Interrogatory No. 24
Is it not alarming that several witnesses to the Book of Mormon confessed that they did not see the plates with their natural eyes, but with “visions of the mind?”
From my perspective, the strongest proof of the truthfulness of the foundational claims of the church is the testimony of the witnesses, particularly the three witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and, David Whitmer.
The following statements by the three are very convincing:
Martin Harris (1875):
“The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.”
David Whitmer (1881):
“I have never at any time, denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book as one of the three witnesses. Those who know me best, well know that I have adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do now again affirm the truth of all my statement[s], as then made and published.”
Oliver Cowdery (1848):
“I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true.”
I also feel that there is no convincing evidence that these three individuals participated in a fraud, rather the evidence points to the fact that, at least at one time, they all honestly believed that Joseph was a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is what it purports to be.
Nevertheless, there are a few problems.
We need to exercise some caution in judging the witnesses’ 1829 testimony by the rational worldview that most hold today. The three witnesses, like many, perhaps most people in the unsophisticated society of nineteenth-century rural America, viewed second sight, magic, spells, witches, and treasure digging as objective reality, and if anything, it drew them together as a society.
Where did the printed testimony of the ‘Three Witnesses’ Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer come from? Did they write their own personal witness statements?
It is believed that Joseph Smith composed the statement for them to sign. This appears to be evident since, at that time, he knew none of the witnesses had ever seen the plates with their natural eyes, a fact every one of them admitted at one point. Joseph’s wording however deliberately gives the impression that they had.
Stretching or twisting the truth seems to be no problem for Joseph Smith when it suited his purposes. There is clear evidence he altered other revelations and made numerous retroactive changes to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. According to Apostle William E. McLellin, “the testimony of the Twelve Apostles contained in the Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants was a ‘base forgery.’ David Whitmer himself, one of the Three Witnesses, alleged the same thing.”
Notwithstanding, their unsigned witness statement, carefully crafted by Joseph Smith does say they saw the gold plates as well as an angel. They attested to the same at other times that their experience with the plates and the angel were real in the sense that we would view something as ‘real’ today.
The problem is, there is also clear evidence that Cowdery, Harris, and Whitmer, made numerous contradictory statements and admissions, in which they also said that they saw these things only in a ‘visionary state,’ often after being prepared and probably coached by Joseph Smith.
The issue becomes, given this incongruity, which is true?
There is so much damning evidence that the Book of Mormon is nothing more than a work of 19th-century fiction – the lack of archaeological support, the anachronisms, the contrary DNA evidence, the rampant plagiarism, and the almost laughable means of translation – A magical peep stone in a top hat.
This coupled with Smith’s history of money digging, his many run-ins with the law. His many false and failed prophesies, his inaccurate translations of the Egyptian Papyri, and the Kinderhook Plates and most of all his dishonesty and immoral behavior. Lying to Emma and the Saints about his polygamy and polyandry. Convincing teenage girls, some as young as 14, by the use of coercive psychological techniques to marry and have sex with him, must give anyone with an ounce of sense pause.
Were it not for the testimony of these three men I think any reasonable person would be ready to proclaim that the LDS church is false, that Joseph Smith was a narcissistic con-man who used his superior intellect and charisma to acquire wealth, power, and most of all sex.
If the testimony of these supposed witnesses is also highly suspect it must surely put the final nail in the Mormon coffin.
But there is Larry, Curly and Moe! – David, Martin, and Oliver.
We need to exercise some caution in judging the witnesses’ 1829 testimony by the rational worldview that most hold today. The three witnesses, like many, perhaps most people in the unsophisticated society of nineteenth-century rural America, viewed second sight, magic, spells, witches, and treasure digging as objective reality, and if anything, it drew them together as a society.We need to examine each of the three participants carefully, honestly and yes, judiciously, for I believe on them rests the veracity of the whole Mormon narrative.
Background and Life Experiences
Things were going well for Martin Harris by 1827. He had built a comfy life for himself and his wife Lucy in Palmyra, New York. By all accounts, he was a hard worker and the half section of land he had acquired and worked over the previous 14 years, had made him, by rural New York standards, very close to being a wealthy man.
At age 26, Martin married Lucy Harris, his first cousin, and the couple had five children, three of whom lived to be adults.
But now at age 45, he received a visit from Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph Smith, Jr., that led to a series of events that would rock his world.
Lucy Smith had come to tell Martin that her son Joseph had finally obtained golden plates from an angel, with a message inscribed in an ancient language that would change the world. Lucy Mack Smith asked Martin if he would visit Joseph. He agreed and thus began their relationship. Joseph Smith and Martin appeared to become friends, at least Martin saw Joseph as his friend hiring Joseph as a day laborer on his farm. Joseph may have viewed Martin as a tool (and I mean that in every sense of the word) as compared to Smith, he was wealthy but none too bright.
Martin likely harbored some doubts about Joseph’s story, undoubtedly stoked by his wife, Lucy. But Martin was also a religious man, as well as a very superstitious one. Indeed some labeled him a “visionary fanatic.” This perspective explains Martin’s willingness to, not just consider, but accept the supernatural buying hook, line, and sinker Joseph’s claims of angels and ancient buried golden plates. Martin was acting as a scribe for a time and, of course, he also journeyed to New York City in Joseph’s behalf seeking a reassurance from Professor Anthon, a well-known scholar that the plates were authentic. But Martin’s greatest contribution to the work was as a benefactor.
It is interesting that regardless of Professor Anthon’s caution to Martin, he still proceeded with his, “investment.”
Dr. Anthon’s account of his meeting with Martin Harris is certainly disimilar to the Church’s version of what transpired.
Professor Anthon described Martin’s visit as follows:
New York, Feb. 17, 1834
Dear Sir –
I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax. When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A “gold book,” consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of “gold spectacles”!.
The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the “golden book,” the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin. So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles. On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.” Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.
I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.
Yours respectfully, CHAS. ANTHON
Following a revelation from the Lord, given through Joseph Smith, Martin was commanded: “Thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon.” Harris mortgaged his home and farm for $3,000, a generous loan in that era. By some estimates, comparing Martin’s wealth to the local economy at that time, his gift would be worth over a million dollars today.
Other Religious Affiliations
To say that Martin Harris was unstable religiously would be an understatement. He changed his religious affiliations 13 times. Even after his excommunication from the Mormon Church, he changed his religion beliefs eight more times.
Pick virtually any Protestant denomination, and Martin had at one time been an adherent!
Character, Gullibility and Mental Stability
His contemporaries found him to be somewhat odd, to say the least, “Once while reading scripture; he reportedly mistook a candle’s sputtering as a sign that the devil desired him to stop. Another time he excitedly awoke from his sleep believing that a creature as large as a dog had been upon his chest, though a nearby associate could find nothing to confirm his fears. Several hostile and perhaps unreliable accounts told of visionary experiences with Satan and Christ, Harris once reporting that Christ had been poised on a roof beam.” 1
Presbyterian minister Jesse Townsend of Palmyra called Harris a “visionary fanatic,” and Lorenzo Saunders said Harris was a “great man for seeing spooks.”
John A. Clark, reported that during the time the Book of Mormon was being translated, “on the way he met the Lord Jesus Christ, who walked along by the side of him in the shape of a deer for two or three miles, talking with him as familiarly as one man talks with another.”2
Martin Harris also testified that his testimony for Shakerism was greater than it was for Mormonism. The Shaker’s “Sacred Roll and Book” was also delivered by an angel. 3
Regarding his honesty, after getting in Smith’s bad books, the official Mormon newspaper of the day included Martin Harris with a few other men, as having, “a lying deceptive spirit attend them…they are of their father, the devil…the very countenance of Harris will show to every spiritual-minded person who sees him, that the wrath of God is upon him.” 4
In the Elder’s Journal for August 1838, Joseph Smith himself denounced Martin Harris as “so far beneath contempt that to notice him would be too great a sacrifice for a gentleman to make. The Church exerted some restraint on him, but now he has given loose to all kinds of abominations.“
Surprisingly, the non-Mormon press was more generous toward Martin:
“Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune—and he has left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion. 5
“We have ever regarded Mr. Harris as an honest man. We first became acquainted with him at Palmyra, in the spring of 1828, shortly after the plates from which the Book of Mormon is said to have been translated, were found.. . . Though illiterate and actually of a superstitious turn of mind, he had long sustained an irreproachable character for probity. . . . By his neighbors and townsmen with whom he earnestly and almost incessantly labored, he was regarded rather as being deluded himself, than as wishing to delude others knowingly; but still he was subjected to many scoffs and rebukes, all of which he endured with a meekness becoming a better cause.” 6
Dan Vogel reports that a friend, who praised Harris as being “universally esteemed as an honest man,” also declared that Harris’s mind “was overbalanced by ‘marvellousness‘” (sic) and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy. 7
Education and Intelligence
Martin had what passed for a normal education for people who worked the land in rural upstate New York at that time, not unlike that which David Whitmer and Joseph Smith received. Oliver Cowdery’s formal education was a step above these three.
Motivations for His Involvement
Martin was deeply invested in the success of the Book of Mormon. He went as far as to mortgage his farm to make the publication of the Book of Mormon possible. If the book failed, Martin stood to lose the most.
We need to keep in mind that Martin’s motivation, as could be argued of Smith’s, was not altogether altruistic.
Abigail Harris, Martin’s sister-in-law, spoke to this important feature of his motivation:
“… Martin Harris and Lucy Harris, his wife, were at my house (1828).In conversation with the Mormonites, she [Lucy Harris] observed that she wished her husband would quit them, as she believed it all false and a delusion. To which I heard Mr. Harris reply: ‘What if it is a lie; if you will let me alone I will make money out of it!’ I was both an eye- and ear-witness of what has been above stated, which is now fresh in my memory, and I speak the truth and lie not, God being my witness.”
Nevertheless, one of the most powerful confirmations of Martin’s testimony was recorded by William Harrison Homer, which was replicated in the Improvement Era.
“Young man,” answered Martin Harris with impressiveness, “Do I believe it! Do you see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the [moon] and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fullness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith.” 8
In law, a ‘deathbed’ confession or statement is given great credence as it should. The following is what amounts to Martin’s deathbed testimony:
“A few hours before his death and when he was so weak and enfeebled that he was unable to recognize me or anyone, and knew not to whom he was speaking, I asked him if he did not feel that there was an element at least, of fraudulence and deception in the things that were written and told of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and he replied as he had always done so many, many times in my hearing the same spirit he always manifested when enjoying health and vigor and said: ‘The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.” 9
However, Martin also said repeatedly that he, and the other witnesses, only saw the plates in vision.
“Martin Harris, one of the subscribing witnesses, has come out at last, and says he never saw the plates, from which the book purports to have been translated, except in vision and he further says that any man who says he has seen them in any other way is a liar, Joseph [Smith] not excepted.” 10
In 1838 when the Church was in crisis and experiencing massive apostasy. Martin’s statement about not really seeing the angel and plates, was the final straw that caused apostles Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and John F. Boynton, high priest Stephen Burnett and seventy Warren Parrish to leave the Church, Burnett comments:
“I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it, loth to give it up, but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was (sic) sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins,…I was followed by W. Parish[,] Luke Johnson & John Boynton[,] all of the[m] concurred with me. After we done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of him but should have let it passed as it was… “ 11
And a few more of many more statements by Martin:
“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state, I saw the angel and the plates.” 12
“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” 13
Harris’ myriad public statement that he and his fellow witnesses only saw the plates and the angel in a ‘visionary’ or ‘second sight’ way caused many to leave the church as this letter from Stephen Burnett shows:
“. . . when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel…renounced the Book of Mormon…after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was…” 14
The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris “used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and ‘seeing with the spiritual eye,’ and the like.” 1
Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with “the eye of faith” or “spiritual eyes.” 16
John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?” According to Gilbert, Harris “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” 17
When Martin Harris was asked, “But did you see them [plates] with your natural, your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Martin answered, “I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.” 18
“Martin Harris later testified that he did not see the plates literally with his fleshly eyes: He said he saw the plates with ‘the eyes of faith and not with the natural eyes’. This we believe is the truth but it should eliminate him automatically as a witness none the less. This, of course, proves Mormonism is a fraud and that the Nephi Plates never existed and no one actually saw them.” 19
While Martin was not perhaps the smartest of men, I think he was a decent man. I think a case can be made that he might have been used and by a guileful and manipulative Joseph Smith. I think the conflicting statements Martin made throughout his life, his superstition, his magical mindset, and his mental instability coupled with his conflict of interest assail his credibility and must be discounted.
Background and Life Experiences
David Whitmer was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the fourth of nine children of Peter Whitmer, Sr. and Mary Musselman both of German ancestry. By the 1820s, the Whitmer family had moved to a farm in Fayette, New York. Whitmer and his family were among the earliest adherents to the Latter-Day Saint movement. Whitmer first heard of Joseph Smith and the golden plates in 1828 when he made a business trip to Palmyra, New York, and there talked with his friend Oliver Cowdery.
When the Church moved from New York to Ohio in 1831, the Whitmers went along as they did to Jackson County, Missouri the short-lived Zion or gathering place for the Saints. When the differences between the Latter-day Saints and their neighbors erupted again into open conflict. Driven from Jackson County, the Whitmers settled in adjacent Clay County, Missouri.
By 1838 things were going sideways quickly. David described the situation: “In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness. I had been striving with them for a long time to show them the errors into which they were drifting, and for my labors, I received only persecutions. In June 1838, a secret organization was formed, Doctor Avard being put in as the leader of the band; a certain oath was to be administered to all the brethren to bind them to support the heads of the church in everything they should teach. All who refused to take this oath were considered dissenters from the church, and certain things were to be done concerning these dissenters, by Dr. Avard’s secret band.”
In response to the Church’s threats against him as well as Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, William W. Phelps and Lyman Johnson, David left town and the Church.
This was Sidney Rigdon’s letter:
“To Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, William W. Phelps, and Lyman E. Johnson, greeting: Out of the county you shall go, and no power shall save you. And you shall have three days after you receive this communication…for you to depart with your families peaceably;…and unless you heed us,…there shall be no escape; for there is but one decree for you, which is depart, depart, or a more fatal calamity shall befall you…we will put you from the county of Caldwell: so help us God.”
Whitmer went on to condemn Smith’s church and raise some question as to the validity of his Book of Mormon witness statement. “If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon,” wrote Whitmer, “if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838 God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.”
After Joseph’s death in 1844, many of Rigdon’s followers became disillusioned, and by 1847, William E. McLellin and Benjamin Winchester, remembering Whitmer’s 1834 ordination to be Smith’s successor, urged Whitmer exercised his claim to be Smith’s successor and the Church of Christ (Whitmerite) was formed in Kirtland, Ohio. However, Whitmer never joined the body of the new church, and it dissolved relatively quickly.
David Whitmer belonged to at least three Mormon splinter groups at different times, but he died still rejecting the LDS Church and its priesthood.
Like Martin Harris, David Whitmer later testified that he did not see the plates with his real eyes but, “by the eye of faith” handled by an angel. 20
During the summer of 1837, while in Kirtland, like Oliver and Martin, David pledged his loyalty and allegiance to a prophetess who used a black seer stone and danced herself into ‘trances.’ 21
Education and Intelligence
David also had what passed for a normal education for people who worked the land in rural upstate New York at that time. Somewhat like that which Martin Harris and Joseph Smith had received.
David Whitmer was excommunicated from the Church, and he never returned to it, nonetheless near the end of his life, he made the following statement in the Richmond, Missouri, Conservator on March 25, 1881:
“Unto all Nations, Kindreds, Tongues, and People, unto whom these presents shall come: . . . I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once [and] for all to make this public statement: That I have never at any time denied that testimony [of the Book of Mormon] or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book, as one of the Three Witnesses. Those who know me best well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all my statements as then made and published. “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear;” it was no delusion; what is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand. “And if any man doubt, should he not carefully and honestly read and understand the same before presuming to sit in judgment and condemning the light, which shineth in darkness, and showeth the way of eternal life as pointed out by the unerring hand of God?” In the Spirit of Christ, who hath said: “Follow thou me, for I am the life, the light and the way,” I submit this statement to the world; God in whom I trust being my judge as to the sincerity of my motives and the faith and hope that is in me of eternal life. My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by this plain and simple statement of the truth. And all the honor to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen!”
However, again in the same document Whitmer testifies:
“If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.” In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness. I had been striving with them for a long time to show them the errors into which they were drifting, and for my labors I received only persecutions.” 22
Statements by Whitmer that He Saw the Gold Plates and the Angel in Vision
While more stable than Martin Harris, David also had a magical view of the world and spoke of seeing things with his “spiritual” eyes.
He was once asked to describe the angel who showed him the plates. He responded that the angel “had no appearance or shape.” When asked how he could then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, “Have you never had impressions?” To which the interviewer responded, “Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?” “Just so,” replied Whitmer. 23
James Henry Moyle, a Mormon lawyer, interviewed Whitmer in 1885 He asked him if there was any possibility that he had been deceived. “His answer was unequivocal…that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness.” But Moyle went away “not fully satisfied…It was more spiritual than I anticipated.” 24
“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state, I saw the angel and the plates.” 25
“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” 26
“In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but ‘we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it “being in vision.” We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God, Daniel saw an angel in a vision, also in other places, it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled [the woods as] at noon day, and there in a vision or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon.” 27
David Whitmer changed his story about seeing the plates and later told of finding them lying in a field and later still told Orson Pratt that they were on a table with all sorts of brass plates, gold plates, the Sword of Laban, the ‘Director’ and the Urim and Thummim. 28
David Whitmer informed Zenas Gurley Jr. on January 14, 1885, when asked if the witnesses touched “the real metal,” “We did not.” The witnesses handled “the plates” in a vision only, according to Whitmer. 29
Also, the eight witnesses did not “imagine” seeing the plates or an angel at the same time as most members believe and as is popularized in church paintings. Rather the plates were imagined in two groups of four. 30
Marvin S. Hill, an LDS writer, remarked:
“. . . there is a possibility that the witnesses saw the plates in vision only. . . . There is testimony from several independent interviewers, all non-Mormon, that Martin Harris and David Whitmer said they saw the plates with their “spiritual eyes” only. . . . This is contradicted, however, by statements like that of David Whitmer in the Saints Herald in 1882, “these hands handled the plates, these eyes saw the angel.” But Z. H. Gurley elicited from Whitmer a not so positive response to the question,” did you touch them?” His answer was, “We did not touch nor handle the plates.” So far as the eight witnesses go, William Smith said his father never saw the plates except under a frock…” 31
Background and Life Experiences
Of the three witnesses, Oliver played the most significant role in the creation of the Church. He is also the most likely co-conspirator with Joseph Smith if the Mormon Church is a fraud.
He was the principal scribe, was a member of the Congregational church where Ethan Smith, the author of the View of the Hebrews preached and Oliver attended, and no doubt had a copy of it, as well, he was Joseph’s cousin.
There is evidence that Oliver knew Joseph before the time the Church claims. Lorenzo Saunders placed Oliver Cowdery on the Smith farm in Palmyra several years earlier in 1826:
“As respecting Oliver Cowdery, he came from Kirtland in the summer of 1826 and was about there [i.e., the Smith’s farm] until fall and took a school in the district where the Smiths lived and the next summer he was missing and I didn’t see him until fall and he came back and took our school in the district where we lived and taught about a week and went to the school board and wanted the board to let him off and they did and he went to Smith and went to writing the Book of Mormon and wrote all winter. The Mormons say it wasn’t wrote there but I say it was because I was there…” 32
Oliver also claimed, “second sight,” he reports seeing convoy after convoy of angels at a worship service in Ohio.
It is rarely mentioned in the discussion of the veracity of the witnesses but should be remembered that we do not have an actual document of actual signatures of the Book of Mormon witnesses. The closest we have is a document in Oliver’s handwriting, providing the names of the Witnesses.
Without the original document, it is impossible to know with certainty whether the witnesses truly signed it.
As well, the Church is not forthcoming about the statements by the witnesses, who claim to have seen Smith’s gold plates and handled them. The faith-promoting accounts do not tell us that their experience was one that took place in their imaginations, that they saw with their, “spiritual eyes,” “visions of the mind,” or through the “eyes of our understanding.”
David Whitmer informed Zenas Gurley Jr. on January 14, 1885, when asked if the witnesses touched “the real metal,” “We did not.” The witnesses handled “the plates” in a vision only, according to Whitmer. 3
Other Religious Experiences
There are often statements made within the Church to the effect that none of the three witnesses recanted their statements and I have no reason to believe that is not the case. However, there is some evidence that Oliver Cowdery came very close.
When Oliver joined the Methodist Church later in his life, he apparently offered to repudiate his witness to the Book of Mormon in writing but was not required to do so by the elders of the Methodist Church.
“We accordingly waited on Mr. Cowdery at his residence in Tiffin, and there learned his connection, from him, with that order, and his full and final renunciation thereof.
We then inquired of him if he had any objection to making a public recantation. He replied that he would if it were required of him. The following I from a sworn statement by G.J. Keen, one of the elders who interviewed Oliver.
“In a few years, Mr. Cowdery expressed a desire to associate, himself with a Methodist Protestant church of this city. Rev. John Souder and myself were appointed a committee to wait on Mr. Cowdery and confer with him respecting his connection with Mormonism and the Book of Mormon had objections; that, in the first place, it could do no good; that he had known several to do so and they always regretted it. And, in the second place, it would have a tendency to draw public attention, invite criticism, and bring him into contempt.
“But,” said he, “nevertheless, if the church requires it, I will submit to it, but I authorize and desire you and the church to publish and make known my recantation.”
We did not demand it but submitted his name to the church, and he was unanimously admitted a member thereof. At that time he arose and addressed the audience present, admitted his error and implored forgiveness, and said he was sorry and ashamed of his connection with Mormonism.
He continued his membership while he resided in Tiffin, and became superintendent of the Sabbath-school, and led an exemplary the while he resided with us. I have lived in this city upwards of fifty-three years, was auditor of this county, was elected to that office in 1840.
I am now in my eighty-third year, and well remember the facts above related.
(Signed) G. J. KEEN.”
Sworn to before me and subscribed in my presence, this 14th day of April 1885. FRANK L. EMICH, Notary
The Mormon Church claims Oliver came back to the Church, but if he did, he might have left shortly thereafter as he was buried by a Methodist minister in Richmond, Missouri. 34
Motivations for his Involvement
What was Oliver’s motivation?
He was in on many of the most important policies and revelations of the Church, including:
An Angelic Witness of the Plates
Translation of the Plates
Restoration of Aaronic Priesthood
Restoration of Melchizedek Priesthood
Restoration of sealing keys and return of Elijah
When anything important happens, Oliver is there. When Smith hit a roadblock with Emma and Martin acting as scribes, Oliver shows up and gets things moving – quickly. Suddenly, hundreds of pages are translated in just a few months.
There are some suspicious actions involving Oliver and Sidney Rigdon. Upon the event of his death, Rigdon commanded his wife to burn all his papers, which were many. A man of letters does not destroy the collection of a lifetime unless there is something damning within it. Why else would he have had them burnt? I don’t imagine we will ever know what was so incriminating. Was there a reworking of the View of the Hebrews, or the Late War or was it a rough draft of the framework of the Book of Mormon, entitled Manuscript Found at Conneaut Creek by a failed preacher named Solomon Spaulding?
Spaulding failed at most everything he put his hand to, one of those flops was writing and selling novels. He wrote a story called Manuscript Found at Conneaut Creek but failed to get it published, as the story goes, Spaulding reworked the book and renamed it Manuscript Found. He took the manuscript to a publisher in Pittsburgh who agreed to publish it if he could come up with the money, but Spaulding never did find a backer, so the manuscript sat in the publisher’s office gathering dust.
At it happens somewhere in the 1810s, a man named Sidney Rigdon was visiting that same publisher’s office, and he came across Manuscript Found. By then Spaulding had died, so Rigdon takes it. Now Rigdon was also an adherent of Campbellism, which sought to restore Christianity to its first-century form and Rigdon sees an opportunity, a promote Campbellism and unite the various Christian denominations as well as Native Americans. He hatches a plan, an idea incidentally that he shares with his closest friends in and around 1825 to 1827 Rigdon tells his closest friends that soon a new book of scripture that would unite Christian Americans, convert Native Americans, and explain where the people who built the thousands of mounds around the eastern U.S. came from.
During this same period, Oliver Cowdery who lived in Rigdon’s area gets wind of Rigdon’s idea. Cowdery used to live in New York and at one point went back to New York to visit with Joseph Smith, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Speculation, certainly but not wildly so. Several of Spaulding’s relatives familiar with Manuscript Found in the Wilds of Mormon swore affidavits that The Book of Mormon was a rip-off of Solomon’s second, missing manuscript. In fact, they claimed that “Nephites,” “Lamanites,” “Lehi,” “Mormon” and “Moroni” – these exact words were found in Solomon’s novel.
As we saw with the Hoffman affair, the church is quick to purchase and stick away in their vaults anything casting doubt on the official story.
I often wonder what we would find if Jeraldo got into that their safe!
Cowdery publicly confessed his sorrow and shame for his connection with Mormonism. But did not go so far as to expose it as a fraud? Why would he not admit that his witness statement was false?
Obviously, no one relishes the admission that they have been deceitful, or that they have perjured themselves and lied under oath. Oliver may have been a lot of things, but he was not a fool. He understood that if he came clean, he would put himself in a very bad position. People had invested their fortunes, their time, even sacrificed their children to the carnal desires of the polygamists. Any admission on his part would certainly put him in legal jeopardy.
Is it not just easier and less trouble to just to stick to the original story? There are literally millions of people on the Mormon rolls today that do not believe the church is true and want nothing whatever to do with it but just move on without making a fuss like the one I am making here. Just look at the statistics I have presented in my letter. Oliver was interested in pursuing a political career, being associated with the Mormons was bad enough but admitting that he was involved in the creation of a fraud would be political suicide.
Education and Intelligence
The fact that Oliver accepted the position of teacher in a small rural school in Manchester Township in 1828 and 1829 speaks to the fact that he was the better educated of the witnesses. We also know that after his disaffection with the Mormon church he became an attorney. 35
Oliver Opens His Heart
Oliver Cowdery published the following, “Defense in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter-Day Saints,”
“DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD: — I offer you a “Defense” which I am grieved to make, but my opposers have put me to the necessity, and so far as my memory serves, I pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account.
I deny that I have ever conspired with any, or ever exerted any influence to destroy the reputation of the First Elder [Joseph Smith], although evidence which is to be credited assures me that he has done everything he could to injure my standing, and his influence has been considerably exerted to destroy my reputation and, I fear, my life.
You will remember in the meantime, that those who seek to vilify my character have been constantly encouraged by him. There was a time when I thought myself able to prove to the satisfaction of every man that the translator of the Book of Mormon was worthy of the appellation of a Seer and a Prophet of the Lord, and in which he held over me a mysterious power which even now I fail to fathom; but I fear I may have been deceived, and especially so fear since knowing that Satan has led his mind astray.
When the Church of Christ was set up by revelation, he was called to be First Elder, and I was called to he Second Elder, and whatever he had of Priesthood (about which I am beginning to doubt).
But I certainly followed him too far when accepting and reiterating, that none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the gospel, as I had then forgotten that John, the beloved disciple, was tarrying on earth and exempt from death.
I am well aware that a rehearsal of these things at this day will be unpleasant reading to the First Elder; yet so it is, and it is wisdom that it should be so. Without rehearsing too many things that have caused me, to lose my faith in Bro. Joseph’s seership. I regard his frequent predict devils nor the malice of men shall ever cause him to fall by the hand of his enemies until he has seen Christ in the flesh at his final coming, as little short of a piece of blasphemy; and it may be classed with that revelation that some among you will remember which sent Bro. Page and me so unwisely to (3) Toronto with a prediction from the Lord by Urim and Thummim that we would there find a man anxious to buy the First Elder’s copyright.
I well remember we did not find him, and had to return surprised and disappointed. But so great was my faith, that, in going to Toronto, nothing but calmness pervaded my soul, every doubt was banished, and I as much expected that Bro. Page and I would fulfill the revelation as that we should live. And you may believe without asking me to relate the particulars, that it would be no easy task to describe our desolation and grief.
Bro. Page and I did not think that God would have deceived us through “Urim and Thummim,” exactly as came the Book of Mormon; and I well remember how hard I strove to drive away the foreboding which seized me, that the First Elder had made fools of us, where we thought, in the simplicity of our hearts, that we were divinely commanded.
And what served to render the reflection past expression in its bitterness to me, was, that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the Angel of God, whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon, who, I am sure, had no part in the transactions of that day, as the Angel was John the Baptist, which I doubt not and deny not. When I afterward first heard Elder Rigdon, whose voice is so strikingly similar, I felt that this “dear” brother was to be in some sense, to me unknown, the herald of this church as the Great Baptist was of Christ.
I never dreamed, however, that he would influence the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the Church of Latter Day Saints, into the formation of a secret band at Far West, committed to depredations upon Gentiles and the actual assassination of apostates from the church, which was done in June last and was only one of many wrong steps.
These are facts which I am rehearsing, and if they shall be called into question, I am able to establish them by evidence which I can bring forward in abundance. Still, although favored of God as a chosen witness to bear testimony to the divine authority of the Book of Mormon, and honored of the Lord in being permitted, without money and without price, to serve as scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon, I have sometimes had seasons of skepticism, in which I did seriously wonder whether the prophet and I were men in our sober senses when we would be translating from plates through “the Urim and Thummim” and the plates not be in sight at all.
But I believed both in the Seer and in the “Seer Stone,” and what the First Elder announced as revelation from God, I accepted as such, and committed to paper with a glad mind and happy heart and swift pen; for I believed him to be the soul of honor and truth, a young man who would die before he would lie.
Man may deceive his fellow man, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may seduce the unstable, untaught in the ways of righteousness and peace, for I felt a solemn awe about me, being deep in the faith, that the First Elder was a Seer and Prophet of God, giving the truth unsullied through “Urim and Thummim,” dictated by the will of the Lord, and that he was persecuted for the sake of the truth which he loved. Could I have been deceived in him?
I could rehearse a number of things to show either that I was then deceived, or that he has since fallen from the lofty place in which fond affection had deemed him secure.
I remember his experience as he had related it to me, and lacking wisdom, I went to God in prayer. I said: “O Lord, how dark everything is! Let thy glory lighten it, and make bright the path for me. Show me my duty. Let me be led of thy Spirit.”
Shall I relate what transpired? I had a message from the Most High, as from the midst of eternity; for the vail was parted and the Redeemer Himself, clothed in glory, stood before me. And He said:
“After reproving the Latter-Day Saints for their corruption and blindness in permitting their President, Joseph Smith, Jr., to lead them forth into errors, where I led him not, not commanded him, and saying unto them, Thus saith the Lord,’ when I said it not unto him, thou shalt withdraw thyself from among them.”
And I testify that Jesus, whose words I have been rehearsing, hath even so commanded me in an open vision.
The Lord revealed to me that the First Elder is leading the Saints astray, and ordered me to quit them after delivering the message which this “Defense” delivers. I shall ever remember this expression of the Saviour’s grace with thanksgiving and look upon his amazing goodness to me with wonder.
When I had sufficiently recovered my self-possession to ask in regard to the errors into which Joseph Smith, Jr., was taking the Saints, the Redeemer instructed me plainly: “He hath given revelations from his own heart and from a defiled conscience as coming from my mouth and hath corrupted the covenant and altered words which I had spoken. He hath brought in high priests, apostles and other officers, which in these days, when the written word sufficeth, are not in my church, and some of his deeds have brought shame to my heritage by the shedding of blood. He walketh in the vain imaginations of his heart, and my Spirit is holy and does not dwell in an unholy temple, nor are angels sent to reveal the great work of God to hypocrites.”
I bowed my face in shame and said: “Lord! I entreat thee, give me grace to hear thy message in print where I fear to take it by word of mouth.”
And he said, “The grace is given thee,” and he vanished out of my sight.
Prepare your hearts, O ye saints of the Most High, and come to understanding. The prophet hath erred and the people are gone astray through his error. God’s word is open. We may read it.
There is no “First Presidency” there, no “High Priesthood” save that of Christ himself, no Patriarch to the Church, and wonderful to tell, the “First Elder” hath departed from God in giving us these things, and in changing the name of the church.
Oh, the misery, distress and evil attendant upon giving heed unto the “doctrines of men”! The gospel has been perverted and the Saints are wandering in darkness, while a full cup of suffering is poured upon them. A society has been organized among them to inflict death upon those who are deemed apostates, with the knowledge and sanction of the First Elder.
This, I confess, is a dark picture to spread before those whom I am to warn, but they will pardon my plainness when I assure them of the truth of what I have written.
Bearing this message to them is the hardest work of my life, although many have been the privations and fatigues which have fallen to my lot to endure for the Gospel’s sake since April 5th, 1829.
It is disgraceful to be led by a man who does not scruple to follow his own vain imagination, announcing his own schemes as revelations from the Lord. And I fear he is led by a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web. Having cleared my soul by delivering the message, I do not deem it necessary to write further on the subject now.
Jesus has saved men in all ages and saves them now, and not by our Priesthood either. The “First Elder” errs as to that. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast as the eternal hills, that to him who knocks it shall be opened, and whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely; but a curse will surely fall upon those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.
I no longer believe that all the other churches are wrong.
Get right, O ye people, get right with God, and may the Lord remove his judgments from you, preserve you in his kingdom from all evil, and crown you in Christ. Amen.
- COWDERY, March 3, 1839.” 35
In 1841 the Mormons published a poem that stated, “Or Book of Mormon not his word because denied by Oliver.”
A poem of the time declares that Cowdery denied his Mormon testimony:
“Amazed with wonder! I look round
To see most people of our day
Reject the glorious gospel sound
Because the simple turn away:
But does it prove there is no time,
Because some watches wilt not go?
“Or prove that Christ was not the Lord
Because that Peter cursed and swore,
OR BOOK OF MORMON NOT HIS WORD
BECAUSE DENIED BY OLIVER?
Or prove that Joseph Smith is false
Because apostates say ’tis so?” (emphasis added) 36
The Church and her apologists quote David Whitmer’s account of Oliver’s alleged death-bed revival. Whitmer is reported to have told Apostles Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt the following on September 8, 1878, regarding Cowdery’s death: “Oliver died the happiest man I ever saw. After shaking hands with the family and kissing his wife and daughter, he said, ‘Now I lay down for the last time; I am going to my Savior,’ and he died immediately with a smile on his face.’” Forgive me, but this has a Paul Dunn ring to it.
Oliver Cowdrey is an enigma. He certainly gave testimony that he had seen an angel and the golden plates, yet he was excommunicated, fought with Joseph Smith accusing him of adultery with a teenage girl. After leaving the Church, he moved his devotion to a competing seeress, who like Joseph saw much in her ‘magic stone.’ He became a faithful member of the Methodist Church.
He stated publicly that he was ashamed of his association with the ‘Mormons’ and there is at least the suggestion that he admitted that it was all a fraud to his closest friend and law partner. Oliver was a political man, and one must wonder if his rejoining the LDS Church was to attempt to wrest control of it away from Brigham Young and take authority unto himself. On July 28, 1847, Cowdery wrote to David Whitmer that ‘we have the authority and do hold the keys. It is important, should we not be permitted to act in that authority…,”
Oliver Cowdrey’s funeral and burial were conducted by a Methodist minister.
Martin Harris stated in public that he never saw the plates with his natural
eyes only in vision or imagination and that neither did Oliver or David see
them except in vision.
If the golden plates did exist and were real, why would the witnesses make
the following kinds of statements:
“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state, I saw
the angel and the plates.” 37
“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” 38
“He only saw the plates with a spiritual eye.” 39
“As shown in the vision.” 40
“Never saw the plates with his natural eyes but only in vision or imagination.” 41
“I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock.” 42
Several other things call the witnesses’ reliability and trustworthiness into question. We know that all the witnesses had close ties to Joseph and his family. Some like Martin Harris had a substantial financial investment in the success of the Book of Mormon.
“The witnesses” experiences may have only been visionary in nature. There are many statements given by the witnesses that indicate they only saw the angel and the plates in a visionary experience. Why would people need to see real, physical plates in a vision or a real angel that was physically on the earth? There are also several statements saying that the only time they saw the plates was when the plates were covered with a cloth or tow frock.
The three witnesses did not all see the plates or angel at the same time. Only David Whitmer and perhaps Oliver Cowdery saw the angel together. Martin Harris removed himself from the group and did not see the angel until perhaps three days later.” 43
FAIR says that this is well-documented in official Church sources but why then do the clear majority of members not know of this? Every painting and image of the three witnesses have them all together – does this constitute ‘well-documented.’
These men lived in the early 1800s and believed in magical things as many people did during that time period such as divining rods, second sight, magic, dreams, seer stones, etc. Some of the witnesses, especially Martin Harris, were easily swayed by tales of the supernatural, especially in a religious context.
Many of the witnesses ended up leaving the church and following other leaders and religions such as James Strang, the Shakers, Methodists, etc. By 1847 not a single one of the surviving eleven witnesses was part of the LDS Church.
“Of the witnesses that left the church, most believed that Joseph was at best a fallen prophet, the church changed its doctrines in error and changed revelations against God’s will.
The witnesses, who have been heralded as good, honest, Abe Lincoln-type of men were later called liars, counterfeiters, thieves, etc. by Joseph Smith himself.
The “testimony of the witnesses” is similar to testimonials which were commonly included in books etc. in those days to help spur sales. And of course, the BOM’s producers originally intended to sell copies for $1.75 each.
All three witnesses believed that God Himself had told them (through Joseph Smith) that they had been specially chosen to testify to the world that they had seen the angel and the plates –– if they had enough faith. Martin Harris was even told the exact words he must use: Joseph Smith said he had a revelation in which the Lord commanded Harris to say, “I have seen the things which the Lord hath shown unto Joseph Smith Jun., and I know of a surety that they are true, for I have seen them.” And just to clinch the command, God threatened Martin Harris, saying, “But if he deny this he will break the covenant which he has before covenanted with me, and behold, he is condemned.” A personal promise (and a threat of condemnation) coming directly from God is bound to have a powerful influence on a person’s thinking! 44
Fred Anson remarks that if Joseph Smith’s goal was to provide truly convincing witness statements, there were several things he SHOULD NOT have done:
- None of the witnesses should have been related to Joseph or each other. Most of the witnesses were either related or good friends. Having unrelated people as witnesses would be far more effective than using your brothers and father.
- The witnesses should not have already been eager believers.
There should have been some skeptics.
- There should have been no financial motive. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm and invested at least $3,000 of his own money into printing the Book of Mormon, so of course, he had incentives to ‘promote’ the book.
- Each of the witnesses should have written their own testimony instead of merely signing a prepared statement written by Joseph. If the prepared document wasn’t 100%, accurate many people would simply sign it anyway as it would be too much of a hassle to have it completely rewritten by hand – especially in the 1800s.
- The witnesses should have been much more detailed about this amazing event. What did the angel look like? What exactly did he say? How did he speak? There are almost no details provided which can be analyzed and compared. If each witness had simply written their own account and provided significant details, then their testimonies could corroborate each other.
- The witnesses should have been interviewed independently immediately after going public. They should have been interviewed the same way police do with witnesses to crimes or that investigators do with UFO cases. Ask questions to see if their stories match; How was the angel dressed? How tall was he? How did he speak?
- The witnesses should not have used subjective language and say strange things like comparing seeing the plates with seeing a city through a mountain or using spiritual eyes instead of their natural eyes to view physical plates.
- The witnesses should not have been gullible people that believed in things like ‘second sight,’ divining rods, finding treasure by placing a rock in a hat, etc. That the Three Witnesses were a gullible sort is illustrated by an incident in July 1837. Joseph had left on a five-week missionary tour to Canada, only to find on his return that all three of the Witnesses had joined a faction opposing him. This faction rallied around a young girl who claimed to be a seeress by virtue of a black stone in which she read the future. David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all pledged her their loyalty, and Frederick G. Williams, formerly Joseph’s First Counselor, became her scribe. The girl seeress would dance herself into a state of exhaustion, fall to the floor, and burst forth with revelations. See Lucy Smith: Biographical Sketches, pp. 211-213).
- All the witnesses should have been much more vocal and been interviewed much more often. There are very few interviews done with the witnesses that provide any additional information or corroboration of their statements. You would think that these people, after seeing such a magnificent sight, would spend their time testifying to the world about their experience instead of largely just signing a prepared statement and avoiding interviews by the media. Only three of the eight witnesses made separate statements that they had handled the plates. They were Joseph’s two brothers, Hyrum and Samuel, and John Whitmer.
- And of course, it would have helped had all the witnesses remained loyal to the Church for the rest of their lives instead of having most of them abandoning it. It doesn’t make much sense to leave the one, true Church of God if you have received an indisputable witness that it was true. Why would these people risk being cast in Outer Darkness for all eternity for denying what they KNEW to be true unless they maybe had some doubts? 45
And then there is Hypnotism
The 2014 American Psychological Association definition of hypnotic suggestibility;
“An individual’s ability to experience suggested alterations in physiology, sensations, emotions, thoughts, or behavior during hypnosis.” (APA, 2014)
A man they called Reveen, one of the world’s greatest concert hypnotists, put on a brilliant hypnotism show in the 1960s and 1970s. I attended more than a few of his performances and was greatly impressed by his ability to get regular people to do crazy things under a state of, “hypnosis.” He would have people shake hands and then tell them their hands were cemented together, and sure enough hard as they tried, they couldn’t separate them. I remember him telling a rather portly gentleman he was a famous ballerina after which he danced across the stage and doing pirouettes!
Incidentally, I was sitting in a typically dull sacrament meeting in Edmonton, Canada one Sunday when Raveen and his family walked in! Yes, he was a Mormon (at least for a time), and while touring would attend church.
We have often heard Joseph Smith described as charismatic and captivating, having a magnetic personality. Is it not possible that Joseph Smith understood the principles of hypnosis or mesmerism as it was called then? The English translation of Frans Anton Mesmer’s ground-breaking book, Mesmerism: The Discovery of Animal Magnetism (1779), was certainly known and available in the United States in Joseph’s day. No less than George Washington discussed Mesmer’s theories in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette on November 25, 1784.
Put yourself in Martin’s place, you have a little formal education; you live in a place where news from the broader world is limited. Many perhaps most of your friends and family see the world as almost a mystical place. You believe in God, but you also believe in evil spirits and demons and witches and buried treasures. You have been affiliated with many churches and denominations, but none have excited you as much as Joe’s religion. You have invested heavily in this divine work, your time, your treasure, even your relationship with your wife have been sacrificed to the cause. You know the work is true. You know Joseph talks with God.
It is a beautiful warm morning as you go to the woods with David and Oliver and the Prophet. You have all knelt in prayer asking that the Lord will show you the plates, but nothing is happening. It must be you. You know how weak you are. You lack the faith of the others. You need to leave; you are ruining the experience for Oliver and David. Your heart aches as you walk on alone to another opening in the woods, where you again prey to your God for faith and forgiveness. Then suddenly Joseph is with you, comforting you and together you again knell down in prayer, with the prophet at your side, with your eyes closed.
You desire with all your heart, more than anything to have ever wanted to have the sure witness promised by a man you ‘know’ to be a true prophet of God, if only you could have enough faith.
Joseph begins, slowly, in that monotone ‘conference-ease’ voice that all of today’s general authorities seek to emulate. Joseph prays, “Oh God, our heavenly Father, we come to you in fervent prayer and petition that you will show your dear and faithful servant, Martin the golden plates of which are spoken. Lord, I ask that you send an angel from your presence to show your loving servant Martin the same vision that your servants Joseph, David, and Oliver have been blessed with. That he may know the truth.”
“And Martin my brother, have faith in our Lord. Martin concentrate on the glory of God, forget all your daily cares, the Lord will take care of all your needs, put these foolish things out of your mind as you pray to our God to show unto you the golden plates, Martin with every breath you take feel the spirit fill you, Martin, the veil begins to lift, see the veil between this world and the heavens parting and behold…” and on and on and on.
Joseph goes on until he feels Martin is ready. Then Joseph declares, “Oh Martin can you see the angel, in that dazzling robe, so gloriously white? Martin can you see, look, he turns over the leaves one by one so that we can see, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly? He is talking to you, can you hear him, he says, ‘Martin, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps His commandments;’ listen Martin, to that voice declaring, ‘These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.’ Oh Martin, blessed are you can you see, can you see?
Yes, Yes, you cry out in an ecstasy of joy, ’Tis enough; ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld;’ and jumping up, you shout, ‘Hosanna,’ I bless God, I bless God.”
Was what Martin and the others saw a product of their own mind? Remember, by Harris’ own admission, everything he and the others saw came as a vision. Historical accounts reflect that the witnesses could very well have been induced to see the plates in a vision because of Smith’s mesmerizing methods.
Smith persistently badgered them that only the faithful could see them. A persuasive but illogical technique Mormon missionaries still use today when they direct prospects to Moroni’s promise at the end of the Book of Mormon, which says that if one, “asks God, in the name of Christ, with a sincere heart, the truth will be manifest by the Holy Ghost.”
One of the weakest arguments that members of the church too often make is that if a person sincerely prays to Heavenly Father, he will not be deceived, again the Holy Bible never gives that assurance. 2 Cor. 11:14 says that Satan often transforms himself into an angel of light, and 1 Timothy 4:1 warns of seducing spirits.
Did Smith use this same wily manipulative manner of intimidation? Did he pray upon these simple witnesses’ emotions, inducing them to conjure up a vision by telling them that God was not allowing them to see the plates because they were ‘not worthy’ and needed to ‘repent,’ and have ‘greater faith? Under this kind of pressure, is it possible that individuals will see exactly what they are expected to see?
We know that Joseph had from an early age what only the most gifted revivalist preacher could boast of, the talent for making men see visions.
“An example of how Smith coerced the ‘Eight Witnesses’ to see a vision was told to the Governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford, by more than one of Smith’s key men:
‘They [Smith’s men] told Ford that the witnesses were “set to continual prayer and other spiritual exercises.” Then, at last “he assembled them in a room and produced a box which he said contained the precious treasure. The lid was opened; the witnesses peeped into it, but making no discovery, for the box was empty, they said, “Brother Joseph, we do not see the plates.” The prophet answered them, “O ye of little faith! how long will God bear with this wicked and perverse generation? Down on your knees, brethren, every one of you, and pray God for the forgiveness of your sins, and for a holy and living faith which cometh down from heaven.” The disciples dropped to their knees and began to pray in the fervency of their spirit, supplicating God for more than two hours with fanatical earnestness; at the end of which time, looking again into the box, they were now persuaded that they saw the plates.”
That they saw the plates in vision, or with their ‘spiritual eyes,’ rather than their natural eyes, makes it more likely, as Fawn Brodie notes in her book, ‘No Man Knows My History,’ ‘that the men were not conspirators but victims of Joseph’s unconscious but positive talent at hypnosis.’
The Three Witnesses and Hypnotic Susceptibility
Hypnotic susceptibility is a personality trait that remains remarkably stable over time. Hypnotizability, if I can call it that, or suggestibility have certain predictors.
Predictors and Correlates of Hypnotic Susceptibility
Absorption: Absorption is a disposition or personality trait in which a person becomes absorbed in their mental imagery, particularly fantasy. This trait thus correlates highly with a fantasy-prone personality. The original research on absorption was done by American psychologist Auke Tellegen.
Fantasy Proneness: Fantasy Proneness: ‘Fantasy-prone personality’ (FPP) is an expression coined by psychologists Cheryl Wilson and Theodore Barber in a 1983 paper based on a small study on hypnotic susceptibility. Their work developed a theme put forth by Josephine R. Hilgard, a pioneer in the study of hypnosis. FPP is a personality peculiarity in which a person experiences a lifelong extensive and deep involvement in fantasy. This disposition is commonly described as having an “overactive imagination” or “living in a dream world.” An individual with this trait (termed a fantasizer) may have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality and may experience hallucinations, as well as self-suggested psychosomatic symptoms. This is closely related to the psychological constructs of absorption and eidetic memory.
Graham Wagstaff cautions against using the terms “suggestible” and “susceptible” interchangeably, about the extent to which one individual responds to incoming suggestions from another.
“The two terms are not synonymous, however, as the latter term carries inherent negative bias absent from the neutral psychological factor described by suggestibility.”
In scientific research and academic literature on hypnosis and hypnotherapy, the term “suggestibility” describes a neutral psychological and possibly physiological state or phenomena. This is distinct from the culturally biased common parlance of the term “suggestible”. Both terms are often bound with undeserved negative social connotations not inherent in the word meanings themselves.
To be suggestible is not to be gullible. The latter pertains to an empirical objective fact that can be shown accurate or inaccurate to any observer; the former term does not. To be open to suggestion has no bearing on the accuracy of any incoming suggestions, nor whether such an objective accuracy is possible (as is with metaphysical belief).” 46
Hypnotic State, Suggestion, and Hypnotic Suggestion
Matthew Whalley provides clarification between a hypnotic state, suggestion and hypnotic suggestion. He holds simply that a suggestion is hypnotic if it is delivered in the context of hypnosis. For example, if it is delivered after hypnotic induction. The same suggestions can also be delivered outside of hypnosis, to an unhypnotized individual. In this, the latter case, it is known as a non-hypnotic suggestion or an imaginative suggestion. There is considerable research showing that hypnotic suggestions are only marginally more effective than imaginative suggestions. A fact that may be significant as we evaluate the three witnesses’ susceptibility.
This brief discussion on hypnosis has shown that is not about a ‘battle of wills.’ People feel more comfortable when receiving positive suggestions in an understanding framework or context. People are less likely to resist the ideas for optimism or a positive perspective if they:
- Correspond with other ideas already held
- Contain positive rather than negative enforcement toward something good rather than away from something bad
- Flatter our self-identity to a level we accept.
All three of these features were present regarding the ‘Three Witnesses.’ In fact, in every way, the position of the ‘Three Witnesses’ was ideal for a hypnotically-induced illusion or “vision.”
Was Smith trained in hypnosis or mesmerism, of course not, but neither were the magicians, priests, sorcerers or other charismatic individuals in the past who discovered it by accident?
How could the witnesses all make statements that suggest that their experience with the gold plates and the angel were visionary and later vehemently state they were real as you and I understand that word?
Remember a hypnotically-induced hallucination is very real to the person having it. In fact, it is only identifiable as a hallucination by someone other than the person hallucinating. If the individual having the hallucination recognized it as a hallucination, it would not then be a hallucination. It is almost impossible to convince a hallucinator that his or her experience is not real.
It is not that difficult to understand. Think of someone who witnesses a heated argument after school. When later asked about the “huge fight” that occurred, they recall the memory, but unknowingly exaggerate or distort it, because they now think of the event as a “huge fight” instead of a simple argument and the further away they get in time from the original event, the greater the distortion. There was no conscious attempt to mislead; it is just a feature of memory and the human mind.
There are, of course, examples of where suggestibility can also be seen in extremes which result in negative consequences.
Witness testimony is altered because the police make ‘suggestions’ during an interview, which causes that individual’s already uncertain observations to become distorted memories.
Another example might be a young girl suffering from migraine headaches leading to sleep deprivation and depression. Her therapist, a specialist in child sexual abuse, repeatedly asked her whether her father had sexually abused her. This persistent suggestion causes the young girl to fabricate memories of her father’s molestation, which leads to her being placed in foster care and her father being tried on charges of abuse.
Were the ‘Three Witnesses’ targets of hypnosis or suggestion? We can only speculate, but one must consider the power Joseph Smith had over his followers and the differential in intellect and authority between these simple men and an ambitious, self-assured Svengali.
The subject’s attitude towards authority plays an important part as well. It has been long known that army officers are much more difficult to hypnotize than enlisted men and women. Why? Because enlisted men and women, through the process of indoctrination and training, are taught to obey and follow orders without thought or reason. The transference of authority by Smith was readily accomplished then as it is now through the authoritarian construction and structure of the Church.
Apologists Responses to the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon
In what I assume was a presentation delivered at the FairMormon Conference in 2004, this apologist begins with the comment, “Columbus started on faith, Edison started on faith, and it’s that faith that is called a hypothesis in this scientific method. You have to conceive of something in terms of imagination and logical extension, extrapolation before you ever really verify something beyond your little reality and so we’re really dealing with that basic issue below.”
Well, where do I start? The writer does not understand the scientific method nor for that matter faith. Faith and a hypothesis are not the same thing. A hypothesis is where – after doing your research, you try to predict the answer to your problem. Another term for a hypothesis is an ‘educated guess.’
Merriam-Webster defines ‘Faith’ as “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”
Columbus was a self-taught man, but he was not an ignorant man, ‘after doing his research,’ he set out to find a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.
He was aware that Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C. proved the earth was round, and that Aristotle in the fourth century B.C. provided the physical evidence, such as the shadow of the Earth on the moon, and like all sailors, he witnessed the curvature of the Earth approaching land.
I would suggest to you that my approach to the ‘witnesses’ to the Book of Mormon is a true application of the scientific method. I didn’t start with ‘faith’ I started by doing my research. Then I formulated the hypotheses that the ‘witnesses’ did not see the plates, angels, et cetera, with their ‘real’ eyes and/or they, for reasons best known to themselves, were not truthful.
The author of this article I quoted above goes on to beg the question, “Why in their personal statements do the eight witnesses consistently use the formulaic language that they ‘saw’ and ‘hefted’ and ‘handled’ rather than using other language or giving greater detail? Doesn’t this suggest a conspiracy?” Which he then goes on to answer his own question, “I come back to this issue where John Whitmer said if you doubt what happened… if you want my testimony go read it. I don’t see ‘hefted’ as formulaic. I think that’s, as I said, a very specific term of the period meaning they tried to estimate their weight. And whether it’s William Smith estimating the weight when he got handed the plates in a sack or the tow frock in the house when Joseph brought them home; or Martin Harris estimating the weight as he held the plates in a box, 40 to 60 pounds is basically what anybody who lifted the plates say.” 47
All this is, of course, meaningless as Joseph Smith carefully crafted the witness affidavits, which the individual witnesses simply signed.
The witnesses are a hard call. They clearly state they saw the plates and the angel. But there are also many statements made by the witnesses themselves that their admissions were more visionary than real. The Witnesses,’ particularly Martin Harris’s, use of terms such as, ‘second sight,’ ‘with spiritual eyes,’ ‘visions of the mind,’ or through the “eyes of our understanding,” certainly give one pause.
I think to truly understand the Book of Mormon witnesses; one must appreciate the magical worldview people held in the early 19th Century in the backwoods of New England. Many folks believed in folk magic, visions, glass looking, divining rods, second sight, peep stones, treasure hunting and so on.
Additionally, several issues call into question the witnesses’ independence. All had close ties to Joseph and his family. Martin Harris had a substantial financial stake in the success of the Book of Mormon. And to be kind, the witnesses were not society’s ‘cream of the crop.’
As well they all left the Church at some point and most held Joseph Smith in very low esteem as he did them. Joseph Smith said Dec 16, 1838, “Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them.” 48
David Whitmer—like the other witnesses—had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. Joseph Smith III remembered when David was such accused and said:
“How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height—a little over six feet—and said, in solemn and impressive tones: ‘No sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!’.
Martin Harris used the same qualifying statements to describe his experience in 1829:
“In introducing us, Mr. Godfrey said, ‘Brother Harris, I have brought these young men to hear your statement as to whether or not you believe the Book of Mormon to be true.’ His face was turned to the wall. He turned and faced us and said, ‘Now I don’t believe, but I know it to be true, for with these eyes I saw the angel and with these ears, I heard him say it was a true and correct record of an ancient people that dwelt upon this the American continent’. 49
As I had mentioned above, a hypnotically-induced hallucination is very real to the person having it. It is only identifiable as a hallucination by someone other than the person hallucinating. I have said it before, but it is worth repeating, if the individual having the hallucination recognized it as a hallucination, it would not then be a hallucination. It is almost impossible to convince a hallucinator that his or her experience was not real.
1 Ronald W. Walker, “Martin Harris:
2 John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840, in EMD, 2: 271
3 Martin Harris-Witness & Benefactor, BYU 1955 Thesis, Wayne C. Gunnell, p.52.)
4 Latter-Day Saints, Millennial Star, Vol 8 pp124-128
5 Wayne Sentinel, May 27, 1831, as quoted in Richard Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 1981
6 Rochester Daily Democrat, June 23, 1841, as quoted in Richard Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 1981
7 Pomeroy Tucker reminiscence, 1858, in Vogel & 1996-2003, 3: 71 Education and Intelligence
8 “The Passing of Martin Harris,” in the Improvement Era Vol. 29, No. 5 (March 1926):
9 George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his daughter, Florence (Godfrey) Munson of Fielding, Utah; quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 65–66 (Is that third hand?)
10 Warren Parris to E. Holmes, August 11, 1838.
11 Stephen Burnett, Early Mormon Documents, 2:288-93
12 Martin Harris, (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71
13 Early Mormon Documents, 2:346-47
14 Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2
15 Mormonism: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, p.71
16 Early Mormon Documents 2:270 and 3:22
17 Eric Nelson, Leaving the Church, Part 9 Oct. 24, 2015
18 History of the Mormonites, Kirtland, 1831. Josiah Jones, The Evangelist (1 June 1831) p.40
19 The Braden & Kelly Debate, p. 173
20 Palmyra Reflector, March 19, 1831
21 Biographical Sketches, Lucy Smith, pp. 211-213
22David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ
Statements by Whitmer that He Saw the Gold Plates and the Angel in Vision
23 Interview with John Murphy, June 1880, Early Mormon Documents 5:63
24 Moyle diary, June 28, 1885, in Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel, Signature Book, Salt Lake City, October 1996
25 Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel, Signature Book, Salt Lake City, October 1996, 2:346-47
26 Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel, Signature Book, Salt Lake City, October 1996, 2:346-47
27 David Whitmer, to Anthony Metcalf, 2 April 1887; printed in A[nthony] Metcalf, Ten Years before the Mast (Malad City, Idaho: n.p., 1888, 73-74
28 Millennial Star, vol. XL, pp. 771-77
29 Grant Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, Chapter 6
30 Deseret Evening News, 6 Aug. 1878
31 Marvin S. Hill, “Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, (Winter, 1972): pp. 83-84
32 Early Mormon Documents, 3:177-79
33 Grant Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins Chapter
34 The True Origin of The Book of Mormon, Charles Shook, 1914, pp. 58-59
35 Defense in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter-Day Saints,” Presley Job Office, Norton, Ohio, 183
36 Seasons and Times, Vol 2, p. 482
37 Martin Harris, (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71)
38 Early Mormon Documents, 2:346-47
39 “He only saw the plates with a spiritual eye
40 Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958
41 Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2.
42 Early Mormon Documents 1:497
43 Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70
44 Facts on the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Jole B. Groat, July 8, 2011, Institute for Religious Research The Book of Mormon Witnesses, Recovery From Mormonism, http://exmormon.org/d6/drupal/file9
45 September 7, 2014, in Book of Mormon, Fred Anson, Mormon Studies
46 Wagstaff, Graham F. (1991). “Suggestibility: A social psychological approach.” Florence Kentucky: Taylor & Frances/Routledge. p. 141
47 Unnamed source, 2004 FairMormon Conference
48 History of the Church, Vol 3, p232
Several witnesses to the Book of Mormon confessed that they did not see the plates with their natural eyes, but with ‘visions of the mind.’
Again, FairMormon, as is their custom, talks about errors and suggests there is erroneous or incorrect information without providing any corroborating evidence or details.
Interrogatory No. 25
Joseph Creates a Witness Affidavit for Signature
I think the testimony of the witnesses would be more credible if they had written their own accounts instead of merely signing a prepared statement carefully crafted by Joseph Smith.
As well, we now know that the three witnesses did not all see the plates or angel at the same time. Only David Whitmer and perhaps Oliver Cowdery saw the angel together. Martin Harris removed himself from the group and did not see the angel until perhaps three days later. 1
Joseph Smith was very charismatic, and we know he was quite persuasive, we have very little to go on regarding how Joseph got them to sign.
Remember too that all the witnesses had very close ties to Joseph and his family. Some like Martin Harris even had a substantial financial investment in the success of the Book of Mormon.
The witnesses were a product of the early 1800s and believed in magical things – second sight, witches, dreams, seer stones, etc. It would seem that at least some of the witnesses were easily swayed by stories of the supernatural, especially in a religious context.
Most of the witnesses ended up leaving the church, and many followed other leaders and other religions such as James Strang, the Shakers, the Methodists, etc. By 1847 not a single one of the surviving eleven witnesses had anything to do with Mormon Church.
Many of the witnesses who left the Church, believed that Joseph was at best a fallen prophet, who changed the church’s doctrines and revelations against God’s will.
Apologists Responses to Joseph Smith’s Creation of a Witness Statement for the Witnesses to Sign
There is very little from the apologists on this issue, Each of the witnesses should have written their own testimony instead of merely signing a carefully prepared statement written by Joseph Smith. If the signatories did not find the document 100% accurate, it would have to be completely rewritten by hand – no mean feat in the 1800s.
As well we know there was not a signing ceremony, it was not like the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They did not all sign at the same time.
Had the witnesses written their own statement, perhaps we would have learned, what the angel looked like, and what if anything did the angel said?
1 Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, nd., microfilm copy, p. 70-71).
Interrogatory No. 26
Why were words such as Baptism, Bible, Crucifixion & Synagogue Used Before Their Existence?
The word “baptism” found in 2 Nephi 31:13 and other places. But this cannot be an actual translation of a word found on ancient plates, because “baptism” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma, and peculiar to the King James version.
Likewise, the word “epistle” in 3 Nephi 3:5 is an obvious copy of the King James Version. The word “epistle” (epistolos) was left in its original Greek form, but given an English ending; and, the words “alpha” and “omega” which appear in 3 Nephi 9:18, are, of course, English spellings of Greek words found in the Bible (Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).
2 Nephi 29:3 reads, “A Bible, A Bible, we have got a Bible,” referencing the Jewish Old Testament, which dates to 550 B.C. However, the word “Bible” is the English transliteration of the Greek term “biblos,” which came into parlance a millennium and a half later.
Crucifixion was unknown to Jews in Palestine in 600 B.C. It became first known to Jews in Palestine in the late fourth century B.C.
The word ‘synagogue’ or some derivative of it occurs more than 25 times in the Book of Mormon. In Alma 16:13, we read, “And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews.” This statement assumes that Nephites were aware of how the Jews built their synagogues.
But how could Alma and Amulek know how the Jews built their synagogues when the Jews themselves didn’t build them before Lehi (supposedly) left for the Americas in 600 BC?
Again nothing from FairMormon.
Interrogatory No. 26
Why does the Book of Mormon incorrectly state that Jesus was born in Jerusalem?
We know, of course, that the Lord was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is located on the southern portion of the Judean Mountains. The city is situated 73 kilometers (about 44 mi) northeast of Gaza City and the Mediterranean Sea, 75 kilometers (46 mi) west of Amman, Jordan, 59 kilometers (37 mi) southeast of Tel Aviv, Israel and 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) south of Jerusalem. Jesus was born from the tribe of Judah and Bethlehem is in the territory of Judah. Jerusalem is in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, which would make Jesus having been born of the tribe of Benjamin! Apologists claim that Bethlehem is essentially a suburb of Jerusalem. This is nonsense. I have driven from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and it takes half an hour on the freeway. There is not a single non-LDS expert who will state that Bethlehem and Jerusalem are one and the same. A big issue, perhaps not, but it casts additional doubt on the veracity of the Book of Mormon because God is not in the habit of just being close, He is perfect.
Why does the Book of Mormon incorrectly state that Jesus was born in Jerusalem?
The Book of Mormon does not claim that “Jesus was born in Jerusalem”. It claims that Jesus was born “at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers.” It is referring to the land of Jerusalem.
We could accept this as a reasonable explanation, were it not for the fact that Joseph Smith in his arrogance made the fanciful and demonstrably false statement that the Book of Mormon is ‘the most correct book on earth.’
But to state that I have stated ‘erroneous or incorrect information’ by pointing out Smith’s mistake says a great deal about FairMormon’s raison d’être.
Interrogatory No. 27
The Council of 50 and An Accusation of Treason
Joseph Smith was a very ambitious man. Shortly before his death in 1844 he established a theocratic-political system which he named the Council of 50. And on April 11th, 1844 was named King and Ruler over all the earth with unlimited civil, military and ecclesiastical power.
This body met in Nauvoo seventeen times before he was killed.
Smith prophesied the entire overthrow of the United States within a few years.
Smith saw himself as reigning over all of America and eventually the entire world. Like so many things Joseph Smith did it was done covertly and undercover and those who were given knowledge of it or who was promised to become one of the ‘Princes’ were sworn to secrecy under penalty of death.
Wilson Law, the brother of William Law, the former second counselor in the First Presidency and the highest-ranking Major General in the Nauvoo Legion, stated that Smith’s intended to:
“Set the laws at defiance; for the Government, he said, was corrupt, and ought to be overthrown, and he would do it, for he could get help plenty from the Indians, for he had communication with them all the time, and they were ready. And deponent further saith that he verily believes that said Joseph Smith is and has been, conspiring with the Indians against this Government, he having agents out among the Indians, passing to and fro ever since last summer; and that a number of Indians have come to Nauvoo, at different times, last winter and spring, and held secret councils with said Smith. And further, that Hyrum Smith, last winter, said to the affiant, that this Government must be changed; for it did not suit them, and they could never keep the revelations or build up the kingdom under the present form of Government.” 1
John W. Putnam. Putnam, a resident of Bear Creek, Illinois, a community not far from Nauvoo, stated on August 13, 1844: “That he saw in the lodge at Nauvoo, a number of arms, and he understood that there were plenty of arms in Nauvoo. He further states that the Mormons are endeavoring to seduce the Indian tribes from their allegiance to the United States and engage them to take up the hatchet against the people of the United States, and that white men are to lead them on to the conflict.”
He further states that “he has understood that Lyman Wight has already departed [to Texas] to stir up the savages and prepare them for the final struggle with the whites. He also understood that cannon had been received in Nauvoo, sent there in hogsheads of sugar, and also fire arms (sic) and ammunition. He further states … that in conjunction with the Indians [the Mormon plan is] to attack the people and subvert the government, and establish Mormonism throughout the United States. He further states, that…. the Indians had twice held their powwows or war dances in Nauvoo.” 2
Smith’s determined goal of a theocratic-political empire is evident in the pretentious ‘Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To all the Kings of the World’ which the Council of the Twelve (who are also all members of the Council of Fifty), addressed: “To all the Kings of the World; To the President of the United States of America; To the Governors of the several States; And to the Rulers and Peoples of all Nations.”
The pronouncement warned world leaders: “You cannot…stand as idle and disinterested spectators of the scenes and events which are calculated in their very nature to reduce all nations and creeds to one political and religious standard, and thus put an end to Babel forms and names, and to strife and war.” 3
Is this not precisely the form of government militant Islam longs for today?
“Islamic government does not correspond to any of the existing forms of government… Islamic government is neither tyrannical nor absolute, but constitutional. It is not constitutional in the current sense of the word… It is constitutional in the sense that the rulers are subject to a certain set of conditions in governing and administering the country, conditions that are set forth in the Noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Most Noble Messenger (Imam). It is the laws and ordinances of Islam comprising this set of conditions that must be observed and practiced. Islamic government may therefore be defined as the rule of divine law over men.” 4
If you replaced the word Islam with Mormonism and the word Imam for LDS Church President you have Joseph Smith’s un-American dystopian society. Smith’s goal of world domination simply echoes the message of the Book of Mormon:
- And I say unto you, that if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive after they have scattered my people
- Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.
- Thy hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.
- And it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that the sword of my justice shall hang over them at that day; and except they repent it shall fall upon them, saith the Father, yea, even upon all the nations of the Gentiles. 5
3 Nephi 20: 15-17, 20 12
And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces and none can deliver.
14 Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;
15 And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strongholds;
18 And I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee; so will I destroy thy cities.
21 And I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.
3 Nephi 21: 14-15, 18, 21
Brigham Young speaking as a member of the Council of the Fifty on March 11th, 1845:
“The gentiles have rejected the Gospel; they have killed the Prophets and those who have not taken an active part in the murder all rejoice in it, and that is saying that they are willing the blood of the prophets should be shed. The gentiles have rejected the Gospel [And] we will sweep them out of existence.” 5
Treason has ever been deemed the highest crime which can be committed in civil society and in the past, has been visited with the deepest public resentment and the greatest of penalties – usually death.
Were Smith’s actions treasonous?
Probably. Black’s Law Dictionary: defines treason as “the offense of attempting to overthrow the state to which one owes allegiance, either by making war against the state or by materially supporting its enemies.”
Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution reads:
“Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”
Had Smith not been killed in the gunfight at Cartage jail, I think it would have been unlikely that he would have been convicted of treason.
Treason is a high bar, ‘levying War against them.’
But the Jig was up for Joseph Smith and his illegal order to destroy the Expositor and call out the Nauvoo Legion was serious stuff. Even more serious, Smith’s adulterous affairs with other women and his now public revelation of plural marriage was very upsetting to many of the good citizens of his community; especially since teenage girls and married women were involved.
Had he not been killed, I suspect this time he would have spent a considerable amount of time in prison. It is perhaps telling that I have been unable to find any Apologists having commented directly on Smith’s accusations of Treason.
1 Affidavit of Wilson Law, June 20, 1844, published in “Letters to Gov. Ford−No. II,” Alton Telegraph & Democratic Review, February 22, 1845,
2Affidavit of John W. Putnam, August 13, 1844, published in “Letters to Gov. Ford−No. IV,” Alton Telegraph & Democratic Review, March 15, 1845.
3 Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1845, 1, 6.
4 Ayatullah Sayyid Imam Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini, ‘Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist’, Jan 21, 1970.
5 Council of 50 Minutes, 300
Again, no specific comment on what I have written.
Interrogatory No. 28
How can we Account for the Astounding Population Growth Spoken of in the Book of Mormon?
How do we overcome the problem of large populations and armies arising in such a short period; from a handful of people to many millions?
The unparalleled population growth suggested in the Book of Mormon is also problematic. Could huge populations and armies arise in such a short period; from a handful of people to many millions?
The Book of Mormon tells us that in less than 30 years from the time Lehi arriving in America, their population multiplied so rapidly that they had to be divided into two ‘great nations.’ Nations? Even if they reproduced like rabbits they could only produce several dozen offspring in that amount of time.
Professional demographers agree that this population growth rate would have to be about thirty times the rate that existed in the world as a whole during the same era to reach anything close to the numbers spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
Population growth during this pre-agricultural period was virtually nonexistent, roughly .0001 percent per year or less. This is an established fact that can easily be confirmed.
“For the Amlicite-Nephite war of 87 B.C.E., Alma 2:17-19 reports a total of 19,094 fatalities. On the basis of these figures John Sorenson, a professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University, estimated the total Nephite-Lamanite population to be over 600,000 at that time (about 200,000 Nephites-Amlicites and over 400,000 Lamanites). For an original band of thirty reproductive individuals in 590 B.C.E. to proliferate even to 19,094 by 87 B.C.E. would require an average annual growth rate of 1.3 percent sustained over the span of five centuries. To reach the 600,000 level Sorenson determined to have existed at that point; the growth rate would have had to be 2 percent, again maintained for five centuries. This is a level never reached on a global scale until C.E. 1960 and fifty times the actual world rate of the pre-industrial epoch.” 1
Also, who was producing the food for the hundreds of thousands, even millions of soldiers, so they could wage war? It is estimated that just 100,000 soldiers would need 400,000 farmers to produce enough food for them. As well, it would take thousands of tradesmen to produce weapons of war, armor and other tools, and basic needs – barrels, clothing, lumber, etc. Not to mention the thousands of workers dragging everything around on wheel-less carts dragged by tapirs!
“How do we overcome the problem of large populations and armies arising in such a short period?
Question: Was the Lehite colony too small to produce the population sizes indicated by the Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon contains many overt references, and some more oblique ones, to ‘other’ peoples that were part of the demographic mix in Book of Mormon times
A superficial reading of the Book of Mormon leads some to conclude that the named members of Lehi’s group were the only members of Nephite/Lamanite society.
The Book of Mormon contains many overt references, and some more oblique ones, to ‘other’ peoples that were part of the demographic mix in Book of Mormon times. Indeed, many Book of Mormon passages make little sense unless we understand this. The Nephite record keeps its focus on a simplistic “Nephite/Lamanite” dichotomy both because it is a kinship record, and because its focus is religious, not politico-historical.
But, as one author observed, it is inescapable that there were substantial populations in the “promised land” throughout the Nephite record, and probably in the Jaredite era also. The status and origin of these peoples are never made clear because the writers never set out to do any such thing; they had other purposes. We cannot understand the demographic or cultural history of Lehi’s literal descendants without taking into account those other groups, too.
Hereafter, readers will not be justified in saying that the record fails to mention “others” but only that we readers have hitherto failed to observe what is said and implied about such people in the Book of Mormon.”
As I say in my letter, the population growth suggested in the Book of Mormon is unrealistic. If we work from the assumption the western hemisphere was empty when the Book of Mormon peoples arrived. Professional demographers agree that the population growth rate indicated would have to be about thirty times the rate that existed in the world as a whole during the same era to reach the numbers spoken of in the Book of Mormon. This suggests other preexisting populations.
This, however, conflicts with The Book of Mormon which seems to claim that the hemisphere was empty at the time of Lehi’s arrival. 2 Nephi, Chapter 1:
8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. . . .
This NEW theory of other populations may help the apologists deal with their DNA problem.
Interrogatory No. 29
Does Smith’s Murder Make Him a Martyr?
Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith were murdered on June 27, 1844, by an armed mob, an event that has prompted many Mormons to classify them both as martyrs.
A close analysis of the term and even a superficial examination of the circumstances of Joseph Smith’s demise suggest that he was no martyr. To be labeled a martyr one must meet specific criteria, for example, the reasons why one is put to death and the way one faces that death.
An examination of the reasons why Smith was murdered and the actions he took to avoid this fate makes it problematic to maintain that Smith was like that, “lamb led to the slaughter.”
As I discussed previously Joseph Smith was properly arrested on the charge of treason for his destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and the calling out of the Nauvoo Legion. These were not trumped-up charges as many Church members have been taught.
Prior to his arrest, he fled the jurisdiction to avoid justice, only returning after his wife informed him that many of his followers viewed him as a coward for running away and leaving them to their own devices.
When Smith, who was also Nauvoo’s mayor, realized that several former members were planning to publish an exposé of his polygamy, polyandry, sex with young girls, dishonesty and political machinations in the Expositor, he convinced the Nauvoo City Council to declare the paper a “nuisance” and order the destruction of its press and type.
Then, on June 19, Smith declared martial law and put his four-thousand-member Nauvoo Legion on alert before he and his brother Hyrum Smith left town. When Joseph and Hyrum returned, they were arrested, charged with treason and placed in a minimum-security cell at the Carthage Jail. According to History of the Church 6:605, Smith had Emma tell church leader Jonathan Dunham to tell the people to just stay home and to “let there be no groups or gathering together, unless by permission of the governor.”
However, Smith’s biographer Fawn Brodie writes that Smith “hastily scribbled an order to Dunham to bring in the Legion, break the jail, and save him at all costs. Within seconds two messengers bearing this order and the letter to Emma were off at a frantic gallop on the fifteen-mile trip to Nauvoo.” 1
While Smith, Hyram and the others were drinking wine and singing, a mob storms the jail and rushed up the stairs to the room where Joseph was being held.
Hyrum approached the door as a volley of balls came through it. One struck him on the left side of his nose, and he fell on his back on the floor supposedly uttering, “I am a dead man!”
Joseph reached round the door casing, and discharged his six-shooter into the passageway, discharging all the bullets it contained. Reportedly he shot two men, one of whom may have died from his wounds.
Realizing any further resistance was hopeless, he attempted to jump out the window when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from the mob below, and he fell outward into the hands of his murderers, exclaiming. “O Lord, my God!”
As he fell to the ground below, he was propped up and shot again and died.
How did Smith come to have a weapon in jail?
Early LDS Church leader Cyrus H. Wheelock smuggled the six-shooter to him during a visit to the Carthage Jail. As Wheelock was about to leave, he took the gun out and said, “Would any of you like to have this?”
As Taylor writes: “Brother Joseph immediately replied, ‘YES, give it to me,’ whereupon he took the pistol, and put it in his pantaloons pocket.” 2
To say that Joseph Smith was martyred rather than simply murdered is important to many Latter-day Saints. Brigham Young University professor Robert Millet explained how Mormons consider Smith’s death to be like the death of Jesus when he wrote: “The life of Joseph Smith was in some degree patterned after that of the Master, Jesus Christ. That pattern holds true even when extended to its tragic conclusion. Like his Master, Joseph Smith also shed his blood so that the final testament, the reestablishment of the new covenant, might be in full effect.” 3.
A famous LDS hymn references Smith’s death this way:
Hail to the Prophet ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.
Praise to his memory, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever-great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heaven while the earth lauds his fame.
Joseph and Hyrum’s murder was a cruel, barbarous act but I do not believe it is accurate to classify Smith as a martyr.
Firstly, a martyr is one willing to die for his faith. Smith certainly did not die willingly; he engaged in a gunfight with his assailants after he had pleaded with his associates to ‘break him out’ and after he had first chosen to run away.
A true martyr would not have attempted to call on the Nauvoo Legion, nor shoot at, injure and possibly kill his attackers.
I am not suggesting that Joseph Smith or anyone else is not morally justified in defending themselves, however, Smith’s behavior can hardly be compared to Jesus who reprimanded Peter, saying “for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
Secondly, Joseph Smith did not die so much for his faith but rather to prevent a newspaper from going public with an exposé of his illegal sexual behavior and treasonous political ambitions. It was Joseph Smith’s deeds – not his Mormon beliefs that led to his murder.
Can we honestly put Joseph Smith in the same company as Saint Stephen who falsely accused, could have avoided his stoning had he just denied the Lord and whose last words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…Lord, lay not this sin to their charge?”
Can we honesty put Joseph Smith in the same company as the Lord Jesus Christ who wouldn’t allow His disciples to fight, but rather reprimanded Peter for resisting?
He could have called down angels and destroyed His accusers. But No, he suffered, bled and died for you and for me, whose last words were, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do?”
There have been many who have died for their Christian faith since the days of Jesus and the Apostles. Sadly, there are hundreds around the world who give their lives even today as true Christian martyrs.
Father Ragheed Ganni was born in 1972 in Iraq. After studying in Rome, Father Ganni requested to be sent back to Iraq to serve his country as a Catholic priest. As a priest who spoke four languages, he worked with “Asia News” as the Pontifical Institute Foreign Missions Correspondent.
One night, after celebrating Mass where his three cousins served as deacons, as the four men left the Church. A man approached the group and told Father Ganni to shut down the Church, to which he responded, “How can I close the house of God?”
Father Ganni and his three deacons were told to convert to Islam or die. They bravely refused and were then all shot to death, their bodies being placed in a car full of explosives so if anyone attempted to remove the bodies, they would also have been destroyed.
Father Ganni was a martyr.
Born in 1943 in Italy, Annalena Tonelli was a lawyer who at age 25 moved to Africa to work with the Committee Against World Hunger, an organization she helped found.
Later she moved to Borama, where she founded a tuberculosis hospital, whose $20,000 monthly maintenance bills were funded by her friends and family back in Italy.
She brought HIV/AIDS patients to the Borama hospital because she believed they deserved to be treated like human beings and children of God. This move was not received well, and protesters routinely threw stones breaking the windows of the hospital, chanting “Death to Annalena.”
On October 5, 2003, Annalena was shot in the head and killed while working in the hospital she founded.
Annalena was a martyr.
Considering Smith’s conduct, sleeping with other men’s wives as well as a small class of ‘Mia Maids’ and then lying about it to his only legal wife and his faithful followers. Considering his ordering the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, the newspaper intent on exposing him. I think it borders on blasphemy for Smith to compare the situation he got himself into to the pure and innocent sacrifice made by the Lord Jesus Christ by allegedly saying, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter.”
Just because a person is murdered does not make them a martyr. Mormons are free to venerate, exalt and worship their religion’s founder as they need, but it is simply not correct to refer to Joseph Smith’s death as a martyrdom.
1 Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Vintage, 1995), 391–392.
2 History of the Church 7:100.
3 Robert L. Millet, “Joseph Smith among the Prophets,” Ensign, June 1994, 22
Interrogatory No. 30
The Leadership of the Church’s Lack of Discernment
The scriptures talk about the “discerning of spirits” as a gift of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10; D&C 46:23). LDS.org tells us it means “to understand or know something through the power of the Spirit. … It includes perceiving the true character of people and the source and meaning of spiritual manifestations”
Guide to the Scriptures, “Discernment, Gift of,” Scriptures.lds.org.
Elder David A. Bednar taught that the gift of discernment can help us (1) “detect hidden error and evil in others,” (2) “detect hidden errors and evil in ourselves,” (3) “find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in others,” and (4) “find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in us”
“Quick to Observe,” Ensign, Dec. 2006, 35.
How do we square that with the leaders of the Church paying almost a million dollars to Mark Hoffman, to keep embarrassing documents out of circulation? Documents that were later shown to be forgeries, but not before several Church leaders had given talks rationalizing them.
I was led to believe that the President of the Church holds all the keys to this dispensation, including the keys of discernment. In a now-famous Church News photo, President Kimball is shown posing with a magnifying glass while snuggling up to Mark Hofmann, a liar, forger, and murderer.
Doctrinal Changes in Response to American Political Pressure
Can it not be argued that changes made to core doctrines of the Church were in direct response to American political pressure – the ending of polygamy, Blacks in the priesthood?
While the tone of the following letter to the editor is somewhat mocking, it nevertheless summarizes the view that many people had about the Church’s about-face when President Carter made it clear they would not allow the Church’s tax-free status to continue if they did not change their racist policies.
“What’s done is done. There no longer is any prejudice against blacks in the Mormon church, the power of money took care of that. Back in 1978, the federal government informed the LDS Church that unless it allowed blacks full membership (including the priesthood), they would have to cease calling themselves a non-profit organization and start paying income taxes. On $16.5 million a day in tithing alone, that’s a lot of tax monies that could be better used in building up the Kingdom of God.
The church immediately saw the error of its ways, and the brethren appealed to God for a revelation; it came quickly. God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, and today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has nothing but love for all races of people on Earth.” 1
in 1968, ten years before the Church saw the light, John Lund wrote the following:
“Those who would try to pressure the Prophet to give the Negroes the Priesthood do not understand the plan of God nor the order of heaven. Revelation is the expressed will of God to man. Revelation is not man’s will expressed to God. All the social, political, and governmental pressure in the world is not going to change what God has decreed to be.”
John L. Lund, The Church and the Negro, page 109
Yet ten years later, when the Church’s status as a tax-exempt organization was in question, and shortly after President Jimmy Carter discussed the Church’s racist policies with Spencer Kimball, the Heavens opened and ban was lifted.
Incidentally, there is no written record of Spencer W. Kimball’s supposed 1978 ‘revelation’; reversing the priesthood ban on African-Americans?
Why was this not important enough to make it into the D&C?
The Church’s apologists deny that President Carter’s candid message to Kimball had anything to do with this timely, ‘revelation.’ Some even claim that the President never broached the subject.
This is not true.
Below I have replicated a note President Carter sent to me in response to my letter to him:
Interrogatory No. 31
I only met Gordon Hinckley once. He didn’t make much of an impression on me one way or the other. I certainly didn’t get any loving or Christ-like vibe from him, I don’t think that arrogant is the right word to describe him but it’s close. He had what I would call an imperial manner, but that is only human with all the bowing and scraping he was the recipient of by his fawning TBMs and other sycophants who counted on him for their lavish lifestyles.
I certainly can’t form an opinion based on that brief encounter, if he was an honest or truthful man, but many of his public dishonest statements and questionable actions would indicate he was far from being an honorable man.
There is ample evidence that he was well practiced in gaslighting and lying for the Lord, often electing to provide misleading and untruthful answers when confronted with difficult issues.
Like many, I remember reading in Time Magazine, Aug 4, 1997, his response, when asked, “… Whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, his answer was uncertain and equivocal:
“I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it… I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”
“I don’t know if we teach it?”
There seems to be a considerable amount of evidence, starting with Joseph Smith and continuing up to Hinckley’s day, that it is certainly taught as I believe Hinckley well knew.
“I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God, from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. … It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know…that he was once a man like us…. 2
“He [God] is our Father – the Father of our spirits, and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are, and is now an exalted being.” 3
“Mormon prophets have continuously taught the sublime truth that God the Eternal Father was once a mortal man who passed through a school of earth life similar that through which we are now passing. He became God – an exalted being – through obedience to the same eternal Gospel truths that we are given opportunity today to obey.” 4
“God is an exalted man. Some people are troubled over the statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith … That our Father in heaven at one time passed through a life and death and is an exalted man…“ 5
“…God…is a personal Being, a holy and exalted man…” 6
And of course, Lorenzo Snow’s famous little couplet:
“As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” 7
He was asked on German television why the Church does not publish its financial records, to which he replied, “We believe that that information belongs to those who made the contribution, not to the world, that’s the only thing.”
This is not a truthful statement; members have no more access to the Church’s financials than the German interviewer.
When police questioned Hinckley during the Mark Hofmann murder investigation in the mid-1980s, he first denied he knew Hofmann, then amended his statement to say he barely knew him. The truth is Hofmann had Hinckley’s private phone number and met with Hinckley alone in his office at least 50 times. We know that Hinckley wrote checks to Hofmann.
President Uchtdorf, you have to admit that these types of prevarications give one pause. But you knew him, were these just a few examples of where ‘lying for the Lord’ was the expedient thing to do?
Interrogatory No. 32
The Church’s History of Racism
While today racism may be no longer a major issue in the Church, it has certainly had a very ugly history of it.
“And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” 8
There is rabid Racism in the Book of Mormon and throughout the Church’s history. Why would a Church led by the Savior have allowed so much of this unbridled abhorrent behavior go on for so long in His Church?
The Book of Mormon paints a very narrow viewpoint regarding the concept of beauty. It seems, that anyone who is non-Caucasian, whose skin pigmentation is darker is also “filthy”, “loathsome” or “not enticing.”
“21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
Second Nephi; Chapter 5, Verse 21
6 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, which consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.
Alma; Chapter 3, Verse 6
15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;
Third Nephi; Chapter 2, Verses 15
“…their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people.”
2 Nephi 30:6
What a toxic, counter-intuitive perspective, Does not every reasonable person recognize that natural beauty is inherent in all humanity – inclusive of all and exclusive of none.
Are the racist statements contained in the Book of Mormon Christ-like or do they represent moral depravity? Is the condemnation of another human being, solely because of the color of their skin, something the Lord would give such prominence to in ‘another testament to Him?’
Sadly, Mormon racism does not end at the Book of Mormon, there have been so many disgusting statements made by Mormon Prophets and Apostles who claim not just to be disciples of, but spokesmen for, the Master.
Brigham Young, ‘prophet, seer, and revelator’ shared his view of our African American brothers and sisters:
“You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race — that they should be the “servant of servants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed.9
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God is death on the spot. This will always be so.”10
“Not only was Cain called to suffer, but because of his wickedness, he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures…. they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning.” 11
As well, rather than being a leader in human and civil rights, the Church did very little.
The Church did not support the civil rights movement, in fact, Black leaders urged the boycott of Mormon Tabernacle Choir products and the NAACP brought discrimination charges against the Utah Boy Scouts for forbidding black members from assuming senior patrol positions. Many college athletes refused to even play Brigham Young University teams, and protestors picketed the Church’s twice-yearly general conferences in Salt Lake City.
During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Mormon apostles and other leaders continued to preach racist and discriminatory Mormon doctrines affecting persons of color.
Bruce R. McConkie taught that, “Negroes are not equal with other races” in spiritual matters and that this is God’s law, not man’s. Mark E. Petersen proclaimed that “people are born black because of their inadequate performance in the pre-existence. “
McConkie didn’t make his hurtful racist statement in 1830, but at a time when men and women of good will in this country were matching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. seeking equal human rights for ALL of God’s children. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, even human secularist leaders spoke up, but not Mormons. And sadly, it was not just LDS leaders whose silence was deafening but also the Mormon rank and file, yet it was the connection between religion, civil rights, and social justice found within “local people of faith” who did most of the actual work of the civil rights movement.
I regret the several derogatory terms of racial bigotry and hatred expressed in the following direct quotes by the ‘Prophets’ and ‘Apostles’ of the Mormon Church, but I think it is important to show the level of intense racism, and the abhorrent demeanor of, the leadership of this relatively young Church.
Former Mormon Bishop, Lee B. Baker has assembled, derogatory terms describing African Americans used by the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in official publications, scriptures, doctrine, and training for decades:
“Nigger” (89 times), “Darky” (15 times), “Sambo” (25 times) and “Skin of Blackness” (110 times). 12
It is also of value to note that while almost all other denominations have apologized for their past racism, in contrast, LDS Church leaders, while generically criticizing past racism, have carefully avoided any criticism of past Presidents and Apostles very carefully.
Having said that, the Church needs to be given credit for trying to put an end to any systemic racism, as this message delivered by Gordon B. Hinckley, at the April 2006 General Conference illustrates:
“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.
Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?
Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.
Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”
Interrogatory No. 33
LGBTQ Attitudes and Policies
Many Mormons, as well as non-Mormons, view the recent harsh administrative policies devastating the lives of many LGBTQ members sadly, with many tragic results as un-Christlike.
The new policy calls for mandatory church discipline for LGBTQ individuals married to those of the same gender. It also bars the children of LGBTQ parents from baptism and other saving rights until they are 18 years of age, and then, in a rule that would have fit well within the ‘Nuremberg Laws’ of Nazi Germany, only if they openly disavow their parents’ relationship.
If the Church chooses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, they have every ‘legal’ right at present to do so. But I have a problem with the children of gay or lesbian parents also being barred from membership in the Church in the face of the Lord’s admonition to, “suffer the children to come unto me and forbid them not.”
Wendy Montgomery, a co-founder of the Mama Dragons, a group of Mormon mothers with gay children, reported that she had been told 32 young LGBTQ Mormons have recently died by their own hand.
While the families who have suffered these great losses requested privacy, given the tragedy of suicide and the alarm this report has raised in the LDS LGBTQ community, the Deseret News asked experts for insight and solutions. These experts explained that it’s all about support. Parents, friends and religious congregations could help prevent suicides by thinking carefully about what they say and do and by welcoming, accepting and supporting LGBTQ people.13
The Utah Attorney General has commented that statistics show that “… Suicide is the number one cause of death of Utah children ages 10-17.”
This comes as no surprise when more LGBTQ youth find themselves disenfranchised even disowned by zealous religious parents, who now feel more compelled than ever to choose between their child and their church.
Many active Church members, gay and straight, young and old, see this uncharitable, unkind and unloving move for what it is: another unabashed rejection of LGBTQ members.
And the cost in human terms is great. The evidentiary research was done by the Family Acceptance Project, which tells us that children who experience high levels of rejection are:
- More than eight times as likely to attempt suicide
- Nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression
- More than three times as likely to use illegal drugs
- More than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STIs
Political science professor Benjamin Knoll discusses the link between Mormonism and teen suicide in his paper, “Youth Suicide Rates and Mormon Religious Context: An Additional Empirical Analysis,”
Knoll reports that youth in the 15-19 age group who live in states with heavy Mormon populations are at higher risk for suicide. As Knoll put it, “These are objectively small numbers, but it means that (again, controlling for other factors) youth suicides are twice as high in states with the highest levels of Mormon residents compared to states with the lowest levels of Mormon residents.”
This association did not exist in any statistically significant way in 2009. There is a higher frequency of teen suicide in 2014 versus 2009 in Mormon-heavy states such as Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Alaska. In those states, teen suicide is increasing at higher rates than it is in many (not all) other states; in Utah, the rate has doubled since 2009.
This study shows definitively that youth who live in areas with higher Mormon populations are at a greater risk for suicide.
IMPORTANT: If you or someone you know are suffering because of the LDS Church’s policies toward sexual orientation, please reach out for help call: 1-800-273-8255, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.
If you are in pain because of issues relating to your sexual orientation and your Mormon faith, please recognize that a suicidal crisis is almost always temporary. Although it might seem that your unhappiness and your hurt will never end, it will end. Don’t let suicide rob you of the better times that will come your way. Regardless of what the Mormon church teaches, you are as God made you and are of great value.
Please believe me that your perspective will broaden and “a year down the road,” the problems that currently seem catastrophic will have passed, and you will go on to have the wonderful full life you deserve.
But most of all, do not keep suicidal thoughts to yourself.
Help is available for you, call a friend, a family member, a teacher, a therapist. Find a nonjudgmental individual you trust and let them know how bad things are. This can be your first step on the road to healing. You are a child of God, and HE loves you unconditionally. Hang in there.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”
Take courage too from the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a tendency to reverse its policies when enough outside pressure is applied. The Church’s major revisions were clearly driven by cultural, economic, legal and political changes, even though the church attributes them to ‘revelation.
The most recent past injunctions to be overthrown, of course, was the ban on Blacks holding the priesthood and barbaric practice of polygamy. This pattern suggests to me that eventually, the church will likewise change its stance on homosexuality.
Equal rights issues are significant to Americans, and in the future, perhaps not even that distant a future, the church’s discrimination against an identifiable minority will result in not just sanctions being applied to it, but devastating public relations emerging from it.
Today the LDS church forbids “same-sex attracted” individuals, as they like to call them, to love and marry or even retain their membership or that of their children. But the top of any large organization is a very political place.
The old right-wing white men at the top the hierarchy, Boyd Packard, and his ilk are departing, at an almost acceptable rate, and hard as it might seem when we witness Dallin Oaks being promoted to the first presidency, perhaps eventually wiser, more inclusive and more Christ-like men will emerge.
When there is the right mix of political, legal and, most of all, economic pressure, the time will be ripe for a revelation.
They are already opening the door. In its essay on polygamy, while the Church affirms its defense of traditional marriage, “Marriage between one man and one woman is God’s standard for marriage,” it also provides the caveat, “unless He declares otherwise.”
I believe that when the ‘brethren’ pray hard enough for what they want to hear, they will hear it.
** UPDATE **
Since I first wrote this Letter to an Apostle in 2017, the Mormon Church has again bowed to outside pressure and reversed its ill-conceived, inhumane, and barbaric ‘revelation‘ labelling legally married same-sex couples as apostates and barring their children from membership in the church.
While the church now likes to describe its reversal as a ‘change in policy,’ when it was enacted, it was repeatedly described as a ‘revelation from God.”
Speaking in January 2016, Russell Nelson, the current prophet of the church said the ban was the result of the apostles meeting “repeatedly in the temple” to seek God’s guidance; Who according to Nelson, “inspired his prophet (Monson) to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord” with the LGBT ban – a clear revelation.
The Mormon church has a long and disquieting history of discrimination, condemnation and even hatred toward LGBTQ men and women. The church’s leadership has repeatedly denounced gay individuals within its ranks as well as the gay community large.
The turn of the last century, 1902, saw fourteen-year-old Clyde Felt. A member of a prominent Mormon family cut the throat of gay Latter-day Saint Samuel Collins in adherence to the doctrine of blood atonement taught by Brigham Young. A crime for which he was never punished either by the State of Utah nor the Mormon church, indeed Felt went on to marry in the LDS temple.
Apostle J. Reuben Clark was perhaps the first high-ranking LDS leader to use the term “homosexual” in his numerous speeches condemning it. In October 1954, he damned those guilty of “the filthy crime of homosexuality,” stating they were not a part of the “Army of the Lord.”
“Timeline of Mormon Thinking About Homosexuality”.
RationalFaiths.com. Rational Faiths.
In 1958 general authority Bruce McConkie published Mormon Doctrine, in which he states that homosexuality is “among Lucifer’s chief means of leading souls to hell“. In his section on “Chastity,” he declares that it is better to be “dead clean, than alive unclean” and that many Mormon parents would rather their child “come back (from a mission/war?) in a pine box with their virtue [intact] than return alive without it”. In a later general conference talk, he grouped homosexuals with thieves and murderers in his list of the evils “covering the earth“.
Quinn, D. Michael (1996). Same-Sex Dynamics
among Nineteenth-Century Americans:
A Mormon Example. University of Illinois Press.
McConkie, Bruce. “The Coming Tests and Trials and Glory”.
ChurchofJesusChrist.org. LDS Church.
In 1959 apostle Mark Petersen was assigned to work with Spencer Kimball on all things homosexual. These two sanctioned electroshock aversion therapy programs on the BYU campus, a discredited program that the church nevertheless endorsed for over two decades.
BYU president Ernest Wilkinson enacted a policy in which no student was admitted to BYU, who was known to be attracted to people of the same sex. Wilkinson’s complete ban of any students attracted to people of the same sex regardless of their behavior, or academic performance was instituted following a directive from apostles Kimball and Petersen. They also encouraged students to spy and report on their classmates and bishops to report confidential confessions involving homosexuality.
O’Donovan, Rocky C., “The Abominable and
Detestable Crime against Nature’:
A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980,
Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1959.
Kimball calling homosexuality a “malady“, a “disease“, and an “abominable and detestable crime against nature,” and preached that it was “curable.” In a speech, he delivered at BYU in 1965. He declared we “will never knowingly enroll … nor tolerate … anyone with these [homosexual] tendencies who fails to repent“, and that it is a “damnable heresy” for a homosexual person to say, “God made them that way.”
Church Seventy Hartman Rector Jr. also gave a speech reflecting the church’s position that homosexuality was a choice and an addiction. He states, “If children have a happy family experience, they will not want to be homosexual.” Rector also stated he was “sure” that homosexuality “is an acquired addiction, just as drugs, alcohol and pornography are.” Further, he states, “I do not believe” that homosexuals “were born that way” because “[t]here are no female spirits trapped in male bodies and vice versa.”
Rector Jr., Hartman. “Turning the Hearts”. Youtube.com. LDS Church.
In that same year, his amigo Ernest Wilkinson, who in addition to being president of BYU, was also the Commissioner of Church Education said in an address on September 23rd, “”nor do we intend to admit to this campus any homosexuals. … [I]f any of you have this tendency, … may I suggest you leave the University immediately… We do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence.” His speech was later published in the church-owned Deseret News.
As well, in 1969, Kimball published his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, in which he teaches that masturbation can lead to acts of homosexuality. His book was quoted in a 1979 church manual: “the glorious thing to remember is that [homosexuality] is curable” that “some totally conquer homosexuality in a few months.” He also states that homosexual behavior can lead to sex with animals.
Kimball, Spencer W. (1969), The Miracle of Forgiveness, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City
In the 1970s, the church’s third amigo of discrimination and misinformation Mark Petersen jumps onto the scene telling members young and old that homosexuality “was made a capital crime in the Bible” He also was the one who ranked “immorality as a sin next to murder.”
Petersen, Mark E. “The Dangers of the So-called Sex Revolution.”
scriptures.byu.edu. Brigham Young University. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
Peterson also offered ideas to leaders about how to affect a “total cure” and “bring the lives of [men with homosexual tendencies] into total normalcy.” His suggestions included prayer, cutting off contact with homosexual friends, dating women and yes, heterosexual marriage.
Bracken, Seth (14 April 2011). “Through the Years.”.
A ‘mixed-orientation marriages,’ is where a gay man marries a straight woman (or the reverse), presumably with the knowledge and consent of both. The church had taught that it was possible to overcome same-sex feelings and that heterosexual feelings could emerge once an individual ceases any same-sex sexual activity.
Packer, Boyd K. (1978). To the One. LDS Church.
Dallin Oaks in support of ‘mixed-orientation marriages’ stated in 2007, that marriage would be appropriate for a man attracted to men who had “shown their ability to deal with these feelings or inclinations and put them in the background, and feel a great attraction for a daughter of God and therefore desire to enter marriage and have children and enjoy the blessings of eternity.”
Oaks, Dallin H.; Wickman, Lance B. (September 2006).
“Same-Gender Attraction”. Newsroom (Interview: Transcript).
Interviewed by LDS Church Public Affairs staffers. Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church.
Research shows, however, that, ‘mixed-orientation marriages’ often fail and lead to heartache. A 2015 study found that 51% of the 1,612 LGBT Mormon respondents who had entered a mixed-orientation marriage ended up divorcing and that a projected 69% of all these marriages would ultimately end in divorce. This study also found that Mormons who engaged in mixed-orientation marriages had higher rates of depression and a lower quality of life.
Galliher, Renee; Bradshaw, William; Dehlin, John; Crowelle, Katherine (April 25, 2014).
“Psychosocial Correlates of Religious Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction:
A Mormon Perspective”. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health. 18 (3): 284–311. Voi:10.
During this time, the church also gave tacit support to aversion therapy. LDS psychologist Robert D. Card presented at an AMCAP conference his research on changing sexual attractions on Mormon men and women using shock aversion and hypnosis techniques. The goal of his treatment was to eliminate same-sex sexual behavior and have his clients enter into an opposite-sex marriage. Card obtained a patent on the ‘penile plethysmograph’ that measured male sexual arousal while he administered vomit-inducing drugs and/or electric shocks as he showed his clients gay pornography.
Card, Robert D. (1975). “Counseling the Homosexual In A Private Setting”. Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy. 1 (1): 10–13.
Doubling down on its anti-gay agenda, in 1977, apostle Boyd K. Packer delivered a sermon entitled, “To Young Men Only” in general conference. His speech counselled against the “perversion” and “wicked practices” of men “handling one another” and having physical “contact … in unusual ways“. In the sermon, Packer commended the violent actions of a missionary who “floored” his assigned male companion in response to unwanted sexual advances, saying “somebody had to do it.” Packer also asserts in his talk that it is a “malicious and destructive lie” that “some are born with an attraction to their own kind.”
Bracken, Seth (14 April 2011). “Through the Years.”
Church President Harold Lee taught that the “so-called ‘transsexuality’ doctrine” was hellish and false since God didn’t place female spirits in male bodies and vice versa.
Williams, Clyde J. (1996). The Teachings of Harold B. Lee.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft Inc.
Two months previous, then BYU president Oaks delivered a speech on campus in which he spoke in favor of keeping criminal punishment for “deviant sexual behavior” such as private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity. The speech was later printed by the university’s press. While Dallin Oaks rhetoric has become more conciliatory of late, we should not forget he instituted a system of surveillance to identify and expel or “cure” homosexual students when he was president of BYU.
Oaks, Dallin (27 March 1974). The Popular Myth of the Victimless Crime(Speech). Commissioner’s Lecture. BYU.
At a backstage press conference, Church president Kimball praised Anita Bryant’s anti-gay “Save Our Children” crusade which sought to bar the passing of nondiscrimination laws protecting sexual minorities from being fired from their jobs or banned from restaurants solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. He told her that she was “doing a great service,” stating that “the homosexual program is not a natural, normal way of life.”
The Relief Society president at that time also sent a telegram to Anita Bryant reading, “On behalf of the one million members of the Relief Society … we commend you, for your courageous and effective efforts in combatting [sic] homosexuality and laws which would legitimize this insidious life style [sic].”
O’Donovan, Rocky Connell (1994).
’ The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature’:
A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980”.
The church’s uninformed stance on homosexuality was not purely internal; rather, it felt it must become involved in politics to promote its anti-gay agenda. In April of 1972, Idaho laws that barred same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults were reinstated under heavy pressure from the LDS church. Mormon state senator Wayne Loveless who spearheaded the effort, stated that the previous law would “encourage immorality and draw sexual deviates to the state.” The reinstated law restored the old wording that “every person who is guilty of the infamous crime against nature committed with mankind … is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than five years.”
“Idaho Repeals New Consenting Adult Code”. The Advocate. 10 May 1972. p. 3.
In the 1980s, the church led a campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, stating it gave “constitutional protection to immoral same-sex—lesbian and homosexual—marriages,” thus, “giving legal sanction to the rearing of children” in a “homosexual home.”
“The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue”.
Ensign. March 1980. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, the church began a concerted effort to oppose same-sex marriage by moral suasion and political action. 1995 saw the release of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which it used as a legal document in several court cases including in 1997 as an amicus brief to petition the Hawaii supreme court to reject same-sex marriage. Apostle M. Russell Ballard called the proclamation “a prophetic document,” not only “because it was issued by prophets but because it was ahead of its time.“
Strangely Gordon B. Hinckley chose to announce this ‘revelation’ at the church’s Relief Society conference even though that group was never consulted on its creation. Chieko Okazaki, then the first counsellor of the Relief Society, later reported, “The Relief Society [general] presidency was asked to come to a meeting. We did, and they read this proclamation. It was all finished. The only question was whether they should present it at the priesthood meeting or at the Relief Society meeting. It didn’t matter to me where it was presented. What I wanted to know was — how come we weren’t consulted?”
In 1978, the church encouraged nine thousand female members in greater Las Vegas, Nevada, to canvass their neighborhoods with anti–Equal Rights Amendment pamphlets and encouraged all members to vote. Nevada did not ratify the amendment.
Sonia Johnson, who fought in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, was excommunicated in December 1979. The church alleged in her excommunication letter that she hindered the worldwide missionary program, damaged Mormon social programs, and taught false doctrines.
Sillitoe, Linda (1980). “Church Politics and Sonia Johnson:
The Central Conundrum” (PDF). Sunstone. Vol. 5 no. 1.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Sunstone Foundation. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
Utah has a hate-crime law, but the 1990s-era measure doesn’t protect specific groups, including LGBTQ individuals, making the current law unusable, according to Utah prosecutors. Time and again, efforts to beef up the law have failed after the church has proclaimed that strengthening protection for all Utahans would ‘upset the balance between religious and LGBT rights.’
Utah is one of 15 that states that do not have laws that cover anti-LGBT crimes, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Moore, Carrie (May 15, 2008), LDS Church expresses
disappointment in California gay marriage decision, Deseret News,
In 2004, the Church officially endorsed an amendment to the United States Constitution as well as the Utah Constitution banning any marriages not between one man and one woman and announced its opposition to political measures that “confer legal status on any other sexual relationship” than “a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife.“[Their statement seemingly even opposed civil unions, common-law marriages and plural marriages. The church’s political involvement here led California Senator Mark Leno to suggest that the Church’s tax-exempt status should be revoked.
In August 2008, the church released a letter explaining why it believed that same-sex marriage would be detrimental to society and encouraging California members to support Prop 8 and to donate their time and resources towards the initiative.
The LDS church gave almost $200,000 to support Prop 8 notwithstanding apostle Jeffrey Holland’s claim that the church “did not give “One Red Cent” to the fight against Same-Sex Marriage in California.”
I think the above brief history shows a sad history for an organization that claims to endorse the Lord’s second great commandment, “to love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Interrogatory No. 34
The Role of Women in the Church
Some would argue, that women are given a structurally subordinate role in the LDS Church.
While most religions are attempting to equalize the roles and responsibilities of men and women, Mormonism is one of the exceptions. Indeed, the role of women in the Church has not changed significantly since Joseph Smith’s day.
As Bruce R. McConkie put it, “… Woman’s primary place is in the home, where she is to rear children and abide by the righteous counsel of her husband.”
When it comes to gender roles, the Mormon Church still clings to the increasingly outmoded beliefs of the nineteenth century.
Mormon women are still discouraged from seeking full-time employment, particularly in any career that might demand large amounts of time away from home. No such constraint, of course, on men.
Being an unmarried Mormon woman is especially problematic. They are counseled to seek marriage to a worthy man, failing which, they are told they will be married in the after-life, presumably to a man who has at least one other wife, or to one of the “odd” Mormon men who did not marry in this life. Now there is something to look forward to!
LDS theology is right wing and socially conservative. The Church actively supported the 2008 Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. This proposition was eventually ruled unconstitutional. The Church also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s.
A careful review of official LDS Church literature, including conference talks and articles from the Church’s Ensign magazine, by Professor Ryan Cragun, a sociologist of religion at the University of Tampa in Florida found that despite shifting mores in the rest of American society between the 1970s and today, the LDS Church’s views toward gender roles remain unchanged.
“We thought for sure they were going to soften the way they think about this [gender roles] — maybe they won’t talk about gender differences as innate and essential,”
“One of the things that really did surprise us is that there hasn’t been a shift in gender discourse in the Mormon Church over the last 40 years,” Cragun commented.
A convincing argument can be made, that the leadership roles that women play in the Church are, if anything, is being diminished. As late as 1946 women used to be “allowed” to give blessings to other women. That is, until Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith wrote the Relief Society, saying it would be “far better for us to follow the plan the Lord has given us and send for the Elders of the Church to come and administer to the sick and afflicted.”
In 1995, the First Presidency of the Church issued what it rather hyperbolically entitled a “Proclamation to the World,” in which it states that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Fathers are to “preside over their families in love and righteousness and are to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
The Relief Society was never consulted nor did it participate in the crafting of this Proclamation.
Sadly, Mormon women who, too visibly or vocally seek a more significant role for women in the Mormon Church, are quickly silenced by the all-male leadership, often through excommunication. Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, Avraham Gileadi, Maxine Hanks, Lavina Fielding Anderson the four female members of the “September Six” were disfellowshipped or excommunicated in 1993.
One of the most recent examples is the excommunication of Kate Kelly, a feminist whose organization, Ordain Women, had lobbied for women’s’ admission to the Mormon priesthood.
But the greatest harm and abuse the Mormon Church brought to the lives of women was the practice of polygamy. It was a cruel practice that destroyed the lives of many women. One only need to read the diaries of the poor souls who fell victim to this evil practice that Gordon Hinckley merely dismisses as, “not doctrinal.”
Larry King asked Hinckley during an interview on his television program September 8, 1998, about the Church’s history of polygamy. His response was:
“I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law.”
If, in the name of Christ, it is not doctrinal? Does this mean then that the DOCTRINE and Covenants is not inerrant? Is Section 132 just an erroneous revelation, like the one directing Oliver Cowdery, et al. to travel to Canada to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon?
Granted, Hinckley was an old man even then and probably not anticipating any probing questions from a softball reporter like Larry King, but not doctrinal?
Section 132:4 doesn’t say this is a covenant for 165 years and then will be expunged. It says it is an ‘everlasting covenant’ and “no one (Gordon Hinckley) can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my [the Lord’s} glory.”
Why couldn’t Hinckley have just been honest and have said, yes, it is part of our doctrine and beliefs but we no longer practice it because it is illegal or even, Joseph Smith got it wrong, and it was a disgraceful practice which we now correctly disavow. But to say it is non-doctrinal leads to the inimitable conclusion that Smith then must have created it as a cover for his sexual cravings and proclivities.
Regarding these last two points, LGBTQ and women’s rights, it would seem like the Church still holds the view, expressed by Boyd K. Packer that the three “enemies” of the Church are, “…the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and the ever-present challenge from ‘so-called’ scholars or intellectuals.” 14.
Interrogatory No. 35
The Church’s Secrecy when it Comes to its Finances
While it is difficult to accurately determine the wealth of the Mormon Church as, unlike other nations, United States legislation does not require transparency and the Church certainly does not volunteer any financial information. There are however jurisdictions outside of the United States that require financial reporting if not accountability, and from those data, we can extrapolate.
In Canada, there are about 185,000 members, mostly in the Western provinces. If we take the reported Canadian donations (approximately $500,000,000) and divide by the number of active members, it shows that Canadian members gave a little less than 8% of their income to the Church.
If we were to assume that active U.S. members give at a similar rate as Canadians, total U.S. tithing would be more than $6 billion. Members from the rest of the world, where donation rates are much lower would add another ½ billion in total donations. So, we have a reasonable estimate of $7 billion each year in tithing income alone.
Likewise, by using statistics from Canada and other countries that also require disclosure of the value of the Churches assets and spending. The total value of church buildings, temples and meeting houses would be about $35 billion.
The Church has, of course, substantial for-profit business concerns which include among many other things, a $2 billion megamall in Salt Lake City, an insurance business with assets worth $3.3 billion, a media organization with 17 radio and at least one TV station and an agricultural company that owns reportedly 1 million acres in the United States alone.
The Church does, however, provide greater transparency when it comes to its charitable contributions. Since 1985 the church has spent a total of $1.4 billion on relief for disasters such as Japan’s earthquake and Ethiopian famine. A great deal of money, yes but less than it spent to build one super-mall in Salt Lake City and far less than 1% of the likely $200 billion the Church made from tithes in those thirty-two years.
How much do Church leaders make? It is very tough to say, due to the extreme culture of secrecy surrounding finances in the Church, these estimates can only be treated as speculative.
We know however that in Canada where disclosure is required by law, in 2009 the average salary paid to Church employees was $ 83,000 ($95,300 in today’s dollars). Two of the Church employees earned between 80,000 and $120,000, 6 between $120,000 and $160,000 and the two at the top between $160,000 and $200,000 ($230,000 in 2017 dollars).
One would assume that senior Church leaders in the United States would make substantially more than mid-level ‘managers’ in Canada. It has been estimated to be in the range of $300,000 to $800,000 per year, but this is just speculation and it could be far more. Because of the church’s success in hiding what what the senior people take from the church, we just don’t know.
How much is paid by way of covered expenses and how much in cash? We don’t know.
But it is a fact that Apostles serve on the boards of the many of the Church controlled multi-billion dollar for-profit entities, such as Deseret Management Corp. ($1.2 billion in annual receipts), AgReserves, Hawaii Reserves, Polynesian Cultural Center ($59 million in annual profits), Beneficial Life Insurance (a $3 billion-dollar fund insurance company), Intellectual Reserve Inc., Deseret Trust Co., Ensign Peak Advisors, etc.
What are the directors’ fees paid to the Church leaders? We don’t know.
Are stocks and shares are distributed among the many General Authorities.? We don’t know.
All financial records of these corporations are closed to public scrutiny by deliberate legal constructs the Church has designed. By forming the Corporation Sole of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is a separate entity than the Church, it makes the discovery of these board payments nearly impossible.
The point is, however, not how wealthy the Church is, although it might be argued that in a world where children still starve to death, this wealth might be better used than buying $2 billion malls, but the total lack of transparency.
If I invest a $100 in Exxon, I have a right to view that corporation’s financial statements. Why when I contribute a good deal more in tithing, to the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints am I refused any accountability?
If there were just one or two issues that would be one thing, but are many.
Max Weber also noted, that there is a tendency for those at the top of bureaucracies to lose touch with what is going on below, after all where is the problem? Life is very good at the top.
Mormon apostles don’t live the humble life Christ’s apostles did. They live very ‘high on the hog.’ They are given a generous salary, great benefits, prestige, and the fawning adoration of true believers, sycophants and those whose livelihood depends on remaining in the power brokers good graces.
As well, in real “Emperors’ New Clothes” fashion, even constructive criticism or bad news from below is carefully vetted and filtered by minions and underlings who fear being shot as the messenger.
I have been told that my letter will not reach you President Uchtdorf. I will be sorry if it does not because I want to add my voice to the many others who could tell you that all is not well in Zion.
The Titanic cannot be turned around quickly, but it is not too late to enter that turn, for the Lord knows that a change in direction is dearly needed. An enormous iceberg looms on the horizon, and that berg is named truth.
The Mormon Church has done good works and helped many people through its well-publicized humanitarian efforts over the years. and I believe you cannot find better, more honest, decent people than Latter-day Saints.
But I feel that if those at the helm do not embrace a new, more open and less defensive approach, these dear souls may eventually be harmed.
If I didn’t care about the church, the truth and most of all the members I would not have gone to all this trouble.
Thomas Jefferson taught that “However discomfiting a free exchange may be, the truth will ultimately emerge the victor.”
There have been many leaders in the church that have given at least lip service to the diligent search for truth:
“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”
J. Reuben Clark
“If a faith will not bear to be investigated: if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.”
George Albert Smith
“This book [“The Book of Mormon”] is entitled to the most thorough and impartial examination. Not only does it merit such consideration, it claims, even demands the same.”
James E. Talmage
“Well, we have nothing to hide. Our history is an open book…”
Gordon B. Hinckley
Why not prove them right?
Questioning, doubt, critical thinking, and yes, even debate should be tolerated, not discouraged or punished as it is now.
The growth the church experienced in the last century shows the bureaucratic structure has served the church well, but this organizational form, that has functioned so effectively in the past may now actually destroy it.
I think dramatic new and open approaches are called for. I don’t presume to know what form this should take. Perhaps a series of informal, unrehearsed, unscripted televised round tables with a free exchange of ideas and concerns might be a step in the right direction. If done honestly, these ‘town hall’ type of meetings which would include the participation of the brighter general authorities as well as faithful members, questioning members, and non-members – both men and women.
Would that take courage? Yes. Would it make some members aware of issues they are unaware of presently? Unquestionably. Would members leave? Certainly and likely in great numbers.
But, you must surely be aware of all these issues. It would be truly frightening if, in the position, you find yourself, you have not thoroughly investigated each of them.
I assume, and this might be a heroic assumption, that despite having done so, you are still a believer.
President Uchtdorf, how can you possibly hold a sincere “testimony” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Gospel it proclaims in the face of these challenging questions unless you have compelling answers to them?
I am asking you on behalf of the growing number of members hungering and thirsting for the truth, if in fact, you have any answers, share them.
A real spiritual witness is powerful and influential, but If we have serious, reasoned objections that fairly and wholly take into consideration the available evidence surely a “burning in the bosom” cannot negate those legitimate concerns. Proverbs 28:26 teaches that; “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.”
There is considerable evidence that ‘feel good feelings’ are rarely reliable as a means of determining veracity.
Unlike the Book of Mormon, the truth of the Bible does not require that we abandon critical thinking and just pray for a ‘good feeling’ to prove that it is truly the Word of God.
The truthfulness of the Holy Bible is evident to anyone willing to investigate it. Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Bible is self-consistent and extraordinarily authentic. Its geography exists, many of its characters have been verified. Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Bible has been confirmed countless times by archaeology and other sciences. It possesses divine insight into the nature of the universe, and it has made correct predictions about future events with perfect accuracy.
I don’t doubt you must have strong feelings about the church. However, I question whether these feelings are enough to suspend all application of intellect.
People from all religions report having the same feelings that witness to them that their religion and beliefs are true.
Aliza Kim a young devout Muslim shares her testimony:
“After reciting the Shahadah, what I felt cannot be accurately described. I felt a rushing sensation go through me which felt like a thorough cleansing. I felt pure and was given lightness, peace and genuine happiness. I had never felt such innocent gladness like that in my life. And, those feelings have stayed on till this day, and I know they will be with me until my last day in this world. I am happy with Allah, my Maker and with my chosen religion.” 15
If Moroni’s challenge works for Mormons and their faith, certainly the same principle must work for Moslems and theirs, Jews and theirs and Catholics and theirs. Surely you are not so arrogant to claim exclusivity when it comes to gifts of the spirit.
Indeed, many non-Mormons would describe this ‘burning in the bosom’ sensation as simply “heartwarming,” a warm feeling related to an emotional response or passionate elation. The event or drama which generates it need not be true. It may come from watching a ‘tear-jerker’ movie where the protagonist dies saving his friend or listening to a rousing rendition of the National Anthem or the Battle Hymn of the Republic or just reading one of Paul Dunn’s, ‘war stories.’
President Uchtdorf, you can continue to attend temple dedications and appear on the scene at American natural disasters and cut the ribbons at new malls and continue to live a life of privilege, wealth and ease. You can continue to go along and get along with your church broke colleagues, or you can lead and make a difference by addressing the legitimate questions I have enumerated here.
I hope you will take this in the spirit it is given, I have been direct, even blunt, but you strike me as a man who would prefer candor to approbation. If it was wrong to ask why I will know soon enough.
While it should not be necessary to say it, my faith crisis is based solely on the problems and issues I have identified in this letter. While I have been told I don’t suffer fools gladly, my misgivings do not represent hostile aggression on my part or come in response to someone looking at me the wrong way at church.
My misgivings with the LDS church, have come after examining and researching Joseph Smith and the history of the church from LDS-friendly sources. Sources such as the Journal of Discourses, Lectures on Faith, official church records, documents, talks, letters and the scriptures themselves, and thoughtfully, even prayerfully asking for help, as I am doing here.
Dr. John Dehlin has done work exploding the following five most common myths associated with why faithful members leave the church:
- Someone offended them: No one hurt me, I love and respect my friends and family many of whom are committed members.
- A desire to sin: I am 70 years old, so it’s a little late for that!
- Never had a testimony in the first place: Again wrong, I wouldn’t have served in various callings, paid my tithing or attended the temple if I had never believed.
- Lazy, not reading the scriptures: I love the New Testament and read it often; admittedly the Book of Mormon, not so much.
- Studying anti-Mormon literature: While we might disagree as to what anti-Mormon Literature is, I certainly have not gone down that rabbit hole. It is easy to identify people who hate or those whose agenda is to destroy. I would not, however, consider the work of Richard Bushman, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Fawn Brodie, B. H. Roberts, Dan Vogel or Grant Palmer, Mormon Stories or even Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, and the award-winning Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon.” as anti-Mormon.
As it happens, and quite unintentionally, I am writing this letter to you on Father’s Day 2017. My father, Thomas Douglas was a truthful and honorable man. He taught me in his humble way that truth is essential, it endures forever, and we should dauntlessly seek to know it. The Lord too admonished us to pursue the truth, for “… the truth will set you free.”
I cannot dishonor my father’s memory by placing all these weighty problems on my drooping shelf and then just walk away.
You will remember that Christ told Pilate before his agonizing death, “… for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
The LDS Church has shown that, while rare, it can change. Thousands of changes have been made to the Book of Mormon itself.
Some of those changes to make it more politically correct, others to correct doctrinal errors and still others in response to American political pressure.
So, I would say to anyone reading this, that chooses to remain in the church, fresh courage take, for when the pressure is on, the ‘Brethren’ receives revelation.
Just my opinion but, if in the future, the United States Government, moves to disallow tax deductibility for organizations discriminating against LGBTQ people as it was moving to do during the Jimmy Carter’s administration for organizations discriminating against African Americans; in that day, the heavens will open!
And while I have my head in my hat, let me say that I believe that women will finally be invited to play a meaningful leadership role in the Church, that an accommodation will be made for same-sex unions in some manner, practicing gay men and women will find a home in the Church and the ill-conceived policy of banning the children of Gay parents from Church membership will be reversed.
Why? Because the principal goal of any bureaucracy is viability – survival, and the Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is certainly no exception.
None of these changes will make the Mormon church any more or less true they will just advance the church’s desire to be viewed as a mainstream Christian religion.
President Uchtdorf truth matters; it is a value, not an issue as the church too often seems to view it.
I wrote to you asking these difficult questions not solely for myself, an insignificant sinner, but for of the myriad credulous men and women who put their unwavering faith in you and your colleagues. Particularly I wrote this in behalf of the generation of innocent little children who deserve to grow up knowing what is true.
Let me end by offering you all my very best wishes for your future and leave you with this quote by Thomas Jefferson:
“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”
Paul A. Douglas
1 Kathy Erickson, letter to the Salt Lake Phantom or Ex-Mormons (difference) Tribune, 11 March 11, 2001.
2 Joseph Smith “King Follett Discourse,” Journal of Discourses 6:3-4,
3 Brigham Young – Prophet, 2nd President, Journal of Discourses 7:333.
4 Milton R. Hunter, General Authority “The Gospel Through the Ages”, 1945, p 104).
5 Joseph Fielding Smith, Prophet, 10th President Doctrines of Salvation 1:10,
6 Bruce R. McConkie – Apostle Mormon Doctrine, 1966 edition p. 250.
7 The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 1.
8 Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:21
9 Brigham Young, President and second ‘Prophet’ of the Mormon Church, 1844-1877 – Quotation from Journal of Discourses
10 Brigham Young, President and second ‘Prophet’ of the Mormon Church, 1863, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, p. 110.
11 Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 101, 1935
12 Mormonism, A Life Under False Pretenses, Lee B. Baker
13 Ted Walch & Lois M. Collins, Deseret News, January 28, 2016
14 Boyd K. Packer, Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council, 5/18/93.
15 The Truth That Found Me by Aliza Kim (January 2014) LGBTQ Policies.