Saturday, June 12, 2010

Myths and Stories

Mormons and non-Mormons, and yes anti-Mormons, all have their favorite 'true' stories they love to tell. Unfortunately, because history is a complex tapestry of events, and requires some form of editing to tell the story, we find the regular accusation of one side or the other "lying" or "deceiving" to get their story out with their spin.

I try to deal with the problem by reading both sides of an issue in attempting to make a decision about what history might actually have been. If you look at my personal library, I probably by a ratio of three or four to one own non-LDS books, and I probably own about 1/2 as many anti-Mormon books as Mormon-authored books, the vast majority of my library consisting of non-LDS scholarly works.

So let's discuss a few issues which are commonly discussed using the ever authoritative "everybody knows" author.

1. Wes Walters proved there was no revival in 1820, therefore Joseph Smith lied about the First Vision.
False. The Rev. Wesley Walters is most famous for finding, and then stealing, a document he said showed Joseph Smith was convicted of "glass looking". He only returned the document when he was threatened with charges for the unlawful removal of the document. In any event, subsequent analysis has shown that according to the fees in place for a constable and justice of the peace, Joseph Smith was only charged, but was found not guilty.

In any event, prior to finding this document, a 1967 article about revivals in the Palmyra area put Walters on the anti-Mormon historian map. He asserted there was no record of a revival in the Palmyra area in 1820. This led to frantic activity by LDS scholars to verify his assertion, and see if evidence to the contrary existed. Walters took the position that he was an unbiased and open seeker of truth, and that he simply had a heart for the deceived Mormon people. That was his position until irrefutable proof of the existence of not just revivals in Palmyra was discovered, but that there were in fact huge numbers of converts in the period from 1817-1820 (See Backman's, "The First Vision", Chapters 3-5 and appendices P & Q, and D. Michael Quinn's 2006 article (hard to find now on the Internet, but I have a copy)"Joseph Smith's Experience of a Methodist 'Camp Meeting' in 1820", wherein he points out that they told Walters about the camp meetings in the Palmyra area back in 1969, and he thereafter refused to engage the LDS scholarly community, and essentially played to the sympathetic, uninformed and trusting anti-LDS community. He lied about the existence of any evidence in a 1980 article, and never came clean before his 1990 death. I must point out the irony of a man who attacks Joseph Smith for making up events and deceiving people who himself consciously stole documents from government offices and outright lies about the very existence of sources after previously acknowledging them in his writings.

So we have documented revivals in the Palmyra-Manchester area from 1817 through 1820 by non-LDS sources. The assertion that Joseph got confused about 1824 revivals has no merit. Joseph's story of heavy religious activity in the Palmyra area is confirmed.

2. Joseph Smith used a curtain to separate himself from his scribes during the translation of the Book of Mormon.
Answer: Mostly false. There was a very brief period of a few days during the time Joseph was translating with Martin Harris when they put up a curtain. But this was the exception. They did put a curtain over the front door to the house to get people to not look in just passing by, but everyone in the house could see what was going on, if they cared to look.

The translation process really is divided into two parts. During the early translation time, before the 116 pages were lost, Joseph would wear the breast plate with the silver glass bow attached at the shoulder, containing the translators.

After the plates were returned following the loss of the pages, Joseph used the Seer Stone exclusively in the hat with a small hole for light. Apparently the silver bow was uncomfortable to wear. Joseph had confidence in the seer stone based on his earlier experiences, so I am sure after prayerful consideration, he made the change.

Interestingly, translation was always a wide open process in the home of wherever he was translating. Everyone saw what was happening. Thus Emma noted in an interview with her son that it was impossible for Joseph to have any books or manuscripts to copy from, since he was in plain view and she would have seen them. This is devastating news to anti-Mormons, who envision Joseph behind a curtain reading the Isaiah passages directly from the Bible, changing the occasional word. (Did I mention there was no Bible in the home when the Isaiah passages were translated? True. Makes it hard to read from a book which isn't there.)

So what of the plates being seen by everyone? Well, it turns out that Joseph never looks at the bare plates during translation. They are in a box or a large bag while sitting on the table or nearby. In at least one instance, he translated using the Seer stone while the plates were not in the house at all. This is not really shocking when seen in the context that the translation was achieved by the "gift and power of God", and not by human intelligence. Joseph is having the translation communicated to him via divine means.

Why do we have those classic pictures in Ward libraries showing Joseph with his finger on the plates, sometimes with Oliver seeing the plates, and not Urim and Thummim or Seer stone? I am not really sure. I have looked at this from a historical perspective, and it seems that starting early in the 20th Century, discussion of the mechanics of the translation virtually ceased, as use of the Book of Mormon in public preaching also was reduced. In the second half of the 20th Century there was a huge push in missionary work and reading the Book of Mormon. At that point artists offered up psuedo-realistic artwork which lacked accurate detail. The correct discussion of the process has been discussed in official LDS sources, but institutional inertia being what it is, I suspect nobody wants to take responsibility inside the Curriculum department to change.

3. Danites enforced Joseph and Brigham's dictates.
False. In fact the opposite. Initially the Danites were a more or less positive civic service organization to help the Saints. But when they turned sinister, Joseph separated them from the Church.

Related topic is people were killed or afraid of death by the Danites.
False, at least as related to Church doctrine and apostasy. Thousands left the Church for various reasons in the 1800's. Not a single assassination is tied to the Church leaders by any credible, verifiable source. When I hear this charge, I always ask for the name of someone among these masses. There is always dumb silence, or they name one or two events which have no link to Brigham Young or Joseph Smith. Name names, if you have a case, prove it.

4. Mormons are ignorant of their doctrines.
Yes and No. I know very few theologians in the Church. Most study for their own spiritual growth. In fact, a PEW survey showed Mormons study the Bible more than any other denomination's adherents. (So if Mormons are ignorant, what word do you use for those who study even less?) Most can tell you what they believe, which in my experience is pretty close to official doctrine. Most cannot tell you at any depth about controversial historical issues. And why should they? I literally have never met a non-ministerial person who even understands the issues around Biblical textual transmission and errors. I am certainly no expert, but I am informed. Most swallow what their pastor told them, and go no further. Which, I think, is generally good enough. The Bible is not true because of perfect transmission. It is true because the Spirit can testify of its truth. Just like the Book of Mormon, as the D&C says.

5. The Church is money driven.
No more so than Malachi is money driven. Financial issues drive the ability of an organization to impact the lives of believers and non-believers alike. The Church expects members to be willing to pay tithing because we all obligated to help move the ministry forward. The Church does much good with what it has. Considering it is about 1/70th the size of the Catholic Church, and makes more money than any other Church, I think that is a statement to the commitment of members, who live in the real world and not cult-like compounds attempting to control the members exposure to the world, it is even more remarkable.

6. Brigham Young ordered the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Answer: No. In fact, emphatically no. We have a copy of his memo saying to let them pass. His secretary took the original ink note he composed, wetted it with water, then pressed it against another sheet of paper to get an exact, mirror image duplicate of the note. (This was standard procedure of all 1st presidency correspondence.) He said to let them pass. Assertions of him wanting to let the Indians kill the Fancher party are likewise complete distortions of history. He certainly was OK with the Indians harrassing all non-LDS wagon parties, striving for some degree of isolation at one point in time. But there is never any OK given to kill anyone. Ever. If that were not the case, the Cedar City Stake President and leader of the local militia, Isaac Haight, would not have reportedly been quoted as saying, after ordering the attack, upon receiving the note from Pres. Young, "Too late, too late," and then began to cry. In other words, he made the decision, not BY.

7. The Church is not growing.
Well, not really true. You can do the math on the number of wards being created year over year, and that is the most accurate measure of active membership. The rate of adding wards is slowing, true. But it is growing. Now I think growth means absolutely nothing in terms of whether an organization is true or false. But expansion throughout the world is one of the signs of the times, and so is important in that way. And also the fact that there were prophecies about temples to dot the world is also important. That growth is occurring is not seriously questionable. The Church does not waste money. It won't build buildings, add ward units, etc., if there is no growth. Since 1999, there are 300 new stakes (2,542 vs. 2,865) and about 3 million members. There are over 2,700 new wards and branches (25,793 vs. 28,424. So if an average ward has 150 active members, then you are talking around 1/2 million new active members. Which is not a great retention rate, to be sure, but it is certainly growth. But it also doesn't speak to the issue of allowing wards to backfill more. I know our activity rate is above 50% in my area. But is there only 4.5 million active members worldwide? Official and anecdotal evidence would seem to be contrary to that.

8. Mormons "earn" salvation.
No. If that were the case, there would be no doctrine of the Atonement. Man DOES have a role in his salvation, but it is simply false to think that a Mormon believes he can get to heaven without Jesus' help. I think it is like driving a car up a steep hill. Jesus is the car and the gas. But we still need to get in the car, turn it on and drive. Too many "Christians" think they just need to know the car is there, and don't have to get on board.

Enough for today. Drop me a note if you have additional items.


JediMormon said...

Woo-hoo! First to comment. Bob, you need to clone yourself so that we can enjoy more of the same more often. I especially appreciated the information debunking the charge that there was no revival in 1820. This is a charge I've heard many times in the past. Also appreciated is the comments about "Mormons are ignorant of their doctrines". I would have assigned a "yes and no" to that one, also. My experience has also been that most members of other religions are on much the same level as Mormons are accused of being, when it comes to understanding and communicating their beliefs to others.

Anyway, good one! Looking forward to next time.

Lyndi said...

I think you have found some good and some not-so-good points. However, I also think they would be much more convincing with some citations.

Additionally, concerning the Danites, of course it is nearly impossible to "name names," probably due to the fact that it was a secret society, where records are always scarce. Yet, I still believe it is important to point out the potential for violence of the early LDS church, as made possible through the doctrine of blood atonement:

“It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men, yet MEN CAN COMMIT SINS WHICH IT CAN NEVER REMIT. As it was in ancient days, so it is in our day; and though the principles are taught publicly from this stand, still thepeople do not understand them; yet the law is precisely the same. There are sins that can be ATONED for by an offering upon an altar, as in ancient days; and there are sins that the blood of a lamb, of a calf, or of turtle doves, cannot remit, but THEY MUST BE ATONED FOR BY THEBLOOD OF THE MAN."(Emphasis added; Sermon by Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses,Vol. 4, pages 53-54; also published in the Deseret News, 1856, page 235)

As far as this idea: "Too many "Christians" think they just need to know the car is there, and don't have to get on board."

All human actions are imperfect, even with the best of intentions. So why would God accept our imperfect actions as a key to our salvation? He wouldn't, and it is written in Christ's very blood. And to take your analogy to it's logical conclusion... if a person receives the gift of a car, who in their right mind would just look at it in their driveway? Of course they would get in and drive it, to the very best of their abilities.

I live in Utah and love Mormons. I like to argue on these points because I believe there is a greater truth outside of the LDS faith as strongly as you believe that you are in the "one true church". I do not think this makes me anti-Mormon any more than you are an anti-"Christian".

Jenny said...

"I like to argue on these points because I believe there is a greater truth outside of the LDS faith as strongly as you believe that you are in the "one true church". I do not think this makes me anti-Mormon any more than you are an anti-"Christian"."

Well said Lyndi.

Bob said...

Lyndi and Jenny,
Thanks for the comments, I think first time for each of you.

As for the Danites, the issue of "naming names" is not about naming who were Danites. We know many of them. I am talking about the supposed murders, acts of intimidation, etc. In response to this exact issue, the Church issued a statement in 1889 which was widely published, stating that despite thousands of back-sliding, inactive and even former-Mormons-becoming-anti-Mormons, neither the press nor these people can point to any bodies. Where are they, when were they killed, and who are they? The slandering of the Church with the Danites label is unfair.

As for the car analogy, without belaboring it, the "once saved always saved" crowd is very specifically watching the car. Getting in, in my analogy, is the requirement to help through our actions to "work out our salvation" (Phil 2:12). We know they don't because we can see measurements such as personal prayer activity, charitable giving, time spent volunteering, marriage/divorce rates, volunteering at their children's schools, having children vs. getting abortions, sharing their faith, etc., are all measurements of getting into the car. Pick other measurements of faithful living which require effort on one's part as you like. The objective criteria all show that the professing Mormons are willing to commit their treasure-- their time, energy and money-- to Christ as they understand him. The Pew and Barna survey's also show that is not the case to a great degree among Evangelicals. As you probably know, in the Bible Belt states, divorce among Born Again Christians is higher than among the unbelieving.
There are faith driven drivers who live among all faiths.
As for calling you an "anti-Mormon", I am not sure I ever have. I will usually differentiate between an anti-Mormon, who hates the basics of the LDS faith and often their membership, and critics who simply observe and/or focus on negative aspects of Mormon beliefs.

The degree of commitment to your practice of faith is something God judges. I don't know your spiritual basis of belief. God does. But then you don't know mine. So you really can't say you are as strongly believing as I am. Which, by you wanting to assert that position to me, it actually kind of shows "religion envy". Though shalt not covet!

Good luck and blessings in your walk with God.

Chris said...


Most of your arguments are fairly sound, but I think the Danites were a little more problematic than you allow. I'm not sure why you call them a positive civic organization. They were formed from the outset as a sort of vigilante defense against anti-Mormons and Mormon dissenters. The Danite Manifesto explicitly threatened "vengeance" against dissenters from the Church. They may not have ever really taken such vengeance, but I do think the dissenters they intimidated were genuinely "afraid of death by the Danites".

While the leaders of the Church may not have been directly involved with the organization, it did spring from the militaristic rhetoric that the leaders were using at the time. Sidney Rigdon was the worst offender, but Joseph wasn't innocent. He wrote approvingly of the Danites in his journal, "Thus far, according to the order of the Danites. We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to cleanse the Church of every great evil which has hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings and persuasyons." He was glad to see the dissenters driven out. He could have given the word to end the Danites at any time, but he didn't do so until things were well out of hand.

When Joseph finally did denounce the Danites, he accused Avard of wanting to profit by taking the "spoils of the goods of ungodly Gentiles." But Avard's ambition arguably came from the D&C itself. D&C 42:39 says in the original manuscript, "I will consecrate the riches of the Gentiles unto my people which are of the House of Israel." Joseph had for several years been creating the expectation that the Saints would fight to retake their Missouri lands. He and his associates even took oaths that they would fight to the death if necessary. I think that Avard genuinely believed that he and his Danites were acting in accordance with Joseph's wishes.

As a side note, I see quite a few parallels between the Danites and the early Jesuits. I think a similar spirit and ideology animated both organizations.

Anyway, peace and best wishes,


Walker said...

Random question, Bob:

Were you bashing at Manti? Someone at MADB asked, "Who was that socking it to the EVs at the Manti thing? Bob W somthing. Could someone help?"

Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob said...

Yes, that was me. Short answer is yes, longer answer is this was the most "preaching" to the crowd I have probably ever done, and the crowd probably fluctuated from 30-100 people at any given moment over a 90-120 minute period. Several people came up to me and said they really appreciated hearing someone actually engage the anti attacks with historical facts, documents (I carry a backpack of documents and books with me because I sort of feel you need to show they are actually either lying or ignorant of the truth about Mormonism to really effectively demonstrate how truly malicious they can be), and Biblically based responses, especially to their "it says in the Greek" garbage.

I caught Eric Johnson three times presenting "in the Greek" evidence where he was flat out wrong, and I had the documents from "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics" and other non-LDS statements to show it. He was reading one verse, and came to a word and said "in the aorist[tense]", and I said "what does that mean?". He said "That is past tense", and I said "No it is not, it is an event having occurred in the past which is continuing, or has force into the present". He also asserted that John 1:1 contains the "Granville Sharp Rule", which proves it is a definite rendering of "and the word was god" instead of "the word was divine", or the word was "a god". So I asked him what the construction of a Granville Sharp Rule is, which of course he did not know, and then I pointed out it is actually Colwell's Rule there, which is not actually a rule of any value because it doesn't really provide any kind of rule, and is purely subjective. He said I was wrong, and I reference Daniel Wallace, author of "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics", (the current academic standard advanced Greek grammar text on the market)to which he said "I know Wallace", and I said really, what is the name of his Book. He got the name partially correct, and I completed the title, and said he should call him right now and ask about the rule, cuz Eric is in error. Lastly, we were discussing the essential nature of Baptism for the remission of sins as stated explicitly in Acts 2:38. He asserted that the phrase "baptized for the remission of sins" should be understood as being baptized because you "have already received a forgiveness of sins". I pointed out that he is quoting the fatally flawed research of J.R. Mantey dating from the mid-20th Century, wherein he asserted that argument, to which legendary philologist of the Greek language, Ralph Marcus, responded directly to Mantey, and showed point by point that Mantey did not understand what he was asserting, and had no linguistic support for the position. I then pulled out a comment by Daniel Wallace acknowledging this in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, and that eventually Mantey himself renounced his assertion that there were any instances of the causal Eis (which, btw, Eric correctly pointed out I was pronouncing "Eis" incorrectly, but on the scale of falsehood, I am OK having the wrong pronunciation and the right facts, rather than Eric Johnson's problem of the wrong facts, right pronunciation). Of course I had all this in writing with original references and sources, and I pointed out the fact he is quoting a completely invalid source shows the desperation and error of the Evangelical position in trying to negate the clear meaning of the text, given the correct understanding and application of the passage by LDS believers.

So now press is bad press, but you do hope they get your name right. Bob V not Bob W.
Bob V

Bob said...

Two follow on items.

Ralph Marcus was a Jew, so his comments about the lack of evidence concerning the mythical "causal eis" position Mantey took to explain away Acts 2:38 is especially compelling, as he has no dog in the fight, theologically.

Secondly, when Eric Johnson wrongly asserted that the Granville Sharp rule was in effect in John 1:1, I actually had a photo copy of the section from Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, which is why I was able to prove he was in error.

Maybe silly details, but I brought them up at the time, and they help flesh out the nature of the response to their attacks.

Thanks again,
Bob V.

Bob said...

Not "now press is bad press", should have been "No press is bad press".

I have no doctrine of infallibility.

Tony said...

///“It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men, yet MEN CAN COMMIT SINS WHICH IT CAN NEVER REMIT. As it was in ancient days, so it is in our day; and though the principles are taught publicly from this stand, still thepeople do not understand them; yet the law is precisely the same. There are sins that can be ATONED for by an offering upon an altar, as in ancient days; and there are sins that the blood of a lamb, of a calf, or of turtle doves, cannot remit, but THEY MUST BE ATONED FOR BY THEBLOOD OF THE MAN."(///

This is really no different than what Paul says about there being a "sin unto death":
1 John 5:16
'If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. '

Also, even Christ Himself says there are sins that the Atonement does not cover, such as the sin against the Holy Ghost:
Matt. 12: 31(Mark 3: 29; Luke 12: 10; D&C 132: 7) blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven.

Heb. 6:4-6
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Heb. 10: 26 sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge.

Blood Atonement, as you call it, was never actually practiced during Church history, nor has it been since, and read in the context of the full statements about it, it becomes clear that Brigham says in a theocracy of sorts, it may have been required (this has Biblical precedent in the Old Testament).

It's really no different than capital punishment.

looWho? said...

"Which, by you wanting to assert that position to me, it actually kind of shows "religion envy". Though shalt not covet!"

Seems like a bit of a cheap shot, Bob. Especially when right before that you say that I shouldn't judge you... so how does that not go both ways? I'm a convert to the Episcopal Church (raised Mormon) and I totally dig it.

If I was uncareful with my wording I apologize, but I have had conversations with many of the LDS faith who believe that I am not as certain of my position as they are of theirs. I was simply trying to address what I have found to be a common misconception among the LDS... that their faith is of higher substance than that of other religions; I was not trying to have a faith measuring contest with you as an individual, I was simply generalizing to prove a point.

In future comments I will try to perfect my language before I post so that you don't have to guess at my true intentions.

Anonymous said...

You are very wrong. Mormons believe ALL persons born are saved by the atonement. The Mormon plan is a plan of EXALTATION, not one of salvation.

Anonymous said...

Been reading your blog. I know, this is four years later.

I took U.S. History in college in 1985. When it was time to learn about the West, the Mormons were briefly mentioned. The professor, Dr. Hunter (female) briefly went over the history of the LDS religion. The history book, in black and white, mentioned the revivals where Joseph Smith lived, and it was called the "burned over" district. Today this information can be found on the Internet. For those who say there were no revivals are lying and do not want to admit anything that can substantiate anything LDS. It is documented historically.

I was the only LDS person in the class and Dr. Hunter was very respectful and asked my opinion if the facts were correct. I was shocked that she asked me.

Thank you. Keep up the good work. I have learned so much from reading your site.


Anonymous said...

Like Catholics who love to say stop bashing us so are the same with Mormons .Both on in error because the bible is not the sola scripura for their truth .Catholics have church doctrine they worship and Mormons have other books .Both believes lead soul to judgement and Hell.Love seek to tell them the truth .The Bible never says humans will be gods Sadly Mormonism misquote by take verse out of context...The bible proclaim God is one and before him there is not other .God is the creator of all creation .If God was once a man then being just a man nothing could be created. Go backward to the first God in Mormon ideology ot illogical .fact biblical truth God is eternal existing one Mormonism follows a contradicts the Bible, which states that God has existed in His position as God of the universe from eternity past (Revelation 1:8; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15–16; Psalm 102:24–27). God was never a man (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hosea 11:9) and is the holy and powerful Creator of all things (Genesis 1; Psalm 24:1; Isaiah 37:16). . Bible , no man can ever become like God (1 Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 43:10–11; 44:6; 45:21–22), despite what the serpent told Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:5)Mormon still believes that lie .
Acts is about Jesus For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. . Now Mormon read the rest of it .. Act 3 24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. .. These days Jesus is speaking of are of Him and that time He was on Earth

Anonymous said...

Anon. 1/13/2015: It is people like you that don't know Scripture and what it means. And you don't know what Mormons believe. Biblical scholars have shown, inadvertently, that what Joseph Smith taught is Biblical, more Biblical than the beliefs of mainstream Christianity.
The Bible says that if everything that Jesus said and taught was written down there would not be enough room to hold it all. Many other sacred writings are mentioned in the Bible but no longer exist. So the record tells us we don't have everything Jesus taught.

Unfortunately, because of how you write your comments, you are the type of person that does not want to listen and learn.....And agree to disagree. I like to learn about all religion, but I show respect to others beliefs. Many Christians do not follow what they profess when they attack others beliefs.

From: Abused by cultic evangelicals