Joseph Smith

Towards A Mormon “Hall of Fame” of Books

Reading has always been in my blood. I can distinctly remember being 9 years old, losing feeling in my arm, being propped up on my elbow while underneath the covers with a flashlight and a book, and quickly turning the light off and switching positions any time I heard my parents walking outside my bedroom door. I have vivid memories of blasting through the first 4 books of the Harry Potter series on vacation when I was 16 years old, a stack of John Grisham books when I was 17 (and on vacation), and countless others.

Reading is what also got me into a more intellectual/scholarly based look at religion, and Mormonism in general. I realized when I was on my mission that the correlated Deseret Book published books and materials just weren’t whetting my whistle. I wanted something with a bit more substance, a bit more meat, something to help me understand my religion a bit better. After I returned home, I took a break to decompress from my mission, but as I returned to college, I was excited to experience BYU-level religion classes. Little did I know that my classes would be glorified CES Institute classes, with the same milk-type lessons and stories I had heard from my youth.

As I explored the bloggernacle, I realized there were people out there looking for a similar dialogue. I found the main Mormon periodicals, and I started expanding my library aside from the “bestselling” Deseret Book items that left me wanting more.  My time in the online Mormon world has shown me that I’m not the only one that feels this sense of yearning for what is considered to be a “good” book for Mormon research. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked through blogs or Google with the search string “Essential Mormon Books,” or something along those lines.

More

Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist

Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist

Introduction
With the “I’m A Mormon” ad campaign recently hitting the shores of Australia, frequent Mormon Expression board commenter Martin Jacobs was prompted to consider it’s message in light of trends he sees emerging in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I found his analysis intriguing enough to merit stepping aside and letting him mount my soap box as a guest blogger.  I hope that you find his insights as  fresh, challenging, and thought provoking as I did when I heard them for the first time.

Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist
by Martin Jacobs
The tag line “I’m [insert name here], and I’m a Mormon” superbly clinches the current advertising campaign by the Mormons. However, I suggest that the message that it projects is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s not even the gospel of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith; it’s modernism. More

What’s Wrong With The Mormon Church?

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Introduction:
Today is October 31st, “Reformation Day”.  It was on this day 494 years ago that Martin Luther nailed “The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (commonly known as “The Ninety-Five Theses”) unto the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. “The Ninety-Five Theses” is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

And while readily acknowledging that I’m no Martin Luther, it is with a hopeful spirit for reformation in our lifetime that I offer these Ninety-Five Theses to a modern church that, in my opinion (as well as in the opinion of many others) is badly in need of it. More

Elder Callister’s Book of Mormon Bomb

Leave it to me to tear apart the easiest talk from last General Conference (GC) to be torn to shreds.  If you haven’t heard/read it, you probably shouldn’t.  Before I start picking Brother Tad apart, let me just say that I listened to a good part of GC, as I have twice a year for so many years.  I used to listen repeatedly to the talks on tape, and then on CD.  I could cite quotes from any talk.  I could tell you the order of seniority of the apostles.  I have still not forgotten many of the wonderful talks by President Hinckley.  I loved GC.

Unfortunately, I have hit a rough patch, very well characterized in the previous blog posts by Eric and Tierza.  Most of the time I feel like I have lost my confidence in the General Authorities.  They seem to be just men with more experience than I, who say cute things to make Mormons feel good about themselves (except for when they are trying to make you feel bad about yourself, to convince you to repent and use the atonement in your life). More

Mind Control 101: The Basics

I have always found Luna Flesher’s work on Mind Control to be particularly good. She has written many fine articles on the subject but I thought that one in particular might be a good preface for the next installment of “My Life As A Mind Control Cultist” series.  It has been only slightly edited for this context. Bon appetit!

Mind Control - ur doing it rong

Mind catrol – ur doing it rong akshully

Mind Control 101: The Basics
by Luna Flesher

Cult Conversion Walkthrough (Storytime!)
No one is immune from mind control. And contrariwise, mind control doesn’t always work. It takes the right combination of factors; specifically trust, common ideals, and receptivity.

Cults are a good place to study mind control because the changes they effect on people’s lives are extremely obvious.

Pretend for a moment you are having a difficult time in your life: a recent tragedy or major transition. Maybe you’ve just gone through divorce, lost a loved one, you’ve moved to a new town, or have recently been fired. You’re feeling alone, scared, depressed, ashamed, or desperate. More

My Life as a Mind Control Cultist Part 1

My Life as a Mind Control Cultist Part 1

Since none of you have never been in a Mind Control Cult, and I have been, I thought it might be instructive to help you all understand what it’s like.

Now I know what some of you may be thinking so let me set the record straight right now:
Contrary to popular rumor, I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More

Falsely Accused: My Life As An ‘Anti’

Well I’ve just found out that I’m an Anti-Mormon.
Boy am I surprised!

It all started with Facebook. Some Mormon family members saw some things in my newsfeed that they didn’t like and BAM! just like that I’m an Anti-Mormon.[1]

Well since it appears that I’ve been judged, labeled, and pigeonholed I’ve got some work to do – some “heavy lifting” penitence for my “sin” if you will! Specifically I need to answer the questions – the really big ones – that I think every Anti-Mormon, like myself, shoud ask:

1) Who am I?
2) Where did I come from?
3) Why am I here?
4) Where am I going?
(and, of course, if you have a filmstrip that will help me in my search for happiness . . . )[2]

Who am I?
Well, I thought that I was a Mormon Studies Scholar specializing in Mormon History and Culture. After all doesn’t the dictionary tell us that a scholar is:

schol·ar
[skol-er] –noun
1. a learned or erudite person, especially one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject.
2. a student; pupil.
3. a student who has been awarded a scholarship.

You see, studying Mormonism and interacting with Mormons and doing the same with non-Mormons involved in Mormon Studies is pretty much what I do, whenever I’m not doing anything else. It’s my passion. My joy. My calling. So I certainly qualify for #2.

#1, from what I’ve seen, always seems to be a matter of opinion depending on whether the work of the “learned or erudite person” is approved of by the person doing the assessment (“Yes, they are!”) or not (“What are you crazy? They’re clearly a hack!”). In my case I’m even “loopy” enough to publicly talk about and write on the results of my research with others. But apparently I’m no scholar since sometimes my work upsets people who disagree with it – especially True Believing Mormons. So that, apparently, automatically makes me an “Anti-Mormon” rather than a “Scholar”.

However, I suppose I should take some consolation in the fact that in recent years I’ve heard the following people labeled “Anti-Mormon” by True Believing Mormons:

– D. Michael Quinn
– Grant Palmer
– Gordon B. Hinckley[3]

And oddly enough these are all believing Mormons! So apparently even being a believing Mormon doesn’t immunize one from being an “Anti-Mormon”. In fact, I’m sure that if queried these men would all declare (as they have) that they have a profound and love and respect for the Mormon people, culture and history – and I echo those sentiments. So how then are we all “Anti”? To me, it’s both illogical and irrational.

So I can’t help but wonder if this, “I’m upset because I don’t like what you’re saying so you MUST be an Anti-Mormon!” is a validation of that infamous quote:

“All too often [Latter-day] Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.”
(“Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (2007 Edition)”; Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling; p. 115)

Where did I come from?
I’ve never been a Latter-day Saint but I’ve had Mormon family members and friends my whole life. I like them, I get along with them (at least I think I do), and I like to think that my main concern is my Mormon friends and family member’s best interests. Further, I can’t help but believe that what’s true for me is even more true for the distinguished gentlemen in the above list.

Never-the-less, I do have something else in common with all those men: I’ve criticized the LdS Church and suggested that all isn’t well in Zion. Yes, I have had the gall and the audacity to criticize “God’s perfect Church” and call it to account for I see as it’s deficiencies. In addition, I have this in common with all but one of them: Whenever I study and discuss Mormon History it’s alway True rather than Faithful Mormon History.[4] And since I have been on a quest to acquire and speak truth my entire life, I’m not inclined to give that up.

You see, to me, to present the white washed, spin-doctored view of the LdS Church that’s presented to the membership and the public as well as limiting one’s self to the “Faithful” history pontificated by the Church Educational System is akin to lying via omission or commission. Now I’m far from perfect but to the best of my ability I speak the truth as I see it, as I understand it, and as it’s aligned with the best available evidence – if that makes me an “Anti-Mormon” in the eyes of some . . . oh well!

Why am I here?
So how in the world did I get here at all? To answer that question we must “rewind” to the passing of Gordon B. Hinckley . . .

A Mormon family member sent out a mass email praising him and expounding on the time that he shook his hand. The “hook” that got me was when this normally rational, logical relative used these words, “When I looked into his eyes it was if I was he and I were the only people in the room – it was if I were looking into the eyes of Christ himself.”

That was wake up call #1.

Then a few months later Mitt Romney drops out of the Presidential race on the same week that the Wall Street Journal publishes an article revealing that most Americas consider Mormon beliefs troubling and thus would have second thoughts about having a Latter-day Saint as President of the nation.

Apparently the Mormon Leadership sent out some type of communique to the Wards about this article and Romney’s departure from the race because that Sunday that same Mormon family member sent out another email about how Mormons are just normal, average people and how we non-Mormons shouldn’t persecute them for their faith.[5]

That was bad.

What was worse when someone else in my family (who’s not Mormon) immediately replied with words of comfort and reassurance ending with, “… after all we all worship the same Christ”[6] I sat there stunned and realized that I wasn’t equipped to reply intelligently to either of these bright, intelligent, well read family members even if I wanted to.

So I resurrected my long dormant (it had fallen to the side decades ago due to pressure of finishing college, starting a career and raising a family) study of Mormonism and got to work.  Well to my shock and surprise I found that I had discovered a new passion: Mormon Studies.

I’m hooked.

My favorite Mormon Studies quote – and the one the epitomizes my philosophy and experience – comes from LdS Scholar Kathleen Flake who said:

“Superficially, one thinks of revealed religions as providing answers, and Smith provides as many questions as he does answers.

Nobody is exempt from struggling with who he is. Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, thinking about Smith causes you to struggle, and that struggle brings as much of you into the question as it does Smith himself.

He’s a bit of a religious Rorschach test.”
— KATHLEEN FLAKE, Historian
(from the PBS Series “The Mormons”)

That quote matches my experience to a “T”. I have been changed, I believe for the better, through the craft and discipline of Mormon Studies – it touches on everything and it stretches you everywhere! It’s funny that way. Further, I just find Mormonism downright fascinating in and of itself – period.

So, yes, Mormon Studies has become my “thing” – it’s what I really enjoy and, frankly, I seem to be pretty good at it. So, for better or worse, here I am pursuing what seems to be a unique gifting and doing the best that I can to steward that gift well. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but whatever happens I just keep learning, struggling, growing, and stretching.

Where am I going?
In addition, I see some good things in the LdS Church and I see even more in Mormon Culture. There’s also much – particularly in the former – that, in my opinion, is really, really bad and needs to change. Never-the-less I’m just crazy enough to believe that there must be a way to keep the good and jettison the bad. After all isn’t that what happened to the Worldwide Church of God?[7]

However, to get there from here the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from my perspective, must reform. And THAT, at least for me, is still a work in progress. That’s to say, it’s a work in progress for me because while I think I have an idea as to what end state might look like, I know that I’m not alone in this vision and I’m find the ideas and thoughts of others often more interesting than my own – hence the need for ongoing dialog.

I also know that time is on my side since the LdS Chuch keeps changing – and, it seems, usually for the better. Thus, I think that we will see a better more mainstream Mormon Church in 1-2 generations (that’s 40-80 years for those of you who are counting). That also means that I won’t be around to see it so I must be content to shoot arrows into the future via ideas carried on written words.

And you dear reader have just picked one of those arrows up. May I ask you to please carry it into the future for me? And if you do, on behalf of myself, my family, my Mormon friends, and my Mormon family members: Thank you!

And if anyone ever asks you where you got it from just say, “From some guy on the Mormon Expression website. I don’t know much about him – but I do know that he’s no Anti-Mormon!”

 

NOTES:
[1] Now those of you have listened to the recent “The History of Online Mormonism: The Board Wars” podcast will know what I mean by “the problem of Facebook”, for those who haven’t here’s the short version: The great thing about Facebook is that it connects us. The problem is sometimes, those connections can be ackward (as any teenager who’s had their Mom friend them on Facebook will tell you!)

[2] Yes folks, that was coded language. Link here to decode that great mystery!

[3] Yes, believe it or not, some Mormons consider Gordon B. Hinckley an Anti-Mormon. When John Dehlin reported this in an early episode of Mormon Stories I didn’t believe it either. That was, until I saw this YouTube page.

[4] The best discussion of the differences between “True” and “Faithful” Mormon History is “Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History” Edited by George D. Smith which can be read online here or purchased from Amazon here. Marvin Hill’s Dialogue Article, “The ‘New Mormon History’ Reassessed in Light of Recent Books on Joseph Smith and Mormon Origins” (Dialogue volume 21, number 3, p.117) is also a good short overview.

[5] Though I didn’t realize it at the time this was reflective of the infamous “Mormon persecution complex” which was described thusly in the first part of the aforementioned Mormon America quote:

“The thin-skinned and image-conscious Mormon can display immature, isolationist, and defensive reactions to outsiders, perhaps because there is no substantive debate and no “loyal opposition” within their kingdom. With some, it almost seems that the wilderness is still untamed, the federal “polyg” police are on the prowl, and the Illinois lynch mob is still oiling muskets and preparing to raid Carthage Jail. All too often Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.”
(“Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (2007 Edition)”; Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling; p. 115)

[6] Big topic. Controversial topic. However, I would encourage the reader to please consider the following articles from the critical perspective on this point:
What is the difference between the Mormon Jesus and the Jesus of the Bible?
Hinckley says Mormons Believe in a Different Jesus
The Biblical Jesus vs. the Book of Mormon Jesus
Is Mormonism Christian?: A Comparison of Mormonism and Historic Christianity
A Comparison Between Christian Doctrine and Mormon Doctrine
Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity

[7] A portal page on the Worldwide Church of God’s transition to mainstream orthodoxy can be found can here. It’s a fascinating and inspiring story. If the LdS church will go this way is anyone’s guess but I holding out hope that the answer is, “Yes!”

Revelation by Numbers: Introducing “The Joseph Smith Formula”

A Mona Lisa paint by numbersFor me, the Mormon Expression podcasts have a way of provoking thought and challenging me to “go deeper”.

For example, a recent podcast on D&C 8 and 9[1] contained an interesting analysis and spirited panel discussion on how Joseph Smith described and practiced the process of receiving revelation.

Going directly to the source:
“I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”

(D&C 8:2-3a)

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”
(D&C 9:7-9)

Well that sounds (like all the D&C revelations do) somewhat profound and quite spiritual when taken on it’s own at face value and in isolation. However, when all the revelations are taken as a whole, the Doctrine & Covenants meta-narrative seems to indicate that another dynamic was in play in each of the revelations. This is readily apparent in that they’re all rather formulaic and quite often repetitive. This is even more apparent when one reads them chronologically[2] not skipping over the headnotes, and still more apparent when you combine all that with a good understanding of True Mormon History.[3]

Specifically the pattern that emerges is:

R
=(c+d)t

Where:
R = Revelation

c = challenge

d = desire

t = threat intensity accelerator
(the bigger the threat the bigger, more grandiose, was the resulting R)

I’ve dubbed this pattern, “The Joseph Smith Formula”.

For example, let’s take a look at D&C 132, the infamous revelation sanctioning (more precisely, “mandating”) polygamy. Here is the official church headnote giving the historical context for this revelation:

“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded 12 July 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, and also the plurality of wives (see History of the Church, 5:501–7). Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.”
(link to source; retrieved date of post)

Take that and then factor in a good understanding of the true Mormon History that surrounded the coming forth of D&C 132[4] and here’s what emerges:

R = God requires the faithful to practice polygamy.

c = Emma Smith knows of Joseph’s adulterous affairs and isn’t happy with them.

d = Joseph Smith is having adulterous affairs (as are several Mormon Leader insiders), wants to continue them, and wants to have more.

t = Emma Smith might publicly expose Joseph’s adulterous affairs thus causing a scandal that could potentially under mind, even destroy the LdS Church.

Therefore the Threat Intensity Accelerator = is quite high in this case. In fact, I would say that on a scale of 1-10 it’s about an eight or nine, possibly even a ten. And as a result you get a long, rambling, grandiose revelation recast and delivered in the second person voice of God voice rather than the human author’s.

And you see this pattern again and again and again in Doctrine & Covenants. In fact, I would assert that one can take any alleged revelation in Doctrine & Covenants (including the Official Declarations) and this formula applies.

Pick a section and try it.

 

NOTES:
[1] Episode 139b: D&C 8 and 9 for Dummies Part One
http://mormonexpression.com/2011/06/07/139-dc-8-and-9-for-dummies-part-1/

Episode 139b: D&C 8 and 9 for Dummies Part Two
http://mormonexpression.com/2011/06/07/139b-dc-8-and-9-for-dummies-part-2/

The other podcasts on Doctrine & Covenants revelations as of the date of writing are:
Episode 118a: Polygamy Manifesto for Dummies Part 1
http://mormonexpression.com/2011/03/01/118a-polygamy-manifesto-for-dummies-part-1/

Episode 118b: Polygamy Manifesto for Dummies Part 2
http://mormonexpression.com/2011/03/01/118b-polygamy-manifesto-for-dummies-part-2/

Doctrine and Covenants 132 for Dummies Part 1
http://mormonexpression.com/2010/11/episode-95a-doctrine-and-covenants-132-for-dummies-part-1/

Doctrine and Covenants 132 for Dummies part 2
http://mormonexpression.com/2010/11/episode-95b-doctrine-and-covenants-132-for-dummies-part-2/

The Civil War Prophecy (D&C 87) for Dummies
http://mormonexpression.com/?p=588

[2] A Chronological Listing of D&C can be found at:

Doctrine & Covenants: Chronological Order of Contents
http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/chron-order?lang=eng

[3] I use the term “true Mormon History” here to distinguish and juxapose against the “Faithful Mormon History” that’s taught by the the LdS Church via it’s Church Educational System and many LdS Mormon Studies Scholars. See “Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History” Edited by George D. Smith; Signature Books, 1992; http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=10550 for a good primer on this topic.

[4] A good, short quick primer on the true Mormon History surrounding D&C 132 can be found in the aforementioned “Doctrine and Covenants 132 for Dummies Part 1” podcast or in the first few sections of the Wikipedia article on “Mormonism and Polygamy” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormonism_and_polygamy ) as well “The Wives of Joseph Smith” website (see http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/ )

The Cat is Officially Out of the Bag

It has been a while since I posted, I haven’t been magnifying my calling as a blogger very well apparently. I will try to do better.

Several weeks ago in Sunday School Class, the teacher was making some interpretations about Jesus that I didn’t think were correct. The dummy that I was, raised my hand and said, “but that interpretation means that Jesus enables us to sin.” I truly wanted a discussion to come from this and try to get the teacher to think a little more about what she was saying. However what happened was that there were some audible gasps from the rest of the class and my EQ Pres who was sitting next to me said, “you are just trying to stir the pot.” Well that comment made me sort of pissed. I determined to not go to Sunday School class and just sit in the foyer at least until I can learn to shut my trap and not raise these questions.

So last Sunday, I was sitting in the foyer, playing some inane game on the iPhone when the EQ Pres. came and sat next to me. “Al”, he said, “I noticed that you haven’t attended EQ class for the last while, what is going on?” Well I opened up on him with both barrels. I said “I just don’t think that anyone wants to hear what I have to say, so I am going to stay out here until I can learn to not get so mad when dumb things are taught”. He back peddled and said that everyone wanted to hear from me, and when I reminded him of the previous incident he just said “I didn’t mean that we didn’t want to hear from you”, I said, “then put me back as an Elder’s Quorum teacher”.

He: So what is really bothering you?
Me: I don’t believe all the things that are taught in here are “true”.
He: Like what?
Me: I don’t believe in pre-Columbian horses in America. I think the BoM is a work of fiction, not written solely by JS, but in concert with Harris, but mostly Cowdry. I think that Joseph Smith did some wicked things in his life and if we really believe that God would never lead the church astray, then the mob in Carthage was doing God’s work. I believe that JS was drinking that night and that if alcohol was so evil Jesus should have turned the wine into water to teach us a lesson. That the churches current prohibitions on it are only a remnant of the temporence movement during the turn of the century, and just like giving blacks the priesthood and recanting polygamy, wasn’t divine revelation, the church was just following the rest of the world. I think that Science has confirmed through DNA testing the Land Bridge Hypothesis and the Native Americans are decedent of Asians not Hebrews. I don’t believe that there was ever an Adam and Eve, nor a Global World Wide Flood, and that the Jews didn’t build the pyramids. I had all of these and more doubts (I served in the bible belt after all, and heard it all) but when I heard about the BoA and it’s falseness, it was the final blow to my testimony in JS, and that the Church is the one and only true gospel restored to earth in the later days.

He: Wow, so what about the priesthood, you believe in that don’t you? Are you planning to bless your son?
Me: I don’t believe that for a second that if I stand up that Sunday morning and bless him to find a beautiful wife to take to the temple, and go on a mission, and all of the rest of it, and I don’t train him up to go on a mission etc, that he will go. I also believe that the opposite is true as well. I have yet to see mountains move by the priesthood, I believe that penicillin has cured more people than the priesthood, and that Thomas Monson himself couldn’t cast AIDS out of a dying man’s body. That dribbling blessed oil on heads is as useful as a magic wand (shouts out to John Larson on that one).
He: So why do you still come?
Me: Because I think that the church creates a good community, most of the people here are good people, because it is a good place to serve and be served. Because this is my tribe, I was raised Mormon and these are my people. So I plan to keep coming at least in the near-term, and take the best from Mormonism. I will be a cafeteria Mormon.
He: What do you want for your children?
Me: I want my children to be happy. I want them to know truth. If my daughter knows both sides of the story of Mormonism and still chooses to go to the temple and serve a mission and that makes her happy, then I will support her. But what I want most of all is for her to know that she doesn’t have to believe in mormonism, which was something that was never given me as I grew up. That she can leave all this behind her and that I will still love her. But what I don’t want is for her to be in a 15 year marriage with someone that thought that he had married someone that was going to help him into the celestial kingdom and then find out about the BoA, and have it crash a marriage.
He: So what do you want from the church? Do you still want to have and hold callings?
Me: Sure, as long as it isn’t missionary related, I will do most anything.

And that is where we left it. I told my wife the conversation, she wasn’t pleased. She doesn’t think that we can have friendships in the church with someone who openly doesn’t believe. I concurred that it is possible that we will be shunned, but that I didn’t think so. I also said that if they don’t allow me to bless my baby this fall, that it will probably mark the end of my active participation.

So I guess we will sit back and see what happens now. I am waiting for the phone call from the Bishop. I will keep you posted as this moves forward.

-Defiantly wearing a non-white shirt

Big Al

The Quotes That Haunt Me

I openly confess that I am by nature somewhat of a contrarian.  I like to argue just for sport.  Therefore, in a forum such as Mormon Expression, I feel a very strong pull toward playing the apologist role, since my impression is that the majority of followers of ME are non-believers in the LDS Church.  I realize that this attitude is dangerous, as people will call my motives and sincerity into question.  But I hope what I say here will come across in a sincere way.

At times, I have been accused of lacking integrity because my beliefs in the church are nuanced, and I have not just thrown up my hands and said, “it’s all a lie.”  Yet I still want to be understanding, and try my honest best to have an open dialogue with those who do not share my beliefs, whether Mormon, ex-Mormon, or never-Mormon.  While I have many doubts and questions myself, I find value in maintaining as healthy a relationship as possible with the church of my upbringing.  I have done my best to be honest with my family and leaders, and they still consider me a faithful, temple-recommend-worthy, member of the church. More

Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration – my review, part 1

This past weekend I was in Utah with my family for a sealing.  On Saturday I found myself in the new and very worldly-appearing Deseret Book store across from Temple Square with a $50 gift card still left over from Christmas.  I sometimes wish I could just walk into a store and ask the clerk to give me $50 in exchange for the gift card so I could actually go buy something I actually wanted somewhere other than Deseret Book.  But I picked out a few things for the kids here and there, and eventually was able to be done with that Christmas gift money spending.  Among the purchases, I decided to buy a new Doctrine and Covenants DVD set that includes, among thousands of other goodies and gems (and only for $4.50 for a limited time!!), the video of “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration” that has been shown in the Legacy Theater for several years now. More

Dissecting Joseph

Despite the fact that I consider myself quite unorthodox among LDS folk, for some reason I still find myself falling into a defensive stance when I hear too much criticism of the church.  And although I tell myself that I won’t put on my apologist hat in defense of certain things (Joseph Smith, Mountain Meadows, Prop. 8), I sometimes still want to at least cut the church some slack.  I suppose it is my way of trying to explore whether I can still find a niche among LDS believers.

At the same time, while I genuinely enjoy mingling with the masses of those who have left the church but still feel a mormon connection, I feel I run into the same problem that made me question my initial faith convictions in the first place – a few people who tend to demonstrate very little empathy toward those with different beliefs.  While I may not ever be able to go back to my affirmations about certain aspects of the church (and sometimes admittedly I still wish I could), I can still try to understand and be fascinated by what it is about people that makes them cling to one belief or another.

In that spirit, and at the risk of sounding like an all-out apologist, I want to explore a few reasons why Joseph Smith still appeals to me, and why I can (sort of) understand why Latter-Day Saints feel such loyalty toward their founding prophet.  Before I do, I want to assure you that even though I may not be as well-read as some out in cyberspace, I feel pretty comfortable saying I have basically covered my bases when it comes to Brother Joseph.  From polygamy, to narcissism, to accusations of homosexual behaviors, I think I have seen most of what is out there.  I am not really invested in trying to outweigh certain problematic issues with the positive to somehow prove that Joseph was a prophet.  The only issue I raise with some of the accusations is they tend to be rather one-sided, sometimes overly presumptuous and they only tell part of the story of a very complex individual.  I am aware that this could be controversial among this audience, but one of my interests in participating in this community is to see if we can somehow find common ground among those in and out of the church, whether we agree or disagree on particular issues. 

I started down this road of thought as I read Emma Smith’s affirmation in Mormon Enigma, where decades after the death of her husband she still said she believed that the work he did was inspired.  While I know this doesn’t prove anything, I am fascinated with thinking about what might motivate Emma to continue to validate Joseph’s prophetic calling.  Maybe it was important for her to do so because of her membership in the RLDS faith since that congregation still also believed in their Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling.  I am sure there is no real clear answer, but it is intriguing to consider that the person who was probably closest to Joseph, who knew all his flaws and shortcomings, who had to endure her husband’s polygamous relationships, still appeared to remain loyal to him many years after his death. 

It seems like when people lose their faith in the church, one of the first fundamental elements of testimony that crumbles is a belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet.  Once people learn about all of the tough issues, he gets pilloried with all sorts of criticism and anger.  Having said that, even if we find a way to discount someone like Emma, I think it is possible to at least admit that if she could remain loyal for whatever reason, then there are at least have to be some reasons out there that people find a connection with Joseph.  It seems since he has been dead for over 160 years, sometimes we want to over scrutinize and criticize every possible angle after the fact.  As he himself predicted, he was and still is a very controversial figure to consider.  Ironically enough, this is the first thing I appreciate about the man – that we can approach him as a three-dimensional person.  And I don’t even like 3D.  I think it is a rip off.  But in contrast to our prophets and apostles today, who publicly seem to be one-dimensional carbon copy duplicates of one another, I am thankful that over the course of time, we have been able to scrutinize Smith’s failings as well as his triumphs. 

No doubt Joseph said some very grandiose things, and he had a vision that was so expansive that it really could amount to a big mess if you actually wanted try to put it all together.  But I think in spite of his sweeping language he still took time to make it fairly clear that he was still just a man doing the work of God.  I am not going to say he was full of humility, but in comparison with our current leadership, at least we can see some of his “humanness.” 

Next, I believe that for many people the idea that angels and visions can come to someone in the present day is a very validating belief.  In this regard, Joseph obviously did not disappoint.  The idea that Moroni appeared to him or that he got the priesthood from Peter, James, and John may seem ridiculous to many.  But for those who actually have faith in literal bibilical stories and events, they give at least a glint of hope that maybe those things can happen today.  With the PR-conscious nature of the church today, the best we can get is the idea that “I’m not saying I haven’t seen Jesus, but if I have, it is too sacred for me to share anyway.”  I doubt Joseph Smith would have discouraged anyone from trying to participate in the same revelatory experiences that he claimed to experience.  As I’ve said, though this may seem problematic for some, for those who still want to hold to the faith that the supernatural can comingle with us, someone who openly shares such experience helps affirm that faith. 

In addition, regardless of the historicity or authorship problems with relation to the Book of Mormon, Joseph was still instrumental in bringing forth a very important book of scripture to what has become presently a  fairly vast audience.  This is significant just because it is a very unique accomplishment.  Maybe some feel there is nothing of value in the book and that it is just another book made up by a devious individual or group of people.  But there just aren’t many books out there that claim to be on the level of the bible that I am aware of that have become as notable as the Book of Mormon.  Maybe the Book of Mormon is not “the most correct book” like Joseph claimed, who knows?  Maybe the Christ that the LDS church teaches today is very distinct from the mainstream Christian conception of Jesus.  But the Book of Mormon itself has many valuable teachings of Christ that many times are  in line with the bible.  For those who still maintain a faith in the authenticity of the story of Jesus, I still think the Book of Mormon can be a valuable resource. 

Finally, I am personally interested in Joseph’s ideas and attempts at creating a communal society on earth that he wanted to call ‘Zion.’  I recognize that the saints never really came close to meeting whatever may have been Joseph’s ideal, but it is still a concept that captivates me.  Is the world just a mess and that is just the way it is, or is there a system out there that could vastly improve the human condition?  Would Joseph be in agreement with the pro-capitalism church today?  Would his ideas if correctly implemented ever really work?  I guess we’ll find out in the Millennium, right? 

I realize that this submission seems to be a terribly weak take on obvious points related to Joseph Smith.  I am sure there are about 25 holes in each of the arguments I’ve put forth (besides the ones I’ve already admitted).  Maybe I am just throwing this out there in contrast to our prophets today, who compared to Joseph Smith don’t seem very prophetic at all.  But I hope you will be forgiving of my attempt to explore some of the possible ways that true believers  can somehow reconcile their faith with their knowledge that Joseph Smith was far from perfect.  I  suppose I am just trying to be a voice for the believing side, even if I don’t evenfeel like I am on their side.  I admit I am definitely not a scholar like Bushman.  I am not a zealot like Mike (Tannehill), and I am definitely not as funny as Glenn.  I am just curious if any of these points or others that I have ignored are worthwhile at all, even to someone who is out of the church.  Is this even worth trying to discuss, or is this argument lost in oblivion?  Is there anything redeeming in the Joseph Smith story, or in the man’s characteristics and history?  Can we allow that many still genuinely believe these ideas, and that the result of such belief can have a positive outcome, depending on how that belief is approached?  I  say “yes,” regardless of whether he was a ‘true’ prophet or not.  But that may just be me being the contrarian that I often like to be.