Adam-God Doctrine, David Buerger, p. 36

Blood Atonement

CES Letter Core Question

Brigham Young and several early church leaders taught that some sins required a voluntary shedding of ones blood to fully atone for them. Was this an incorrect teaching?

Despite fiery rhetoric, Blood Atonement was never practiced. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism addresses this:

Several early Church leaders, most notably Brigham Young, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood-presumably by capital punishment-as part of the process of Atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as "blood Atonement." Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has never been practiced by the Church at any time.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Blood Atonement

CES Letter Core Question

Did the church put to death apostates and other sinners?

Discussions of "blood atonement" are made only in propaganda against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no record of any LDS leader directing that a person should be "blood atoned." Nor is there any account of a person being killed through a principle called “blood atonement.” (Click here).

In 1889 the First Presidency released a statement addressing this:

this church views the shedding of human blood with the utmost abhorrence. That we regard the killing of a human being, except in conformity with the civil law, as a capital crime, which should be punished by shedding the blood of the criminal after a public trial before a legally constituted court of the land. We denounce as entirely untrue the allegation which has been made, that our church favors or believes in the killing of persons who leave the church or apostatize from its doctrines. We would view a punishment of this character for such an act with the utmost horror; it is abhorrent to us and is in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of our creed. The revelations of God to this church make death the penalty of capital crime, and require that offenders against life and property shall be delivered up and tried by the laws of the land.’’ We declare that no bishop's or other court in this church claims or exercises civil or judicial functions, or the right to supersede, annul or modify a judgment of any civil court. Such courts, while established to regulate Christian conduct, are purely ecclesiastical, and their punitive powers go no further than the suspension or excommunication of members from church fellowship. 


The doctrine of blood atonement has reference to the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ in the shedding of his blood upon the cross and is still a doctrine of the Church today. (Click here)


CES Letter Core Question

Is polygamy required for exaltation?

The short answer is no.

FairMormon does and excellent job addressing this quote here.

Brigham Young Quote on Polygamy and Gods

A new transcription of this discourse from the original shorthand shows that Brigham Young did indeed make this comment, but he clarified it twice saying that it applied only to men and women who have the privilege of practicing plural marriage. The CES Letter is wrong. The issue is obedience, not plurality. No presiding leader has ever stated that all exalted beings are polygamists. (Click here)

What the "New and Everlasting Covenant" is in D&C 132:4

The new and everlasting covenant of marriage is not polygamy. D&C 132:7 describes the "conditions" of the law and polygamy is not mentioned. Verses 19-20 declare that a worthy monogamous couple sealed by proper authority will received exaltation. Polygamy is not a law or a covenant or a ceremony. It is best referred to as a principle and a practice. The new and everlasting covenant of marriage is eternal marriage, which all must abide or they "shall remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity," which is damnation (v. 17). (Click here)

Is Polygamy Doctrinal?

The idea that polygamy must always be practiced is not doctrinal. Take for example the Book of Mormon peoples who were all monogamists. President Hinckley was speaking the truth. (Click here)

Blacks Ban

All Are Alike 2 Nephi
CES Letter Core Question

The Race and the Priesthood essay said that "the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse." Is that inconsistent with 2 Nephi 5:21?

Nephi is speaking about Lamanites in these verses, not African Americans. Additionally, Nephi demonstrates some complex feelings concern "he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female," (2 Nephi 26:33). On one-hand he had a strained relationship with his brothers who "did seek to take away my life (2 Nephi 5:2).  Brant Gardner provides the following commentary on this verse, "Modern readers may be uncomfortable with Nephite racial prejudices, but they existed. They were not, however, based on skin color as has been part of the more modern U.S. culture. Nephite prejudices were developed on distinctions more common to the ancient world and used reasons other than pigmentation." (Brant Gardner, What Does the Book of Mormon Mean by “Skin of Blackness”?)

CES Letter Core Question

Did IRS pressure lead to the church revoking the church ban on the priesthood?

This is yet another baseless conspiracy put forward by the CES Letter. Colorado Professor of history Matt Harris had this to say about the possibility of the IRS pressuring the church to revoke the priesthood ban:

I don’t think the threat of the IRS revoking the church’s tax exemption status had anything to do with the priesthood revelation, the internet notwithstanding. On the other hand, the brethren were concerned about it. Beyond the Arrington letter, I have other evidence that I will present in my next book. You might be interested to know that I contacted Pres. Carter several years ago and asked him if he pressured the IRS to pester the church over the priesthood restriction. He wrote back a warm letter denying such claims. There was nothing in his presidential papers, either, to confirm that the IRS went after the church. Pres Kimball’s diaries are silent on this subject as well.

Matt Harris, By Common Consent Tax Roots OD2

Mark Hofmann

Mark Hofmann
CES Letter Core Question

Should the brethren have been able to discern that Hofmann's documents were forgeries and Hofmann was a murderer?

The author of the CES Letter has an incorrect perception of what it means to be a prophet. Like Michael Ash said, "There is no doctrine that a prophet will discern the evil or treachery in all people (or even in most or many people)."

One can look at Joshua who was deceived by Achan, who did so in order to obtain money. Achan's actions even resulted in the death of some people. After investigation, Achan was discovered and sentenced. (Joshua 7) Additionally, Joshua was also deceived by the inhabitants of Gibeon when they claimed to come from a far country so they could get a peace accord with Joshua. Then the Israelites found that instead of living a long distance away, that people from Gibeon lived among them. (Joshua 9).

CES Letter Core Question

Did President Hinckley demonstrate "significant dishonesty" in his dealings with Mark Hofmann?

The CES Letter alleges that the Hofmann's forgeries undermined and threatened the Church's story of its origins, which is untrue and overly dramatic. Before they were discovered to be forgeries, their contents were dealt with like any new document would have been. Church leaders were excited to learn of purportedly new documents dealing with the Restoration.

Elder Oaks

Elder Oaks states: “Latter-day Saint readers should also be more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read." Ironically, this seems to be the very thing that the author of The CES Letter is championing—LDS being more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read about prophets and history. It is good advice, and apparently Elder Oaks believes that such behavior will lead them to belief, not disbelief.

(More detailed response coming)

The CES Letter accuses President Hinckley of dishonesty based upon his assumption that the Church was going to sequester documents obtained from Hofmann. It is a reckless accusation because it is based purely upon speculation.

The Tanners

Gerald and Sandra Tanner were initially skeptical regarding the Salamander letter and Church leaders never pronounced it genuine. The CES Letter seems to condemn LDS leaders for expressing interest in and acquiring documents purporting to deal with Church history.

The Church Released the Purchased Fraudulent Documents

The Church immediately released the documents. The CES Letter's allegation is based upon an assumption that they were not going to release them. There was no wrongdoing, but the author of The CES Letter alleges impropriety based upon its opinion of what would have happened.


Brigham Young Prophets Mistaktes
CES Letter Core Question

There is a quote where Brigham Young equates his sermons to scripture. How do we reconcile this with cases where he was wrong?

I’m told that prophets are just men who are only prophets when acting as such (whatever that means). I’m told that, like all prophets, Brigham Young was a man of his time. For example, I was told that Brigham Young was acting as a man when he taught that “God revealed to [him]” that “Adam is our father and God” and the “only God with whom we have to do.” Never mind that Brigham taught this over the pulpit in not one but two conferences and never mind that he introduced this theology into the endowment ceremony in the Temples.

Never mind that Brigham Young made it clear that he was speaking as a prophet:

I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. (the CES Letter deliberately omitted the portion in red)


CES Letter, page 68-69

A believing member doesn't need to reconcile this quote since it's taken out of context. The cherry picked quote leaves out the next sentence which said, "let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon.”

FairMormon does a good job addressing this here.

CES Letter Core Question

Do the prophets have a "ridiculous and inconsistent" track record not worth listening to?

The CES Letter calling the brethren's record "ridiculous" is hyperbolic and a distorted opinion based upon a select cherry-picking a few cases while disregarding the big picture.

Jim Bennett does a good job addressing this distorted view of of the prophets the CES Letter creates:

You’re looking at the teachings of the prophets through a fun-house mirror. It’s a gross distortion to say that prophets primarily teach “theories” that are later disavowed. What percentage of Brigham Young’s entirety of teachings is no longer consistent with what the church currently teaches? There’s no way to definitively quantify it, but objectively speaking, it’s a pretty small percentage. What’s the likelihood that, say, baptism by immersion will become passé under the next church president? Are we going to abandon the Book of Mormon? Ditch the Sabbath Day? When should we expect a repudiation of the Sermon on the Mount?

A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter, Jim Bennett p. 226

CES Letter Core Question

Why didn't the Lord correct Brigham Young's incorrect views on race, Adam God, etc?

Prophets aren't perfect and they sometimes hold incorrect views on things. It's entirely possible the Lord did try to correct Brigham's view on race, Adam God, etc. The beautiful thing is the Lord works with us despite our weaknesses, biases, and incorrect view of things.