i want to begin with a short quiz.
question 1: which of these images comes from a South Park episode and begins with the disclaimer that "all characters and events in this show - even those based on real people - are entirely fictional"?
question 2: which of these images comes from the lds church-produced film, "joseph smith: prophet of the restoration" and was touted as being "historically accurate"?
question 3: which of these images portrays the method with which joseph smith used to translate the golden plates?
question 4: which of these images portrays a method which has no historical basis?
the answers - 1:a 2:b 3:a 4:b
i am not asking whether or not the church should maintain an inaccurate portrayal of its history, but how much longer it can portray its often very misleading (dare i say dishonest?) portrayal.
compare the following images from the church's official website about joseph smith with statements by joseph's friends and family who witnessed the translation process.
"I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine." - david whitmer, in "an address to all believers in christ."
"In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us." - emma smith, "last testimony of sister emma", in rlds church history vol 3 ch 18 page 356. the church's website actually quotes from this interview with emma about the book of mormon, but does not mention her reference to the use of a hat.
"Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkned his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. . . Thus was the hol [whole] translated." - joseph knight (loyal friend of joseph smith), quoted in dean jesse's "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History."
"The manner in which this was done was by looking into the Urim and Thummim, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light, (the plates lying near by covered up), and reading off the translation, which appeared in the stone by the power of God." - william smith (joseph smith's brother) in "william smith on mormonism" page 11.
this is only one example of the dozens of instances where the church has been either portraying a version of history that is blatantly false, or presenting it in such a way that it is deceptively hiding history (for example see the church's different biographical sketches of lds presidents. no marriages are listed for leaders who are polygamous - besides joseph smith who only has emma smith listed). other examples include joseph smith's polygamous marriages, often either against or unknownst to emma(i know many who did not learn this until their missions - from anti-mormons); joseph's smiths deep background with folk magic; the succession crisis; harmony in the church hierarchy; that the melchizedek priesthood was most likely restored in 1830 after the organization of the church; the structure and establishment of priesthood quorums and callings; and the masonic-endowment relationship.
for the last several decades, most of this was only known to historians, anti-mormons, and history buffs. such is not the case anymore. a few minutes with google can reveal more church history than the common member learns in a life-time of sunday school, seminary, and institute. also, with publications by very faithful scholars (such as richard bushman's rough stone rolling), these things can no longer be tossed aside as mere anti-mormon lies. more and more members are beginning to learn that they have not been told the truth by the church. the next question which is often ask is if i had been lied to or hidden from these things, then what else is the church lying/hiding about?
that is where we come back to the question: how much longer can the church maintain an inaccurate portrayal of its history? it seems that eventually the divide between the church's version of history and more accurate versions will be so glaringly obvious that the church will need to deal with it. can the church maintain its version much longer? forever? or will the time soon come that it will need to step away from its ficticious portrayal and start being more honest about it?