Cornerstone, Drew

Should We Never, Ever Lie?

Sometimes I wonder if people have grown up watching too much Disney: the princess finds out her would be boyfriend has bungled a detail and she can never love him again.  In devastation, she gives up on love until somehow, cheesily, he makes it right by rescuing her later in the story.  Lying is, after all, the cardinal sin right?  Doesn’t the Bible command us not to lie?  Life and morality are all black and white issues aren’t they? 

Let’s think a little deeper.

If you were in Nazi Germany during the war, would you feel it was okay to hide a Jew from German soldiers?  If you answered “no, because it was against the law,” you have my approval to stop reading this article right now.  I’m quite disappointed that you’re going to kill this little Jewish girl but at least I won’t have a guilty conscience for telling a lie”?  I didn’t think so.  Why?  Because you’re protecting an innocent girl from harm, in this case, death.  What if the soldiers were only going to beat the girl though?  Maybe they won’t disfigure her, maybe they’ll just bruise her up, maybe break a few bones, leave a few small scars on her face?  Does your answer change?  What if they take her and force her to work in a concentration camp where her job is to gas prisoners but she herself suffers no harm?  What if they just take her as a ward of the state where she never sees her family again and the government raises her? 

When does your answer change so you become unwilling to lie?  My answer is when the state of Utah wants to take away my children and put their mother in prison to enforce a law already found to be an unconstitutional infringement of my religion, free speech, freedom of association, freedom of privacy, etc., I’m not willing to tell the truth to make them foster children.  Their mothers are all very good mothers and they love them very much.  It would only harm the children to be raised elsewhere.  

But can’t you just move?

If you were under the threat of being prosecuted under an unconstitutional law, living next to hundreds of friends and family members you’d associated with for your entire life, living in a home you loved, and living in a region your religion teaches is holy and where you should live if at all possible, would moving be your first choice?  Did you support the state of Israel being created to give the Jews a place to live after the holocaust?  Should all 30-60,000 polygamists in Utah be forced to move to a different state to avoid prosecution under an unconstitutional law?  This answer isn’t exactly black and white either.

But Utah doesn’t really prosecute do they?

First of all, yes, Utah does prosecute.  They are picky about it – and to many polygamists, it seems a bit too random to know whom they’ll prosecute and whom they won’t to make an educated guess.  It looks like they are much more interested in prosecuting people who are vocal than people who abuse (they have been notified of abusers but apparently do nothing to pursue those people).  They also use legal means to take lands and monies away from polygamist groups (look up FLDS lawsuits in Utah – I advised AUB this would be the state’s approach to persecution before it started happening).  They also use the law to award custody to people leaving polygamy (I know of ONE exception after 16 years of practice in Utah) so polygamists lose their children, often under very unfair circumstances.  I’ve seen attorneys demand supervised visitation because someone was a polygamist (no allegations of any abuse whatsoever) and I’ve seen judges order people to NOT teach their religion.  So, you know, no big deal, right?

Doesn’t the Bible (9th commandment) say we shouldn’t lie?

Hmmm … the commandment we read in Exodus 20:16 says: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  This says lying against your neighbor is a sin and it seems to imply a legal or ecclesiastical court by using the word “witness.”  Is that just semantics?  Just an excuse?  Well, let’s think deeper.  What happened with Abraham and Sarah?  Twice, Abraham was deceitful about Sarah being his wife.  Yes, I know she was technically his sister from a Biblical perspective but why did he say she was his sister?  To avoid getting killed.  And God horrifically punished Abraham for lying about it … right?  Nope. God cursed the Pharaoh and threatened to kill the king who took her to wife if he slept with her.  In the second instance, God told the king that Abraham was a prophet and would pray and bless the king’s family if he let Sarah free.  And what was the king’s answer?  He claimed to be innocent and noted that he relied upon Abraham’s false representation and how did God reply?  That was why he wasn’t destroyed – God gave him a chance to make the right choice by returning Sarah to Abraham.  Does that sound like God was pretty angry at and unsupportive of Abraham for lying?  If God was upset about Abraham’s lie, why didn’t He set Abraham right after the first mess up in Genesis 12?  And why have his back again in Genesis 20?  Well, reasonable minds may differ but the never lie mantra doesn’t work for me.  If I’m protecting Anne Frank from the Nazis, I’m lying to protect her all day long.  Worship whomever you desire but I worship a God of love and principle and I see no true principle in letting Anne Frank die at the hands of Nazis because I need to never lie.  Kill her if you like but I’m not living a life based upon principles like that.

In the show, TLC was gracious enough to include my instruction to my children that there is only one exception to lying: to protect an innocent person from harm.  Maybe, you disagree.  Maybe you believe that it is only okay if the person might get killed – Abraham’s life was on the line.  I can respect that perspective.  It isn’t explicit in the Biblical text.  I have a hard time believing God is okay to turn over Anne Frank to Nazi soldiers for a good old fashioned beating just so I can be 100% honest but I can respect your belief in that principle.  God let people suffer in the past – maybe He has good reason to let it be so … we could debate that all day long, bring up Christian martyrs over the ages, Mormon lying during the Reed Smoot hearings, the article Lying for the Lord by B. Carmen Hardy, and a host of other topics.  I’m game for the intellectual conversation.  I’ve done plenty of thinking about this already but I’m always willing to think harder … and deeper.  

My only point here is that we need to think more carefully and consider that these issues are not as black and white as people think.

What do you think?  If the law changed and said “we will steal your family and raise them to hate God if they’re Christian but we’ll spare the spouse who tells us where their family lives,” would you tell the police where your family lives or claim ignorance or silence?  If you choose silence after saying “do you know where your family lives?” is that a lie?  Have you broken the 9th commandment or have you followed the exception God laid out for Abraham?


God bless you all,


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18 thoughts on “Should We Never, Ever Lie?

  1. Excellent points Drew. I believe that the reason it’s such a challenge for most people (especially in Utah) is because of the undue emphasis on “obeying the law of the land” – as if it were impossible for politicians to pass unjust laws. But sadly, that has become the de facto approach of the LDS church: to align itself with legalism as the standard rather than constitutionalism/moralism.

    The best way to challenge it is with historical and scriptural precedent like you did above. Another classic example I’ve used to combat against the legalistic mindset is Helmuth Huebener and other Nazi protestors, as well as Alexandre Solzhenitsyn’s speech “A World Split Apart.” The constitutional attorney Michael Minns also explores the idea in the book The Underground Lawyer, and concludes that “lying” is only a crime if the person has a right to the information and you deliberately conceal or deceive. This aligns perfectly with your simple explanation that if it’s to protect an innocent person from harm – which even a child can understand.


    1. Thank you Taylor. I agree that there are plenty of other ways to look at these situations. Were I to employ my philosophical background, I’d probably hit this a lot deeper still but I was mostly addressing questions that have come up from our last episode. Personally, I think it is very interesting in our world of “everything goes,” that people make a fit about teaching children to lie. We are so careful to teach our children to be honest that not even the older kids remembered any exception to the rule! But I grew up around people who taught their children to steal, who taught their children to do drugs, and who lied so regularly that it was the norm. Oh wait. That is the norm in our society. How often do we hear honest perspectives from both sides of a story in the news? in articles? in scientific reports? How often do you see an honest, non-overstated advertisement? a politician who is dependably honest? a policeman who doesn’t lie to make a bust? and on and on I could go. But the Disney version of outrage rules.

  2. I thought the criticism you guys got was over the top. Suggesting you are abusing your children is absurd. I imagine this is a common talk among Utah polygamist families (even the Browns have said their kids kept it secret.) I also think it’s extremely unfair to expect someone to move when a lot of them have ancestors that settled the area.

    I see it more as preserving your privacy (and safety) as a family, not anything with a malicious intent.

    1. Thank you, Laura, it is disheartening, indeed. Supposedly many have “turned us in” to DCFS for emotional abuse. What they don’t realize is that this is nothing to new to polygamists. This is age old in the history of our religion and land. The polygamist families who settled Utah came here to escape tyranny like this, but soon they found themselves on the outs again and having to lie and hide and live undercover or face being torn away from their wives and children. The ripple effect to present day is strong. The plural parents of today are the children and grandchildren of the men who went to prison and had to leave them fatherless. They live in legitimate fear of the same thing happening to them because the same archaic laws still exist – not because they are long forgotten logs in old records, but because they are renewed with fury. It is extremely insensitive for people to flippantly suggest that everyone just move. Centuries old family roots and inherited lands are in Utah. Family trees wider than one can even imagine permeate the state. Communities with thousands of members abound. It is no small task to walk away emotionally, let alone financially.

      Needless to say, we appreciate your understanding and support. Thank you. We would like to see all of this outrage redirected towards the state for their abusive and unconstitutional laws.

    2. Thank you – we felt it was over the top as well – especially that the message of the show got lost in it. The whole point was to show how the law makes people have to hide from the government, hide from their neighbors, hide from anyone who might cause trouble just so they can keep living as a family together – and the response is: throw them in jail for teaching them to lie! ugh God bless!

  3. Great article Drew. You outlined some very poinent principles. Sounds like I’m in the “I’ll lie to save Anne Frank” club.

    1. Thanks Mark – it is amazing to me how a very small but vocal minority is opposed to that principle … or won’t read the article at all. Some people said “you can’t change my mind so I’m not going to read the article – you just shouldn’t lie.” Okay. If you’re persecuted and under threat of death, we’ll tell your heroes not to save you then?

  4. I think its absurd personally that it’s legal to marry the same sex something that is outlined in the bible not to do but you can’t by choice be a plural family. I understand some have abused that lifestyle i.e. Warren Jeff’s etc but not all are like that. I worked with a polygamist wife when we lived in Utah and she was the sweetest person I knew. I’m sorry yall have to face such critism and unfairness. Bless you all for being cuureagous and coming forward with your story.

    1. Thank you. I think your experience is pretty typical. Most polygamists are pretty good people. I’ve met thousands and I’d rather be around them than just about anyone in the world. Really good people – many much better than myself in many ways. God bless

  5. Excellent. Thank you very much.

    Hopefully we can see the day when consenting adults living thier faith can live without being prosecuted.


  6. I am not religious but believe myself to be a person with good morals and ethics. I support your right to form your family as you wish. I also think you’re getting too much flack! There is good reason and purpose behind these small lies. Thanks for your sharing your family with us viewers!

  7. First let me be clear in and I am fine with all relationships between consenting adults who are caring for themselves and their kids; that goes for Polygamy, Same Sex couples, Monogamy, being married, not being married… whatever. To each their own, if they are caring for their own and they are happy.

    I think what I’ve been trying to wrap my head around and where I see a difference is, You set out on a life where you knew ahead of time you would have to lie. Above you talk about Hitler and Anne Frank, sad is the soul who wouldn’t lie for Anne, and anyone like her – sad is the soul that didn’t kill Hitler in cold blood early on. The difference is vast though, and I’m really trying to figure out how to put what I’m thinking into words that a reader would understand. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. And just that you knew ahead of time what lay in store, no one could predict that someone like Hitler would come to power and cause people to have to make that choice to lie.

    I am sad to see children having to be taught to lie in certain circumstances, but that is life even outside polygamy, it’s sad, but it’s life. It’s NOT abusive, people who reported it as such are just ridiculous. Who as a parent has taken their kid out of school for a day to play hooky and go to Disneyland or go to the Beach… “but don’t tell your teacher” it’s the same thing, it’s a different level, but it’s the same principle.

    I think I’ve rambled. I hope I’ve made some sense.

    1. Hello Vanessa:

      Yes, we “set out on a life where we knew ahead of time” we’d have to lie. The trick is, our religious beliefs require us to live plural marriage. People can say all they want that they disagree or that it is unintelligent to do so or whatever but this is an issue of religious freedom. Do we obey God or man? Supposedly, our country prohibits this question from ever needing any meaningful inquiry but in Utah, tens of thousands of people have to make this decision. So why not just move outside of Utah? That is another question but the short answer is Utah is to polygamists what Israel is to the Jews. Try asking the Jews to mass exodus out of Israel so the Palestinians can take over that land! Some move out of state but it is a very difficult decision to make and one that is often fraught with tears and heartache.

  8. I think one issue everyone is having is why tell them to lie then do a TV show. You obviously know it’s all going to be out there shortly. I’d lie to save Anne Frank too 🤥

    1. This is a common question the network happily keeps us from answering satisfactorily: keep watching and it will make sense!

  9. LOVED your family on SSW 🙂 Just wanted to say welcome to Oregon! Hopefully you guys settled somewhere other than the valley where it rains 9 months out of the year. LOL

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