Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hugh B. Brown's Profile of a Prophet

I had this talk on cassette tape while on my mission and listened to it many many times.
One of my favorites.

Hugh Brown Brown (October 24, 1883 -- December 2, 1975) was an attorney, educator, author and leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He was a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency. Born in Utah, Brown held both American and Canadian citizenship during his life.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Joseph, the stone and the hat: Why it all matters

(by Daniel Peterson 3-27-15)

Some critics of Joseph Smith mock the fact that part of the Book of Mormon translation process apparently involved dictating while looking at a stone that he’d placed within a hat.

Yet far from being damaging evidence against his claims and against the Book of Mormon, this fact may strongly support their plausibility. The Lord has said that he makes (seemingly) weak things become strong (Ether 12:27), and this seems yet another such case.

Consider a smartphone or e-reader, for instance. Their screens are very difficult to read out in the sunlight and need to be shaded. Or consider your personal computer. You probably don’t place it directly in front of a window where bright light will be streaming into your face. You need contrasting darkness so that you can see the screen without strain, and especially so if you’ll be working on it for lengthy periods. Otherwise, your eyes will tire and your head will ache.

Now consider Joseph Smith. According to those familiar with the process, he dictated the Book of Mormon from words that somehow appeared in a “seer stone” or (much the same thing) in the Urim and Thummim. He rarely if ever actually had the plates with him; he couldn’t read what was on them except through revelation anyway, and he could receive revelation (via the “interpreters”) just as easily without the plates as with them. (So why were the plates necessary? Perhaps, among other things, to reassure him and the witnesses who saw and testified of them — and, thus also, us — that he was dealing with something objectively real and external to himself.)

Evidence indicates that Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon over the course of three months (or perhaps somewhat less). His scribes needed light in order to work, but it’s quite understandable that Joseph sought to reduce the fatigue of his eyes by using a hat to exclude the ambient light.

The implications of this, however, are intriguing. A manuscript hidden in the bottom of a hat would be difficult if not impossible to read. Yet Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon — roughly 270,000 words — in somewhere between 60 and 90 days. That’s approximately 3,000 to 4,500 words each and every day, without rewrites or significant revisions. (Practiced writers will instantly recognize this as a stunning pace.) Or, to put it another way, this young man, with only about two months of schooling, dictated roughly six to nine pages of today’s printed English edition every single day for two or three months.

Had he memorized it? That seems unlikely.

Was he creating it on the spot? That would have been an astonishing achievement. And the evidence seems against it.

For example, he himself was sometimes surprised by what he read. He couldn’t pronounce many of the proper names, for example, and had to spell them out. He worried when he read about the walls of Jerusalem; he’d never seen a town surrounded by walls, and he needed his wife’s reassurance that this was true (see "David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness," Lyndon W. Cook, Grandin Book Company, 1991).

When he came to a break in the text, he had his scribe write “chapter.” This happened throughout the book of 1 Nephi, for example, and it also occurred at the end of that book. But then, when they realized that they’d now reached a break between two independent books, they crossed out the word “chapter” and replaced it with “The Book of Nephi,” marking the opening of 2 Nephi (see "The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text," edited by Royal Skousen, FARMS, 2001; and Skousen's "Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript," in "Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins," edited by Noel B. Reynolds, FARMS, 1997).

It appears, thus, that Joseph was dictating from an unfamiliar text. It also seems likely that what he was reading provided its own independent light source, such that he could read it even with ordinary light excluded, in what one historian famously called “a world lit only by fire.” That sounds very much like the translation method described by the Prophet and other witnesses to the translation, but it’s difficult to reconcile with the theories that critics typically offer.

For more detailed treatment of the relevant issues, see “What the Manuscripts and the Eyewitnesses Tell Us about the Translation of the Book of Mormon” (published in 2002).

Irrelevant but important note: The Academy for Temple Studies will host a conference at BYU in Provo on Monday, March 30, and at Utah State in Logan on Tuesday, March 31, titled “Passion and Passover: Jesus and the Temple,” featuring several eminent non-Mormon scholars. The program is virtually identical at both locations and is free, but registration is required. For details, see

Friday, March 27, 2015

This is a Woman's Church - Sharon Eubank's 2014 Fair Mormon Conference Presentation

(photo from rogerdhansen.wordpress)

Sharon was born in Redding, California, to Mark and Jean Eubank. She received a bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University and served as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Finland Helsinki mission. Her career includes working as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate for 4 years and owning a retail education store in Provo, Utah, for 7 years.

Since 1998, she has been employed by the Church in the Welfare Department. She helped to establish 17 international LDS employment offices Africa and Europe. For five years she directed the humanitarian wheelchair program expanding its scope to 50,000 individual donations each year and implementing World Health Organization training standards.

In 2008 Sharon became regional director of the LDS Charities for the Middle East Africa North area where she oversaw humanitarian work with active country offices in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Jordan, and Morocco. She also served on the Relief Society general board during Sister Julie B. Beck’s administration until April 2012.

Currently, Sharon is the director of LDS Charities, the humanitarian organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mormonism and the restoration of the ancient church by Daniel C. Peterson

Daniel C. Peterson's address at the 2008 BYU-Hawaii devotional.

Dan Peterson looks at the Dead Sea Scrolls, Mormonism, the Prophet Joseph, God and Gods, baptism for dead, and the restoration of the ancient church.

part 1

part 2

part 3

Saturday, March 14, 2015

"Lightning Out of Heaven": Joseph Smith and the Forging of Community by Terryl L. Givens

The Prophet Joseph Smith succeeded in creating a community with no real parallel—and few precedents—in the history of the world.
Talk given by Terryl L. Givens at BYU on November 29th, 2005.

Friday, March 13, 2015

God and Mr. Hitchens by Daniel C. Peterson

(Christopher Hitchens)

2007 FAIR conference lecture by BYU scholar Daniel C. Peterson reviewing atheist Christopher Hitchens' book "god is not great".

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mormons Aim To Address Messy Parts Of Church History, Theology

( 3-9-15)

Mormonism begins with a simple story of heavenly manifestations.

A 19th-century farm boy in upstate New York prays in a thicket of trees and sees God and Jesus. The boy next uses spiritual powers to unearth ancient writings, which he translates into English with the help of Old Testament aids. He founds a faith as a “restoration” of early Christianity, adds more scriptures to the biblical canon, introduces unique doctrines and creates a community of believers.

These tales of Joseph Smith’s founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been repeated across the globe by generations of LDS faithful, as well as Mormon missionaries, eager to convert others to what they believe.

Trouble is, the real history is much more nuanced, complicated, even contradictory.

In one “First Vision” account, Smith said he saw one godly being, not two. He peered into a hat, which held “seer stones,” to produce the sacred scripture. He secretly married dozens of women and lied to his first wife, Emma, about it.

Now, prompted by the rise of social media, the availability of LDS documents, groundbreaking scholarship, widespread Internet sharing of little-known aspects of the faith’s past and a disturbing exodus of the formerly faithful, Mormonism is in the midst of a landmark effort to integrate new details about its founding — without losing the power of a simple narrative.

Can it add layers of what some see as controversial information without scaring away new converts or longtime members whose devotion is built on the account as they’ve known it all their lives?
Many historians insist such a shift is not only possible but also essential.

“People may be comforted in the short run by platitudes, but I don’t think that leads to growth or to effective action,” says Harvard University historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. “The answer isn’t to replace simplistic stories with footnoted essays. It is to tell better, more complete, stories, stories that are true, that touch issues people really care about.”

Others worry that something might be lost in the recalibrating.

“No religion I know of would want to turn its founding stories into history, at least as history is understood today in a scientific sense,” says Kathleen Flake, who heads up Mormon studies at the University of Virginia. “Faith is not about fact; nor about fiction, for that matter. It’s certainly not a question of sophistication, at all, but of religious sense.”

Can 21st-century followers continue to grasp the magical and miraculous in a rational era? Can the church appeal to intellectuals while retaining members more at home with the supernatural?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes it can — and is taking steps to do so, ever so gingerly.

Tackling tough topics

In December 2013, the LDS Church posted on its website an essay titled “Race and the Priesthood.”
The piece probed the prohibition on black men from being ordained to the denomination’s all-male priesthood, how it developed, the folk teachings surrounding it and what it took — a divine decree — to eliminate the ban in 1978.

It began under Brigham Young, the second LDS president, who was influenced by common racial beliefs of the time, the article says. The policy did not exist during the tenure of Smith, who opposed slavery and personally ordained several African-Americans.

In other words, the ban stemmed more from earthly racism than heavenly revelation — a major change from how most Mormons saw it.

The LDS Church has posted other carefully crafted essays, addressing thorny questions such as “Are Mormons Christians?” “Do Latter-day Saints believe they will become gods?” “What was the nature and extent of polygamy from Smith’s era through its formal end and beyond?” “How did the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham come to be?”

The point was to bring the best scholarly insights to the knotty, complex questions of the faith’s history and theology, providing a place for members who discover vexing information on the Internet to get authoritative, yet faith-based answers.

Unfortunately, the essays’ rollout, notes University of Utah historian Paul Reeve, “was spotty.”

The pieces were not signed by LDS leaders, not prominently displayed online nor sent to bishops to be read over the pulpit to Mormon congregations.

At a recent panel discussion at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, about a third of the audience of around 80 students had neither read nor heard of the race essay, says Reeve, author of the just-released “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness.”

“Others, both professors and students, told of stories whereby they drew upon the essay in church meetings and were met by resistance from fellow Mormons who said the essays were not official and merely (church) Public Affairs pieces.”

Such an approach — “make the information available, but not too available” — is “not tenable,” Reeve said. “It now needs to be integrated into the curriculum at the local level … included in (LDS) seminary, institute, Sunday school (youth and adult), Primary and BYU Religion Department curriculums.”

It doesn’t have to be a wholesale rewriting of history, Reeve said, “to acknowledge new information.”

Telling the Mormon story the way it always has is no longer an option, Reeve argues. “The rising generation craves a more complicated narrative. Their lives are complicated; they are dealing with real struggles and real sins and a whitewashed version of the past with pioneers who only sang as they walked and walked and walked gives them nothing to identify with and sometimes even feels alienating. We can do better. We must do better.”

The LDS Church does plan to fuse the essays’ information into its curriculum, says spokesman Eric Hawkins. “These materials represent the very best of research on church history and doctrine, and they will, over time, be incorporated into church curriculum, publications and, where appropriate, visitors centers.”

Hawkins declined to offer further details about when and how such an integration would happen or to grant interviews with historians and educators working within the bureaucracy.

Mormon scholars working independently, however, have no such reluctance. They view this as a crucial and urgent task, and worry that if the church fails to do it, a steady stream of members may continue to slip away.

Adding layers

Terryl Givens, co-author of “The Crucible of Doubt” and “The God Who Weeps,” tells of a Mormon missionary who came across Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling” during his years of proselytizing.

Bushman’s acclaimed biography is an “unstintingly honest account of the life of Joseph Smith,” Givens says, yet the missionary called it “the greatest faith builder I ever read.”

“I thought, ‘If God could work with a vessel that imperfect to bring about the restoration,’ ” the young man told Givens, “maybe he could use me, too.”

No one is advocating reading a 700-plus-page biography to LDS high-schoolers, Givens said, but church instruction should draw on the “best history available … familiar and accessible.”

It could start by including controversial elements into missionary discussions and member lessons “in a matter-of-fact way,” explains Adam Miller, philosophy professor at Collin College in McKinney, Texas.

LDS General Conference talks “could be devoted to covering the same subjects as the essays,” Miller says. “Coming from apostles at General Conference, who would bat an eye? And who wouldn’t love the fresh material?”

Miller, author of “Letters to a Young Mormon,” would like to see LDS visitor centers address the topic of the church’s practice of polygamy, which the faith abandoned in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

That would “put a human face on (polygamy), de-sensationalize it, and clearly frame the whole thing as a part of the Mormon commitment to the eternal family,” Miller says. “People will respond positively to the candor and complexity. If I were investigating the church, candor and complexity are exactly what I would be looking for.”

Bushman, emeritus professor of history at Columbia, believes Mormon faith would be enhanced rather than scandalized by past episodes brought to light in the essays.

For example, Emma Smith’s account of her husband using “seer stones in a hat” to translate the religion’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, is “one of the most powerful testimonies of the book that we have,” Bushman said. “The information about the seer stone in the hat is integrated into this testimony. It only makes the translation story more concrete and real.”

Samuel Brown, an LDS physician and researcher in Salt Lake City, sees value in recognizing Smith’s embrace of physical items.

“God revealed ancient scripture to Joseph Smith through his encounters with sacred objects, using Smith’s human mouth and mind to reveal that scripture,” said Brown, author of “First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple.” “For the Book of Mormon, it was the (gold) plates and interpreter stones; for the Book of Abraham, it was a funeral papyrus.”

Revelation and scripture, he said, “are the marks left in our mortal world by encounters between God and human beings.”

Multiple audiences

Believers of every stripe filter scripture and historical events through the prism of their time, culture and maturity.

“An 8-year-old,” Brown said, “doesn’t need the same story that an adult convert in Congo needs, who doesn’t need the same story that a recovering addict needs, who doesn’t need the same story that a middle-aged professor needs.”

Some Mormons need to hear and tell stories about “exceptionally godly individuals … to make God real in their lives,” he said. “Many of us aren’t built that way. Many of us feel more disappointment, perceive more acutely human failings, feel more skeptical about claims to human godliness. … Such stories don’t seem real to those listeners, they seem misleading or made up.”

Thus, trying to force “a rewrite of those stories to suit some of us is like forcing everyone else to go off their (high) blood-pressure medications because we have low blood pressure,” the physician said. “It’s much better to work toward a complementary system in which people with high blood pressure get pills to drop the blood pressure and those with low blood pressure have an exercise regimen instead.”

Adopting such a multifaceted approach, Brown said, “will take substantial culture change, with commitment on all sides.”

Bushman argues that adding new and sometimes-troubling information is less unsettling for children and converts.

“They are learning lots of marvelous things. A few more are not hard to take,” Bushman said. “The real problem is for the people who were taught in the old way not to get anxious.”

After coming across disconcerting facts regarding LDS history or preaching, some Mormons have left the fold not because of the information itself, but because they never were told about it. They feel betrayed.

Others who were at ease in the faith — comfortable with, and comforted by, the stories as they were always taught them — were shaken by the essays.

Then there are the vast numbers of Mormons spread across the map.

“‘Church history’ in any level of detail is quite elusive for members outside of the United States,” writes Melissa Inouye, who teaches Asian history at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

“Especially in translation, American names, places and historical contexts are difficult to remember.”
That leads to “heavy oversimplification of the few historical figures whose names can be remembered,” Inouye said, and they are seen as “nearly perfect.”

Such excessive veneration, she said, is neither helpful nor true.

“Even in small, episodic doses, ‘messy’ history is so interesting because it involves real people and real problems, with which everyone can identify,” Inouye said. “What we see when we learn all of our history is, as in the scriptures, a narrative of God’s dealings with real people as they make mistakes and try again.”


Friday, March 6, 2015

Exploring complexities in the English language of the Book of Mormon

(by Daniel Peterson 3-5-15)

Recently, “Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture” published an article bearing the somewhat dry and intimidating title “The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax in the Book of Mormon." However, the implications of the evidence and analysis provided by linguist Stanford Carmack are anything but dry. They’re profoundly thought-provoking and, indeed, spectacular.

"In the middle of the 16th century," Carmack observes, there was a brief "surge in the use of the auxiliary verb 'did' to express the affirmative past tense in English, as in 'Moroni did arrive with his army at the land of Bountiful' (Alma 52:18)." The 1829 manuscript of the Book of Mormon contains nearly 2,000 instances of this particular verbal form, using it 27 percent of the time in past-tense contexts. By contrast, the 1611 King James Bible employs the form less than 2 percent of the time, Carmack wrote in the abstract.

Strikingly, "while the Book of Mormon’s rate is significantly higher than the Bible’s, it is close to what is found in English-language texts written mainly in the mid- to late 1500s," Carmack wrote.

"And the usage died out in the 1700s." So, in this linguistic feature as in others, "the Book of Mormon is unique for its time," Carmack wrote.

In fact, writes Carmack, "textual evidence and syntactic analysis argue strongly against" both the notion that the Book of Mormon is a 19th-century composition and the common assumption that its language is imitation King James English. The book’s past-tense syntax, he argues, "could have been achieved only by following the use of largely inaccessible 16th-century writings. But mimicry of lost syntax is difficult, if not impossible, and so later writers who consciously sought to imitate biblical style failed ... at a deep, systematic level."

This includes books such as Richard Snowden’s “The American Revolution” (1796), Gilbert Hunt’s “The Late War” (1814) and Ethan Smith’s “View of the Hebrews” (1823). All three have been proposed as Joseph Smith’s supposed source for the Book of Mormon, Carmack wrote.

Carmack has published two previous articles with “Interpreter” making related arguments: “What Command Syntax Tells Us about Book of Mormon Authorship” and “A Look at Some ‘Nonstandard’ Book of Mormon Grammar." He’ll discuss his findings during the Exploring the Complexities in the English Language of the Book of Mormon conference on the Brigham Young University campus from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, March 14.

The conference, which is sponsored jointly by BYU Studies and the Interpreter Foundation, will discuss the latest investigations into the language of the English Book of Mormon, including expressions that don’t appear to have been in use in the 19th century.

Also speaking will be Royal Skousen, whose “Restoring the Original Text of the Book of Mormon” appeared in “Interpreter” the previous week. His 27 years of investigation have made him indisputably the premier authority on the subject, and he was the first to publicly call attention to linguistic features in the Book of Mormon that seem to derive from two or three generations prior to the King James Bible.

According to information about the conference posted on the website of "Interpreter," for which I serve as chairman, a common view regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon holds that as Joseph translated, ideas came to his mind that he expressed in his own language and phraseology; accordingly, the original English language of the Book of Mormon reflects Joseph’s upstate New York dialect, intermixed with imitation biblical English; and the Book of Mormon discusses the religious and political issues of Joseph’s own time. Skousen will argue that these views are misguided and based on a determination to stick with preconceived notions even in the face of the evidence.

Also at the conference, Jan Martin will discuss the Book of Mormon’s possible connection to a sharp debate between the two great enemies William Tyndale and Sir Thomas More. Although three centuries separate the Book of Mormon from More and Tyndale, she’ll analyze the Book of Mormon’s use of terms such as “charity,” “priest” and “church’ in the light of their 16th-century clash.

Nick Frederick will explore the complexities of the presence of New Testament language within the Book of Mormon. While it’s often been observed that the language of the English New Testament plays a key role in the text of the Book of Mormon as we have it today, exactly how such language functions hasn’t been thoroughly examined. Frederick will offer preliminary suggestions on how to adequately identify New Testament passages within the Book of Mormon and will examine the variety of ways in which New Testament language is woven into the Book of Mormon.