My Story by Bulldog Sep 2001

Thoughts on Mormonism

The beginning.

There have been some people who have asked why I have given up on the
religion that I grew up with. That’s a good question and it deserves a
thoughtful answer. Had you asked me that question a couple of years ago I
would have shrugged and said that I just didn’t feel it in my heart anymore.
That was true then and it’s true now but there have been some events in
between then and now that have compelled me to give that question more
systematic consideration.

The details of those events that caused me to reexamine my position on
religion are unimportant. It should be sufficient to say that there was a
woman involved. Isn’t there always? What is important is that I made a
focused effort to investigate the matter and have settled the question in my
own mind. There are two reasons that I decided to write this piece. First
and most importantly, I need a place to sort out the information that I have
gathered and put it into some kind of coherent form. Secondly, this will act
as my statement to anyone who might be curious about why I have detached
myself from Mormonism. I think that some of the things written here are
fairly powerful but I must stress that I haven’t set out to try to persuade
anyone to follow my lead. Each of us has to find our own way. I’ll talk more
about that idea as I get deeper into the material. Please remember that this
is written chiefly for my own benefit.

When I decided to look more closely at the church again my investigation
came in two phases. It wasn’t planned that way, it just developed that way
on it’s own. The first phase was to dig into the history of the church. I’ve
had more than a passing interest in general history for a long time. I read
a lot of stuff that most people would find pretty boring, but LDS church
history was too boring, even for me. When I finally decided to dive into
this study it proved eye opening and it served to give me a much better feel
for the way things were done during those first few decades of the church’s
existence. I concentrated my reading to the life and times of Joseph Smith.
Obviously he is the single most important figure in Mormon history. I
thought about studying Brigham Young. His contributions are numerous and
profound. They are still influential even today but I was more interested in
the beginnings of Mormonism.

The second phase was to take a long look at the Book of Mormon. I have read
it half a dozen times as a younger man. At that time I was much more
disposed to believe it and believe what the church says about it. I have to
make a confession here. When I decided to study the Book of Mormon I was a
little intimidated. In my younger days I was a fan of Hugh Nibley. If you
are familiar with who he is, you know that his writings are the standard by
which all other Mormon apologists are judged. He has spent his life
defending the Book of Mormon and Mormonism. He makes some persuasive
arguments in favor of the church. To my mind, his writings provided powerful
intellectual arguments for the Book of Mormon. If I was going to be honest
and open minded about the possible outcome of my study then I had quite a
potential dilemma on my hands. My heart just isn’t into being LDS anymore so
if I decided that the Book of Mormon was really scripture I would have to
change my ways and start attending church again despite my lack of
enthusiasm for doing so.

I thought that one very good thorough reading would be sufficient for me to
make a decision about the book. I read it once, took a bunch of notes as I
read, and considered its contents. After the first reading I had more
questions than answers so I read it a second time. This time, just for
accuracy, I read the 1830 edition, again going very slowly and taking quite
a few notes. I’m glad I took the time to read it again. During the second
reading I reached a conclusion about the Book of Mormon that I hadn’t even
initially considered as a possibility. I’ll get to that conclusion in due
course. I’d like to begin by talking a little about my connections with the

I grew up in Mormonism and have nothing but fond memories of the church
during my youth. I served an honorable mission and when I got home I had
every intention of living the rest of my life by the teachings of the
church. A few years after coming home I felt a need to revitalize my
dedication to Christ. I was struggling with a few minor areas of the church
and I thought that if I could accomplish this rededication I would have the
strength to work through my problems. I did what any practicing Mormon would
do when faced with this sort of challenge. I decided to fast and pray about
it. The first time I tried this I felt no feeling at all regarding my
concerns. Knowing that some things need to be worked for and that all things
are a test, I tried the same procedure a couple of more times. I got the
same results. I didn’t have any kind of feeling one way or the other. I took
an assessment of my spiritual disposition. I felt my heart was in the right
place. By that I mean that I wanted to do what the Lord would have me do. I
also felt that I had been on the alert for anything that might be the Lord’s
way of answering my prayers. I still came up with nothing.

The church teaches that when one is wrestling with a question a person must
take as much personal responsibility as possible for finding the answer.
This means working out the problem on your own as best you can and then
seeking divine guidance as to whether or not you’re on the right track. The
more I rolled the situation over in my mind, the more I began to feel like I
was spinning my wheels in the church. The more I thought about the church,
the less comfortable I felt being a part of it.

The Mormon Church is a very active organization. You can’t just show up for
services each week and be done with it. Since it has a lay clergy, most
everybody gets a chance to be a leader at one time or another as people
cycle through various positions over the years. In that respect the church
makes some substantial demands on its members. Since there is not a big
division between the leadership and the other congregates it has an
admirable egalitarian quality, at least on a local level. But in order to
rise up to all that the church asks you to do you need to be truly converted
to the cause. I found myself becoming less and less willing to do all those
things that were asked of me. Finally I decided that since my heart wasn’t
in it, that I should drop out, at least for a while.

That isn’t as easy to do as you might expect. The moment people around you
realize that you are drifting away you start to become the focus of their
attention. Family and church leaders ask pointed questions about why you
aren’t attending church. In my case all I could do was say that I needed
some time to sort things out. Invariably everybody told me that the place I
needed to be was in church. That was the one place that I didn’t want to be.
It was hard to communicate to those people that I needed to take a step away
from the church. I don’t fault any of those people who had (and still have)
genuinely good intentions and concern for my eternal welfare.

For years the question of the church was an unsettled issue. It wasn’t an
overwhelming preoccupation but it was always there on the back burner. When
certain events motivated me to rethink my position on religion I came away
from the whole episode even more comfortable with myself being detached from
the church. However, it isn’t that simple. In addition to simply considering
the material that a person might study, one must also take into account his
or her motivations for undertaking an investigation in the first place.

Each of has an identity that we project to the world. Without really
intending to do so, we spend a considerable portion of our emotional capital
on defining and reinforcing our identity. In my own case, part of that
identity includes being outside of the Mormon Church. It’s a part of how I
see myself and the image that I project to others. So when I write a lengthy
piece like this, I’m protecting the intellectual and emotional investment in
my identity. The same can be said for someone who is actively involved
within the church. An active member will invest substantial time, effort and
money into the church. The down side is that the more you invest into that,
or any identity the more vital it becomes that the identity be a valid one.
Nobody wants to commit so much of what they are into a flawed cause so our
minds work hard to defend our actions. What it boils down to is that our
self-interest tends to color our opinions and rationalizations. I know
that’s not news. But it’s important to sometimes take a reminder about how
many hurdles are in the way of true objectivity. Having a totally objective
view of a given situation is extremely tough when one is personally involved
in it. For example, it’s easy to be clear headed, rational and full of sage
advice when you discover that an acquaintance has a spouse who is cheating
on them. It’s a totally different animal when it happens to you.

All of us have a number of barriers built right into our minds that make
impartial investigations for the truth a difficult endeavor. We tend to have
preconceived conclusions. We have an enormously hard time stripping away our
interpretations of how we think things should be in relation to how they
really are. I’m not above that and anybody who says they are is kidding
themselves. It’s especially hard to be objective about religion. On no other
subject do emotions run so deep nor can sensibilities be so quickly
offended. I’ll be honest. I set out to find fault with the church. I found
what I was looking for. A legitimate question is to ask that if I had set
out to convince myself of the truthfulness of the church, would I have found
all the evidence I needed to adopt that position? I think that I would have.
So what does all this mean? It means that we are imperfect people who are
struggling with difficult questions. It also means that enlightenment about
complex subjects like religion and spirituality is more a journey than a

When I started my study of church history I was a little taken aback by how
much I didn’t know. I’m sure that a part of that is because I have not been
attending church for more than a decade but a part of that is also due to
the fact that I believe the church would prefer that some of the more
uncomfortable parts of its past be ignored and forgotten. That’s a dangerous
path. It’s dangerous because those things that you wish would stay hidden
seldom do. Especially today when information can be so easily disseminated,
living in a state of denial is building on a sandy foundation. If I have a
criticism of the church I would chide it for the way it has dispensed such a
tightly filtered and rose-colored history. To assume that the church
population cannot be trusted to deal with raw history is an insult to the
intelligence of the membership and smells like condescension. If your only
sources for church history is the history class it teaches every 4 years in
Sunday School or the books at LDS bookstores, you will have a very distorted
perspective of the past. Everything from these sources should have a bright
red banner across the front that reads “Sanitized for Your Protection.”

A lot of the stuff I found was really just funny trivia and off the wall
quotes and events. Brigham Young was quite a character. He once withheld the
sacrament from the entire church for 6 months. He also instituted a kind of
segregation where men and women sat on separate sides of the chapel during
meetings with the children on the front pews. I can’t resist including a
quote from him that is dated 1858. “When a man married a wife he took her
for better or worse, and had no right to ill use her, and if she shit in bed
and laid in it till noon, he must bare it until he gets power over her to
learn her better.” He once called slavery “a divine institution” that would
not be revoked until the curse of Ham (dark skin) had been removed. Brigham
was an autocrat at heart. Before my reading into the history I had no clue
as to how much the church controlled Utah territorial politics. It didn’t
just influence politics, it dictated politics without even a courtesy nod to
pluralism. Now days it maintains a staunch apolitical stance on most issues
and is a champion of democracy. That’s quite a switch. It was not until the
church was led by Brigham Young that the general membership received the
temple endowment which is necessary for exaltation. During Joseph Smith’s
life there was a “quorum of the anointed” but they were a tiny and exclusive

The items in the above paragraph are not terribly important issues in terms
of the larger questions about the validity of the church. You have to allow
for a man, even a prophet, to be human. Sometimes, especially in the case of
Brigham, they’re going to do some unexpected things. I mention these little
tidbits because, despite being fairly mild details, it’s hard to imagine
them ever finding their way into a Relief Society or Priesthood lesson
manual. Even with pretty harmless stuff there is a mindset that “if you
don’t stir the water, the mud won’t rise.” In my reading I have come across
some people, even some high ranking officials in the church, who have taught
that it isn’t always a good idea to go poking around in church history. The
rational for this kind of thinking is that you may stumble across some
things that are not conducive to the spirit or faith promoting. This is a
prime illustration of how self-interest can sway a rationalization to
protect an identity.


I’d like to discuss the most well known blemish on the face of church
history. Of course I’m speaking about polygamy. Although everybody knows
that the church used to practice plural marriage it still is not a very well
understood topic. Polygamy finds most of its theological foundation in
section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

“(1) Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch
as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord,
justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and
Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having
many wives and concubines- (2) Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and
will answer thee as touching this matter. (3) Therefore, prepare thy heart
to receive and obey the instructions, which I am about to give unto you; for
all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same. (4) For
behold, I reveal unto you a new and everlasting covenant; and if you abide
not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant
and be permitted to enter into my glory.” (D&C 132:1-4)

After the Lord tells Joseph that he will speak about the principle of having
many wives and concubines he says that now that we have this greater
knowledge, we are accountable to live this law or be damned. Continuing on
after verse 6 the next several verses talk about the binding powers given to
men by the Lord. Then it shifts gears a little and the discussion seems to
be focused on monogamous relationships.

Then it says: “(38) David also received many wives and concubines, and also
Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the
beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in
those things which they received not of me. (39) David’s wives and
concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and
others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these
things did they sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and,
therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and
he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another,
saith the Lord. (40) I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee, my servant
Joseph, an appointment, and restore all things.” (D&C 132:38-40)

Let’s take a quick look into the Book of Mormon.

“(24) But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For
behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they
understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in
committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning
David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives
and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. (25)
Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land
of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a
righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. (26) Wherefore, I
the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of
old. (27) Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the
Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and
concubines he shall have none;” (Jacob 2:24-27)

These passages mention David and Solomon specifically. The D&C describes
their actions as being sanctioned by the Lord while the Book of Mormon
describes exactly the same actions as being an abomination. In more general
terms, having many wives and concubines is described by the D&C in verse 39
as a power controlled by “keys.” (One would assume priesthood keys.) But the
Book of Mormon emphatically denounces such actions as an abuse of women.
(See verses 28-33 in Jacob 2.)

Almost even more chilling than the obvious contradiction of these verses is
the fate of David’s wives. In the D&C passage, we read that they were given
unto another. Did they have any say in the matter or were they simply
chattel? In verse 40 of section 132 we are told that this (polygamy) is a
part of the restoration of all things.

A little later, Jacob continues with this: “For if I will, saith the Lord of
Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall
hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2:30)

This short scripture allows polygamy to be practiced under circumstances
that the Lord defines. Otherwise, we must be monogamous. The question here
is which directive were David and Solomon working under?

One of the verses in this section is very confusing to me.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word,
and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine
appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new
and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if
they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come
forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they
shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings
of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God.” (D&C 132:26)

Am I reading this right? If a man and a woman have entered into the new and
everlasting covenant they can commit any sin short of the unpardonable sin,
which is defined in greater detail in verse 27, they will eventually come
forth in the first resurrection and be exalted. Their punishment will be
that Satan will have them for a time but in the end they will live with the
Lord again. Is that about right?

Emma is mentioned from verse 51 to 56. In verse 52 we read “And let my
handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those (wives) that have been given unto my
servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me.” One point of
history that is not often discussed during church lessons is that Joseph and
Emma often disputed between themselves about this doctrine. Joseph received
this revelation about 10 years before it was actually written. Only a few
years after that, the church sundered on this very issue. Emma tried to
accept this doctrine but in the end couldn’t do it. For most of Joseph’s
adult life the church taught monogamy over the pulpit and in church
publications but Joseph practiced polygamy in secret as early as 1833. At
least 33 women can be reliably documented to have been married to Joseph.
One, and possibly two of them were only 14 when they married him and a third
of his plural wives were already married and still living with their first
husbands! Now that is a bold accusation. If it’s true, and I strongly
suggest you research it out, then there are some sticky questions to grapple

You have to wonder why Joseph would encourage those married women to enter
into polyandry? The scriptures make no proviso for this practice unless you
count them as concubines. But I was under the impression that a concubine is
committed to only one man and in a relationship somewhat less formal or
binding than a marriage, yet Joseph made “spiritual wives” of those women.
Most of those polyandrous unions were consummated without the knowledge of
the first husband. Joseph wasn’t always successful in convincing a woman to
marry him. Nancy Rigdon, daughter of Sydney, (who was single at the time)
rejected him flatly. That rejection had much less emotional baggage than the
episode involving Sarah Pratt. According to Sarah, Joseph attempted to
seduce her. According to Joseph, it was John C. Bennett who did the dirty
deed. This all came to a head in rather dramatic fashion. A few days after
the indecent proposal had been made, Orson Pratt (Sarah’s husband) left a
suicide note and disappeared for a short time. He didn’t kill himself but he
was very disturbed by those events. Take a minute and think about Orson’s
reaction during this incident. The first thing that comes to a man’s mind
when his wife is threatened isn’t usually suicide. Most men would be more
likely to become aggressive when he perceives a threat to someone he loves.
What would have been going on in his mind to make him consider suicide
instead of assuming a more combative posture? History leaves us with a
pretty good guess at who Orson believed was the culprit. A week after the
incident with the suicide note, despite being one of the 12 apostles, he
voted against a public resolution in defense of Joseph’s virtuous conduct.
Incidentally, the reason that such a resolution was contemplated in the
first place was because of the numerous rumors that were circulating about
secret polygamy being practiced by Joseph and a handful of trusted brethren.
The honest seeker has to ask what this reveals about the mindset of the man
who, “…has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this
world, than any other man that ever lived in it?” (D&C 135:3)

An obvious question is to wonder how a man can marry an already married
woman and not cause an enormous scandal, especially in a pious community
such as Nauvoo. It should be remembered that polygamy, as practiced by
Joseph, had a considerably different look to it than how one usually thinks
of polygamist relationships today. Plural marriage was not publicly
practiced until after Joseph died. Toward the end of Joseph’s life, it had
become an open secret, but was still a taboo subject among the faithful.
Joseph’s plural wives seldom lived with him on a daily basis. They continued
to live as they had before their marriage to Joseph and they didn’t receive
any kind of material support from him either. This worked to maintain the
illusion of monogamy to Emma. Joseph had another motivation for keeping his
marriages secret. As has been mentioned above, Emma never came to grips with
the idea of polygamy and she wasn’t shy about voicing her opinion on the
subject. How does that saying go? Something like, “Hell hath no furry like
the wrath of a woman’s scorn.”

When the church move to Utah there was even more friction about polygamy.
After Utah became a territory and even later as a state, many practicing
polygamists spent time in jail for illegal co-habitation. It was regarded as
a badge of faith if you had spent time in prison because you set the laws of
God before the laws of men. Numerous sermons, given at all levels in the
church, took a defiant stance on this issue. Many were those who preached
that the day the church didn’t practice polygamy would be the day the church
would no longer be true. It’s easy to see how one could take that position
after reading the first half a dozen verses of section 132. It’s important
to note that even at their height, polygamists in the church were still a
minority and the membership was anything but unified in their thinking on
this issue.

You would have a tough time finding a more profound doctrinal shift than the
abrupt about face the church has done on polygamy. To my knowledge there is
no official statement from the church about why it changed its position on
this doctrine. Remember that the manifest of 1890 is simply a manifesto, a
declaration of policy. Perhaps more to the point, it’s really just a press
release. The manifesto itself makes no pretense of being a revelation or any
sort of communication from the Lord to his church. If you read the manifesto
it says that the church had (past tense) discontinued the practice of plural
marriage. So when was the change made? The manifesto has none of the bluster
of section 132. It never says anything like “thus saith the Lord” or “lest
ye abide this principle, ye are damned.” It’s a humble submission to the
laws of the land and it reflects an honest effort on the part of president
Woodruff to rid the church of plural marriage. There’s very little, if any,
doctrinal meat in the manifesto yet it was immediately hailed as the
official document which changed the position of the church. This is a very
telling indicator of how much the majority of the membership had wearied of
polygamy. They seemed desperate to seize on the first opportunity to rid
themselves of that burden.

In later discourses president Woodruff said that he had been led by the
spirit to issue the manifesto. He justified the change by saying that had
the church clung to polygamy, it would have suffered because the mind of the
nation was against it, and the United States would have taken sever steps
against the church, perhaps even shutting down the temples. Since when does
God care about public opinion or fear any government instituted among men?
This does not sound like the God of the Old Testament who on more than one
occasion utterly destroyed a nation that was on his poop list. I must
interject a humorous note here that shows that the Lord really has such a
list. At a stake conference, J Golden Kimball told those in attendance, “The
Lord has a shit list and your names are all on it!”

Without any evidence to back this up, I would hazard that a majority of
active church members know that Joseph was a polygamist. It’s just not big
news in the church. And of course, everybody knows about Brigham. However,
most of the time this information makes it way around only through the
grapevine. It’s seldom broached directly in official church literature. It’s
not uncommon to run across an active member who is completely unaware that
Joseph had more than one wife. In the early church this was an extremely hot
issue. It was so controversial and momentous that it split the church into
two separate churches, yet today it seldom even gets mentioned. I’m not
suggesting that church historical literature should dwell on the subject,
only that it be given the attention it reasonably merits.

The Council of Fifty.

If the church is hesitant to explain its uncomfortable historical details
publicly it can make a person wonder about what other events are not readily
presented to the membership. A possible example of the fruits of that
attitude can be found in an examination of the Council of Fifty.

This council was intended to be the theocratic arm of God’s kingdom on
earth. This was to be a political, not an ecclesiastical organization.
Joseph was very serious about setting up a theocracy. The council started
out with 3 charges that appear to have been in conflict with each other.
First of all, it was the Council of Fifty that was charged with managing
Joseph’s election bid to become president of the United States. The council
was also in charge of finding places outside the United States to move the
church to, and finally it has set itself up as the governing body of the
Kingdom of God on earth.

There is no doubt that this body had more than strictly ecclesiastical
responsibilities. Joseph was laying the groundwork for a political
structure. To use Joseph’s own phrase, he called it a theo-democracy. The
council even went so far as to appoint ambassadors to France, England,
Russia and the then independent nation of Texas. They were ambassadors of
the "King, priest and ruler over Israel on earth.” At least the title is
unpretentious. It appears that Joseph intended to establish God’s kingdom in
a very literal sense to supersede already established governments. Since
these activities occurred within the boundaries of the United States that
amounts to sedition against the U.S., not to mention that it runs contrary
to the letter and the spirit of the 12th Article of Faith. Probably
fortunately for the church, only Texas received it’s ambassador, and then
only very coolly.

The functionality of this organization is a little hard to define. It’s
easier to describe what it wasn’t than to try to explain what it was. The
Council of Fifty didn’t function like a congress or a parliament, nor did it
behave like a cabinet. Although the council debated a number of issues it
didn’t really matter much in the end because of the way votes were taken.
The council chairman (Joseph) would vote first, then each member according
to age voted in turn. Each vote had to be unanimous and if they weren’t, the
chairman had the right to override the rest of the council. Joseph intended
that the very existence of the council be a tightly held secret. But
realistically how can you expect 50 people keep secret something as world
changing as the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth?

On Brigham Young’s watch this body fell out of favor. It sort of just died
on the vine. Officially the council persisted for several more decades but
in reality it was effective for less than a year. The council was formed in
early 1844. When Joseph was so suddenly assassinated in the summer of 1844
many things in the church were thrown into a state of confusion. The council
was one of them and it never regained its prominence. But for a short time,
it was a powerful and seemingly necessary part of the restored gospel. With
all of the important stuff this body was involved in, you would think it
would get occasionally mentioned during normal conversations about the
church. My bet is that a random sampling of active church members would show
that a very small percentage of them have even heard of this council, let
alone know what it was all about.

Bits and pieces.

I think it’s a reasonable position to maintain that prophets are just men
who are prone to human error. They can fail at a business venture. They can
loose their temper. They can misjudge a person’s character. They can have a
weakness for ice cream or completely forget about an important meeting or
their wife’s birthday. The thing that I have a problem with is the
artificial façade that the church has cultivated over the years about the
leaders. Now, to be fair, they have never actively engaged in a campaign to
make the leaders of the church more than what they are, to deify them, if
you will. But they haven’t made much effort to dispel any mystique that
surrounds them either.

Joseph Smith was just a man who made some human mistakes. Some of them had
far-reaching consequences but this is not the sort of thing that makes its
way into Sunday School lessons. I don’t want to take the time to get into a
lot of detail here but the reader is encouraged to look into these things.
For example, the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company
had some disastrous effects for people both inside and outside of the
church. The failure of this (anti) bank ushered in some of the darkest years
in early church history. The more educated members know about the this
episode but it would be nothing short of a miracle to glean details about
the collateral damage precipitated by its demise from the usual church
information sources. Shortly after (and largely because of) its collapse,
the church moved to Missouri. As you know, Missouri was no picnic for the

Because of the severe persecution in Missouri, the Danites were formed as a
sort of defensive force/vigilante group. It appears that Joseph had nothing
to do with the formation of this group, but once they were brought to his
attention, he didn’t discourage them either. The Mormons took some heavy
blows in Missouri and it’s a very human response to want to defend oneself.
Had I been in the same circumstances I would probably have claimed my
legitimate right for self-defense and been sympathetic with those who wanted
revenge also. The people who perpetrated those crimes against the Mormons
can in no way be excused from the violence they wrought. If you want to keep
score, the anti-Mormon mobs would have more black marks against them then
the Danites. But the fact of the matter is that this organization was a
secretive and dark group with blood on its hands. This story should be met
head on, not ignored.

After the church evacuated to Nauvoo it found itself, quite unexpectedly, as
a power broker in Illinois politics. The balance of power between the Whigs
and the Democrats was very close. The Mormons tended to vote as a block. You
can imagine that the two parties saw a great opportunity to tip the balance
of power in their favor if they could woo the Mormon vote. For all of his
many talents, Joseph was a political neophyte. He overplayed his hand, which
ended up alienating the church from both parties. This is an interesting
story that is not often treated in church literature. Along those same
lines, the church developed an unfortunate pattern of cultivating animosity
with non-members wherever it moved to. It didn’t intentionally set out to be
a poor neighbor but it proved unusually efficient at creating enmity with
other people in its vicinity. In church literature the persecutions are
usually painted in terms of the devil stirring up the hearts and minds of
non-members and former members against the church. Those sources never
discuss some of the offenses (often times unintentional) of the church and
individual members to people in their new surroundings. There is plenty of
blame to go around for both the tormenters of the church and the church

Now days, the transition from a recently deceased president to a new one is
a well-ordered process. That wasn’t the case in 1844.When Joseph was
assassinated it left an enormous vacuum in church government. Several people
claimed the right to be the next president using a variety of arguments.
These claims were not settled without some sharp contention. The events from
1844 to 1847 have all of the elements of great drama. There were hot
tempers, sizeable payoffs, intimidation of one group against another,
shifting alliances and even suspicion of murder. But, true to form, none of
the messy details are ever outlined in church lesson materials.

The numerous conceptual ties the church has to the Masons, Zion’s camp and
the Kinderhook incident are all worthy of more ink from the church education
department. How could a scoundrel like J.C. Bennett become an assistant
councilor in the first presidency? Why are there some ordinances, such as
baptism for health or being re-baptized to renew covenants or being sealed
to church leaders nowhere to be found in the church today? If Joseph
restored the fullness of the gospel, why couldn’t children be sealed to
their parents until 1894?

Here’s a question worthy as a Sunday afternoon study topic. The first
presiding patriarch of the church was Joseph Smith Sr. When he died in 1840
he conferred the office on his son, Hyrum. When Hyrum died in 1844 the
office went to the brother of Joseph Smith Sr., John Smith. And it was
passed on after he died also. The question is; who is the presiding
patriarch in the church today?

The record clearly shows that Joseph Smith had an occasional glass of wine
or beer after the Word of Wisdom had been introduced. Why did he imbibe? I
must hasten to add that the record never indicates that Joseph ever drank to
the point of drunkenness.

While I’m on this subject, this would be a good place to talk more about the
89th section.
As it is today, Mormons are strictly forbidden from all alcohol. However, an
objective reading of the scriptures (including LDS volumes) preaches
moderation, not abstinence. There is a certain kind of logic for a general
prohibition in order to keep those who would become addicted to something
destructive, like alcohol, completely away from temptation. However, it
seems like a token effort to completely prohibit one or two potentially
ruinous vices yet turn a blind eye to a host of others. A person can become
just as sick or dead from never getting any exercise, consuming
nutritionally blank foods or indulging in other self-destructive behaviors.
Perhaps temple recommend interviews should query a candidate about their
fitness habits, weight and cholesterol count. If you wanted to get anal
about it, and follow a precise interpretation of the scriptures, Mormons
would be fairly strict vegetarians and wine would be used in the sacrament.

Speaking of wine, it’s in a category all by itself. Whenever the scriptures
refer to the sacrament, it’s always described as using bread and wine.
Christ himself, on two separate continents, used wine, not water, to
celebrate his sacrament. If you take the rites of the church seriously and
are concerned that they be preformed with exactness according to scripture,
then this matter needs to be looked into. I don’t know when the church
revised the sacrament, but I know that there is no scriptural justification
for changing wine to water. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

I’d like to revisit the idea that prophets are just human. Any mistakes they
might make can be greatly amplified because they are public figures and
church members accept them as the mouthpiece of God. Sometimes it’s
difficult to know where the prophet part leaves off and the man part of them
picks up. I’d like to explore one more specific example of this phenomenon
that had disastrous consequences.

During the last few months of Joseph’s life he faced more than his share of
daunting challenges. Among other trials, he was dealing with the menace from
a new anti-Mormon newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor. Anti-Mormon
newspapers were nothing new to the church but his one promised to be
especially damaging. Joseph held a couple of marathon meetings of the Nauvoo
city council and from those meetings he convinced the council that it was in
the city’s interest to put a final end to the Expositor. Joseph directed the
Nauvoo Legion to destroy the press, scatter the type and burn the building
of the upstart newspaper. In retrospect, this looks like a case of very poor
judgment. Joseph was under considerable stress at that point in his life and
he appears to have overreacted, as people sometimes do.

That incident may have been the single largest catalyst for the events that
in a few weeks would cost the prophet his life. At the time, Joseph held the
office of mayor of Nauvoo and was also its chief justice. Wearing these two
hats, along with being the prophet gave Joseph a considerable amount of sway
among the people of Nauvoo. If he hadn’t wielded so much influence, the
destruction of the Expositor may not have occurred, allowing Joseph to live
much longer. Under less stressful circumstances it’s conceivable that the
prophet would have handled the whole situation more calmly and rationally.

To the outside world, the destruction of the Expositor was portrayed as
having happened in violation of the first amendment freedom of press rights
and the fourth amendment protection from unlawful or arbitrary search and
seizure. Additionally, since Joseph stood at the head of the executive and
judicial branches of Nauvoo’s government this was seen as a violation of the
separation of powers that define American style governments. Other
criticisms held that the owner of the Expositor was denied due process in
the courts and that the whole affair was the highhanded tactic of a man who
felt personally threatened.

A few weeks later, Joseph and Hyrum found themselves in Carthage facing
charges that had nothing to do with the Expositor. However, the incident had
inflamed the anger of anti-Mormons in the region. There can be no doubt that
the trial Joseph and Hyrum were subject to was a sham. Governor Ford made
some dubious, if not outright illegal moves in regards to Joseph and Hyrum.
Besides the legal irregularities, he also did a number of other things that
put the soon-to-be martyrs in harm’s way. In the end, they found themselves
at the mercy of an angry mob that had no mercy in its heart.

In the interest of brevity, I’ve left out a lot of details about this story.
If you take the time to look further into this episode you will see how that
many small decisions, both on the part of Joseph and people around him, led
to this tragedy. If you could go back and change even one of those small but
pivotal events, history would probably read very differently than it does
now, but that’s the nature of human events. That’s part of the humanity of
prophets. They can make serious mistakes.

The church faces a considerable quandary vis-a-vie those less savory
elements of its past. First of all, no serious person would be able to
dispute the raw facts. Different people may have widely divergent
interpretations of those facts, but the raw history, the dates, the places,
the events and the people involved cannot be disputed. In some instances,
the raw facts don’t lend themselves to easy explanations, which in turn
might create some embarrassment for the church. If the church ignores those
facts of history, the only people who will write about them won’t
necessarily feel obliged to see those events from the church’s point of
view. On the other hand, if the church tackles those tough questions head
on, it could explain its side of the story. However, writing about those
things amounts to an acknowledgement that those unpalatable events took
place. It might also bring it to the attention of many people who would have
never known about it otherwise, further exacerbating an already bad
situation. It’s a little like dealing with a nest of hornets. You can either
leave it alone and get stung once in a while, or you can try to root it out
completely and run the risk of getting stung a lot. Getting stung once in a
while is bad, but it’s infinitely preferable to dealing with the problem
head on if it means that the situation might spin out of control, causing
much greater damage.

The Book of Abraham.

If your information about the church comes mostly from the church, than you
are likely unaware of a rather lively debate that is going on about the Book
of Abraham. Before I discuss this issue specifically, I’d like to briefly
digress down another path that will help set the stage for a clearer
understanding of this topic.

When it comes to religion, faith is a fine thing. But it doesn’t hurt if you
can defend your beliefs in an intellectual way also. Faith is paramount, but
it’s a nice luxury when science and reason backs up what you believe. There
are a number of LDS authors who have taken on various topics in an effort to
buttress Mormon beliefs from a more scientific and/or scholarly viewpoint.
Examples of those kinds of works include books that have taken a stab at
nailing down the geography of the Book of Mormon. The Dead Sea Scrolls and
the library found at Nag Hammadi have been researched by LDS academics. They
feel they have found some points in the Gnostic literature that show that
unique Mormon ideas were considered valid among those peoples. A theory that
has quite a bit of currency right now is that they believe that they have
found what Nephi called the Land of Bountiful on the Arabian Peninsula. You
could categorize all of those works as being under the general area of
external proofs. They use physical evidence, history and reasoned argument
to support the church on scientific and logical grounds. In short, they are
apologists. Which brings me back to the Book of Abraham. The current debates
date from the late 1960’s and by now the lines of argument are pretty well
drawn on both sides. But I’m getting ahead of myself. For the reader who
isn’t familiar with this business, let me give a brief history.

In 1835 a man by the name of Michael Chandler arrived in Kirtland with a
display of Egyptian mummies and the scrolls that were found with them when
they were excavated. Mr. Chandler had heard of Joseph’s power to translate
and presented him with a sample of the writings. Joseph translated the
sample. Despite the fact that Mr. Chandler knew nothing about ancient
Egyptian he pronounced the translation as accurate. A short time later some
of the members of the church obtained the scrolls and mummies from Mr.
Chandler and gave them to Joseph as a gift. It was discovered that they
contained writings from two of the most important figures in the Bible,
namely Abraham and Joseph who was sold into Egypt.

If Joseph Smith ever translated the Book of Joseph, none of it has survived.
However, he did translate the Book of Abraham and it appears under that name
in latter-day scripture. While the church was struggling with it’s
succession crisis in the mid 1840’s the scrolls were largely forgotten
about. It was presumed that they came into the possession of the RLDS church
and eventually perished in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. By an incredible
stroke of good fortune, at least some of the scrolls were rediscovered in
New York in 1967. They were then presented to the church as a gift in 1968.

The discovery produced close to dozen papyrus fragments, including facsimile
#1, which is included in the Pearl of Great Price. Another fragment found in
the collection was almost certainly attached to facsimile #1 but separated
from it at some time during the 19th century. It contains several dozen
characters written in Egyptian. From the description of a different
fragment, which was written by Oliver Cowdery, it’s fairly certain that what
Joseph Smith identified as the Book of Joseph was also among the fragments
discovered in New York. Unfortunately, there was no trace of facsimiles #2
or #3. It would seem likely that the collection that was found was not the
complete collection that Joseph Smith had to work with.

Even with an incomplete collection this seemed like a golden opportunity to
test Joseph Smith’s story about his ability to translate ancient records.
The world had before it tangible evidence that could be checked out and
verified. Upon close inspection it reveals that the fragments have nothing
to do with Abraham or his great-grand son, Joseph. Nor do the writings speak
of anything even vaguely resembling ideas central to either Judaism or
Christianity. Those who are friendly to the church have explanations for the
apparent incongruity of the papyrus fragments and the Book of Abraham. Those
who are unfriendly to the church think that this is more evidence that
Joseph Smith was a charlatan. This illustrates my point, in spades, that
it’s nearly impossible to have a truly objective opinion about something in
which you have a personal stake. What appears to be hard evidence to one
person falls far short of convincing to another.

Before the discovery of the fragments in 1967 the rhetoric of the church was
that the scrolls from which the Book of Abraham were taken were written by
Abraham’s own hand and that the Book of Abraham is a true and accurate
translation. However, now that these fragments have surfaced, some of the
arguments have taken on a different slant. Since it appears that the
collection is incomplete some have postulated that the portions that
contained the Book of Abraham were not found among those fragments.

One of the fragments, the one that was at one time attached to facsimile #1,
received considerable attention from Joseph and his scribes. In the very
first hand written copy of the Book of Abraham, the copy that was written by
a scribe as Joseph translated it, the left-hand margin has a copy of an
Egyptian character from the fragment and an English excerpt beside it. Each
hieroglyph in the left-hand margin of the page is accompanied by at least
two sentences of English text beside it in the right-hand margin. It would
seem foolish to believe that a single hieroglyph could contain that much
information. It seems a far stretch until you read a little of Joseph’s work
on Egyptian grammar and spelling. According to him, Egyptian was a very
compact language from which you could get a lot of mileage out of each
character. While this is not 100% irrefutable evidence that the fragment in
question comprises a part of the Book of Abraham, it’s hard to divine what
other purpose those characters would serve on that first copy of the book.
There is more evidence that this fragment is part of what Joseph Smith used
to produce the Book of Abraham. If you read Abraham 1:12-15, it refers you
back to facsimile #1 as a clarifying reference to the text. Remember that
until the 19th century, the fragment and facsimile #1 were physically
attached to each other. So it looks pretty safe to say that Joseph Smith
felt that this fragment and facsimile #1 went together. That wouldn’t be a
problem if the content of the fragment had any resemblance to the content of
the Book of Abraham, but it doesn’t.

Because there are some persuasive bits of evidence that this bedeviling
fragment is part of what Joseph Smith used to produce the Book of Abraham,
another idea has been floated. The essence of it is that the fragment is
part of the Book of Abraham but that it’s written in such a way that the
true meaning can only be understood by inspiration. That idea sounds fine
except that it goes against the notion that the translation is “true and
accurate” which I would interpret to mean that any person who can read
Egyptian would see what we call the Book of Abraham in the characters. If
there are layered or hidden meanings in the text, why would we need the text
at all when the Book of Abraham could have been produced in the same manner
as the Book of Moses?

There is something else that tweaked my curiosity about facsimile #1. At the
bottom of it a number of Egyptian gods are mentioned by name. In our day,
when you think of the more important Egyptian gods you think of Pharaoh,
(who is pictured in the facsimile) but names like Ra, Isis, Amon, Maat or
Asar (who is more commonly known by the Greek name Osiris) are nowhere to be
found. The names that do appear are Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah and Korash.
Could the names in the facsimile somehow be associated with what are usually
considered the gods of Egypt?

There is another sizeable problem with the Book of Abraham. Egyptologists
date the scrolls as written between 300 years before Christ and perhaps as
late as 50 years after Christ. Abraham lived somewhere in the neighborhood
of 2200 years BC. The defense for the dating discrepancy goes something like
this: ancient scribes were very diligent to transcribe a document as nearly
true to the original as possible. So if the Joseph Smith Scrolls (as they
have come to be known) aren’t the original documents that Abraham wrote with
his own hand, the copies are as good as the originals.

What I’m about to say I admit is pure speculation. I’m just trying to piece
together how history might have played out if Abraham and Joseph had left
these writings behind. If scribes had been engaged in maintaining copies
over the centuries than it’s reasonable to assume that more than one copy
would have been made. Just because more than one copy was written it
wouldn’t necessarily follow that any of them would have survived to our day.
Lots of records get lost and so I don’t have a problem that the Lord may
have preserved just one copy so that it could eventually come into the hands
of Joseph Smith for translation. But remember that Abraham is the father,
literally and figuratively, of Israel. If his writings were being maintained
somewhere in Egypt for all of those years, why did not the Israelites ever
attempt to obtain them, or at a minimum, a copy of them, so they could be
incorporated into the Torah? After all, we are talking about Abraham and
Joseph here. It would have been impossible for the Egyptians to keep them a
state secret for all those centuries, so word would have eventually made
it’s way back to Jerusalem that important scripture was in the hands of
their neighbor to the south. Sooner or later, the Israelites would have made
an attempt, or two, or 500 to retrieve those writings.

Taking a look from the other side you have to ask what would be the
motivation of Egypt to keep records from Abraham at all. First off, it’s
hard to figure out why the scribes of Egypt would spend the effort to
maintain sacred writings from a competing, and to their view, a false
religion. Secondly, political relationships, being what they are, would find
the two nations at times to be allies and at other times to be enemies.
During the times that they were at odds with each another, Egypt could use
those most sacred writings as blackmail. They might threaten Israel by
saying that if Israel didn’t do such-and-such a thing they would destroy
those priceless documents. During times of friendship Egypt might offer them
to Israel as a sign of good faith. Somehow, over the centuries, Israel would
have eventually got those writings, or at least an accurate copy, to
incorporate into their scripture.

I’ve based my wild speculations on what I understand about human nature. If
they have any basis in reality it’s hard to figure how these writings from
men who embody the very soul of Israel have been completely lost to history.
If they were in Egyptian hands, they would have been too tempting as a
political tool for the Egyptians to use against Israel. If they found their
way into Israeli hands they would have been included into their scripture.
But, stranger things have happened. It’s a futile exercise to speculate
about things that can never be fully answered.

Fortunately we can measure with great accuracy how much those scrolls have
impacted our modern society. In the case of Abraham there are some unusual
circumstances that make this a worthy test case to assess Joseph Smith’s
credentials as a translator of ancient records. You see, there is a minority
of scholars who believe that Abraham was not a real person. They think that
Abraham was a fiction, generated to give legitimacy to the claim that Israel
was the chosen people of God. Whether Moses made up the story of Abraham or
he was a legend produced among an enslaved people who looked for
deliverance, no one can tell. Although the debate about Abraham’s existence
isn’t a knock down, drag out, theological brawl like some subjects can be,
it’s one of those things that has been there for a long time. Once the
question was brought up, it has never been answered to the complete
satisfaction of everyone.

If ancient records could be shown to have originated from Abraham, this
would be the archeological find of the century. Settling the long-standing
question about his existence would only be the beginning. As I’m sure you
know, the Bible comes to us without even one of the original manuscripts
surviving to our day. Since much of what comprises the Book of Abraham
parallels Genesis, and Abraham predates the author of Genesis by 400 years,
this could be the original documentation of these events. This is a big

Just to give a little perspective of how monumental a find like this would
be, consider this. When the discoveries of Qumran were coming to light there
was quite a stir in the scientific community for two reasons. The first
reason is obvious. Since 3 of the worlds major religions originated from
that area, anything that might shed additional light on those origins would
naturally be given careful consideration. Secondly, the Israeli government
initially put tight restrictions on access to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The
scientific community complained loudly for the government to relax those
restrictions, which they eventually did. The point is that these here-to-for
unknown documents fed an already considerable interest by both scholars and
lay people in the history of ancient Israel. Even now there is quite a bit
of excitement about the scrolls and they are a frequent topic of
conversation in Jewish and Christian communities the world over. Some of the
scrolls were copies of books that are in our Bible, but none of them are the
original documents.

If there is that much interest in these copies, how much more interest
should there be in documents that could be directly linked to Abraham and
Joseph? Because Abraham was the first to take part in God’s special covenant
with men, he easily makes the list of the top 5 most important guys in the
Bible. Think this through for a minute. The church is supposedly in
possession of original writings, or at least meticulously preserved copies,
from not one but two of the most important figures in the Bible. Why haven’t
archeologists, historians and other people in related disciplines beaten a
hasty path to Salt Lake City in large numbers to examine the Joseph Smith

For some reason they all appear to be unanimously unimpressed with Joseph’s
explanation of who wrote the scrolls. Is this a case of religious
persecution? Or at least, is it a manifestation of a strong bias against the
Mormon connection to the scrolls? Would all of those scholars, supposedly
trained to be dispassionate and objective, completely ignore this
once-in-a-lifetime discovery just because it came from Joseph Smith? That’s
a question we would have to ask of them. All of them. All several thousand
of them. Is there a conspiracy afoot in which they have all agreed to
completely ignore the scrolls in order to make Joseph Smith and Mormonism
look foolish?

The only people who defend the scrolls as records from Abraham are people
who have a personal stake in the outcome of this debate. For those who are
capable of reading ancient Egyptian, and who don’t care one way or another
about Mormonism, the scrolls are ordinary Egyptian funerary texts of which
there are literally hundreds of similar examples in the world. They fall
squarely into a time period that is at least 17 centuries removed from
Abraham and none of the ideas in the scrolls even vaguely approaches what we
now find in the Book of Abraham. The complete lack of interest by all of the
people who should be keenly interested is an excellent barometer of how
seriously Joseph’s claims are taken in the academic world.

There is yet another twist in this most interesting of stories. You’ll
recall that there is a very good chance that the Book of Joseph was
recovered from among the fragments. In Bruce McConkie’s book “Mormon
Doctrine” he touches on the Book of Joseph. “But the day shall come when the
Book of Joseph shall be restored and its contents shall be known again. This
we know because the Brass Plates themselves are yet to be translated and set
forth…” (Mormon Doctrine under the subject of the Book of Joseph)

This was written prior to 1967 and the rediscovery of the papyrus fragments
in New York. At the time Bruce McConkie wrote this he believed that the
original had been burned in 1871. He thought that the only way we could get
the information contained in the Book of Joseph was via the intermediary of
the Brass Plates of the Book of Mormon. But, fortune of fortunes, it looks
like we have the original restored to us again! Why has it not been
translated and published?

So you have to ask, where are all of those Mormon apologists who seek every
opportunity to defend Mormonism with tangible evidence? The church is in
possession of
some papyrus fragments, one of which is definitely considered inspired
(facsimile #1) and also very probably the Book of Joseph, yet they don’t get
much press.

Mormon thinkers have produced quite a bit of material on the Book of
Abraham. But that material doesn’t get much exposure in the popular media or
study guides the church produces for the general membership. If you’ve spent
any time digging through the apologetics on this stuff you know that it can
be a bit of a challenge to follow. I would be the first to point out that my
own personal knowledge of the ancient Egyptian culture is not just
“limited,” it would be more accurate to say that it’s nonexistent. When I
started to wade through some of the material produced by FARMS (and others)
about this, I got lost in a hurry. For a novice, like myself, it’s easy to
get bamboozled by the pseudo-technical babble found in some of these pieces.
I just don’t have the knowledge base on this subject to make informed
decisions about what is the truth and what are lies in this matter. Luckily,
I don’t have to spend years entombed in a dusty library studying this stuff
to make a reasonably intelligent decision about this. All that I need to do
is to keep an eye on the people who do know about ancient Egyptian culture
and see how they have reacted to the Joseph Smith Scrolls. As I’ve pointed
out, nobody beyond Mormonism believes they have anything to do with Abraham
or even the time period when he lived. If a legitimate, outside scholar were
to give her or his blessing to Joseph’s story about the scrolls’ origins,
that endorsement would become quite a story among the people who follow this
subject. It would not remain hidden for long and I’m sure I would have run
across it by now, but I haven’t.