As I have noted elsewhere on this site, I believe that prophets, seers and revelators are authorized of God and deserve our prayers and support. As I have also noted, they aren't infallible and don't claim to be—although claims made in their behalf often tiptoe along the borders of infallibility. The prophet-related errors listed below underscore that we should prayerfully consider whether to follow their counsel, then do what we believe is right.
Twenty of the more significant foul-ups are listed under the heading “Oopsy.” They are followed by an “Oops” list that contains another 20 teachings or views that may be less serious but that are also either incorrect, highly questionable and/or contrary to what is believed in the Church today.
—In the mid-1830s, Joseph Smith predicted a bright economic future for Kirtland, Ohio, and promised members that if they continued to build up and invest in Kirtland, they “should be rich.” Instead, the panic of 1837 devastated the area, the Church's banking enterprise collapsed and many who lost money viewed Joseph as a fallen prophet.
—In April 1843 general conference, Joseph Smith said, “There are those of the rising generation who shall not taste death till Christ comes.”
—Before the 1890 Manifesto ending plural marriage, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow, all of whom served as Church president, stated that God would never revoke the law of plural marriage. Brigham Young observed that “the only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.”
—Many Mormon leaders taught in the early decades of the Church that the earth was created 6,000 to 7,000 years ago and that there was no death on the planet until after Adam and Eve partook of the fruit. Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 puts the “temporal existence” of the earth at 7,000 years.
—We now accept that the 126-year prohibition of black males holding the priesthood was wrong from day one. However, the prohibition was more than a policy. Church presidents called it a doctrine and a commandment. In addition to preventing males from holding the priesthood, it kept black families from participating in temple ordinances necessary for exaltation.
—Brigham Young declared that if whites marry blacks and have children, “the penalty under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” (He was speaking of spiritual death.) Until the mid-20th Century, subsequent Church presidents agreed that interracial marriage was forbidden by God. Presidents of the Church also supported racial segregation in public places including a policy that required blacks to ride freight elevators in the Hotel Utah.
—In 1979, the First Presidency declared, “The Lord will never allow the president of the Church to teach us false doctrine.” (Gospel Principles, p. 46. Oddly, this statement came just a year after a revelation that, in effect, asserted that many presidents of the Church had taught false doctrine related to blacks and the priesthood.)
—On May 6, 1843, Joseph Smith said: “I prophecy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left for their wickedness . . . ” (The U.S. government did not redress the wrongs, did not punish Missouri officials and was not utterly overthrown in a few years.)
—Brigham Young stated on multiple occasions that Adam and God the Father were the same person.
—Elder Orson Pratt said, “it will be seen that the great Messiah who was the founder of the Christian religion was a polygamist . . . the Messiah chose . . . by marrying many honorable wives himself, to show to all future generations that he approbated the plurality of wives . . . ”
—On Nov, 7, 1900, President Lorenzo Snow said, “There are many people now under the sound of my voice, probably a majority, who will go back to Jackson County and assist in building the temple.”
—Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, Elder Bruce R. McConkie and others taught that Mary became pregnant with Jesus as a result of sexual relations with God the Father. (“Begotten means begotten; and Son means son. Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers,” wrote McConkie.)
—Many top authorities, including President Joseph F. Smith, made false or misleading statements (sometimes under oath) relating to the continued practice of plural marriage after the 1890 Manifesto.
—While European nations and Jews were under assault by Nazi Germany, the First Presidency supported isolationism.
—President David O. McKay called the Roman Catholic Church one of the “two great anti-Christs in the world.” Communism was the other. (David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, p. 120.)
—At least three Church presidents have said it would be better for a woman to be killed by an attacker rather than be raped by him.
—In opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Church supported two laws that likely contributed to its eventual legalization. In December 2013, Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that Utah's Amendment 3 outlawing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Shelby's ruling became a catalyst that eventually resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court making such marriages legal throughout the nation in 2015. The Supreme Court ruling cited California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage and had been strongly supported by the Church. Had Utah not passed Amendment 3 and had California defeated Proposition 8, there's an excellent chance that gay marriage would not be legal today (2017) in all 50 states, particularly with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress and with another conservative justice joining the Supreme Court early in 2017.
—Prophets have reversed or revised their position on women's issues such as women in the workplace, artificial birth control, female dress standards and limits on female participation in church meetings.
—Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets believed that American Indians are Lamanites. However, the introduction to the Book of Mormon was revised in 2007 to say that the Lamanites are among the ancestors of the American Indians. In the Doctrine and Covenants, American Indians are still referred to as Lamanites.
—Brigham Young said God the Father is a developing being and is “still progressing in knowledge and wisdom.”
—Although the Church supported the execution of John D. Lee for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, it did not push for the execution of other members who participated in the killing of 120 emigrants. Lee insisted he killed no one.
—Elder Orson Hyde taught that “Jesus was the bridegroom” in the marriage of Cana and that his wife later bore him “natural children.” (In ancient Israel, couples married young. If Hyde is right and Jesus did indeed have children, it is likely those children were entering their teen years during his ministry. This may partly explain why the Lord spent long periods of time away from home and was known to be a winebibber.)
—In 1838, Elder Parley P. Pratt said, “I will state as a prophecy, that there will not be an unbelieving Gentile upon this continent 50 years hence; and if they are not greatly scourged, and in a great measure overthrown, within five or ten years from this date, then the Book of Mormon will have proved itself false.”
—President Lorenzo Snow's teaching, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be,” has fallen on hard times and today is often greeted with roughly the same enthusiasm as poor relatives who show up unannounced at the front door. (The lack of enthusiasm may be related to scriptures saying that God is unchanging.)
Similarly, Joseph Smith taught that God the Father is an exalted man who once dwelled on a planet as we do now.
—Until health issues arose, multiple members drank from the same large cup in sacrament meetings.
—President Anthony R. Ivins of the First Presidency said that the lost Ten Tribes were in the British Isles, “where we have always known them to be.”
—President David O. McKay sought to invite FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to speak in general conference but received little support. (Hoover eventually became known for his secretive abuses of power, which led Congress to limit terms of future directors to 10 years.)
—Authorities have taught that children who die in infancy will be reared to adulthood in the celestial kingdom by their earthly parents.
—President David O. McKay told a 1961 general conference audience that the Church was “grieved and shocked” that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow federal and state governments to make belief in God a requirement for all officeholders. He and others favored requiring prayer in public schools.
—Church leaders have called homosexuality a crime, a mental illness and learned behavior. They have approved the use at BYU of weird aversion-therapy techniques to cure gays of their gayness.
—Church leaders have supported very strange Utah liquor laws and later opposed (or declined to support) the same laws.
—In general conference addresses, President Harold B. Lee, President Spencer W. Kimball and Elder David A. Bednar have declared that Jesus was born on April 6. (Note: Their assertions were based on a single verse of scripture, D&C 20:1. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has recently shown that this verse was not revealed to Joseph Smith as part of the original Section 20 but was added merely to preserve the date of the Church's organization.)
—Elder Joseph Fielding Smith predicted in 1958 that “it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet. . . . All this talk about space travel and the visiting of other worlds brings to mind vividly an attempt long ago made by foolish men who tried to build to heaven.”
—A First Presidency declaration of Jan. 5, 1982, described oral sex as “an unholy and impure practice.”
—In conference, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley suggested the cross is a negative thing “for us” because it reminds us of the dying Christ. However, most Christians view the cross as a symbol of Christ's victory over death. See “The cross = victory” on this site.
—In general conference, President Hinckley supported the 2003 Iraq War: “Those of us who are American citizens stand solidly with the president of our nation.”
—Many of today's Church members likely disagree with an Aug. 18, 1894, First Presidency recommendation that Latter-day Saints “faithfully devote their energy and influence” to the University of Utah rather than to BYU because they expected that the U. would “become the great intermountain center for the diffusion of knowledge.”
—Last but not least is a well-intentioned whopper by President Thomas S. Monson in which he stated that in the all-Church basketball tournament “the most coveted prize was not to be adjudged first-place winner but rather to receive the sportsmanship award.”
Related articles on this site: “Obedience gone awry,” “Falling short, staying put”