Even my staunch believing husband agrees that the Mormon (LDS) church should be more forthcoming about its full history and the geographical and historical evidences and problems that current LDS scholars are confronting.
I think these issues should be discussed in Gospel Doctrine classes. Without these missing pieces of the LDS story, members do not have a clear picture of the church they belong to.
Many people believe that not telling the whole truth is a lie of omission. I think I even had that lesson taught to me when I was in Primary.
But what happens when someone tries to actually tell the whole truth in Gospel Doctrine class?
Well, Lyndon Lamborn (teacher of High Priest Group in his LDS ward ) found out:
His first lesson: The Life of Joseph Smith, Jr. He prepared for the lesson by going to the church’s own genealogical website, familysearch.org, and printed the list of the wives of Joseph Smith, Jr. He then printed the information on some of the wives of Smith, showing that some were already married, and that their husbands were very much alive at the time of their marriage to Smith.
During the lesson, he asked by show of hands, how many were aware that Smith had wives other than Emma in his mortal life. Three raised their hand (out of 25). He then asked, by show of hand, how many were aware that Smith had married women who were already married to living men. There were no hands. He asked how many knew that Smith had married a fourteen year old, Helen Mar Kimball. There were no hands. He presented proof and passed it around the room. The men eagerly examined the printed sheets. The lesson went well, there were no negative comments or repercussions, only compliments.
The following month a lesson included some scriptural references in the Book of Abraham. “By show of hands, how many are aware that the original papyri from which the Book of Abraham was translated were discovered in 1967 in a New York museum?” Three people raised their hand. He followed with, “I am in a situation and need your help. I have a friend who claims to be able to prove that Joseph Smith was a fraud. Is there anyone here with information that could help my friend understand and prove the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham?” A brief discussion and some testimony bearing ensued, and the assertion that all you need is to pray about it. He said that this friend isn’t convinced by your declaration of belief based on feelings and thinks that testimony bearing is akin to unreasonable fanaticism.
It makes sense that the friend would be convinced by the now understood translation of the papyri found at the New York museum. The papyri were not readable by experts in the days of Joseph Smith, but it is now. If indeed the Egyptologists verified Joseph Smiths translation as correct the friend would be convinced.
However, the problem is that the Egyptologists that can translate these documents revealed that this papyri that Joseph used to translate the Book of Abraham were basic funerary documents, had nothing to do with Abraham, and were dated many centuries after Abraham lived (Joseph Smith said Abraham wrote them himself). So, based on the evidence, we can not convince the friend.
The next lesson Lamborn taught was on building testimony. He began the lesson with a simple geometrical proof of the Pythagorean theorem, illustrating how the logical arguments are made, how the sum of the squares of the two sides have to equal the square of the hypotenuse, how the results are irrefutable. In addition to be ironclad truth from the logical development and geometrical proof, it is readily tested and useful in everyday life, especially in construction or laying tile.
He then contrasted the truth of the theorem with a five-year old member of the church who says, “I know the church is true.” Is this real truth? Is the youth really sure? The class agreed that the youth was just repeating what he/she had heard and a child could not know the truth at age 5. What about those of us who bear testimony of The Book of Mormon, calling it truth, as grown men? Can the truth of the book be established beyond a reasonable doubt, and can anyone actually KNOW of its truthfulness, and be absolutely sure? The class thought this was possible because you could pray about it.
Then Lamborn related to the class the story of LDS apostle B. H. Roberts, and his struggle to understand and resolve some fundamental historicity problems with the Book of Mormon . B.H. Roberts, was at the time, the most knowledgable and informed historian on the earth regarding the origins of the church, and a general authority in an honest intellectual struggle. After trying long and hard to answer his own questions, he sought advice, enlightenment, and counsel from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Roberts scheduled several hours with these men and described to them the issues with which he had been struggling:
1. The Book of Mormon cites numerous domesticated and other animals (horses, cattle, sheep, elephants) that were not present in America during the time period the Book of Mormon took place. Also, silk and wheat, also mentioned were not present. What were present were lamas, bison, corn, potatoes yet they are absent in the book.
2. Linguists agree that it is not logically plausible that any of the American Indian tribes were speaking Hebrew or an Aramaic dialect at 421AD like the Book of Mormon claims. Instead, the variety of languages found among the native Americans suggest thousands or tens of thousands of years in development/isolation of non-Hebrew, non-Aramaic origin.
3. The evidence that American Indians are not of Hebrew origin is overwhelming (language, skeletal structure, skin color, customs, stone-age technology.) Every serious, unemotional, and unbiased anthropologist concludes that the origin of the American Indian is eastern Asia. (Modern day DNA studies support that American Indians came from Asia, not Israel).
4. Parallels between Ethan Smith’s A View of the Hebrews and The Book of Mormon appear too numerous to be a coincidence. A View of the Hebrews was published some 7 years prior to The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith almost certainly had access to a copy of the book (it was published only 30 miles away from his home). The assertion that The Book of Mormon is an original work is questionable for any who take time to study and read A View of the Hebrews. He mentioned several of the parallels, here is a partial list:
a. Both books begin with the destruction of Jerusalem and banishment of Israel.
b. Use of the words “remnant” and “Gathering of the dispersed of Judah” in the introductions.
c. Use of the literal gathering of Israel as a theme.
d. Native Americans are of Hebrew origin, also a shared inaccuracy.
e. Stick of Judah, stick of Joseph, Ezekiel 37 prophecy fulfilled (pg. 30)
f. The people were of one color skin originally (pg. 110, 152)
g. Savage hunting tribes annihilated the more civilized tribes (p 126, 139)
h. Ancient works, forts, mounds, vast enclosures, skill in fortifications (p 126)
i. Advanced metal working of all kinds (p 140)
j. Breastplate description (p 145)
k. Burying records in boxes ( p 164)
l. Use of the phrase “Bring them to a knowledge of the gospel” (p 173)
m. Allegory of the olive tree and the House of Israel
n. Sacred records being handed down from generation to generation and then buried in a hill
o. Even though the migrating peoples were Hebrew, somehow Egyptian was involved.
p. Both books use the terms “Zion” and “Mt. Zion” to designate restoration/gathering places.
q. Both books call upon the American people to preach the gospel to the Native Americans
r. Both books predict the eventual conversion of the “remnants” and that they will become white before the burning of the world.
As he related to the men these historicity issues with The Book of Mormon, he could see that some of the men were visibly shaken. He mentioned that “even though Roberts was addressing the highest authorities of the church, some of them were actually crying upon hearing him recount all the difficulties that are really insurmountable to a reasonable person. The world was crashing down around the Twelve Apostles, the sky was falling; everything they had worked for and dedicated their lives to was reduced to ash by their most trusted church historian in a few hours. If the highest authorities of the church can have their beliefs shaken by a single man with a few facts in a few hours, then how can we sit here in Mesa, Arizona and state that we know the book to be true beyond any doubt?” He asserted that, “Religious tenets are not possible to know, only to believe”. There was some significant squirming going on amongst those present.
At this point the Stake President was in attendance and seated in the front row. As expected, he took issue with this and asserted that it was indeed possible to know these things for a certainty by praying about it, that the spirit of the Holy Ghost and God were the ultimate sources of truth, etc. Lamborn felt that this idea of being led to truth was unsubstantiated, asserted without reason, and fundamentally fanatical in nature.
Side note: I don’t know if I completely agree with Lamborn on this point because I have had prayers answered and I have and I believe I am still led by the spirit as I open my heart to God. However, I don’t believe that knowing and truth are the same thing as inspiration and guidance. I have never been told by God that the LDS church is true or that anything for that matter was true or false, instead I have felt led towards or away from certain decisions after praying about them and either feeling at peace with the decision or not. I make a lot of my decisions this way. I think some people are led to the Mormon church and feel good about it when that is where they are in their life right then and that would be best for them, but I think others are led in other directions. It depends on the current knowledge you have and where you are in your life at the time. I think that as long as you are seeking for God and trying to do what is right based on your conscience than you are Okay, wherever that leads you. Even my staunch LDS believing husband said to me the other day that God knows how I feel about polygamy and the problems with the LDS church and so God will lead me to a place where I can feel at peace in my relationship with deity, if I open my heart to the love and inspiration that will guide me.
To continue on with the story:
Lamborn was perfectly content to continue being a member of the church. He continued to get very positive feedback from his peers in the quorum, but the congratulations seemed to be offered in more private situations, as if the person offering the compliment did not want to be seen or heard being complicit with a borderline heretic such as him. In his heart of hearts, he knew that introducing some balance to the discussions each Sunday was doing a great service to these men he cared about. He can understand why many choose to remain in the fold, believing that more good can be done from the inside out than from the outside in. However, I was woefully unprepared for what would happen to the Lamborn family in the next three weeks…
So to find out the rest of the story you will have to read his book- click on link below. (I’ll give you a clue- something bad happens to him).
Blog post sources:
By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus by Larson
Brigham H Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen, ed. Studies of the Book of Mormon, University of Illinois Press
A View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith