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Van HaleMormon Van Hale

K-TALK LDS Apologist Van Hale on Power of Discernment

Van Hale hosts his own Salt Lake area radio program called "Mormon Miscellaneous." On September 25th, 2005 Mr. Hale discussed the Mark Hofmann fiasco. One caller asked how church leaders with the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the Power of Discernment could not detect such a blatant and dangerous fruad.

After examination by top church leaders, including the prophet, the church purchased numerous fake documents from forger Mark Hofmann. See photo from the Church News:

Mormon prophets buy fake documents from Mark Hoffmanuments to prophets

"The gift of discernment enables a bishop or branch president to know truth, to understand the differences between good and evil, and even to know what is in a person’s heart. Because he has this gift, we can seek his counsel and he can tell us what the Lord would have us do to grow spiritually."
- Official LDS Church Manual "Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood", Part A, History and Organization of the Priesthood, 8: Duties of the Bishop and the Branch President, 57

Transcript of Van Hale's statement regarding the lack of discernment by LDS Church leaders

Caller: ... The fact remains, you know, for me and for my friend, who is handicapped, by the way, the, um, that, you know, an Elder was allowed to get away with a crime and you know, obviously, as far as any power of discernment or spiritual ability to weed out nefarious people, you know, it obviously doesn't exist for Mormon leaders, any more than it does for any other human being.


Van Hale: This idea that the church leaders have something equivalent to a crystal ball that allows them to discern anything that they might choose is something that has never been suggested nor advocated, as far as I am aware of, anywhere by LDS Church leaders. And the idea that they somehow supercede the uh, human ability in this regard is something that has not been a principle subscribed to.

There is no concept that LDS leaders are somehow omniscient. I don’t know where you would come up with something like that. And the idea of discernment is, uh, is something that has not been specifically defined as a leader having the ability to determine whether somebody has, has committed an indiscretion or a crime or something like that. I’m not aware of any, any time in LDS history where the church leadership has taken the position that somebody through spiritual discernment can determine whether somebody has committed a crime and that the person should be dealt with on the basis of that person’s, of that leader’s spiritual discernment. That just simply is, that’s the reason for church courts and I’m not aware of any situation where anyone has been considered to be guilty of a civil crime because of the, that somebody’s claimed spiritual discernment. So I think you’re, you’re presenting something that is a fabrication that has no real foundation.

C: That’s not true. I’ve just gone to the LDS web site. The church’s official web site. And typed in “discernment” and it’s come up with 44 Conference addresses in which various church leaders, including presidents of the church, are talking about the gift of discernment, that they or other priesthood holders, like bishops, stake presidents and, of course, themselves, have. So any of your listeners are, you know, perfectly free to go to the LDS official web site and find that out and you know, talk with Latter Day Saints. For generations, it’s been a common belief amongst the rank and file that because of the power of the priesthood and the gift of the Holy Ghost and the mantle of the calling, as it’s known, you know, these individuals receive, as part of accepting the great responsibility of church leadership positions, um, that they have, you know, the keys of revelation and one of those keys is the gift of discernment to be able to spiritually identify wicked, unrighteous, nefarious people.

VH: I think you’re missing my point on that. For example, are you aware of some of these high profile situations; for example, the Robert Blake trial, the Simpson trial. Are you aware of church leaders through spiritual discernment identifying who is, whether these individuals were guilty or not guilty?

I mean, that’s simply, what you’re asking for is something I haven’t encountered in LDS Church history where a church leader has claimed that through spiritual discernment we don’t need to have any kind of church court or church trials or anything of that nature because of spiritual discernment. The records of the church are filled with all kinds of trials in which people were called upon to testify and matters were dealt with in that manner rather than just somebody saying I have received a revelation and you are guilty of adultery and you are excommunicated from the church.

C: Yeah, well that’s, I, agree with you. I mean, obviously...

VH: OK, thank you.

C: processes, in the sense that, you know, legal processes, investigations...

VH: Uh...

C: ...relying on science...

VH: Uh, we’ve got to break, We’re....

C: Sure. Thanks for your time.

[ News/commercial break]

VH: My name is Van Hale and my guest this evening is George Throckmorton. We do have lines available. We’re prepared to hear your comments or questions. If you would like to call in with a question or comment or send an email, we’re prepared to incorporate that into our discussion this evening. {Gives call-in numbers}.

VH: OK, just pursuing what, who, I just want to make one last comment about this topic brought up by our caller before the news, in his reference to the LDS leaders’ claiming to have this power of discernment and they should, therefore, have known about the claims of Mark Hoffman, should have known that he was a fraud, that his documents were fraudulent and this sort of an argument.

Just one thought that occurred to me when we went to the news, Jesus indicated in his comments, that we find in the New Testament, he made the comment that the gospel net gathers of all kinds and he was referring to, giving a metaphor that referred to the fishing that went on. Fishermen would throw in a net, they’d pull out the net and they would then sort out the fish. There were some good fish and some bad fish. He also used the metaphor of the wheat and tares. And the wheat and tares grew together, it was hard to tell them apart. And that was Jesus’ metaphor was that within the church, within those who accepted his message, there were those who were the wheat and the tares and those would be sorted out in the end.

And Joseph Smith picked up on that same statement, teaching of Jesus, and indicated that within the church that the church gathers of all kinds and so this idea that somehow the church leaders had the discernment and they knew or they know that those who belong in the church from those who don’t, that just simply is not the {laughs} it’s just never been the case in LDS history. There has never been a situation where the church leaders have said, have identified people and said that these people are guilty of crimes, guilty of transactions and so forth that haven’t come to light and we’re going to excommunicate these or dismiss these people from the church. So this idea that the caller was bringing up I think simply doesn’t show any merit or have any substance as we look back in the position and thinking of Latter Day Saint leaders from the beginning to the present.

Offical statement by the LDS Church that its leaders have the Power of Discernment

"The gift of discernment enables a bishop or branch president to know truth, to understand the differences between good and evil, and even to know what is in a person’s heart. Because he has this gift, we can seek his counsel and he can tell us what the Lord would have us do to grow spiritually."
- Official LDS Church Manual "Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood", Part A, History and Organization of the Priesthood, 8: Duties of the Bishop and the Branch President, 57

"A bishop is also ordained a high priest so he can preside over all members in the ward (see D&C 107:71–73; D&C 68:15). A bishop is a judge in Israel (see D&C 107:74) and interviews members for temple recommends, priesthood ordinations, and other needs. It is his right to have the gift of discernment."
- Official LDS Church "Gospel Principles," Unit Five: The Church of Jesus Christ, 14: Priesthood Organization, 85

"After enumerating various spiritual gifts, the Lord provides this counsel concerning your bishop or any other presiding priesthood leader: 'And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God.' (D&C 46:27.)

It is abundantly clear that presiding priesthood leaders are given the gift of discernment."
- Elder Gene R. Cook, “Seek Out Your Spiritual Leader,” Ensign, May 1978, 64

"Countless are the devious ways of stealing. Fortunate indeed are they who, through righteous living and the gift of discernment, can clearly distinguish between honesty and dishonesty."
- Apostle Marion G. Romney, “A Glorious Promise,” Ensign, Jan. 1981, 2

"Would You Like the Power of Discernment? Would you like to have powers of discernment—the power to identify truth? If so, you must read the word of God, acknowledge God’s Goodness, ponder, and ask of God. Through doing this, Moroni testifies, “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moro. 10:5.)"

"While I was a mission president in Texas, I was informed that a particular missionary had lost his testimony and wanted to go home. Some checking disclosed that doubts of the divinity of his call had been planted in the young man’s mind by an investigator. In an interview with the so-called investigator, I experienced special powers of discernment that enabled me to know that the man was a minister of another faith, posing as a college student and pretending to be an honest investigator of Mormonism. Confronted with the knowledge that had been revealed to me, he became confused and admitted his fraud. With the deceiver out of the way and the truth known, the missionary stayed and completed an honorable mission."
- Elder Carlos E. Asay, “The Companionship of the Holy Ghost,” Ensign, Apr. 1988, 15 AND “Courting the Spirit,” New Era, Aug. 1990, 33

"Discernment. At other times the Holy Ghost enhances our senses that we might discern those things that ordinarily would not be known to us, as did Ammon in the Book of Mormon, who discerned the thoughts of King Lamoni (see Alma 18:16–18)."
- Sister Reneé Roy Harding, “Guess Who,” Ensign, Aug. 1998, 70

"I give my testimony that the prophets of this day have the qualities of the prophets of old and the other prophets of this dispensation. Each of these prophets has humbly and prayerfully sought to know and follow God’s will in his personal ministry. We declare with soberness, and yet with the authority of God in us vested, we have a prophet today. The President of the Church, as a prophet, is God’s representative on earth and is appointed to lead His church. Christ is the head of his Church today, just as he was in ancient times. The Lord has said that this is 'the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased' (D&C 1:30)."
- Apostle Robert D. Hales, "Hear the Prophet’s Voice and Obey," Ensign, May 1995, Page 15

"There is a power of discernment granted 'unto such as God shall appoint … to watch over [His] church.' To discern means 'to see.'” "President Harold B. Lee told me once of a conversation he had with Elder Charles A. Callis of the Quorum of the Twelve. Brother Callis had remarked that the gift of discernment was an awesome burden to carry. To see clearly what is ahead and yet find members slow to respond or resistant to counsel or even rejecting the witness of the apostles and prophets brings deep sorrow."

"Recently President Hinckley reminded the Brethren that, while we are men called from the ordinary pursuits of life, there rests upon us a sacred ministry. And we take comfort in what the Lord said to the original Twelve: 'Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you.'"

"Each week we meet together in the temple. We open the meeting by kneeling in prayer, and we close with prayer. Every prayer is offered in the spirit of submission and obedience to Him who called us and whose servants and witnesses we are."

"We know that we hold the power of the priesthood 'in connection with all those who have received a dispensation at any time from the beginning of the creation.' We think of those who have preceded us in these sacred offices, and at times we feel their presence."
- Boyd K. Packer, “The Twelve Apostles,” October 1996 General Conference Address, also Ensign, Nov. 1996, and again in Ensign, Sept. 2005, page 16

"President Monson says softly and with some emotion. 'In my patriarchal blessing as a boy, I was promised that I would have the gift of discernment. I have to acknowledge that such a declaration has been abundantly fulfilled in my life.' Indeed, President Monson’s life—certainly his life as an Apostle and member of the First Presidency—seems in a sense to be one long, extended chronicle of the promptings of the Holy Spirit, with the many inspirational and varied miracles which have resulted from his response to those promptings."
- Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, “President Thomas S. Monson: Finishing the Course, Keeping the Faith,” Tambuli, Oct. 1994, 16–17

"I have found in these Brethren seated before you the fulfillment in their lives of the promise given to the Prophet Joseph Smith “...let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion." (D&C 121:45-46.)"

"I have watched them armed with the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, taking on enormous work loads at an age when most men would be confined to rocking chairs, and engaging in strenuous travel schedules with great enthusiasm to be anxiously engaged in building the kingdom of God. Then by observation, the realization has come to me that this great Spirit that blesses them in their activities is not a special gift to them alone, but is available to all mankind if they will but be partakers and earnestly seek it and be humbly guided by it." "Isn’t this spirit a constant companion you need in your life?"
- Apostle L. Tom Perry, “Consider Your Ways,” Ensign, July 1973, 20

"On one occasion the Prophet Joseph Smith was invited to preach the gospel to a group of Native Americans. They could not understand English, and he could not speak their language, so he paid a special government agent to interpret his words. The Prophet spoke for a few minutes, and the agent then interpreted the Prophet’s message. When the people showed resentment and anger at the Prophet’s message, the Spirit revealed to him that the agent was telling lies in order to turn them against him. Joseph pushed the interpreter aside and then preached a sermon to them. They understood every word."

"What spiritual gifts did the Prophet Joseph Smith use during this incident? Discernment, revelation, gift of tongues, and teaching."
- Official LDS Doctrine Manual "Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood," Part B, Gospel Principles and Doctrines, 34: Spiritual Gifts, 281

"Remember, the Lord knows all things and will not be mocked. We are trying to help you. Never lie to try to obtain a call, a recommend, or a blessing from the Lord.” "If you approach the matter as outlined above, the member has the responsibility to interview himself. The bishop or stake president has the right to the power of discernment. He will know whether or not there is something amiss that ought to be settled before a recommend is issued."
-Apostle N. Eldon Tanner, “The Blessing of Church Interviews,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, 40

"The branch president is the common judge of branch members. He interviews them to judge their worthiness for temple recommends, ordinations, ordinances, callings, and patriarchal blessings. He may counsel his branch members who seek spiritual guidance."

"To help the branch president in his responsibilities as common judge, the Lord promises him the gift of discernment. As he is worthy to receive it, this gift helps him know what is in a person’s heart."
- Official LDS Church "Branch Guidebook", Branch Presidency, 3

"The offices of bishop and branch president and counselors are sacred in this Church. The men who hold those offices are respected by the Lord, inspired by His Spirit, and given the powers of discernment and judgment necessary to their office. We honor and love them, and we show this by our consideration for them."
- Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, “Special Witness: ‘Bishop, Help!’ ” Friend, Apr. 2004, 19

"We read in this same source: “And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God.” (D&C 46:27; see also 1 Cor. 12:10.)"

"This power of discernment is essential if we are to distinguish between genuine spiritual gifts and the counterfeits Satan seeks to use to deceive men and women and thwart the work of God. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the spirit of God.” (Teachings, p. 205.) He also taught that “no man nor sect of men without the regular constituted authorities, the Priesthood and discerning of spirits, can tell true from false spirits.”
- Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, “Spiritual Gifts,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 68

"Satan has had great success with this gullible generation. As a consequence, literally hosts of people have been victimized by him and his angels. There is, however, an ample shield against the power of Lucifer and his hosts. This protection lies in the spirit of discernment through the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift comes undeviatingly by personal revelation to those who strive to obey the commandments of the Lord and to follow the counsel of the living prophets."
- Apostle James E. Faust, “Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil,” Ensign, Sept. 1995, 2

"The teacher will be in accord with the General Authorities as a group and with his local leaders, knowing they are guides to safety. He will have desires to follow and conform to their teachings and example in all their spiritual and temporal declarations, knowing the Lord gives them the gifts of discernment. (See D&C 46:27.)"
- Elder Gene R. Cook, “Spiritual Guides for Teachers of Righteousness,” Ensign, May 1982, 25

"The Lord said, 'Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God' (Eph. 6:13). Spiritual armor not only protects against the many things that can knock us spiritually senseless, but also protects us physically and in many other ways. For instance, it can help us to have wise discernment in making all of the important decisions we have to make. We can also have special insights in choosing friends and associates."
- Apostle James E. Faust, “Keep Your Chin Strap Fastened,” New Era, Nov. 1981, 4

"Bishops and branch presidents are called to care for the spiritual well-being of the members of their Church units. One specific spiritual responsibility that bishops and branch presidents have is to be a common judge (see D&C 107:74). As a common judge, the bishop or branch president conducts worthiness interviews, counsels members, and administers Church discipline. In order to help them in these duties, the Lord has promised bishops and branch presidents the gift of discernment (see D&C 46:27)."

"There are countless devious ways of stealing. Fortunate indeed are they who, through righteous living and the gift of discernment, can clearly distinguish between honesty and dishonesty."
- Apostle Marion G. Romney, “A Glorious Promise,” Tambuli, July 1981, 1

Van Hale's response, in part::

I could add hundreds, even thousands, of quotes to the list that Deconstructor has assembled. There is almost no topic more frequently addressed than that LDS at all levels have access to the Holy Ghost who provides comfort, guidance and spiritual discernment to lead LDS into all truth. The question here is what does this mean. How far does this spiritual discernment extend. I have advocated publicly for 25 years that the Holy Ghost is a primary source of spiritual truth and discernment.

What I in fact insisted is that the Church has never taught that its leaders are omniscient or infallible. In fact the idea that Church leaders claim infallibility has frequently been denied. One clear declaration is that of Charles W. Penrose, a member of the First Presidency, published in the Improvement Era:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to
the Church in his official capacity is infallible?

Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything
it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed
infallibility. Improvement Era (Vol. XV. September, 1912, No. 11, p. 1045)
Editor's Table: Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered by Charles W. Penrose, of
the First Presidency

In summary, a caller last week, who participates on, asserted that president Hinckley did not detect Mark Hofmann's fraudulent documents business and therefore could not be a prophet. This caller seemed to be one, like those at the time of Christ and many in our times, who demands a sign or proof of the Divine calling of Jesus Christ and of Joseph Smith - a demonstration of something supernatural, in this case a demonstration by President Hinckley of his omniscience - that he knew of Hofmann's fraudulent enterprise. My point was that the Church has never claimed this for their leaders. I mentioned that they have not claimed the power to divulge guilt or innocence in such high profile cases as O. J. Simpson and Robert Blake. Further I referred to the Church court system where cases are tried and decisions are made upon the presentation of evidence and testimony. This would be unnecessary if Church leaders possessed the omniscience this caller demanded. A long article by Joseph Smith entitled "Try the Spirits" was published in the Church's periodical, the Times and Seasons, April 1, 1842. In his discussion of the spirit of discernment he declared that "no person through the discerning of spirits can bring a charge against another, they must be proven guilty by positive evidence, or they stand clear."

Further, I referred to Jesus' teachings endorsed by Joseph Smith that the gospel
net (the Church) gathers of all kinds, and that tares will be allowed to grow
with the wheat until the end. (Mt 13:47-52; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph
Smith 102, 160, 216) That is, the leaders will not be invested with the power to
detect all the unfaithful and false brethren and purge them from the Church. I
would add that Joseph Smith and his successors have never claimed immunity from
trusting those who were not trustworthy; relying on those who were not reliable;
nor believing those who were dishonest. I could present many examples.

The idea that to demonstrate President Hinckley and Joseph Smith have not been
omniscient or infallible is to prove they are not what they claim- prophets of
God - is to impose upon them and the Church a standard which it has never

The still small voice, spiritual confirmation, promptings of the Holy Spirit,
whisperings of the Holy Ghost, all terms used in reference to, or to describe,
spiritual discernment all imply that it is not a state of omniscience or
infallibility. It is far more subtle, and not some impirical means to prove or
disprove the claims of Joseph Smith or President Hinckley.

In conclusion:

Q. Does Van Hale believe the LDS Church has always taught that its members and
leaders have access to spiritual discernment?

A.Yes! it is at the very core of LDS belief.

Q. Has Van Hale ever taken a position other than this?

A. No.

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