Thursday, April 17, 2014

Letter to CES and Responses

I had a reader submit a question about responding to the "Letter to a CES Director".  He wanted a response.  FAIR Mormon has done a great and thorough response which you can find here.  But I want to talk about things that matter, and not just the multitude of details which tend to lose sight of important issues.

The Church did engage in covering up perceived weaknesses of leaders in the past.  Typically these efforts were led by people and sometimes leaders who feared for the impact of certain issues on members' faith, or on public perception of issues.

No one should lose faith because past members or leaders lacked faith in the ability of members or non-members to fairly process the issues involved.  It is however easily demonstrable that current leadership does not feel that way.  The Joseph Smith's Papers project sits front and center as the most thorough and transparent publishing effort around an historical figure ever.  You don't do that if you are afraid of what will be discovered.

But there are a lot of issues, and I will only discuss a few.  First, most leaders were ignorant of indepth historical matters.  Thus you get a statement from Harold B. Lee that based on information from Joseph Fielding Smith that Joseph Smith never did ordain any black men.  With the documents we now know exist, such a position is simply not true.  But ask where Joseph Fielding Smith got his info?  Well, at some point the first Presidency in the early 1900's reaffirmed the Brigham Young ban on ordinations, which Brigham Young attributed to Joseph Smith.

So did JFS look at every document?  Probably not.  Even as the Church Historian, he had little time and no training to go through the Church's records.  It was enough that he knew that his father had endorsed the ban.  And in the 1960's, the Church did not have resources or inclination to challenge Brigham Young's ban which had been reaffirmed by nearly all Church presidents down to that time, unless they received a revelation.

If the Church leaders could only sit for a year or so and get a crash course on LDS history from original documents and eyewitness statements, and then get deeply versed historians to walk them through it, then we could claim that General Authorities are also well informed historians.  But that is not now nor has it ever been their roles.

But there is a second point, much more important to consider.  That is, not all evidence is of equal value.  So understand this point clearly.  Someone may want to say the evidence for the Book of Abraham or Book of Mormon geography, or First Vision documents is weak.  I personally am fine with it, but let's pretend you are critical of those topics.  Those are truly secondary.  Primary evidence is physical and spiritual about the Book of Mormon.

I have written extensively on the physical evidence and witnesses of the Book of Mormon.  As a whole it is excellent.  In detail, it is amazing.  Try as critics like Jeremy do to attack the reality of the Book of Mormon, their arguments inevitably lead to accounts from secondary or tertiary sources because the primary sources are consistent and supportive of each other.  There can be no doubt the Eight Witnesses saw and handled something.  In 1827, when Joseph brought the plates home for the first time, more than a dozen folks handled the plates, though they did not see them.  At least several of them would later become witnesses.  It requires one to believe JS had in a finished form the plates in 1827, at a time when he was newlywed and flat broke, because they could feel the engravings, handle the spine, etc.  Keep asking the question:  How could he do that?

I once heard Dan Peterson say the purpose of the plates was to be a thumb in the eye of the critics.  You must, if you choose to lose your faith, explain how Joseph Smith could have put the plates together without anyone being aware of it; having the skills to forge and punch and craft them into their shapes; to paint them in a way that the primitive paints of the early 19th century would be unnoticeable to close scrutiny; and to convince people who in many cases left the Church and were offered significant fortunes to tell the "truth" about the plates.  In all these things they fail.  The current attempt to discredit the witnesses by saying the plates were immaterial and only viewed spiritually requires one to twist what the witnesses actually said.

Secondly, there is the spiritual witness.  The Bible is replete with statements that God is received and perceived spiritually.  There is no way to come to a knowledge of truth by study alone.  When I discuss the problems with leadership, the Bible, the Book of Abraham or other issues, there is no intent to make people think these are not trustworthy.  I usually discuss such things due to the double standards imposed by critics.  My personal problem with the critics usually comes down to two issues:  Their hypocrisy in what they consider evidence, and their lack of effort in finding balanced evidence.  When you hear Richard Bushman discuss Joseph Smith, he discusses every aspect of him, good and bad.  The critics will only discuss the bad, and only occasionally throw a bone at acknowledging there was some good.

People may rightly say there are things which could cause one to think twice about the Church.  But such conversations miss the only point where God has said in the scriptures he will provide proof to the faithful:  A witness of the Book of Mormon.

My personal experience, which I have outlined elsewhere, goes beyond this.  But it started here.


Anonymous said...

You made some very good points.
I know I will not say this very well so bear with me: I had to decide if the truth claims of the church were valid. I needed to get a testimony. My parents were converts but inactive. (I had a horrible experience that started me on my quest. Not enough room now to tell that story.) How does one get a testimony I asked myself? I did not mess with the polygamy, the ban on blacks, the face in the hat translation, and so on. This was before computers. I looked hard and long at the DOCTRINE, the TEACHINGS that Joseph Smith taught. It took me a long time, but I wanted to make sure. I was not even sure if God even existed. I read the Old and New Tests. I found all that I could on Biblical scholarship, what the Scriptures were saying, how different people interpreted the Scriptures, asked questions, went to other religions churches, and so forth. I read books on the worlds religions, even on the LDS. I read books critical of the LDS. I compared what the critics said to what the church was saying. I gained the knowledge and a testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has restored truths, has more truths than the other religions, and the LDS religion could answer my questions that no other religion could answer, the answers made sense! The beliefs and teachings of the LDS church aligned more closely with the Scriptures than any other religion. There are teachings in the LDS religion that align with ancient religious writings which other churches consider heretical. Joseph Smith knew things that other Preachers/Ministers did not know about at that time, and came to light in the 20th century. How did Jos. Smith get that knowledge? There are discoveries every once in a while in our time, of ancient Holy writings that teach things and talk about things that only the LDS religion has taught and spoken of. How can that be? It was also the fact that Jos. Smith said he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, and never ever denied it.
Jos. Smith and his family could have recanted everything to avoid all the hardship they were put through. If it were really a lie, a hoax, farce, whatever, then Jos. Smith would have come clean for the sake of his family. I firmly believe that. Really, who would put their family through what the Smith family went through for a hoax, and not get rich from it?
Also, there are a few, very few, non LDS Biblical scholars who have interpreted a lot of the Scriptures the way the LDS interpret the Scriptures. So when the critics claim LDS twist the meanings of Scriptures, I guess those non LDS scholars are in league with the LDS religion.

It pains me to read about former LDS and non LDS critics who make false and extravagant claims against the LDS religion. The hate is so strong with the anti's/critics that they only focus on the superficial aspects of the LDS church - polygamy, racism, failed bank, etc. The double standard and hypocrisy of the critics/enemies is so blatant that it boggles my mind how a sane person can not see through it.
I understand the questioning. But going to anti LDS sites for answers is the wrong thing to do. It is sad that people believe what the anti LDS say. I guess if those people who leave the LDS religion really wanted to know answers, they would do what I did to find answers, instead of listening to the hyperbole and twisting of sources of the critics. Satan is indeed strong.

Thank you for the hard work you put into your blog. I love reading what you have to say, and I have learned much from you. I wish I could have attended your work shops!


Anonymous said...

I can pretend that an angel appeared to me, go find some "brass plates" and look in a hat and say whatever I want. Please take off your blinders and realize this is not a true Gospel. I would be happy to visit with you and show you the truth so it may set you free. Your Mormon "doctrine" has so many holes and I pray that all of you will one day see how foolish this is

Bob said...

Well Anonymous, I live in the Salt Lake City area. I would be delighted to meet with you. Tell me when and where. If you like, we can meet at my home or wherever. I would invite you to attend the FairMormon Conference the first week of August. Lots of similarly confused scholars who would also be interested to see the holes you note. By the way, they were not Brass Plates. Not a huge point, but a big one relative to Joseph Smith. So I hope you have your details in better order than you have on your invite.
Kindest regards,

Anonymous said...

I have noticed how unhappy Sandra Tanner looks. Actually she looks mad and miserable. That is what fighting against the true Christ and His church does to people. Also makes them very rude and beligerant.

Alan Winn said...

Excellent article -- thank you for sharing. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

And the Saints,my ancesters, probably looked mad and miserable. Feelings and appearance are not ways to judge. This kind of treatment is the same way that truth has been coated by outward appearance in looking at what you call apostates.

Anonymous said...

An important concept comes to mind which is woven throughout ancient and latter day scripture. For example: 1 Corinthians chapter 1:27 "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." Also in the Book of Mormon, Alma chapter 37 outlines the reason why the Lord preserved the Book of Mormon to come forth in these Latter days and verses 6-7 teaches a similar concept Paul taught in 1 Cor. 1:27. The men whom the Lord calls to this work are not perfect men, yet the Lord uses them as His instruments to teach His truth. When they act in the office of their calling, being moved upon by the Holy Ghost, they speak the word of the Lord. When they go about their lives in the capacity of their worldly or "provider" persuits, they are normal men. Do not expect them to be translated beings 24/7.

Randall Bowen said...

Thanks for your review of the CES Letter. I posted my review here I address all the historical issues and give traditional literal responses but also some newer nuanced views.