In a national interview, President Hinckley said something that others have classified as a lie - or, at best, an evasion. Pres. Hinckley was an incredibly intelligent man (as everyone who interviewed him attested - including Mike Wallace and Larry King), so even those who don't accept him as a prophet have to consider his answers as carefully constructed - even if they don't accept them as inspired.
I will quote his response, sentence by sentence, with commentary. First, however, I need to highlight something about the question Pres. Hinckley was asked:
The interviewer asked:
This does NOT ask if many or most members believe it; it asks only if "the church" teaches it TODAY - not if it ever has been taught at some point by someone. It also does not address the second part of the couplet - that "as God is, man may become". Those are critical distinctions, and they get overlooked nearly always when people discuss Pres. Hinckley's response."Is this quote ("as man is, God once was") the teaching of the church today . . .?"
With that background, here is my response to those who accuse President Hinckley of having lied - or even of having evaded the question. Pres. Hinckley said:
First, I was raised in Utah. My own father and father-in-law are from the same basic generation as Pres. Hinckley, as were many of my teachers when I was a youth - most of whom were raised in Utah. I heard almost all of them use the phrase "I don't know that (fill in the blank) . . ." my entire life as a child and adolescent. Sometimes it meant "I'm not sure that . . .", but it also meant "I wouldn't say it that way." It was a "polite" way of disagreeing - a way to do so without saying, "No, you are wrong." I literally heard it at least hundreds of times in my youth."I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know."
(For example, my dad often said, "I don't know that your mother said that" - meaning, "I'm not sure that your mother said that." Howeve, in another example: "I don't know that Grandma is stubborn," meant, "I wouldn't say that Grandma is stubborn." He never told me that Grandma wasn't stubborn [because she was], but he told me more than once that he wouldn't call Grandma stubborn - that he wouldn't say it that way.)
When I heard Pres. Hinckley's interview, I automatically heard what I had heard constantly growing up and understood his words in that usage with that meaning. So, the quote can be rendered more accurately for those unfamiliar with that particular usage thusly:
(In the actual interview, Pres. Hinckley paused slightly then added "EMPHASIZE it". It was very clear, and he actually emphasized the word "emphasize". He said the concept isn't "taught" by "the church", then he defined that even more specifically by saying the concept isn't "emphasized" by "the church".)"I wouldn't say that we ("the church") *teach* it. I wouldn't say that we EMPHASIZE it."
(I personally have never heard it (the first part of the couplet) discussed in "public discourse" by "the Church" - and rarely in private discourse. Pres. Hinckley had, but he hadn't for "a long time" - at least from before my memory.)"I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse."
Next:"I wouldn't say it that way."
(None of us do. The only transcripts we have are from records of four members who heard it, and what we have is the summary combination of their records. We know very little about the background of the sermon - the "circumstances under which [it] was made", since they were never recorded and Joseph never addressed it. It literally came out of the blue and was truly unique in many ways.)"I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made."
(True for many of us.)"I understand the philosophical background behind it."
"But I don’t know a lot about it."
(Joseph never elaborated on it, since he died only two months after giving the speech. I don't know a lot about it, either.)
(Perfectly accurate statement, given how debated it has been over the years.)"and I wouldn't say that others know a lot about it.”
Finally, the concept is included in the Joseph Smith manual **as one sentence in a 7 page lesson**. Further, not one of the follow-up questions at the end addresses that sentence. There is absolutely no "teaching of it" and certainly no "EMPHASIS on it" in the lesson, while other things are emphasized.
What Pres. Hinckley actually said is perfectly consistent with the way the concept is handled by "the Church" (as an institution) - included in materials (not hidden) as something Joseph Smith said, but not emphasized in any way. Individual teachers might emphasize it over other things in the lesson that "the church" emphasizes, but "the church" certainly doesn't emphasize it - not even close.
Imo, there is no lie in this quote - none whatsoever - and he didn't evade the answer. It only jarred the ears of those who hadn't grown up hearing "I don't know that (fill in the blank) . . ." constantly and who wouldn't recognize what he meant when he used that phrase in that way. Since I grew up hearing that phrase, the answer was straightforward and simple and totally accurate to my ears when I first heard it.