I feel bad for today’s missionaries who are unaware of the difficult issues confirmed in the lds.org Gospel Topics Essays. I have heard of missionaries being confronted with church history problems and past doctrines while serving their missions. Without having ever heard of the essays, they think the accusations are anti-Mormon lies. And then they come home, only to find the “anti-Mormon lies” are actually admitted to in the church’s own essays. Elder Ballard told the CES teachers to know the essays and start incorporating them into their lesson material, but that doesn’t do today’s missionaries any good. How do you think they will feel when they realize they defended the church from “anti-Mormon lies” only to find out the “liars” were right all along? Who then is the deceiver, the anti-Mormons or their own church? The church doesn’t come completely clean to those who give up 18 to 24 months of their life as missionaries. “Preach My Gospel” contains this:

PreachMyGospel

Wrong: Plates in the open, no hat, no seer stone.

“This volume of holy scripture provides convincing evidence that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God.” Is it still as convincing when someone finds out the picture above is a complete fabrication? The gold plates were never out in the open for anyone to see. Joseph Smith didn’t even look at the plates during translation. How about when a missionary finds out South Park was more truthful to them about how Joseph Smith translated the plates than was their church?

AllAboutMormons12

Right: No plates in the open, hat and seer stone used for translation

Is the Book of Mormon still “convincing evidence” when someone finds out there is no DNA evidence of the Book of Mormon peoples? Is it as convincing when someone finds out we have the source papyri for the Book of Abraham that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated, and it’s a common funerary document that has nothing to do with the text we have in the Pearl of Great Price? Or that Joseph Smith married between 30-40 women, some as young as 14, and many who were already married? And that he convinced some of those women to marry him by telling them an angel with a drawn sword had threatened to kill him if they didn’t marry him? Or what about that the original version of the First Vision had Joseph Smith only seeing “the Lord” and not two personages at all? None of those facts are “anti-Mormon lies”. They’re all taken from the Gospel Topics Essays. How many missionaries know those facts? When they hear them from someone on their mission, will they counter that those are all lies? Eventually they will hear the truth after their missions. How will the returned missionaries feel when they realize they were the ones telling the lies?

The truth is, when some people learn all those facts, even in the heavily-biased version found in the essays, they will have no choice but to admit the story of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith being a prophet is simply untrue. Others may be able to reconcile the problems in their minds and continue to believe in the orthodox doctrine of the LDS church. But shouldn’t every person who goes out to preach the gospel for the church have the full story? Each one of them should get to decide for himself or herself what the facts mean to them.

On the podcast Infants on Thrones, they often talk about their inner “TBM whisperer” voice. (TBM stands for “true-believing Mormon”.) I’m going to channel my own inner TBM whisperer to demonstrate what the difference could be for a missionary who has read the essays and studied the issues, and one who hasn’t:

Informed Investigator (II): So how did Joseph Smith translate the gold plates?
Uninformed Missionary (UM): He did it by the power of God.
II: Sure, but how? I saw on South Park that Joseph Smith would stick his head in a hat and read the translation off a seer stone. Do you really believe that?
UM: Why would he stick his head in a hat? That’s just dumb. Here’s a picture in my manual that shows Joseph Smith translating the gold plates. There is no hat in sight! Who are you going to believe, a crude cartoon that pokes fun at religion or actual representatives of Joseph Smith’s church?

And here’s how an informed missionary might answer:

Informed Missionary (IM): Putting his head in a hat may look funny to us now, but back then it was a common practice for people to use seer stones in a hat to concentrate and receive revelation from God. Maybe in our day he could have just meditated, but using the seer stone in the hat is what Joseph Smith was familiar with.

Another one:

II: I read that Joseph Smith married between 30 and 40 women, some were as young as 14, and some were already married. Is that true?
UM: That can’t be right. I know Brigham Young had a lot of wives, but mostly I’ve only heard about Joseph Smith’s first wife, Emma Smith. If he did marry other women, it was because they were widows and just needed financial support.
II: What about marrying 14-year-old girls?
UM: No way! That’s gross. Why would he do that? I’m sure I would have heard about that if it were true.
II: I also heard an angel with a flaming sword came and threatened to kill Joseph Smith unless he married more women than he was already married to.
UM: Now you’re just getting silly. That’s ridiculous.

A better response from the Informed Missionary:

Informed Missionary (IM): We read in the Bible about Abraham and King Solomon who had many wives. Joseph Smith was commanded to restore all things, including plural marriage. This was very difficult for him to do because he loved Emma so much. It’s possible he married young girls and women who were already married so that he could follow God’s commands, but without needing to have sexual relations with them. God didn’t always give him explicit instructions on everything. God expects us to sometimes figure things out on our own and in hindsight, we don’t do things as perfectly as we could have.
II: I also heard an angel with a flaming sword came and threatened to kill Joseph Smith unless he married more women than he was already married to.
IM: Sometimes God has to use extra measures to get his servants to comply with his commandments. Joseph Smith was really worried about his first wife Emma and what she would think about Joseph marrying other women. God had to find a way to convince Joseph to follow through with his instructions.

If the church really wanted people to learn the material in the essays, they would insist that everyone read them. Somehow every member in the church is crystal clear what the church thinks about same-sex marriage because the church won’t quit talking about it. But years after the essays have been published, most members still haven’t read them. To me it looks like the church is trying to kind of come clean to those who stumble on to the essays, but still keep them hidden from the general church population by not talking about them openly. That strategy is not going to work anymore because the information on the internet is so pervasive and easy to find. It’s better to be up front with your members and see who then still believes in the literal truth claims of the church. Otherwise, members will continue to feel like the church has deceived them by hiding the painful truth of church history until it’s too late.


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