Today the Deseret News reported on Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s retraction of a recently-told missionary story. The portion of the article quoting Keith Erekson is reproduced below; the full article is Tad Walch, “Elder Holland withdraws Church News Missionary Story,” Deseret News, July 31, 2017.
It is important to differentiate between someone who knowingly embellished a story and someone who retold a story the way it was received, said Keith Erekson, who left his job as a history professor and special assistant to the president of the University of Texas at El Paso to become director of the LDS Church History Library three years ago.
In Elder Holland’s case, he retold the story as it was given, he said.
. . .
Stories have been embellished since people began telling them, Erekson said. Some LDS Church members have embellished stories of faith since the church’s beginning. For example, some early Mormons exaggerated their personal connections to Joseph Smith.
“Typically, any story is incomplete, and different tellings of the story become contradictory,” he said. “The past is gone. We have just pieces of it in the form of stories. Whenever we encounter a piece of the past, we always have to ask, what is this piece? Who did it come from? How do I make sense of it today?”
“This particular experience has a twist that makes it even more difficult,” Erekson said. “One of the most common recommendations is to go to the source of the stories, not just accept hearsay or second-party retellings. This time, there is a twist that a participant in the story was involved in the embellishing or changing the story. That frankly makes it more difficult.”
The church has plenty of authentic missionary stories. In fact, the Church History Library collects and records them, Erekson said.
“Maybe this is an opportunity to invite people to tell their stories so we have more of them on the record.”