Elder D. Todd Christofferson recently made an interesting Facebook post:
Aside from him not having a clue about “increasing attacks” on Joseph Smith (really? No idea? Heard of polygamy, polyandry, seer stones, or the Book of Abraham papyri?), I would like to focus on the third paragraph:
There is no reasonable explanation for the existence of the Book of Mormon other than what the Prophet said–that he was given the power to translate it. No human in his condition could have originated the book.
Either the Book of Mormon is exactly what Joseph Smith says it was, an ancient record translated from gold plates by the power of God, or…well, it’s just impossible for any “human in his condition” to have come up with the Book of Mormon. It’s either true or…never mind, that’s your only choice. Or as President Benson once said:
Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward.
This kind of black and white thinking pains me. I have found that rarely in life are complex issues a simple choice between one thing and another. Here are some other options regarding the Book of Mormon, besides being 100% true or 100% false:
- Joseph Smith started things off with a deception by claiming he had real gold plates, hoping to make some money by selling copies of his new book. But after losing the first 116 pages, Joseph received his first revelation and wrote as if he were speaking for God for the first time. He then felt as if he were really channeling a story from God. Even though he knew it began with a lie, it became true because he was convinced God was working a miracle through him.
- Joseph Smith really was inspired by God, but because he wasn’t getting a word-for-word translation from God, some of his own views and stories leaked into the text. That would make the Book of Mormon partly true, but not completely false either.
- Joseph Smith had an incredible imagination and loved the Bible and Jesus Christ. He believed the ends justified the means by inventing the characters and stories in the Book of Mormon, so he included ideas that would help people come closer to God. Those ideas are “true” because they help people to be more spiritual, even if the stories didn’t literally happen.
Here’s another example that I used over and over as a missionary:
If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was his prophet, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is his true church on earth today.
So if the Book of Mormon is true, the LDS church is true. If the Book of Mormon is false, the LDS church is false. Nope, I’m not buying that logic. There are lots more choices than that:
- The Book of Mormon is true, and Joseph Smith was a true prophet, but then he became a fallen prophet when he started practicing polygamy. One of the three witnesses, David Whitmer, believed this was the case:
If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to “separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, should it be done unto them.”
- The Book of Mormon is true, but one of the many other break-offs was God’s true church. And that church either went into apostasy, or is still kicking around somewhere. If you would like to learn more about some of the break-offs, Brother Jake can help you out.
- The Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a true prophet who never practiced polygamy, and then Brigham Young brought the LDS church into apostasy when he started practicing polygamy. This would be the Denver Snuffer or Rock Waterman theory.
- The Book of Mormon has some truth, but also some pretty messed-up stuff, like the beheading of Laban, racist verses (“white and delightsome” Nephites and “dark and loathsome” Lamanites), or when Jesus killed thousands (millions?) of people in 3 Nephi before he appeared to the Nephites. Likewise, the LDS church has some truth in it, like how the members are so willing to help and serve each other, but it also has some messed-up things, like patriarchy, polygamy (right now only in heaven), and zero tolerance for LGBT couples or their children
So, things are rarely as black and white as some might suppose. The entire Book of Mormon could be non-historical, and yet still full of valuable truths. Jesus himself taught parables that weren’t meant to be taken as literal events, but still contained truths. Would you tell a Mulsim the Holy Koran is either 100% true or 100% false? What if that book helps her to be a better person? There must be something good about it in that case, so how can it be 100% false?
For a few days, the LDS censors were asleep at the wheel and some non-literal believers had some interesting discussions with some true-believing Mormons (TBMs) on Elder Christofferson’s post I included above. Eventually the censors came and removed all of our comments, but I was surprised with how many days it took. I’ll leave you with one short exchange I had with a TBM: