CES Reply: Follow the Money

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnells “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

2.Church Finances:

Zero transparency to members of the Church. Why is the one and only true Church keeping its books in the dark? Why would God’s one true Church choose to “keep them in darkness” over such a stewardship?

Why do you provide a really weird link to a scripture in Ether that talks about oaths used to keep murders secret? Are you equating the Church’s unwillingness to release financial statements with deliberately killing people?

History has shown time and time again that corporate secret wealth is breeding ground for corruption.

No, I don’t think it has. Only publicly traded companies are required to make their financial records public, and the vast majority of businesses across the world are privately held and keep their finances to themselves. Almost all of these private businesses are small businesses, while the publicly traded corporations are huge corporations, which tend to be more corrupt than the mom-and-pop store down the street. Yet it’s the family business with private financials who, by your definition, are trafficking in “corporate secret wealth.”

The Church used to be transparent with its finances but stopped in 1959.

I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know, as the Wikipedia article to which you link states, that the Church “does disclose its financials in the United Kingdom and Canada where it is required to do so by law.”

Estimated $1.5 billion megamall City Creek Center:

Which was funded by a for-profit entity owned by the church and not paid for by tithes or offerings of church members.

Total Church humanitarian aid from 1985-2011:  $1.4 billion

Your link appears to be broken, so I don’t know where you arrive at that figure, especially since your broken link was supposed to take me to a welfare services fact sheet put out by the Church. If the Church website is admitting that figure, then how can you say it’s not being transparent on this subject?

So, with a little Googling effort of my own, I found an interesting post over at TimesandSeasons.org that shows where this number came from, and why it’s bogus.

Attributing the figure to an article from someone named Cragun, T&S writes:

Where does Cragun get this information? He draws from a single source: This fact sheet, published by the church. It’s a single-page document, well worth a look. In fact, you should go take a look at it right now. In particular, watch the nomenclature.

The damning language is found in these lines:

Humanitarian assistance rendered (1985–2009)

Cash donations $327.6 million

Value of material assistance $884.6 million

That shows that the church gave about $1 billion in total humanitarian aid over 25 years.

Or does it?

Look at that sheet again. It highlights numbers of food storehouses, food production for the needy, employment training, church-run thrift stores, and so on. The sheet states _also_ discusses global work worldwide on disaster relief (such as responses to tsunami or earthquake victims). It uses different nomenclature for each type of donation. That is donations to worldwide emergency response are classified under the humanitarian label. But the extensive ongoing infrastructure to feed the needy is classified under the church welfare label. I contacted the church today and was able to verify that this is correct…

Given this crucial misunderstanding of the fact sheet, Cragun’s factual claim is incorrect and in fact very misleading on an important point… observers can certainly still make critiques of church financial practices. Such critiques, however, should be based on accurate statements of fact. [Emphasis in original.]

Something is fundamentally wrong with “the one true Church” spending more on an estimated $1.5 billion dollar high-end megamall than it has in 26 years of humanitarian aid.

Given the reality that your figure is, in reality, only a small portion of the Church’s overall welfare efforts, this is criticism based on a substantial error on your part.

For an organization that claims to be Christ’s only true Church, this expenditure is a moral failure on so many different levels.  For a Church that asks its members to sacrifice greatly for Temple building, such as the case of Argentinians giving the Church gold from their dental work for the São Paulo Brazil Temple, this mall business is absolutely shameful.

Why? Members weren’t asked to pay a dime for the mall, and none of their donations were used to fund it. As a for-profit business, the mall generates revenue, which means that the mall will ultimately earn its money back.

Of all the things that Christ would tell the prophet, the prophet buys a mall and says “Let’s go shopping!”?  Of all the sum total of human suffering and poverty on this planet, the inspiration the Brethren feel for His Church is to get into the shopping mall business?|

The mall wasn’t built with the intent to get the Saints to “go shopping.” My understanding with regard to the purpose of City Creek was to stave off the urban blight that was gripping downtown Salt Lake City, which would ultimately have placed Temple Square and the surrounding buildings that constitute the headquarters of the Church into the middle of a dangerous slum. City Creek has accomplished that goal by revitalizing downtown and making it safe for families. The fact that this was done without taxpayer or tithepayer dollars makes it a boon to the community that cost church members nothing at all.

Hinckley made the following dishonest statement in a 2002 interview to a German journalist:

Reporter:  In my country, the…we say the people’s Churches, the Protestants, the Catholics, they publish all their budgets, to all the public.

Hinckley:  Yeah. Yeah.

Reporter:   Why is it impossible for your Church?

Hinckley:   Well, we simply think that the…that information belongs to those who made the contribution, and not to the world.  That’s the only thing. Yes.

I don’t see this as dishonest, but I do think President Hinckley and the reporter are talking past each other here. President Hinckley’s talking about the confidentiality of individual contributions, which should rightly remain private, although that doesn’t seem to be what the reporter asked. It may be that President Hinckley misheard the question. Your link plays a very short snippet of this interview, and a broader context might be helpful.

Where can I see the Church’s books?   I’ve paid tithing.   Where can I go to see what the Church’s finances are? Where can current tithing paying members go to see the books?   The answer: we can’t.   Even if you’ve made the contributions as Hinckley stated above??

When I was a counselor in the bishopric, I was actually uncomfortable with how much I knew about the finances of ward members, based on my access to ward tithing and fast offering records. Much of that information is available to counselors and clerks, and it is remarkable to me how responsibly they handle that information. That information isn’t the finances of the entire Church, of course, but my personal experience makes me more grateful for confidentiality than curious about the Church’s books.

Unless you’re an authorized General Authority  or  senior  Church  employee  in  the  accounting  department with a Non-Disclosure Agreement?   You’re out of luck. Hinckley knew this and for whatever reason made the dishonest statement.

Again, I don’t see how the statement is dishonest, although I do see that it seems to be an answer to a question that wasn’t asked. More context would be helpful.

Tithing: I find the following quote in the December 2012 Ensign very disturbing:

“If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.”

Ripped out of context, it is disturbing. In the article this advice is given to someone who receives generous financial assistance from the Church in order to get back on their feet, assistance in a dollar amount in excess of the money they paid in tithing.

“Well, God tested Abraham by asking him to kill his son and besides, the Lord will take care of them through the Bishop’s storehouse.”

You put these words in quotes for some reason. Did a real person actually say this, or is this just another strawman argument?

Yes, the same god who tested Abraham is also the same crazy god who killed innocent babies and endorsed genocide, slavery, and rape.

Quite the non sequitur there. The weirdness of many Old Testament accounts does not deny anyone access to the bishop’s storehouse.

Besides, whatever happened to self-sufficiency? Begging the Bishop for food when you had the money for food but because you followed the above Ensign advice and gave your food money to the Church you’re now dependent on the Church for food money.

Just a few paragraphs ago, you were upset that the Church doesn’t offer enough humanitarian aid, and now you’re complaining that they offer too much aid and make people dependent. Which is it?

3.Names of the Church:

After deciding “Church of Jesus Christ” on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith made the decision on May 3, 1834 to change the name of the Church to “The Church of the Latter Day Saints”. Why did Joseph take the name of “Jesus Christ” out of the very name of His restored Church? The one and only true Church on the face of the earth in which Christ is the Head?

Because there was already a church with the legal right to use the name “Church of Christ” that precluded Joseph from doing the same. (You say that they called themselves the “Church of Jesus Christ,” but from what I can tell, the name “Jesus” was absent from the original moniker.) So, absent any revelation, Joseph chose a name that would distinguish themselves from the other Church. The first time a name was given by revelation was in 1838, and that name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” is the same name the Church has consistently used from that day to this.

Four years later on April 26, 1838, the Church name was changed to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” and has remained ever since (except the hyphen was added about a century later to be grammatically correct).

Indeed. As I stated at the outset, I’m not concerned about fallible grammar.

Why would Christ instruct Joseph to name it one thing in 1830 and then change it in 1834 and then change it again in 1838?

He wouldn’t, and he didn’t.  There’s no evidence that Christ instructed Joseph to give the Church any specific name prior to the 1838 revelation.

Is it reasonable to assume that God would periodically change the name of his Church?

This question only makes sense if you actually have evidence that God periodically changed the name of his Church, which you don’t. The first time we have record of God naming His Church is in 1838, and there have been no changes to the name since the Lord Himself settled the question.

Why would the name of Christ be dropped from His one and only true Church for 4 whole years?

Because another church was using the name “Church of Christ,” which prevented Joseph from using it.

What does this say about a Church that claims to be restored and guided by modern revelation?

It says that we do our best in the absence of direct guidance from heaven, but we don’t mess with the Lord after he provides a revelation with a definitive answer.

If the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn’t even get the name right for eight years then what else did he get wrong?

Since he was a fallible human being with agency like the rest of us, probably a lot. But this isn’t a case of him getting anything wrong – since there was no revelation on the subject for eight years, he was free to use his best judgment during that same time frame. He would only be “wrong” if he had chosen a different name after the Lord settled the question via revelation in 1838. You’ll notice the revelation naming the Church doesn’t scold Joseph for getting anything wrong.

Next: Not Very Useful

CES Reply: No clear insights into the origins of this practice

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnells “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

Other Concerns & Questions:

These concerns are secondary to all of the above.  These concerns do not matter if the foundational truth claims (Book of Mormon, First Visions, Prophets, Book of Abraham, Witnesses, Priesthood, Temples, etc.) are not true.

Okay.

1.Church’s Dishonesty and Whitewashing Over Its History

Adding to the above deceptions and dishonesty over history (rock in hat translation,

Yeah, gotta get in at least one more mention of the rock in the hat.

polygamy/polyandry, multiple First Vision accounts, etc.),

Which, of course, we’ve repeatedly discussed already,

the following bother me:

2013 Official Declaration 2 Header Update Dishonesty:

“Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent.  Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.”

Haven’t we already talked about this? I guess this is a minor variation on a previous theme – not a complaint about the priesthood ban, but on how we talk about it. The Church says that we don’t have clear insights about how the ban started. That’s an accurate statement. Yet you offer the following to claim that it’s inaccurate:

The following is a 1949 First Presidency Statement:

Not really. The following is a letter written by the First Presidency to a private individual. Calling it a “First Presidency Statement” implies that it was issued to the general membership of the church, which it was not.

“August 17, 1949

Hey! That’s my birthday! (Well, not the 1949 part.)

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord,

I, too, have problems with the underlined part of this statement, as it contradicts President McKay’s labeling of the band as a “policy, not a doctrine,” but I presume you’ve underlined it because you think it contradicts the statement that we don’t have clear insights into the origin of the ban. It doesn’t. We have no record of a revelation – i.e. a direct commandment from the Lord – putting the ban in place, and we don’t know when the ban actually began, given the fact that Joseph Smith ordained black people to the priesthood.

This was written in 1949, around a century after the ordination of black people stopped, but we can’t put a precise date on when that happened, since Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. (See what I did there?)

on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: ‘Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.

Okay, I find the underlined portion to be a racist explanation for the ban that the Church has since disavowed, but how does it offer any clear insight as to how and when the ban began?

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: ‘The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.’

See? There was some light amid the darkness. No clear insight into the origins of the ban here, though.

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

The First Presidency”

This is a faulty and racist explanation of the ban, surely, but it in no way offers insight into how and when the ban originated.

Along with the above First Presidency statement, there are many other statements and explanations made by prophets and apostles clearly “justifying” the Church’s racism.

Correct. But your problem, as you described it initially in this objection, is that you think the Church is lying when it says we don’t know when and how the ban first began. Faulty justifications for racism are a problem, but they’re a different problem than the one you’re raising here. You’re switching horses in midstream.

So, the 2013 edition Official Declaration 2 Header in the scriptures is not only misleading, it’s dishonest.  We do have records – including from the First Presidency itself – with very clear insights on the origins of the ban on the blacks.

No, these are insights into why the ban was perpetuated, not into how it began. When was the ban implemented? We don’t know; Church records provide no clear insights. Was the ban a deliberate decision, or was it just something that started happening in practice and was later institutionalized as church policy? I believe the latter to be the case, but we don’t know for sure – Church records provide no clear insights.

December 2013 Update:   The Church released a Race and the Priesthood essay which contradicts their 2013 Official Declaration 2 Header.  In the essay, they point to Brigham Young as the originator of the ban.

Not really. The essay insists that Brigham Young was the first to announce the ban in 1852, but there is plenty of evidence that, in practice, black people had not been ordained to the priesthood for many years prior to that announcement. Did the ordination of black people stop at some point in Joseph Smith’s lifetime? Maybe. Many leaders after Brigham certainly thought it did. Fact is, we don’t know. Church records offer no clear insights as to the origins of the ban.

Further, they effectively throw 10 latter-day “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators” under the bus as they “disavow” the “theories” that these ten men taught and justified – for 130 years – as doctrine and revelation for the Church’s institutional and theological racism.

When additional light and knowledge comes into the world, we rejoice for what we now have rather than condemn those who didn’t have it. People are judged only according to the light and knowledge they have received. That way, nobody gets thrown under the bus.

Finally, they denounce the idea that God punishes individuals with black skin or that God withholds blessings based on the color of one’s skin while completely ignoring the contradiction of the keystone Book of Mormon teaching exactly this.

You couldn’t be more wrong on this one. The Book of Mormon’s references to skin color have precisely zero to do with the priesthood ban, which was solely applied to men of African descent, not Native Americans, who, because of the Book of Mormon, are promised tremendous blessings that are arguably even greater than those promised to us boring white people.

In addition, the Lamanites were never denied the priesthood and had no blessings withheld because of their skin color, and were often more righteous than the lighter-skinner Nephites. Here’s some good anti-racist counsel from a Nephite prophet: “Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them [i.e. the Lamanites] because of the darkness of their skins;” (Jacob 3:9.)

Yesterday’s revelation and doctrine is today’s “disavowed theories.” Yesterday’s prophets are today’s disavowed heretics.

Amen! Here a little, precept on precept, great things to be revealed, and all that stuff I’ve already said every time you repeat this little mantra of yours.

Zina Diantha Huntington Young:

The following is a quick biographic snapshot of Zina:

She was married for 7.5 months and was about 6 months pregnant with her first husband, Henry Jacobs, when she married Joseph after being told Joseph’s life was in danger from an angel with a drawn sword.

Wrong. She was sealed to Joseph for eternity only, never married to him. (No sex.) The angel with the drawn sword did not threaten to kill Joseph if he didn’t marry Zina.

After Joseph’s death, she married Brigham Young and had Young’s baby while her first husband, Henry, was on a mission.

Since she and her first husband, Henry, were no longer living as husband and wife when she had Young’s baby, the fact that he was on a mission is irrelevant. You’re misleadingly implying that this was polyandry, when it wasn’t.

Zina would eventually become the Third General Relief Society President of the Church.

Good for her! Sound like she was a remarkable woman.

If anyone needs proof that the Church is still whitewashing history in 2014 aside from the above-mentioned issues, Zina is it.   

Cool! A smoking gun! Let’s hear it.

The  following are 100% LDS  sources:

Zina’s biographical page on LDS.org:

In the “Marriage and Family” section, it does not list Joseph Smith as a husband or concurrent husband with Henry Jacobs.

That’s probably because Joseph wasn’t her husband or concurrent husband with Henry Jacobs. They never lived together as husband and wife.

In the “Marriage and Family” section, it does not list Brigham Young as a concurrent husband with Henry Jacobs.

Probably because she ended her marriage with Henry Jacobs when she was sealed to Brigham Young.

There is nothing in there about the polyandry.

Which is not surprising, given the absence of polyandry.

It is deceptive in stating that Henry and Zina “did not remain together” while omitting that Henry separated only after Brigham Young took his wife and told Henry that Zina was now only his (Brigham) wife.

How is it deceptive? They did not, in fact, remain together. The idea that Henry was the only one who “separated” and that Brigham Young “took” Henry’s wife is rather sexist, as it presupposes that Zina herself had no say in the matter. The LDS.org biography plainly states that Zina was Brigham Young’s plural wife.

This is Zina’s index file on LDS-owned FamilySearch.org:

It clearly shows all of Zina’s husbands, including her marriage to Joseph Smith.

Wasn’t your problem that the LDS Church was whitewashing its history by purging references to Zina’s sealing to Joseph? If that’s the case, how did this reference escape the purge?

In any case, the purpose of Family Search.org is to gather information for temple work, so it makes sense that an eternity-only sealing would be referenced.

Why is Joseph Smith not listed as one of Zina’s husbands in the “Marriage and Family” section or anywhere else on her biographical page on LDS.org?

Because the “Marriage and Family” section doesn’t have any lists at all. She never lived with Joseph as his wife – she was sealed to him for eternity only. He was not one of her husbands in mortality.

Why is there not a single mention or hint of polyandry on her page

Because she was not engaged in polyandry.

or in that marriage section when she was married to two latter-day prophets and having children with Brigham Young while still being married to her first husband, Henry?

Because she was not married to two latter-day prophets. She was married to one and only sealed to the other. Also because she was not still married to Henry when she had a single child – not multiple children – with Brigham Young.

Brigham Young Sunday School Manual:

In the Church’s Sunday School manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, the Church changed the word “wives” to “[wife].”

Yeah, that probably wasn’t the best choice. In fact, the parenthetical insertion probably calls attention to Brigham’s polygamy more than if it had been left unchanged. (If the Church was really trying to whitewash, they would have just left off the S and not acknowledge that the text had been changed.) The case can be made that they’re changing the word to apply Brigham’s teachings to a modern audience, but if I were making the call, it’s not what I would have done.

Not only is the manual deceptive in disclosing whether or not Brigham Young was a polygamist but it’s deceptive in hiding Brigham Young’s real teaching on marriage:  “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.” – Journal of Discourses 11:269

We’ve covered this. In the same speech, he clarified twice that this meant you had to accept the doctrine of polygamy, not necessarily be a polygamist.

When you repeat yourself, I have to repeat myself. It gets really tedious.

Next: Follow the Money

CES Reply: Where are the signatures?

Yes, sorry, I’ve been slacking off. My entire CES Reply is downloadable here, but it’s high time I continued posting, as promised, excerpts from that reply so it can be digested in bite-sized chunks.

So here’s today’s installment, titled “Where are the signatures?”  As always, Jeremy’s original words from his letter to a CES director are in green.

6. No Document of Actual Signatures:

The closest thing we have in existence to an original document of the testimonies of the witnesses is a printer’s manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery.  Every witness name except Oliver Cowdery on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting.  Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon.

Which means what, exactly? Every witness repeatedly reaffirmed their testimonies throughout their lives in a variety of settings. The statement was not a legal document, so no signatures were necessary. Certainly there’s no record of any witness disputing any details of the statement.

signatures

And isn’t Oliver’s penmanship lovely?

While we have “testimonies” from the witnesses recorded in later years through interviews and second eyewitness accounts and affidavits, many of the “testimonies” given by some of the witnesses do not match the claims and wording of the statements in the Book of Mormon.

Not true at all. What, now you’re just going to re-quote the same three/seven hearsay guys again?

For example:

Testimony of Three Witnesses (which includes Martin Harris) states:

“…that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon;”

Martin Harris:

“…he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them…” 

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

Yep, that’s exactly what you’re going to do. Thank you for providing citation for this bogus hearsay quote the third time you cite it, as someone may have missed it the first two times around.

Dude, this is getting ridiculous.

“I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.”

– Origin and History of the Mormonites, p. 406

Third time’s a charm, I guess. Do you think re-citing this same handful of tired hearsay quotes, which contradict dozens of reliable firsthand accounts, somehow makes them truer?

There is a difference between saying you “beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” and saying you “hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them” or that the plates “were covered over with a cloth” and that you “saw them with a spiritual eye.”

But there is no difference between this argument now and when you first made it several paragraphs up, or the second or third time you made it. (That “spiritual eye” bit has made it into your letter four times now.) The quotes you provide are still bogus and are vastly outnumbered by more reliable sources that directly contradict them.

When I was a missionary, my understanding and impression from looking at the testimony of the Three and Eight Witnesses in the Book of Mormon was that the statements were legally binding documents in which the names represented signatures on the original document similar to what you would see on the original US Declaration of Independence

It was? Why? It certainly wasn’t my impression, and it certainly isn’t anything that is taught by the Church. Why or how would these testimonies serve any binding legal purpose? These weren’t affidavits; they weren’t notarized. Nobody was going to introduce this stuff into a court of law. It’s your weird assumption here that’s the problem, not the testimony.

In any case, the Witnesses claimed that they did sign the original manuscript, most of which was destroyed via water damage. Only about 25% of it survives, so, yes, the original document was lost. That’s bad news if any of these witnesses needs to use the original to apply for a loan or something, but it has no bearing on the veracity of their testimony whatsoever.

This is how I presented the testimonies to investigators.

Then, no offense, but you were kind of a weird missionary who was off on his own program. No reference to the witnesses was found in the six discussions I taught, and I’ve since reviewed “Preach My Gospel,” which is the current lesson plan, and it, too, makes no mention of the witnesses, let alone the supposedly legally binding nature of the document they signed.

According to the above manuscript that Oliver took to the printer for the Book of Mormon, they were not signatures.

And nobody has ever made any attempt to pretend that they were.

Since there is no evidence of any document whatsoever with the signatures of all of the witnesses, the only real testimonies we have from the witnesses are later interviews given by them and eyewitness accounts/affidavits made by others, some of which are shown previously.

And previously and previously and previously. (And previously.) But the only one which are shown three and four times previously in the CES letter are the small handful of dubious hearsay docs that contradict the voluminous firsthand accounts that you ignore because they support the witness statement.

From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law as there are a) no signatures of any of the witnesses except Oliver, b) no specific dates, c) no specific locations,

Good thing they were never intended to be presented in a court of law, then.

And, by the way, when I present the CES Letter to investigators, I do so having been under the impression that it is a legally binding document in which your name represented a signature on the original document similar to what you would see on the original US Declaration of Independence.  Yet I can find no signature of yours, no evidence that it was ever notarized, no specific date or location. Your letter would never have any credibility or weight in a court of law. Can we therefore assume that the whole thing is nonsense?

and d) some of the witnesses made statements after the fact that contradict and cast doubt on the specific claims made in the statements contained in the preface of the Book of Mormon.

And previously. (Previously.) You have precisely three such statements, all unreliable hearsay, that you have previously presented multiple times. Previously.

7. Conclusion:

  1. “The Witnesses never recanted or denied their testimonies”:

Neither did James Strang’s witnesses; even after they were excommunicated from the church and estranged from Strang. 

That’s because they had nothing to recant. They really did see the fake plates they dug up, just as a bunch of people saw the fake Kinderhook plates. The people who saw the Kinderhook plates have never recanted the fact that they saw them, just as I have never recanted my fish-in-a-tent story.

Neither did dozens of Joseph Smith’s neighbors and peers who swore and signed affidavits on Joseph and his family’s characters.

Were any of them asked to recant? Were any of them challenged on the veracity of their statements, or persecuted or ridiculed for making such statements? Maybe some of them thought better of their positions later on and changed their mind, but we’ll never know, because as far as the record goes, they were never given any formal opportunity to recant.

Neither did many of the Shaker witnesses who signed affidavits that they saw an angel on the roof top holding the “Sacred Roll and Book” written by founder Ann Lee.  Same goes with the thousands of people over the centuries who claimed their entire lives to have seen the Virgin Mary and pointing to their experience as evidence that Catholicism is true.

There are also thousands of witnesses who never recanted their testimonies of seeing UFO’s, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Abominable Snowman, Aliens, and so on

It doesn’t mean anything.  People can believe in false things their entire lives and never recant.  Just because they never denied or recanted does not follow that their experience and claims are true or that reality matches to what their perceived experience was.

The logical conclusion to this principle is that no witness on any subject can ever be be believed, because there have been lots of false witnesses who have born testimony of ridiculous things. If we apply this warped logic to the CES Letter, we have to throw out everything you say, because people have written letters about religious topics that have later proven to be incorrect.

You and Dan the Illogical Scientist should hang out and swap stories.

Dan the illogical

For the record, I served my mission in Scotland and visited Loch Ness several times. Each time, there was a guy in a kilt standing in front of Urquhart Castle who made a living telling tall Nessie tales for tips, and the stories were different with every visit. (I think he was drunk.) Furthermore, none of his stories were signed or notarized, which would get them thrown out in a court of law.

2. Problems:

In discussing the witnesses, we should not overlook the primary accounts of the events they testified to.  The official statements published in the Book of Mormon are not dated, signed (we have no record with their signatures except for Oliver’s), nor is a specific location given for where the events occurred.  These are not eleven legally sworn affidavits but rather simple statements pre-written by Joseph Smith with claims of having been signed by three men and another by eight.

I’m sorry, but didn’t you just say this? How is this charge in any way different from what you said a page or two ago? It was a goofy charge then, and it’s a goofy charge now. Nobody other than you has ever presumed this was somehow a legally binding document. (Perhaps you ought to quote Stephen Burnett again.)

All of the Book of Mormon witnesses, excepting Martin Harris, were related by blood or marriage either with the Smiths or Whitmers. Oliver Cowdery (married to Elizabeth Ann Whitmer and cousin to Joseph Smith), Hiram Page (married to Catherine Whitmer), and the five Whitmers were related by marriage.  Of course, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr. were Joseph’s brothers and father.

Mark Twain made light of this obvious problem:

“…I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”  –  Roughing It,  p.107-115

 

Mark Twain is awesome. Have you read what he had to say about Mormon women?

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.

I had the will to do it.  With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women.  Then I was touched.  My heart was wiser than my head.  It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No–the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure–and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.

As to the fact that all the witnesses were related, I’m not quite sure what your point is. This is only really an issue with the Eight Witnesses, not the the Three Witnesses, who weren’t related except in the case Oliver Cowdery, who was third cousin to Joseph’s mother, making him Joseph’s third cousin once removed. (I’m curious as to how many of your third cousins once removed you know personally.) Citing Oliver’s marriage to Elizabeth Ann Whitmer does not support your argument at all, as the marriage took place in 1832, two years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.

The supernatural nature of the experience of the Three Witnesses is a far bigger deal than the more mundane experience of the Eight Witnesses, and, in any case, this is just one more ad hominem attack that doesn’t address the particulars of their testimony.

Within eight years, all of the Three Witnesses were excommunicated from the Church.  This is what Joseph Smith said about them in 1838:

“Such characters as…John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to  have forgotten them.” – History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 15, p. 232

This is what First Counselor of the First Presidency and once close associate Sidney Rigdon had to say about Oliver Cowdery:

“…a lying, thieving, counterfeiting man who was ‘united with  a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs in the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property, by  every  art  and  stratagem  which  wickedness  could  invent…”

February 15, 1841 Letter and Testimony, p.6-9

What does it say about the witnesses and their characters if even the Prophet and his counselor in the First Presidency thought they were questionable?

It says the witnesses, being personally insulted, had even more incentive to stick it to Joseph Smith and expose him as a fraud, which they could have done easily. Why didn’t they?

As mentioned in the above “Polygamy/Polyandry” section, Joseph was able to influence and convince many of the 31 witnesses to lie and perjure in a sworn affidavit that Joseph was not a polygamist. 

As mentioned above, this is not accurate. The 31 witnesses signed an affidavit – wait, do we have their original signatures? – stating that Joseph was not engaged in John C. Bennett’s “spiritual wifery,” which he was not, and that he was not an adulterer, which he also was not. No lie and no perjury.

Is it outside the realm of possibility that Joseph was also able to influence or manipulate the experiences of his own magical thinking treasure digging family and friends as witnesses?

I would think so, yes.  Joseph spurned them, insulted them, and kicked them out, and they faced personal and financial ruin for refusing to recant. If their testimony was based solely on Joseph’s manipulations, their disaffection provided them with every reason to expose him as a fraud at the earliest opportunity.

If the Prophet Joseph Smith could get duped with the Kinderhook Plates thinking that the 19th century fake plates were a legitimate record of a “descendent of Ham,” how is having gullible guys like Martin Harris handling the covered gold plates going to prove anything?

Joseph was not duped by the Kinderhook Plates, and Martin saw the plates and the angel, contrary to the sixth(!) time you have invoked this piece of unreliable hearsay.

James Strang’s claims and Voree Plates Witnesses are distinctive and more impressive compared to the Book of Mormon Witnesses:

    • All of Strang’s witnesses were not related to one another through blood or marriage like the Book of Mormon Witnesses were.
    • Some of the witnesses were not members of Strang’s church.
    • The Voree Plates were displayed in a museum for both members and non-members to view and examine.
    • Strang provided 4 witnesses who testified that on his instructions, they actually dug the plates up for Strang while he waited for them to do so.  They confirmed that the ground looked previously undisturbed.

Just as my tent looked undisturbed when I found the dead fish in it. We’ve been over this already. I cannot and will not recant!

Tomorrow: Shake it, baby – and more!

 

CES Reply: Strangites

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

1.  James Strang and the Voree Plates Witnesses:

strang

This should be good for a laugh.

James Strang and his claims are absolutely fascinating.

If you’re fascinated by pale imitations and weak retreads.

He was basically Joseph Smith 2.0 – but with a twist.

And the twist is – Strang’s church went nowhere and now has less than 300 followers.

Like Joseph, Strang did the following:

  • Claimed that he was visited by an angel who reserved plates for him to translate into the word of God.  “The record which was sealed from my servant Joseph. Unto thee it is reserved.”

And unlike Joseph, Strang had no other witnesses to this angel or to any of his revelations.

  • Received the “Urim and Thummim.”

And unlike Joseph, nobody else ever saw his Urim and/or Thummim.

  • Produced 11 witnesses who testified that they too had seen and inspected ancient metal plates.

And unlike Joseph, there was nothing remotely supernatural about the experience. 11 people watched Strang dig up eighteen paper-sized plates that had likely been buried there by Strang the night before.

  • Introduced new scripture.   After unearthing the plates (the same plates as Laban from whom Nephi took the brass plates in Jerusalem), Strang translated it into scripture called the “Book of the Law of the Lord.”

And unlike Joseph, who translated a 265,000-word, complex, internally consistent 1,000-year history in sixty days despite being functionally illiterate, the well-educated Strang took a decade to produce a book about a fifth as long with no coherent narrative.

– Established a new Church:   The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite).   Its headquarters is still in Voree, Wisconsin.

And unlike Joseph, Strang’s church dwindled to the point where it had “had around three hundred members in 1998.”

  • Like the Book of Mormon, the Book of the Law of the Lord has the testimony of its Witnesses in its preface:

TESTIMONY

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, to whom this Book of the Law of the Lord shall come, that James J. Strang has the plates of the ancient Book of the Law of the Lord given to Moses, from which he translated this law, and has shown them to us. We examined them with our eyes, and handled them with our hands. The engravings are beautiful antique workmanship, bearing a striking resemblance to the ancient oriental languages; and those from which the laws in this book were translated are eighteen in number, about seven inches and  three-eights wide, by nine inches long, occasionally embellished with beautiful pictures.

And we testify unto you all that the everlasting kingdom of God is established, in which this law shall be kept, till it brings in rest and everlasting righteousness to all the faithful.

SAMUEL GRAHAM, SAMUEL P. BACON, WARREN POST, PHINEAS WRIGHT, ALBERT N. HOSMER, EBENEZER PAGE, JEHIEL SAVAGE.

And unlike Joseph, none of these witnesses report any supernatural or even spiritual experience or event. These plates were on public display until the turn of the century – plenty of other people saw them, too. They were not in any identifiable language, and they rival the Kinderhook plates for evidence of authenticity, or lack thereof.

In addition to the above 7 witnesses, there were 4 witnesses who went with Strang as they unearthed the Voree Plates:

TESTIMONY OF WITNESSES TO THE VOREE PLATES

1. On the thirteenth day of September, 1845, we, Aaron Smith, Jirah B. Wheelan, James M. Van Nostrand, and Edward Whitcomb, assembled at the call of James J. Strang, who is by us and many others approved as a Prophet and Seer of God. He proceeded to inform us that it had been revealed to him in a vision that an account of an ancient people was buried in a hill south of White River bridge, near the east line of Walworth County; and leading us to an oak tree about one foot in diameter, told us that we would find it enclosed in a case of rude earthen ware under that tree at  the depth of about three feet; requested us to dig it up, and charged us to so  examine the ground that we should know we were not imposed upon, and that it   had not been buried there since the tree grew. The tree was surrounded by a sward of deeply rooted grass, such as is usually found in the openings, and upon the most critical examination we could not discover any indication that it had ever been cut through or disturbed.

2. We then dug up the tree, and continued to dig to the depth of about three feet, where we found a case of slightly baked clay containing three plates of brass. On one side of one is a landscape view of the south end of Gardner’s prairie and the range of hills where they were dug. On another is a man with a crown on his head and a scepter in his hand, above is an eye before an upright line, below the sun and moon surrounded with twelve stars, at the bottom are twelve large stars from three of which pillars arise, and closely interspersed with them are seventy very small stars. The other four sides are very closely covered with what appear to be alphabetic characters, but in a language of which we have no knowledge.

3. The case was found imbedded in indurated clay so closely fitting it that it broke in taking out, and the earth below the soil was so hard as to be dug with difficulty even with a pickax. Over the case was found a flat stone about one foot wide each way and three inches thick, which appeared to have undergone the action of fire, and fell in pieces after a few minutes exposure to the air. The digging extended in the clay about eighteen inches, there being two kinds of earth of different color and appearance  above  it.

4. We examined as we dug all the way with the utmost care, and we say, with utmost confidence, that no part of the earth through which we dug exhibited any sign or indication that it had been moved or disturbed at any time previous. The roots of the tree stuck down on every side very closely, extending below the case, and closely interwoven with roots from other trees. None of them had been broken or cut away. No clay is found in the country like that of which the case is made.

 5. In fine, we found an alphabetic and pictorial record, carefully cased up, buried deep in the earth, covered with a flat stone, with an oak tree one foot in diameter growing over it, with every evidence that the sense can give that it has lain there as long as that tree has been growing. Strang took no part in the digging, but kept entirely away from before the first blow was struck till after the plates were taken out of the case; and the sole inducement to our digging was our faith in his statement as a Prophet of the Lord that a record would thus and there be found.

AARON SMITH, JIRAH B. WHEELAN, J. M. VAN NOSTRAND, EDWARD WHITCOMB.

And, again, unlike Joseph, there’s nothing supernatural or even spiritual in this testimony. There’s also absolutely no reason to doubt it or renounce it. I’m pretty sure these guys actually did dig up the plates Strang had buried the night before.

plates

And there they are. Very cool. Now you’re a witness, too!

Like Joseph, Strang had a scribe (Samuel Graham) who wrote as Strang translated.

And unlike Joseph, Strang, who was well-educated, didn’t actually need one. His use of a scribe was just one more way to imitate Joseph.

Along with several of the witnesses, Graham was later excommunicated from Strang’s Church. There is no direct evidence that any of the above 11 Strang witnesses ever denied their testimony of James Strang, the Voree Plates, Strang’s church or Strang’s divine calling.

I added some emphasis there to highlight your hypocrisy on this point. Because every piece of hearsay that could possibly prove embarrassing to Martin Harris is cited by you as unimpeachable gospel even if it comes from conversations that took place decades after the fact and after Harris was dead, but the contemporaneous hearsay that had two of the witnesses denouncing Strang as a fraud and one of them admitting he helped Strang forge the plates is only indirect evidence, so you can conveniently ignore it.

The hearsay in question, as quoted by from the infallible Wikipedia:

Some have insisted that the Voree plates were forged by Strang. Isaac Scott, an ex-Strangite, claimed that Caleb Barnes, Strang’s former law partner, said that he and Strang had fabricated them from a tea kettle belonging to Strang’s father-in-law, as part of a land speculation scheme they had hatched.[13]

According to Scott, Barnes and Strang “made the ‘plates’ out of Ben [Perce]’s old kettle and engraved them with an old saw file, and … when completed they put acid on them to corrode them and give them an ancient appearance; and that to deposit them under the tree, where they were found, they took a large auger … which Ben [Perce] owned, put a fork handle on the auger and with it bored a long slanting hole under a tree on ‘The Hill of Promise,’ as they called it, laying the earth in a trail on a cloth as taken out, then put the ‘plates’ in, tamping in all the earth again, leaving no trace of their work visible.”[13]

You have to be consistent. If you believe the hearsay that says Martin Harris talked to a deer he thought was Jesus, you also have to believe the hearsay that said the witnesses helped forge these bogus plates.

As for denying this testimony, what’s to deny? They dug up the homemade plates that Strang had buried the night before. I have no reason to doubt it, because it’s a mundane, everyday sort of event. Similarly, when I was twelve years old, someone put a dead fish in my tent at Boy Scout camp. I’ve never denied my testimony of that event, and I never will.

Every single living Book of Mormon witness besides Oliver Cowdery accepted Strang’s prophetic claim of being Joseph’s true successor and joined him and his church.

Which is very peculiar if they actually knew Joseph Smith was fraud. Why seek out a successor to a bogus prophet after the bogus prophet dies? Their interest in perpetuating the cause of the Book of Mormon demonstrates that their belief in it was wholly sincere.

Also, it’s not true. Only two of the Eight Witnesses followed Strang – Hiram Page and John Whitmer. In any case, they were all quickly disillusioned and abandoned Strang completely.

Additionally, every single member of Joseph Smith’s family except for Hyrum’s widow also endorsed, joined, and sustained James Strang as “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.”

And then walked away after they realized he wasn’t what he claimed to be.

What does this say about the credibility of the Book of Mormon witnesses if they were so easily duped by James Strang and his claims of being a prophet called of God to bring forth new scripture from ancient plates only to later turn out to be a fraud?

It says they still believed in Joseph’s prophetic mission and the veracity of the Book of Mormon and were eager to find the appropriate spiritual home for their testimony, and that, after making the mistake of thinking that Strang could provide that home, quickly corrected course.

Tomorrow: Where are the signatures?

 

CES Reply: Three Witnesses – Whitmer & Cowdery

David Whitmer:

David claimed in early June 1829 before their group declaration that he, Cowdery, and Joseph Smith observed “one of the Nephites” carrying the records in a knapsack on his way to Cumorah.  Several days later this trio perceived “that the Same Person was under the shed” at the Whitmer farm. – An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p.179

I can find no 1829 version of this story. Dan Vogel reports that Whitmer told this story “with varying detail” beginning in 1877, almost 50 years after the fact. So many of the statements you rely on to discredit David Whitmer come from a time when he was severely disaffected with Joseph, and that disaffection coupled with advanced age makes it difficult to sort out what’s reliable and what’s not.

In 1880, David Whitmer was asked for a description of the angel who showed him the plates.   Whitmer responded that the angel “had no appearance or shape.” When asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, “Have you never had impressions?” To which the interviewer responded, “Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?” “Just so,” replied Whitmer. – Interview with John Murphy, June 1880, EMD 5:63

Nice try. Whitmer himself quickly issued a statement to directly refute this account of the story immediately after it was published.

A young Mormon lawyer, James Henry Moyle, who interviewed Whitmer in 1885, asked if there was any possibility that Whitmer had been deceived. “His answer was unequivocal…that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness.” But Moyle went away “not fully satisfied…It was more spiritual than I anticipated.” – Moyle diary, June 28, 1885, EMD 5:141

Well, good for Moyle. Sounds like it’s more Moyle’s problem than Whitmer’s. In multiple interviews, Whitmer repeatedly made it clear that this was far more than just a spiritual impression. Orson Pratt recounts an interview with Whitmer where he specified all the things he saw “just as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him).” Moyle himself describes later conversations with Whitmer that provide a distinct physical context for the angels’ appearance:

“He said that they (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris) were out in the primitive woods in Western New York; that there was nothing between them and the Angel except a log that had fallen in the forest; that it was broad daylight with nothing to prevent either hearing or seeing all that took place…he did see and hear the Angel and heard the declaration that the plates had been correctly translated; that there was absolutely nothing to prevent his having a full, clear view of it all. I remember very distinctly asking him if there was anything unnatural or unusual about the surroundings or the atmosphere. He answered that question. I do not remember exactly the words he used, but he indicated that there was something of a haze or peculiarity about the atmosphere that surrounded them but nothing that would prevent his having a clear vision and knowledge of all that took place. He declared to me that the testimony which he published to the world was true and that he had never denied any part of it.” (James Henry Moyle, statement, 13 September 1938; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:146-147.)

The idea seems to be that Moyle wanted some kind of concrete description of the “haze or peculiarity” and was unsatisfied when Whitmer couldn’t directly explain the spiritual element of the vision in more mundane, down-to-earth terms. Both Moyle and Whitmer would be surprised to see this exchange used to support a contention that Whitmer didn’t actually see the plates or the angel.

Whitmer’s testimony also included the following:

“If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.’”

– David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (promoting his Whitmerite sect)

If David Whitmer is a credible witness, why are we only using his testimony of the Book of Mormon while ignoring his other testimony claiming that God Himself spoke to Whitmer “by his own voice from the heavens” in June 1838 commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church?

In June, 1838, David Whitmer had already been excommunicated from the Church for two months. The voice from God, therefore, wasn’t telling him to “apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church,” as he was already in a state of apostasy when the voice from heaven reportedly spoke to him. Apostasy tends to warp one’s spiritual perceptions and access to heaven.

Oliver Cowdery:

Like Joseph and most of the Book of Mormon witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and his family were treasure hunters. 

What does that mean? Were they riding around on Captain Kidd’s pirate ship? By profession, Joseph Smith and his family were farmers, and Oliver Cowdery was a schoolteacher. There is no record of Oliver Cowdery engaging in treasure hunting, either professionally or as an amateur treasure hunting hobbyist.

Oliver’s preferred tool of trade, as mentioned above, was the divining rod.

And there is no record of what he did with that divining rod. Most people who used such rods used them to try to find water to dig wells, not find buried treasure.

He was known as a “rodsman.”

He was? You put the word in quotes – can you therefore give me a contemporary firsthand source that labeled him as such? Because he was actually known as a “schoolteacher.” And, later, a “lawyer.” Although “lawyer” is arguably a far more pejorative term than “rodsman.”

Along with the witnesses, Oliver held a magical mindset.

Meaning what? You offer this arbitrary label as if it’s self-explanatory and it somehow disqualifies Oliver from being a serious person. Oliver was quite accomplished, both in and out of the Church, and he was also highly respected, both in and out of the Church, and his career demonstrates that he was a rather practical man, not some wannabe wizard, as you seem to be implying.

Oliver Cowdery was not an objective and independent witness.  As scribe for the Book of Mormon, co-founder of the Church, and cousin to Joseph Smith, there was a serious conflict of interest in Oliver being a witness.

Conflict of interest? As a scribe who experienced the translation process firsthand, he was already a witness by default. This is like saying Joseph had a “conflict of interest” by testifying of what he knew, which is sort of ridiculous. Oliver and Joseph were both interested in the Book of Mormon – what’s the interest that conflicts with that?

“Conflict of interest” is a term used to describe people who, say, stand to gain private financial rewards for their action in official public capacities, or lawyers who represent or influence clients on opposite sides of a dispute. Oliver had no official capacity as an elected official or lawyer that would conflict with his being a witness, so you’re misapplying the term here.  To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, you keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

You also seem to define “objective and independent” as “someone who thinks Joseph Smith was a fraud.”

4. Second Sight:

People believed they could see things as a vision in their mind.  They called it “second sight.” 

Which people?

We call it “imagination.” 

We do? Are you including me in this?

It made no difference to these people if they saw with their natural eyes or their spiritual eyes as they both were one and the same.

So, in other words, some people, presumably 19th Century people based on your context, couldn’t distinguish between reality and imagination, the way we can. Quite a nice little straw man you’ve built there. Really helps with the condescension process.

As mentioned previously, people believed they could see spirits and their dwelling places in the local hills along with seeing buried treasure deep in the ground.  This supernatural way of seeing the world is also referred in Doctrine & Covenants as “the eyes of our understanding.”

“The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.”

That’s the verse you link to to show that the phrase “the eyes of our understanding” has reference to visions of “buried treasure deep in the ground?” They’re talking about something happening right in front of them (“[he was] standing upon the breastwork of the [Kirtland Temple] pulpit, before us”) not underground treasure miles away.

There is absolutely no support in the actual text of D&C 110 for your bizarre interpretation of this phrase.

If the plates and the experiences were real and tangible as 21st century Mormons are led to believe, why would the witnesses make the following kind of statements when describing the plates and the experience:

“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” – EMD 2:346-47

“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” – EMD 2:346-47

They wouldn’t. Those two statements are part of a single quote attributed to Martin Harris after his death by Anthony Metcalf, who referred to Joseph Smith as a “pretend prophet” and was trying to discredit the Church. They contradict everything Martin Harris had to say firsthand about the experience, and it is extraordinarily unlikely that Harris would suddenly change his story so radically when being interviewed by an antagonistic critic.

Martin Harris, in the last years of his life, had this to say:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer and myself, went into a little grove to pray to obtain a promise that we should behold it with our eyes natural eyes, that we could testify of it to the world” (EMD 2:375). [Emphasis added, strikethrough in original.] Deliberate use of the phrase “natural eyes” is in direct contradiction to your straw-man premise of “second sight” or “eyes of our understanding.”

Or how about this one:

“Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116)

Why do you ignore everything Martin Harris actually said and instead take the word of a hostile critic citing posthumous hearsay at face value?

“He only saw the plates with a spiritual eye” – Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958

More posthumous hearsay from a hostile critic of the Church written in 1892, seventeen years after Martin’s death and at least sixty years after this likely-bogus confession allegedly took place.

“As shown in the vision” – Zenas H. Gurley, Jr., Interview with David Whitmer on January 14, 1885

You’re splitting hairs here. Describing a visit from an angel as a “vision” does not preclude that it was a literal experience. We refer to Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” but we do not deny that the Father and the Son were physically present for the experience with that description.

“Never saw the plates with his natural eyes but only in vision or imagination”

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

Another hearsay statement from a bitter ex-Mormon. He claims Martin and the other witnesses admitted this in public, which is extraordinarily curious, as such a damning admission would no doubt have prompted a wave of apostasy and a great deal of consternation that would surely have made its way into someone else’s journal. As it stands, without any shred of corroborating evidence that Martin made such a public statement, there’s every reason to believe that Burnett is making this up.

“They were shown to me by a supernatural power”

History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 21, p. 307-308

Yes. An angel.

Also, your link here is broken. I don’t know who supposedly said this or if the statement is reliable.

“…when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three  week  since  in  the  Stone  Chapel…renounced  the  Book  of  Mormon…after  we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was…”

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

Oh, so you do have a second witness about Martin Harris’s daring public admission of fraud.

No, wait – this is exactly the same unreliable guy you quoted two sentences earlier. In fact, this is exactly the same quote. Is your case so flimsy that you have to dress up the same quote twice to give the illusion that Martin had more detractors than he actually had?

The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris “used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and ‘seeing with the spiritual eye,’ and the like.” – Mormonism: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, p.71

And you did it again! This is just another excerpt from John Gilbert’s hostile 1892, 17-years-after-Martins-death, over-six-decades-after-the-conversation-took-place account that you quoted five quotes earlier. Why only quote the same statement from Gilbert twice? Why not break this into three quotes to give an even greater illusion of credibility?

Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with “the eye of faith” or “spiritual eyes” – EMD 2:270 and 3:22

The first comes from John A. Clark, the same guy who made up the stuff about Martin talking to Jesus as a deer. Clark’s claim to fame is his lengthy treatise “proving” that the Book of Mormon was lifted from the Spaulding manuscript, a theory which has since been thoroughly debunked and has been rejected by critics as well as supporters, except for a handful of people like Vernal Holley, who provided your bogus Book of Mormon geography maps. The second comes from a Presbyterian pastor who was hostile to the Church, and it comes with an admission that it is hearsay that came to him by way of gossip – the pastor never heard Martin say “spiritual eyes,” as Martin had left Palmyra before any such supposed confession took place.

John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?” According to Gilbert, Harris “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” – EMD 2:548

And there it is! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a John Gilbert trifecta! You quote the same guy three times from the same document as if you have amassed three separate statements against Martin Harris’s testimony! In other words, you say we ought to reject Martin Harris based on the statements of five different witnesses: Stephen Burnett, Stephen Burnett, John Gilbert, John Gilbert, and John Gilbert.

Honestly, Jeremy, this is extraordinarily sloppy and misleading “scholarship” on your part.

If these witnesses literally really saw the plates like everyone else on the planet sees tangible objects…why strange statements like, “I never saw them only as I see a city through a mountain”?   What does that even mean?  

It means Stephen Burnett made it up.

I’ve never seen a city through a mountain. Have you?

No, but I’ve seen you pretend that one guy is actually three different guys.

Why all these bizarre statements from the witnesses if the plates were real and the event literal?

There are at least three fewer bizarre statements than you claim there to be, and the three that remain are demonstrably fraudulent and contradict the over 60 firsthand statements from the actual witnesses themselves that you choose to ignore.

Why would you need a vision or supernatural power to see real, physical plates that Joseph said were in a box that he carried around?

You wouldn’t. That’s why the Eight Witnesses describe the utterly mundane experience of having “seen and hefted” the plates, minus any supernatural power. The testimony of the Three Witnesses, however, includes more than just a physical interaction with sheets of metal – it includes a visit from an angel, which is a supernatural experience by definition.

When Martin Harris was asked, “But did you see them [plates] with your natural, your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Martin answered, “I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.”

Origin and History of the Mormonites, p. 406

Why couldn’t Martin just simply answer “yes”?

Because this whole conversation never took place. This is John Clark that you’re re-quoting, the discredited Spaulding guy. So now we’re up to seven distinct witnesses against Martin – Stephen Burnett, Stephen Burnett, John Gilbert, John Gilbert, John Gilbert, John A. Clark, and John A. Clark. All three of the seven are bogus.

Many of the 11 Witnesses may have had the same last name, but at least none of them were the same person.

Tomorrow: Strangites!

The Fifth Stage of GOP Grief

If I’m enjoying anything about Donald Trump’s conquest and pillaging of what’s left of the Republican Party, it’s watching Glenn Beck be humiliated and, of course, seeing Ted Cruz implode. Tonight, I’m drunk on anti-Cruz schadenfreude. 

I’m really dreading the inevitable Trump hangover tomorrow morning.

Although, really, it probably won’t be all that bad. After all, I went through the five stages of GOP grief a long time ago. I’ve come to accept that Donald Trump, who is equal parts odious and ridiculous, is the Black Plague to create the ring around the Republican rosie. Ashes; ashes; we all fall down. 

Most of my Republican friends have been dragging their heels in the other four stages. Even in February, there were plenty in denial, (Rubio will pull it out!), and Mormons have done more than their fair share of bargaining. (It’ll be Romney in a contested convention!) There’s still oodles of anger and depression, but there’s very little acceptance. 

Well, Trump is now the nominee. Acceptance is the only viable option left. 

Acceptance doesn’t mean happiness, you understand. Accepting reality is not the same thing as liking it. I can accept that Zack Snyder is going to continue to butcher the DC movie universe, but that doesn’t make “Batman v. Superman” suck any less. But as they say, crap happens. (Yes, I know that’s not how they say it. I’m still in denial on that one.) 

So as you ponder the unimaginable reality in which we collectively find ourselves, I suggest you get a head start on the Five Stages of General Election Grief and accept a few things in May instead of waiting until November.

1. Accept that Trump has ended the Republican Party as a credible, conservative, or even a coherent political force. 

If Trumpism bears any resemblance to conservatism, it’s purely coincidental. Even Trump has no idea what Trumpism is. This is not an ideological movement; it’s a political suicide squad. The people who support Trump don’t believe in anything beyond the utter destruction of anything connected to the existing system of American governance. They just want to burn it all down. That includes the GOP “establishment,” which, although a hackneyed and intellectually lazy concept to begin with, now is revealed to be an impotent dinosaur with no capacity to keep The Donald from dancing on its grave. 

The party, as they say, is over. 

2. Accept that Trump, now having won the party’s nomination, will essentially abandon his party in the campaign to come. 

Trump has demonstrated the capacity to jettison all his ideological baggage and ignore the media frenzy his inconsistency creates. Remember when Trump was a birther who thought the president was born in Kenya?  Bring it up with him, and he shrugs his shoulders and says, “I don’t talk about that anymore.” He doesn’t disavow it; he just ignores it. Call him on a contradiction or even an outright lie, and he doubles down on the lie. And the media gets itself into a lather, which drives Trump’s poll numbers up. 

Trump is going to stop talking about a wall. He’s going to stop talking about banning Muslims. He’s never going to mention the Republican Party again. His running mate will be either a Democrat or a celebrity with no known political affiliations. He’s going to transcend party. And, horror of horrors, it just might work. 

3. Accept that Trump can win. 

Ha ha ha. Trump can win?! What an idiot I must be. Look at his negatives! He’s ridiculous! Hillary will destroy him!

Yeah, okay. Talk to the “Republican establishment” about how Trump can’t ever be the nominee. Last August, the mighty Nate Silver gave Trump a 5% chance of winning the nomination. And yet here he is. 

But that’s just Republicans, who, by definition, are morons, right? Well, maybe, but I don’t think Democrats should underestimate the stupidity in their own ranks. Do not be surprised when young and ignorant Bernie supporters identify with Trump’s burn-it-all-down message instead of Hillary’s milquetoast, screechy-grandma routine. Do not presume that longstanding institutional and demographic hatred of Republicans will apply to Trump, who registers in the public mind more as “that guy from ‘The Apprentice'” than “a Republican.” 

Understand the limits of what I’m saying here. I’m not saying Trump will win. But just assuming he can’t win is a mistake. It’s the mistake that the Republicans made, and it destroyed the party. National destruction is a very real possibility if the electorate at large makes the same mistake. 

4. Accept that, either way, America is done.

The structural instability of the global economy is eroding the effectiveness of the very concept of the nation state, so Trump and Hillary are actually competing to see who gets to turn the light off on the way out. 

I’m going to bed now. 

At least Cruz lost. 

CES Reply: More from Brother Brigham

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

If Brigham Young was really a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, would it not be unreasonable to expect that God would give him a hint that racism is not okay, sexism is not okay, blood atonement is not okay and God’s name is not “Adam”?

God gave him plenty of hints. He’s given you the same hints, as you both have direct access to the same God. In addition, the scriptures that condemn all these evils were in print while Brigham was still alive. In addition, your condemnation of Brigham in these points is ill-informed, particularly with regard to Adam-God and blood atonement, neither of which infiltrated Mormon theology.

I want to talk about Brigham’s racism for a moment, however, as this is the flaw in his character I find most troubling and which, arguably, has done the most damage to the Church as a whole.

A cousin of mine, who wrote his own version of a CES Letter when he left the Church, called my attention to one of Brigham’s most incendiary – and misinterpreted – racial statements.  I’ll share it with you, although you’ve probably heard it before.

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.

– Brigham Young, as found in the Journal of Discourses 10:111 

Yikes.

Then I read Brigham Young’s full sermon in which that quote is found, and I had a remarkable experience that made me feel a whole lot better about Brigham Young’s racial attitudes than I ever had before.

In the preceding paragraph to the one I quoted, Brigham makes the following statement:

I am no abolitionist, neither am I a proslavery man; I hate some of their principles and especially some of their conduct, as I do the gates of hell.

What principles and conduct does he hate, then? In this sermon, he makes it clear that he hates how proslavery men feel they can abuse and savage their “property” at will. For instance, just two paragraphs after he makes the incendiary statement I quoted at the outset, he says this:

If the Government of the United States, in Congress assembled, had the right to pass an anti-polygamy bill, they had also the right to pass a law that slaves should not be abused as they have been; they had also a right to make a law that negroes should be used like human beings, and not worse than dumb brutes. For their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent.

I am neither an abolitionist nor a pro-slavery man. If I could have been influenced by private injury to choose one side in preference to the other, I should certainly be against the pro-slavery side of the question.”

Already, those past two paragraphs make him far more enlightened than a good chunk of the 19th Century populace. Consider, for instance, this statement:

I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on social or political equality. There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior position to the white man.

– Abraham Lincoln

But could anything possibly justify that incendiary statement about the death penalty for interracial relations? Let’s look at the money sentence, where Brigham says that “[i]f the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.”

This comes in the midst of a sermon that, overall, has little or nothing to do with race. Every other mention of race is in the paragraphs I previously shared, and those are clearly derisive of white people who abuse slaves and treat them like animals. So why suddenly bring up the whole issue of a death penalty for interracial marriage?

Well, wait a minute. He makes no mention of marriage. And he only suggests one party in the group ought to be put to death – the “white man of the chosen seed.” Where is the mention of the black woman being put to death? It’s not there. Why isn’t it there? Because in the act Brigham is describing, those black women are victims who have done nothing wrong.

In 1863, when this sermon was given, there was no clamor for interracial marriage. The overwhelming majority of whites and blacks were repulsed by the idea, and Brigham would have had no need to rail against it.

So these “white men of the chosen seed” weren’t marrying these women; they were raping them.

Brigham, thankfully, wasn’t cool with that.

It was common practice, even among the relative handful of Latter-day Saints who owned slaves, to sexually assault their female slaves, causing some church leaders to decry the idea of men with “white wives” and “black concubines.” After all, the conventional wisdom went, there was no harm in doing whatever you wanted with what was wickedly considered to be mere subhuman property.

Brigham, again, is here saying that that’s just not cool. He’s saying that raping a black woman will call down the condemnation of God just as surely as the rape of a white woman will.

Incidentally, who are the “white men of the chosen seed?” If it’s all white men, then why does he add that “chosen seed” qualifier? Elsewhere in the same sermon, he rails against the pro-slavery whites in Missouri and their corruption and wickedness.

So they’re not the “chosen seed;” the Latter-day Saints are. So Brigham Young’s point, then, was that Latter-day Saints who rape their slaves deserve to be struck dead on the spot, and this “will always be so.”

I’m kinda OK with that.

Notice, too, that he talks about “the law of God,” and continually makes that the qualifier. In other words, that’s what these people deserve if God were fully in charge. But in many sermons, he also recognized the fact that the laws of God can only be enforced when God himself rules, and so, in the meantime we’re subject to the law of man – a law that Brigham himself was pretty much in charge of making.

So did Utah law call for the death penalty for interracial relationships? Nope. The law, according to an 1860 account, stated the following:

“Slaves coming into the Territory with their masters of their own free will, continue to be in all respects slaves, but cruelty and withholding proper food, raiment, etc., makes the ownership void. Every master or mistress who has carnal relations with his or her Negro slaves forfeits his or her right to the slaves, who thereby becomes the property of the commonwealth. Every individual man or woman who has carnal relations with a Negro or a negress who is sentenced to imprisonment not exceeding three years, and to a fine from 500 to 1000 dollars.” (A Journey To Great Salt Lake City 1:469-70)

So, with this context, suddenly Brigham looks pretty darned enlightened, really. Yes, just like far too many Protestants of his age, he believed black people were descended from Cain and carried a curse, but Brigham’s statement is actually a statement that rises above the prevailing sentiments of the day, a statement that says these slaves are human beings, not animals, and you priesthood holders will be held accountable before God for how you treat them,

This is not to say Brigham Young wasn’t a racist. Certainly, by today’s standards, he was. And if this quote had originated from a recent leader, I think there’s little question that whoever uttered those words should be removed from office, be it the President of the Church, an Apostle, or the guy who sets up the chairs.

In 1863, however, I think the Lord would have a very hard time finding leaders who had enough racial understanding to be as shocked by those words as we are today.

Again, we’re told repeatedly that we learn line upon line; precept upon precept. Hymn #2, “The Spirit of God,” exults in the fact that “the Lord is extending the Saints’ understanding,” and I’m therefore very wary of judging social mores of 1852 by the light of what we now know as a church, a nation, and a world in the 21st Century.

Brigham’s reaction here actually suggests that he was taking a few more hints from God than you’re willing to concede.

Tomorrow: Kinderhookin’!