Did the Prophet Deny That God Was Once a Man?
MYTH: President Gordon B. Hinckley made a public statement denying that the LDS Church taught the doctrine that God was once a man.
On several occasions former President of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley has been attacked by his detractors for equivocating and/or misleading the public about Mormon doctrine in order to make it appear more acceptable to the world at large. One of the issues he is accused of downplaying is the controversial LDS belief that God was once a man who attained godhood.
In this one instance, the detractors may be right.
On August 4, 1997, Time Magazine printed an interview with Gordon B. Hinckley, then president of the LDS Church. The article reported the following:
On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, [Hinckley] sounded uncertain, `I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it... I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don't know a lot about it, and I don't think others know a lot about it.' 
After publication, F. Michael Watson, Secretary to the First Presidency of the LDS Church, in a letter to the Institute for Religious Research and Gospel Truths Ministries asserted that President Hinckley’s words were taken out of context. The Time reporter made the transcript of his interview with President Hinckley available. Here is the relevant excerpt from President Hinckley's interview with Time:
Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follett discourse by the Prophet.
Q: ... about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?
Hinckley: 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. I don't know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don't know a lot about it and I don't know that others know a lot about it.
One week after the Time Magazine article was published, President Hinckley was interviewed by Don Lattin, religion editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. When asked about whether Mormon’s believe that God was once a man, again President Hinckley appears to dodge the question and change the subject:
Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs [and other Christian churches]. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?
Hinckley: I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become." Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about.
Q: So you're saying the church is still struggling to understand this?
Hinckley: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. ...that's one thing that's different. Modern revelation. We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, we believe he has yet to reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. 
President Hinckley clearly appears to be dodging the question, redirecting the conversation to the issues of eternal progression and modern revelation.
Despite President Hinckley’s statement “I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it,” The idea that God the Father was once a man is a firmly established doctrine of the LDS Church.
The LDS teaching manual Gospel Principles makes the following statement in the lesson titled “Exaltation”:
Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God…. He was once a man like us;…God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.” 
Joseph Smith first taught this doctrine at King Follet’s funeral, April 7, 1844. As recorded in the History of the Church, and reprinted in the official LDS teaching manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith:
I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to enquire after God; for I want you all to know him, and to be familiar with him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am his servant; for I speak as one having authority.
I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why he interferes with the affairs of men.
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible, — I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form — like yourselves in all the person, image and very form as a man . . .
... I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.... he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.
Here, then, is eternal life — to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you" 
In another official teaching manual, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, it reads:
President Brigham Young taught ... that God the Father was once a man on another planet who 'passed the ordeals we are now passing through...' 
Brigham Young himself stated:
He [God] is our Father - the Father of our spirits, and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are, and is now an exalted being. 
Joseph Fielding Smith declared "...God...is a personal Being, a holy and exalted man..." 
Bruce R. McConkie confirmed the history of this long established LDS doctrine:
Mormon prophets have continuously taught the sublime truth that God the Eternal Father was once a mortal man who passed through a school of earth life similar that through which we are now passing. He became God - an exalted being - through obedience to the same eternal Gospel truths that we are given opportunity today to obey. 
Clearly the doctrine that God the Father was once a man is firmly engrained in LDS teachings, and used in several official teachings manuals. We will not speculate as to why President Hinckley made the statements that he did, but he does appear to publicly downplay this controversial issue.
President Hinckley addressed this issue in General Conference by clarifying:
I personally have been much quoted, and in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood. I think that's to be expected. None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine. I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, as quoted in Time Magazine, interview conducted by Richard N. Ostling. Aug 4, 1997, p.56
 Transcript of Gordon B. Hinckley interview by Richard N. Ostling, sent to Luke P. Wilson Executive Director of the for Religious Research and Gospel Truths Ministries, September 1997
 Don Lattin (religion editor, interviewing Gordon B. Hinckley, San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997, p 3/Z1
 Gospel Principles teaching manual, Lesson #47 “Exaltation” Published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, approved 6/96, p.305
 History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 304-306, See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 2: “God the Eternal Father”, official lesson manual published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007 edition, text approved 8/00, p.40
 Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Chapter 4: “Knowing and Honoring the Godhead”, official lesson manual published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997 edition, text approved 10/95, p. 29
 Ibid., 3:93
 Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:10, 1954, cited from 21st printing 1975
 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966 edition, p.250
 Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference October 1997
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