Just because you heard it at church, doesn’t make it true.

Just because you heard it at church, doesn’t make it true or mean that you must repeat it.

Sometimes people say things in church that are just plain not true. I’m not talking about intentional lying or careless use of the word “literally.” I’m talking about misinformation and honest mistakes.

In one Sunday evening devotional (an instance of accuracy trumping heritage means these are no longer called firesides; too bad: I think the meetings could only be improved by a good bonfire), a lovely man sitting in front of me explained in a very authoritative way what it means to separate the wheat from the tares. Unfortunately, he was describing the threshing of wheat, in which the grain is separated from the chaff, not the way that weeds look just like the plant you want to grow when they little sprouts, and that you can’t really tell the difference between the two until they are fully grown.

White and ready to harvest . Thank goodness for Roundup so we can avoid tares and the combine so we don't have to worry about threshing away the chaff.

White and ready to harvest. Thank goodness for Roundup so we can avoid tares and the combine so we don’t have to worry about threshing away the chaff.

What do you do in a case like that? He was being very sincere, trying to edify the group. To pipe up and say, “Actually, you got your wheat based analogies mixed up” would not only be unproductive (and pointless, because, really, the comment didn’t matter that much), it would kind of mean-spirited. I said nothing then, but here I am writing about it now, so the annoyance has clearly stuck with me, and I don’t know the best way to dispel it.

Or there is the story of the frog in boiling water. I have heard this little chestnut more times than I can count at church or some church-related setting. You know the story: A frog plopped into boiling water will immediately hop out to safety, whereas a frog eased into comfortable water that is gradually heated to boiling will not notice the dangerously rising temperature of the water until he is already frog soup. So don’t you get comfortable with that little sin you’ve indulged in, because that is the slip-n-slide to damnation, my friend.


You can tell, he’s just looking to get in some hot water.

The problem is, this hypothetical amphibian scenario is no more likely to happen than Kermit the Frog is to be the spokesman for Doc Hopper’s Frog Legs. As Dr. Victor Hutchinson, Research Professor Emeritus from the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology says in this Snopes article,

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of  many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a fog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

Of course, Dr. Hutchison could be wrong, although he appears legit according to a quick google search. To know for sure, I could try this principle for myself. I’ve got a pot and water and stove; all I need now are a few frogs. Unfortunately for this potential scientific inquiry, my feelings towards frogs are rather in line with the alien-consciousness enhanced Elliot. “Save them.”

Now, I don’t think a story has to be true to be good and instructive, but let’s not pass them off as established fact when they are, in fact, no more than simple thought experiments or instructive parables. And please, unless it was a parable attributed to Jesus, can we please retire some of these tired stories? Because it may be that repetition of the same story yet again may be just as wrong as the wrongness of it.

So what are your contenders for church promulgated things that should be allowed to fade quietly into the night? Is it knowledge in the fibre of your being (not Metamucil), or that poem about the lanyard that was good in a cheesy way the first time you heard it, but it now makes you shudder as though you’d caught a good whiff of Limburger? (BTW, the poem sounds better when performed by Billy Collins that I’ve ever heard it presented in sacrament meeting. It really is a nice little poem.)

So submit your suggestions. But under no circumstances are you to troll through the list, gathering nuggets to be compiled into your next talk or long-winded Sunday School comment.

69 comments for “Just because you heard it at church, doesn’t make it true.

  1. . . . generals in the war in heaven . . .

    . . . but the wife is the neck . . .

    . . . for that act alone, their salvation in the celestial kingdom . . .

    . . . crushed their china for the paint of the . . .

    . . . saw his son, playing on the tracks, as the train raced . . .

    . . . because they are the seed of Cain . . .

    . . . are more spiritual, so they don’t need the . . .

    . . . so the boys won’t be tempted to sin . . .

    . . . and after fixing the tire, they disappeared . . .

  2. . . . garments stopped the chainsaw . . .

    . . . “I never said it would be easy…” attributed to Jesus . . .

  3. For the “never said it would be easy” one, I always quote Matthew 11:30.

    Mine particular pet peeve lately is the variations of “you can have what you want when you follow the commandments.” That’s not really what “obedience brings blessings” means.

  4. . . . for that act alone, their salvation in the celestial kingdom . . .

    When prophets quote past statements from other prophets that are just plain not true.

    Speaking of, I would love to not hear any more a statement from Wilford Woodruff about not leading the Church astray, given in a specific time for a specific purpose to a specific audience, used in a general sort of way that apply to anything and everything the living prophet says or does. Or any policy decision or statement given by “the Church” both now and for time and all eternity.

  5. I have never heard that Lanyard poem before. It’s about a billion times better than any poem I have ever heard read aloud in church. Well, my mom recited the Housewife’s Lament once, but that was for an RS talent show.

  6. Marianne Williamson’s “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” attributed to Nelson Mandela.

  7. Amalickiah and coming down the hill partway.
    The card catalog and the atonement (not that I dislike it, but the imagery is pretty old. And a database just doesn’t have the same punch)
    Anything being called a parable that isn’t (the parable of the man who did his home teaching…)
    Anything that seems like it belongs in seminary (unless you are in seminary)
    elevators in the Salt Lake Temple
    Joseph Smith’s statement that “revelation is one of the plainest books” (he said it, but never in the context it’s used in)
    any pointing fingers at who the great and abominable church is.
    the Word of Wisdom is backed up by science now, see, it must be true, the science says so!
    Evolution is a theory, not a fact. (like the theory of relativity)
    Anything relying on statistics.
    SilverRain- agreed, I’ve heard the same thing a few times lately, along the lines of “if we’re willing to sacrifice God won’t make us sacrifice.” huh?

  8. CJ D says, “When prophets quote past statements from other prophets that are just plain not true.”

    CJ D, if a modern prophet says anything, whether or not they are quoting past prophets, I argue it is applicable to our day and true. If you don’t believe that, well, there are plenty of other churches you can join (assuming you want to be a part of a religion and not just a culture).

  9. The miracles of the World Trade Center tragedie(s): “No Mormon was there that day. It was a miracle, but all of them either called in sick, or were stuck in traffic, or were late to work that morning”.

    Same miracle of the London Subway and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. President Hinkley was aware it was going to happen and gave orders that the MoTab not get on that subway.

    How about all the 3 Nephite stories? Food on the step of the hungry, cold widow, with no footsteps leading to/from the house in the snow.

  10. One more biggie, that seems to rear it’s ugly head during an election year. Never more evident than this past election year:

    The Nation/World (government) will be hanging by a thread. An LDS politician will “step in” to save the world and government.

  11. Ooh, I have one! “If you don’t believe [whatever favorite doctrine is being addressed], well, there are plenty of other churches you can join (assuming you want to be a part of a religion and not just a culture).”

  12. “someday God will reveal it to us…”

    I call BS on this. God doesn’t give away anything we don’t ask for, yearn for, agitate for, plead on our knees for, downright pester for. And, in the case of things like biological evolution, it’s already been revealed — we have mountains and museums full of the evidence, we just need to open our eyes and have a look.

  13. Great list, people. Keep them coming. Julie, I especially hate that moral dilemma train story! But I also hate anything at church that makes me feel emotionally manipulated. Just because your story makes people cry, doesn’t mean it facilitates feeling the Spirit.

    beezers, please recall that part of the T&S commenting policy is to not call others’ faith into question.

  14. Hahaha. You are definitely my daughter. I hated talks that came mostly from Especially For Mormons and had a sociology class at BYU that was recycled seminary stories. Total easy A but a terrific waste of time.

  15. I heard about the World Trade Center one from a friend in New York who helped look for survivors. There was such a relief that they found no one had been killed after a huge effort to use the home teaching and visiting teaching lists to identify anyone who may have been lost in order to help their families. My inactive aunt who lived there was touched that she was contacted by the church to make sure she was okay. A few years later I did some research and found only one official reference to it in the Church News soon after 9/11, actually confirming that no known Church members had been killed there. I was surprised no one seemed to know about it, especially since there was tons of coverage in the Utah media about the LDS lady who was on one of the planes.

    I have little tolerance for made-up stories, but sometimes reality truly is stranger than fiction. The fact this wasn’t played up in most congregations speaks loads about some respect and reserve in broadcasting the sacred experience it was for those I knew personally who had been there.

  16. CJ D, if a modern prophet says anything, whether or not they are quoting past prophets, I argue it is applicable to our day and true. If you don’t believe that, well, there are plenty of other churches you can join (assuming you want to be a part of a religion and not just a culture).

    I’m actually quite comfortable with the reality that prophets say things – even in an official capacity – that we later reject as a Church. Because that is the reality of the historical record. The only dispute is whether or not you accept the record as true.

  17. At the time I thought “no members killed” was suspect, and on SRM ran the numbers on it being rather improbable.

    The one story I’ve heard from _Especially for Mormons_ is downright wrong. That’s the one attributed to Ronald Reagan about the Declaration of Independence hurriedly being signed on 4 July 1776. In fact, independence had in fact been declared in principle on 2 July, the wording of the Declaration was finalized on 4 July, and the nice parchment we’re all familiar with was drawn up and signed in August. As such, I don’t think I could trust anything else from _EfM_.

  18. For me also it’s the emotional manipulation. We had a run in our ward for a few years where all faith building stories involved the tragic death of children. And then along came the story of the woman digging the graves of her children in frozen dirt with a teaspoon. A tragic story – that was repeated so often that it lost its meaning.

  19. Secret three year mission to China with private phone call from Gordon B. Hickley (I remember a girl who insisted that was true).

  20. When I was 16ish our Priest Quorum advisor went out to the Cardston, Alberta Temple. While he was there he saw some workmen working on the grounds and asked what they were doing, one of tehm said that during the millenium the saints will be required to live underneath the Temple. Fast forward about 12 years later or so I overheard two people talking about a similar idea, just after stake conference. So, I thought I want to get to the bottom of this. So I tracked down the Cardston Temple address and wrote the President saying what I had heard. He wrote me back saying that rest assured they have not provided any space underneath the Temple for the saints to live in during the millenium. I still have the letter and I have used it in a talk or two!! if anyone comes to me saying that I have to move to Alberta and live underneath the Temple, i’ll say, ‘well, I have a letter excusing me from all that, but you have fun now’!!!!

  21. I know it is one of those cliches, bu I have one friend who had the teeth to a circular saw cut through his pants and break off at his garments, and another friend who accidentally shot himself with a nail gun, where the nail went through his shirt and stopped at his garments. You may not believe those stories, but my friends who these things happened to do.

    But then again, neither one of them makes the incident the foundation of his testimony. They mostly laugh at their luck in the face of their clumsiness.

  22. I attended a fireside (er, evening devotional) once where the speaker talked at length about Mr. Rogers having been a Navy SEAL, and the reason he always wore those cardigans was to hide all the tattoos on his arms.

    And there was the high council speaker who said we wouldn’t need to worry about global warming, because “surely Science would find a way to float the icebergs down from the north pole to cool off the oceans, or something like that.”

  23. Had a good talk with my son this morning, after he came out of seminary saying, “Um, I think Bro. X was making some unwarranted assumptions about Nephi’s vision of the Gentiles.” I told him, a) we all view things we read through our own familiar lenses, so be charitable; b) these experiences should lead us to examine our own assumptions; and c) it’s fine to ask (politely!) for sources when things at church sound fishy. I hope c) doesn’t get him in too much trouble….

  24. Harold B. Lee made it clear that we should not pass along “faith promoting rumors.”

    My recollection from the Church News after 9/11 was that a Church member who worked at the restaurant at the top of one of the towers was filling in for another worker who had fallen ill.

    In addition to some of the passengers on the hijacked planes, at least one of the people killed at the Pentagon was LDS, from Idaho. His wife was given the honor of carrying the 2002 Olympic torch up to the front of the White House to present it to President Bush. There have been followup stories about her service as a Church health missionary, using her training as a nurse.

    Why exactly would Mormons WANT to be exempt from a tragedy that affected so many Americans, plus people from other countries who were in the World Trade Center that day? Why would God want that? Mormons were not exempt from hardship when they were faithful pioneers crossing the plains and mountains.

    I don’t know about the Navy Yard attack victims, but one of the people killed at Fort Hood by Nidal Hasan was a young LDS soldier from Utah. There has been a full share of LDS members in the armed forces who have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, not because they lacked faith, or were wicked. To the contrary, they have tended to be exemplary people, like the young man from my ward in Idaho.

  25. The frog story has a prominent place in the movie “Catch Me If You Can”, where it is even featured as sort of a religious expression by the con man played by Leonardo di Caprio.

    There are plenty of real examples of people tolerating evil without having to use the frog story. Indeed, some real world examples would serve much better to warn us against complacency, because everyone knows he or she is smarter than a frog.

  26. One of my favorite misinterpretations of scripture: the “great and terrible day” will be great (meaning happy) for the righteous, and terrible for the wicked.
    Latest use of the simmering frog: Lynn Robbins, BYU devotional, Sept. 17, 2013.

  27. I would add to the list: the wine that the Savior drinks in the New Testament is grape juice. Sidney Sperry shot that one down long ago but it remains a zombie doctrine and keeps on coming.

  28. So, what is the real deal with the Del Parson painting of Christ? I have heard it was based on latter-day Apostles descriptions to Del Parson himself and ‘they’ told him what he looks like

  29. Vague attempts to distinguish “deep doctrine” from “plain and precious” or “simple gospel.” In general, attempts to use the old adage that the gospel is simple as an excuse for burying our head in the sand.

    Policies change, but doctrine stays the same…forever

    “milk before meat” (when not used as Paul used it to condemn our weakness and inability to handle something new and profound; we should quote it along with Joseph Smith’s comment: “There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand” (History of the Church, 6:184).

    Cleon Skousen’s notion of the atonement.

    Generic, moralizing stories (“Once there was a woman…”)

    As a boy, Joseph Smith refused alcohol when having surgery because he knew it was evil (Question: so why did he enjoy a glass of wine on the day of the martyrdom? Especially given his premonitions that he wouldn’t be around much longer to repent?)

    Why exactly would Mormons WANT to be exempt from a tragedy that affected so many Americans, plus people from other countries who were in the World Trade Center that day?

    Amen brother Raymond.

  30. I’m pretty sure I would fall out of my chair if someone read a Billy Collins poem in my ward. Count yourself lucky.

    I’m with you on everything else though.

  31. That all the disabled people escorted Satan and the third of the host of heaven out, so God made them disabled so they would never be tempted by him.

    Parents of disabled children being called in the preexistence to be disabled and/or disabled children choosing this existence.

    As the parent of a disabled child, I always call shenanigans on these types of statements in smaller meetings (not Sacrament meeting, etc.).

  32. “if you hear these at church should you say something?”

    This is always a tough call for me. Last month I sat through gospel doctrine class listening to the lesson on the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Many on the comments, even ones by the teacher who I assume got them from the manual, were pure mythology. Several were a complete reversal of the facts. Did I say anything? Nope. Did I sit there feeling like I was perpetuating mythology by not saying anything? Yep.

  33. Re: 33. The Japanese translation of the Book of Mormon that we used in the 1970s rendered the word “wine” in the sacramental prayers as “grape juice.” The current translation reads “wine.”

    So, there was more than just folk doctrine running interference for the “nonalcoholic fruit of the vine” line.

  34. I’ve never heard the lanyard thing in church or anywhere else. People really get up in sacrament meeting and read a poem that mentions breasts? And this happens repeatedly, such that it makes you shudder? Must be in some other ward than I’ve been in.

    What’s the one about the card catalog and the atonement? Google was no help.

  35. For things that should fade into the night, I nominate “this day” used as a more righteous-sounding synonym of “today.”

  36. I like the lanyard poem. I suppose my experience of hearing it read (poorly) in church multiple times is anomalous. So substitute in that poem about the old fiddle on the auction block in the skilled violinist’s hands. Or the story about the kid who wants to buy the bicycle, but hasn’t enough money, and someone else makes up the difference. The problem is less the poem or the story in this case, but the too-oft repetition of it.

    Can I also submit “moisture” for any kind of precipitation?

  37. The best thing to do in these situations is to correct them privately, after-the-fact.

    A couple of times I have shot a text or an email to the faith-promoting rumor-monger with an article or a GA quote correcting it. For example, there is a quote somewhere where Elder Packer refutes the “generals during the war in heaven” thing (“I never said it. I don’t believe it”). There is a BYU Studies article that addresses the three young men who carried pioneers across the Crooked River. Etc. The correction has always been well-received.

  38. Left Field (45), I’ll take it one further: Any word phrase/construction that you wouldn’t use in ordinary speech needs to go. “Even” when used as… I don’t know… an intensifier? As in “Our latter-day prophet, even Thomas S. Monson.” Moisture also needs to go, in most cases. Heck, I’d even be in favor of getting rid of Thee/Thy/Thine.

    larryco_ (41) I’m curious – which bits did you hear that were mythology?

  39. The misuse and overuse of the word atonement. I cringe when we repeatedly make “atonement” – by itself – the cure for all of our problems and maladies and disconnect it entirely from the person and power of Christ. For example, “Rely on the atonement” or “Use the atonement.” Full stop. How do we “use” the atonement anyways? Do we “use” other acts of Jesus? I admit I just don’t get this one. Apart from being vague, these phrases just aren’t scriptural.

    Instead, what makes more scriptural sense to me is to use language that conveys our reliance upon the attributes internal to Christ (e.g., rely upon the merits/mercy/grace of Christ), rather than on something external to or disconnected from him, even if that something else is the word atonement. Keep in mind that Tyndale invented the word to get at the idea of reconciliation. It may not be a perfect substitute now, but would we say, “use the reconciliation?”

  40. The camel going through the eye of the needle being explained as anything but hyperbole – there were no special “camel gates” to get into cities, and camels can’t move when they kneel. This was corrected in the Ensign 18 years ago, but I still hear this one at least once a year.


    Then one time a gospel doctrine teacher started teaching that we pray directly to Jesus Christ because he’s the one that atoned for us and I corrected her right away. I was treated like an ogre for doing it (it made her cry), but I couldn’t leave that one alone.

  41. we were assigned or found our spouse before coming to this earth and are searching to find our soul mate

    being called to a mission on the other side code for died young

  42. The “even” thing doesn’t bother me much, but I could sure do without “our beloved prophet.” Does he really need to be introduced with those exact words every single time?

    Mostly, what bothers me about “this day” is that it never adds anything to the sentence except a sense of faux holiness. You can always take it out without losing any semantic content. “We’d like to welcome you to sacrament meeting this day.” “We thank thee for the moisture we have received this day and ask that we will travel home this day in safety.” You can add it randomly this day to any sentence you want.

    What’s more annoying than “moisture” is missionaries and others from the dry country coming here to Louisiana and thanking the Lord profusely for the moisture as if we’ve just broken a long drought. The Lord blesses us with enough moisture, thanks. A few years ago, quite a few members of our ward had several feet of moisture in their living rooms.

    I’ve never heard “The Room” thing, either, but I sure dislike people reading lengthy stuff like that from the pulpit. It’s interesting that some people hear material over and over, while others are completely unfamiliar with it. Could it be regional?

  43. Great stuff. Also wish I had the courage to speak up when ward council takes a political bent (immigration, global warming, etc.) Ugh.

  44. There is a difference between a false statement and a turn of phrase that you happen to dislike. Of course, like anyone else, I have certain turns of phrase that I’m tired of and stories that I have heard ad nauseum that I would just as soon never hear again. But I have never found an airing of pet peeves to be particularly beneficial, though I have certainly participated in them from time to time, to my detriment.

    I have heard a lot of these stories and, though some may be incorrect in attribution, details, or even sometimes in doctrine (though I am loath to correct in doctrinal matters unless I am absolutely certain…and I may still be wrong myself), I generally hear them in connection with an underlying principle of the Gospel which is basically correct. And I almost always hear them from someone who is sincere and striving only to make sense of things that are not always easy for them to comprehend fully. As I myself am trying to do.

    I’ve tried it in the past, but I have found that I really derive no benefit from being skeptical, even when it turns out that I was right. So what? Do I win a prize for that? Skepticism has no salvific qualities. I’ve probably been duped on a number of occasions in the past, but I don’t let that worry me overmuch. We’re all wrong sometimes and I’m not really keeping score. We’re all just doing the best we can down here and I’d rather give the benefit of the doubt, if for no other reason than because I myself am so often in need of it.

  45. Here is the article (mentioned by #46) debunking the mythology about the three young men carrying an entire company of handcart pioneers across an icy river.

    I work for BYU Studies. Sometimes I feel like I am in the business of debunking. But most debunking is not usually clear cut. For example, “the constitution shall hang by a thread, and the elders of Zion will save it.” Most people cite the White Horse Prophecy, which is an unreliable document. See this:
    And so they assume that the phrase is also unreliable. But Brigham Young said that line before the White Horse Prophecy was ever written down, and it’s recorded in the Journal of Discourses. So we get tangled in details that sometimes turn out to be just quibbles.

    Can I put in a plug for Craig Harline’s lecture “What Happened to My Bell Bottoms?” (youtube) for showing that what we think we know for sure are permanent doctrines or policies often are not. And we cannot predict which current things are going to change.

  46. As a follow-up to Jennifer’s appreciated comment, here’s an article by a BYU professor about his experiences teaching that story and assigning the BYU Studies article.

    Also, I believe Craig posted the (some?) text of his lecture here.

  47. Great topic.

    Here’s are my additions:

    Just because something seems implausible or inconcievable to you, doesn’t make it untrue.
    Just because it goes against personal views or is a minority perspective, doesn’t make it untrue.
    Just because someone who says untrue things at church said something else speculative, doesn’t make it untrue.


  48. After reading all of these examples, it sure helps me to remember that “the church is perfect but the people aren’t.”

    You’ve probably heard that one before, but repetition is a law of learning.

    One of those laws upon which certain blessings are predicted.

    And that God Himself is subject to.

  49. The idea that if we, as parents, are REALLY faithful that our kids will come back to the church. Doesn’t this completely blow freedom of choice out of the water? I can understand how this could bring comfort to parents, but it seems to contradict the teachings of the gospel.

  50. If I hear the definition of insanity one more time (doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results) I may go insane!

  51. I, personally, could happily go the rest of my life never again hearing “the church is perfect but the people aren’t,” especially when used to brush off and excuse things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, exclusionary, or straight-up lies, and especially when the speaker can offer no useful way of distinguishing which things make up “the church” and which are just people.

  52. Remember the tornado in Salt Lake like 10 years ago? It blew out windows in the Wyndham Hotel and Delta Center, but “jumped over” the Salt Lake Temple.

  53. “I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for the church.” Huh? “Break yourself against the commandments…” ” it grows and grows into a big yarn ball of lies”… ” grateful for this opportunity…” “nourish and strengthen…..” ” help us benefit by it…””srrive to…..” “all the founding fathers appeared to….” ” no murmuring” ” its PLEASED, NOT PROUD” the stupid chalk circle story from BYU Honor Code Office “I’d die first” ” there is a finite number of spirits in heaven that is why so many couples cam’t have children” fake it ’til uou make it” “I brought my comforter…” “lets cut up this wedding dress or smash this cake as a of your chastity” ” the boy wore his mom’s ugly shoes to Sunday School and nobody laughed” ” he wrote in his journal everyday….” ” she saved her Sunday Shoes and when she reached Salt Lake City her feet were to big to fit in them” ” the boost in technology started the time of the first vision” “only polygamists are in the celestial kingdom” “I cannot read a sealed book” “Cougars don’t cut corners” “that special glow” I digres….

  54. @62 – Mershay – see the April, 2003 conference talk, “Dear Are the Sheep Who Have Wandered” by Eyring.

    It doesn’t say that the kids who have left the church will come back, but it does say that the faithfulness of the parents will have a direct result on the eternal condition of their children.

    So that one is at least *based on* something true. I guess that’s good.

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