Before I start this long research, I want to clearly define a commonly used term in Mormon culture: “anti-Mormon”.
Yes, it can be interpreted as harsh, resentful, or even non-Christlike or “judgmental” (a word I’m going to write about at some point since I feel it’s a synonym with “justified” or “justification”).
Based on my research, here are explanations I found for the term “anti-Mormon”:
- Anti-Mormonism is discrimination, persecution, hostility or prejudice directed at members of the Latter Day Saint movement, particularly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The term is often used by Latter Day Saints to describe persons or literature that are critical of their adherents, institutions, or beliefs. (source)
- This is a poorly defined term, but I would say that only the activists who attack the Church in a way intended to generate misunderstanding, fear, and shock are the ones who deserve the epithet of “anti-Mormons.” Many such “Mormon bashers” feel that the end justifies the means, and use tactics that are incompatible with the truthful example of Christ.
- There is plenty of room for decent people to disagree with us. Sometimes I even disagree with “us.” Most Protestants and Catholics who disagree with us are not “anti-Mormons” but simply people of another denomination.
- But when someone strives to stir up anger toward the Church and relies on misinformation or half-truths, then I’m inclined to apply the anti-Mormon label–especially when they do it for a living.
- On the borderline are well meaning people who feel an evangelical duty to battle “cults” (which tend to be any group that disagrees with them) and write articles regurgitating the sensationalist and shocking diatribes of full-blooded anti-Mormons. I tend to call such critics anti-Mormons as well (I sense that they usually don’t mind the title, unless they are posing as “loving friends of the Mormons” in order to launch more effective assaults on our faith).
- Those of other faiths who disagree with us and engage in civil discourse with us about their differences are usually not “anti-Mormons” but perhaps simply critics or just adherents of a different faith.(source for 2-6)
I also found this description, which is where I feel Mandy’s boyfriend may be coming from:
Sometimes you will encounter those who have been watching anti-Mormon films and reading anti-Mormon literature. They may have been taught wrong things about the church by adults they respect. They feel they do know about us. Many of them are sincere people who really do love the Savior according to their understanding of him. See if you can make that the center of your discussion. Ask them what their definition of a Christian is. Find out what you have in common. For example, we believe in being “born again.” That’s what the whole process of faith, repentance, baptism, taking the sacrament is all about. We believe that after all we can do, we are saved by grace (see 2 Ne. 10:24; 2 Ne. 25:23). We accept Christ as our “personal Savior” when we declare our faith in him, are baptized in his name, and look to him to lift our burden of sin.
Still, after all of that, some say we are not Christian because we believe things about Christ and his gospel that they do not find in the Bible. They simply choose to define “Christian” in such a way that it excludes Latter-day Saints. And let’s face it, we do claim additional knowledge about the Savior and his gospel from revealed sources besides the Bible. People who do not accept those sources will not accept the teachings that come from them. If they want to define “Christian” in a way that excludes our revealed teachings, that is their privilege.
It’s really interesting how my good ol’ experience with Luke has turned out to be a good preparatory study for what we’re going through now with Mandy and her boyfriend, his family, and now “God sends” who have been sent to Provo to “rescue Mandy from the devil’s Mormon militia” or whatever they claim to be doing…
As I’ve talked about before, having had the “opportunity” to talk with a Luke on Facebook about my beliefs regarding my religion (Mormonism) has been a great and eye-opening experience for me. What I initially felt was a friendly conversation to clear up misconceptions about Mormons vs. Christians ended up being exactly what this author says about “Anti-Mormons” objectives:
“The anti-Mormon…is Mr. Bill McKeever, the director of the anti-Mormon group Mormonism Research Ministry. I have also corresponded with Mr. McKeever and encountered yet another tactic that typifies many of the self-appointed cult bashers on the Internet. I grew frustrated that my responses to lengthy lists of charges and allegations were largely ignored, and simply followed by other lengthy letters loaded with more allegations and accusations than I could possibly deal with. Any issue I addressed was ignored and followed by additional long letters on new topics. Soon it was clear that the communication was intended to be only one way. It took many requests and finally a complaint to McKeever’s e-mail provider before Mr. McKeever would quit sending me unsolicited lengthy anti-Mormon articles.”
Go figure, this is EXACTLY what happened with my friend. I made a sincere and honest effort to answer his questions with Biblical answers; I thought things out before responding “emotionally”, shooting from the hip, or flat out arguing. And at the end of the day, my friend did exactly what Mr. McKeever did – he didn’t seem to read what I had said at all but instead threw out more and more regurgitated non-sense that has been answered and re-answered by legitimate theologians, both of my faith and of other faiths.
How Should I Deal with Anti-Mormon Literature?
I researched this question at LDS.org and found these recommendations:
First, it would be a waste to spend a lot of time and energy reading it. For one thing, it’s incredibly repetitive. Most of its questions and claims have been brought up—and answered—time and time again for over 100 years. But because anti-Mormon authors want to discredit the Church, they keep writing the same stuff over and over in the hope that they can reach a new audience. For another thing, you may not have the knowledge and experience to successfully investigate and counter all of the arguments they make. If you do end up reading something that criticizes the Church, discuss it with someone you trust who is knowledgeable in the gospel, like your parents, bishop, or seminary teacher. They can help you find answers and, more importantly, put things in proper perspective.
Second, you should never take the claims of anti-Mormon literature at face value. Although some critics of the Church may be doing what they sincerely believe to be right, too many of them are either misinformed about the Church or downright antagonistic toward it. This latter group is often all too willing to rely on deception and dishonesty to achieve their goals. The literature they produce often uses lies or half-truths; it distorts, sensationalizes, or misinterprets Church teachings and history; its intent is to tear down the Church and scare people away from it…
We’re not against honest inquiry in the Church. We welcome it. The Apostle Paul said, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (History of the Church, 5:499). As we search for truth in Church teachings and history, we should remember that it is faith in Christ that helps us to “lay hold upon every good thing” (see Moroni 7:15–25). And we should keep everything in its proper perspective and context.
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said:
“We seem to have a host of critics. Some appear intent on trying to destroy us. They mock that which is sacred. They belittle that which we call divine. Some have said that we are trapped by our history, others have worked with great diligence seeking flaws in our early leaders. …
“My plea is that as we continue our search for truth, particularly we of the Church, that we look for strength and goodness rather than weakness and foibles in those who did so great a work in their time. …
“… I hope that we will cultivate an attitude of looking for positive elements which lead to growth and enthusiasm. We are not trapped by our history. That history contains the foundation of this work. …
“I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts to be in their proper context” (“The Continuing Pursuit of Truth,” Ensign, Apr. 1986, 4–6).
Since the whole Mandy experience has escalated substantially in the last few days and weeks, I reached out to a friend who works for the Church’s social media department. Our conversation went like this:
Me: have time for a quick question? Church related?
Me:my little sister-in-law has come out here to school at BYU
she’s from the mid-west and unfortunately was dating a non-member who’s father was a “youth pastor”
to make a long story short, they threw stuff at her that was totally anti-mormon and now she’s got strong questions about the church
she’s even meeting with an ex-mormon guy here in Provo who was “led to her” (by her boyfriends dad via the internet)
anyway, I was wondering your stance on this since I know you probably deal with it a lot online
and since I sent to Chile on my mission where the only anti-mormon stuff we got was JW’s and they were so far out there we laughed them off
Him: The key is you can never prove the Church wrong with history or science. Of course, you can’t prove it right either. The fact is there is always new science or history that disproves past findings. I would start by asking her what her concerns are, and make sure she’s researching the FAIR stuff online for at least “the apologetic” answer if she wants at least some explanation for her questions.
Secondly, just like everyone else in the Church, our Church leaders are imperfect people as well. That’s the beauty of the Gospel. Even that “Youth Pastor” she met with isn’t perfect, and he’ll likely admit it. The brethren are no different, and the same goes for past Prophets and leaders of the Church. So even *if* there is something that has “proven” the brethren wrong, they are still human and are dealt to get inspiration from the Lord only based on the knowledge they have. Not every GA understands all the intricacies of evolution. They haven’t always understood science, and even in some cases many of them haven’t fully done their research on the full history of the Church. That’s okay though, because just like you and me they aren’t perfect either. They, however, *were* called by God and as members we have a responsibility to follow them.
If she’s looking for answers the only way she’s going to get them is the Spirit. Check out the latest Mormon Messages on finding Light by Elder Ballard. Does she see light in what her friends or the Youth Pastor are telling her, or are they trying to tear apart her beliefs? Light builds up – it doesn’t tear apart. You’ll find the Church always builds up – it never tears apart someone else’s beliefs. The only way to know this Church is true is through the Spirit, and by finding that Light Elder Ballard Talks about.
Once you find that light, the rest of the Gospel is about learning to obey, and to follow the Lord’s anointed. It’s about showing the Lord you know how to keep covenants. It’s about, most of all applying the atonement to your own life, repenting, and forgiving others and not judging. Anyway, that’s my general response – I don’t know if it helps or not.
In the end if she’s not willing to soften her own heart and look for that light, she won’t find it. Find ways for her to find that light, and see the contrast from the things she’s seeing from her non-member friends.
If she has specific questions though, I’d be happy to address them specifically.
Me: that’s awesome
i will record this response in my notes for sure
I ironically had an experience with an old high school friend that was all about this about 6 months ago
probably prep for this whole deal now
i tried to answer his seemingly curious questions
but as I researched things out and shared my testimony and answers via the scriptures, I just kept getting more and more “rebuttals” from him
Him: I’ve seen just about every anti-Mormon response there is. Usually it’s full of misunderstandings of the Church and the Gospel. If you don’t help them find the right answers early on though, they’ll harden their heart and will no longer look for answers.
Me: yeah, and that’s our fear
that she’s so “in love” with this guy that it’s too late
Him: That’s tough – love is blinding
Me: she’s not really reading the Book of Mormon nor is she asking us any questions because she feels we’ll give her biased, close minded info
thanks for the feedback
Him: Hopefully her love for the Gospel is greater though and she really wants answers. I think those that go through this process often really do want answers, unless they’re trying to justify something else, which love can do.
If she only wants one answer, that’s what she’ll get
Good luck! I feel for you – it’s heart-wrenching to see people go through this.
I don’t think it could be said any better. A person is going to find what they want to find and believe what they want to believe. Hopefully the preparation I’ve done in the past and am doing now will prove to be helpful in helping Mandy clarify strong doubts and blatant lies her new friends have been telling her.
What do other Members of the Church say about anti-Mormon literature?
Anti-Mormon literature will be filled with scriptures or quotes that are taken out of context and twisted to serve the author’s purpose of filling people’s minds with doubt about the Church. The fact that you get an uneasy feeling when you read anti-Mormon literature should be proof enough. The best thing you can do to be prepared for questions is to be faithful and read the Book of Mormon daily. Also, most people who will ask you questions that come from the anti-Mormon literature are not interested in finding the gospel. They want you to argue with them so they can twist your words (see Alma 11). Jenika W., 19, Washington
What Effect Will This Have on Our Family?
This has become quite a big issue in our family. Not only is Mandy threatening to leave the Church, she seems to be dragging Gini & Drake down with her, sharing with them anti-Mormon information that is not only misleading but altogether devilish and misleading.
I just found this scripture in D&C 123:12-13:
12 For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it–
13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven–
Highlights from a Letter to a Non-Mormon
Who should tell who what they believe?
- But in any event, what I wish to propose is this: I will tell you what I believe; I will take the responsibility for representing the LDS position. Please, by all means, tell me what you believe and lay out the Baptist position, but please don’t tell me what my beliefs are. I won’t be so presumptuous as to make myself a spokesman for your church, and I would ask that you please return the favor. Does that sound fair?
- In any event, as I said before, perhaps you will be so kind as to let me speak for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as for my personal beliefs, and you can speak for your beliefs. That way, neither of us will need to feel misrepresented.
- I really do hope that this isn’t going to turn into a “Bible bash,” as I said in my first letter. I have no objection at all to discussing these matters with you, but I’m not interested in a recital of all the “evils” of Mormonism.
How can you really find out if the Book of Mormon, and therefore, everything else Mormon’s believe, is true or not?
- Once more, I urge you to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder its message, and to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance. I testify to you that he will indeed answer your prayers in a real and tangible manner.
- I have asked you repeatedly to put away your anti-Mormon books and read the Book of Mormon with an open mind. In this letter you have relied on those anti-Mormon books more than ever.
What do Mormons believe about the Bible?
- I was really surprised to read your statement that, “The vast majority of LDS, in my experience, harbor some doubts concerning the accuracy of the Bible, some going so far as to reject the Bible, for all intents and purposes, as a book that can be trusted” (p. 21). That, if I may say so, is quite different from my experience. My companion and I study the Bible daily. We teach from it with confidence. In common with the overwhelming majority of Latter-day Saint youth from active families, I attended four years of seminary classes; two years of the four were devoted to the Bible. This is the standard seminary curriculum. The two years we spent on the Old and New Testaments did not focus on textual problems or errors in translation but on the actual teachings of those collections of scripture.
- Without that gift, which is the power by which the scriptures were given in the first place (see 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20—21), we are left entirely to our own devices and are guaranteed to get things wrong.
Did Christ or His disciples “tear down” the beliefs of those they taught?
- You say that my testimony of the gospel ” stands in the way of my acceptance of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Anything that stands between a person and the gospel must be dealt with—it must be exposed by the light of truth. If this means ‘tearing down’ falsehoods, then so be it” (pp. 82—83).
- This, if I may point out, is not the modus operandi of the ancient apostles. Consider the case of Paul, who took the gospel to the gentiles. In Ephesus, the famous cult center of the goddess Diana (or Artemis), there was a confrontation with the devotees of that goddess. Do I need to remind you that they, and not Paul or his companions, started the confrontation? Must I labor the point that all of the “tearing down [of] falsehoods” was done by the supporters of Diana? Is it lost on you that Paul never once attacked the worship of Diana in any way—not in his parting speech in Acts 20 and not in his long letter to the Ephesians? Would you call me smug if I pointed out that we follow the example of Paul as completely as you are following the example of Paul’s enemies?
What is latter-day revelation and does it really exist in conjunction with the Bible?
- With regard to latter-day revelation, you say, “even if such a thing as latter-day revelation existed, it would not in any way supersede, or contradict, what the Bible says in the passages we have examined” (p. 80, emphasis added). The first thing that leaps out from this statement is the “even if” at the start. You really aren’t prepared to consider seriously the possibility that the Lord might still want to speak to prophets, are you? Your mind is pretty firmly made up on this point, isn’t it?
- The second thing is that not only must latter-day revelation not contradict what has been revealed before, for you it cannot even supersede it. But that is precisely what new revelation does do. Does Acts 15 supersede Leviticus, or not? If not, why don’t you live the law of Moses? If so, why can’t latter-day revelation do the same?
- Not only is the Bible the only guide to all truth, but you choose which texts to use as yardsticks. Shall we say that you have set up a game in which we have to play on your field, with your equipment, according to your rules—and with yourself as the umpire? Or shall we say there is no god but the Bible, and James White is its prophet?
Do Mormons contradict who God is?
- Your examples of “contradictions” I believe we already discussed in connection with your letter on the nature of God. You claim that the statement “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22) contradicts a raft of scriptures. Hosea 11:9 says nothing at all about God having a body; neither does 2 Chronicles 6:18 or Jeremiah 23:24. Many people casually assume that John 4:24 does imply that God has no body, for it says, “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” But if saying that God is a spirit means that he can’t have a body, then what are we to make of Romans 8:9, wherein Paul tells the Saints, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you”? Are Christians supposed to lose their bodies? Is that perhaps what Jesus meant when he said that we were to worship God “in spirit and in truth”? You seemed corporeal enough to me when I met you last. Or is it possible that Paul meant that Christians can be “in the spirit” and still keep their bodies? If so, why can’t God do that too? Or do you believe that such things are possible for us, but beyond him?
- I find your entire letter to be a (very) long list of excuses to reject modern revelation without actually considering it.
Who do Mormons worship, Jesus Christ of Joseph Smith and what is “tough love”?
- You introduce your ad hominem against Joseph Smith with these words:
If your belief in Joseph Smith stands in your way of finding a real relationship with Jesus Christ, I will do whatever is necessary to remove that stumbling block, simply because I care about you. I do not enjoy the task—but tough love often demands that we do that which we do not like. (p. 83, bold added)
- Coming down to what your “tough love” demands that you do, it seems to be little more than breaking your own rules. While proclaiming the purity of your motives, you slip in the phrase “deceptions of Mormon leaders such as Joseph Smith” almost under my nose (p. 83, punctuation altered). But I spotted it anyway, as I also spotted your claim that the efforts of others who slandered him were “noble.” Very well, so in what do these “deceptions” consist?
Why was Joseph Smith killed really and have others in history done this too?
- Do you genuinely believe that Joseph Smith was murdered for suppressing a scandal-mongering newspaper? Others have done the same, before and since, with perfect safety. If you ask any ten Americans which was our greatest president, I’d be surprised if fewer than eight of them named Abraham Lincoln. But he suppressed newspapers too, and he locked up hundreds of Americans for years without due process of law, and that to cope with a danger far less than what Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints faced. For Lincoln was interested only in saving the Union as a political entity; Joseph saw that his people were in real danger of extermination. The mobs of bigots and fanatics that howled for Joseph’s blood were only appeased for a short time; in less than two years the Saints were driven from Nauvoo at gunpoint, thanks largely to the good offices of “Christian” ministers.
Did Joseph Smith teach his followers to believe in a different God?
- But back to Joseph Smith. You claim, “I believe that I have already laid a sufficient foundation for the ‘testing’ of Joseph Smith as a prophet with regard to Deuteronomy 13:1—5” (p. 87). That is the biblical passage that warns Israel to reject prophets if they say, “Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them” (v. 2)—something that Joseph Smith never said. Joseph testified of the Father and the Son. Your interpretations of Joseph’s teachings differ from your interpretations of the Bible passages of your choice, and by dint of such strained and artificial methods you are able to take Joseph’s clear call to “come unto Christ” as an invitation to follow after “other gods.” Is there anything that Joseph could say that would meet with your approval?
- To follow Joseph is to follow the master, Jesus Christ, whose servant he was, and not any “strange god.”
Falsehoods about Joseph Smith’s First Vision
- Your friend starts from Joseph Smith’s own account and summarizes it in a paragraph containing seven points (see p. 90). The first point, “this ‘revival’ began some time in the second year after the Smiths’ move to Manchester,” is one we will return to. I will note that your friend is rather free with his quotation marks, as the word revival does not appear in Joseph Smith’s own account. The second point, “it took place ‘in the place where we lived’ and spread to ‘the whole district of country,'” is taken from Joseph’s own words, but the key word, spread, is not Joseph’s. I label that as the key word because it defines a very specific chain of events: according to that word, the religious excitement that Joseph describes must start in his neighborhood and afterward spread to surrounding regions. But this is not Joseph Smith’s story: he says, as I’m sure you know, that the excitement “was in the place where we lived,” and “indeed the whole district of country seemed affected by it,” which is a different kind of picture. Joseph describes a widespread excitement which included his own neighborhood; he emphatically does not say it started there.
- Your friend seems to rely on Joseph Smith’s story, but he makes subtle adjustments to it.
How many times did Joseph Smith change his First Vision story and what does that mean?
- Your friend also mentions that Joseph’s account was written “in 1838, a full eighteen years after the supposed events he narrates concerning the First Vision” (p. 89). This presumably is an important gap in your friend’s mind. Perhaps he feels the eighteen-year gap somehow discredits the first vision in and of itself. I should point out that your friend, who appears to be a conservative Protestant of some kind, would probably not think that the much longer gap between the birth of Christ and the writing of the Gospels would discredit those documents. Does he understand the importance of consistency?
- …he says, “It is not that this was new for Joseph—he included this kind of rhetoric in the Book of Mormon as well,” a sentence that relies upon at least three hostile assumptions. Your friend assumes that the Book of Mormon, published in 1830, predates this experience, which Joseph declared happened in 1820; he assumes that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon instead of translating it; and he assumes that Joseph was making up the entire first vision experience “as well.” All of which demonstrates that your friend is arguing from the assumptions he is trying to prove.
- Your friend’s statement that “Joseph did tell many different stories, most of which, Elder, contradict the others on important points” (p. 94) is quite disingenuous. As a lawyer, I make this statement without fear of legal repercussions. Take the transcript of Joseph’s 1832 handwritten account of the first vision. This remarkably compact account actually agrees with the longer 1838 account in every single detail that it mentions about the vision. To be sure, there are a lot of details that it does not mention, including the appearance of God the Father. But in the much longer account the Father says only eight words—the bulk of the interview is clearly taken by the Son. The short account discreetly avoids mentioning the Father’s presence and sticks to the message the Lord brought to Joseph, which was that his sins were forgiven and that he was not to join any church, since they were all apostate.
- Now a contradiction must be the juxtaposition of two explicit and incompatible statements of fact, and the 1832 version does apparently contradict the 1838 account on one point, although it is a very trivial one. Your friend has quoted the earlier account as saying that the vision took place “in the 16th year of Joseph’s age” (pp. 94—95). We shall be charitable to your friend on this point, since others without ill will have made the same mistake, and he may be quoting them. The mistake I refer to is the “16th.” For qualified handwriting experts have stated that the actual figure should be the “15th,” but the second digit has been smudged or overwritten.
Why did Joseph mention angels in one account of the First Vision?
- Likewise, the mention of angels in the 1835 accounts is not a contradiction, but a generalization. The term angel in the first half of the nineteenth century was a generic term referring to all heavenly beings, especially when they were visiting the earth with a message. This is precisely what the Father and the Son did on that spring day in 1820, and that made them angels par excellence. We can reasonably infer that every Christmas, Joseph Smith, along with the rest of the Christian world, sang an old Catholic hymn that says, in part, “Come and behold him, born the King of angels.” What sort of being would the King of angels be? In Joseph’s time, what sort of person was the king of England? The king of England was English, and by the same token the King of angels was an angel—if not the angel, “the angel of his presence” in fact. There is no contradiction, and your friend is playing a shell game when he tries to manufacture one.
Can Mormons produce any evidence that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ?
- Your friend’s rather smug (and if I may say so, unfriendly) challenge that you “produce any shred of evidence that Smith claimed to have seen God the Father prior to the year 1834, a full fourteen years after the event supposedly took place” (p. 96) is one that he thinks he makes with perfect safety.
- Nevertheless, Joseph Smith makes a very clear claim on 16 February 1832 to have seen God the Father. True, this is not referring to the first vision, but it does rather upset your friend’s theory of evolution. For the date of Doctrine and Covenants 76:19—24 is not in dispute, and on that date the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon together. Two witnesses are better than one, and Sidney is yet another witness who had differences with Joseph (and later on with Brigham Young); Rigdon is yet another witness who left the church and died out of it. Yet he maintained his testimony to the end of his life.
- But while your friend is waiting for that “shred of evidence that Smith claimed to have seen God the Father” in the first vision “prior to the year 1834,” he might accept a challenge to produce a shred of evidence that anyone claimed that Jesus was born of a virgin prior to A.D. 64. If he cannot, are you then entitled to reject the virgin birth as unhistorical? If you are not, will he apply the same standard to the first vision? I believe that careful examination will show that your friend has two quite different standards of evidence that he applies to belief systems—an almost impossibly strict one for yours and a lenient one for his. This stance is called hypocrisy.
Does Doctrine and Covenants contradict the First Vision because Joseph didn’t have the priesthood at the time he saw God and Jesus?
- Your friend thinks that Doctrine and Covenants 84:22 contradicts the first vision because Joseph didn’t hold the Melchizedek Priesthood at that time and therefore could not have seen the face of God and lived. The problem, of course, is that nowhere in that verse, or indeed in all of that section, or anywhere else for that matter, does it state that the person who is seeing God’s face must hold the priesthood himself. That is the assumption that your friend relies on, and it is utterly baseless. The passage in question simply says that the priesthood is the power that makes it possible for a person to see the face of God and live. And that priesthood power was certainly present during the first vision; for God the Father is the source of all power, while the Son of God uniquely possesses that priesthood—it is his and anciently was named for him; to men here on the earth it is merely delegated.
- Thus the three choices your friend offers you for understanding this passage comprise a false dilemma. Note the loaded phrases with which he tries to build up his case—”the priesthood, a teaching that . . . had begun to evolve in his mind” and “He asserts that it is impossible for a man who does not have the priesthood to see the face of God . . . and live to tell about it.” Who asserts that? Actually your friend does; note how breezily he tries to palm off his own opinion as Joseph’s assertion. “Mormon leaders have come up with some ingenious ways around this obvious contradiction” (pp. 96—97)—obvious, that is, to your friend; to those who know how to read the scriptures and who understand the doctrine of the priesthood, there is no contradiction at all. And, “I would like to suggest to you that the reason Smith could say what he did in D&C 84:21—22 without even noticing that he was creating a contradiction is simply that at this point in time (1832) he had never claimed to have seen God the Father!” (p. 97). How modest of him to merely “suggest” this, all the time dropping his subliminal little hints that Joseph was “creating a contradiction,” that is, he was making it all up! And how about “Smith’s beliefs obviously evolved over time” (p. 97), a mantra that he likes to keep repeating. This is a well-known technique of manipulation; he thinks that if he repeats it often enough, you will start to accept it without ever having actually examined it. But he shows real temerity when he takes it upon himself to tell you what “you must accept”; playing fast and loose with facts and logic, to borrow your friend’s phrase, “does not qualify one as a prophet, either” (p. 97)
Did the early Brethren of the Church not know the First Vision story very well, thus contradicting it?
- You told me that your friend is using some anti-Mormon books. This is certainly true, to some extent. His use of some passages from the Journal of Discourses to claim that certain early church leaders didn’t know anything about the first vision is regurgitated nonsense that he would have obtained from a Salt Lake City outfit headed by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. But there are many indications in your friend’s letter that he is arguing the anti-Mormon case in his own right and not simply believing what others tell him.
- Be that as it may, those passages from the Journal of Discourses do not prove that the early Brethren didn’t know about the first vision in the mid-nineteenth century. Your friend is clearly ignorant of the competent answers that have been made to this silly claim. His conclusion that the Brethren were confused by the “evolving” story of the first vision (for thirty-one years after it stopped “evolving” and was published in its final form) is simply ludicrous, and it serves as an excellent illustration of how much influence wishful thinking has over his reasoning processes.
Can anti-Mormons prove the First Vision DIDN’T take place?
- Your friend makes a fairly determined effort to prove that the first vision “couldn’t” have taken place. His proof, if such it may be called, is as follows:
Joseph Smith claimed there was a revival in 1819/1820.
Wesley P. Walters proved this revival took place in 1824.
Therefore Joseph was lying or mistaken about the timing of the first vision.
Therefore it never happened.
- The first point is not true. Joseph did not mention the word “revival” in his account; he talked about a period of religious “excitement.” He uses the terms “region of country,” “district of country,” and “the place where we lived” interchangeably, and notto imply some kind of outward spread, as your friend has so tendentiously paraphrased him.Nor does he say that the excitement happened in 1820. He says that it happened, or reached his area, “some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester.” In the second year means more than one year but less than two years later. I realize your friend has already given you a rundown of Joseph’s chronology, but I’ll give you another one, without any hostile commentary.
- Nevertheless, there is a problem in this chronology as it stands. Taking the 1816 move from Vermont as the starting point, four years later they move onto the farm—that is, in 1820. If the religious excitement begins in the second year after, that is, in 1821—22, that is too late to have influenced Joseph before his first vision in 1820. Your friend’s rather devious sleight-of-hand tries to force Joseph’s chronology up to 1824, but I’m sure you see the fallacies in his reasoning as he picks and chooses the facts that suit his theory, and rejects equally well-attested facts because they don’t suit it. When people let their opinions control the facts, they can prove anything. But even after discarding his mangling of the time line, there remains yet a problem in Joseph’s chronology.
How do anti-Mormons interpret LDS Scripture?
- …he fails to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt. His approach to reading LDS scripture is to look for anything that could possibly be seen as an inconsistency and then milk it for all it is worth; in other words, he is an entirely hostile interpreter.
How do anti-Mormons interpret their own passages of the Bible?
- Second, with regard to the Bible passages he cites, he shows a tendency to read documents as they were never intended to be read. He seems at times like what we call a “strict constructionist”—that is, he argues that the meaning of a passage is equal to the sums of the dictionary meanings of all the words it contains. At other times, he seems to want to excuse a passage from such treatment, if the clear thrust of it is contrary to his preconceptions. And he does it just about the wrong way around, since a straightforward narrative probably says just what it means, while ecstatic declarations of praise tend toward exaggeration. So when Stephen in extremis reports what he sees, it is only fair to take him literally—he’s hardly likely to try to compose a beautiful poem in those circumstances; while when other prophets, in chapters chock-full of poetry, make expressions of wonder and awe about God’s majesty and greatness, we really shouldn’t read them as dry theological treatises.
How might we study the Bible and the experiences of Joseph Smith?
- The above-presented explanation is perfectly reasonable, it coincides with the known facts, and it does not engage in unwarranted “special pleading” (compare with pp. 36—37 of your letter 3). This comes directly from what you said to me about reading the Bible; this is your rule, but you seem to quite openly ignore or even reverse it when it comes to Joseph Smith. You are using a double standard. Is this really a Christian thing to do?
Have changes been made to the Book of Mormon?
The most commonly criticized changes involve thrice clarifying which member of the Godhead was meant in a passage (1 Nephi 11) describing the future ministry of Christ and the “condescension of God.” Robert L. Millet explains what was changed in The Power Of The Word: Saving Doctrines from the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company (1994), pp. 11-12:
The condescension of God the Son consists in the coming to earth of the great Jehovah, the Lord God Omnipotent, the God of the ancients. The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon contains the following words from the angel to Nephi: “Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh” (1 Nephi 11:18; italics added). The angel later said unto Nephi regarding the vision of the Christ child, “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, the Eternal Father!” (1 Nephi 11:21; italics added; compare 1 Nephi 13:40, 1830 edition). Later in the same vision of the ministry of Christ, the angel spoke, saying, “Look! And I looked,” Nephi added, “and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record” (1 Nephi 11:32; italics added). In the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith the Prophet changed these verses to read “the mother of the Son of God,” “the Son of the Eternal Father,” and “the Son of the everlasting God,” respectively (italics added). It would appear that the Prophet made these textual alterations to assist the Latter-day Saints in fully understanding the meaning of the expressions.It may also be that Joseph Smith altered these verses to make certain that no reader – member or nonmember – would confuse the Latter-day Saint understanding of the Father and the Son with that of other Christian denominations, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. See an article by Oliver Cowdery, “Trouble in the West,” in Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, I (April 1835), p. 105. [This paragraph is a footnote to the preceding paragraph in Millet’s book.]
Hugh Nibley also discusses these changes (Since Cumorah, p. 6):
In the first edition Mary is referred to as “the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh” (1 Nephi 11:18); the insertion in later editions of “the Son of God” is simply put in to make it clear that the second person of the godhead is meant, and thereby avoid confusion, since during the theological controversies of the early Middle Ages the expression “mother of God” took on a special connotation which it still has for many Christians.
Three verses later (1 Nephi 11:21), the declaration of the angels, “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!” has been augmented in later editions to “even the Son of the Eternal Father!” to avoid confusion: in this passage the Eternal Father is possibly in apposition not to “Lamb” but to “God” — he is the Lamb of God-the-Eternal-Father. But that might not be obvious to most readers, and so to avoid trouble, and without in the least changing the meaning of the text, the Lamb of God is made equivalent to the Son of the Eternal Father. Both ideas are quite correct, and there is no conflict between them.
Many critics have tried to say that Joseph originally believed in the Trinitarian concept of God when he wrote the Book of Mormon, but later changed his mind and changed the text to indicate that God and the Son of God are distinct persons. This argument is without foundation. The original manuscript (O) and every printed version of the Book of Mormon makes it clear in multiple places that Christ and God are distinct beings (e.g., 2 Nephi 25 and 2 Nephi 31). Even in the very chapter where Joseph Smith made the changes, the Original Manuscript and the present Book of Mormon speak of the Messiah as the Son of God, for verse 24 of 1 Nephi 11 reads: “And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.” This is consistent with the alterations made by Joseph. There is no change in meaning, only a helpful clarification for modern readers.
Though God the Father and Christ are distinct beings, Christ as a member of the perfectly united Godhead can bear the title of “God” as well as “Eternal Father.” Book of Mormon writers lived long before the confusing post-Biblical, Neo-Platonic doctrine of the Trinity had been formulated. They could use the various titles for Christ without misunderstanding what is meant (compare Mosiah 15:4; 16:15; Alma 11:38-39). For the benefit of modern readers, however, the changes noted above in the Book of Mormon help eliminate potential confusion.
It is important to remember that Book of Mormon authors, including Moroni himself, cautioned us to not expect an inerrant or infallible book: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ” (Title Page.) See also Mormon 9:33, 1 Nephi 19:6.
Doesn’t it say in the Bible that the scriptures shouldn’t be added upon?
One question/objection I’ve read quite a few times is in relation to the scripture in Revelations that talks about not adding to or taking away from “this book”. Here’s what it says:
19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the abook of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
I found this scripture today when reading in Moroni 10:32 about coming unto Christ. Interestingly enough, if you cross reference “add” in verse 18, you’ll get this list of scriptures:
In Deut. 4:2 it says the following:
2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
It’s interesting to read what it says in D&C 20:35 as well:
35 And we know that these things are true and according to the revelations of John, neither adding to, nor diminishing from the prophecy of his book, the holy scriptures, or the revelations of God which shall come hereafter by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God, or the ministering of angels.
36 And the Lord God has spoken it; and honor, power and glory be rendered to his holy name, both now and ever. Amen. (bold added for emphasis)
This is another testimony that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, that he will continue to give us information, direction, and guidance in our lives. Isaiah talks about this:
10 For precept must be upon precept, aprecept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
13 But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, aprecept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and bfall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
Then in the Book of Mormon it expounds on that (2 Nephi 28:30):
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
Other Legitimate Sources of Mormon Research Regarding Anti-Mormon Slander and Accusations
First of all, anti-Mormon literature, Internet sites, conversations, ideas, etc. are like spiritual pornography. Once they are in the mind, they are very difficult to get rid of. As you try to reach out to your husband, I would advise you to avoid any material, even if you think it might help you understand him better. You don’t want those seeds of doubt planted in your own mind, because no one is immune to them.
More About the Joseph Smith Vision