CES Reply: Purging Dissidents? (The Penultimate Installment)

We’re coming to the end of this series of posts, which are a serialized reproduction of my lengthy reply to “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony” to Jeremy Runnells. Jeremy Runnells insists that nobody has answered his questions, and, when people bring up my answers to his questions, he insists that I didn’t actually answer his questions, and that all I did was make jokes and attack him personally.

Here’s my next-to-last batch of jokes/personal attacks. You can read all of them at once by clicking here.

As always, Jeremy’s original words are in green, the color of life. My words are in black, the color of darkness.

I’m also adding an image, because when I post this on FB and Twitter, it has this weird empty box if there’s no image in the post. So I’m adding a superfluous picture of Cylon and Garfunkel, because even though the late Glen A. Larson based much of Battlestar Galactica on Mormon theology, the Cylons never got a single mention in your letter.

That ends NOW!

med_1442042243_00032Great! On with the reply!

Going after members who publish or share their questions, concerns, and doubts:

September Six:

“The September Six were six members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were excommunicated or disfellowshipped by the Church in September 1993, allegedly for publishing scholarly work on Mormonism or critiquing Church doctrine or leadership.”

Who are you quoting?

I find it telling that to illustrate the idea the Church routinely goes after members who “publish or share their questions, concerns, and doubts,” you have to reach back more than 22 years to find actual examples. If this really were an ongoing practice or concern, surely there’d be a great deal more support for your allegation.

In any case, the September Six are now the September Four, as two of these scholars have rejoined the Church in full fellowship. They continue to function as both scholars and faithful members of the Church.

A few months before the September Six, Boyd K. Packer made the following comment regarding the three “enemies” of the Church:

“The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever- present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.”

Boyd K. Packer, All-Church Coordinating Council, May 18, 1993

You’re insinuating that Elder Packer ordered these excommunications, but there is no evidence that this is true, despite 22 years of innuendo to that effect. Even if Elder Packer was engaged in a systematic crackdown on Mormon scholars, you’d think that he’d have more than six excommunications to his credit over the course over 22 years.

Strengthening the Church Members Committee (SCMC):

The spying and monitoring arm of the Church.  

That’s rather melodramatic.

It is secretive

Indeed! So secretive that the First Presidency issued a public statement affirming its existence and purpose in the Church News in 1992.

Here’s the statement.

First Presidency statement cites scriptural mandate for Church committee

Generally, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not respond to criticism levied against its work. But in light of extensive publicity recently given to false accusations of so-called secret Church committees and files, the First Presidency has issued the following statement:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in 1830 following the appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith in upstate New York. This sacred event heralded the onset of the promised `restitution of all things.’ Many instructions were subsequently given to the Prophet including Section 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants:” `And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them. . . .

And also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries. . . .

And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out.

And perhaps a committee can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat;

And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published…(Verses 1-5.)’

Leaders and members of the Church strive to implement commandments of the Lord including this direction received in 1839. Because the Church has a non-professional clergy, its stake presidents and bishops have varied backgrounds and training. In order to assist their members who have questions, these local leaders often request information from General Authorities of the Church.

The Strengthening Church Members Committee was appointed by the First Presidency to help fulfill this need and to comply with the cited section of the Doctrine and Covenants. This committee serves as a resource to priesthood leaders throughout the world who may desire assistance on a wide variety of topics. It is a General Authority committee, currently comprised of Elder James E. Faust and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They work through established priesthood channels, and neither impose nor direct Church disciplinary action.

Members who have questions concerning Church doctrine, policies, or procedures have been counseled to discuss those concerns confidentially with their local leaders. These leaders are deeply aware of their obligation to counsel members wisely in the spirit of love, in order to strengthen their faith in the Lord and in His great latter-day work.

– The First Presidency

and most members have been unaware of its existence since its creation in 1985 after President Ezra Taft Benson took over.

Actually, it looks like various versions of this committee have been around since Section 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants was received in 1839.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland admitted it still exists (2:29) in March 2012.

The transcript of that admission:

John Sweeney: What is the Strengthening Church Members Committee?

Elder Holland: The Strengthening Church Members Committee was born some years ago to protect against predatory practices of polygamists.

Sweeney: I asked what it is, not was.

Holland: That is what it is…

Sweeney: So it does still exist?

Holland: It does still exist…it does still exist…

Sweeney: And it…. looks at….it’s there to defend the church against polygamists?

Holland: Principally, that is still its principal task.

Sweeney: So what is its subsidiary task?

Holland: I just…. suppose to…. to be protective generally, just to watch and to care for any insidious influence. But for all intents and purposes, that’s all that I know about it….is that it’s primarily there to guard against polygamy. That would be the substantial part of the work. I’m not on that committee so I don’t know much about it.

The historical evidence and the September Six points to SCMC’s primary mission being  to  hunt  and  expose  intellectuals  and/or disaffected members who are influencing other members to think and question, despite Holland’s claim that it’s a committee primarily to fight against polygamy.

Then it should be a simple task for you to provide that historical evidence, which you don’t.

“When the prophet speaks the debate is over”:

N. Eldon Tanner, 1st  Counselor in the First Presidency, gave a First Presidency Message in the August 1979 Ensign that includes the following statement:

“When the prophet speaks the debate is over.”

In practice, he’s absolutely correct. The Church does not function as a democracy. Members do not debate and vote on doctrines or policies, and we do not change doctrines or policies by debating our prophets, who ultimately have the final say on such things.

This reminds me of President George Albert Smith, who responded to the false statement that “when the Prophet speaks, the thinking has been done” that I referenced earlier. (WAY WAY earlier. This thing is up to well over 100,000 words now. Sheesh!) Let me requote President Smith’s response to the earlier statement. This will only be a second requote, so there’s no need to drag Stephen Burnett back into this.

The leaflet to which you refer, and from which you quote in your letter, was not “prepared” by “one of our leaders.” However, one or more of them inadvertently permitted the paragraph to pass uncensored. By their so doing, not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed.

I am pleased to assure you that you are right in your attitude that the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church… [which] gives to every man his free agency, and admonishes him always to use the reason and good judgment with which God has blessed him.

Granted, the two statements are not exactly the same idea, but this principle is important to remember as we try to make sense of what President Tanner is saying. Because saying “the debate is over” is not the same thing as saying “the prophet is never wrong.” We do not believe in infallible prophets. To the extent than anyone did or does, including even a good and wise man like N. Eldon Tanner, they are incorrect.

Some things that are true are not very useful

Which you misinterpret.

+ It is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true

Which you also misinterpret.

+ Spying and monitoring on members

Which is a gross distortion.

+ Intellectuals are dangerous

“So-called intellectuals” was the phrase Elder Packer used. He was making to those dissidents who hide behind intellectual credentials. The Church adores faithful intellectuals. What was the mighty Hugh Nibley if not an intellectual?

+ When the prophet speaks the debate is over

We just covered this.

+ Obedience is the First Law of Heaven

That’s an ancient biblical principle. What’s wrong with it?

= Policies and practices you’d expect to find in a totalitarian system such as North Korea or George Orwell’s 1984; not from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Funny you should mention 1984. I recently re-watched the John Hurt/Richard Burton film adaptation of that seminal work. (And yes, it was an R-rated movie.) My memory is fresh enough to recognize this as a ridiculously hyperbolic comparison. At what point have Church leaders set up video monitoring screens in all members houses to enforce orthodoxy under threat of torture by means of a bucket of rats attached to their faces until they publicly confess to non-existent crimes?

The North Korea comparison is equally absurd. Were the September Six sentenced to Mormon gulags where they were worked and starved to death? Are rank-and-file members hauled off to such camps when they take down the framed pictures of Thomas S. Monson that they are required by law to have on display in their homes at all times?

As a believing member, I was deeply offended by the accusation that the Church was a cult. “How can it be a cult when we’re good people who are following Christ, focusing on family, and doing good works in and out of a church that bears His name?  When we’re 14 million members? What a ridiculous accusation.” It was only after I lost my testimony and discovering, for the first time, the SCMC and the anti-intellectualism going on behind the scenes that I could clearly see the above cultish aspects of the Church and why people came to the conclusion that Mormonism is a cult.

The word “cult” is objectively meaningless. It used to have reference to any religion and was essentially a measure of size – i.e. a cult is “a small group of religious followers.” In today’s vernacular, though, the word “cult” is reserved for spurious or unorthodox religions that deserve scorn and ridicule. People who throw the word “cult” around with regularity and think they’re saying something factual are simply telling you which religions they don’t like.

The best and most useful definition of “cult” came from my brilliant high school government teacher, Lee Shagin, who put it thusly:

“A cult is someone else’s religion.”

Dr. Walter Martin, arguably the most influentially vitriolic critic of the LDS Church in the 20th Century, wrote a book titled “The Kingdom of the Cults” in which he derided several different groups that went afoul of his thinking of what Christianity ought to be. However, in order to begin mudslinging at all the cults he despised, he had to have an ironclad definition of same to anchor the discussion.

The problem was that every part of Martin’s definition could also be applied to early Christianity. All cults, according to Martin, follow a charismatic leader and insist that they’re the only way to heaven. They require sacrifices; they have their own vocabulary. Sounds like he’s describing all those folks following Jesus of Nazareth circa 33 AD. Martin spewed an awful lot of words in an attempt to clarify what a cult is, but ultimately, Lee Shagin’s definition is the better one.

In any case, the way you’re using the word “cult” in connection with 1984 and North Korea suggests you see the Church as some kind of prison that wreaks great havoc on dissidents. But that’s demonstrably nonsense. The fact is that the Church welcomes all, and it also allows all to leave.

This is no totalitarian state; you’re not going to get shot on your way out. As soon as you resign your membership, a simple process that only requires a single letter to your bishop, you will be free and clear. No one will follow you; no one will spy on you, and no one will punish you. Even your home teacher will leave you alone.

[I wrote this prior to your resigning of your membership. You now know by your own personal experience that no 1984 tactics have been employed to bring you back into the fold.]

There is the likelihood, however, that your Mormon friends and family will still love and care for you and pray on your behalf, but, alas, such kindness can’t really be stopped.


CES Reply: Not Very Useful

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

(Don’t worry – we’re almost done!)


“Some things that are true are not very useful”:

Packer said the following:

“There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”

And I really wish he hadn’t said this, as it is open to the kind of misinterpretation you’re applying to it. Because when you consider the intent of his statement rather than his poor choice of words, this becomes a rather artless way of stating an undeniably true – and useful – principle.

In fact, the CES Letter is a perfect example of Elder Packer’s premise. Your purpose is to persuade people that the LDS Church is a fraud, so you cite truths that are useful to making that case, and you ignore the truths that are not. So you cite three different dubious hearsay statements about Martin Harris and repeat them over a dozen times, but you ignore the dozens of more reliable firsthand accounts that undermine your case, because those statements, while true, aren’t useful to your purpose. (Actually, the analogy isn’t really perfect, because the statements you quoted about Martin probably aren’t true. But I’m sure you get the idea.)

The word “useful” is instructive, especially when you consider the audience to whom Elder Packer’s remarks were addressed. He wasn’t talking to the general membership of the Church in Conference; he was talking to a gathering of CES instructors, who are in the employ of the Church for the specific purpose of building the faith of LDS youth. There are many truths that are not useful to that specific purpose. It is true, for instance, that I played the role of Schroeder in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in several productions in the Los Angeles area between 1981 and 1985. Is this true? Yes. It is a useful fact for CES Employees to use in their instruction of LDS youth? Probably not, no. (Although I’m proud that I’ve figured out a way to make both “Seinfeld” and “Dilbert” useful in this reply.)

Joseph using a rock in a hat instead of the gold plates to translate the Book of Mormon is not a useful truth?

Elder Packer probably didn’t think so at the time, no. I think he was wrong about that, and I think  the Church has recognized that mistake. That’s why Elder Ballard’s recent talk to a similar audience of CES employees takes the opposite approach to Elder Packer’s. This time around, Elder Ballard counseled them to know all the details of the recent gospel topics essays “like the back of your hand” in order to be able to provide true and useful information that allows the Church to get out in front of these controversial issues. And, yes, that includes your beloved rock in a hat.

The fact that there are multiple conflicting First Vision accounts is not a useful truth?

I think it would be useful to demonstrate the truth that the accounts don’t actually conflict.

The fact that Joseph Smith was involved in Polyandry when D&C 132:61 condemns it as “adultery” is not a useful truth?

No, because it’s not a truth. Joseph Smith wasn’t involved in polyandry. (Sealings, not marriage, no sex.) It would be useful, however, for CES instructors to point out the true reasons why this charge you continually repeat is not accurate.

He continues:

“That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith – particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith – places himself in great spiritual jeopardy.”

Again, this is not the way I’d teach this principle, but Elder Packer is entirely correct here. Look at the verb he uses – “delights.” It’s one thing for a historian or scholar to acknowledge or plainly state the “weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders,” especially if they do so in context and with an appropriate sense of balance. It’s another thing to “delight” in discussing those weaknesses above all else, as such an approach will paint a distorted picture of reality and, yes, destroy faith. It also would, indeed, place someone in spiritual jeopardy, as they would destroy their own faith, too.

Right, because being honest to members about Joseph’s “weaknesses and frailties” of secretly marrying other men’s wives while denying and lying about it to everyone for 10+ years just might destroy faith.

Again, this statement is neither true nor useful. Joseph did not secretly marry other men’s wives.

But let’s not teach this historical fact because “some things that are true are not very useful.”

I’d prefer we not teach it because it’s not a historical fact.

What’s interesting about Packer’s above quote is that he’s focusing on history from the point of view that a historian is only interested in the “weaknesses and frailties of present and past leaders.”  Historians are also interested in things like how the Book of Mormon got translated or how many accounts Joseph gave about the foundational First Vision or whether the Book of Abraham even matches the papyri and facsimiles.

Sure. That’s fine. Historians should be interested in such things. CES Employees have a different responsibility than professional historians. Should a CES instructor “delight” in focusing solely on controversies surrounding those other issues and not the whole picture, they would not be fulfilling their purpose, and they would be destroying their own faith and the faith of their students.

Besides, it matters in the religious context what past and present leaders “weaknesses and frailties” are. 

I think you’re absolutely right. Key word there is “context.” Elder Packer is talking about Church employees who “delight” in taking things out of context in order to focus on the weaknesses and ignore the strengths.

If Joseph’s public position was that adultery and polygamy are morally wrong and condemned by God, what does it say about him and his character that he did exactly that in the dark while lying to Emma and everyone else about it?

Thank you for providing an illustration of my previous point. This question represents a perfect example of taking something out of context in order to focus on the weaknesses and ignore the strengths.

How is this not a useful truth? 

It is not a useful truth because it is false. But it seems to be, for you, usefully false.

A relevant hypothetical example:  President Monson gets caught with child pornography on his hard drive. 

Relevant? I doubt it. I can think of few things that would be more unlikely.

This matters, especially in light of his current position, status, and teachings on morality.  Just because a leader wears a religious hat does not follow that they’re exempt from history and accountability from others.

I think it would matter a great deal, yes.

The question should not be whether it’s faith promoting or not to share ugly but truthful facts.  The question should be:  Is the right thing to do?  Is it the honest thing to do?

In your hypothetical, the right and honest thing to do would be to call the police and have President Monson arrested. Few things are viler in the eyes of the Lord than using ecclesiastical influence to assault the innocence of a child. As I mentioned previously, that’s a truth that the Spirit confirmed to me while I was watching an R-rated movie.

Do you truly think President Monson is depraved enough to have child pornography on his hard drive?

Criticizing leaders:

  • Dallin H. Oaks made the following disturbing comment in the PBS documentary,

The Mormons” (0:51):

“It is wrong to criticize the leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.”

The full quote here is helpful:
“I also said something else that has excited people: that it’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true, because it diminishes their effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. One can work to correct them by some other means, but don’t go about saying that they misbehaved when they were a youngster or whatever.” [Emphasis added]

As with Elder Packer’s statement, this is something I wish Elder Oaks hadn’t said, as it, too, is open to misinterpretation. In addition, the snippet you link to is a sort of “preview of coming attractions” for the next episode of the series, so in that footage,  the one sentence gets yanked out of any surrounding context and is even more susceptible to being misunderstood.

His point is not, as many critics imply, that the church does not tolerate disagreement. It is that public criticism, especially that which is focused on how they “misbehaved as a youngster or whatever,” is the wrong way to handle disagreements. One should “work to correct them by some other means” other than publicly embarrassing leaders, especially on irrelevant points that are discussed solely with the intent to embarrass.

This is actually a Biblical principle. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matthew 18:15, emphasis added)

Researching  “unapproved”  materials  on  the  internet:

Elder Quentin L. Cook made the following comment in the October 2012 Conference:

“Some have immersed themselves in internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and in some cases invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.”

Why do you put the word “unapproved” in quotes? Elder Cook didn’t use that word or anything like it. His counsel – don’t “immerse” yourself in materials that provide distorted or false information – is good counsel. Do you advocate immersion in materials that provide distorted or false information?

Elder Dieter Uchtdorf said the following in his CES talk “What is truth” (33:00):

“…Remember that in this age of information there are many who create doubt about anything and everything at any time and every place. You will find even those who still claim that they have evidence that the earth is flat. That the moon is a hologram. It looks like it a little bit. And that certain movie stars are really aliens from another planet. And it is always good to keep in mind just because something is printed on paper, appears on the internet, is frequently repeated or has a powerful group of followers doesn’t make it true.”
With which part of this entirely reasonable, common-sense statement do you disagree? And why do you cite this as evidence that the Church is cracking down on “unapproved” materials when President Uchtdorf doesn’t use that word or anything like it?

Who cares whether you received the information from a stranger, television, book, magazine, comic book, napkin, and even the scary internet?

Certainly not Elder Cook or President Uchtdorf in the quotes you cite. There is no counsel here to avoid any medium of information; the counsel is to make sure that information is true, regardless of where it is found.

You repeatedly use the phrase “scary Internet,” as if that phrase represents the mindset of the Brethren. It doesn’t.

“We are blessed to live, learn, and serve in this most remarkable dispensation. An important aspect of the fulness that is available to us in this special season is a miraculous progression of innovations and inventions that have enabled and accelerated the work of salvation: from trains to telegraphs to radios to automobiles to airplanes to telephones to transistors to televisions to computers to satellite transmissions to the Internet—and to an almost endless list of technologies and tools that bless our lives. All of these advancements are part of the Lord hastening His work in the latter days.”

“Whatever the question is, if we need more information, we search it online. In seconds we have a lot of material. This is marvelous. The Internet provides many opportunities for learning.”

  • If Ye Lack Wisdom, by Marcos A. Aidukaitis (First Quorum of the Seventy), April 2014 General Conference

“You live in a world where technological advances occur at an astounding pace. It is difficult for many of my generation to keep up with the possibilities. Depending on how technology is used, these advances can be a blessing or a deterrent. Technology, when understood and used for righteous purposes, need not be a threat but rather an enhancement to spiritual communication.”

For Peace At Home, by Richard G. Scott (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). April 2013 General Conference

And on it goes. You are making an accusation that your citations don’t in any way support.

Elder Neil Andersen made the following statement in the October 2014 General Conference specifically targeting the medium of the Internet in a bizarre attempt to discredit the Internet as a reliable source for getting factual and truthful information:

“We might remind the sincere inquirer that Internet information does not have a ‘truth’ filter.  Some information, no matter how convincing, is simply not true.”

How is this “specifically targeting the medium of the Internet?” It’s specifically targeting information that is not true. In the same talk, Elder Andersen mentions false information that appeared in Time Magazine. Are we to interpret that as Elder Andersen specifically targeting Time Magazine? I don’t think so.

With all this talk from General Authorities against the scary internet

You’ve provided no examples of “talk from General Authorities against the scary internet.”

and daring to be balanced by looking at what both defenders and critics are saying about the Church,

You’ve provided no examples of General Authorities counseling anyone to avoid “looking at what both defenders and critics are saying about the Church.”

it is as if questioning and researching and doubting is now the new pornography.

You’ve provided no examples of General Authorities saying anything that would justify this ridiculous analogy.

Truth has no fear of the light. 

Agreed. Which is why General Authorities are encouraging members to seek truth and not falsehood in the statements you’ve provided.

President George A. Smith said, “If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.”

Correct. You’ve provided no examples of General Authorities discouraging investigation of their faith.

Under Cook’s counsel, FairMormon and unofficial LDS apologetic websites are anti-Mormon sources that should be avoided.

That’s like saying “the sky is green.” Elder Cook said nothing that could possibly be tortured into meaning this.

Not only do they introduce to Mormons “internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and in some cases invent shortcoming of early Church leaders”

Elder Cook’s verb was “immersed,” not “introduce.” Big, big difference. FairMormon does not immerse people in material that magnifies, exaggerates, or invents shortcomings of early Church leaders.

but they provide many ridiculous answers with logical fallacies and omissions while leaving members confused and hanging with a bizarre version of Mormonism.

We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. The logical fallacies and omissions that have piled up in the CES Letter give this accusation a “mote v. beam” vibe.

What about the disturbing information about early Church leaders and the Church which are not magnified, or exaggerated, or invented?

What about it? All the statements you cite here encourage people to seek truth and not falsehood. We have nothing to fear from truth, no matter where it’s found.

What about the disturbing facts that didn’t come from the flat-earthers or moon-hologramers but instead from the Church itself?

Elder Ballard’s recent talk insists that you should learn as much as you possibly can about them.

“Church leaders today are fully conscious of the unlimited access to information, and we are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration. A prime example of this effort is the 11 Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org that provide balanced and reliable interpretations of the facts for controversial and unfamiliar Church-related subjects.

It is important that you know the content in these essays like you know the back of your hand. If you have questions about them, then please ask someone who has studied them and understands them. In other words, “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” as you master the content of these essays.

You should also become familiar with the Joseph Smith Papers website and the Church history section on LDS.org and other resources by faithful LDS scholars.

The effort for gospel transparency and spiritual inoculation through a thoughtful study of doctrine and history, coupled with a burning testimony, is the best antidote we have to help students avoid and/or deal with questions, doubt, or faith crises they may face in this information age.”

– M. Russell Ballard, “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century,” February 26, 2016

Are those facts invalid when someone discovers them on the scary internet?

No, and, again, no General Authority has ever referred to the “scary internet.”

What happens when a member comes across Elder Russell M. Nelson’s obscure 1992 talk or the Church’s December 2013 Book of Mormon Translation essay where they learn – for the first time in their lives – that the Book of Mormon was not translated as depicted in Sunday Schools, Ensigns, MTC, General Conference addresses, or Visitor Centers?

Depends on the person, I guess. You and I certainly reacted differently. In any case, we’re about to find out, as the Church is making a concerted effort to get this information in front of as many members as possible.

Is this member in need of repentance when he’s troubled by this inconsistency and deception?

I wasn’t, as I didn’t consider it inconsistency and deception. And no General Authority said that doubts make anyone in need of repentance.

Is it the member’s fault for discovering the Book of Mormon translation deception still perpetuated by the Church? 

This is a “when did you stop beating your wife” sort of question. It is not axiomatic that people who learn about the infamous rock in the hat will assume that it is a “translation deception still perpetuated by the Church.”

Why is the member required to repent for coming to the conclusion that something is very wrong?

I think the Church is confident that if members get all the facts and context, they won’t come to that conclusion.

Most of the information I discovered and confirmed online about the Church is found from Church friendly sources. I confirmed Joseph’s polygamy/polyandry from LDS- owned FamilySearch.org. 

Except you have woefully distorted and misinterpreted that information. Joseph was not engaged in polyandry. Sealings, not marriage, no sex.

I confirmed Adam-God theory and other doctrines taught by Brigham Young from the Journal of Discourses.

And you have interpreted that information in the worst possible light by ignoring how this anomalous theory fits in a broader historical context.

I confirmed Nelson’s rock in the hat endorsement from his 1992 talk buried on LDS.org.

What rock in what hat?

Even reading the scriptures and seeing all its problems can cause members to question and doubt. 

Of course. That’s why President Uchtdorf said, “It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty.”

If it wasn’t for the internet, I’d still find the information from physical books. Like the internet, books contain positive and negative as well as true and false information about the Church and everything else on earth.  Are physical books to be avoided as well?

No. And neither is the Internet. That’s why no General Authority has ever counseled people to avoid the Internet.

“And it is always good to keep in mind just because something is printed on paper, appears on the internet, is frequently repeated or has a powerful group of followers doesn’t make it true.”  The exact same thing can be said of Mormonism and LDS.org.

Yes. The exact same thing can be said of any information found anywhere.

Next: Purging Dissidents?

My Father’s Final Sermon

Happy Father’s Day.

To help me get through my first Father’s Day in a post-Bob Bennett world, I’ve transcribed the 45-minute fireside my father delivered in the Arlington, Virginia LDS Chapel three weeks before his passing and less than 24 hours before the stroke that took his life. (In Mormonspeak, a fireside is a sermon delivered in the evening outside of regular worship services.) He had been preparing for this speech for quite some time, and as he was battling pancreatic cancer in the final months of his life, his mantra was “I’ve got to stay alive for the fireside.” He was too weak to stand and deliver the sermon, so he stayed seated. Yet he spoke clearly for over 45 minutes without using any notes. (Dad never used notes when he spoke. He was pretty magnificent that way.)

EDIT: I just spoke to my mother, who tells me Dad was on a stool, but he frequently stood throughout the presentation and referenced a chalkboard that he was using to describe all the timelines and things that he discusses in the speech. So there’s a visual element to this fireside that was not recorded. 

9781609079567The topic of the sermon was the Book of Mormon, notably its authenticity as a historical document. He was reviewing material that he had explored in his 2009 book titled Leap of Faith: Confronting the Origins of the Book of Mormon.  When that book was released, many thought it was just a campaign gimmick to endear himself to Mormon Republicans, but time has demonstrated that this was a serious work, one which BYU professor and prominent Mormon apologist called “surprisingly good.”

President Henry B. Eyring, who was the concluding speaker at my father’s funeral in Salt Lake City, went even further. At the funeral, he called Leap of Faith “the best defense of the Book of Mormon ever written.” I think that would make a pretty good blurb on the back of the paperback edition.

This sermon essentially serves as a summary of that book, but it’s delivered in a much more conversational and personal style. In transcribing the fireside, which I did not attend, I’ve had to rely on an iPhone voice memo recording that is hard to hear, so I’m sure I didn’t get everything right. In addition, I’ve taken some mild editorial license, particularly in not transcribing Dad’s occasional verbal stumbles, so when he says, “Mormon ideologists, excuse me, I mean archaeologists,” I just wrote down “Mormon archaeologists.”

If you’re a purist who wants to hear Dad’s words for yourself, I’ve embedded the audio in this post. If you’d like to take a stab at your own transcription, feel free.

The recording also started just a little late, so it sounds as if he began by saying that most of the visions and stories of Joseph Smith can be dismissed fairly easily, but the Book of Mormon cannot.

We join the fireside, already in progress.

… dismiss the witnesses; they were just bamboozled by his charisma. (Actually, we think he was kind of dull, but to make the case that he confused everybody, we have to change our description of him depending on what it is we want to attack with respect to his background.) We can go through all of the rest of that outcome with a complete explanation – and then there’s the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon exists. (Now, that seems fairly fundamental.) That means somebody wrote it. It didn’t come out of an imagination of something into a speech. Somebody wrote it down. Somebody created it before 1829. You have to explain who wrote it. It’s here. It’s physical. It cannot be waved away the way some of the descriptions of visions and other things could be waved away.

If we step back and think of it for just moment in something other than straight religious terms, but marketing terms, we have to say, “What a genius decision if we want to launch this new religion to give it a book that cannot be waved away.” It has to be examined in terms of answering the fundamental question – who wrote it?

You can’t get around that question. You can’t avoid it. Who wrote it?

Okay. One of the things that we know about books is that the book always tells you something about who wrote it. You can’t hide it. You can disguise it, but you can’t hide it. And in today’s world, unlike the world of 1829, you really can’t hide it, because you can use a computer to do an analysis of the syntax used, of the sentence structure, and the paragraphs, and all of the rest of it, and the computer can say, “This person wrote it.”

They’ve done this in controversies as to who wrote Shakespeare. They can take certain Elizabethan phrases or sonnets and so on and say, “Yeah, this is from the Elizabethan era. This clearly comes out of the time when Queen Elizabeth was around, but these words were not written by Shakespeare. The computer says no.”

That was not available early on.

So we’re going to start out tonight with the desire to find out who wrote it, with the understanding that every book always tells you something about its author.

Okay, do we have a 24-year-old anywhere in the crowd? 

[Someone raises their hand in the audience.]

Okay, you just got picked. Stand up.

All right, I want to create a forgery of a religious book for my own purposes, and I pick you to write it. You’re 24 years old. That’s how old Joseph Smith was – everyone turn around; take a good look at him, that’s Joseph Smith. That’s how old Joseph Smith was when the Book of Mormon was published.

Now let me describe to you what I want in this book. I’ve got it here in an outline kind of form. Actually, I want three books. They’re all going to be crunched together in one volume. I want three books, and here’s the timeline. 600 BC is when you start, and 385 AD is when you die. So you’ve got to fake something – this is coming out in 1829, which is a little bit later than the year 385, so you’re dead. You’re doing all of this a thousand or so years after you die.

Okay, that’s kind of a challenge for any author, but you look like a pretty smart 24-year old, so you may be up to this. Now the first book which I have here, I’ve labeled that “Family Journal.” You’re going to write a family journal. That means first person: “I. We.” You’re going to describe what happens in your family, or in this family. Now you’re not just going to sit down and write it straight through. It goes from 600 BC to about 124 BC. And it’s going to be filled primarily with four principal authors. Which means you’ve got change who you are three times.

You can start out being Nephi – that’s the name I’ve picked. You can start out being Nephi describing your circumstance, and then you’re going to pass this on to your brother, Jacob, and he’s going to write for a while, and then he’s going to pick a prophet than nobody’s ever heard of called Zenos, and he’s going to write some stuff in there, and then you’re going to fill up the rest of it with quotations from Isaiah, and they’d better be the right quotations, because there are certain points I want to make here.

So you’ve got four people. One of them is very easy; that’s Isaiah. You can crib him from the King James Version of the Bible. Now don’t crib him exactly. We want to make some changes along here, because we’ve got some points to make, and the changes will helps us make those points.

Okay, are you up for this?

Now, at the same time, this fellow Nephi, who we’re going to put at the front of this family history, writes another book simultaneously. This one he calls the Large Plates of Nephi. This runs all the way from 600 BC on to 325 AD. This is a history. This is not a family journal. This is not first person. This is third person. Nephi writes a little bit of the history in the Small Plates, the family stuff is all in there, but here in the Large Plates are the kings, and the wars, and the government, and all of the logistics of a major society. So that when Nephi dies, then the next historian comes along, and then the next historian, and they just pass this record on down, and on down, and on down, until the final guy who gets it, who’s name is Mormon, is going to summarize it.

So, you’re Nephi. Now you’re Mormon. And you’re going to go back over a thousand years of history and describe the wars, and the rulers, and the government changes, and all of the rest of that. And this time, it’s not just four people who are going to be talking. There’s a whole bunch of people who are going to be talking all the way through. A thousand years.

Are you ready for that?

Okay, now, in addition, I want a third history. We have no idea when it began, but I won’t hold you to a date, because we’ll tie it to the Tower of Babel. So 3,000 B.C. Pick a date. Anytime that’s convenient. You’ve got to go forward with this history, and this history ends about the same time the other one does, as these people destroy themselves.

Now the problem is that the folks in the first history all start out in Jerusalem. They’re all Jews. Hebrews. Israelis. Pick whatever name. They all start out in Jerusalem, so through their history, everything will have the flavor of the culture in which they were born. You can’t deviate from that. Yet the folks in the last history have nothing whatever to do with Jerusalem, and you can’t allow any of the first history to leak into this one. This one has to be completely different.

Oh, by the way, we’re going to have to erase the first 116 pages of the history in the Large Plates of Nephi, because they were lost. So you have to start the history about the same time these other two begin, which means it has to come across like a movie that you have stepped into twenty minutes after it started, and you have no idea who any of the people are.

So, okay! Let’s go!

That’s the Book of Mormon.

You have First and Second Nephi, and Jacob, and then the additions made by Jacob’s descendants in the Small Plates, and then you have the remaining part of the Large Plates after the 116 pages were lost, and it just so happens that the ending of the Small Plates comes pretty close to coinciding with the beginning of walking into the movie. So in the Book of Mormon today, we just slid the Small Plates down a level. So you read the Small Plates and then you get to the history of the Large Plates, and the transition is very confusing. You don’t quite understand how that works, because you go immediately from a first person family history to a third person history of the all these folks, and there is still a gap, because up here in the Small Plates, most of this by Jacob’s descendants has no history in it all. All it says is, “I got the plates from my uncle, and I put my name on it and passed it on to my son.”

And then suddenly King Benjamin is talking. Who is King Benjamin? We don’t know. Ask the 116 pages. And it gets very difficult when you get into this for you to be a forger, because Mormon, who is reading all of this history coming from all of these other folks, is quoting them at length. So you can’t just pretend to be Mormon. You have to pretend to be King Benjamin. And if you want to make this thing look real, King Benjamin cannot sound like Mormon, nor can he sound like Alma.

Alma is the most quoted of all of the people that Mormon uses to quote directly. There’s first person in this, but it’s never Mormon. It’s always the people he’s quoting. And so Alma takes up 36 pages, and if you read Alma carefully, he doesn’t sound like King Benjamin. He doesn’t even sound like Amulek, who is his missionary companion. The two of them are out there together, and Alma has one way of preaching, and Amulek has a different way of preaching. He doesn’t sound like Abinadi, who’s standing there quoting the Law of Moses. You go through all of these – you start with Abinadi, and then you’ve got Benjamin, and then you’ve got Alma, and then you’ve got Amulek, and you’ve got Samuel the Lamanite, and you’ve got Zeniff, and you’ve got Helaman, and Helaman doesn’t give any sermons at all. Helaman just tells you about the wars. I’m sure Mormon would love to quote some sermons from Helaman, but Helaman didn’t give him any.

So as you do all of this, you’ve got to be switching from talking about war and all back and forth –

Quick aside: Does it bother you that Alma doesn’t sound like Amulek? Does it bother you that Elder Holland doesn’t sound like Elder Oaks? They’re both testifying of the same thing, but each is responding to his own experiences. And Elder Holland is a great classroom teacher whose lots of fun to listen to and tells wonderful stories, and Elder Oaks is a former State Supreme Court Justice who lays it out in a kind [of way] that lawyers like Elder Hardy can understand.

And you’re not through yet. Because it all gets down to Mormon, and he’s completed all of this, and he gets killed in 385 [AD], and his son Moroni comes along. Mormon has completely neglected this third book about the people from the tower of Babel. And Moroni, with plenty of time on his hands, decides, “I’ll add that to Dad’s record.” So Moroni sits down and gives us this record.

Well, these people are really weird. They have kings that rule in captivity through their whole lives, and they father children in the captivity, and then the children try to overthrow the other king, and they have weird names that don’t [make sense.] Why in the world is that there? Because Moroni decided it was important to put there. [That’s odd] from our point of view, but you’re the forger, my instructions are to you that I want this in there. Now, you’re 24 years old, which means that you’ve got to be doing this before you get to that age.

And, by the way, you write a little bit yourself. And here come the computers. You don’t sound like King Benjamin.  The writing that Joseph Smith put into the first edition of the Book of Mormon describing what happened to the 116 pages – we don’t have that anymore; we don’t put them in the Book of Mormon anymore; people apparently don’t pay much attention to them anymore – but Joseph felt strongly about it. So strongly that he put it right up front. And you read that paragraph, where he describes that, and you say, “Whoever wrote that didn’t write anything in the Book of Mormon.”  There is no connection.

Well, all right, here come the computers. You have to have been such a good forger in making up all of these different personalities and changing the way they talk that the computers are fooled. And the computers say all of these speeches in this one, all of these sermons, are by different people, and Joseph Smith is not one of them. We checked Joseph Smith against Alma – nope. Joseph Smith didn’t write Alma.

So my thesis to you is if you’re going to approach the Book of Mormon on a strictly intellectual basis rather than on a spiritual basis and just analyze it for what it is and what it says, rejecting Joseph Smith as the author of the Book of Mormon is the way to go. I would think in a court of law, beyond a reasonable doubt, you can demonstrate that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, I have great confidence in your ability, but Joseph Smith didn’t write all these things, and put them all together, and have them hold together.

Now, you talk about forgery, and I’ve had some experience with forgery. And I wrote a book asking the question, “Is the Book of Mormon a forgery?” And in the process, I analyzed for my readers, “What is forgery?” And there are three tests for forgery, traditionally three tests. There are internal tests, and there are external tests. And then there is the fundamental question of motive.

Well, I think I’ve demonstrated with this that the Book of Mormon passes the internal tests. You can’t look at it and how it’s constructed, and how things relate to each other, and say there’s anything in this that says forgery. Oh, and by the way one of the other things I [need to add] – the longer the forgery, the easier it is to detect.

Remember the forgeries of Mark Hofmann that he foisted off on the Church? The Salamander Letter, and all of these kind of things? Very short. Not much to check. Very easy in a very short presentation to see to it that it fits together internally. It can pass the internal test.

We want to see whether this forgery passes the internal test. By the way, it’s 535 pages long. That’s not very short. That exposes you to all kinds of possibilities of mistakes if you’re going to write something that long.

The other thing that goes with that on the internal test – there is an old saying: “Truth is the daughter of time.” The farther away you get in time from the forgery, the less convincing the forgery is. You go back to the Hofmann forgeries and at the time in which they took place, they all looked pretty good, because people were talking about the subjects he was forging things on. There were a bunch of scholars that were saying, “Oh, Joseph Smith was caught up in folk magic.” Oooh! Okay, so let’s write the Salamander Letter that proves that Joseph Smith was given to folk magic and therefore not inspired. People lost interest in folk magic, and you look at the Salamander Letter now, and you say, “Why did people pay any attention to this?”  But at the time, “Yeah! This looks good!”

Truth is the daughter of time. And short is better if you want to make it as a forger.

So what has time done to the Book of Mormon? Let’s go the next area, which is a fertile ground of external tests. The Book of Mormon may pass all of the internal tests of all of these things put together, but what about the external tests? And in your mind, construct a ledger. And on one side of the ledger, here on the right, are all of the external evidences that the Book of Mormon is not genuine. And all over here on the left are all the external evidences that the Book of Mormon is true. And we date the ledger “1830.”

What are you going to find?

You’re going to find on the right a whole series of things that demonstrate that the Book of Mormon is nonsense – external evidence this is nonsense. And over here on the left, well, all you’ve got is Joseph’s word, and the word of some of his associates, the witnesses. That’s it.

Metal plates? Who writes on metal plates? That’s absurd. Big cities on the American continent? Everybody knows the Indians are nomads who go around with teepees and move all the time, and the idea of cities – no! That’s nonsense! This whole thing is crazy.

My grandfather used to have an ongoing controversy with one of his business associates who was not a Mormon. He said, “Heber, the Book of Mormon says they built cities out of cement! There’s no cement among the Indians!” My grandfather would say, “If the Book of Mormon says they had cement, they had cement. It’s as easy as that.” Well, you know, they don’t resolve that kind of a controversy.

Okay, well, I’ll just a run through a few of them for you. Metal plates? Today, we know that people of the Abrahamic covenant regularly wrote sacred things on metal plates and buried them in the ground for future generations to find and sometimes put them in stone boxes. We have found in Iran the stone box that looks just like the stone box that Joseph Smith describes the plates came in, in which there are metal plates, on which there are engravings, and the plates are exactly as Joseph Smith described the plates for the Book of Mormon, except these plates are a bit bigger. Joseph Smith’s plates were a little smaller. The Darius Plates, as they were called, named after the Syrian king, are a little bit bigger.

There are over a hundred, maybe by now two hundred or more, I don’t know if some folks lost count, of examples of people of the Abrahamic covenant writing on plates and burying them. Okay, you’ve got to take that off of this side of the ledger as a statement against the Book of Mormon and move it over to this side, because no one in Joseph Smith’s time knew about the plates except Joseph Smith.

Names. Up here, all the people came from Jerusalem, so all of their names in the Book of Mormon should be Jewish names. Names tell you a lot about where people come from. If your named MacGregor, you’ve got Scottish ancestry. If you’re named O’Malley, Irish. The most common name in England? Smith. The most common name in Wales? Jones. What’s the most common name in the Book of Mormon? Anybody got a guess?

Ammon. Where did that come from?

Well, going back to that family journal, Nephi points out that he had an education. His father provided him with an education, and it’s very clear that his father was a wealthy man. How did you become wealthy in Jerusalem in 600 BC? One really good way to do it was to trade with the Egyptians. Now let’s take Lehi for just a minute. Lehi was married. Let’s assume he got married young by our standards – 17, 18. He began his career, and they had two children, and they named them standard Jewish names: Laman, Lemuel. Same kind of names everybody else used at the time. But he was doing business in Egypt by now, and he knew Egyptian, and he had two more sons, and he named them Sam and Nephi.

Now “Sam” is not a contraction of the New England name of Samuel. “Sam” is a perfectly legitimate, stand-alone-by-itself, Egyptian name, and so is Nephi. So, okay, he’s now out of his teens and had his first kids and is now into his twenties and in his career, and he gives his next two sons Egyptian names. Then he get called as a prophet and told to leave and spends his eight years or so wandering in the wilderness and reading the scriptures, and he has two more sons. Now what does he name them? Jacob and Joseph. Two of the most important prophets in the scriptures that he’s reading about.

So you’ve got to have some Egyptian names in the Book of Mormon as well as Hebrew names in the Book of Mormon if it’s going to be internally consistent. And the most common name in the Book of Mormon is Ammon. What was the most common name in Egypt in 600 BC?

You don’t need any hints. Ammon.

Getting down to this third group from the Tower of Babel, and there are no Ammons, and there are no Lemuels. They are Coriantumr or Shiz and a whole bunch of weird names. Do those names ever leak up into the other history? They do. There are some Jaredite names that are in this history. Where did they come from? Well, about the same time that this happened, the last Jaredite makes his way up in to Zarahemla and takes enough culture with him from that world that there are a few Jaredite names from that time forward, nothing prior to that point in the Book of Mormon.

Okay, take the names off the ledger on this side. Move them over to this side.

This is another demonstration – poetry. Every culture has its own poetry. When you get introduced to a haiku, you know you’re talking to somebody who knows something about Japan. Because nobody writes poems in haiku except the Japanese.

Get in 1 Nephi. Read Lehi’s statements to his sons in the Valley of Lemuel. You have desert poetry. Perfect example of desert poetry. Nobody in Joseph Smith’s time knew anything about desert poetry. Move this one over; let’s keep building up on this side all of the good things for the Book of Mormon and keep reducing all those things on the other side.

Well, I could ramble on, but we’re getting towards the end and I want to wrap this up. I just have one more statement about the things that have come to light in external evidence. One of the greatest complaints against the Book of Mormon by its critics is archaeology. There is no dependable Book of Mormon site anywhere in the Americas that can be identified as a Book of Mormon city by anybody other than a Book of Mormon archaeologist. Mormons think they’ve found cities that correspond to the Book of Mormon, but they can’t convince any other archaeologist that they’ve done so. So that stays over here on the list of external evidence that the Book of Mormon is not true.

Guys, you’re looking in the wrong place.

It’s like the old story that’s attributed, interestingly, to the Middle East as an example of the problems of dealing with the Middle East. A fellow says to his neighbor, “I’ve lost a very valuable ring. Come help me look for it.” The neighbor says, “All right, I will,” and they’re out on the street, looking. The street lamp is on, and it’s at night, and the neighbor says, “Where did you lose it?” and he says, “I lost it in the house.” The neighbor says, “Well, why are we looking out here?” and he says, “‘Cause the light is better.”

The Book of Mormon doesn’t give you enough information to find an an archaeological site in the Americas with any kind of accuracy. The family journal, that first part up there, gives you clear information about the family wandering on the Arabian peninsula. And that’s the one of the few places in the world that probably still looks exactly today like it did in 600 BC. There aren’t any superhighways across the Arabian peninsula. They just leave it alone. It’s just the way it was. And if you follow Nephi’s description of their journeys in the Arabian peninsula exactly, you find a gold mine. Why do you need a gold mine? Gold plates. That’s where we get the gold.

They came across a city, and the Hebrews do not use vowels. The archaeologists uncovered right about where Nephi would have to had to have been where Ishmael died and they buried him; they buried him in a town called Nahom. N-A-H-O-M. Which was a burial site. Archaeologists within the last fifteen years have found the site on the Arabian peninsula right about where Nephi said Nahom would be, and they have uncovered the description of the name of the town, and it says “NHM.” And the Hebrews don’t use vowels.

This is an archaeological bullseye!

You’re out there looking under the street light, guys, when the archeology of the Arabian peninsula makes it very clear that you should be looking in the Arabian peninsula for validation of Nephi’s description of where they went. If you do, you’ll find the Land Bountiful, where there’s plenty of wood to build a ship right where Nephi said he would. You turn directly east, and it takes you right smack into an area that would be similar to the Land Bountiful, and nobody in Joseph Smith’s time had ever heard of it.

Well, I could go on and on and on. The external evidence is piling up and piling up on this side of the ledger and shrinking and shrinking on this side of the ledger. Truth is the daughter of time, and the longer your forgery, the more likely it is to be uncovered. Here we are, 180 years since the publishing of the Book of Mormon with far more evidence that says it’s genuine than you had at the time it was published.

Well, the time is gone, but I need to end with the main point. (You say, “Gee, you’ve been rambling for forty-five minutes. Get to the main point.”)

All of this is interesting, and it’s fun, and it’s important for us to know as we get attacked by those who are leaving the Church by telling Joseph Smith was a fraud, the Book of Mormon is a forgery, and so on – important for us to have the tools. Elder Ballard said we need to gather this now.  We didn’t used to have to have this. We do now.

But it’s not the main point.

You don’t need to know about the location of Nahom. You don’t need to know about the proliferation of plates. You don’t need to understand about ancient names in order to live a more successful and worthwhile life.

You need to know about the Lord Jesus Christ.

And the Book of Mormon did not come as a history to be interesting and filled with these kind of parallels. That’s not why it was part of the Restoration. That’s not why the Lord made it available to Joseph Smith so that he could say to people, “Here. This exists. Somebody wrote it.”

Now what is its message?

And so we have to add a fourth criteria to – I skipped over “motive” because of the time. Okay, you get the point anyway. Yeah, internal evidence, external evidence, what’s the motive, but if the Book of Mormon does not pass this last test, it is not valid.

And the last test is relevance. In our lives. In our day.

You know how much work that represents? We had our 24-year-old going over this. As I got through all of this writing my book, I was interviewed on a closed-circuit TV in Deseret Book, and I got asked a question that I had not anticipated and not thought about.

I was asked, “Who is your hero in the Book of Mormon?”

Moroni? Lehi? I had never thought about that. But she asked the question. I got the answer. I’m not saying it’s inspiration; I’m saying it’s me. I’m not saying that anybody else has to share it.

And she said, “Who is your hero in the Book of Mormon?”

I said, “Mormon.”

How much work was that? How much work was it to bring it to us, and why do we have it? Because it truly is another testament of Jesus Christ.

Go back to the Isaiah passages that are in the family journal that Nephi and his brother Jacob pulled out and put there. What do they talk about? Two things. (This is in Isaiah, now.) The gathering of Israel, and the Last Days. The coming of the Messiah to Israel. That is a message as old as human history that God has wanted all of his children to receive. He foresaw the time where we live where that message would ignored. Ridiculed. People would turn their backs.

Joyce and I were in Poland. We saw a couple of young men walking cross the town square with white shirts, dark tie, and a black badge on their shirt pocket and were pretty sure we knew what they did all day. So we went out to them, and we chatted with them, and I said, “Poland. Pretty tough.” And they said, “Yeah, Poland’s a pretty tough place.” I said, “Yeah, heavily Catholic.” And they said, “No, no. That’s not the problem. These people don’t believe in God. Catholicism is cultural for them; it’s not religious. We’ve got to convince them that there is a God before we can teach them gospel.”

Karen Armstrong, who is a prolific writer on Christianity and Islam, she and I got in a conversation one day. We talked about the state of Christianity in Europe, and she said, “If you say to anybody in Europe today that you’re a religious person, you’re treated with disdain.” Europe is this post-Christian Europe. This is the world in which we live. This is the world in which we preach the Gospel.  This is the world to which we must bring the message of the reality of Jesus Christ, and the Lord has given us a tool with which to do it.  It requires everybody to recognize this exists. This is here. This is not some pretty speech. This is real. Read the Book of Mormon.

I won’t tell the Proctor story in any kind of detail, but I will close with it. Elder Hardy knew the Proctors. When we called on Bill and Marian Proctor for the first meeting, we had left a Book of Mormon with Marian. We had gone tracting that morning, came back that night. He was reading it – Bill Proctor was reading the book by the fire, which I took as a good sign.

And then he stood up and came to me, and he said, “Look, lads, I know why you’re here, and you’re wasting your time. I have no intention of joining your church. But this is an interesting book you have.  So I’ll tell you what let’s do. I’ll buy your book, and you go on your way, and we’ll both save time. Agreed?”

I said, “Agreed. Yep. But as long as we’re here…”

Okay, so as long as we’re here, we sat down, and we gave them the first discussion of the Book of Mormon. And then we asked the magic question – when would be a good time for us to come back? And he gave us an appointment back, and there’s much more to the story, but very powerfully, before I left Scotland – excuse me, I get dewy-eyed at the dedication of a parking lot – before I left Scotland, I said to him, “When did you know? Bill, when did it happen [that you knew] the Book of Mormon was true?”

And he said, “Oh, that first night.” He said, “The Spirit was there overwhelmingly, telling me it was true.”

He didn’t need any internal or external validations, or any intellectual analysis. All he needed was an open heart and the presence of the Holy Ghost, and he knew. The Book of Mormon can survive any attack by any enemy of the Church because the Proctor example has been repeated millions of times, in every culture, in every country, all around the world. The Lord’s wisdom in having Mormon do all that work, and having Moroni deliver those plates to Joseph Smith, and then the translation, is validated again and again. The Book of Mormon is, indeed, another witness of Jesus Christ, and a precious gift that God has given to warn us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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.


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