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”N. Eldon Tanner… ‘When the prophet speaks the debate is over.’”

(CES Letter)

Out Of Context – This quote is taken totally out of context. It is strange that CES Letter would pretend like N. Eldon Tanner was saying this when he was just quoting Elaine Cannon, and she was simply talking about general eternal spiritual principles. She was saying that a role of a prophet is to answer questions about faith and the gospel, to settle theological disputes. When it comes to theology, yes, when the prophet speaks the debate is over.

For example, Joseph Smith answer age-old questions about purgatory and the nature of trinity. These kinds of questions get answered. But that does not mean nobody is allowed to debate anything anymore, and that’s not what N. Eldon Tanner was saying. He was not saying that we are forbidden from debating history or personal opinions. The prophet is a conduit for spiritual truth, not a dictator who forbids individual thinking.

Here is the proper context of this quote (from 1979): “Recently, at the Churchwide fireside meeting held for the women of the Church, Young Women President Elaine Cannon made the following statement: ‘When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over.’ … Why should there be any debate over the moral issues which are confounding the world today? From the beginning God has made his position very clear in regard to marriage, divorce, family life and love of children, immorality, chastity, virtue, and the high and holy role of women. Through his prophet today he reiterates the Old and New Testament teachings which are clear on these matters.” (N. Eldon Tanner)

N. Eldon Tanner was just affirming what Elaine Cannon had said. Let’s take a look at the context of her words: “Personal opinions may vary. Eternal principles never do. When the prophet speaks, sisters, the debate is over. So I urge us all to provide powerful unity as women for those things we can agree upon—family, chastity, accountability to the Lord, responsibility in the community, sharing the gospel.” (Elaine Canno) Read Elaine Cannon’s entire talk here

Elaine Cannon was simply saying, in her excellent talk, that the prophet settles the matter on eternal principles to help us settle on basic morals, and we can still have our own personal opinions.

Totalitarian Church?

CES Letter lists snippets of quotes as evidence that the Mormon church has “practices you’d expect to find in a totalitarian system such as North Korea or George Orwell’s 1984.” But when CES Letter‘s snippet of quotes are read in their proper context, I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with them.

  • “Some things that are true are not very useful” In its proper context, Boyd K. Packer was saying we need to weigh negatives and positives in a balanced, unbiased way and consider correct context to make correct decisions.
  • “It is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church” In its proper context, Dallin H. Oaks was saying it is not helpful to harp and nit-pick negative aspects of history instead of looking at the entire historical context.
  • “Spying and monitoring on members” This is a phony conspiracy theory that CES Letter invented out of thin air.
  • “Intellectuals are dangerous” Boyd K. Packer correctly warned of “the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals” who spread fake scholasticism and are only interested in infiltrating and tearing down the faith of others.
  • “When the prophet speaks the debate is over” CES Letter is repeating the snippet of quote that they took totally out of context. When it comes to theology, yes, the debate is over.
  • “Obedience is the First Law of Heaven” In his talk, William D. Oswald urged Mormons to choose to follow the commandments in the scriptures. We can observe that there is a consistently positive result to every positive choice. There was no talk of coercing or forcing.

Anti-Mormon Narrative Is Authoritarian

As Orwell points out in 1984: “In the past, also, war was one of the main instruments by which human societies were kept in touch with physical reality… Physical facts could not be ignored. In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four… But when war becomes literally continuous, it also ceases to be dangerous. When war is continuous there is no such thing as military necessity.” (George Orwell)

When your entire purpose of your rhetoric is to oppose someone, as it is with CES Letter and Anti-Mormons, that is continual war. Suddenly, usefulness does not matter, and in fact, CES Letter attacks Mormons for considering what is useful. When anti-Mormons are continually in attack mode instead of building something, two and two no longer needs to make five.

Followers of Satan want everything spelled out for them, prophets who are all-powerful. This is the heart of their strawman argument that scripture should be a perfect, crystalized model of truth and dictate every word we say and movement we make, from the way you tie your shoes in the morning to which words you are allowed to speak. Do this. Say this. Don’t even bother thinking critically or making judgement calls for yourself. They complain when rules are too rigid, then they complain when church policies change to suit modern circumstances.

I’m pretty sure that North Korea and Orwell’s 1984 would portray everything as black and white as CES Letter does. They would throw out anything with the smallest “contradiction” or else cover up that a contradiction exists–if something is not useful in promoting the Marxist ideology, it must not be true.

Using Boyd K. Packer’s earlier example, I’m pretty sure North Korea and 1984 would say if George Washington had an affair as a teenager, this fact must be discussed in any lesson on the American revolution, because it is always right to criticize the enemy, if that is the necessary narrative to propagate the Marxist ideology.

In North Korea, real intellectuals are labeled heretics and fake intellectuals fill the schools with fake science. They only push the state narrative and Marxist ideology. In North Korea, when the leader speaks, is the debate over? At first we would think “well, yeah,” but actually, when the dictator speaks, the debate is just beginning. In North Korea, the debate is never over, and the Red revolution always rages, and the people are are always fighting against the heretics. Marxism is an endless revolution, and they never get past issues that should have been cleared up hundreds of years ago.

In Orwell’s 1984, is obedience the first law of heaven? At first we would say “well, yeah, they demand obedience,” but actually obedience is not enough: “Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? … Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred.” (George Orwell)

Looking from the outside in, this is an apt description of the general Anti-Mormon community. It is built on hatred and animosity, not love or justice. Why do they express so much opposition and hatred, tell us how much they are hurt, and seem to relish being victims of pain?


“As a believing member, I was deeply offended by the accusation that the Church was a cult. ‘How can it be a cult when we’re good people who are following Christ, focusing on family, and doing good works in and out of a church that bears His name? When we’re 14 million members? What a ridiculous accusation.’ It was only after I lost my testimony … that I could clearly see the above cultish aspects of the Church and why people came to the conclusion that Mormonism is a cult.”

(CES Letter)

One hallmark of a cult is the claim that there is some esoteric knowledge that you can’t know until you join and become fully committed. Mormons believe knowledge comes line upon line, precept upon precept, and you get what you put into it. But Anti-Mormons believe you must lose your testimony before you can see why Mormons are evil. Who is the cult?

The Marxists in North Korea and Orwell’s 1984 believe “consciousness” comes before anything. Hence, you don’t know how evil you are until you “lose your testimony” and take on their alternative ideology. In 1984, this concept is known as “thought-crime.” “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull…. Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death.”     (George Orwell)

It is a death of individual beliefs. Anti-Mormons kill their beliefs to fall in line with a strict ideology of conformity and pre-scripted narrative. This is why CES Letter copies multiple pages of text and images from an anti-Mormon website and rehashes the same arguments that have been made against Mormons for hundreds of years. Are they really free to speak their minds once they leave the church? No, they are free to copy the narrative that others like them have carried before.

The most successful cults do not just encourage people to kill individual thought, but encourage people to convince themselves that blind obedience is individual thought. That’s what “thought crime” is, and that is what I see Anti-Mormons propagating. They think by losing their testimonies they got a new vision for what reality is, however they present nothing but opposition to Mormons, hatred for the gospel which Mormons bear testimony of. Sure seems like a cult to me.

Compare the Anti-Mormon narrative about being born into the church with what Marxist cultist leader Jim Jones said of Americans:

“If you’re born in capitalist America, racist America, fascist America, then you’re born in sin. But if you’re born in socialism, you’re not born in sin.” (Jim Jones, “The Letter Killeth.”)

“My whole life I have suffered from poverty and have faced many disappointments and pain, like a man is used to. That is why I want to make other people happy and want them to feel at home.” (Jim Jones, via John Hogue)

“Son of a bitchin’ no good lousy ass anarchistic capitalist bitch. That’s what I say about my relatives, but you won’t say it.” (Jim Jones, FBI No. Q265)

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

Ad HominemIs the church a cult for expelling hostile infiltrators who attack and wreck its beliefs? Then what organization in the world isn’t a cult? Can I go on the Exmormon Reddit and attack people’s beliefs?
Appeal To Mystery“going on behind the scenes”
Complex QuestionCES Letter spends pages repeating arguments they made earlier, and then they list seven reasons why they think Mormonism is like “North Korea or George Orwell’s 1984” in a lengthy run-on sentence.
RepetitionCES Letter repeats arguments they made earlier. Redundant: “the First Presidency, gave a First Presidency Message”
Tu QuoqueAnti-Mormons are not like North Korea because Mormons are like North Korea!
Bandwagon“why people came to the conclusion that Mormonism is a cult.”
StrawmanCES Letter says they had dismissed the idea that Mormonism was a cult, because we are good followers, do good works, and have a large population of 15 million. No, this is not why Mormons think we are not a cult.
Ad HocCES Letter post-rationalizes losing their testimony of the church because it was a “cult.”
Categories: Apologetics