August 14, 2008

Bushman's Introduction to "Joseph Smith and His Critics" Seminar

The following is Richard Bushman's introduction paper to the 2008 summer seminar, “Joseph Smith and His Critics,” given July 29, 2008. The image above shows Bushman (far left) with other conference participants.

For my thoughts on the seminar in general, see "Preliminary Thoughts on the 2008 Bushman Seminar," and "Follow-up Thoughts on the 2008 Bushman Seminar." For notes on the presentations themselves, see Juvenile Instructor's "Notes on the 2008 Bushman Seminar," parts one and two.

"Introduction" by Richard Bushman

Increasingly teachers and church leaders at all levels are approached by Latter-day Saints who have lost confidence in Joseph Smith and the basic miraculous events of church history. They doubt the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, many of Joseph’s revelations, and much besides. They fall into doubt after going on the Internet and finding shocking information about Joseph Smith based on documents and facts they had never heard before. A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives. They are set back by differences in the various accounts of the First Vision. They find that Egyptologists do not translate the Abraham manuscripts the way Joseph Smith did, making it appear that the Book of Abraham was a fabrication. When they come across this information in a critical book or read it on one of the innumerable critical Internet sites, they feel as if they had been introduced to a Joseph Smith and a Church history they had never known before. They undergo an experience like viewing the famous picture of a beautiful woman who in a blink of an eye turns into an old hag. Everything changes. What are they to believe?

Often church leaders, parents, and friends, do not understand the force of this alternate view. Not knowing how to respond, they react defensively. They are inclined to dismiss all the evidence as anti-Mormon or of the devil. Stop reading these things if they upset you so much, the inquirer is told. Or go back to the familiar formula: scriptures, prayer, church attendance.

The troubled person may have been doing all of these things sincerely, perhaps even desperately. He or she feels the world is falling apart. Everything these inquirers put their trust in starts to crumble. They want guidance more than ever in their lives, but they don’t seem to get it. The facts that have been presented to them challenge almost everything they believe. People affected in this way may indeed stop praying; they don’t trust the old methods because they feel betrayed by the old system. Frequently they are furious. On their missions they fervently taught people about Joseph Smith without knowing any of these negative facts. Were they taken advantage of? Was the Church trying to fool them for its own purposes?

These are deeply disturbing questions. They shake up everything. Should I stay in the Church? Should I tell my family? Should I just shut up and try to get along? Who can help me?

At this point, these questioners go off in various directions. Some give up on the Church entirely. They find another religion or, more likely these days, abandon religion altogether. Without their familiar Mormon God, they are not sure there is any God at all. They become atheist or agnostic. Some feel the restrictions they grew up with no longer apply. The strength has been drained out of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and chastity. They partly welcome the new freedom of their agnostic condition. Now they can do anything they please without fear of breaking the old Mormon rules. The results may not be happy for them or their families.

Others piece together a morality and a spiritual attitude that stops them from declining morally, but they are not in an easy place. When they go to church, , they are not comfortable. Sunday School classes and Sacrament meeting talks about Joseph Smith and the early church no longer ring true. How can these people believe these “fairy tales,” the inquirers ask. Those who have absorbed doses of negative material live in two minds: their old church mind which now seems naive and credulous, and their new enlightened mind with its forbidden knowledge learned on the internet and from critical books.

A friend who is in this position described the mindset of the disillusioned member this way:

“Due to the process of learning, which they have gone through, these [two-minded] LDS often no longer accept the church as the only true one (with the only true priesthood authority and the only valid sacred ordinances), but they see it as a Christian church, in which good, inspired programs are found as well as failure and error. They no longer consider inspiration, spiritual and physical healing, personal and global revelation limited to the LDS church. In this context, these saints may attend other churches, too, where they might have spiritual experiences as well. They interpret their old spiritual experiences differently, understanding them as testimonies from God for them personally, as a result of their search and efforts, but these testimonies don’t necessarily have to be seen as a confirmation that the LDS church is the only true one.

“Since the social relationships between them and other ward (or stake) members suffer (avoidance, silence, even mobbing) because of their status as heretics, which is usually known via gossip, and since the extent of active involvement and range of possible callings are reduced because of their nonconformity in various areas, there is a risk that they end up leaving the church after all, because they are simply ignored by the majority of the other members.”

He then offers a recommendation:

“It is necessary that the church not only shows more support and openness to these ‘apostates’ but also teaches and advises all members, bishops, stake presidents etc., who usually don’t know how to deal with such a situation in terms of organizational and ecclesiastical questions and – out of insecurity – fail to treat the critical member with the necessary love and respect that even a normal stranger would receive.”

Those are the words of someone who has lost belief in many of the fundamentals and is working out a new relationship to the Church. Other shaken individuals recover their belief in the basic principles and events but are never quite the same as before. Their knowledge, although no longer toxic, gives them a new perspective. They tend to be more philosophic and less dogmatic about all the stories they once enjoyed. Here are some of the characteristics of people who have passed through this ordeal but managed to revive most of their old beliefs.

1. They often say they learned the Prophet was human. They don’t expect him to be a model of perfect deportment as they once thought. He may have taken a glass of wine from time to time, or scolded his associates, or even have made business errors. They see his virtues and believe in his revelations but don’t expect perfection.

2. They also don’t believe he was led by revelation in every detail. They see him as learning gradually to be a prophet and having to feel his way at times like most Church members. In between the revelations, he was left to himself to work out the methods of complying with the Lord’s commandments. Sometimes he had to experiment until he found the right way.

3. These newly revived Latter-day Saints also develop a more philosophical attitude toward history. They come to see (like professional historians) that facts can have many interpretations. Negative facts are not necessarily as damning as they appear at first sight. Put in another context along side other facts, they do not necessarily destroy Joseph Smith’s reputation.

4. Revived Latter-day Saints focus on the good things they derive from their faith–the community of believers, the comforts of the Holy Spirit, the orientation toward the large questions of life, contact with God, moral discipline, and many others. They don’t want to abandon these good things. Starting from that point of desired belief, they are willing to give Joseph Smith and the doctrine a favorable hearing. They may not be absolutely certain about every item, but they are inclined to see the good and the true in the Church.

At the heart of this turmoil is the question of trust. Disillusioned Latter-day Saints feel their trust has been betrayed. They don’t know whom to trust. They don’t dare trust the old feelings that once were so powerful, nor do they trust church leaders. They can only trust the new knowledge they have acquired. Those who come back to the Church are inclined to trust their old feelings. Their confidence in the good things they knew before is at least partially restored. But they sort out the goodness that seems still vital from the parts that now seem no longer tenable. Knowledge not only has given them a choice, it has compelled them to choose. They have to decide what they really believe. In the end, many are more stable and convinced than before. They feel better prepared to confront criticism openly, confident they can withstand it.

- - - -

The members of the seminar on “Joseph Smith and His Critics,” a group of Religious Education and CES faculty who met at BYU for six weeks in the summer of 2008, are among those who have known Latter-day Saints in this state of confusion and doubt. We have had many opportunities to talk to questioners about their problems and admit that we have often fallen short in our answers. We came together in hopes of learning to do better. Besides gathering information on a series of specific issues, we have discussed how best to deal with questioning Saints. What way of speaking is most likely to win their trust and convince them we have their best interests at heart?

We began by agreeing that criticisms of Joseph Smith should not be dismissed as foolish or purely evil. The negative attacks that disturb first-time readers are usually based on facts, not merely prejudiced fabrications. To play down the force of the criticism, we believe, only convinces the seekers that we do not understand. We appear to be sweeping trouble under the rug. They may have been devastated by a criticism; we must show that we understand why. Consequently, the seminar took as its first principle to state the negative argument as fully and accurately as we can. We try not to minimize the difficulty or prejudice the case against the critic. In no other way can we persuade the doubters that we understand the problem.

Secondly, we try to avoid dogmatic answers. Rather than replace the dogmatic negative attacks of the critics with our own dogmatic answers, we attempt to show that a more positive interpretation is possible. Critics often claim that Joseph’s sins were so egregious as to utterly disqualify him as a prophet. We can understand their viewpoint, but we think there is another side to the story. Rather than destroy the critics, we want to loosen their grip. In the long run, we believe this approach will persuade questioners more effectively than claims to certainty where none is possible. We believe in stating our own strong convictions about the church as a whole, but we do not to pretend to perfect knowledge about complex historical questions.

We know that airing criticisms troubles many Latter-day Saints. Like most Church teachers, the members of the seminar do not want to draw attention to questions that will only unsettle faithful members. But we also feel that silence is not the answer. The absence of instruction troubles questioners more than anything. They feel they have been betrayed because they came through their Church classes ignorant of the devastating information now a few clicks away on the internet. The gaps in their education leave them disillusioned and angry.

To counteract this lack of preparation, the seminar members have taken as our motto the scripture that begins: “As all have not faith, teach one another” (D&C 88:118). We are encouraged by the scriptural recognition that not all have faith, and by the appealing remedy, “teach one another.” For many questioners, loneliness is the heart of the problems. No one seems to understand. We are enjoined by this scripture to find these seekers and bring them into a fellowship of inquiry. We hope that our papers will help Church teachers create safe havens where questions may be asked and answers explored--where we can teach one another.


Richard L. Bushman is a Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University, the current holder of the Howard W. Hunter visiting professorship in Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University, and author of the recent biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.


Ben said...

Thanks for this, Blair.

LifeOnaPlate said...

NP, ben.

Clean Cut said...

Such a needed and important article to post. Thank you! I'm so on board with Richard Bushman and really appreciate the great work he is doing.

joe said...


Thank you very much for posting this speech online.

Sione said...

I'm actually going to be doing a series on the Bushman essay "My Belief" reprinted from BYU studies.

This talk gave me some added insight into his theological approach; both internally and externally. (I wish there was a phrase like religious jurisprudence. that would make sense here. at least to me ;-)

Big UP!

Mosiah said...

I wonder to what extent points 1-4 are Bushman's own ways of dealing with church history.

LifeOnaPlate said...

I believe they explain much of his philosophy. See his book "Believing History" and you'll see what I mean.

LifeOnaPlate said...

A shout out to all the people visiting from RfM.

Anonymous said...

I commend Bushman for his wisdom in recognizing the real reasons many people leave and not condemning them as wicked apostates.

However, the approach to Joseph Smith which characterizes him as "human" like all the rest of us, and making mistakes in his religious pronouncements and practices, and sort of "feeling his way" in his prophetic mission, suffers fundamentally from the problem that such a view makes him no different at all from any other self-proclaimed "prophet" who tells the world God is speaking through him. Joseph Smith ends up being just another self-deluded or deluding "visionary."

Matthew said...

Anonymous, the alternative is infallibility and that is a hurdle not even a prophet of God can clear.

Andrew said...

Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

I only wish the approach Bushman suggests leaders take had been around about seven years ago when I learned all this info.

LifeOnaPlate said...


I can see why some might view it that way. As for me personally, Joseph Smith wasn't a prophet in that God told him just what to do in every case, just what to think, etc. but God was teaching how to think, how to pray, how to make decisions, how to rely on the Spirit. In short, you and are are invited to be prophets with Joseph Smith by participating in our own relationship with God.

Andrew: Better late than never! Incidentally, much of this notion of fallible prophets was around 7 years ago and beyond. The FARMS Review, Dialogue, Sunstone, BYU Studies, Journal of Mormon History, various books, and even the Ensign have been publishing articles on this type of approach and even about JS not being perfect, his history, etc. for years. I mean decades, even. B.H. Roberts was looking closely at these views back in the early 1900s, for example. The correlation movement seems to have tended to water things down as far as official church manuals are concerned, in an attempt to help the Church in its growth overseas, etc. and provide encouraging history to LDS. Their task is not as easy as you and I might think. You might be interested in my thoughts on this; see my prior post on the Bushman seminar, and on responsibility in education.

As Mike Ash points out in his recent Shaken Faith Syndrome, most of us can be too distracted with TV shows and other stuff instead of learning history and theology, beyond the basic stuff in Church. I regret all the time I've personally wasted on garbage.

I favor an approach where people take personal responsibility for keeping up with this stuff. I also see a general movement toward more openness within official publications. For example, see the recent Mountain Meadows Massacre book, the interview with Elder Oaks in Helen Whitney's PBS documentary where he talks about openness in historical matters, the Joseph Smith Papers project, and even the most recent manual on Joseph Smith being used in PH/RS. The Church is something of a pendulum on these issues. You might also like Honey and Peterson's "Advocacy and Inquiry," and article on history and its role in the Church. Most regular folks have a very inaccurate view of what history actually is. If you click on the "Who is the author" link on my blog you'll see my thoughts briefly there.

Finally, as Nibley said years back, this is the day of the amateur. Without saying education is useless, I want to emphasize that the Internet has greatly affected or ability to access information, and everyone can have a voice. This is a positive and negative thing, as you'll likely agree. But in the end it means all of us can pitch in and be involved.

Thanks for stopping by.

larry said...

I agree with anonymous. Not only does this view weaken Smith's role as the Prophet of the restoration-- which is key in the LDS claim to authority-- it also actually weakens LDS theology and doctrine IMO.

The premise of the First Vision is that Smith was called to receive the truth that others didn't have. If in the end the JS's success rate, if you will, is comparable to other religious leaders what's the point of the restoration? If he is as prone to error as any other spiritual "visionary" then what advantage does Mormonism offer?

If people are taking this view, no wonder commitment to tithing, WoW etc are dwindling.

LifeOnaPlate said...

I guess it depends on who you are, what you believe, and what you expect, Larry. I also believe realizing Joseph was fallible can weaken Smith's role as the Prophet of the restoration as well as LDS theology and doctrine for some. I readily acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that this view can actually give strength to the prophet's work, and the resulting and ongoing restoration.

If in the end the JS's success rate, if you will, is comparable to other religious leaders what's the point of the restoration?

I don't necessarily see a comparable "success rate" only insofar as there are similarities in talking about God, etc. I see similarities and differences in approach, method of acquiring truth, the nature and purpose of truth, the power of witnesses, what Joseph Smith has done. Most notably in the Book of Mormon.

If he is as prone to error as any other spiritual "visionary" then what advantage does Mormonism offer?

He is prone to error, we have to face that. What difference does he offer? I suppose that would be discovered by examining what his claims really were, and what bearing they have on an individual today, and going from there.

If people are taking this view, no wonder commitment to tithing, WoW etc are dwindling.

I haven't seen any studies, reports, etc. on tithing and WoW dwindling.

LifeOnaPlate said...

ps- thanks for stopping in, Larry.

Anonymous said...

Mormonism is professed abolutely, but defended relatively. This article is yet another example of a relative defense of Mormonism.

There would be little need for relative defenses, if Mormons abandoned their extreme, absolute claims, and instead, professed their religion relatively.

Why not abandon the extreme dogma and just try to be a good church, helping people to live better lives? If you did, you wouldn't need legions of apologists making excuses for Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the Mormon Corporation.

larry said...


I appreciate you letting me comment here. I know often that sometimes people like myself with different views come off as offensive jerks when posting. In my case that's not the intent (although sometimes the frustration shows through). In any event, I think the dialog is valuable.

In regards to the "tithing, WoW etc" remark, I have no info to that effect as well - I was just referring to Bushman's comment.

"They become atheist or agnostic. Some feel the restrictions they grew up with no longer apply. The strength has been drained out of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and chastity."

LifeOnaPlate said...

Mormonism is professed abolutely, but defended relatively. This article is yet another example of a relative defense of Mormonism.

Mormonism invites everyone to attempt to experience the divine. As a result I believe it has a tendency to transcend the easy labels of absolute and relative. In saying that, I seem to be advocating a relativity, but if you think about it there is an undergirding absolutism even to the idea of the relativity. In short: I think the dichotomy you propose is flawed, one, because different LDS leaders and members have expressed different views on it, and two, because I am not sure it is a philosophically defensible division in regards to the Church.

Why not abandon the extreme dogma and just try to be a good church, helping people to live better lives?

Trying to be a good church and helping people live good lives is happening in the Church.Doing both of those things, however, could easily be called a "dogma," too.

If you did, you wouldn't need legions of apologists making excuses for Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the Mormon Corporation.

I'm glad you have taken the time to visit my blog, but I hope you will read about the purposes and guidelines I try to maintain here:

"...everyone can have their say here if they do so in the proper manner. This is not a forum for heated debate and argument, though diverse opinions are welcome...While we may disagree, it must be done in the spirit of love and not of contention. As far as freedom of speech and censorship are concerned; all opinions, if discussed appropriately, are welcome. But inflammatory posts will be deleted."

For more, see

Using inflammatory phrases such as "the Mormon Corporation" is not something I would like to see on my blog. Please refrain from incendiary remarks. There is an ongoing thread apparently created by John Dehlin at the message board called "RFM" (reformed former mormon) where people can feel free to sound off as much as they like without similar guidelines. (I should note, however, your comments may be deleted there, as well. In trying to clarify some things said about one of my posts there last week my own messages were deleted without explanation.)

Here is the link, for those who wish to converse there:

LifeOnaPlate said...

From what I understand, Larry, Bushman is referring to those who lapse in their faith and no longer see tithing, or the Word of Wisdom, or the law of chastity, as viable values to hold based on disbelief in their source; not that there is a general waning in tithes or WoW observance in the Church.

LifeOnaPlate said...

PS- Hello, Richard Packham.

Anonymous said...

Hi. While Bushman seems to get the idea that not all who question or even leave the church are evil, how long will it take the board members over on MAAD to learn that, or is it that they just don't agree with him?

Perhaps it takes a long time to go down through the pipeline?

LifeOnaPlate said...

MADB is not a monolith; it is comprised of many people of various opinions, etc. By grouping all participants there into a single mindset you overlook that fact. For example, I am a regular contributor to that board and have consistently maintained that there are wonderful people both in and out of the Church; those who come and those who leave. I know many other contributors there who feel the same way. In short, I believe you misrepresent many by believing a few equal all.

Bryce Haymond said...

I believe Bushman brings up some excellent points that we need to consider. Thank you for posting this!

On the other hand, I think there is a wide variety of paths people have taken who have been thus "shaken" by Church history/doctrine, which I'm not sure Bushman was able to fully address in this short intro. He gives the example of a prototypical "shaken" member, but the range varies dramatically.

I have met some, for example, after having been thus "shaken" who deem it their moral responsibility, as Bushman noted, to "draw attention to questions that will only unsettle faithful members." In doing so they teach those around them that they do not need to, or should not, trust Church leaders anymore and that their teachings are only as good as advice. In other words, instead of learning more and coming to a fuller knowledge of the truth and context of questions or concerns, they want others in the Church to distrust and doubt the same way they have come to. In taking this route, those that are "shaken" have ventured into an area of danger wherein they teach things to others contrary to the words of the Lord's anointed servants. This is not healthy to the kingdom.

We have to make a prayerful and thoughtful distinction between those who have been somewhat "shaken" who truly want to still believe, and those who have been so deeply "shaken" as to have mostly lost their testimony in the Church and who thereafter make it their prerogative to shake others around them. This is where we start getting into more difficulties as it is not easy to distinguish these varied grades of shakenness, or what the unique steps are to each in helping them deal with their varied disillusionment.

I'd be interested to know if Mike Ash was able to address these varied circumstances in his book (I haven't got to reading his yet).

LifeOnaPlate said...

I've seen similar reactions, as well, Bryce, wherein some critics (or even well-meaning Saints) actually end up doing what was supposed to have upset them from the start, namely, playing fast and loose with historical views. Some are not really concerned with looking into the issues deeply or even presenting them more accurately or fairly than they believe the Church has.

Sanford said...

Although I have read much of Bushman's writings, I heard him speak for the first time the other night at a fireside. I was unprepared for how exceptionally good he is in person. He really seems to understand Mormons, both active and faltering, and can speak to both audiences. I don't know many people who can cross over the way he does. I sincerely think the man should be called to the Quorum of the Twelve so that all Mormons can hear him speak at least twice a year. But perhaps he can do more good where he is. He is so honest and compelling yet faithful and believing. And he is right on the money about why many people I know have left the Church.

Brian said...

Hey Lifeonaplate. I think that that the "professed absolutely, but practiced relatively" comment has been my experience.

At General Conference, GA's have made comments about how either this is the only true church, or a fraud, and that when the prophet speaks, the debate is over. "Cafeteria Mormons" have been told that they need to shape up. Someone gave a talk on how we should not be at the fringes of the doctrine camp. It makes it very hard to participate. It would be easier for many members if they were given more space in their beliefs, and to a certain degree, approved in this not just by apologists, but by GA's themselves.

By the way, I posted on MAAD a few months ago with questions and concerns. You and one other gal (forgot her name) recognized that I had concerns and was actually looking for answers. The others just ripped me up because I assumed what I had learned in church was doctrine, that things weren't adding up for me, etc. I think this reflects the experience of many questioners both online and offline. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt.

On the other hand, I think this is the experience of many people with doubts. Many people just tell them they are apostates and need to get their act together, while a few people try to understand the other guy. Bushman's recommendations could do two things.

They could allow the church to hold on to people that were questing for the truth and found some disconcerting things. These people are often encountering this information specifically because they are trying to be so faithful.

Secondly, if people end up leaving the church because of the information, they would have a less sour taste in their mouths.

Good luck LOP.

Jared said...

I've been aware of the problems in LDS church history as outlined in this article from the early '70s. When the duplicity of our church history first struck me, I remember sitting back in my chair and feeling a wave of disappointment and even anger growing in my heart. I thought about my loved ones and how they would react to this information.

As the decades past I was surprised that so few members were aware. It seems to me that it has been very slow coming forth as an issue. Well, its here now, but still it impact seems small and isolated, but growing.

My faith was never challenged by it, my concern was for my loved ones. The reason it never challenged me was, and is, due to the manifestation of the Holy Ghost in my life. In my experience this is the best solution--teach members to fulfill their baptismal covenant and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and the attending manifestations of the Spirit. As these experiences accumulate a follower of Christ's faith grows to the extent they cannot be shaken.

Developing rational explanations for the duplicity in church history is essential but insufficient.

I appreciate this site and the work Blair expends. Thanks

Hubert said...

I appreciate the candor of this article. I consider myself no longer Mormon, in that I have moved past the beliefs I once held dear. I am still a member of record. It was my perseverance to finding the truth at any cost which brought me to the position I am in now. If the leaders would make this information more easily available, instead of treating it like it is forbidden fruit, then I think people would be less stunned when they first encounter it. It may not be the best way to gain new converts, but the ones you do get will be stronger ones.

Having been raised in the church, I fully believed that I had a solid grasp on the church's history. As it turned out, I was ashamed by how little I actually knew about the church when I tried to answer critical questions thrown at me. I had no choice eventually but to accept that what I had always believed the church to be was not what it really was at all.

I'm aware that some people are able to learn what I now know about the church and somehow retain their faith. I think different people have different spiritual needs, and the church fills the needs of these people in spite of their new insight. For me that was simply not possible. I still mourn the loss of the innocent testimony I once had, but it is, to me, shattered beyond repair. Yet at the same time, I also mourn the many years I spent in blissful ignorance. I would have appreciated not being sheltered from this information, no matter how noble the cause. Hopefully the church will begin to take a more open stance in the future and allow easier access to even embarrassing information, because if a person does not have full access to the truth, they can not make informed decisions.

In this age of information, it is getting harder and harder to shelter people from these facts, so it would be wise instead for the leaders to adjust their position in order to prevent the abrupt shock one receives upon realizing the full depth of the rabbit hole, so to speak. The only other alternative that I can imagine is to become more restrictive, more controlling of information and the members in a desperate attempt to shelter them for their own good. I truly hope this isn't the path that they choose.

Bryce Haymond said...

Publishing the Joseph Smith Papers (all of them) seems to be a good step in the right direction.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Something I am interested in is making the already-available material known to a wider church audience. Much of this stuff has been discussed for literally decades in unofficial Church publications (and some even in official Church pubs like the Improvement Era and Ensign). The key here, in addition to the steps forward in the MMM book and the JSPP is making members aware of the vast body of scholarship that is already available.

Bryce Haymond said...

Agreed! These things have been studied for decades by well-qualified LDS scholars, but much of the membership of the Church is unaware of all they have produced. It's an issue of dissemination as much as anything.

LifeOnaPlate said...

On my mission I bought a copy of Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. In it I came across instances where a phrase or something rang a bell, and I would discover that something JS said or wrote wound up in the History of the Church a little differently. I discovered that certain quotes I treasured from the King Follett discourse were not word-for-word; that they reflected the organization of others making a full text from sparse notes. While I still value these things tremendously I must admit some sadness in "letting go" of some of the things I believed JS said (or at least the quotes in their current structure, anyway.) If I experienced a slight sorrow in losing a few words, how much more would I feel if I lost the very concept of Joseph Smith as a practically infallible prophet of God? How would I feel if my view of Joseph as near-perfect, or even of his statements as all comprising revelation, was taken away? Still, I am reminded by JS's lament that he did not enjoy the freedom of expression that other men enjoyed because whatever he said was usually taken as the word of God invariably; thus people would think his every opinion carried the weight of scripture. He was aware of the difficulties in that regard. (This instance is from an account in They Knew the Prophet.)

"mosiah" earlier wondered about how 1-4 affected Bushman's history. On another board discussing this topic, someone posited that Bushman must have encountered some crisis of faith that led him to create an apologetic (1-4) in order to remain in the faith. I don't believe, from all I have read of Bushman, that that is the case. Rather, it seems Bushman himself, from what he says, was raised and taught in a way that included points 1,2 and 3 and thus he seems to have started out nearer to 4 than perhaps other members do. He does explain the process of cognitive dissonance well, however, especially for someone who I don't believe experienced it in regards to Joseph Smith.

Anonymous said...

Its nice to see that apostates are not all labeled as sinners. Now, though, they are being labeled as simple minded people that can't take a mature view of history.

It would be nice to see some follow-up to statements like, "They find that Egyptologists do not translate the Abraham manuscripts the way Joseph Smith did, making it appear that the Book of Abraham was a fabrication." Can anyone point me to a reasonable explanation why the Book of Abraham isn't a fabrication? I've been to the FARMS and FAIR websites, but I haven't seen a good response to this issue.

Bryce Haymond said...

We don't have all the papyri that Joseph had. According to some estimates, we have recovered only 13% of the papyri that was in the prophet's possession according to contemporary eye witnesses. Much of the papyri was probably burned in the Chicago fire of 1871. So it's probable the papyri from which the Book of Abraham was translated is no longer extant. You can read more about this in John Gee's short book "A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri." Nibley also took this view; see "The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri."

Anonymous said...

"So it's probable the papyri from which the Book of Abraham was translated is no longer extant."

How can you say that? The papyri that we do have matches Facsimile #1. Egyptologists will tell you that Joseph was way off on his understanding of Facsimile #1.

Furthermore, Facsimilies #2 and #3 can be studied independantly (as they exist in the book of abraham). Again, Egyptologists won't speak very highly of Joseph's work. Again--what is there to suggest that Joseph's work isn't a fabrication?

Bryce Haymond said...

"The papyri that we do have matches Facsimile #1."

This has been a continual focus by top LDS scholars since the recovery of the papyri in 1967, and it has been showed that Egyptian illustrations often do not correlate with their surrounding text. Frequently Egyptian illustrations have nothing at all to do with the text next to them. So the fact that the text of the Book of Abraham is detached from facsimile #1 is not uncommon. The text of Abraham may have been on a different portion of the same roll of papyri or on a different roll entirely. In fact, the text that IS next to facsimile #1 on the papyri interestingly doesn't reference the illustration either.

It's also good to note that facsimile #1 is different in significant ways from all other lion-couch scenes that have been discovered from Egyptian antiquity, which Egyptologists have not been able to explain yet.

But we digress from the subject of this post.

Anonymous said...


In the spirit of avoiding contention, we don't need to pursue the details any further on this forum. I'd welcome a link to a reasonable and detailed apologetic analysis, but the explanations that I've seen up to this point have been unconvincing.

Bryce Haymond said...

I've given several sources that you could look at if you are interested. John Gee's book is particularly short and concise - under 100 pages.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Brian Hauglid talked briefly about the papyrus and translation at the FAIR conference. See his thoughts here:

If you skip down you'll see Hauglid make some interesting concessions as well as observations. I look forward to the publication of the papyrus, etc. Hauglid is currently working on.

Steve Smoot said...

Wow! You sure ruffled some feathers, Life. ;0)


May I provide some suggestions to your questions surrounding the Book of Abraham?

"The papyri that we do have matches Facsimile #1."

Which means nothing. The ancient Egyptians would often juxtapose texts and vignettes (pictures such as the one in JSP I) that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The Dendera Temple Walls and the Karnak Temple Walls serve as a great example of this. As a matter of fact, look no further than to JSP I to see this happening.

What does the text of JSP I tell us? It gives us 1) the name of Horos and his family 2) Horos's ranks and titles, i.e. "Priest of Amen-Ra, "Priest of Min who Slaughters his Enemies", etc. 3) Horos's geneology and 4) Horos's statues amongst the exalted gods. Nowhere does it mention any of the features of the vignette accompanying it. Nowhere does it mention Sobek the allagator, the Lion Couch, the Sons of Horus, etc. So, for the original of Fac. 1 to be with a text that is unrelated is not that big of a deal.

"Egyptologists will tell you that Joseph was way off on his understanding of Facsimile #1."

I agree. But the question is not what do the modern Egyptologist understand these scenes represent but what did the ancient Egyptians think of these vignettes. As Dr. Gee has shown, the two are not always the same. What the modern Egyptologists think of these vignettes might not match what the ancient Egyptians thought.

"Again, Egyptologists won't speak very highly of Joseph's work."

It depends on who you ask. Ask Michael Rhodes or John Gee, two Egyptologists who are LDS, compared to Robert Ritner, who is very critical of Joseph Smith, and you will get different reponses. Furthermore, Michael Rhodes has provided a translation and commentary on the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq which you should really look up. It is very interesting.

"Again--what is there to suggest that Joseph's work isn't a fabrication?"

1. Over 35 unquie narrative elements in the Book of Abraham not found in the Bible but found in other ancient texts not available to Joseph Smith. See the book "Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham:.

2. Joseph Smith is dead on with many of his explanations for the facsimilies. Considering that Egyptian was not understood in his day, for Joseph Smith to get anything right is simply amazing.

Alas, I can see that Bryce has answered your questions. I hope that I was able to help as well. Alongside Dr. Gee's material, may I suggest also the works of Hugh Nibley and Kerry Shirts in gaining an LDS apologetic perspective on the Book of Abraham.


Bull said...

I continue to be amazed when the church's historians and apologist make statements such as, "A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives."

Why would they know? The church has removed the information from all of its materials. Furthermore, look at the church's article on polygamy on its official web site. It still erroneously states that Smith practiced polygyny, not polyandry despite the fact that most of his early plural marriages were polygynous.

That's just a couple of examples where the historical record is completely clear, yet official church sources have whitewashed the record. Is it any wonder that well-informed, life long church members would feel disillusioned and deceived when they discover that the church's critics are more open and honest than the church.

Personally, I lost all trust in the church when the extent of their systematic deceit became clear.

If the facts can indeed be interpreted in a faith promoting context, then I'd welcome seeing it come from official church sources. But so far I'm still waiting.

aquilifer said...

On another board discussing this topic, someone posited that Bushman must have encountered some crisis of faith that led him to create an apologetic (1-4) in order to remain in the faith. I don't believe, from all I have read of Bushman, that that is the case.

Oh, sure, disagree with my speculations on Bushman's most personal thoughts over here, where you get home field advantage! :p

LifeOnaPlate said...

haha I couldn't remember where I had read the comments on that. At any rate, from Bushman's own experiences (for example, read his Believing History) I would say Bushman likely did not experience a dramatic paradigm shift regarding JS in a way that made him question the restoration, etc.

aquilifer said...

Interesting - I read Believing History and came out thinking the other way.

Of course, you've just given me a great excuse to read it again! :)

LifeOnaPlate said...

I continue to be amazed when the church's historians and apologist make statements such as, "A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives."

Why would they know? The church has removed the information from all of its materials.

You contradict your first statement with your next statement:

Furthermore, look at the church's article on polygamy on its official web site. It still erroneously states that Smith practiced polygyny, not polyandry despite the fact that most of his early plural marriages were polygynous.

It seems your concern deals more with the issue of polyandry (ie, JS being sealed to women who were already married to other men) or more about the issue of disclosure more than plural marriage in general. Polyandry was explored in Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling (available at Deseret Book) and in the past, the book on Emma Smith, Mormon Enigma and Compton's In Sacred Loneliness were rather surprisingly carried by Deseret Book as well. Polyandry is also discussed on the FAIR site. See Sam Kaitch, "A Tale of Two Marriage Systems: Perspectives on Polyandry and Joseph Smith":

See also, Allen Wyatt's "Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2006 FAIR Conference):

I would also hasten to add that you say you are not surprised that various LDS do not know JS practiced plural marriage and that the Church "has removed the information from all its manuals."

This simply is not the case. At least since 1852 the Church has publicly stated and printed that JS instituted and practiced plural marriage.

Within the Standard Works themselves we find D&C 132, the revelation on sealing, which explains plurality of wives and says, among other things:

52. And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.


Furthermore, the D&C heading there directs readers to the History of the Church where plural marriage is discussed even more. (See HC 5: 501–507.) B.H. Roberts also explicitly discussed plural marriage and Joseph Smith in his Comprehensive History of the Church.

Further, the current CES manual for D&C clearly states JS practiced plural marriage. Among other things, it quotes Wilford Woodruff as follows:

I bear record before God, angels and men that Joseph Smith received that revelation, and I bear record that Emma Smith gave her husband in marriage to several women while he was living, some of whom are to-day living in this city, and some may be present in this congregation, and who, if called upon, would confirm my words."(In Journal of Discourses, 23:131.)


The current CES manual Church History In the Fulness of Times states that JS practiced plural marriage, naming at least one of the wives, and noting the difficulty in tracking them all due to the records available:

Moreover, Joseph Smith and the Church were to accept the principle of plural marriage as part of the restoration of all things (see v. 45). Accustomed to conventional marriage patterns, the Prophet was at first understandably reluctant to engage in this new practice. Due to a lack of historical documentation, we do not know what his early attempts were to comply with the commandment in Ohio. His first recorded plural marriage in Nauvoo was to Louisa Beaman; it was performed by Bishop Joseph B. Noble on 5 April 1841.12 During the next three years Joseph took additional plural wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands.


In the official LDS Sunday School manual on D&C, used in virtually every ward and branch in the Church, we read:

In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. Church leaders regulated the practice.


As you note, the "Gospel Topics" section of the official Church website explains that JS practiced plural marriage. It says:

After God revealed the doctrine of plural marriage to Joseph Smith in 1831 and commanded him to live it, the Prophet, over a period of years, cautiously taught the doctrine to some close associates. Eventually, he and a small number of Church leaders entered into plural marriages in the early years of the Church.


The current Priesthood/Relief Society manual on Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, we read in the introduction that the manual is designed "for our times." It explains:

This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime...The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practices plural marriage.


The Encyclopedia of Mormonism published in the early 90s has an entry on plural marriage, stating, among many other things, "Joseph Smith told Brigham Young that he was determined to press ahead though it would cost him his life, for 'it is the work of God, and He has revealed this principle, and it is not my business to control or dictate it' (Brigham Young Discourse, Oct. 8, 1866, Church Archives."


Finally, BYU Studies has been publishing articles about plural marriage for decades:


As we can see it would be surprising that someone who attended Church or Institute or who has read the Doctrine and Covenants, would be unfamiliar with Joseph Smith practicing plural marriage. Still, there are other examples of Church books which state that plural marriage was instituted in the Church though not explicitly mentioning, but only implying, that JS practiced plural marriage. For example, see the topic as discussed in the book Our Heritage:

The Prophet prayed for understanding and learned that at certain times, for specific purposes, following divinely given laws, plural marriage was approved and directed by God. Joseph Smith also learned that with divine approval, some Latter-day Saints would soon be chosen by priesthood authority to marry more than one wife. A number of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage in Nauvoo, but a public announcement of this doctrine and practice was not made until the August 1852 general conference in Salt Lake City.

Again, in the Doctrine and Covenants seminary student manual:

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord commanded the practice of plural marriage in the early days of the Church. See pg. 150 here:

The Church no longer practices plural marriage and in fact seeks to distance itself from those who still do, as well as discourage current members from breaking off and practicing on their own. One example occurred in a conference address by Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, who stated:
We warn you against the so-called polygamy cults which would lead you astray. Remember the Lord brought an end to this program many decades ago through a prophet who proclaimed the revelation to the world.


I feel it is reasonable that plural marriage would not play a large part in contemporary LDS dialog in official meetings further than explaining that it was once practiced in the Church. For one reason, it is pretty far from our current familial norms. Likewise, the Church does not systematically investigate or teach about Old Testament prophets who practiced polygamy. It is mentioned, but it is not a prime focus of any church manual or lesson I have seen; it seems that being relatively discreet on polygamy is not confined to Joseph Smith's participation.

I believe, however, that you raise a great point, and I'm all in favor of more explicit or specific Church-released materials dealing with plural marriage. I believe we are currently seeing a trend in Church scholarship that seems more willing than the recent past to confront this difficult issue which still flies in the face of our moral sensibilities.

Finally, I feel that the issue for many disaffected has more to do with feeling betrayed or lied to than the actual historical fact that Joseph Smith had more than one wife.

I'll probably lump all this data into an upcoming post but wanted to answer you right away.

[Drat! I was nearly done and my Firefox crashed! Had to start again!]

LifeOnaPlate said...

Steve: thanks for stopping in, brother.

Bryce Haymond said...

I might also mention that the Church has just recently published an entire website devoted to talking about polygamy:

It explicitly states that "Polygamy was part of our past, for about 50 years in the 19th century." The page it is linked to has a more lengthy description - "At certain times and for His specific purposes, God, through His prophets, has directed the practice of plural marriage (sometimes called polygamy), which means one man having more than one living wife at the same time. In obedience to direction from God, Latter-day Saints followed this practice for about 50 years during the 1800s but officially ceased the practice of such marriages after the Manifesto was issued by President Woodruff in 1890."

So saying that "the church has removed the information from all of its materials" is simply not true. On the contrary, the Church is trying to do what it can to get correct information out there. But it does not spend time in its Sunday meetings dwelling on past revelations and practices which are not currently practiced. It is enough of a struggle to keep in remembrance and live the commandments we have been given today. These we focus on.

Stevo said...

I really enjoyed reading Bushman's intro. I've ordered "Rough Stone Rolling" and am greatly anticipating reading it! I am a lifelong Mormon who no longer believes due to many of the aforementioned issues (that I don't need to re-hash) as well as some other issues. I found Bushman's ideas in the intro very interesting and insightful.

One thing I've been pondering lately is what seems to be the various reactions to much of the information that has "shaken" people. I understand that this information has been around for decades in various publications and I apologize for not reading B.H. Roberts or FARMS in my rank N file, non-scholarly Mormom childhood...but I digress.

There seem to be 3 basic reactions to this stuff...and this does not include the faithful who want no part of this discussion but instead choose to follow the prophet point blank. Firstly, there are the well versed stalwarts who look at the arguments and say, "you know what? This doesn't matter! I still believe wholeheartedly in the doctrines and principles of the church!" The second are the ones that Bushman described who decide, "You know, there are a lot of things that don't seem to fit or are weird, but this is a great way to live with the emphasis on family and what not!" I have a brother who falls into the second category. The final category are the ones who flatly reject everything. This would be me. I've come to believe that the church is a man made concoction, but I do give JS credit for his leadership ability and charisma.

Bryce Haymond said...

Don't forget his unmatched genius and unprecedented creativity. :)

LifeOnaPlate said...

Stevo, thanks for stopping in and giving your thoughts. You mantion three types, and the first was the well versed stalwarts who look at the arguments and say, "you know what? This doesn't matter! I still believe wholeheartedly in the doctrines and principles of the church!"

This doesn't really describe a lot of people I know who might be considered "scholarly." Rather than saying that things don't matter generally, I think it is more the case of expectations. I personally don't expect a perfect prophet or perfect scripture, or perfect teachings all the time. As a result, I can analyze all truth as best as I understand it and approach it in prayer with God. I also must be wiling to acknowledge that there are tings I simply don't understand. This goes hand-in-hand with a view of history and science that sees flaws in many of the methods in those areas, as well. So while there is an element there of accepting various doctrines of the Church there is also a spiritual element in a personal relationship with God that is private.

Stevo said...

Lifeonaplate...I agree with what you said...or wrote. Perhaps the individuals who would fall into category 1 are not scholarly per se, but are still able to put these issues behind them after discovery and maintain their "I know this church is true..." stance.

Bryce Haymond...My soul delighteth in your sarcasm!

Angela said...

I really appreciated this post, and am a fan of Bushman. From what I can see, it seems that there are two types of people who encounter what Grant Palmer likes to refer to as New Mormon History: 1) those who encounter it suddenly after total unawareness of it, and 2) those who encounter it throughout their life through leaders, parents, adults, literature, etc. Those in the 1st group (including Palmer) often find it very faith-shaking. Those in the 2nd category (including Bushman) are able to evolve their viewpoint gradually over time. I was fortunate enough to be in that second category through convert parents who were insatiably curious, academic teachers in a very politically liberal home ward, and easy access to early church sites and RLDS perspectives in those locations. The history is rich and confusing. There are many ways to interpret the actions of Joseph and other early church leaders. But it doesn't have to be the end of your faith.

It seems a Mormon trait that we want our religion, its history, and its leaders to be better than we are (or even perfect in some cases) for us to be willing to follow its/their teachings; but really, our religion (and leaders) should inspire us to become better than we are, to be our best selves. I find it inspiring that a person like Joseph Smith was so open to spiritual matters, visions, and even folk magic, and was able to discern through a variety of means including some not so successful) so many eternal truths and articulate them in a way that still resonates for millions today. But I would not put my money in a bank run by him. ;)

LifeOnaPlate said...

Angela, thank you for your comments!

(As a ps, "new mormon history" is a phrase that has been around long before Grant Palmer used it.)

Appreciate your view, and I largely agree.

zdefender said...

wow... no mention in all of this so far regarding the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon?

LifeOnaPlate said...

If you check the links offered at the outset to notes on other seminar papers you'll see more about the witnesses; specifically S. Harper's paper.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I am one of those "deeply shattered" members. My questions about certain aspects of church history, have caused disturbing reactions from members in my ward. And I feel totally isolated and ignored. The whitewashed or "faithfull history" feels like deceit. My toes curl up when I during church meetings listen to testimonies that they "with every fibre of their being" KNOW things history has proven false. It has made me loose trust in members and church leaders. It seems that very few devout oldtimers are able "to handle the truth" and 'new mormon history'.
Listening to another fairy tale about Josephs Smiths 'beloved Emma' always makes me wonder about all the other not so belowed viwes.

Also claims about the church not practising polygamy any longer is another half truth. Female widows can not be sealed to another man eternally, but only marry for time in the temple. Male widows can have another wife sealed to them for eternity. Doesn´t this mean that we still practice polygamy?

I was deeply dissapointed by the reactions from some ward members when I married a widow.She was bullied in RS by women who scorned her for being selfish and not enduring her widowhood until she could be reunited to the man, he was sealed to for eternity. I was told that I was being 'unfair' to the single nevermarried women in the church by marrying a vidow. And that I would be an administering angel eternally, instead of becoming a God.

I still believe JS was a great prophet, in spite of his mistakes and imperfections. Scores of apologists whitewashed and GA approved versions of church history makes it hard for me to trust church leaders, but just reinforce the nagging doubt I have. The many church historians, like Grant H. Palmer and Michael Quinn, being disfellowshipped or excommunicated for publishing their historical findings and theories is another push into inactivity for me and my wife.

LifeOnaPlate said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I find it more than unfortunate that anyone would cast judgment about a widow remarrying. My mom is a widow and has remarried; I don't believe she has received any flak for it in the least; it seems like a most reasonable thing to do, actually.

Anyway, you said "It seems that very few devout old-timers are able "to handle the truth" and 'new mormon history'.
Listening to another fairy tale about Josephs Smiths 'beloved Emma' always makes me wonder about all the other not so beloved viwes."

The problem I have with such a view is that, given my studies, I have come not to "distrust" Mormon history, or even to view the so-called "New Mormon history" as inherently trustworthy, either. There are inaccuracies and mistakes in both, from my perspective. History can be a deceptive concept. As I note elsewhere on this blog, which is usually more about history, James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle described the everyday view of history:

"History is what happened in the past."...[This view] supposes that historians must return to the past through the surviving records and bring it back to the present to display as "what really happened." The everyday view recognized that this task is often difficult. But historians are said to succeed if they bring back the facts without distorting them or forcing a new perspective on them. In effect, historians are seen as couriers between the past and the present. Like all good couriers, they are expected simply to deliver messages without adding to them. This everyday view of history is profoundly misleading... History is not "what happened in the past;" rather, it is the act of selecting, analyzing, and writing about the past. It is something that is done, that is constructed, rather than an inert body of data that lies scattered throughout the archives.

I largely subscribe to their views on that subject; I believe that the "noble dream" of objectivity is practically impossible. As Davidson and Lytle explain, "historians generally deal with probabilities, not certainties," and like them, I "leave you to draw your own conclusions" after I have related my own.

For better or for worse, historians inescapably leave an imprint as they go about their business: asking interesting questions about apparently dull facts, seeing connections between subjects that had not seemed related before, shifting and rearranging evidence until it assumes a coherent pattern. The past is not history; only the raw material of it.

I have found much in the history of the Church that is well-documented and reliable, and additionally, subject to a witness from the Holy Ghost.

Bull said...


The first statement is incorrect. Mormons DO practice polygamy. Ask Dallin Oaks how many wives he has. The answer is two although the first is deceased. He is in legal compliance with the law, but Mormons believe that marriage is eternal so doesn't that make him a polygamist?

The doctrine of polygamy is still in force and still practiced and still seen as something to be looked forward to in the afterlife. However the practice has been confined to exclude more that none living wife.

Bull said...

BTW, thanks for all of the links. However, the fact remains that after 40 years of activity in the church I remained ignorant of those facts. I guess that the church no longer considers them important, but I do and knowing them caused them to seriously reevaluate my beliefs. A more detailed response on my blog, but thanks for listening. I enjoyed your post and responses and I really enjoyed Bushman's book as well as the podcasts he did with John Dehlin.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Thanks for the comments, Bull. I completed a more robust plural marriage post earlier in the week. You can read it here:

LifeOnaPlate said...

As a reminder, this website does not accept links from anonymous persons to websites overtly critical of the LDS Church.

Trevor said...

You are so awesome Blair! I love reading your work.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty misleading to characterize the LDS practice of men being "sealed" to more than one wife as practicing polygamy. In just about any common usage of the term "polygamy" the speaker would be talking about more than one wife where all are currently alive. It may be that some don't like the aspect of "Men" being allowed multiple companions in eternity, but the simple logic is that they won't if the LDS church and priesthood is false and if it is not false, well then...

Billy Flap Jack said...

This article described my process of separation from the church fairly accurately. Actually, I've never heard anyone from a church orientation get it so right. That's progress. However, he underestimates the power of the transformation. My transformation was as complete as possible; I couldn't ever go back to church after my process. (And I'm very happy with my decision.)

He misses another thing, as well: he refers too often to the "internet sites" where you garnish this "negative" information about Joseph Smith and the early church, as if it's illicit and pornographic filth. The truth is that most of the profoundly damning information I read came from scholarly work and histories - even personal family histories! (All my polygamous ancestors!) So, he makes the information sources out to be sinister, and the users of that information to be weak, unknowledgeable and confused. There is a lot of accurate, damning evidence on Joseph Smith, and there are a lot of faithful, intelligent people coming to good, solid conclusions on the basis of that evidence.

Thirdly, in the face of my transformation, his conclusion -the four steps to remember- seem a little trite. They are laced by with the same patronising manipulation that, I feel, characterises the church. In fact, I recognise point one and two from the Commitment Pattern that we used on my mission. ("Step One: Resolve concerns: Restate the concern." "Step two: Resolve concerns: When all else fails, testify.") It's manipulative: I know because I used to do it, of course, in the spirit of love and concern!

There is another part of the process that he misses completely. In the mind of the sincere doubter, the convergence of doubt regarding the historical basis for the church converges with doubt about the current direction. And you suddenly see that the church has been seamlessly wrong every time, throughout its entire history: on poligamy, on women, on African Americans and the priesthood, on homosexuality, on guilt/unworthiness/exclusion, etc., etc., etc...and now with the church marching lock-step with the radical American Christian right. Need I say more? It's all part of the same animal. So, I recommend to Bushman that he include that bit, as well, in future analyses of why people leave. It's an important component of the decision to let go.

The last point: nobody ever recognises the courage and resilience it takes to leave the church. It is the single most difficult thing I have ever done. And it has been very personally rewarding. So, more advice to Bushman: you'll have to weaken our resolve and undermine the reward an we feel living free in a wonderful world of nuance.

I love the church for all of the good things it has given me, and I forgive it for all the damage it caused me. I'm not bitter, resentful and distrustful like may post-Mormons. I take my hat off to the church, my family and my faithful ancestors. Maybe I wouldn't have left if I hadn't been so alarmed by the big black box of buried ugliness that jumped out at me. But, I have no idea how you can address that ugly history now. The church is in a bind: it has to keep burying and ignoring, and it the meantime, the re-telling of history gets shallower and more revisionist lest the truth creep out!

LifeOnaPlate said...

Thanks for your comments. As a person who doesn't believe in little "facts" of history that can be dug from the past and displayed as-is in order to represent the "truth" about history, I think your disconnect with Bushman falls along that line as well. I sincerely doubt Bushman would say that all who leave the church are thereafter "miserable." This particular introduction wasn't intended to describe every path out of the Church. The human experience is wide enough that there will be many who stay, or leave, who feel some aspect of the Introduction doesn't speak to their experience. That is pretty unavoidable.

Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Billy Flap Jack said...

Lifeonaplate, thanks for responding so quickly. I agree with you completely. "Historical Truth" is this tremendous beast that you can never pin down; you can, however, get a sense of accumulating weight of evidence. By the time you get to the Nauvoo Expositor, the evidence is wide and plentiful. So, I guess that's the big, black box of ugliness I'm referring to. Like I said, nobody has ever described my process and perspective as charitably as Bushman does.

My second point was not about the diverse ways that people leave the church. It was that history and present are interlinked! That is the "same animal" to which I was referring.

Again thanks, Lifeonaplate. I have a feeling you'll get the last word in. :)

LifeOnaPlate said...

A lot of it comes down to what a person expects, and then what a person decides to believe based on whatever evidence there is.

"Evidence" is never interpretation free. Thanks for stopping in!

Stephen said...


Jesse has also included photographs of the manuscripts, so if you are into eyestrain, you can compare the transcription against the original document. This becomes important in the 1832 account of the First Vision, where Joseph Smith give his age when the events happened. He wrote the age in a "between-line" insertion, and wrote the age in Arabic numerals. The age has traditionally (habitually?) been transcribed as "16th year of my age," but as the manuscript showy, the "y" from the "heard my cry" in the immediate above line crosses over the "16" in the insertion, so it is possible that the "16" may actually be a "15," which corresponds to the other accounts of the First Vision.

The maps are absolutely incredible, and the mini-biographies help us keep track of who's who. The paper is very sturdy archival paper, and the binding is reinforced, so the book should really last the ages.

From a review of Personal Writings of Joseph Smith

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BHodges said...

That book really kindled my interest in history. I bought it through the mail from Deseret Book and the rest is history.

takedowncoach said...

Thank you for posting this article. Like many within the church who have learned of some troubling things in our LDS historical narrative, I have struggled knowing what this new information means.
I have been troubled. On one hand I have felt grateful for a more complete picture, but on the other hand I have felt sad, misled, angry, betrayed, confused, alone, etc...
I have no desire to destroy the faith of others by "dumping" my concerns on them. I have witnessed the good that has come from my lifelong active participation in the church. But my struggles during the last couple of years have left me questioning the very core of my once rock-solid beliefs.
Thank you Dr. Bushman for reaffirming that there are some who question (or possibly leave) the church, not because they are not following the commandments (I have been a worthy temple recommend holder, full tithe payer, obeyed the word of wisdom, law of chastity, sustained my local leaders and general authorities, actively served in ward and stake callings ranging from YM president, EQ president, and in a bishopric).
I am at a crossroads of sorts in my life. I believe that my children will benefit from active participation in the church, but I worry about their struggle of faith when they will exposed to the information which paints more of a complete picture.
Regardless, thank you for the posting the article and for providing a safe and positive outlet for people like me to work through the no small task of understanding my place in the universe.

BHodges said...

Thanks, coach. You might also like my two recent posts here:

Jim W said...

I've been a member of the Church for over 50 years. I was born and raised in the Salt Lake City area and I have not experienced the "cover up" of the unsightly issues of Church history that seem to take others by surprise. I am not a scholar by any means but the fact of polygamy, Joseph Smith's imperfections, along with the rest like the Mountain Meadows Massacre really don't bother me. I liked the comment that someone made that they would trust Joseph to restore the Church but they wouldn't deposit money in a bank run by him. Church history isn't perfect and the people who made it certainly weren't perfect either.

The point I guess I am trying to make is that history and historians are somewhat like journalists reporting the news. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, they color the information they pass on with their own values, views, and interpretations. Even journal entries are written from the writers point of view. There is no "totally factual" history. Look up someone like Thomas Jefferson on the net and you'll get many differing points of view about the man from different historians. Some praise him, while others vilify him. It's hard to believe it's the same person they are talking about.

Church history is much the same way. There are those who sugar coat it and those who rub it raw and ugly. I believe the truth is somewhere in between most of the time.

I also believe that we, as Church members, tend to romanticize our past and present leaders into some kind of infallability and a level of perfection only one Man has ever achieved. To not allow our Prophets or GAs to be human is to fall into an impossible trap. No one can make the grade.

One of Joseph Smith's goals was for each and every member to make "their calling and election sure'. This is only done with a truly personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ. It is not something that is done overnight and not even JS or BY or any of the others got there overnight. Did Joseph err in some of the ways Doctrine was applied? You betcha!! Does it shake my faith? No. A careful reading of the Bible will illlustrate that all of the prophets and apostles written about had foibles and weaknesses. Noah got drunk. Abraham had his issues. The list could go on and on. Paul had a major disagreement with Peter and others. Does that diminish their standing as Apostles and Prophets? I don't believe it does. If we truly cultivate this personal relationship with God and His Son, all issues of the percieved imperfection of his servants becomes irrelevant.

To those who feel disaffected or shunned by more mainstream members, please forgive us, we are imperfect as well. The Savior would not have us act as such. Some of us are not as far along as others and some of us are by far too closed minded to allow any form of doubt to enter in. Just as you struggle with who you are, I believe we do too but don't want to be reminded. I just hope that somewhere along the line, I didn't fall into that trap.

BHodges said...

Jim W, I really appreciate your comments.

Anonymous said...

In a way, I am glad that Prof. Bushman is helping to open things up and to create an environment of understanding where so many have been, and are being, hurt. On the other hand, I'm skeptical and troubled about what he is doing. This issue of Mormon History is literally ruining lives and ripping families apart. Why not be brave and repudiate the Church for its dishonesty about its history instead of tip-toeing around this fact? One way to deal with Smith is to put forward explanations under which Joseph can be understood as a fallible man. I consider this special pleading and under cover apologetics, as far as the truth goes. However, it may be beneficial to those Mormons who are socially bound to the Church and need some way to reconcile their intellectual integrity with membership in the Church. Still, I admire Fawn Brodie more for her willingness to simply take a stand, given the evidence, combined with reasonable assumptions about human nature. If he were to do what a fair jury would do and say "guilty", he would be excommunicated. Of course, there are other interpretations of O.J. Simpson, too, to suit O.J.'s family and friends. But I admire those who will state the truth and not special plead or appeal to relativism when their client is on the line. Again, why not repudiate the Church's dishonesty directly while you look for ways to polish and shine up Smith? Though your approach is not the most courageous, it is at least somewhat courageous. People will get used to the idea of a "human" Smith just as they can get used to a "human" Warren Jeffs or L. Ron Hubbard.


pericles said...

In a way, I am glad that Prof. Bushman is helping to open things up and to create an environment of understanding where so many have been, and are being, hurt. On the other hand, I'm skeptical and troubled about what he is doing. This issue of Mormon History is literally ruining lives and ripping families apart. Why not be brave and repudiate the Church for its dishonesty about its history instead of tip-toeing around this fact? One way to deal with Smith is to put forward explanations under which Joseph can be understood as a fallible man. I consider this special pleading and under cover apologetics, as far as the truth goes. However, it may be beneficial to those Mormons who are socially bound to the Church and need some way to reconcile their intellectual integrity with membership in the Church. Still, I admire Fawn Brodie more for her willingness to simply take a stand, given the evidence, combined with reasonable assumptions about human nature. If Bushman were to do what a fair jury would do and say "guilty", he would be excommunicated by the Church. So let the favorable interpretations begin. Of course, there are other interpretations of O.J. Simpson, too, to suit O.J.'s family and friends. But I admire those who will state the truth and not special plead or appeal to relativism when their client is on the line. Again, why not repudiate the Church's dishonesty directly while you look for ways to polish and shine up Smith? Though your approach is not the most courageous, it is at least somewhat courageous. People will get used to the idea of a "human" Smith just as they can get used to a "human" Warren Jeffs or L. Ron Hubbard.


BHodges said...

I appreciate your comments. At the same time I disagree with you on most points. You don't believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. Others do.

You appear to equate being "courageous" to refuting the prophethood of Joseph Smith. I personally don't agree with you on that.

Beyond that, comparing Joseph Smith to L. Ron Hubbard, O. J. Simpson, and Warren Jeffs is a guilt by association gambit which I don't find fruitful in the discussion.

Jen said...

In a comment you posted on August 15th I see you have John Dehlin's name attached to RfM. I believe this is incorrect. You might want to check that. You are right that RfM allows ranting, however the Mormon Stories blog (now defunkt)moderated by John Dehlin was in my opinion very conservative compared to RfM.

Thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed reading it and the thread.

BHodges said...


The trouble with RfM is that they do not keep an archive. John has indeed posted on RfM before, and to my knowledge the last time he did so was when he retired the MormonStories podcast. John doesn't seem to fit in well on that site, of course, there are some very aggressive people there and John is far from that. Still, he has posted there and I'm not sure what context I would have brought that up in before on this site.

I saved his message but can't link to it because it has gone into the ether.

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I understand the argument that Mormons are confronted by this (and other) information in two ways: immediately or as a process while growing up in the church. I for one encountered it mostly immediately, however, I don't believe this is the reason why I can no longer believe. I can no longer believe since the church's "prophets" have led astray their followers too many times than I can count. I do not care whether I learned this gradually or immediately. The leaders are not perfect, sure. They are men. I understand that argument. But accepting a prophet as human is far different than accepting a prophet speaking in the Lord's name and continuously failing to communicate truth. To me, it's just obvious... I do not see how anybody can rationalize a prophet being wrong when speaking for the Church. What use is a prophet, then?

Anonymous said...

And, oh yes, I just resigned. But this is more than 10 years after initially learning of some of the problems. It came to this because the church as a whole is failing to listen to Bushman's great advice. I was treated as an unworthy member for my lack of belief. I've given up hope that they will change in the short-term future and am now moving on to greener pastures.

BHodges said...

Anonymous, in the future please use a name or consistent pseudonym rather than "anonymous," as per the comment instructions.

While we clearly see things differently, I wish you the best in your journey.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me, then, like you're going after popularity and not truth.

The Man in the Glass

BHodges said...

Not sure who or what you're referring to, man in the glass.

Tod Robbins said...

I went to this seminar! Whoa, it's been a while. It was really amazing to feel the intellect and feeling move around the room, a lot of sincere concern for people struggling with their faith. I was very encouraged by the event.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating to read Bushman's description of a process I went through 40 years ago while a student at BYU preparing to go on my (never went) mission. This initiated a crisis of faith brought on by knowing the now well-known but then nearly unheard of "secret history" of Mormonism, which I had learned from years of avid study. There were certainly no efforts in those days to understand or help someone struggling with these issues. In the end, though, it wasn't the history that destroyed my faith. Instead it was a variety of things such as the shock of life in Utah during the ascendancy of the Benson-McConkie school, the absurdities of the dress code and general pettiness and surveillance culture at BYU, travesties such as the destruction of the Coleville tabernacle, the apparent suspicion of "intellectuals," and, in the end, the lack of confidence in "testimonies," as anything more than a form of self-deception and self-fulfilling prophecy. I believed devoutly up until the moment I didn't. I lost it all in one moment, ironically as I attempted to bear my testimony in a "fake it till you make it" move. When I sat back down, I knew one thing for sure--I no longer believed in the Church. I remained a student at BYU however but was never able to find a way to continue to be a Mormon. In my last year there, I converted to Greek Orthodoxy. I'm not sure if there had been a more open and accepting atmosphere toward skeptics such as myself whether I could have stayed. I do know that I left the Church kicking and screaming, holding on to the end by my fingernails. No option other than TBM was ever presented to me. Older people who had struggled with these issues did not communicate how they managed to stay in. Many of my fellow students harbored many doubts, but followed the program. I, for one, still believed in Joseph Smith's example enough to follow what I understood to be truth right out of the LDS Church despite the loss of community and loss of intimacy with my family. Be true to the truth you know--that's what I had learned on my mother's knee--that's what Joseph Smith's story of the First Vision taught me. In that sense, I remain his disciple.

Blair Hodges said...

Hi, Anonymous former BYU student. I'm a fan of the Orthodox church, but the Russian corner more than the Greek.

Vader said...

I think we can understand the history debate in Mormonism a bit better when we understand that, for a great many people, the purpose of history is to show us how much better we are than the primitives from whom we descended.

Such a view of history has no place for heroes -- or prophets.

The Mormon tendency is the opposite. We look on our heritage as noble, not primitive. I prefer this approach to history, but acknowledge it has its pitfalls as well. And when it comes into tectonic collision with the opposite view, there is bound to be some shaking.

I like Bushman's summary very much. I do not have to believe that Joseph Smith was infallible to believe that God spoke to him in a way He did not speak to L. Ron Hubbard. I do not have to believe that Joseph Smith was infallible to believe he was a better disciple of Christ than Jim Jones. It is God I have faith in, not Joseph Smith, and yet my faith in God leads me to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet. Joseph Smith may not have batted 1.000, but a 0.850 is still miraculous in a league where no one else has exceeded half that value.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this information. What a heavy lonely burden these discoveries are to bear. My doubts started while reading the BoM of all places and the thing that triggered my doubt was glossed over by my wife and put on the "some day I'll understand that shelf". I think over time that shelf became too cluttered for me and things have come crashing down. When that happens you start to organize and prioritize the things that have fallen off and anything still on it. Anyway it's amazing how lonely and desperate this burden is and it's why I don't talk to anyone about it. I don't want to put this to anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Im afraid I have been hearing many people talking about all of these huge faith shattering evils the church has been hiding and that are now coming to light, so at he risk of my own testimony I would like to hear what they are. So far all I have heard is someone complaining about polygamy and different accounts of the first vision and a couple other things. What Im looking for are the historical references that prove lies within the church. I want the bold faced ugly documentation that proves without a doubt that Joseph Smith was a con-man or a simple minded deceived little man, or morally bankrupt or something. I keep reading he was a liar, a cheat, that the General Authorities have been covering up things from day one. I have read so many peoples opinions on how something makes the church look bad or good that its kinda mind-numbing. If all this is true then I can't be a part of it, but there is so much opinion with so little fact im kinda getting tired of looking. So if someone could point me in a direction that has something concrete, I would appreciate it.

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