I sneaked down to Manti on Thursday and Friday to visit with the annual pageant Anti-Mormon outreach. Thursday was spent speaking the whole three hours to about 5 different people in what I think was productive. Productive is a loose term, but I feel good when people I have made feel sort of misinformed about pretty much everything they believe about Mormonism still like me and shake my hand when we are done.
I have a brochure I created for Manti this year which focuses on several non-LDS scholars' statements around the reality of the Hebrew belief in real plural gods. It also discusses the mis-translation of John 1:1, which should say "and the Word was a god"(or words to the effect that the Word had the same nature as The God, but is a different member of that class of beings)and how the way most Christians interpret it actually make the verse a modalist or Sabellean heresy. Finally, it also provides extensive statements by early Christians that people can become gods, with a list of references to the concept in the Bible. If you would like a copy, send me your email as a comment. I won't post your address, I will just email you the brochure. No minimum donation required :-)
Friday night I had several very positive conversations with folks, and I circulated more. I was speaking with one gentleman from England when some guy name Jason walked up, listened for about 10 minutes or so, then started asking questions but not waiting for answers.
"Didn't Joseph Smith order Gov Boggs killed?" "Weren't the Mormons stealing land in Missouri, so they were not really victims?" "Didn't having a standing militia violate federal law?" "Didn't Joseph print his own money and steal the real currency?" "Isn't that illegal?"
These questions, and potential exchange, looks easy on the surface. You think, he is asking a question, he wants an answer.
Truth is, Jason was giving his answer in the form of a question, and did not care to hear my answer or response at all. He wanted me to answer yes or no, and if I disagreed with his conclusions, he called me deceptive. He eventually started in with personal insults ("You're a mile wide and an inch deep, aren't you?"), so I said to him I would not talk with ignorant insulting people, and turn away from him. What was helpful was he did this in front of two other gentlemen whom I had previously had excellent exchanges with, and they were embarrassed by their "Christian Brother's" behavior. I then apologized for calling the guy stupid, and then gave them the answers to the assertions:
1. Joseph did not order the Boggs assassination attempt. No evidence of it.
2. Porter Rockwell was a suspect, but he calmly stated that if he had wanted him dead, he'd be dead. A grand jury agreed, and Rockwell was never indicted. It is commonly believed the would-be assassin was a political rival, though he was never found.
3. I explained that the LDS had organized a protective force, consistent with the 2nd amendment of the US Constitution, under their right to keep and bear arms for self defense. However, the US Government refused to intervene, with President Martin Van Buren famously saying to Joseph Smith, to the effect, "Your cause is just, but I cannot help you." As we know, Joseph prophesied their government would be destroyed, and within 20 years the Whig party was, in fact, completely destroyed. The Republicans emerged, and the Whigs are now just an historical footnote.
4. Related to three, the 10th amendment to the US Constitution was the reason Van Buren could not intervene at the time. After the Civil War the Constitution was amended to allow far more Federal involvement in state issues. Keeping the peace and administering the domestic affairs of the states were seen as exclusively a state's rights issue at the time, and so Van Buren felt he could not take action. Having a standing militia, if in a state of insurrection, would have been a violation of federal law. Arming your people to defend against criminals is not. There was no violation of federal law, and they did not steal land from anyone.
5. The great depression of the late 1830's, which was brought on largely because the Gold Standard limited the amount of money which could be printed, thus limiting the velocity or circulation of money to create new capital, brought hundreds of communities around the country to create their own banking societies. As I mentioned to the guys in Manti, if you have ever seen the movie "It's a Wonderful Life", there is a scene where there is a run on the bank. Jimmy Stewart has people demanding their money. He explains that he cannot give it because it is in someone's home, or another person's business, etc. This is the concept of cash reserve ratios. If a bank takes in $100, but lends out $95, then if everyone comes in asking for their money, it is not in the bank, it is in assets and out in the community circulating. In Kirtland, they created a banking society. They basically issued IOU's to people, which everyone agreed to accept, in exchange for some cash deposits so they could meet the "hard currency" requirements they all would have. It worked great, until hard currency reserves disappeared. In 1837, the year the Kirtland Bank failed, the US entered a 5 year depression where nearly half of all banks failed, and many other similar banking societies as Kirtland also failed. The crazy land price increases collapsed, so the assets underlying the notes disappeared. Not good for anyone. Joseph left, but I have seen research which shows eventually all were repaid. Joseph left Kirtland with his 6-month pregnant wife the first week of January 1838. It took two months, two winter months, with nearly no money, to get to Missouri. Far from living a rich life, Joseph and Emma suffered too.
6. Finally, was it illegal. Yes, it was. Joseph paid a $1,000 fine for setting it up. But it was also common, as the lack of currency was a problem everywhere on the frontier. It also failed because of the lack of trust and cooperation between members of the Kirtland Safety Society, and under captitalization.
History is not simple, and it is not black and white. If we believe that all Presidents of the LDS Church are always inspired, then we will always be disappointed. They were looking for solutions. At times they felt inspired. Other times they just did their best. At all times they were human. Don't trust humans with your salvation, trust God. But you still have to work with humans for everything else.
Final point. I was walking to leave on the road from the food court to the pageant area. I saw a girl about 10 years old passing out brochures, so I stopped and handed her one of mine. She looked like she was being baited by a child molester. I didn't get it at first, and I laughingly said "If you are going to pass out brochures to the Mormons, why don't you take them too?" She backed away, and a pretty dark haired little girl, also about 10, very nervously said "We have been told not to talk to you." I said, "What? Why is that, because I can answer your questions?" She said no, her daddy had said I was not nice to Christians, and they should not speak with me. She was nervously shaking as she said that, so I said "who is your daddy?" She replied "Keith Walker." I said he was with some ministry, and by now three young men in their twenties had walked over, and they said "Evidence Ministries". I said I would love to talk with her daddy, that it is not true that I am mean to other Christians, and I had even done a short video about her daddy because he had some things wrong about the Mormons. She said she knew I knew him. I jokingly said to one of the Christians I had spoken with earlier in the week who was walking by, "Am I mean to Christians?" Which she just laughed about. The little girl walked away.
Funny thing is, I literally bumped into Keith Walker earlier in the evening while passing through the crowd. If I had known he was telling people to be afraid of me, I would had asked him about it. Next year I will have a friend take a camera, and we will have a conversation. People can then determine if I am mean to even those anti-Mormons who disparage me personally. Not that I care what people judge about me. God knows my heart. But when one's living is based on attacking other people's faith, maybe telling a story about me is better than getting caught on video. Maybe I can help change that for Keith.