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 items that may be less serious but that are also either incorrect, highly questionable and/or contrary to what is widely believed in the church today. (Naturally, just because something is not widely believed today doesn't automatically make it false.)
—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 undercapitalized quasi-banking enterprise collapsed and many who lost money viewed Joseph as a fallen prophet.
—In an April 1843 conference, Joseph Smith said, “There are those of the rising generation who shall not taste death till Christ comes.”
—Before the 1890 Manifesto revoking 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 LDS 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 that the church says are necessary for exaltation.
—Brigham Young declared that if whites marry blacks, “the penalty under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” (He likely was speaking of spiritual death rather than physical death, because there are no reports of brides or grooms dropping dead after saying “I do” nor of 2nd Amendment-loving Utahns immediately gunning them down.) 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. 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.” (As of 2018, the church has no temple in Jackson County, but the Kansas City Missouri Temple in nearby Clay County was dedicated in 2012. It is the church's 137th temple. The Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized LDS Church, dedicated a temple in 1994 in Independence, Jackson County.)
—Oliver B. Huntington recorded in his journal that “as far back as 1837, I know that he [Joseph Smith] said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a greater age than we do—that they live generally to the age of 1,000 years.” The Journal of Discourses records that Brigham Young believed the sun was also inhabited: “Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain.”
—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.)
—Joseph Smith and others traveled to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1836 after he reported receiving a revelation that large amounts of money would become available there. “And it shall come to pass in due time that I shall give the city unto your hands, that you shall have power over it . . . and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours.” (D&C 111:4) When no money was forthcoming, they returned to Kirtland.
—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 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.) Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote in Mormon Doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church was “the great and abominable church.” Today's Latter-day Saints use neither great nor abominable in describing the Catholic Church, although false is acceptable.
—At least three church presidents have said it would be better for a woman to be killed by an attacker rather than to be raped by him.
—Prophets have reversed or revised their position on women's issues such as women in the workplace, artificial birth control, female dress standards and certain limits on female participation in church meetings. For example, women didn't offer a prayer in General Conference until 2013.
—Many top authorities, including Presidents Wilford Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith, knowingly made false statements (sometimes under oath) relating to the continued practice of plural marriage after the 1890 Manifesto. (See “Plural Marriages after the 1890 Manifesto,” by D. Michael Quinn.)
—Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets believed that all American Indians were 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.
—Today's church does not believe Brigham Young's statement that God the Father is a developing being and is “still progressing in knowledge and wisdom.”
—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.)
—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.
—The church allowed multiple members to drink from the same large cup in sacrament meetings. When health problems arose, the practice was discontinued.
—President Heber J. Grant and other leaders supported Prohibition in 1919, opposed Repeal of Prohibition in 1933, and opposed Social Security and other New Deal programs.
—While European nations and Jews were under assault by Nazi Germany, the First Presidency supported isolationism.
—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.”
—Authorities have taught that children who die in infancy will be reared to adulthood in the celestial kingdom by their earthly parents. (This teaching is greatly complicated by the fact that the church also teaches that most earthly parents are not bound for celestial glory.)
—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 said that it is a negative thing to be reminded of the dying Christ. He observed that Latter-day Saints do not use the cross as a symbol of our faith because “for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ.” However, the sacrament hymns and the Scriptures repeatedly remind us that the death and suffering of Christ achieved victory over death and opened the doors of heaven to us. 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.”
—Church leaders supported three anti-gay marriage laws that likely contributed to the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. In 1996, LDS leaders backed the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was ruled unconstitutional in 2013. In December 2013, Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that Utah's Amendment 3 outlawing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Two years after Shelby's ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriages legal throughout the nation in 2015. The court's ruling cited California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage and had been strongly supported by the church. It can be argued that the passage of DOMA, Amendment 3 and Proposition 8 all contributed to the momentum to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states that occurred with the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling. With Republicans in 2018 in control of the White House and Congress and with two right-wing justices joining the Supreme Court since the election of President Donald Trump, same-sex marriage might still be illegal in many states had the court not acted in 2015.
—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”
Failed to make the top 40:
—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 said he killed no one.
—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.)