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On June 18th, 2017, I wrote to President Dieter Uchtdorf, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the hope that he might respond to several concerns I had regarding the truth claims of the Mormon church.
Uchtdorf was my choice, as I viewed him as the one General Authority with the intelligence and perhaps the courage to address my concerns.
A colleague remarked to me that not only would Elder Uchtdorf not respond to my questions, but he would likely never see my letter. Instead, I could expect a form letter response from an underling and a missive from my Stake President.
Sadly, and it would seem predictably, that is just what happened. I did receive a rather terse ‘form-letter’ riposte from Uchtdorf’s secretary, who copied my stake President.
It has been almost five years since I wrote to President Uchtdorf, and during that time I have not received any correspondence nor had any contact with him or from my local Church leadership for that matter.
I certainly do not take offence and I appreciate the fact that in an organization the size of the LDS church with 65,137 full-tine paid employees (almost half that of Google or Microsoft), that C-level officials cannot respond personally to every letter they receive regardless of the solemnity of the writer.
I can also accept that the Church’s general authorities may indeed have no answers beyond those their apologists propagate.
Occasionally I have heard an intrepid member muse, “Do you think they, that is, the general authorities, believe the LDS church is true? Or are they victims of self-delusion, the affluent lifestyle the Church awards them or is it about ego and avarice, ignited by all the bowing and scraping of true believers on the Wasatch front?” In other words, is it ‘fortune and men’s eyes‘ that drives them?
The late Grant Palmer, author of An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins spoke about several meetings he had with a general authority, who told him straight up that he didn’t believe the Church was true and indicated that the apostles all learn within a year or two of being called that the Mormon church is indeed a fraud.
Was Palmer’s general authority ill-informed, lying, deluded, or had some axe to grind? Perhaps, but having read Grant’s books on the Savior, and knowing of his service to the least among us – inmates in the Utah prison system, I do not question that Grant Palmer was truthfully reporting the conversation.
Nevertheless, despite the cynical view, this anecdote suggests, I think it wrong or at least premature to go as far as to assume ignoble motives on the part of all the ‘brethren.’
When I was a child, Hugh B. Brown served in our little Canadian branch. My father knew and revered him, describing him as a man of God, someone without guile.
Elder Brown, who later went on to serve as both an apostle and member of the First Presidency, confessed to moments of grave doubt about the Mormon church, as he expresses in the following letter to a friend who was going through a faith crisis:
“I was really glad to get your letter of October 25th, and I appreciate your confidence. The revelation of your mental and spiritual struggle does not come as a surprise, that the waters of your usual placid soul had become somewhat, roiled and disturbed. Would you be surprised if I should tell you that I, too, have had periods of perplexity, uncertainty, and doubt; that I, too, have known the darkness, fogginess, and chill of the valley which lies between illuminated peaks of faith and confidence, and that only the memory of the hilltops along the road over which I have come coupled with the somewhat misty vision of others still ahead has given me the courage to plod on when I was tempted to “chuck it all,” to wrap myself in the comfortless blanket of doubt and self-commiseration and just quit the field.
Well, I have had that experience. But this I can say positively, that each peak which I have climbed has seemed higher and more inspiring than the last, due at least in part, I think, to the dark background of the valley through which I came. Sharp contrasts are sometimes most revealing.
In view of the above admission, you will not expect an argument or a brief on faith in God and immortality. However, and I hope it may be so, a relating of some personal experiences and observations may give you a fellow-feeling and bring comfort, courage, hope, and faith may renew in you the spirit of adventure, of zest for the quest of truth.”
I find Elder Brown’s honesty not only refreshing but stirringly human. If this good man said he believed the Mormon church was true, I don’t doubt that he genuinely believed it to be so.
Are brother Brown’s personal feelings and beliefs enough to convince one that the Mormon Church is true?
They are not, but perhaps the testimony of a good and honest man might suggest we should keep the declaration that Palmer’s anonymous general authority makes in perspective.
Nevertheless, let’s put this aside for a moment, for clearly not all is well in Zion. I suspect that there have never been so many people abandoning the Church since the Kirtland crisis of 1837 and 1838.
In a recent article by Jana K. Riess, a member and writer on American religion, entitled “The Next Mormons,” she indicates proportionately why members today are leaving the LDS church.
Her work shows that 6% of respondents said they left the Church after discovering Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by looking at a “magic stone” in his hat. Another 3% because of compelling DNA evidence showing no Hebrew nexus with the aboriginal peoples of North, South or Central America; but one-third, over 30%, reported that they left because they felt they could not trust the leadership of the Church to tell the truth.
Clearly, the Church’s current raison d’ être, is failing on several fronts.
Firstly, I don’t think it is unfair to suggest that today’s Church views open, honest dialogue as a real and present danger.
I believe there is sufficient evidence that the leadership of the LDS Church is on the defensive when it comes to dissent. Their fear is reflected in such Orwellian avowals as, “Not everything that is true is useful,” “When the prophet has spoken, the thinking is done,” or “It’s wrong to criticize the leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.”
President Gordon Hinckley once said, with a straight face, “We have nothing to hide; our history is an open book.”
I suspect that one-time church historian Dr. Leonard Arrington might take issue with the President, having written in the first issue of dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in 1966:
“It is unfortunate for the cause of Mormon history that the Church Historian’s Library, which is in possession of virtually all of the diaries of leading Mormons, has not seen fit to publish these diaries or to permit qualified historians to use them without restriction.”
Arrington’s remarks prompted Boyd K. Packer to voice his now infamous statement, “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”
Nevertheless, I have taken brother Hinckley at his word and delved into that ‘open book.’
In my ‘A Letter to an Apostle,‘ I pose several fundamental problems and questions I have relating to the historicity of Mormonism and the Joseph Smith story.
It is not my intent in publishing my letter to attempt to convince anyone that the Church is either true or false. I have tried to the best of my ability to be fair and balanced. I have attempted in highlighting each issue to provide the most intelligible answers or rebuttals that FairMormon has published vis-a-vis my interrogatories. However, as FairMormon has published several hundred pages on their website in response to my letter, I cannot reproduce everything they have written. Please refer the FairMormon website, specifically:
https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/answers/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Online_documents/A_Letter_to_an_Apostle for their complete dissection and analysis.
I make no apologies for seeking the truth. The Second Epistle of Peter warns us, ‘In their greed, teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.” This warning comes from the man Simon, son of Jonah, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ who He renamed Peter. The Lord himself warned, ‘take heed that no man deceives you, many false prophets will arise and deceive many.’ As well, in Matthew 7:15-20 the Lord again warns us to ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’
It is my hope that this document might simply help others experiencing honest doubts or a crisis of faith, answer Freddie Mercury’s question,” ‘Is this real life, or is this just fantasy?
I have never had, nor do I now have, an agenda in writing this beyond a genuine search for truth, nor am I animated by the comforting and self-serving motives that Mormons tend to jump to when someone leaves or begins to question their Church:
- Someone gave offense: No one hurt me, Not one. I have great affection for my friends and family, many of whom are true-believing members. I believe that everyday Latter-day Saints are good and kind people, most of whom are living honorable lives.
- A desire to sin: I am in my seventies as I write this, so it’s a little late for that!
- Never had a testimony in the first place: Wrong again, I would not have served in stake, and ward callings, paid a small fortune in tithing or attended the SLC temple with my wife and five children if I had not at one time, believed that the Church to be what it professes to be. I will, however concede that I never had the fervent testimony that I have heard others profess to have.
- Lazy, not reading the Scriptures: I love the Bible, particularly the New Testament; I like the Jesus therein contained, and I read it often. Admittedly, the Book of Mormon, not so much.
- Seduced by anti-Mormon literature: It is easy to identify those who hate and those whose purpose is to destroy. I would not consider writers and researchers such as Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Fawn Brodie, B. H. Roberts, Dan Vogel, Thomas Murphy, or Grant Palmer to be ‘anti-Mormon’ simply because they expressed doubts or dared to question. I avoid most ex-Mormon podcasts and groups as I find they often lack objectivity and are intent on promoting an atheistic agenda.
I have discovered that one need not read anything beyond Joseph Smith’s writings or the Mormon scriptures themselves to come face-to-face with myriad problems and inconsistencies.
Maybe it’s the Irish in me, but I have never been afraid to confront my supposed ‘adversaries,’ including those who have taken issue with the Mormon Church’s truth claims. I recently spent an afternoon with Sandra Tanner, who the Church has demonized, but, as those who know her will attest, is, in truth, a courageous, knowledgeable and rather sweet Christian woman.
A Letter to an Apostle is not meant to be a condemnation of the LDS church. I do not question that the LDS Church has bettered the lives of many and has introduced scores of others to the Lord Jesus Christ that otherwise would never have come to know Him. There are undoubtedly many positive aspects of Mormon culture and I do not doubt that one can live a rewarding and happy life, raising children with solid moral values, as a faithful Latter-day Saint.
Many sincere men and women within the Church taught me as a child ‘the Gospel‘ as it was taught to them. These were good and sincere people, and I honor them as I do my mother and father, who lived and died faithful members of the Church and who brought our little family from Ireland to ‘Zion‘ like thousands before them.
I genuinely wish that the true Gospel is as the Mormon church teaches, for what an amazing and beautiful future it portends. To be forever together with loved ones, walking with the Savior, growing and learning and progressing forever.
But I also believe that the Mormon Church has also done and continues to do irreparable harm to many. It teaches youth that being gay or transgender is evil in the eyes of God and that premarital sex is next to murder. Many people, particularly young people, have taken their lives because of these messages. By teaching that dark skin is a curse from God, the Book of Mormon has harmed many of God’s children.
I am troubled too that history has shown Mormons as not an altogether virtuous people. In the Greek virtuous (ενάρετο) means more than good, it means courageous; it connotes someone who has the audacity to stand up to authority, who demands truth and personal freedom, someone willing to question the status quo. And, if you will forgive me, Mormons are not that. Latter-day Saints are largely a tractable lot. Too often, obedience has replaced critical thinking, and conformity has replaced courage.
Perhaps this is why during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when men and women of goodwill in the United States were marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seeking equal human rights for ALL of God’s children. When we saw Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and even human secularists display the courage to speak up, we did not hear from Mormons. Rather, they bowed to their prophet and his apostles, who continued to preach discriminatory, racist doctrines and hateful policies harming persons of color.
Can any thoughtful individual not be troubled by the fact that Ezra Taft Benson, later to become the President of the Mormon church, was one of the Church’s most strident voices opposing the national crusade for African American civil rights.
In 1965 and 1967, Benson stated in televised sermons from Temple Square that the ‘so-called’ civil rights movement, as he referred to it, was a Communist program for revolution in America. Benson’s rhetoric intensified after, despite his best efforts, the federal Civil Rights Act was ratified.
Benson wrote the forward for a race hate book, The Black Hammer: A Study of Black Power, Red Influence, and White Alternatives. The cover of this vile little book shows a thick-lipped, low-browed, decapitated, bleeding head of an African American man superimposed upon the symbol of Communism – the hammer and sickle. I find it hard to accept that someone espousing such un-Christlike views could be God’s spokesman on earth.
Indeed in 1966, the NAACP issued a statement criticizing the LDS church, saying the Church maintained a rigid and continuous segregation stand “and that the church had made “no effort to counteract [its] widespread discriminatory practices in education, in housing, in employment, and other areas of life.”
As late as the 1970s, the Mormon church was banning Black boys from becoming boy scout troop leaders. These leadership positions were reserved exclusively for White priesthood-holding Mormon boys. It took the NAACP to file a federal lawsuit against the Church in 1974 to force the LDS Church to reverse this hurtful and discriminatory policy.
In 1978, as we are all aware, President Spencer W. Kimball, shortly after meeting with US president Jimmy Carter announced he had received a revelation reversing the priesthood ban on Blacks.
The nature of this change, like the prohibition on polygamy and, more recently, the reversal of the revelation banning the baptism of children living with same-sex couples, can lead one to question if these changes were, in truth, a direct response to American political pressure and withering PR.
In a rare interview of a Mormon apostle by an outsider, Wesley P. Walters recorded the following conversation with LeGrand Richards:
Walters: “On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared, and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time, and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Are any of those stories true, or are they all?”
LeGrand Richards: “Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising money to build that temple. If we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. Well, Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it.”
On the question of Blacks in the priesthood, some of the Church’s apologists deny that President Carter’s meeting with Kimball had anything to do with this timely, ‘revelation.’ Some even claim that President Carter never even broached the subject.
This is not true.
Below I have replicated a personal note President Carter sent to me in response to my letter to him:
Many of the Mormon Church’s leaders, including Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce McConkie and Joseph Smith himself have stated that blacks are a separate, inferior and cursed race deprived of the intelligence of the rest of humanity.
However, when the press questioned President Gordon Hinckley about Mormonism’s sordid history of racism and bigotry, he waved it off with, “… these things are in the past.”
Yes, President Hinckley is right. Regardless of their motivation, the Church of late has certainly moved away from much of its racist past.
But one must still ask why the Lord’s Church would not have led the charge for greater equality, integration and acceptance rather than lagging decades behind other churches and indeed working tirelessly in opposition to social justice?
The problem the Church still has to deal with is the rampant racism that forms an integral part of the Book of Mormon narrative. The Book of Mormon abounds in racial comments and paints a very narrow viewpoint regarding the concept of beauty. The message of the Book of Mormon is that white is good and black is bad. It teaches that those whose skin pigmentation is darker are “filthy,” “loathsome,” and “not enticing.” These words remain.
“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
I think that most people of goodwill would agree that the condemnation of another human being because of the color of their skin is not just unChristian; but wicked.
Is this Mormon concept of white supremacy something the Lord would countenance, let alone give such prominence in His other testament to Him?‘
I think this Mormon mindset – obedience over independent thought is why during the Second World War, not only did German Mormons, ‘go along to get along’ with the Nazis, but as David C. Nelson, comments in his book, Moroni and the Swastika, “Mormons were not just tolerant of Hitler [they were] downright enthusiastic about his policies.“
This is straight talk, and I know it can be upsetting. If you are a TBM, this may be when you stop reading. The feeling you are experiencing is cognitive dissonance, and it is real. I, too, have experienced it as I discovered that not everything that I was taught in church comports with reality, but I hope you will summon the courage to read on.
It is like Gloria Steinem said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
As I have already said, there is much in Mormonism to respect and admire, but hatred, lies and deception need to be attacked without mercy, and I make no apology for doing so. In Ephesians 5:11 Paul tells us to expose the evil deeds of darkness. The Lord called out the Pharisees. In Revelation 2:6 and 15, He tells us he hated the Nicolaitans’ practices and those who held to their teachings. In 1 Timothy 1:20, Paul names the Hymenaeus and john names the false Diotrephes (3 John 9).
As I mentioned above, the one thing that gave me pause in writing this is the sad fact that when people leave Mormonism, they often also leave religion altogether. ‘Once bitten twice shy.’ This troubles me as I do not want to lead anyone away from a belief in God.
Mormonism and Christianity are, however, not the same thing. So let’s not throw out the Christ child with the Mormon bathwater. One can entirely reject the former while still fully embracing the latter.
A critical examination can be difficult, troubling and painful. Ignorance is easy and, as the saying goes, really can be bliss. But some of us believe that it is essential, regardless of the discomfort and even heartache it may bring, to reject the siren call of self-delusion; and seek a reality not based solely on wishful thinking, emotion or the proverbial ‘burning in the bosom.’
Edward Abbey put it best:
“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”
This is not to say that faith is not important. It is very important. At its core, faith is the expectation of good things to come. It goes beyond hope. Hope lives in the mind, faith resides in the heart.
Life can be hard, and faith in the Almighty can help us get through it, for it provides us with the knowledge, deep down inside us, that things will get better. It can give us the courage to take the next step, even when we can’t see the staircase below.
But God gave us a mind, so we might come to know what is true and what is not. He tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “… to test everything [and] hold fast to what is good.” In Isaiah 1:18 the Lord pleads with us to, “Come now, and let us reason together.”
As the British philosopher Austin Farrer noted, “Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”
Humble reasoning is a vital and reliable mechanism for obtaining religious knowledge and theological truth. Religious beliefs acquired using reason as well as faith are more likely to be true and enduring.
So, no matter how appealing Joseph Smith’s ‘Plan of Salvation’ might sound, above all it must be authentic, designed by Deity and not merely the musing of a brilliant, ‘ploughboy prophet.’
Was Joseph Smith what the Mormon Church would have us believe, or was he a liar and beguiler who committed one of the greatest frauds in American history, as some have suggested?
The Bible warns us that we must take care. Jeremiah 23:16 says, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.”
I hope that this letter and the research supporting it might provide greater clarity regarding the shadows that animate your actions and beliefs or at the least make you aware of credible alternative interpretations to those presented by the ‘elders.’
This study may cement your testimony, as you face some of the most significant problems with the LDS narrative and choose nonetheless to embrace the explanations proffered by the Church and her apologists as being altogether reasonable and efficacious.
Alternatively, this might lead you to a place where you discover that your knowledge and the breadth of your understanding, based on what you have been taught, is less than complete. That there is much more to the Joseph Smith story than the sanitized, correlated version presented in Sunday school, priesthood meetings, relief society, or preached by those young, fresh-faced missionaries.
So, let me end this preface with a warning. Jack Nicholson delivers a great line in the film “A Few Good Men,” wherein, goated by the prosecutor’s withering cross-examination, Nicholson’s character barks, “The truth, you can’t handle the truth.”
When you view the image below, at first blush, you will see either an attractive young woman with her head tilted away from you, or you will see an old woman.
If you persist, you will eventually come to see both. However, from that point on, anytime you again view the image, you will immediately see both iterations.
So, read on at your peril because once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you will never get it back in again.
Maybe it really would be better for you just to do as Elder McKinley suggests in the hit Broadway play, The Book of Mormon, whenever disquieting thoughts entered his mind:
When you start to get confused
Because of thoughts in your head
Don’t feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead
Turn it off, like a light switch
Just go click!
It’s a cool little Mormon trick!