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CES Reply: Introduction

This is an excerpt from “A Reply from a Former CES Employee.” The entire document can be downloaded for free.

Download CES Reply


This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’ “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony. Jeremy’s words are in green, the color of life, while mine are in black, the color of darkness.

Introduction

[Name of CES Director Removed],

Thank you for responding to my grandfather’s request to answer my concerns and questions and for offering your time with me. I appreciate it.

Well, as is probably clear by this point, I’ve never met you or your grandfather, and I’m not the CES Director who’s name you’ve had removed. (Wonder who that guy is. Has he come forward? Is he in some kind of witness protection program? Is he hiding in the John Taylor bunker in the Logan Temple?) I recognize I’m quite presumptuous of me to step into a conversation to which I was not invited, but that’s the kind of guy I am. I thank you for your kind words which I’m pretending are intended for me, even as I recognize that you may not appreciate my response after I’m finished.

I’m interested in your thoughts and answers as I have been unable to find official answers from the Church for most of these issues. I’m hoping you’re going to have better answers than many of the ones given by unofficial apologists such as FAIR and Neal A. Maxwell Institute (formerly FARMS).

And right here, I want to stop you and challenge some questionable assumptions right at the outset. You label both FAIR and the Maxwell Institute as “unofficial apologists.” This is a charge you repeat several times on your website and in your initial letter. The designation seems appropriate for FAIR, which is an independent organization with no official connection to the Church other than the membership of its researchers, but the Maxwell Institute is funded by BYU, a Church-owned school. Doesn’t that give them any cache of officialdom? Surely if the official church thought what the Maxwell Institute were saying were nonsense, they’d pull the plug. Are there only 15 “official apologists” whose office gives them the necessary credibility to respond to your questions? Do the Seventies count? Or the General Relief Society Presidency? I know they don’t have the priesthood, but I do think it’s cool that women say prayers in General Conference now. I’d like to see more movement in that direction, but we’ll get to that point soon enough.

The basic problem here is a fallacious appeal to authority in an attempt to poison the well of anything that FAIR or FARMS may say because it lacks some kind of Mormon Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Their arguments, like your arguments, ought to be evaluated solely on their merits rather on the credentials of those making them. Remember, they may be unofficial apologists, but you’re an unofficial critic, too. (If you are official, I’m going to need to see some paperwork and two forms of ID.)

I’m just going to be straightforward and blunt in sharing my concerns.  Obviously I’m a disaffected member who lost his testimony so it’s no secret which side I’m on at the moment.  All this information is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history.

Fine by me. I’ve had my shots.

With this said, I’d be pretty arrogant and ignorant to say that I have all the information and that you don’t have answers.  Like you, I put my pants on one leg at a time and I see through a glass darkly. 

Well, that’s nice to know. Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you that as I’m writing this, I’m not even wearing pants. So if you’re watching me, that dark glass would really come in handy.

You may have new information and/or a new perspective that I may not have heard or considered before.  This is why I’m genuinely interested in what your answers and thoughts are to these troubling problems.

I probably don’t have any new information or/nor a new perspective, which means that you’re likely to hear a number of things you’ve both heard and considered before, many of which come from those unofficial, disqualified sources you previously mentioned. But by the same token, having already read ahead, nothing you’ve written is anything I hadn’t heard or considered before. Yet somehow, the same information that drove you ought of the Church has not damaged, and in many cases has even strengthened, my own personal faith.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to either of us. In the age if the Internet, it’s rather foolish to presume that the church has any capacity to hide any aspect of its practices or history from the world at large, so it always amazes me when people who are disaffected with the church, as they fixate on something that church does or did that they don’t like, act like they’ve uncovered something nobody else has ever discovered.

This was the case when I had a telephone conversation with a man named Mike Norton, a guy who, by his own admission, has twelve fake temple recommends that he uses to sneak in to temples to film the endowment ceremony and post it on YouTube. He was very friendly at the outset, and he remained friendly even as he launched into a 45-minute diatribe against the church, all of which was stuff that I’d heard before and have talked about on my blog beyond the point of endurance.

Did I know all about the seedy elements of Joseph Smith’s polygamy? Well, yes. What about the Kinderhook Plates? Yeah, haven’t written about them, but they’re no big deal. What about the lack of external evidence for the Book of Mormon? Well, I think there’s quite a bit more evidence, both internal and external, than enemies of the church will admit. Didn’t get a chance to say any of that, though – he tore through his spiel under the assumption that I’d never heard such things, and I just listened as he recited them as he has likely done dozens, if not hundreds, of times before. The oddest complaint he had, the only one which I have not, in fact, heard from anyone else, was that Gordon B. Hinckley wasn’t a prophet because he didn’t act like Moses coming down from Sinai when he went on Larry King’s CNN show. I had seen that interview, and I found him pleasant and inspiring, but maybe he should have parted some large body of water or something.

So, to sum up, nothing here is going to be particularly new to either of us. But perhaps it might be helpful to someone else.

I’ve decided to lay down just about all the major concerns that I have. I went through my notes from my past year of research and compiled them together. It doesn’t make sense for me to just lay down 5 concerns while I also have 20 other legitimate concerns that are keeping me from believing the truth claims of the LDS Church.

Lay away.

A quick background might be helpful as to where I’m coming from. I was a very active and fully believing member my entire life up until around the summer of 2012. My grandpa already outlined my life events to you in his email so I think you get the idea that I accepted and embraced Mormonism.

Again, I don’t know your grandpa, but I take you at your word. I’ll even assume you always had 100% home teaching and that you paid tithing on your gross income and not your net.

In February of 2012, I was reading the news online when I came across the following news article: Mormonism Besieged by the Modern Age. In the article was information about a Q&A meeting at Utah State University that LDS Church Historian and General Authority, Elder Marlin K. Jensen gave in late 2011. He was asked his thoughts regarding the effects of Google on membership and people who are “leaving in droves” over Church history.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen’s response:

“Maybe since Kirtland, we’ve never had a period of – I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having now; largely over these issues…”

This truly shocked me. I didn’t understand what was going on or why people would leave “over history.”

That quote from Elder Jensen has infamously made him the most quoted General Authority on anti-Mormon sites and has been the source of much mischief, especially since it’s usually cited by people who claim that Elder Jensen himself made the claim that people were “leaving in droves.” To cite one example, John Dehlin’s website StayLDS.org links to the article with the following description of Elder Jensen’s remarks:

This year, Elder Marlin Jensen, the Mormon Church‘s outgoing official historian, acknowledged that members are defecting from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “in droves” and that the pace is increasing.

The problem is that Elder Jensen said no such thing. The “leaving in droves” premise came from the questioner, not Elder Jensen. Perhaps Elder Jensen should have corrected the questioner in his answer – i.e. “I don’t think it’s accurate to say people are ‘leaving in droves,’ buddy. And just how much is a ‘drove,’ anyway?” –  but I’m betting he didn’t realize that he would be attributed with the designation of droves from then to forevermore. It’s also dishonest to say, as Dehlin’s site does, that Jensen claimed “the pace [of drove leavers] is increasing.” He said no such thing. He’s later clarified his statement by saying “To say we are experiencing some Titanic-like wave of apostasy is inaccurate.” That statement would appear to contradict both the droves and the increasing pace, but it’s a statement that’s generally given short shrift when critics cite Jensen as proof of the Church’s implosion.

To your credit, you make the proper attribution of droves to the questioner and not to the General Authority, but since so many others do not, I thought this issue bears mentioning here. It’s also worth reading all of Elder Jensen’s answer, which, in context, described the great lengths to which the church is now going in order to provide greater access to historical information. You can read the full answer here at this unofficial apologetic website.

I started doing research and reading books like LDS historian and scholar Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and many others to try to better understand what was happening.

And good for you! I adore Rough Stone Rolling and heartily recommend it to all readers, both LDS and not. A terrific read, thoroughly researched, and one that vastly increased my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

The following issues are among my main concerns:

All right, strap yourselves in, folks – incoming droves of stuff coming at us, starting tomorrow…

CES Reply: Foreword
CES Reply: The Book of Mormon and the King James Bible

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  1. Really charming essay! Personable, disarmingly fresh, and warmly witty, without being uncharitably caustic. Anyway, your Fairmormon Kinderhook plates link is busted, at least for me. Try this one: fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/ask-the-apologist-how-do-we-explain-early-comments-about-the-kinderhook-plates

    Also, “cache of officialdom” should probably read “cachet”. My testimony of your infallibility is hereby shaken! 😉