Dunn in the Name of God
Confessions by Emeritus General Authority of the Mormon Church Raises New Questions about the Origins of Mormonism
By Jerald & Sandra Tanner
(This article appeared in The Salt Lake City Messenger, Issue No. 78, June, 1991)
In 1989, we found ourselves
faced with a very serious decision with regard to a story that had been leaked to us concerning
charges that Paul H. Dunn, who had served as a General Authority in the Mormon Church for
many years, had been deceitful in his writings and speeches. As some of our readers may know,
this was not the first time that we found ourselves sitting on a powder keg.
Since we began publishing material regarding Mormonism over thirty years ago, we have brought to light a number of documents which have been suppressed and other important material relating to the Latter-day Saints. Some of it has been extremely controversial. We have, in fact, received letters from two Mormon apostles in which we were threatened with lawsuits if we did not desist from printing certain documents (see photographs of their letters in Mormonism Shadow or Reality? p. 13-14). Although we continued to publish the material , the suits were never actually filed. One Mormon scholar, however, did attempt to sue us and even appealed the case to the Supreme Court of the United States. Fortunately, however, he did not succeed in his endeavor.
Some of the stories we have printed have seriously affected people's lives and have caused some face-to-face confrontations which have been anything but pleasant. For example, eighteen months before Mark Hofmann murdered Steven Christensen and Kathy Sheets, we suggested that his "Salamander" letter may have been plagiarized from E. D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed, (see Salt Lake City Messenger, March 1984). Not surprisingly, this led to a weighty discussion with Mr. Hofmann later that year and another confrontation in 1985.
On many occasions we have had people try to persuade us to print stories we did not feel were based on reliable evidence. When we received the information regarding Paul Dunn, however, we felt that it was probably true. Nevertheless, we realized immediately that if we published this information, it could have a devastating affect on Mr. Dunn's life and career. If the story should turn out to be incorrect, we could find ourselves faced with a lawsuit for libel and might have to make a public retraction.
PRINTING THE STORYWe investigated the matter and weighed the whole situation very carefully. While we felt that Paul Dunn's deceptive tactics were deplorable, we were even more concerned about the possibility that church leaders were trying to cover up the matter. We, therefore, decided to run a story concerning the matter in the October, 1989, issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger. At that time we were working on another story concerning the excommunication of George P. Lee, who had been a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy since 1975. On pages 4 and 5 of our newsletter we published a section entitled, "Removing More Seventies." In that portion of the Messenger we wrote the following:
"One would certainly think that the church would have replaced George P. Lee and filled the two quorums at the October 1989 general conference. Instead, however, 16 other members of the two quorums were either 'excused from active service'-- i. e., put on emeritus status--or completely released.... Why the church would cut down the number of Seventies at this time is certainly a mystery.
"Another curious thing about this matter is the fact that Paul H. Dunn, who once served as one of the seven members of the 'Presidency of the First Quorum of Seventy was 'excused from active service' because of age or health. Some people seem to feel that this was not the real reason. They, in fact, believe it was for the 'health' of the church. As far as age is concerned, there appear to be sixteen Seventies older than Mr. Dunn who were not put on emeritus status, and while he may have some problems with his health, many of the other General Authorities are not in good health. Apostle Bruce R. McConkie died of cancer, but was never put on emeritus status, and President Spencer W. Kimball had cancer, heart trouble and other problems but remained president of the church. The current president, Ezra Taft Benson, is 90 years old and very feeble, yet he remains in office.
"It is suspected that the church leaders felt that Dunn would eventually become a liability to the church because of some investigative reporting which had been done by Lynn Packer. Mr. Packer, a nephew of Apostle Boyd Packer, at one time worked for the church's television station, KSL. He was working with that station when the Hofmann story broke but was later fired. Packer felt that his aggressive reporting on the Hofmann affair and his earlier work on the Afco scandal played a role in his dismissal. The church simply did not want all the truth to come to light.
"Although he was never indicted for any crime, Paul H. Dunn's reputation suffered because of the Afco affair. The Wall Street Journal for Nov. 9, 1983 ,reported: '...Paul H. Dunn... whose church salary is $40,000 a year, was a director of Afco Enterprises, a real-estate venture until 1978. Afco collapsed four years later; and its owner, Grant C. Affleck, was recently indicted for mail fraud, securities fraud and bankruptcy fraud. Despite Mr. Dunn's 1978 resignation, records in the U. S. District Court civil suit here show that he continued to have ties with Afco until it entered bankruptcy proceedings in 1982.... and gave advice to directors after he resigned.... A few days before Afco entered bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Dunn wrote a disgruntled Afco investor a letter calling Mr. Affleck, a fellow Mormon, 'fair and Christ like.' U. S. Attorney Brent Ward... says that about 650 investors lost over $20 million through Afco investments.'
"From what we can learn, Lynn Packer continued to investigate this subject after he was dismissed from KSL and found that Dunn's involvement in Afco was far deeper than was previously reported. In addition, he came to believe that some of Dunn's statements concerning his earlier life were not true. We contacted Mr. Packer on Oct. 2, 1989, and he informed us that he could make no statement for the Messenger concerning these matters. Packer also refused to discuss a report that he had been threatened with retaliation if he published the story.
"Notwithstanding Mr. Packer's refusal to confirm these matters, we have very good reason to believe that he has been investigating Mr. Dunn. We do not know whether the charges can be proven, but we are very concerned that there may have been an attempt to suppress the truth concerning the Afro scandal. In any case, the church's release of Paul Dunn from active service at this critical time does look suspicious. If the charges should prove true, it would raise another question: is it fair to merely retire Dunn with full honors while publicly humiliating George P. Lee with excommunication?" (Salt Lake City Messenger, Oct. 1989, pages 4-5)
Unlike the Mormon apostles mentioned above, Paul Dunn did not send us a letter threatening litigation. He, in fact, did not respond in any way to the questions we had raised. Although we thought that members of the press in Utah would be interested in this story, there seems to have been little interest in getting to the bottom of the scandal. Almost a year and a half passed before we heard more about the matter. As is often the case with important stories regarding the Mormon Church, the news finally broke in a paper published outside of Utah. On Feb. 16, 1991, the Arizona Republic published an article written by Richard R. Robertson which contained the following:
"SALT LAKE CITY -- Among Mormons, Elder Paul H. Dunn is a popular teacher, author and role model. As a prominent leader of the Church... for more than 25 years, he has told countless inspirational stories about his life:
"Like the time his best friend died in his arms during a World War II battle, while imploring Dunn to teach America's youth about patriotism.
"Or how God protected him as enemy machine-gun bullets ripped away his clothing, gear and helmet without ever touching his skin.
"Or how perseverance and Mormon values led him to play major-league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals.
"But those stories are not true.
"Dunn's 'dead' best friend isn't dead; only the heel of Dunn's boot caught a bullet; and he never played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals or any other major-league team.
"Dunn acknowledged that those stories and others were untrue, but he defends fabrications as necessary to illustrate his theological and moral points.
"He compares his stories to the parables told by Jesus--acknowledging, however, that Jesus' parables weren't about himself...
"Other Mormon leaders apparently were concerned about this in September 1989, because, within weeks of investigating allegations that his war and sports stories were fabricated, they quietly placed Dunn, 66, on 'emeritus' status 'for health reasons.'
"As a 'general authority' since 1964, Dunn had been among the top 90 men who govern the 7.3 million-member worldwide church.
"The church also pressured Salt Lake City freelance writer Lynn Packer, a Mormon, not to publish stories about Dunn's fabrications. In the fall, after the church had terminated Packer's teaching contract at Brigham Young University for pursuing the story, he provided information he has collected over the past four years to The Republic.
"Despite Dunn's 'retirement,' his grandfatherly demeanor and down-home, self-deprecating storytelling style continue to make him a popular public speaker and author.
"He also remains the most prolific author among current and former church leaders. He receives royalties from 23 inspirational cassette tapes and 28 books... They are among the more popular items in LDS bookstores....
"Dunn... said he doesn't consider it deceitful to exaggerate or alter facts.
"He said his technique is to 'combine' elements of several true stories to create a single story that will better convey a message and capture an audience's interest....
"'The combining of stories seems justifiable in terms of illustrating a point. My motives are pure and innocent,' Dunn said during an interview in Salt Lake City attended by his attorney and a friend.
"'I haven't purposely tried to embellish or rewrite history. I've tried to illustrate points that would create interest,' Dunn explained. 'Combining war stories is simply putting history in little finer packages.'... Dunn's retirement occurred within two weeks of the probe into his storytelling practices by top church officials, who had been given copies of Packer's findings.
"Dunn said he cooperated with the church's investigation but was not advised of its conclusions. He denied that it was connected to his retirement, which he insisted was for poor health that has since improved.... the university [Brigham Young University] terminated Packer's teaching contract, in part because he wanted to publish a story about his findings. "(Arizona Republic, February 16, 1991)
"You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world."
-- Bertrand Russell, "Why I'm Not a Christian"
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"A belief in God would demand 100% obsessive devotion, influencing every waking moment of this brief life on earth."
-- Scott Adams (God's Debris) [Scott Adams, of DILBERT Comics God's DIt's FREE... download it here]
On February 21, 1991, the Salt Lake Tribune ran an Associated Press article by Vern Anderson which contained the following:
"Lynn Packer was serving a Mormon mission in Germany in 1964 when he heard 39-year-old Paul H. Dunn had been appointed to the church's hierarchy.... it was Packer's relentless pursuit of Dunn over most of the 1980s that led to Saturday's revelation by The Arizona Republic: the church man had fabricated many of the personal war and baseball stories that had fed his reputation as the faith's most spellbinding speaker and popular author....
"Packer himself paid a high professional price for the research on Dunn...
"He ultimately lost his teaching position at church owned Brigham Young University and today, working on a one-year contract at the University of Dortmund in Germany, feels beaten 'to a pulp.'
"Why did the story that Republic reporter Richard Robertson calls the worst-kept secret in Salt Lake take so long to come out?
"The answer appears to lie in the church's effort to avoid a scandal and in Packer's own vulnerability as a BYU employee without tenure whose wife had been diagnosed with cancer early in 1987.
"The combination led, on Sept. 30, 1987, to a 'deal' between Packer and a 'high church official' in which he withdrew the story he had submitted to United Press International in exchange for a guarantee of continued employment at BYU, according to Packer.
"Packer declined to identify the official, but has told others it was his uncle, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
"'Lynn claims he had an agreement with his uncle through his father,' said BYU spokesman Paul Richards. 'That the agreement fell apart when he continued to ask questions about Paul Dunn. When he continued to ask questions, Elder Packer felt he had not been true to the agreement.'
"Through spokesman Jerry Cahill, Boyd Packer said Wednesday, 'There was nothing ever stated. It never happened. There was no such agreement that Lynn Packer would be retained in exchange for no publication.'
"In 1986, Lynn Packer... decided to freelance a story on Dunn's involvement with AFCO Enterprises... the biggest real estate development in Utah history.
"Dunn... claimed his tenure as an AFCO director had ended in 1978; Packer sought to prove it had lasted much longer. He also began looking at the veracity of Dunn's stories...
"'There isn't a single significant baseball or war story I could find that was true,' said Packer, who in September 1987 complied under pressure with a BYU administrative request that he inform the church of his allegations.... Packer's department chairman at BYU, Gordon Whiting, told him in a memo dated Sept. 30, 1987, that he should permit church leaders to deal privately with the Dunn matter.
"'After providing the information, we accept the judgment of those responsible. We will not take accusations against a General Authority to the media,' Whiting wrote, adding that publication 'will damage the church, will damage the university and will damage you.'
"Fearing for his job, Packer agreed to the deal he said was offered him that night: don't publish the story and you can teach at BYU as long as you want.
"Packer bridles at suggestions by BYU officials that he was using coercion.
"'They can never give you a time or a place when I went to anybody with that story and said, 'Do this for me or else,' ' he said. 'And I can show you the times and places and dates when they, told it just the opposite: 'Do the story and you're history.' '
"Packer maintains that Elders James E. Faust and David B. Haight, Dunn's immediate superiors in the Quorum of the Twelve, were aware of the arrangement. Like Boyd K. Packer, the pair declined to be interviewed, but denied through spokesman Bruce Olsen there was any deal....
"And yet, in a memo to church spokesman Richard Lindsay after the alleged deal was struck, Packer wrote: 'I had received assurances, prior to my decision, that my job at BYU would be secure for the indefinite future if I withdrew the story.'
"At BYU, Whiting decided in early 1988 not to renew Packer's contract for the 1988-89 school year...
"'I thought the decision was mine to make,' Whiting said.
"After Packer completed his teaching duties in August 1990, he was given a year's salary as severance pay, a move that surprised Whiting since it didn't come out of his departmental budget.
"'I think it probably looks to many people... like an effort to bribe him not to go with the Paul Dunn story,' Whiting said....
"For his part, Whiting said he was pained by 'the degree to which the university has been pulled into this situation. And I guess I'm also pained at the church being pulled in.
"But the church will have to fend for itself and do what it can to rescue its reputation for honesty and integrity.'"(Salt Lake Tribune, February 21, 1991)
Brigham Young University's student newspaper, The Daily Universe, carried the story concerning Paul Dunn but later reported there was some strong opposition to the publication of material "which proved to be embarrassing to such a well-liked leader": "...several communications students indicated they were stunned by the number of people they encountered who thought there should not have been any coverage of the information. One writer was even physically hit by someone who objected to the newspaper's coverage." (The Daily Universe, Feb. 21, 1991)
"A TANGLED WEB"In his book, You andYour World, page 96, Paul Dunn told of "a priests adviser" he had when he was sixteen years old. According to Mr. Dunn, this man had a great influence on him "for good": "We had a wonderful class.... as I went to leave... he said, 'Now listen very carefully and I will teach you one that you'll always remember.' He said, ''Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.'' I've never forgotten it." On page 24 of the same book, Mr. Dunn taught that "honesty" does not always bring "material reward." He warned, however, that "Envy, dishonesty, and unfairness--all of these are excess baggage, and as such are not worth what it costs to carry them with us."
"Dunn's baseball stories are as legendary as his war stories.
"He has written and told audiences that he signed a contract to play for the St. Louis Cardinals after graduation from high school....
"But in truth, Dunn never played a game for the St. Louis Cardinals or any major-league team.
"The closest he came was playing six weeks 'off-roster' in several practice and exhibition games in 1942 for the Pocatello (Idaho) Cardinals, a St. Louis Cardinal farm team. He was cut.
"Baseball records show that Dunn signed a professional player contract in 1947 with the Ontario Orioles, in California's 'Class C' Sunset League. But he practiced only a few weeks, played only in the first regular game and then was released ." (Arizona Republic, Feb. 16, 1991)
It is obvious, then, that Paul
Dunn was never a major league player nor did he have four or five years experience as a
"professional" baseball player. In the article from the Arizona Republic, we find this
information: "In the case of his false claim to have played for the St. Louis Cardinals, he said
youngsters can relate better to a major-league team than to the farm teams for which he briefly
Paul Dunn's war stories are even more fantastic than his claims concerning his baseball career. In the Mormon Church's publication, New Era, August 1975, Mr. Dunn related some of his experiences. In this article we find the following:
"A testimony was born... I've had verification upon verification that this church is true, that Joseph Smith was called and ordained to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ....
"Before I went into combat experience, I had... a patriarchal blessing given to me.... that patriarchal blessing stated in a number of paragraphs that I would live... to a ripe old age... And one of the paragraphs indicated divine intervention in time of combat.
"Now there were 1,000 of us in my combat team who left San Francisco on that fateful journey, and there were six of us who came back 2 1/2 years later. How do you like that for odds! And of the six of us, five had been severely wounded two or more times and had been sent back into the line as replacements. There had been literally thousands of incidents where I should have been taken from the earth by the enemy and for some reason was not." (New Era, August 1975, page 7)
Paul Dunn went on to relate that on one occasion his squad was caught behind enemy lines and took refuge in "a deep shell hole." The situation was such that they could not spend the night there and were forced to flee through enemy, fire. His companions asked him to "lead them in prayer" before they made their attempt to escape. We find the following on page 8 of the article in the New Era:
"Well, the zero minute came, and we shook hands, and you never saw 11 men scamper like that before.... Three or four of the others didn't get above the surface of the ground; they were cut down with machine guns. One of my good friends was almost cut in two with a burst.... I could tell I had a sniper with a machine gun right on me because the dirt and the mud behind me would just kick right up, move right around me and then I'd move this way and then he'd pick me up again and move back. I was going with all I had. By then it was everybody for himself, and as I scampered within 50 yards of our hole, the sniper got a direct beam on me, and the first burst caught me in the right heel. It took my combat boot right off, just made me barefooted that quick without touching me physically, and it spun me around, and I went down on my knee. As I went down another machine gun burst came across my back and ripped the belt and the canteen and the ammunition pouch right off my back without touching me. As I got up to run, another burst hit me right in the back of the helmet, and it hit in the steel part, ricocheted enough to where it came up over my head, and spilt the helmet in two, but it didn't touch me. Then I lunged forward again, and another burst caught me in the loose part of the shoulders where I could take off both my shirt sleeves without removing my coat, and then one more lunge and I fell over the line... I was the only one of the 11 who had even made it the first 100 yards.... A thousand such incidents happened to me in two years of combat experience."
Richard Robertson commented as follows concerning Paul Dunn's sensational claims:
"Elder Paul H. Dunn's exaggerated stories mention that he:
"Was the sole survivor among 11 infantrymen in a 100- yard race against death, during which one burst of machine-gun fire ripped his right boot off, another tore off his ammunition and canteen belt and yet another split his helmet in half -- all without wounding him....
"Was one of only six in his 1,000-man combat group who survived, and was the only one of the six who wasn't wounded.
"He has since acknowledged that only 30 soldiers in his unit died during the entire war, but he said the exaggeration of numbers is unimportant." (Arizona Republic, Feb. 16, 1991)
Another one of Paul Dunn's
"exaggerated stories" which Richard Robertson mentions in his article in the Arizona Republic is
his account of how he "Miraculously survived being run over by an enemy tank, while others
were crushed." We will have more to say about this in our new book, What Hast Thou
One of Paul Dunn's most stirring tales is the story of the death of his good friend Harold Brown. It is found in Mr. Dunn's tape-recorded message, World War II Experiences. Dunn claimed that on the night of May 11, 1945, Brown, who was "50 to 75 yards" away, was wounded by a shell which landed in his foxhole:
"Well, it commenced to get daylight about 5:30... I scampered over to the hole where he was, and it had almost filled up from the rain and... it's all he could do to hold his head out of the water to stay alive.... Well, I pulled him out of that muddy hole and got him up on seemingly dry ground, and took off his helmet, loosened the bandoleers around his neck... to give him what comfort you can under those conditions and I took a clean canteen of water and washed his face. It was caked with mud and blood. How in the world he lived that night I don't know. I counted, after his death, 67 shrapnel wounds in him, some large enough to where you could put your whole hand in. And yet, somehow, he had held on, but I found out why. As he lay there, his head limp back in my lap, he said, 'Paul, I know this is the end,' and I'd say, 'Harold, it isn't. Just hold on. I'll get you out of this' 'No, this is the end.'... He said, 'I've held on as long as I could, cause I want you to do two things for me if, you would.' 'Why, I says, you just name it. It'll be done...'
"He said, 'If you ever live through this terrible ordeal, will you somehow get word to my mother... Will you assure her that I was faithful to the end in the principles she taught me.... Will you do it, Paul?' Gosh, would I do it! How thrilled I am to report to you that the very day I got back in this country, before going to my own home, I took a plane back to Missouri and reported to that dedicated family...
"And he said... 'If you ever have an opportunity... to talk to the young people of America, will you tell them for me that it's a privilege to lay down my life for them.' Now, with that testimony on his lips, he died, as did thousands like him in order that we could come and be like we are tonight. And do you know what we placed over the 77th division cemetery on Okinawa... This is the inscription we put for the Harold Brown's and the thousands like him: 'WE GAVE OUR...TODAYS IN ORDER THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE YOUR TOMORROWS.' And he did." (World War II Experience, a tape by Paul H. Dunn)
Unfortunately, this moving story by Paul Dunn is only a fabrication. Richard Robertson revealed the following:
"One of Dunn's most dramatic embellished Stories... is about the combat death of his closest wartime buddy, Harold Lester Brown...
"The problem with the story, Packer discovered, is that Brown didn't die on Okinawa.
"In fact, he hasn't died yet.
"Brown said from his home in Odessa, Mo., that he was perplexed by Dunn's story.
"'Maybe he got me mixed up with someone else,' Brown speculated, although he noted that he and Dunn have stayed in contact since the war--even visiting occasionally...
"Dunn never has mentioned the story to him, he said.
"Dunn didn't get mixed up. It's another one of those stories he 'combined,' he said.
"He said he based the story loosely on the death of another soldier, Phillip Cocroft, who was mortally wounded in a mortar attack that Dunn said he witnessed.
"Cocroft didn't live through the night or die in his arms Dunn admitted.
"Military records confirm that Cocroft died on Okinawa on May 15, 1945.
"'I came home many months later, talking to kids in teaching situation,' Dunn said. 'All I did was take Harold Brown's relationship, (with me) and combine it with Ralph [sic] Cocroft's dying.'
"Once he had told the fabricated version of the story Dunn said, he couldn't change it.
"'Rather than go back and change something where it would be deceitful, I just kept it the same,' he explained." (Arizona Republic, Feb. 17, 1991)
Since Phillip Cocroft "didn't live through the night or die in his [Dunn's] arms," this part of the story could not have applied to him. The tale certainly could not relate to Harold Brown because he is still alive. Moreover, Paul Dunn's claim that "the very day I got back in this country, before going to my own home, I took a plane back to Missouri and reported to that dedicated family" the details of his friend's courageous death has to be erroneous. According to the Arizona Republic, Harold Brown lives in Missouri. It seems impossible to believe, however, that Dunn would give a false report concerning Brown's death to his family. While there may be some details in the story that are true--e. g., there was a war in 1945; Paul Dunn fought in that war; many soldiers were killed -- all of the important parts of the tale concerning how God miraculously preserved a soldier with "67 shrapnel wounds" so that Paul Dunn could take an important message concerning patriotism "to the young people of America" have been fabricated.
CHANGING NAMESWhile Paul Dunn would have us believe that his motives for telling these tall tales were pure, a careful examination of this whole matter does not tend to exonerate him. The Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 17, 1991, quoted the following from an apologetic statement made by Mr. Dunn: "I have on some occasions changed the names of people involved to provide confidentiality..." This statement does not explain his use of the name "Harold Brown" in his story concerning patriotism. Paul Dunn claims that it was actually "Phillip Cocroft" who died on "the island of Okinawa." Since Cocroft was dead, there would be no reason to protect his confidentiality. It would appear, then, that if Mr. Dunn was trying "to provide confidentiality," it would have been with regard to the fact that his story was spurious.
THINKING'S BEEN DONE
The leaders of the Mormon Church are often referred to as "the brethren." The president of the church is supposed to be able to receive revelations directly from God. The LDS Church, therefore, proclaims that it is the only true church led by a "living prophet." President Brigham Young once boasted: "The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother's arms, as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray, for if they should try to do so the Lord would quickly sweep them from the earth." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p. 289) Mormons are encouraged to put all their trust in the church authorities and try not to do their own thinking if it conflicts with what the leaders teach. The ward teachers' message for June, 1945, made the matter very plain:
"Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes, whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the 'prophets, seers, and revelators' of the Church is cultivating the spirit of apostasy.... Lucifer... wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to 'do their own thinking.'...
"When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan -- it is God's plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy." (Improvement Era, June 1945, p. 354)
After the General Authorities
of the Mormon Church discovered that Paul H. Dunn had been deceiving the people with his
stories, they decided that the matter should not be known by the membership of the church. The
people, they reasoned, must not discover that a man whom they had trusted as a church leader
was guilty of fabricating stories.
Some newspaper articles contained information suggesting that Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer was instrumental in the cover-up of the story concerning Paul Dunn. While we do not have any independent confirmation concerning these allegations, we do know that Apostle Packer believes that negative information concerning General Authorities of the LDS Church should be swept under the rug. In an article which appeared in Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981, he warned Mormon scholars against telling too much. Apostle Packer came down hard on those who would point out the "frailties of present or past leaders" and especially warned those "who are employed by the Church" against criticizing the "brethren." It is not surprising, then, that when Apostle Packer's nephew, Lynn Packer, continued to pursue the story on Dunn, the church's Brigham Young University decided to terminate his teaching contract. Richard Robertson wrote the following:
"Gordon Whiting, then chairman of the BYU communications department, had warned Packer in a memo that 'publication of the Paul Dunn article will damage the church, will damage the university, will damage the department and will damage you.'
"Whiting acknowledged that Packer's contract was not renewed for the 1990-91 school year in part because Packer was violating church and university policies that prohibit public criticism of church leaders, even if the criticism is true." (Arizona Republic, Feb. 16, 1991)
Even though Paul Dunn had
fabricated stories, the LDS leaders seemed to feel that it was important to suppress this
information because it would hurt the testimonies of church members. Mr. Dunn's books,
speeches and tapes apparently brought many people into the church and strengthened others in
their faith. An examination of Dunn's teachings show that he continually bore witness to the
divine origin of the Mormon Church. He claimed, in fact, that he had a special witness that the
LDS Church is God's true church. In his book, Discovering the Quality of Success,
page 28, he wrote: "...this is His Church that has been restored.
Some of us
have been given a special witness. So while you struggle and fight and even
occasionally get discouraged, have faith in those who know."
the Preface to his book, You and Your World, Paul Dunn related that during his
years "as a General Authority" he frequently bore his witness that "the true Church has been
restored in this age and is guided by revelation and a living prophet."
Now that we know that Paul Dunn fabricated his stories concerning World War II and his relationship with the St. Louis Cardinals, his testimony to Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church has a hollow ring to it. We can hardly understand why church leaders did not immediately withdraw Dunn's tapes and books from the church's bookstores when the truth became known. Their inability to deal firmly with this issue leads to the conclusion that they believe the end justifies the means.
DUNN LIKE SMITH?
As we look back into
Mormon history we discover that the same type of deception which Paul Dunn used with regard
to his stories played a very prominent role in the formation of the Mormon Church. There are, in
fact, very strong parallels between Paul Dunn and Joseph Smith. For example, Paul Dunn was
not concerned about the literal truth of his tales. He admitted that he did not feel that it was
wrong to "combine" elements of different stories to catch the attention of his audience. He is
quoted in the article in the Arizona Republic as saying: "The combining of stories
seems justifiable in terms of illustrating a point."
Paul Dunn seems to have been very impressed with Joseph Smith's story of his First Vision and referred to it in an article published in the church's Improvement Era, June 1970, p. 70: "That beautiful spring morning in 1820, God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ revealed themselves to a young boy whose name will never perish. That boy was Joseph Smith, the first prophet of this dispensation.... the Spirit whispers to us, 'He was indeed a prophet.'"
This is a remarkable story. David O. McKay, the ninth president of the church, maintained that the First Vision is the very "foundation of this Church." (Gospel Ideals, page 85) In his book Joseph Smith--Seeker After Truth, page 19, Apostle John A. Widtsoe emphasized: "The First Vision of 1820 is of first importance in the history of Joseph Smith. Upon its reality rest the truth and value of his subsequent work." Unfortunately for Mormon apologists, some extremely important information concerning this vision has come to light. The evidence clearly shows that the story evolved and that Joseph Smith added elements which were not in the first handwritten account of the vision.
♫ If you Could Hie to Kolob
Prior to 1965, Mormon writers
always insisted that Joseph Smith "told but one story" of the First Vision (see
the Prophet, by Preston Nibley, 1944, page 30). This was the account dictated by Joseph
Smith to his scribes in 1838-39. It was first published in the Times and Seasons
1842 and is the official account found in the Pearl of Great Price today. In 1965,
however, a much earlier handwritten account was brought to light in an unpublished Brigham
Young University thesis by Paul R. Cheesman. We were convinced that this account was written
by Joseph Smith and published it to the world in 1965 under the title, Joseph Smith's
Strange Account of the First Vision. Because the document contradicted the official
account, some members of the church doubted its authenticity. Although the Mormon leaders
would make no public statement concerning the document, Professor James B. Allen, who later
became Assistant LDS Church Historian, confirmed its validity and called it "One of the most
significant documents of that period yet discovered." He went on to say that the "manuscript has
apparently lain in the L.D.S. Church Historian's office for many years, and yet few if any who
saw it realized its profound historical significance." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon
Thought, Autumn 1966, p. 35)
The Mormon leaders suppressed this important account of the First Vision for over 130 years, but after we printed it, thousands of copies were disseminated throughout the world. Finally, four years after we printed it, Dean C. Jessee, who was "a member of the staff at the LDS Church Historian's Office," made a public statement confirming the authenticity of the manuscript and stating that the document was written in 1831 or 1832:
"On at least three occasions prior to 1839 Joseph Smith began writing his history. The earliest of these is a six-page account recorded on three leaves of a ledger book, written between the summer of 1831 and November 1832....
"The 1831-32 history transliterated here contains the earliest known account of Joseph Smith's First Vision." (Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1969, pages 277- 78)
In an article printed in Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1971, p. 462, Dean Jessee made it clear that this was not only the first extant account of the First Vision, but it was the only account in "the actual handwriting of Joseph Smith." Below is the important part of this account taken directly from a photograph of the original document:
"...the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a piller of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy way walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life behold the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not my commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to this ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apostles behold and lo I come quickly as it was w[r]itten of me in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father..."
A careful examination of this
document reveals why church leaders suppressed it for 130 years. While there are a number of
contradictions between this account and the official account published by the church, the most
serious discrepancy involves the number of personages in the vision. In the later version, which
is published in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith related: "...I saw
two personages." In the first account, however, the Mormon
prophet only mentions one personage: "...I saw the Lord..." The context makes it very clear that
the personage was Jesus Christ and that Joseph Smith did not include God the
Father in his first handwritten account of the vision. Mormon historian James B.
Allen commented: "In this story, only one personage was
mentioned, and this was obviously the Son, for he spoke of having been crucified."
(Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, age 40)
In his thesis, "An Analysis of the Accounts Relating Joseph Smith's Early Visions," p. 63, Paul R. Cheesman tried to excuse the fact that the account which was suppressed only mentions one personage by stating: "As he writes briefly of the vision, he does not mention the Father as being present; however, this does not indicate that He was not present. This explanation does not seem reasonable. Actually, in the first account Joseph Smith quoted the Lord as saying more words than in the official version. If God the Father had really appeared in this vision, Joseph Smith certainly would have included this information in his first account. It is absolutely impossible for us to believe that Smith would not have mentioned the Father if he had actually appeared in the vision. The only reasonable explanation for the Father not being mentioned is that Joseph Smith did not see God the Father, and that he made up this part of the story after he wrote the first manuscript. This, of course, throws a shadow of doubt upon the entire story.
Like Paul Dunn, Joseph Smith decided that the story he had written in 1832 needed some new elements to impress people with how important the vision actually was and to bolster up his own role as a prophet of the living God. What could catch the audience's interest better than to have both the Father and the Son come down and personally visit him? Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe was highly impressed with Joseph's final product: "It was an extraordinary experience. Never before had God the Father and God the Son appeared to mortal man.... The Father and the Son had appeared to Joseph as persons, like men on earth in form.... Two personages, the Father and the Son, stood before Joseph.... There was no mingling of personalities in the vision. Each of the personages was an individual member of the Godhead. Each one separately took part in the vision." (Joseph Smith--Seeker After Truth, pages 4, 6-7)
While the Bible does not have any story concerning the Father and the Son coming down in the form of two exalted men, Joseph Smith was undoubtedly familiar with the account of the transfiguration: "While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." (Matthew 17:5) The first Mormon prophet must have decided that it would make his story more soul-stirring if he incorporated this element into the narrative. He, therefore, borrowed part of the story from the Biblical account:
"So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning... in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty.... I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun... I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other--This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!... I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right.... and which I should join.
"I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.' " (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith--History 1:14, 16-19)
By the time Joseph Smith
wrote this altered account of the First Vision he had decided that God the Father was an exalted
man. He, therefore, incorporated this new theological idea into the vision by emphasizing that he
actually "saw two personages." Another element he added to the
reworked version was that the vision followed a revival which had just taken place in the
vicinity. Wesley P. Walters, however, has conclusively established that no such revival took
place in Palmyra in 1820. The revival actually began in the fall of 1824 and continued into 1825
(see our book, Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? pp.
In Joseph Smith's 1835-36 diary there are other accounts of his First Vision which tend to add to the confusion. For instance, in one account Joseph Smith told Erastus Holmes regarding his "juvenile years, say from 6 years old up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which as when I was about 14 years old." (An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, 1989, page 59) The Mormon leaders were apparently embarrassed that he did not mention either the Father or the Son. Consequently, in the published History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 312, it has been changed to read: "...I received my first vision, which was when I was about fourteen years old..." Another account in the same diary (page 51) has Joseph Smith saying that he "saw many angels in this vision." For a thorough examination of the many conflicting statements in Joseph Smith's account of the First Vision see Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? pp. 143-153.
It seems shocking that Joseph mith would so drastically alter his story and then claim that it was written "in truth and righteousness" (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith--History 1:2). Perhaps, however, we can learn something about his way of thinking from Paul Dunn's confession regarding the falsification of stories. Mr. Dunn seemed to feel that he was an important religious leader who had a vital message for the world. According to the article in the Arizona Republic, "he doesn't consider it deceitful to exaggerate or alter facts." Dunn, in fact, was quoted as saying, "The combining of stories seems justifiable in terms of illustrating a point. My motives are pure and innocent..." Paul Dunn, it would appear, sees nothing wrong with recasting his stories if the modifications help people become better Mormons or more patriotic. In Mr. Dunn's mind, therefore, the end justifies the means.
In Joseph Smith's case, he seems to have considered himself the greatest religious leader. He claimed that God specifically chose him to restore the true church to earth. Shortly before his death in 1844, Smith boasted: If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get up on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster: I shall always beat them.... My enemies... think that when they have my spoke under, they will keep me down: but the fools, I will hold on and fly over them.... I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet." (History of the Church, vol. 6, pp.408-409)
Like Paul Dunn, Joseph Smith modified his stories to enhance his own image. While he criticized his enemies for being dishonest, he somehow felt that he himself was above accountability. He seems, therefore, to have had no qualms about stretching his own stories. He could justify his story of the First Vision in the same way that Paul Dunn rationalized his tales. Certain elements in the story are undoubtedly true. For example, he claimed that he "retired to the woods" to seek God's answer as to which church he should join. Since this section of the country has many trees, it seems plausible that he could have gone into the woods to pray. In fact, just before Joseph Smith prepared his first handwritten account of the vision, he informed his wife in a letter from Greenville, Indiana, that he had "visited a grove" and had called upon God in "pray[e]r." He claimed that he "Shed tears of sorrow for my folly in Suf[f]ering the adversary of my Soul to have so much power over me," but went on to state that "God... has fo[r]given my Sins..." (Letter by Joseph Smith, dated June 6, 1832; see photographs of pages from this letter in The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, pp. 240-241)
It is interesting to note that this letter contains similarities to Joseph Smith's earliest account of his First Vision which was written sometime between July 20 and Nov. 27 of the same year (1832). In both cases, Joseph Smith was convicted of his sins and went out in the woods to pray. He diligently sought the Lord and obtained forgiveness of his sins. In the letter he stated that he felt that "God... has fo[r]given my Sins." In his initial account of the First Vision Joseph Smith claimed that the Lord said, "Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee."
The 1832 account, of course, maintains that Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. Fawn Brodie, however, felt that this might "have been the elaboration of some half-remembered dream stimulated by the early revival excitement and reinforced by the rich folklore of visions circulating in his neighborhood." (No Man Knows My History, page 25) She also felt, however, that the presence of deity could have been "sheer invention." Joseph Smith was certainly not the only one claiming a vision of Christ. In 1816 a minister by the name of Elias Smith wrote a book in which he told how he "went into the woods... a light appeared to shine from heaven... The Lamb once slain appeared to my understanding..." (The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith, by himself, vol. 1, pp. 58-59) Eight years before Joseph Smith wrote his account of the First Vision (March 1, 1824), Alexander Campbell noted that, "Enthusiasm flourishes... This man was regenerated when asleep, by a vision of the night. That man heard a voice in the woods, saying, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee.' A third saw his Saviour descending to the tops of the trees at noon day." (The Christian Baptist, 1955 reprint, vol. 1, pp. 148)
Joseph Smith could have decided to incorporate a vision of Christ which someone else had into his own story about obtaining forgiveness for his sins in the woods. This, of course, would be the same type of method which Paul Dunn used. If Smith had actually seen the Lord over a decade earlier, he undoubtedly would have published that fact to the world. As far as we know, no one, including his own family, seemed to know anything about his claim that he saw Jesus in the woods.
In his 1838-39 account of the First Vision, Joseph Smith added additional elements into the story. As we have mentioned before, he linked the First Vision, which he claimed took place in 1820, to a revival which actually occurred in 1824-25. While the revival is an historical fact, Smith's claim that it took place before the vision and that the dissension which accompanied the revival caused him to ask the Lord which church was right plainly shows that he was fabricating the story.
In the 1838-39 account, Joseph Smith also added that when he asked the Lord which of the churches was right, he was told that he "must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt..." This idea is very similar to a revelation which Asa Wild claimed to have received many years earlier. It was published in the Wayne Sentinel--the paper to which the family of Joseph Smith apparently subscribed--on October 22, 1823: "It seemed as if my mind... was struck motionless... before the awful and glorious majesty of the Great Jehovah.... He also told me, that every denomination of professing christians had become extremely corrupt... He told me further, that he had raised up, and was now raising up, that class of persons signified by the Angel mentioned by the Revelator, xiv. 6, 7, which flew in the midst of heaven; having the everlasting gospel to preach... he said that all the different denominations of professing christians, constituted the New Testament Babylon...
We have already noted that Joseph Smith probably appropriated the words "This is my beloved Son... hear... him" from the account of the transfiguration found in Matthew 17:5. The most sensational addition, however, was that God the Father was actually physically present with Jesus Christ. There cannot be the slightest doubt that Joseph Smith slipped this part of the story in to promote his more recent theological views concerning God.
Marvin S. Hill, professor of American history at the church's Brigham Young University, tried to defend the idea that Joseph Smith had a religious experience in the grove, but he had to admit that Joseph Smith's official 1838-39 account has some real problems. He, in fact, suggested that the 1832 account of the vision was probably more accurate than the official account and that Joseph Smith may have changed his theological views concerning God:
"It seems to me that everybody has approached the issue from the wrong end, by starting with the 1838 official version when the account they should be considering is that of 1832. Merely on the face of it, the 1832 version stands a better chance of being more accurate and unembellished than the 1838 account... I am inclined to agree that the religious turmoil that Joseph described which led to some family members joining the Presbyterians and to much sectarian bitterness does not fit well into the 1820 context detailed by Backman.... An 1824 revival creates problems for the 1838 account, not that of 1832.... if Joseph Smith in 1838 read back into 1820 some details of a revival that occurred in 1824, there is no reason to conclude that he invented his religious experiences.... If initially Joseph said one personage came to him in 1820, it became easier for Oliver Cowdery to confuse this visit with the coming of Moroni than it would have been a few years later when Joseph taught emphatically that there were three separate personages in the Godhead....
"It seems to me that if the Latter-day Saints can accept the idea that Joseph gained his full understanding of the nature of God only after a period of time, instead of its emerging full blown in 1820, then most of the difficulties with chronology can be resolved." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1982, pp. 39-40)
Since the Mormon Church has
canonized the 1838-39 account of the First Vision in the Pearl of Great Price,
doubtful that the church will follow Professor Hill's suggestion concerning giving "priority to the
1832 account" of the vision. At any rate, Thomas G. Alexander, who is also a professor at the
church's Brigham Young University, has also suggested that a theological shift in Joseph Smith's
view concerning the Godhead caused him to change his story from one to two personages (see
Line Upon Line, edited by Gary James Bergera, 1989, p. 54)
Joseph Smith did not hesitate to add new elements into his stories and often altered or deleted things that did not fit his current ideas. For example, he changed the name of the angel who was supposed to have appeared to him and revealed where the gold plates of the Book of Mormon were deposited. In the Elder's Journal for July 1838, p. 42, Joseph Smith gave the angel's name as "Moroni." Four years later, however, when he published his history in the Times and Seasons, the Mormon prophet changed his mind. He decided that the angel was really named "Nephi": "He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi." (Times and Seasons, April 15, 1842, p. 753) In the original 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price, the name was also given as "Nephi":
"He called me by name and said unto me, that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi." (Pearl of Great Price, 1851 edition, page 41)
In current printings of the Pearl of Great Price, however, the name of the angel appears as "Moroni":
"He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni;"
The original handwritten
manuscript dictated by Joseph Smith reveals that the name was originally written as "Nephi," but
that someone at a later date has written the word "Moroni" above the line. In our new book,
Flaws in the Pearl of Great Price we present evidence to prove this change was
made after Joseph Smith's death.
Joseph Smith not only changed his stories concerning his visitations from deity and angels, but he also went so far as to alter the revelations which he claimed he received directly from the Lord and dictated to his scribes (see photographic proof in our book, Major Problems of Mormonism, pp. 106- 121). In a revelation which now appears as Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith added over 400 words.
AN EXTENSIVE FORGERYIn Major Problems of Mormonism, pages 82-91, we demonstrate that after Joseph Smith's death, Brigham Young and the other early leaders of the Mormon Church followed the same deceptive path. They, in fact, committed one of the most extensive forgeries we have ever encountered. This was what they claimed was the History of the Church, by Joseph Smith himself. As early as 1965 we questioned whether Joseph Smith was really the author of such a voluminous work-about 2,200 handwritten pages. We suggested, in fact, that large portions were probably derived from other sources and changed to the first person to make it appear that Joseph Smith was the author. This, of course, is the type of thing that Paul Dunn was guilty of--e.g., attributing important patriotic remarks to Harold Brown which Brown did not utter.
"Not until Willard Richards was appointed secretary to Joseph Smith was any significant progress made on the History.... At the time of Joseph Smith's death, the narrative was written to August 5, 1838....
"By February 4, 1846, the day the books were packed for the journey west, the History had been completed to March 1, 1843.... resumption of work on the History occurred on 'Dec. 1, 1853 [when] Dr. Willard Richards wrote one line of History, being sick at the time--and was never able to do any more'...
"The remainder of Joseph Smith's History of the Church from March 1, 1843 to August 8, 1844, was completed under the direction of George A. Smith....
"The Joseph Smith History was finished in August 1856, seventeen years after it was begun." (Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1971, pp. 466, 469, 470,472)
Dean C. Jessee frankly admitted that the manuscript was only completed to page 812 at the time of Joseph Smith's death (Ibid., p. 457). Since there were almost 2,200 pages, this would mean that over sixty percent of Joseph Smith's History was not compiled during his lifetime! In an article published in the Journal of Mormon History, Dean Jessee conceded that the bizarre editorial procedures used by the leaders of his church in creating Joseph Smith's History had a "distorting effect" on the work:
"The format gives the impression that the history was written personally by Joseph Smith. A study of original documents, however, shows that much of its content was not the actual product of the Prophet's mind... One notes a marked difference in style between those entries in the History that reflect Joseph Smith's own thought and those that are the creation of his scribes.... since Joseph Smith's diary did not provide an unbroken narrative of his life, gaps were bridged by using other sources, changing indirect discourse to direct as if Joseph had done the writing himself... by transferring other people's words and thoughts to Joseph Smith, this editorial method produced a distorting effect for those who would study his personality from his personal writings."(Journal of Mormon History, vol. 3, p. 37)
Major Problems of
Mormonism, pages 85-88, we show that two of Joseph Smith's most famous prophecies
printed in his History--the prophecy that the Mormons would become "a mighty
people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains" and the predictions concerning Steven A.
Douglas--were actually fraudulently created after his death in an attempt to glorify Joseph
Smith's prophetic ability.
While many Mormons are disgusted with Paul Dunn's pious forgeries, if they will take a closer look at their own history, they will find that Dunn's methods are exactly like those used by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and others who helped establish the LDS Church. The only difference between Dunn and these leaders is that they depended on these methods to a far greater extent. The idea that "the end justifies the means," of course, falls far short of the Biblical standard. Colossians 3:9 admonishes: "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;" and James 3:14 affirms that we should "lie not against the truth."
More information concerning the Dunn affair and its implications for members of the Mormon Church will be found in our new publication, WHAT HAST THOU DUNN?
LINK: Lighthouse Bookstore and Document Center: If you would like to find out how to order any of the books quoted in this article--or if you are looking for more information on Mormonism or Mormon history, click to the Bookstore and document center.
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