And thus it is that this post shall conclude the serialized reproduction of my lengthy reply to “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony” by Jeremy Runnells.
I doubt this is the last I’ll have to say on the subject, but this is the last selection from my original reply, which I’ve been cutting up into bite-sized chunks over the course of the last three months.
You can read the whole thing 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.
Oh, thank heaven.
“Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a Prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead people, then he should be exposed, his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false…”
– President Joseph Fielding Smith
Amen and amen.
When I first discovered that Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon,
Play it again, Sam.
that he was married to 11 other men’s wives,
All together now: Sealings, not marriages, no sex.
and that the Book of Abraham has absolutely nothing to do with the papyri or facsimiles…
How can the Book of Abraham have nothing to do with the facsimiles? They are the Book of Abraham.
I went into a panic. I desperately needed answers and I needed them 3 hours ago. Among the first sources I looked to for answers were official Church sources such as Mormon.org and LDS.org. I couldn’t find them.
I then went to FairMormon and Neal A. Maxwell Institute (formerly FARMS).
FairMormon and these unofficial apologists have done more to destroy my testimony than any anti- Mormon source ever could. I found their version of Mormonism to be alien and foreign to the Chapel Mormonism that I grew up in attending Church, Seminary, reading Scriptures, General Conferences, EFY, mission, and BYU. Their answers are not only contradictory to the scriptures and teachings I learned through correlated Mormonism…they’re truly bizarre.
I was amazed to learn that, according to these unofficial apologists, translate doesn’t really mean translate, horses aren’t really horses (they’re tapirs), chariots aren’t really chariots (since tapirs can’t pull chariots without wheels), steel isn’t really steel, Hill Cumorah isn’t really in New York (it’s possibly in Mesoamerica), Lamanites aren’t really the principal ancestors of the Native American Indians, marriage isn’t really marriage (if they’re Joseph’s marriages? They’re just mostly non-sexual spiritual sealings),
Hey! There it is! My last “sealings, not marriages, no sex” finally paid off!
Sorry. I’ll let you conclude without further interruption, unless you mention the rock in the hat again.
and prophets aren’t really prophets (only when they’re heretics teaching today’s false doctrine).
Why is it that I had to first discover all of this – from the internet – at 31-years-old after 20 years of high activity in the Church? I wasn’t just a seat warmer at Church. I’ve read the scriptures several times. I’ve read hundreds of “approved” Church books. I was an extremely dedicated missionary who voluntarily asked to stay longer in the mission field. I was very interested in and dedicated to the gospel.
How am I supposed to feel about learning about these disturbing facts at 31-years-old? After making critical life decisions based on trust and faith that the Church was telling me the complete truth about its origins and history? After many books, Seminary, EFY, Church history tour, mission, BYU, General Conferences, Scriptures, Ensigns, and regular Church attendance?
So, putting aside the absolute shock and feeling of betrayal in learning about all of this information that has been kept concealed and hidden from me by the Church my entire life, I am now expected to go back to the drawing board. Somehow, I’m supposed to rebuild my testimony on new discovered information that is not only bizarre and alien to the Chapel Mormonism I had a testimony of; it’s almost comical.
I’m now supposed to believe that Joseph has the credibility of translating ancient records when the Book of Abraham and the Kinderhook Plates destroy this claim? That Joseph has the character and integrity to take him at his word after seeing his deliberate deception in hiding and denying polygamy and polyandry for at least 10 years of his adult life? How he backdated and retrofitted the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood restoration events as if they were in the Book of Commandments all along? And I’m supposed to believe with a straight face that Joseph using a rock in a hat is totally legit? Despite this being the exact same method he used to con people out of their money during his treasure hunting days? Despite this ruining the official story of ancient prophets and Moroni investing all that time and effort into gold plates, which were not used because Joseph’s face was stuffed in a hat?
(At least you didn’t mention the rock. Sorry. Continue.)
I’m supposed to sweep under the rug the inconsistent and contradictory First Vision accounts and just believe anyway? I’m supposed to believe that these men who have been wrong about so many important things and who have not prophesied, seered, or revealed much in the last 169 or so years are to be sustained as “prophets, seers, and revelators”?
I’m supposed to believe the scriptures have credibility after endorsing so much rampant immorality, violence, and despicable behavior? When it says that the earth is only 7,000 years old and that there was no death before then? Or that Heavenly Father is sitting on a throne with an erect penis when all evidence points to it really being the pagan Egyptian god of sex, Min? The “most correct book on earth” Book of Mormon going through over 100,000 changes over the years? After going through so many revisions and still being incorrect? Noah’s ark and the global flood are literal events? Tower of Babel is a literal event? The Book of Mormon containing 1769 King James Version edition translation errors and 1611 King James Version translators’ italics while claiming to be an ancient record?
That there’s actually a polygamous god who revealed a Warren Jeffs style revelation on polygamy that Joseph pointed to as a perverted license to secretly marry other living men’s wives and teenage girls barely out of puberty? That this crazy god actually threatened Joseph’s life with one of his angels with a sword if a newly married pregnant woman didn’t agree to Joseph’s marriage proposal? And like the part-time racist schizophrenic god, I’m supposed to believe in a god who was against polygamy before he was for polygamy but decided in 1890 that he was again against it?
I’m told to put these foundational problems on the shelf and wait until I die to get answers? To stop looking at the Church intellectually even though the “glory of God is intelligence”? Ignore and have faith anyway?
I’m sorry, but faith is believing and hoping when there is little evidence for or against something. Delusion is believing when there is an abundance of evidence against something. To me, it’s absolute insanity to bet my life, my precious time, my money, my heart, and my mind into an organization that has so many serious problematic challenges to its foundational truth claims.
There are just way too many problems. We’re not just talking about one issue here. We’re talking about dozens of serious issues that undermine the very foundation of the LDS Church and its truth claims.
The past year was the worst year of my life. I experienced a betrayal, loss, and sadness unlike anything I’ve ever known. “Do what is right; let the consequence follow” now holds a completely different meaning for me. I desperately searched for answers to all of the problems. To me, the answer eventually came but it was not what I expected… or hoped for.
As a child, it seemed so simple;
Every step was clearly marked.
Priesthood, mission, sweetheart, temple;
Bright with hope I soon embarked.
But now I have become a man,
And doubt the promise of the plan.
For the path is growing steeper,
And a slip could mean my death.
Plunging upward, ever deeper,
I can barely catch my breath.
Oh, where within this untamed wild
Is the star that led me as a child?
As I crest the shadowed mountain,
I embrace the endless sky;
The expanse of heaven’s fountain
Now unfolds before my eye.
A thousand stars shine on the land,
The chart drafted by my own hand.
– The Journey –
Jeremy T. Runnells
Well spoken, Jeremy. As of this writing, and as of this Internet posting three months later, you and I have never met, but I hope that changes at some point. I have tremendous respect for your integrity and honesty, even though it has led you outside the boundaries of the Church.
I don’t know if anything I’ve written here will be remotely helpful or persuasive. It breaks my heart that you reached out for information and found nothing to strengthen your faith. But if one person reads this response and is helped the way I was when I read “The Truth About the Godmakers” all those years ago, then this will have been time well spent.
I remember my own feeling of panic when I bumped into the weird Church that “The Godmakers” was telling me was my own. I think, however, that I was coming at it from a different angle. The premise of “The Godmakers” wasn’t so much that it was all a fraud so much as that it was a Satanic deception, and that being a Mormon would consign to an eternal hell because I wasn’t really a Christian.
I can remember on my mission coming across many evangelical Christians who condemned me to hell unless I was willing to accept Jesus into my life. Invariably, I would use the opportunity to, then and there, accept Jesus into my life. I would say whatever little prayer they had printed on their cards or flyers and then look them in the eye and say I agreed with every word in it. It still wasn’t enough. I remember talking to one family at their doorstep, who said I needed to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.
“Fair enough,” I said. “I cheerfully accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I recognize that I am helpless without Him, and that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I invite him into my life, and I know He is the only way to heaven.”
They stood there, flummoxed.
“Is that it?” I said. “Do I have to do anything else?”
“Yes, you do,” the mother said. “You need to repent of your Mormon faith.”
See, that’s the problem. These guys insist that all you have to do is accept Jesus, and, presto, you’re saved. But if you say you accept Jesus and still want to hang with the Mormons, you didn’t do it right. If you press people hard enough on this, they’ll tell you haven’t really accepted Jesus, you’ve accepted some other Jesus. The Godmakers constantly refers to Jesus as being separate from the guy the Mormons worship, who is repeatedly identified as the “Mormon Jesus.” The problem is that the Mormon Jesus is pretty much identical to the other Jesus – he was the Son of God, born to a virgin in Bethlehem; he grew up in Nazareth; he called twelve apostles and taught the Gospel, and then was betrayed and crucified on Calvary. Three days later, He rose from the dead, and He commissioned His apostles to teach his Gospel to all the world. Now, unless the Mormon Jesus did all this same stuff down the street or something, it’s pretty hard to distinguish between the two.
The problem is that Mormons believe Jesus did more than this. The Book of Mormon tells of His visit to the Lost Tribes of Israel, and Joseph Smith and other modern prophets talk of seeing Jesus on several occasions. So what these Christians are saying is that Jesus only did what is chronicled in the New Testament, and only the Mormon Jesus did all this extra, weird stuff.
So, when you get right down to it, the way to hell isn’t a lack of belief in Jesus. Apparently, the danger lies in believing too much about Jesus.
I’m not quite sure what to do about this. I can go into almost any Christian church in the country, and they’ll tell me things about Jesus that I will heartily agree with. I believe He did everything the Bible says He did. But I also believe Jesus is more than just words on a page. I don’t worship the Bible; I worship Jesus, who is not bound like the pages of a book.
I can recall quite vividly one of the first experiences I had that built my own personal witness of Jesus Christ. I was in a pageant at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles called III Nephi, which dramatized Christ’s visit to the New World after His resurrection. I was nine or ten years old, I think. I played one of the children who greets the Savior, and we were taught two songs to sing on that occasion – one was “I Feel My Savior’s Love,” and the other was “The Love of God.” I can recall feeling a very powerful witness that Jesus was real; that He loved me, and that He knew me by name. I can remember a testimony meeting right after the dress rehearsal, where one of the men stood up and said “That which you feel right now is the love of God.” He was right. I knew he was telling the truth, just as surely and plainly as I knew I existed.
The song “I Feel My Savior’s Love” was written for that pageant, and it has since become something of a staple among Mormon children. I’ve heard it a billion times. But I hadn’t heard the song “The Love of God” since the day I last sang it on the stage of the Shrine. That is, until one Easter stake conference, when the stake choir sang it as a counterpoint to “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” And instantly, I felt that same sweet assurance, the power of the Spirit reminding me of the certainty I learned so long ago.
That which I felt was the love of God.
Maybe that means I’m damned for all eternity. Maybe the Mormon Jesus has deceived me. Maybe, maybe, maybe – but I really don’t think so. There are some things that sink too deeply into your soul to deny them.
I recognize that much of what I believe is too foreign or alien to you, and I think think the best point you make in your letter has to do with the idea of prophetic infallibility. We do a massive disservice to people by implying that the Church is perfect, that prophets never err, and that it’s faithless to recognize that nobody gets their agency extracted, not even prophets.
Discipleship required us to be patient enough with an imperfect church that we were willing to endure error in order to sustain leaders who, unlike a perfect Christ, have weaknesses and blind spots and therefore actually need to be sustained.
And isn’t that a better story anyway? Isn’t it better to imagine a church that develops and grows and learns from its mistakes?
That’s the story, incidentally, that the Lord has always expected us to tell. I don’t think that people who stand up in a testimony meeting to praise this as “the only true church” realize that they’re misquoting the Lord, who never actually said that. What he did say was this was the only true and living church. (See D&C 1:30)
Plenty of other churches have truth in them. Some have gobs of it. But this church is both true and living. It is more than just correct principles; it is the living people doing everything in their power to apply them. And the Church, like all living things, develops, grows, and learns from its mistakes.
I don’t say that to be critical. I love the Church. I love its doctrines, which provide a cohesive and glorious vision of the universe that has no equal in the other religions and philosophies of the world. But I also love the Church in practice, which has repeatedly come to my rescue, temporally and spiritually.
I will always be grateful for a ward that rallied around my family when my oldest daughter injured her spinal cord in a skiing accident and was left partially paralyzed. They organized a massive, successful fundraiser that covered most of our more-than-significant medical expenses, and they assembled a team of thirty-or-so people who came into our house and scrubbed it from top to bottom. They also fixed broken cabinets, replaced damaged electrical wiring, and installed a new kitchen sink, three new toilets, an entire handicapped-accessible bathroom, and double railings on two stairwells and in our front and back entrances.
Their main focus, however, was completely redecorating my daughter’s bedroom, which now includes an entirely new bedframe and bedding, new furniture, a fresh coat of paint, and a beautiful mural of a flowering tree just above her bed. And just to make sure that my other daughter didn’t feel left out, they entirely redid her room just for good measure, installing a built-in new window seat at the base of her bed.
None of that has any bearing on whether the Book of Abraham is an accurate translation or not, but I think it’s important not to lose sight of what the Church really is on a practical, day-to-day level. On the whole, it makes bad people good and good people better.
This church is also transformative because people have had a genuine, powerful experience with Jesus Christ, often through the Book of Mormon. I have seen, firsthand, what the power of Christ can do, and I have encountered God in this Church in an intimate, personal, and undeniable way. I don’t think those kinds of spiritual experiences require me to abandon reason or stop asking questions, but they keep me from panicking the next time I hear an accusation against Joseph Smith or the Church that I’ve never heard before.
I have found God in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I pray you find Him wherever your faith journey takes you.
This wasn’t in my original reply, but I want to add a section from my father’s final sermon. In my last conversation with Dad prior to his stroke, he told me had read my reply to you from beginning to end. It may, in fact, be the last thing of any length that he read in this lifetime. So, Jeremy, this was probably not your intent, but your letter gave me a precious and sacred bond with my father in the final days of his life that I will always cherish. I cannot thank you enough for that.
The day before the stroke that took his life, Dad was engaged in a little “unofficial apologetics” of his own, and, as a fireside in Arlington, Virginia, he offered a vigorous defense of the Book of Mormon, addressing many of the issues you raised in your letter. But he concluded with a story from his own mission in Scotland, which I quote below:
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.