Date: October 12, 2019 10:06PM
A Letter to an Apostle
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 sincere hope he might take the time to respond to several specific concerns I had about the truth claims of the Mormon church.
Uchtdorf was my choice, as I viewed him as one of the few General Authorities that might have the intelligence and courage to attempt 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.
Considering the age and the tenure of the 'Brethren,' they must all be painfully aware of the many problems, contradictions and inconsistencies vis-à-vis the truth claims of the Mormon church, as well as the myriad accusations of corruption, dishonesty, and immorality leveled at the church's founder Joseph Smith Jr.
I can accept that the senior leadership of the church has no answers beyond those they encourage their apologists to propagate; but as the 'Hofmann Affair' well illustrates, they are no doubt privy to information and inculpatory documents that may help complete the picture.
As we now know, when a series of murders in Salt Lake City revealed a web of conspiracy and deception leading to the presidential archives. During the trial of the bomber, Mark Hofmann, it emerged that the general authorities had become involved in the purchase of documents which cast considerable doubt on the canonical version of Joseph Smith's career and that of the early church. Although the papers were finally exposed as forgeries, all evidence suggested that church apostles were involved in their purchase in the belief they were genuine, hoping to keep them away from public scrutiny.
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 provides them; or is it about ego and avarice, ignited by all the bowing and scraping of lesser beings on the Wasatch front?" 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 the apostles all learn within a year or two of being called that the Mormon church is a fraud.
Did Palmer's insider lying, deluded, had an axe to grind; or was he simply mad as a March hare? He wouldn't, after all, be the first general authority for whom any of these adjectives would be apropos. Who knows? However, 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 doubt that Grant was telling the truth.
Notwithstanding the cynical view this anecdote suggests, I think it's 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 served 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 in today's church but stirringly human. If this good man said he believed the Mormon church was true, I don't doubt that he genuinely believed it.
Are brother Brown's personal beliefs enough to convince one that the Mormon church is true? Of course not, but perhaps one should keep the declaration that Palmer's anonymous general authority makes in perspective.
But let's put this aside for a moment, for all is not well in Zion. I suspect that there have never been so many people abandoning the church since Joseph's Kirtland crisis of 1837.
In a recent article by Jana K. Riess, a writer on American religion entitled, "The Next Mormons," she indicates proportionately why members today are leaving the LDS church.
Her work shows 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 the overwhelming DNA evidence showing absolutely no Hebrew nexus with the aboriginal peoples of North America; but one-third, over 30%, reported that they left because they could not trust the leadership of the church to tell the truth.
Clearly, the church's current raison d' être, fails on several fronts.
One is that the church sees open, honest dialogue as a real and present danger.
Perhaps it is that they recognize that a sure way to dismantle a bogus narrative is by publicly attempting to answer honest questions. I don't think it is unfair to say that the 'Brethren' have always been on the defensive when it comes to dissent. Their fear is reflected in such Orwellian avowals as, "Not everything that is true is useful," or "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 Hinckley, having written in the first issue of dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 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."
Boyd K. Packer, incidentally, rebuked Arrington's remarks on behalf of the church with this, "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 Hinckley at his word and delved into that 'open book,' he speaks of, and I am troubled by what I find on its pages.
In this letter, I pose what, from my perspective, are the most important unanswered questions and fundamental problems relating to the historicity of Mormonism, its foundational claims and the Joseph Smith story itself.
I am asking questions and providing commentary, and, while often difficult, I try not to share my conclusions about the truth claims of the Mormon church.
I have also attempted to be fair and balanced, presenting the most intelligible rebuttals that FairMormon, the LDS church's leading cadre of apologists have published regarding my interrogatories. I hope that this methodology might help others, who, like myself, are experiencing honest doubts, or a crisis of faith to answer Freddie Mercury's question, "'Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?
I make no apologies for seeking the truth. The Second Epistle of Peter warns us that, 'In their greed teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories." This warning comes from the man Simon, son of Jonah, a true Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ who He renamed Peter.
The Lord himself warned, 'take heed that no man deceives you.' We have a lot of deceivers today, as the Lord teaches,'many false prophets will rise and deceive many.'
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.'
I have never had, nor do I now have an agenda beyond a genuine search for truth, nor am I animated by the comforting but self-serving motivations that Mormons often jump to when someone leaves or begins to question their church:
1. Someone gave offense: No one hurt me, I love and respect my friends and family, many of whom are committed members. Everyday Latter-day Saints are good and kind people, most of whom are living honorable lives.
2. A desire to sin: I am 72 years old as I write this, so it's a little late for that!
3. Never had a testimony in the first place: Wrong again, I would not have served in various callings, paid a small fortune in tithing and attended the temple if I had not at one time believed?
4. Lazy, not reading the scriptures: I love the Bible, particularly the New Testament and I read it often; admittedly the Book of Mormon, not so much.
5. Seduced by anti-Mormon literature: Hardly, it is easy to identify those who hate and those whose purpose is to destroy. I would not consider writers and researchers such as Richard Bushman, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Fawn Brodie, B. H. Roberts, Dan Vogel, Thomas Murphy or Grant Palmer anti-Mormon merely because they have dared to question.
In truth, I have great affection for the Mormon people. But Mormons are not a virtuous people. In the Greek virtuous (ενάρετο) does not mean good, it means courageous, it connotes someone who has the audacity to stand up to authority, who demands personal freedom and who questions the status quo. And, if you will forgive me, Mormons are not that. They are largely a servile and tractable lot. Conformity has replaced courage and obedience has replaced inquisitiveness.
This is why during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when men and women of good will in this country were marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. seeking equal human rights for ALL of God's children. When we saw Catholics, Protestants, Jews, even human secularists display the courage to speak up, we did not hear from Mormons. Rather, they bowed to their prophet and apostles who continued to preach discriminatory and hateful racist doctrines and policies harming persons of color.
The supposed apostle of Jesus Christ, Ezra Taft Benson, later to become president of the LDS church, was one of the Mormon hierarchy's most strident voices against the national crusade for African-American civil rights. Benson's Negrophobic rhetoric intensified after the federal Civil Rights Act was ratified. In 1965 and 1967, stating 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.
In 1966, the NAACP issued a statement criticizing the Mormon church, saying the church "[had] 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."
I think this Mormon mindset, obedience over reflection 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, says in his book, Moroni and the Swastika, "Mormons were not just tolerant of Hitler [they were] downright enthusiastic about his policies."
Bad ideas, lies and deception need to be attacked without mercy. Nonetheless I must tell you that the one thing that gave me pause in writing this examination is the sad truth that when people leave Mormonism, as they are in great numbers today, they often leave religion altogether. 'Once bitten twice shy.' This greatly disturbs me as I do not want my writing to lead anyone away from the Lord Jesus Christ and His true Gospel.
But the fact is, one need not read anything beyond the church's 'scriptures,' or the history of the church, or articles published in church periodicals or the writings of Joseph Smith to come face-to-face with myriad problems and logical inconsistencies that even a cursory examination readily uncovers.
There are many beautiful things in Mormon culture. How can anyone brought up in the LDS Church not be touched by historical hymns, such as 'Come, Come, Ye Saints,' 'We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet,' or 'The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning .'
Many sincere men and women within the LDS church taught me as a child 'the truth' as it was taught to them. I honor them as I do my mother and father who lived and died faithful members of the church who brought our little family from Ireland to 'Zion' like thousands before them.
I genuinely wish that the Mormon church is what it purports to be, 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.
I truly feel that you can live a full and happy life as a faithful, committed Latter-day Saint. Obedient to the commands and admonitions of the prophet, avoiding anything, everything that the Brethren and your local leaders warn are not faith-promoting.
But some of us believe that it is important, regardless of the discomfort, and heartache it may bring, to reject the siren call of self-delusion; to seek a reality not based solely on emotion and warm feelings.
Faith is 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 at the best of times. Faith in the Almighty can help us get through; for it provides us with the knowledge, deep down within us, that things will get better. It can provide the courage to take the next step, even when we can’t see the staircase below.
But God also 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.”
Humble reasoning is a vital and reliable mechanism for obtaining religious knowledge and theological truth. Religious beliefs acquired using reason as well as belief are the more likely to be true.
So no matter how appealing Joseph Smith's carefully crafted and oft-revised 'Plan of Salvation,' might sound, it must be authentic, it must be true, designed by Deity and not merely the musing of an imaginative, ambitious, and libidinous' ploughboy prophet.'
Sadly, I have found that the more I have learned of the church's true historicity, and the more I have come to know the real Joseph Smith, not the carefully constructed untarnished Joseph Smith the church has so successfully designed, the more conflicted I have felt.
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."
There is a wonderful allegory in Book Seven of Plato's The Republic often referred to as 'Plato's Cave.' It tells the story of men held prisoner, chained and shackled such that they cannot look to their left, their right or behind themselves; rather they can only see forward at the wall directly in front.
Behind them is a blazing fire and between them and the fire a corridor along which men walk carrying statues, tools, and other large objects. All that the prisoners can see, however, is the shadows of the objects that are projected on the cave wall in front of them.
Some older prisoners, 'the elders,' have developed explanations as to what these shadows represent; what their meaning is.
One day, a prisoner is released. Now free to wander the cave, he sees the fire, and objects carried in front of it. This former prisoner comes to understand the origins of the shadows, and to his amazement, he sees that the shadows were often misinterpreted. He hurries back to share with his fellow prisoners the true meaning of the shadows, what the truth is. But rather than welcome and embrace this new knowledge, his former friends ridiculed him, particularly the elders, who even seek to take his life.
Finally, the freed prisoner is let out of the cave into the world beyond, a world filled with radiant sunshine where he can now see the fullness of reality illuminated by the brilliance of the sun.
You and I are like those prisoners. We see as it says in Corinthians, through a glass darkly. We live in a world where, like the prisoners, our knowledge is imperfect; a world of conjecture and illusion.
Some 'elders' presume to know what the shadows mean, but they too are prisoners, and their shackles as firmly in place as our own.
I don't presume to be that prisoner freed from his chains who now longs to share the truth as only he can see it. I am a fellow prisoner, viewing the shapes and shadows on the wall, but seeking the truth by asking those questions that the 'elders' hope are never asked.
We will all leave the cave one day and will discover in that day, as we enter that new world filled with that dazzling brightness of truth that our lives have been spent wisely engaged in a worthy cause, or that we have been well-meaning but credulous dupes, desiring so much to feel good about our present and our future, to feel safe, that we had become victims of an attractive fraud.
I hope that this letter and the research supporting it might provide greater clarity regarding the shadows that animate your actions and beliefs, that there may be credible alternative interpretations to those presented by your elders.
This study may very well cement your testimony as you face the greatest problems with the current LDS narrative and choose to still embrace the explanations and excuses proffered by the church and her apologists as being altogether reasonable and acceptable.
Or it might lead you to a place where you discover that your knowledge and the breadth of understanding based on what you have been taught is far less than perfect, complete or even true. That there is much more to the Joseph Smith story than the carefully constructed and sanitized story that you have been presented within Sunday school, priesthood meeting, relief society or by those fresh-faced missionaries.
So, let me end this preface with a warning. There is a great line delivered by Jack Nicholson in the film, "A Few Good Men," wherein goated by the prosecutor's withering cross-examination, Nicholson's character shouts, "The truth, you can't handle the truth."
So, read ‘A Letter to an Apostle’ at your peril, because once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you will never get it back in again.
Paul A. Douglas