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Radio Free Mormon: 13: Wrong Roads

Today “Radio Free Mormon” continues with its newest episode “Wrong Roads”.  Today RFM explores what it means to walk the logic all the way out on situations when God gives a revelation dictating the wrong answer as the right answer so that you as the receiver of a wrong answer in revelation will eventually learn the right answer by realizing God had given you the wrong answer in order to give you the right answer.




The thoughts and views of any given podcast series and host represents only the views of that host and not necessarily Bill Reel or Mormon Discussion Inc.


38 thoughts on “Radio Free Mormon: 13: Wrong Roads”

  1. Wow man! That was powerful! Even for those who’d oppose your view, I don’t think they could deny the dramatic effect you were able to foster. Well done, and have a great day.

  2. I noted your upcoming 40 year anniversary of your baptism. I just hit my 40 years a few months ago. I was baptized the fall after graduating from high school. Like it seems to have for you, this milestone has given me even more focus. I look back on the 4 decades of both good and bad experiences, the highs and lows, and especially on the sacrifices that my decision 40 years ago has brought – most notably by breaking with the faith of my parents and family and the rift that it caused. The things I have learned and experienced about church policy and doctrine has caused me to reflect on the great pains that come with exclusivist teachings. My parents – my mother especially – were hurt and offended beyond soothing by being banned from participating in my wedding and those of my children. So now, I reflect back on the 40 years and consider some of the pains, sacrifices and hardships and I put it in a new context. Now that I have learned that many of the challenging and disturbing things I had heard about the church – which were called ‘anti-mormon lies’ by the missionaries and members when I was an investigator – are actually true (and still disturbing), I have to ask myself “If I knew about those things 40 years ago, would I still have joined the church?” I’m not sure at the moment.

    1. This is a difficult situation you (we) are in for sure, Mike.

      Forty-years is a long time. It is the majority of my life.

      Is it right for any institution to demand that kind of sacrifice when it knows it is presenting only part of the story to its members?

      That is what I am wondering.

  3. I can see a parallel between what Holland is expressing and what Joseph Smith experienced in the Liberty jail and the words that he penned in a letter that now is captured in D&C 122. It seems to me that this was a moment of self-reflective humility for Joseph, that after looking back on all the unfulfilled prophecies he had earlier pronounced over the years, that Joseph was reinterpreting the meaning of these failed prophecies. I think this is similar to the meaning making that Holland describes.

    The new meaning was not that God was tricking Joseph, no, it was that Joseph needed to suffer and that this suffering is the mechanism for growth. “Experience” was the reason that God’s earlier promises were unfulfilled. Not wickedness on Joseph’s part or a lack of worthiness on the part of the saints. Those are the typical excuses for why prophecy fails throughout scripture, and Joseph believed his earlier revelations failed for these reasons.

    I think D&C 122 is a new understanding for Joseph, an understanding that prophecy is supposed to fail in order for Joseph and the saints to experience the trials of life.

    Holland too seems to think that God wants to give him failed prophesy so that Holland can experience something and learn from those experiences. I think he believes this because of the moral that he draws from the experience. The moral being that we need to just ride out the challenges, and stay the course no matter how many failed prophesies we receive.
    Don’t jump ship, in the end this is all for our experience. This is similar to the moral Joseph draws in Liberty.

    As you expressed very well in the podcast, this ultimately undermines the reliability of prophesy completely. There is really no justification for trusting in these untrustworthy methods for decision making. There have never been any scientific studies that support supernatural powers by psychics or religious believers.

    Even knowing all this, I personally recognize that my emotions/feelings are part of me and part of my decision making. I’m not a computer and I can’t divorce myself from those parts of me that are expressed this way. I’m an irrational human. No matter how hard I try to be a critical thinker and to use systematic and rational thought, I’m still influenced by my gut.

    Religious believers call this the spirit. My logical brain tells me there isn’t anything supernatural about this experience. I can’t say that I know that I’m tapping into any extra sensory perception, or that something external to myself exists that I’m able to connect with and that is leading me to make a more informed decision.

    However, I’m still influenced by these feelings and they are a part of my decision making process. Even if that process is to make the opposite choice from what my feelings are telling me, I’m still being influenced by those feelings.

    If ultimately religion is boiled down into a belief that these feelings are the equivalent of God communicating to humans, I can live with that explanation. For me, that means that God can be something entirely internal to myself, not necessarily something external as Mormonism typically describes God as an external being with a body of flesh and bone. In my construct, God could be just a part of my brain that has evolved to process information in the form of emotional responses that create these feelings that feel like they are coming from somewhere external, but are really just a part of me.

    This makes the God experience something entirely subjective and individual. Then religion for me becomes a community of people that join together to socially and share some common purposes that bring value to the individuals that participate as well as the larger society. This is my hope for the future of my engagement in Mormonism.

    1. These are very interesting thoughts, and thank you for sharing them!

      I like your parallel between Joseph Smith and Elder Holland. I find what Joseph Smith writes more compelling. Whereas Elder Holland minimizes the inconvenience caused him by receipt of a wrong revelation, Joseph Smith is feeling the full brunt of it, sitting in the basement of Liberty Jail during the winter of 1838-39 while his followers are being hounded from the state of Missouri.

      There is no way that Joseph can minimize the catastrophe being caused by his prophecies that gathered people to Missouri; prophecies that told them they would build a New Jerusalem there in expectation of the imminent Second Coming of the Savior.

      On the other hand, I have to take into account the other revelations received by Joseph that seem to put the blame for their lack of fulfillment on the heads of the saints who received the persecution–that they were not righteous enough and did not live the “celestial law,” and were therefore not worthy to receive the blessings in store for those righteous enough to build the New Jerusalem.

      Seems like there was at least some of the “blame-game” going on, as well.

    2. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 New International Version

      21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. These people are the same one’s addressed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:18 who knowingly suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

  4. Hey RFM, can we just hang out one of these days?

    I love you in a very mormon way. Two decade convert to the church here.

    1. I have a pretty open schedule, David.

      Just let me know where and when!

      And thanks for the kind words!


  5. Again we learn that the only right answer in the LDS church is to ‘follow the prophet’. Despite contradictory messages, changing doctrines, and mountains of evidence against the narrative, you must always ‘stay in the boat’. It is hard to see what they are doing to these kids – taking away their agency to choose by limiting their knowledge of the facts and shaming them when they have doubts. Another great one RFM!

    1. I agree completely, Dan.

      The Church seems to discourage its members from learning the more troubling aspects of Church history and doctrine.

      But when they do stumble onto these troubling aspects, the Church message shifts to the following: “Don’t make the mistake of not studying Church history ENOUGH.”

      First they don’t want you to study it at all. So if you study it beyond the correlated materials, the fault is yours.

      But if you do study beyond the correlated materials and find troubling aspects, the fault is yours because you didn’t Church history enough.

      Thanks for listening!


  6. Now having heard the entire podcast, playing the apologist (Satan’s advocate) role, I think some situations are a stretch.

    We don’t really know how sure Elder Holland was of God’s answer, but let’s assume it was perfect surety, 10 min drive or 500 yards to realize that a concrete evidence that your revelation is wrong is indeed a blessing.

    Problem is I have over two decades in the church, and I can’t back out, but I would have expected God to grant me further confirming revelation along the entire way. Not just one single revelation.

    It’s been fun being a member of the church, and it continues to be so even when I don’t believe it to be what it once was. So the concrete evidence that the dominant narrative is false. What are we to do now as members of the church. Turn back and fix the damn narrative.

    Well, I guess I can’t go back 20 years, but can I at least inform my dear brothers and sisters that the dominant narrative is wrong even if they are unwilling to listen to me.

    What is the true narrative anyways, and which ship would I rather join and band wagon with. I perhaps would like to tag along the atheist bandwagon.

    Then again, can I be just a Mormon-Atheist and just have fun with that?

    1. I believe whatever road you go down, David, it should be one of your own choosing.

      I think forty years is long enough for me to live my life the way somebody else tells me.


      1. Well, when you put it that way?

        But still not the worse road out there.
        Which are the better roads?

        Honestly, I feel like I’m pretty much in the same boat as you. Where do I go from here… is going out of the church safe?

        I can’t just leave my family. Should I go inactive? There are so many things out there!! All options seem pretty interesting, but going out there requires me to fly solo.

        1. There are many roads out there, David.

          And no single road is right for everyone.

          You will have to make your own decision in this regard, weighing what is most important to you in your life.

          But I will say this much:

          No one ever learns to fly without doing it solo.

          All the best to you, my friend!

  7. It’s another “Heads I win, Tails you lose” coin toss – they’re never wrong.

    And it’s different from what Joseph Smith taught. Joseph reportedly taught, “Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.”

    Here’s the story:

    In late 1829 or early 1830 insufficient funding held up the first printing of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris was trying to sell his farm to raise the needed capital, but was not having immediate success. At the urging of friends, Joseph Smith sought direction from God. Placing his trusty seer stone in a hat, Joseph looked in and received a revelation that instructed him to send representatives to Canada; there they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon and return with enough money to publish the book in the United States.

    According to Mormon Apostle and Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer,

    “Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father’s house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada. Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: ‘Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.’ So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man. When a man enquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if he is deceived by his own carnal desires, and is in error, he will receive an answer according to his erring heart, but it will not be a revelation from the Lord. This was a lesson for our benefit and we should have profited by it in future more than we did…” (An Address to All Believers in Christ, 31)

    1. Glad you brought up that story, Elizabeth!

      Bill Reel and I had batted that story back and forth in preparation for the podcast, but I eventually opted to leave it out for purposes of streamlining the message.

      Although Joseph’s statement that some revelations are of God, some of men and some of the devil, seems on its face to be a facile explanation for why his Canada copyright revelation did not come to pass, I nevertheless find it more introspective and meaningful than the explanation Elder Holland gives for what is essentially a similar situation.



  8. Thanks for an awesome podcast! Something that really bothers me that I think fits into this topic is that current prophets tell us that past prophets did not have further light and knowledge, they made mistakes when they made controversial policy decisions. I am referring specifically to the blacks and the priesthood. It was bad enough to learn all about early church history; then discover that things like blacks and the priesthood, abolishing polygamy, tithing, the WoW and many other things, were simply policy changes, from guys without further light and knowledge. So they expect members to trust current leaders have all the light and knowledge but their predecessors did not; you can’t have it both fetching ways! I also invested over 40 years into the wrong road. I’m just grateful my kids won’t waist their lives in it!

    1. Yes! I think Elder McConkie gave away the farm when, subsequent to the 1978 “revelation” lifting the priesthood ban, he admonished the members to forget everything he had said, or that any other church leader had said, in the past that supported the ban.

      Elder McConkie said they had spoken with a limited understanding and that now, new light and knowledge had entered the world.

      While on the one hand, I have to commend Elder McConkie for this uncharacteristic expression of humility on his part, the confession that the doctrine of the Church could be completely overturned and nullified by a subsequent revelation seemed to throw any and every Mormon doctrine into same boat–i.e., provisional status until further light and knowledge is received.

      It is a lesson the saints had to learn at the turn of the century with the cessation of plural marriage.

      And it is a lesson the saints had to learn in the latter part of the 1970’s with the lifting of the priesthood restriction.

      What is surprising is how the vast majority of the saints nevertheless continue to believe that whatever their leaders are currently saying is God’s eternal truth that will never change.

      Even when the evidence that such is not the case is right in front of their eyes!


      1. I had this copied and I can’t find the source, but think it’s fascinating enough to share:

        [begin copied comment]: “Those familiar with Bruce R. McConkie’s infamous ‘Eugene England letter’ know that McConkie admitted (to England) that Brigham Young’s Adam God teachings really WERE taught by Brigham Young (contrary to some of McConkie’s — and other LDS leaders’ — earlier public statements on the subject) and weren’t just ‘anti-Mormon lies’. Those familiar with the letter also know that McConkie condemned Young’s Adam God teachings as heresies, notwithstanding their prophetic source.

        But take a look at Dennis Horne’s series of Adam God posts over at the Interpreter — specifically, part 2 — and be prepared to learn something new. In particular, read the following quotation from Bruce R. McConkie very closely and carefully:

        “Because the basic Adam-God concepts are false, the most that can be said for them is that the Lord permitted them to be preached in order to test his people. As part of working out his own salvation every man must choose between truth and error, accepting the one and rejecting the other. Unless and until he is able to do this he has not grown spiritually to the point of being an heir of salvation. Perhaps this is why Paul said to the Corinthian Saints: “I hear that there be divisions among you,” meaning that they did not all believe the same doctrines and teach the same truths. They should have been perfectly united in all things, but they were not. “For there must be also heresies among you,” Paul continued, “that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” )1 Cor. 11:18-19.) That is, the heresies taught by and among the true saints were the means of testing them….”

        Folks, here is what McConkie is saying: Prophetic error is sometimes tolerated by God to ‘test’ the saints, to see if they’ll reject prophetic teaching and embrace truth that conflicts with prophetic teaching, as they should in these instances.

        I have never, ever in my life heard this claim from the mouth of an LDS General Authority before. This surely has more subversive potential than any other apostolic statement I’ve ever come across. I’m surprised Liberal Mormons, as a class, don’t trot it out with great frequency. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how it might be profitably used from their perspective.” [end copied comment]

        1. Thanks for bringing up that excellent quote, Elizabeth!

          If memory serves, BRM also mentions in that letter the use of prophets teaching “false doctrine” such as Adam God to be a “sifting process” for the saints.

          Again, BRM says the Lord “permits” this to happen. That is bad enough.

          But BY said God “revealed” Adam God to him, not that he was just “permitted” to teach it.

          Just the same way Elder Holland says God himself gave him this revelation to go down the wrong road; not that God “permitted” him to do so.

          Every time the apologist gets backed up against the wall on something like this, they want to try to reframe it to God “permitting” false doctrine to be taught, or “permitting” a wrong belief that revelation was given.

          But actually, it is the prophets themselves who are claiming the doctrine as true and from God, and the revelation as being given them directly and unmistakably by God.

          But you are absolutely correct! How can BRM actually say even that God “permitted” Brigham Young to teach false doctrine without at the same time undermining every ounce of prophetic authority he himself commanded?

          “God permitted Brigham Young to teach false doctrine to test the saints. But I am teaching you correct doctrine. Trust me!”

  9. Thanks for all your work RFM. The taps at the end – I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

    (any chance you want to tackle the 1984 Ronald E. Poelman GC talk switch? It seems right up your alley.)

    1. I loved the Taps bugle solo at the end, too! Bill gets complete credit for that!

      I may indeed tackle the Poelman GC talk at some point. When it comes to Latter-day peccadilloes, the field is white, all ready to harvest!


  10. You touched on an important point, namely the belief the Q15 have in their own revelatory infallibility. I’ve seen this sort of “humble arrogance” for years from these men(more specifically starting on my mission), which, although nothing new per se (see the McConkie prevarication), leads to them continually promoting a similar type of belief by the church members that causes members to put on hold any critical evaluation on counsel or decision making/pronouncements coming from the leadership (from the Q15 down to bishops).
    Another disturbing trend of this same humble arrogance, is fostering the leader worship and tendency of these men to want to have some sort of fancy sound bite or parable attached to their names/to etch in the Saint’s memories, thereby achieving spiritual wisdom immortality for generations to come. Consider the constant attempts to do so…remember Boyd K’s atonement speech, shown at countless baptisms as a fancy seminary video (even though there are logical fallacies and doctrinal inconsistency), and Uchtdorf’s “doubt your doubts”, as well as failed attempts(e.g. Bednar’s pickles, Boyd’s 2 keys to a locked box, etc…). Even more sad is that church members are so starving for something, anything, to show that these guys are who they say they are, that God really does speak to them, that they’ll grasp onto stupid stories like this one and run with it, without even considering the things you mentioned here. And all it does is make us look like sheep/”yes men” without brains to do the math. When one apostle stated he knew God spoke to him because he was crying over calling a Stake President, I knew at that moment these leaders are so out of touch and insulated in their own sense of authority that there truly is nothing to be gained by listening anymore (though I still do, wondering if anything will change). If that’s the best “revelation” they can come up with, an administrative decision, with all of the world’s problems and perplexities facing us today, then truly, there is no such special/unique or exclusive direction from God to the LDS (if there ever was).

  11. Thanks for your podcasts. I have been through many and I find you dissect topics similar to a surgeon. Your points are clear concise and I wish you would do more.

  12. Really enjoyed the podcast, particularly the observation that if God had revealed the correct road in the first place, Holland admitted he may have doubted the revelation as they drove along. Wow. What confidence Holland has in his revelations.

    But the thing that really bothers me most about Holland’s story? The fact that during the time God was teaching Holland this lesson, God was deaf to the cries of thousands of children around the world who died of illness and starvation. Holland is so important, God had to help him avoid the slight inconvenience of being lost for a while. Maybe that’s the message Holland is reallly trying to get across.

  13. A more amazing aspect of this story is that every time it is shared on Facebook hundreds of TBMs add hundreds of comments expressibg gratitude for the message and testifying of the truth of it. It seems as though it doesn’t matter what stories general authorities share members accept them.

  14. Here is what Holland should have shared.

    God only works when you ask questions in negatives. Let’s take a look at Moroni 10.

    “3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

    4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

    Note that you are supposed to ask if these things are “not true”. So, all you people asking if the BOM is true…you are doing it wrong.

    Carrying this forward to my story, we were really asking what road was wrong and God told us. But we thought we were asking what road was right and got confused.

    Church is true.


  15. Oh, My, Goth, this is the perfect story to instill in the LDS and youth to make sure they “Obey!” and “Don’t question!” assuring us that if it is wrong, it will turn out right even though doing wrong as told by the Lord an d His Anointed Ones, even as was Nephi commanded to kill Laban. Yes, many have murdered with that example…

  16. Whether or not something spoken by a supposed prophet comes true or not is not the way to know if he is a true prophet, for the Adversary knows much about future events and can easily and often tell prophets true things to predict and it will come true, or he can tell prophets to teach true and wonderful things.

    What a prophet says or predicts means nothing, we can never know if it came from God or the Adversary, for both can teach truth and predict things correctly.

    The only way to tell if a prophet is really a true disciple of Christ is going by how Christ said to discern them, by whether or not they keep all his commandments, which is so hard to do that only true prophets can do that, so it’s the one one sure way to know if anyone is a true disciple or prophet of Christ.

    Anything else like feelings, visitations, dreams, predictions, truths, knowledge, etc, can all come from either God or Satan, and man can never know which one it was. So those ways are the quickest way to being deceived.

  17. God told both of them to go to the right. Holland went a few hundred yards and then gave up the road God told him to go on because it ended. He gave up. God said go this way, he believed God, but when the ease of the passage stopped, Holland gave up.

    Think about it. What if he had kept going on in the desert terrain? What if there was another faster road 50 yards over a knoll? What if there was a person lost in the desert who needed saving? What if there was a rock with curious Hebrew or reformed Egyptian markings signifying a place of import that God wanted them to find?

    My response: what a wishy-washy believer Holland is.

    I’ve paused the podcast to write this. RFM asks rhetorically why Holland would give such a perplexing moral to the story.

    My answer: As RFM says, Holland is no dodo, he knows the logical implications of admitting that he and his son thought they received revelation when they didn’t. So he constructs this apologetic that God gives us wrong answers on purpose to help us be more sure about the right way to go.

    In the rational world, there would have been a simple solution for Holland’s problem: drive a few minutes down one road, backtrack if it does not look familiar, and try the next.

    This little prayer did not illuminate the way for them, after backtracking they still have to navigate the remaining unfamiliar territory till they got onto better roads. But, like with his son whom he wants to raise believing in his divine priesthood role, Holland teaches seminary students the same moral: sometimes God puts us on the wrong road so we feel better about the right road later.

    There are so many problems with this, but why does he use this as a lesson for seminary students? Is is because for members, intense seminary study like never before exposes the “wrong roads” God has told church leaders to take? Is it because as we mature we start to see so many controversial problems with doctrine, with the church institution and culture?

    What the Wrong Roads lesson boils down to is loyalty. “Stay with us, even if we’ve been wrong, even if you know we are wrong.” They are not saying that you get to decide the road is wrong, they are saying it doesn’t matter what you think because even if it is wrong you are better off with them on the wrong path because eventually they’ll figure out the right one.

    Holland, and other apostles who have given similar messages, are requiring us to abandon our own objectivity and our own perception. They are requiring us to move forward with them even if objectively legitimate obstacles stand in our way. Except, guess what: that’s exactly what Holland did not do in his story.

  18. The reason why god gave president Nelson a false revelation about updating their apostasy policy to include LGB members is so he and the rest of the Q15 know for sure what a bad idea that was. We know it was Nelson that received this revelation because regardless of his claim Monson was too far gone with dementia to direct this policy update. In fact, if god wanted Monson to update the policy he would have done it before he fell into deep dementia. But no doubt, 3 years and 5 months later Nelson and the rest of the Q15 realized that they found themselves at a dead-end.

  19. Thank you so much for this! I received an answer to a prayer that felt similar to this and it ripped apart my testimony. This talk, as much as I hated it, was one of the key things that kept me in the church. But it didn’t ease my mind. It troubled me more than anything ever had, because it showed that even apostles admitted God could lie to us. It gave me just enough reason to keep me in the church, suffering because of the implications it had on my relationship with God. My thoughts went through everything you talked about in this episode of the podcast and I never once felt satisfied with the answer.

    Now, I’m out and I still, coming up on four years after leaving, see the damage Elder Holland did to me by teaching that God intentionally lied to me. I no longer believe his words nor do I believe in a loving God, but there was therapy in hearing you discuss my thoughts on this horrible talk so clearly. Thank you, RFM.

  20. Holy hell this is funny stuff! I am so sad I’m so late to the party with these podcasts. I’m listening at work and literally laughed out loud when he mentioned throwing God under the bus. I love your sense of humor and will continue to binge as many of these as I can!

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