343-344: Mormonism and the Internet with John Dehlin, Scott Gordon (FAIR) and Rosemary Avance

As part of the March 2012 “Mormonism and the Internet” conference held at Utah Valley University, John Dehlin, Scott Gordon (of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research or FAIR) and Rosemary Avance discuss LDS disaffection and apologetics.

John’s “Why Mormons Question” presentation with visuals:

Part 1 – John Dehlin, Scott Gordon, Rosemary Avance:

Part 2 – Panel Discussion:



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  1. To sum the up the discussion at the end of Part 2, in the words of our most beloved former Potus Bill Clinton, “it depends on what the meaning of the word is, is.”

  2. Son of the Morning

    Wow. Scott Gordon’s response to Dehlin’s challenge (beginning at about 17:00) over the question of balance at FAIR is revealing. Why no D. Michael Quinn? Because FAIR wants a more scholarly approach. Except of course we do use hobbyists and amateurs, too. We’re just pure scholars trying to get “the most objective view out there.” But, don’t forget, “everybody has a bias.” He says they want “scholars who work with the primary source documents.” 

    OK. So… why no D. Michael Quinn? 

  3. Son of the Morning

    And then, the exchange beginning at 37:30. Ho-ly Cow! Gordon’s answer is an embarrassment. 

  4. I’ll admit I have a hard time not debating with my computer monitor in watching this, especially when it gets to discussions of “did the church lie”. 

    I’m grateful for the discussion, but wish I felt that some positive change would come out of it. Either way, I’m glad some voices (from either side) got to be heard in a rational discussion.

  5. Clyde Drexler

    Scott Gordon’s response about science seems particularly humorous in hindsight, after Elder Nelson’s comments were so dismissive of scientific thought and inquiry in the very next general conference.

      1. This was soon before I went on my mission so I think it was in 2004.  He didn’t go into a whole lot of detail but he showed us a list of all the wives that were sealed to him both before and after his death. He explained that polygamy was  a major factor that lead to his death.  I never learned about about the polyandry part of it until I came home from my mission and read Rough Stone Rolling. 
        This particular CES instructor is probably one of the few to actually talk about this subject.

    1. I learned about Joseph Smith’s polygamy in Seminary at Granger High School Seminary in West Valley Utah in 1993.

      1. I learned all about Joseph Smith’s polygamy at seminary and at institute. I attended Ogden High School and Weber State in the 70’s. No one considered it a secret or something we should not discuss. In fact, it was clearly taught us that it was the Reorganized Church (now Community of Christ) that told their members that Joseph Smith had never practiced polygamy. I find it odd that people can reason that because they did not personally know something, that the institutional Church has hidden it from them.
        Also, the problems everyone is having with Joseph Smith marrying teenagers. My grandmother married at 15 and that was in 1915. My neighbor’s mother married at 16 and that was in the early 1950’s. This was in Ogden, Utah, not some hillbilly mountain settlement. Women often married as teenagers. Getting a high school diploma was something none of my grandparents did. In fact, both grandfathers quit school after elementary school. Just because something is no longer acceptable does not mean it was not at the time.

  6. This was an interesting conversation. I have only a couple of things to say that I think are the most pressing in my view. The most important thing to do culturally within our communities is to think of people as having real issues and hence looking at them in a nuanced way. To use any term that is as loaded an anti-Mormon is an embarrassment and shows someone has a lot of learning to do. I hear my mom sometimes saying someone is an anti-Mormon are even an inactive, as if that categorizes them wholly as a person. I respected a lot that Scott Gordon had to say, but I’m disappointed that someone of his calibre could still, after all, resort to the term. Don’t sit around and wonder why bitter ex-Mormons refer to the church as a cult when it really just comes full circle and you both reinforce each other’s hatred and resentment and hence name-calling. I know we all have hurt feelings and the emotion and tension that I felt from the discussion was real, but really, we need to stop on both sides if we’re to come together as a community. 

  7. Also, race was never an issue, and the book of Abraham was never really an issue to me. Mormonism in the beginning was more about the it-could-be-true-if-you-believe-and-have-good-feelings variety. I might cite these issues as an interesting case against Mormonism when discussing it, but even to this day, it doesn’t strike a chord in me hardly at all. Really, the only extent to which the issue of racism in the church affected me was as a behavioral phenomenon that affected how I acted around blacks and such. The only thing that ever really affected me in my transition was how the doctrines made me as a person, which I decided was in a negative way. If I became a great person because of the church, I would still probably believe, but that’s just not the case. As for my experience around my mom, I could cite the same sort of thing for my subsequent disbelief. Believing in the end of the world as Mormonism would have you see it made her practically beg for people to suffer for daring not to accept Mormonism. In that light, I might trace the effects back to doctrine, but the doctrine itself was not an inherent thing to argue over. 

  8. About the 40.26 minute mark in Scott
    Gordon’s presention, he says that a common [anti-Mormon] tactic is
    the claim that the church hides information; he gives two examples,
    the first being that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. He
    shows a slide of a list of church publications and says, “here’s
    a short list of where you can read about Joseph Smith’s marriages…”

    The first one caught my attention,
    because I remember the Joseph Smith manual and remember the
    introduction, and remember obsessing about the careful, parsed
    wording of that introduction.

    1. This is the quote from 2007 lesson
    manual, vii-xiii, Introduction: “This book also
    does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles
    relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as
    1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a
    number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime….”

    That does not make it clear that Joseph
    Smith himself practiced plural marriage. The biographical summary of
    his life lists Emma as his wife and no other. No plural wives are
    mentioned in ANY of the church presidents after Joseph Smith.

    So I checked the rest of the references
    that Scott Gordon listed. Here are the quotes from all of them.

    2. Ensign Aug 1992, 30 “My
    Great-Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith”: “Her
    great trial came when the prophet revealed to Emma that they would be
    required to live the ancient law of Abraham—plural marriage. Emma
    suffered deeply hurt feelings because of it. While she agreed with
    this doctrine at times, at other times she opposed it. Years later,
    Emma is purported to have denied that any such doctrine was ever
    introduced by her husband.”

    3. Ensign Jan 1989, 30 “The Knight
    Family: Ever Faithful to the Prophet” : “In
    Nauvoo, the Knight group faced and passed another great test of
    faith. The Prophet introduced several doctrines relating to the
    temple including the temple ceremonies and plural marriage, which
    some could not accept. But the Knights received the teachings.”

    4. Ensign Dec 1978, 42 “The Newel
    K. Whitney Family” Author, D. Michael Quinn. :”In
    obedience to the command of the living prophet, Newel and Elizabeth
    Ann gave their daughter Sarah Ann in marriage to Joseph Smith. Nearly
    a year later, Joseph Smith dictated the general revelation about the
    eternity of marriage and the nature of plural marriage, and Newel
    asked to have his own copy, a providential request, since the first
    copy was destroyed. Thus, Newel’s desire to have the word of the
    Lord has blessed the entire Church by preserving what is now Section
    132 in the Doctrine and Covenants.”

    5. Ensign Feb 1977, 48 Great
    Grandfather’s Family: “Starting during Joseph
    Smith’s own lifetime but limited to a few dozen families until its
    official announcement in 1852, plural marriage brought a powerful new
    challenge to the equanimity of Latter-day Saint family life. Never
    could it be said that a majority of Latter-day Saint families were
    polygamous families.”

    New Era, Dec 1973, 7 “The
    Greatness of Joseph Smith and His Remarkable Visions:
    “As soon as Moses had departed, the prophet Elijah, who was
    taken to heaven in a chariot of fire, appeared and bestowed upon them
    the sealing power to bind wives to husbands, husbands to wives, and
    children to parents until the whole human race is sealed back to
    Father Adam. Although Elias had bestowed the keys of celestial
    marriage, the keys to seal that, and all other ordinances of the
    gospel, were bestowed by Elijah. This key also gave authority to
    begin work for the dead. With the authorization Joseph now had he
    could begin to look beyond the veil and perform proxy ordinances that
    would open the door of salvation for beloved ancestors who had lived
    upon the earth and died without an opportunity to hear the gospel.
    Can you now begin to see the greatness of Joseph Smith’s
    mission? ”

    than the article by D. Michael Quinn, one of the excommunicated September Six, not
    one of these articles makes any clear reference to another wife of
    Joseph’s other than Emma, not one, other than Quinn’s article, even makes
    any clear reference to the fact that Joseph Smith HIMSELF practiced
    plural marriage. Teaching the concept and practicing are two
    different things.

    thing is, Scott Gordon knows those references. If I could find them
    this easily, so could he. He knew what these articles were, and he
    knew that there was only one, Quinn’s 1978 piece – written 34 years
    ago — that had any substantive reference to his argument.

    not sunshine.   That’s shadow.  

    1. Chaste_and_Benevolent

      For an apologist to say that the church is honest and open is, ironically,  just another instance of the church’s dishonesty.

      But even if Scott Gordon were right when he says that church doesn’t hide things, what are the points that he is trying to make? That Mormons are stupid? That the church tries to teach about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, but it does a crappy job?

      And that these are points that are supposed to CONTRADICT anti-Mormons?

    1.  Scott’s a good guy.  But it was frustrating at times.  Especially when he claimed that FAIR seeks to be objective.  That seems just silly to me.

      1. I agree – that was a frustrating part. FAIR has “objective” people on their podcast only if in the end, they agree with FAIR’s point of view. Isn’t the definition of an objective person someone who can look at both sides of an argument as valid and logical?

      2. I agree that was absurd to claim objectivity. He did, however, qualify it by admitting bias. Every good scholar knows “objectivity” is a myth, no one ever enters a topic without some sort of bias. This is especially true with history which is an art and not a science by any means.

  9. John, you are a good man.  I don’t think I could have maintained my composure with some of the responses from Scott Gordon.  

  10. John, I have never commented on a podcast before, although I listen to them almost daily anymore (I am only a year post-Mormon, I have a lot to catch up on). There were so many moments that you said EXACTLY what I was thinking in response to Scott and I find myself increasingly more grateful for all the hard work you have done to make this (a safe landing place for those who question) all happen. It is so nice to know there is a voice out there speaking to the church on behalf of so many of us. I hope to someday have the privilege of thaking you in person.

  11. Was Scott Gordon’s slam on Grant Palmer warranted? I have not had a chance to read Grant Palmer’s book(s) yet, but it appears that he was in Church Educational System for 34 years and that he had a PhD in history. Sounds pretty credible to me.

    1. In my opinion the slam was not warranted. Apologists hate Grant Palmer because he is effective, in my opinion…and because they don’t have better answers or theories.

      1. And that just shows how unfamiliar you actually are with responses to the issues in the book – many of which were available before the book was even written. You’ll have to go further than MormonThink if you really want to see better answers.

      2. Actually, apologists don’t hate Grant Palmer. They dislike “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins” not because it or Grant are “effective” (whatever that means) but because it is sloppy scholarship. And, apologists are not alone–a number of well-respected historians and scholars have dismissed Grant’s book for the same reason.

        1. Allen – I don’t mean to be impolite, but I personally find most of what FAIR and FARMS produce to be non-credible at even a very base level, so I guess reasonable people (and maybe even historians and scholars) can disagree on such things. I also think that your use of the word sloppy is….sloppy…given the organization(s) you represent. I find it somewhat ironic (and lacking in self-awareness) that you choose to talk of things being dismissed for sloppy scholarship….when FAIR and FARMS are (in the overwhelming majority of academic circles) considered to be so lacking in credibility that they’re not even worth taking seriously.

          I’ll give you a challenge — find me a credible non-LDS anthropologist or archaeologist that takes the Book of Mormon or Book of Abraham seriously as historical texts, who is willing to come on the podcast and discuss her/his views publicly. Take all the time you want.

          Glass houses, Allen. Glass houses. Best not to throw stones.

          1. Wasn’t throwing stones, John. I was correcting you when you said that “apologists hate Grant Palmer.” Most would consider me an apologist. I don’t hate Grant Palmer. Most apologists I know don’t hate Grant Palmer.

            I do have a problem with his scholarship, but that isn’t throwing stones. You like it, fine. I’m not telling people not to read Palmer. I think they should. But they shouldn’t stop with just Palmer. They should read all those who disagree with Palmer, as well.

            As to finding people for your podcast, I’d rather not. Your limitations seem odd in this regard, as they stack the deck in your favor. (Well, OK. Maybe not *that* odd.) Do you, in your guest selection, say you will only talk with non-Christians about the Bible? If you limit the discussion to only non-Mormons, then why even talk to Palmer in the first place, since he was (at the time) a Mormon? Why talk with Brant Gardner, since he was (and still is) a Mormon?

            We all live in glass houses to one extent or another, John.

          2. Allen — If you’re going to attack Grant Palmer’s scholarship as sloppy by referencing the opinions of other scholars (which by any reasonable interpretation would be considered throwing stones, btw), I think you should be willing to turn that same approach back on the organization(s) and positions you represent.

            I imagine that we could pretty quickly find Christian and non-Christian scholars who accept at least some substantive historical foundation to the Bible (i.e. that there were Jews in Jerusalem during the time of Christ…that Bethlehem as a city existed, etc.).

            I’m asking of you what I think is a very reasonable request (consistent with your attacks on Grant Palmer) — can you find ANY reputable non-LDS scholar who takes the Books of Mormon or Abraham seriously as historical documents? Please try to answer the question directly if you are capable of doing so.

            If you can’t find any such scholars, then I think you are acknowledging (whether you want to admit it or not) that the entire enterprise of LDS apologetics is built on a “sloppy” foundation (to use your word).

            And if you can find such scholars, can you please provide me with their contact information and a reference or two? Again…please take your time. I imagine that this will not be an easy task.

          3. John, once again: I wasn’t throwing stones. I said that I found Grant Palmer’s scholarship sloppy. I do. I’m sorry if you think that is impolite, mean-spirited, or whatever. I’ve read the book, cover to cover. I even read his footnotes and looked up the original sources in the footnotes. I stand by my assessment of his scholarship.

            It is fine with me if you disagree with that. I would expect you to, given what I know of the regard in which you hold Grant and his book. Again, that is fine with me.

            Further, just because you believe I should be “willing to turn [your mischaracterization of my] approach back on” FAIR and FARMS, that doesn’t mean that I should. (Or even that such a suggestion has merit, on its own, except as a rhetorical gambit.)

            Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that I cannot find a scholar to meet your requirements. How does such a lack, on my part, constitute either explicit or implicit acknowledgement that “they entire enterprise of LDS apologetics is built on a ‘sloppy’ foundation?” That just doesn’t seem to be a natural conclusion to reach based upon my ability to fulfill your request, as your request doesn’t constitute an intrinsic shortcoming of defending the faith.

            Have a good evening, John. I didn’t mean to get your knickers in a knot by pointing out that not all apologists hate Grant Palmer.

          4. John, Do believers of other break offs groups count as “non-LDS”

            I don’t know if there are any “credible” archaeologists among those groups, but how fair really is your challenge to Allen? How many reasonable people of any profession hold the opinion that the Book of Mormon is an historical text, while not also believing that JS was a prophet (if at least not a fallen prophet) and therefore believing in some version of the restoration? Due to the translation process, the two concepts are wed together pretty tightly.

          5. Allen – I’m sorry, but to call Grant Palmer’s scholarship sloppy is to throw stones — by any reasonable interpretation. To deny this is disingenuous, and I think it naturally invites the same level of scrutiny towards your organization(s) and positions.

            And I think it’s significant that you can’t name a single non-LDS scholar who takes the historicity of either the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham seriously. I find your responses evasive on that front, and it’s disappointing (but not surprising).

            In my opinion, LDS apologists of your type continue to give Mormonism a bad name. I’m sticking with that belief until I’m proven otherwise.

            Good night, Allen. Thanks for stopping by.

          6. really? “knickers in a knot”? Allen, I think this is why people don’t like apologists.

          7. John: I tell you I’m not throwing stones, you disagree, and thereby label me disingenuous. I decline to take your bait, and you thereby label me evasive. You conclude that “apologists of my type” give Mormonism a bad name.

            All because I pointed out you were mistaken about all apologists hating Grant Palmer and stating I disagreed with his scholarship. Wow.

            Mike: Gettig one’s “knickers in a knot” is a well-known colloquialism; there is nothing demeaning or pejorative in it. (Look it up.) If that’s a valid reason to dislike apologists, the bar for dismissal has gotten very low, indeed.

          8. Allen,

            I told you that you were throwing stones and called you evasive and disingenuous because you were throwing stones and being evasive and disingenuous.

            Further more, I told you that people like you give LDS apologetics a bad name because people like you give LDS apologetics a bad name.

            It’s not fun to have these conversations, but I’m tired of how you guys roll.

            Please. Stop. Hurting. Everyone.

            If you need help…please call me. I’d be happy to provide my assistance. I’ll even provide you with a preview: good apologetics start by saying: yep….these problems are real and legitimate….yep…..people are in legitimate pain, and deserve to be validated…..yep…..we will call a spade a spade, and will not blame or dismiss the victims. If we have responses, they will be credible.

            Please try to spend more time in the mirror, and less time (yes) throwing stones at others. Grant Palmer’s scholarly weaknesses pale in comparison to those of FAIR/FARMS. Not even in the same solar system.

            Find. Another. Way.

          9. John, your comment what FAIR and FARMS (now Maxwell Institute) produce being non-credible is absolutely laughable.

            I’m not as sure with FAIR’s process of editing but I am aware of Maxwell Institute’s. How many articles have you published with M.I. John? Are you even aware of the process? Take my word for it, it is stringent. Unlike Signature Books and most publishers, M.I. wants to see a copy of every single source referenced or quoted. If the author doesn’t have it or misplaced it in the pile of research materials (and can’t find it), they take it out. If the author jumps to too much of a conclusion on weak evidence they have the author tone it down. If something seems vague they have the author flesh it out or take it out.

            Your flippant remark demonstrates a lack of first-hand knowledge (at least on the part of M.I.). Now, if you disagree with the conclusions, fine. You are right about historians and scholars disagreeing on the same evidence. But you are wrong by insinuating poor scholarship and writing from these institutions.

        2. Mike – For me, the fact that only believers in Mormonism take the basic historicity of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham seriously is a significant challenge/problem to Mormonism’s truth claims.

          1. I see your point, however I think it would be more appropriate to challenge FAIR to find someone who knows the BOM and BOA well, and agrees that the BOM or BOA are plausible historically. I have no idea if there is anyone out there like that but I’d be interested in listening to a podcast or reading an article on it too.

            One can believe the Bible is historical without believing it’s truth claims about God and the miracles that it records. It is very difficult to do this with the BOM or BOA because of how they were translated. If you take their historicity seriously, faith in divine intervention in Joseph Smith’s life and calling are sort of a given. How could you have one without the other?

          2. Another really fair challenge I think would be to find someone who is a credible archaeologist/anthropologist, who converted to the church later in life after spending years in the profession already. Again I have no idea if someone like this exists but would love to hear a podcast with someone like that.

          3. Sort of like how only believers in the Bible take it seriously? :)

            Seriously, though, do you not understand the problem in what you just said?

          4. Trevor – No. I don’t see a problem in what I said.

            I believe that we could easily locate non-Christian and even atheistic scholars who do not argue that: 1) Biblical places like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Palestine existed, 2) that the Jews existed, 3) that they wrote/spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic, or whatever language the Jews/Israelis spoke and wrote back then, 4) that they interacted with other civilizations, 5) that they built buildings, 6) that they believed certain specific things, and wrote scripture, 7) that they recorded their history, etc.

            Can you find me any credible non-LDS scholar who will acknowledge that: 1) native americans have an Israeli origin (DNA, cultural, or otherwise), 2) native americans wrote in reformed egyptian, 3) native americans believed in Jesus, 4) native americans had horses, steel, swords, shields, chariots, etc., 5) any geography or architecture mentioned in the BOM is legitimate in any way.

            Same types of problems with the Book of Abraham.

            You guys have zero credibility in scholarly circles with regards to historical truth claims on this stuff. The Bible has a ton of problems…I’ll grant you that. But the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham aren’t even in the game from a historical credibility perspective.

          5. John I think there is a problem with your request. Considering the origin and nature of the Book of Mormon and Abraham if a non-LDS scholar took them seriously they would have almost no logical choice but to become a Mormon of somekind and would therefore no longer be a “non-Mormon scholar.” Now, I do not believe any Archaeologist or scholar has ever converted in this manner and am certainly not going to hold my breath for it to happen.

        3. Allen,

          Grant is a meticulous guy and maybe if apologetics actually read his books and knew him personally you guys wouldn’t make stabs at him. However, I’m not one bit surprised to hear an apologist call a meticulous man sloppy. Apologist’s apples are bananas and horses are pigs tactics in my opinion would make anyone look sloppy.

    2. I believe he has an MA in history, rather than a PhD. But that doesn’t necessarily make him credible. I was particularly unimpressed with the recent podcast about allegations of impropriety. A credible historian would not make such a big deal out of a lawyer doing his job by covering all possible bases in questioning – particularly when answered negatively.

      1. Hey, guess what, Trev? Grant didn’t make such a big deal out of that. In fact, he called the lawyer’s activities a “fishing expedition.” I find it very difficult to take you apologists seriously when you can’t represent the people you criticize at all accurately. So, who has the credibility problem now? You do.

  12. Chaste_and_Benevolent

    My jaw dropped when Scott Gordon tried to excuse the church’s continued publishing of deceptive pictures showing Joseph Smith translating the gold plates. He pointed out that no General Authorities had personally created the deceptive pictures.

    Apologists seem to be running out of things that the GAs are not responsible for. We’ve gotten used to the fact that the prophets, seers, and revelators no longer prophesy, see, or reveal. But now they’re not even responsible for what the church publishes?

    What do these people do to justify their paychecks? Excuse me, I mean their modest living stipends?

    He also seemed to stubbornly avoid the central point about the church’s history of racism. The point is not that almost every church, like virtually every other American institution, has a history of racism.

    The point is that no other American church claims to have been founded and led by prophets who — by definition of the word “prophet” — speak for God. Therefore either God is a recently reformed racist, or the prophets have been so poor at their jobs that it is a misnomer to call them by that title. There is no third option.

    1. New2podcasts

      “The point is that no other American church claims to have been founded and led by prophets who — by definition of the word “prophet” — speak for God. Therefore either God is a recently reformed racist, or the prophets have been so poor at their jobs that it is a misnomer to call them by that title. There is no third option.”

      Oh but there are many other options to be considered here :
      3-  God is a lunatic
      4-  God is wishy washy
      5-  God is ever changing
      6-  God is a respector of persons
      7-  God is a mute
      8-  God is not Love
      9-  God is an illusion
      10-God is wrong , therefore the Profits are rite, write, right…


    2. @chaste and benevolent– Agreed, Is it not extremely ironic that the cartoon South Park has a more accurate depiction of the BOM translation process than the pictures on church publications?

  13. I agree with all the above. John, you did a fabulous job! The kind of openness, honesty and truth we all long for within the church moved on a little bit further after your contribution here.

  14. I don’t see how anyone could have done a better job than John did in this presentation. Congratulations John! I hope a lot of people get to hear this because it was just so informative   and well done. For one thing it illustrated one thing that really struck me when I started to look at both sides of the issues. The ex-mormons and those having serious doubts usually seemed very sincere and thoughtful, while the apologists so often seemed more interested in putting labels on people and playing word games.
       Scott Gordon knows very well that artwork used by the church is very carefully chosen and approved. To try to say that the leaders didn’t tell the artist what to paint so they are not responsible is insincere and really weakens his credibility.
       And to excuse changing Brigham Young’s words to “wife” instead of “wives” as something that is done to keep the lesson focused on it’s central message, is just more of the apologetic word games that destroy their credibility. If you are going to change facts for my good or give me only the part of the truth that you think I need, then you have lost my confidence that you can be trusted. I committed forty years of my life and my families life to something based on partial disclosure of the pertinent facts. That seems to nullify any contract I made with this organization. 

  15. John, I appreciate you saying something to the effect that a difference between the “true blue” and the “ex true blue” is that at one point the “ex” will decide to go wherever the truth takes her/him.  Getting to that decision is the hard part.

    I mean, why keep looking for this lovely ‘pearl’ when you are holding it in your hand?  It is very sad when you finally test and examen this ‘pearl of great price’ and discover it to be a beautiful fake. 

  16. the comment about prophets being excused from being racist and that being unprophet like is awkward seeing as Peter was prjudiced at not giveing the Gentiles the gospel until further revelation changed the policy.  

  17. John,

    Thanks for posting this and for being so willing to be kind, patient and positive while still effectively tackling these issues. I have a firm testimony of Jesus Christ and of the restored church but share with you in many of your frustrations with the way the church does some things. Especially how it ignores important aspects of its history and how it can ostracize people who have doubts, or commit certain sins.

    I was asked recently to lead a Bishops Youth Discussion on the Book of Mormon and in front of the bishopric and all the youth in our ward I went over the real translation process. Everyone thought it was great! Nobody was upset or bothered in the least by it. I am not sure why we even bother avoiding discussion about it. I think really that critics open up a bad can of worms when they bring this up. Now they have to explain not only how JS is the author, but how he could dictate a story with so many characters, events and time lines and theological discussions without referring to notes or books.

    Anyway, I really don’t think the church needs to be afraid to start talking openly about the various difficult issues we have. The one I brought up in BYD was of course very minor compared to polygamy and racism, and other issues but people are interested in talking about these things and when it comes from another believer who has wrestled with the issues and has come out believing, it can only be positive, and even if it doesn’t always go well, it is the honest thing to do.

    Again, thanks for your work here.

    1. Mike– Why are they not bothered by it? The translation, or interpretation process, (however you take it) is a mess! I am currently taking a church history class at one of the BYU schools. A simple classroom observation, when discussing historical accounts that are difficult and/or conflicting, students do not seem to pay a mind. It is as if they do not see the next logical concept based off the information (or do not allow themselves to go there). At one point in a recent discussion (which disappointedly consists of a dialogue between myself and the professor), several students cut in and shouted out, “sweep it under the rug”. From my experience in talking with friends, mission companions, and classmates, the great majority are indifferent or disinterested in any information that draws suspicion or challenges a testimony.

      1. I guess I don’t know what went through their minds so maybe it did bother a few people, but nobody seemed shocked anyway. The discussion wasn’t focused on the translation process, so we didn’t spend a lot of time on it but I did read in full the account of David Whitmer that talks explicitly about the stone in the hat and told them that this is the method described by most people who witnessed the process of translation.

        I can truely only answer for myself I guess but I don’t think it’s very troubling if you are already used to the idea that Joseph Smith used stones to translate (which I think is truly the hardest part to swallow), it isn’t a big deal to me at all that he wanted to look at them in the dark but still wanted the person writing to be able to see. For me, the biggest issue is that for some reason, the church has been pretending the process was different.
        For me it was relieving to learn that he was translating this way, it really complicates critical theories of him having the Bible next to him to copy from, or a manuscript of Rigdon’s to read from. If the whole curtain idea that the church for some reason keeps perpetuating were the method used, it would make it very easy for JS to hide reference materials, manuscripts or notes from his scribes. The real version to me seems that it would be much more difficult to pull off if JS was a fraud.

        Still possible of course, but the critics are going to have to take a different approach than they have been. Perhaps for example he was memorizing large chunks of a manuscript he had been working for months, or that he got from Ridgon or something.

        Anyway, sorry to hear how your questions are treated at BYU. I don’t understand the apathy. How someone can devote their entire lives to a cause, and not be concerned about whether it is based on reality or not baffles me.

        1. I also think it’s troubling that the plates were not even used in the translation process. One wonders why the Nephites bothered making them in the first place.

          And the stone wasn’t some sacred stone that was called the urim and Thummim from Bible times and preserved in the stone box for 2000 years for the sole purpose of translating the plates. But rather it was a common stone found years before the BofM was published on Willard Chase’s property while Joseph and Hyrum were digging a well.

          The name ‘urim & thummim’ was only applied later after the BofM was published and then everything was rewritten to act as if that name was always used because it seemed more Bibical that way. Even though the U&T mentioned in the Bible was not a translation device but merely a yes/no kind of thing.

          And also noteworthy that this stone is in the vault of the church but never displayed with other church artifacts or even acknowledged.

          So it’s not just the stone or the hat but all these things (and more) taken together.

          1. I agree it is odd that JS didn’t use the plates during the actual translation process, but we don’t really have much precedence to compare it with so it’s hard to know what exactly is problematic. What you point out that is troubling to me is how the story changed over time. The church seems to be starting to become more open with its history, hopefully that becomes a growing trend.

  18. I went to the “FAIR Bookstore” after Scott Gordon mentioned it in his talk. There I found for sale On the Road with Joseph Smith by Richard Bushman, which is Bushman’s personal memoir of his cross-country speaking tour after he completed his biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.

    I’m curious to know why they don’t also sell Rough Stone Rolling – it’s not listed.

      1. That title has been available from FAIR in the past, and is heavily referenced in the wiki. Looks like even Deseret Book is carrying it, so there’s no reason to suspect a conspiracy. :)

  19. In Scott’s presentation at the 41:07 mark he has a slide that says “Translation with a Hat”. He then lists 5 LDS sources that he claims states that Joseph translated the BOM with a hat.

    I looked them up and 3 of the references do not even say the word “hat”. They talk about the translation but do not say he put his face in a hat, which is the issue:

    He lists:

    Ensign Jan 97, pg 36 (NO HAT MENTIONED)

    Ensign, Jul 93, pg 61 (HAT IS MENTIONED)

    Ensign, Jan 88, pg 6-13 (NO HAT MENTIONED)

    Ensign, Sep 77. pg 79 (HAT MENTIONED)

    Friend, Sep 1974, 7 (NO HAT MENTIONED)

    If FAIR is going to be so bold and claim that it’s clearly mentioned all over the place and cites 5 examples, he should at least verify them. Only twice was the word “hat” mentioned. One was 19 years ago and the other was 35 years ago. Yeah, that really sounds like the church wants everyone to know about the hat.

    Good thing someone is checking FAIR’s facts!

    1. Bill,

      Did you have the sound muted when you looked at the slide? Scott clearly introduced this segment by saying (at 40:29) “Two quick examples: Many are upset when they learn…that Joseph Smith may have used a hat and a seer stone when translating the Book of Mormon.” Further, at the point you noted (41:07) Scott said “…as far as translation with a stone in a hat…”.

      Regardless of how the slide was titled, all of the articles Scott cited did speak of either the seer stone or a hat.

      1. Check out the title of his slide – “Translation with a hat” – that is misleading. Yes the articles talk of the translation process but only 2 of them say that he put his face in the hat. That is the disturbing part – that he did not even use the plates but put his face in a hat.

        1. And he rattled off all 5 of these as if they all stated the “translation with a hat” but only 2 of them say that. Very misleading. Many members may know that the Urim & Thummim was also known as a seer stone but not many know he didn’t use the plates and stuck the stone in a hat to translate so only those 2 articles really mention the critics’ real problem with the translation method.

  20. In an effort to be fair towards FAIR, While I did my share of cringing as I listened to Scott Gordon, and while I agree that there are some unscholarly, confirmation bias saturated articles on FAIR’s website, I don’t agree that starting with the firm hypothesis that the church is true, hurts the scholarly or objective nature of the organization as a whole. Many fields of study in science, philosophy, psychology, and sociology focus within the boundaries of a set theory or hypothesis. This isn’t out of the norm and FAIR is very open and honest about the assumptions they start with when they look at these issues.

    When I first began learning about polygamy and polyandary, as an active member of the church I didn’t want to turn to “anti-mormon” literature so I turned to FAIR at first. I was surprised and a little shocked to see how many ugly things they published about church history without much explanation. While they don’t go as deep into the negative side of some issues that those who lost faith in the church want them to go, I think they deserve some credit for putting these things out there in a way and in a place where members of the church can feel safe while digging deeply into very uncomfortable issues.

  21. For a refreshing change to the mentality of “Being an apologist means never having to say you’re sorry”; try googling “Jeffrey R Holland Q&A Harvard”. I think even deep critics of the church will find at least a few concessions he makes about the church to be a breath of fresh air, although there will be plenty there too that will bother some.

  22. I wish so much of the second part didn’t devolve into a demographics and issues debate between John and Scott, although some parts of it were interesting.

    I wish more questions were asked about Rosemary’s discoveries. It was fascinating the the three groups–off-line believers, the pathists and escapists–all created their different narratives with the almost identical modus operandi. The off-line believers didn’t claim rationality, but the other two said it was a primary motivator. And all three seem to doubt the rationality of the other two groups. But in the end, it was the affectation (read emotional response) that was the turning point for all three.

    From that point of view it seems that all our methods for truth discovering and narrative building are just so ‘un-objective.’ Is there another way? Is a more objective–or even purely objective–way better?

    I’m probably trying to follow a pathist route myself, and, thanks to Rosemary, I’m happy to understand more about it.

  23. Mike,
    I checked out the “Jeffrey R Holland Q&A Harvard” link. I am not a deep critic of the church but he was getting soft ball questions….yawn, nothing new there.

    1. what I found so refreshing is that he was apologetic (as in deeply sorry and accepting blame himself and on behalf of the church) about how the church has failed to effectively communicate various issues whereas many of the responses I hear from other places seem try to point the finger back at the person questioning as if it was their fault that they misunderstood an issue.

      1. “he was apologetic (as in deeply sorry and accepting blame himself and on behalf of the church) about how the church has failed to effectively communicate various issues”

        Really? I only heard him apologize that the Church had not communicated it’s similarities to mainstream Christian theology well enough. It seemed he was concerned about outwardly facing communication and the effects it had on how LDS were perceived more than anything concerning the membership, disaffected or the doubting.

        In fact, I found it funny that in his Q&A Holland was actually stretching or altering the truth in order to avoid hard truths with non-LDS.

        “We do these sacraments for those…er…for our families…” He knows full well that name extraction is continuing outside of the family history being done by members for families. The Church now acts as if the only names for which work is being done in the LDS temple are dead relatives of LDS— and it’s not true. Holland knows this and had to catch himself in order to keep from saying so.

        Likewise although it is true missionaries perform non-proselyting service, it is not accurate to act like conversion isn’t their main focus. That is deceptive and not accurate IMO.

        I guess it’s all spin and perspective in the end. Certainly though I didn’t see what you saw in that clip.

  24. Daniel Graham

    I really enjoyed how Scott seemed to be schooled at the end by Rosemary. Great work to you too John. I really appreciate the statistics presented. It speaks volumes to me and my wife that we are not alone.

  25. I was struck by Scott Gordin’s opening reference to a Deseret News writer’s (didn’t catch the name) quip,, “Being an apologist means never having to say your sorry.”

    This seems to me a bit of self disclosure that is the real problem.

  26. John,

    Thanks for representing. The church might get the hint one day that it’s not perfect. I guess as long as we continue to grow in numbers and voice our opinions our dreams of the church changing might come true.

  27. Marlin Jensen, the church historian, just spoke at a CES devotional which I think most people here would be interested in. It’s on the home page of lds.org. (he only briefly talks about history but the entire talk is good imo).

    At one point he in effect compared the way the Church displays its history to how the Church takes care of the Sacred Grove. They used to remove unsightly dead branches and leaves to keep it looking neat and clean. It wasn’t healthy for the grove though. Now they let the dead trees and leaves fall where they stand and the grove is much healthier. He said he has tried to take the later course in his work as historian. I hope the church continues on that course once he is emeritus.

    John, I’m sure this isn’t a new idea for you, but it would be SO awesome if you could get Jensen to come onto your podcast, maybe it would be more likely to happen once he is emeritus.

  28. I loved the discussion and thought all three, even Scott Gordon, did a good job. I did like Scott Gordon’s references to Ensign articles about supposedly hidden history. I would have also thrown in Glen Leonards book about Nauvoo spoke about Joseph’s Polygamy and Polyandry (Leoanard is a church employee and his books was co-published by Deseret Book and BYU Studies). I do agree with Gordan that the Mormon Church gets a bad rap for “hiding” things they are in fact not hiding. I did not like John’s response that referred to the articles as “obscure.” These articles were in the Ensign and not an “obscure” journal article. I did not like Gordon’s response to the Brigham Young manual being changed. I have examples of the Joseph Smith manual having word changes as well that didn’t place the words in bracketts. There is ZERO excuse for knowingly falsifying historical quotes and documents. I also did not like the claim of “objectivity” by FAIR. Objectivity is of course a myth that does not exist and see no reason why Gordon would have claimed something so obviously false.

  29. I think Rosemary’s last question/comment about “doctrine” really sums up the major issue in the Church: nothing is ever concrete. Elder Christopherson’s talk in the April 2012 conference highlights this when he said “it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that ‘a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.'”

    This is interesting when earlier in his talk he quoted J. Reuben Clark who said “[We] should [bear] in mind that some of the General Authorities have had assigned to them a special calling; they possess a special gift; they are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching of the people. They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church.”

    We are left to our own discernment and reason. When a prophet, seer, or revelator speaks, he could be speaking as a man or a prophet. We don’t know. That’s my main issue with the Church. In my mind it defeats the purpose of a prophet, seer, and revelator. It defeats the purpose of a restoration and new dispensation. It makes us no different than any other church or denomination on the earth.

  30. For those interested, I took a few minutes to check out the sources that Scott Gordon used in his presentation slide titled “Joseph Smith marriages.” I found it interesting (and ironic) that out of his two best citations, one was from a D. Michael Quinn Ensign article and the other was the New Era quoting the 2nd edition of Mormon Doctrine:

    • 2007 Lesson manual: Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith pages vii-xiii [This section specifically states that “This book also does not discuss plural marriage.” It goes on to say that Joseph taught the doctrine of plural marriage and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime, but never that he himself practiced the doctrine. This approach is typical of the FAIR approach to tough issues and the Church’s approach (i.e., skirting around a direct statement that Joseph himself practiced plural marriage]. I find this disingenuous to the members of the Church. If the Church never directly says Joseph himself had plural wives, how are we to know (even if he did reveal the doctrine)?]

    • Ensign, Aug. 1992, 30 [an excellent quote that Emma “would be required” to live plural marriage, but once again, no direct statement that Joseph did marry plural wives. Only that it “would be required.”]

    • Ensign, Jan. 1989, 43 [Joseph introduced the doctrine of plural marriage to Joseph Knight, but once again, not a statement that Joseph himself practiced the doctrine.]

    • Ensign, Dec. 1978, 42 [Somewhat ironic that the only citation used where it is explicitly stated that Joseph took a plural wife came from D. Michael Quinn. Gordon himself said that people like Dr. Quinn were not allowed to publish in FAIR due to FAIR’s “academic” approach in its writing. This quotation does state that the Whitney’s gave their daughter Sarah to Joseph as a plural wife.]

    • Ensign, Feb. 1977, 58 [“Starting during Joseph Smith’s own lifetime but limited to a few dozen families until its official announcement in 1852, plural marriage brought a powerful new challenge to the equanimity of Latter-day Saint family life.” No direct statement that Joseph himself took plural wives. I also find the reference to the “official announcement in 1852” for the advent of polygamy to be misleading to members—especially since Joseph may have been entering into polygamous marriages as early as 1831 (e.g., Fanny Alger).

    • New Era, Dec. 1973, 7 [This citation is especially interesting because it actually is the article quoting the 2nd edition of Mormon Doctrine. This source says that Noah restored the keys of the dispensation of Abraham, or as Elder McConkie says, the keys of celestial and plural marriage. I won’t get into how the Church has distanced itself from Elder McConkie’s book, only that it again does not specifically say that Joseph took plural wives (only that he received the keys to do so.]

    • D&C 132 [I find this to be the most veiled of all. I’m guessing that Gordon is referring to the statement that Emma “receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph.” If this is the reference that Gordon is referring to, then I also find this to be an indirect statement in regard to Joseph’s plural marriages.]

  31. Although no posts have been made for a while I still would like to contribute 2 cents on something mentioned in the videos that I don’t see commented on–whether or not social sciences can be a cause and not just a correlation for loss of faith or disaffection. I studied anthropology at Brigham Young University and the courses in that department were in fact the beginning of my questions (and for full disclosure I am still a church attending member but trying to navigate loss of faith). First, studying anthropology of religion led to the consideration of the diversity of religious experiences throughout the world and the role of enculturation and socialization in adopting any particular religious worldview, and these ideas led me to consider my own adoption of the mormon religion as being the result of experiences and feelings that reinforce that worldview in just the same way as I was taught those feelings and experiences would. Second, studying biological anthropology and archaeology led directly to questions regarding not only evolution (for which I see no conflict with mormonism) but the historicity of the Book of Mormon, DNA evidence, conflicting archaeological evidences, etc. Other courses could probably be mentioned. The BYU anthropology professors did not address the implications of the discipline’s scholarship on mormonism and it directly led to further investigation into these subjects and then other historical issues, as well as a devaluation and distrust of the feelings I once thought led me to “know” the church was true in the past. I’m wondering if my experiences are so unique since the presenters did not seem to recognize causation here.

  32. Guys, you need to correct your terminology. It was not African Americans who were banned from holding the priesthood; it was those with ‘negroid’ blood. Africans who lived in Africa were not even taught the gospel. Those with one drop of ‘negroid’ blood were in Brazil were not able to be full participants in church rituals including the priesthood and therefore the temple.

    You people from the USA just have this provincial attitude; this is the worldwide church. Extend you reach – please. Many Africans didn’t even know that black people had ever been banned from holding the priesthood until they go on missions and non-members or other missionaries inform them. How do you think they feel when they don’t know the truth and find it as missionaries.

    I’m an ex-Mormon who DOES indeed care about the African people because I served in Africa on our couple mission.

    My husband is still a member and I relate so much to the man John spoke of who thought of taking his life due to the pain that his wife was experiencing. My kids also felt pain and cognitive dissonance because I was the one who taught them about the church and enforced things I no longer believe. I was almost completely abandoned by two of my believing kids along with their spouses and kids.

    What is the church going to do about this?

  33. Wow, was this fantastic. I thought Dehlin did wonderfully, and it was a real pleasure to hear Rosemary Avance ask the hard and obvious question “How do you determine doctrine in the Church?”


  34. The statistic I found most disturbing about this entire presentation is that so many people who leave the LDS faith become atheist or agnostic. I have struggled with various issues in the Church for many years. Some were answered as better scholarship became available. Some became clear as I grew older and began to understand things I thought I knew when I was young and realized I had misunderstood. Some remain concerns today. But I could never doubt the existence of God. I’ve personally heard his voice not just felt the burning in the bosom the scriptures promise. I’ve also had numerous other spiritual experiences that leave me absolutely sure He exists. I am sometimes angry at Him or the leaders in the Church. Occasionally, very angry. But I remain very puzzled as to why so many seem to have had no personal experience with God. I will not say the knowledge came easily or cheaply for me. Like the scriptures teach, I fasted and prayed many days for the knowledge I gained. I struggled and sacrificed and some things took years to understand. In that regard it was no different from the knowledge I gained as I pursued my master’s degree in engineering. But when the witness came, it was unmistakable. You may never hear a voice or see a vision, but that does not mean others have not.

    1. Beth,
      I agree with you. They have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
      I have left the church but have not become atheist. I have had difficulty finding a new spiritual home because of this. However, I do understand those who become atheist. They view the use of emotions to determine truth as unreliable.

      Indeed, the powerful witness you speak of is, for them, an act of self-betrayal. (I have to admit, I am in this camp, also.)

      Therefore, they use raw facts to make all of their conclusions. Of all the people I know who have left fundamentalist beliefs, all of them are atheist, except for one, and he had a Near Death Experience. The rest said there is no scientific proof there is a god.

      I disagree. There a few books out there by very good scientists who speak of unexplainable things in the universe that point toward an intelligent creator. I look around myself and cannot believe in a happenstance creation or pure evolution: it is all evidence to me of a god of some sort.

  35. There is almost too much to comment on here.

    I really wish Rosemary would have labeled the escapist narrative as a Cognitive Response, not an Affective Response. Part of leaving a cult involves turning off your emotions to determine truth and turning on your brain to determine truth.

    It may shock many LDS, but there are many other groups out there that use emotions to determine truth and that have leaders who claim to be the mouthpiece of God. The terms and names may be different but the deceptions are the same.

    I also find it no coincidence that John and Rosemary are the two speakers who seem to be discussing and relating to real people. Scott seems to be approaching this from a “programs before people” view point. I am all too familiar with this, and am turned off by it (as a former Mormon). John is the only one who honestly presents the real life anguish those of us go through when leaving the church. That kind of validation is nice, especially since I have no one to go to for an apology, no one I can take legal recourse against, etc. I can only go on and heal the best I can on my own. I never felt this kind of hurt when I left Lutheranism for Mormonism–so I will make another jab by saying: this is another hallmark of a cult.

    Members of the church believe a person who leaves deserves this kind of pain. That is indeed what the father of my childen is teaching them.

    I was LDS for over 20 years. I lived my life on only church approved sources. When I read the “illicit” materials, they made more sense. FAIR and apologetics come across as insincere. The “anti-mormon” (insert “truthful”) sources, or “source material” as Scott puts it, fills in the gaps–gaps I knew were there all along, I just needed to find the filler.

    Apologetic articles, in my opinion and experience, create such twists and turns to make their point that they come across as ridiculous.

    Some TBM reading this will make a short and quippy TBM response to this entry. This person will try to make a mockery of my intelligence, experience and research. I have been on both sides of the fence, and my friend, you have not.

    In closing, the body of material amassed by reputable researchers, both LDS and not,is indeed enough to turn people away from the church. The fact that so much controversy and cover-up exist stands alone as proof of the fraudulent nature of the church. Apologists want to obsure it all by dazzling us with their detail. They somehow want to raise the idea of Jo Smith as a true prophet from these ashes like a pheonix. To this, I want to just say “Stop.” You cannot fool all of the people all of the time. And thankfully so.

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