The firestorms burn out (a little).

Grant Palmer’s been disfellowshipped – thus saith the AP Newswire and other sources.  The Salt Lake Tribune has an excellent article on it, quoting our own John Hatch.  I’m not sure what this will do to the excommunication thread.  Perhaps we should have a "Value of Being Disfellowshipped" thread instead?

I’m not sure where I come out on the issue of what to do with someone like Grant, but it’s none of my business.  All would hope that local church leaders err on the side of compassion in such cases.  Even more interesting in my mind is whether being disfellowshipped is the Church’s way of denouncing his book without destroying the man.  Can any legitimate conclusions be drawn from this?

Do you still get/have to pay tithing if you’ve been disfellowshipped?


  1. Do you still get/have to pay tithing if you’ve been disfellowshipped?

    When my MIL and FIL got a divorce decades ago it was dirty. While neither were in the right he had better standing in the ward and used it so she was ex’d. A lot of behind the scenes politicing happened.

    Well she has been active for the last 8 years or so. She was recently told they could not take her tithe money because she was an ex-member. They always knew it but for some reason it became an issue just recently. They did say she can donate for other reasons. So with that the missionary fund, fast offerings, and other lines on the form get her 10 percent two times a month.

    This is not in the spirit of the rules of course, but it is in the spirit of the giving for her.

    I am not sure of the reasons they do not want her tithe. The church handbook does not say anything about the specific issue so I am at a loss. It may be a local thing.

  2. Wow gunner, that’s an interesting story… I think in the context of excommunications and disfellowshippings there’s a lot of local quirks that can occur.

    You would think that, on a side for liberal mormons, we’d have given more thought to the topic.

  3. From the CHI (I got this online. I have no reason to think it’s not accurate, but it’s worth what you paid for it):


    A person who is disfellowshipped is still a member of the Church but is no longer in good standing. Disfellowshipment is a severe action that may be adequate for all but the most serious transgressions.

    A person who is disfellowshipped may not hold a temple recommend, serve in a Church position, or exercise the priesthood in any way. He should be encouraged to attend public Church meetings if his conduct is orderly, but he may not give a talk, offer a public prayer, partake of the sacrament, or participate in the sustaining of Church officers. The presiding officer may impose additional restrictions, such as staying away from pornographic materials and other evil influences. He also may impose positive conditions such as regular Church attendance, regular prayer, and reading selected scriptures or Church literature.

    Disfellowshipped members are encouraged to pay tithes and offerings, to continue wearing temple garments if endowed, and to seek a return to fellowship in the Church through sincere repentance and righteous living.

    Disfellowshipment is intended to be temporary but usually lasts at least one year. When a member shows true repentance and satisfies the conditions imposed, the presiding officer may convene another disciplinary council to consider restoring him to full fellowship (see pages 104-6). If a member does not repent, the disciplinary council may continue disfellowshipment or consider excommunication.

    So, he can’t take the sacrament or pray at church or hold a calling but he does get to pay tithing and wear garments. Lucky him.

    The things he gets to keep are not insignificant, I guess, in that his membership, sealings to family, etc., are all still intact. It’s only his level of participation that’s been circumscribed. I guess in the eternal scheme of things, that’s good. But in the here and now, it strikes me as ironic that the things folks in the DaMU are least likely to want to do (tithing and wearing garments) are about the only forms of participation left to Bro. Palmer.

  4. I find it quite odd that we forbid the disfellowshipped person from sustaining church officers (can they still give a “vote of thanks?”). I suspect the idea is that they do not have status to “vote” on church business, but since the “vote” has been strictly pro forma for a couple of generations (at least), it mostly just serves to embarrass them.

    Of course, if they go ahead and raise their hand anyway, probably nobody would notice.

  5. I wonder if rejection of tithing is a local matter or if there’s a central bureaucratic function for turning down tithing donations? Also, what if a person walked in and tithed anonymously?

  6. Tom Manney says:

    It would be my hope that I would never have to stand accused for my thoughts by any court that is anything less than omniscient. I can’t think of many fates that could worse. Being chained to my couch and forced to watch reality TV might be worse, but I digress.

  7. The SL Trib article dated Dec. 13 quotes Bcc’s John Hatch (who somehow neglected to work in a plug for Bcc) as follows:

    “I’m pleased that he was not excommunicated,” said John Hatch, a friend and fellow Mormon intellectual who has read Palmer’s book. “I hope he can continue to work with his stake president and return soon to full fellowship in the church.”

  8. Bcc is ONCE AGAIN screwed over by the national news media!!

  9. Clearly a conspiracy on the part of the conservative media.

  10. D. Fletcher says:

    I bought the book via Amazon, and I got my copy over the weekend. I’ll make a book report…later.

  11. D., you heathen!!!

    Good job, by the way, with the Christmas program yesterday. One of those moments where I think applause should be allowed in Church!

  12. D. Fletcher says:


    For me? or Baby Jesus?

  13. D. Fletcher says:

    Just noting that the Palmer story is one of the leading Yahoo headlines, from the AP, this morning about 11 am.

  14. D., the applause was for you, not baby Jesus :)

    It was a great presentation, and reminded me of the mixture of emotions that Christmas carols and songs can give: “joy to the world” vs. “what child is this”. I think it’s a really great category of music because of its ability to go from shouts of joy to slow, almost lamentation-level chant.

  15. The Palmer book was ranked #33,000-and-something a week ago on Amazon; it’s now #316.

  16. john fowles says:

    So this was a net gain for Palmer: tons of free publicity for his book without the consequences of being excommunicated (over at Dave’s MI, Dave notes that “I suppose one could say that if Insider’s View doesn’t warrant excommunication, then it’s hard to think that any book will.”) What I still don’t understand is why Palmer would still want to be a member of the Church if he really believes that the Church’s claims regarding its beginnings are false.

  17. JF, it’s still possible to believe in the saving power of the Church and to love being a part of it, even if you don’t buy the entire party line of Church history. I’m sure that’s something you’ve already thought about, but your comment indicates otherwise.

  18. john fowles says:

    Steve, I’ve thought about it and don’t see how the Church can have any “saving power” if it has no saving power (i.e. priesthood authority from God). I don’t see how the Church can have real priesthood authority (that differs in any way from a typical protestant claim to authority) absent the First Vision, the visit of the Angel Moroni and the translation of the BoM, the isits of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, and the revelations contained in the D&C, for starters. So if Palmer thinks it is bogus, his interest in the Church is reduced to a sentimental grip to a life-culture and to family heritage (his ancestors were likely Latter-day Saints who actually believed that JS saw God and Jesus and that he translated the BoM from Golden Plates entrusted to him through the angel Moroni). I don’t see how he could believe that the Church contains any connection to Christ that is not more properly found in Catholicism or even Lutheranism if he doesn’t believe in a unique claim to authority within the Church that is based on these historical events.

  19. Well then John, maybe you need to accept that some people see what you cannot, and leave it at that.

    Your faith obviously hinges on historical points, but it’s not the same for many others. I could try and explain it to you, but I’m sure you’re already familiar with these alternative lines of thinking. Debating them won’t ‘prove’ anything. Just be grateful that people have chosen to worship along side of you, and don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

  20. john fowles says:

    Steve, my faith does not “hinge” on historical points. My testimony stems from my personal effort to establish a relationship with God through reading the BoM and praying about it. Because I have this faith in Christ, independently confirmed through prayer and a personal relationship with God, I also, therefore, believe that the Church has the priesthood authority it claims to have.

    I don’t think my doubts about Palmer’s motivations for wanting to remain in the Church really warrant your dismissive posture towards a faith-based view of the honesty of the Church as regards its founding events, particularly touching on priesthood authority.

    And I have not really already heard all these “alternative” lines of thinking because everytime I express my view about this, I am rejoined by a comment such as yours. Maybe you could explain how the Church can really provide any closer tie to Christ than other Christian denominations if the Church has no greater claim to real priesthood authority than those churches and thus motivate someone to write that the Church is being dishonest with regards to its claims to priesthood authority and yet still claim that he wants to be a member of the Church out of an interest in worshipping Jesus Christ. Can a Church that is founded on fraud provide a forum where people can worship Jesus Christ? And if the Church is a fraud re authority and BoM translation, etc., then what does that say of doctrines of the Church, e.g. regarding Three Degrees of Glory and exaltation, etc.? In these “alternative” views, I suppose (but you can correct me if I am misconstruing this) that JS must just be another “reformer” like Martin Luther or Calvin, just grossly less educated and much more prone to fraud than the other reformers? Or JS just sincerely “thought” he saw these things but he was wrong and they were just delusions, but nevertheless that is okay because it motivated him to become a reformer and start a new church. Or JS is a genius who, although dishonest because of the affirmative claims he made, nevertheless accomplished a something incredible in writing the BoM in such a short time period, and his system has been a joy to many even if it is oppressive of blacks, women, gays, and critics. These are some of the alternatives that I am aware of, but I still wonder, if Palmer is subscribing to one of these, why he would want to be a member of this Church rather than some more honest organization.

  21. john: I think part of the answer is that people who choose to stay in the church but not accept the party line are exercising the only form of faith left to them. Their integrity will not allow them to claim as true many teachings/occurrences that they don’t really believe in. Yet they see the church as perhaps the best option, or even the only option. To perhaps apply it to the way a typical true-believing Mormon would think of it: we don’t know the truth of all things, but we believe this is the best place to learn and progress. Some of the justification for staying around is obviously by choice; other factors are our upbringing and family situation. But those who doubt and choose to stay can’t simply be written off as hypocrites; they are doing the best with the brains the Lord gave them. To further reinforce the point, I think that’s true of everyone. Even straitliners like yourself probably don’t know everything about your faith. You do not understand exactly why you believe what you do. The doubter who stays isn’t afraid to entertain the questions; while the straitliner flees from them.

  22. john, your comments make sense within the paradigm that accepts the central importance of “priesthood authority.” But not everyone accepts that paradigm, and if you want to understand how they think (rather than just criticize them) you’ll have to let yourself imagine some alternative paridigm.

    You may be correct that for Palmer or others, the mormon church isn’t fundamentally much different than other protestant churches. But that doesn’t mean that protestant churches are are all worthless, or that nobody should have any reason for prefering one protestant church over another, or care if they get kicked out.

  23. Ed "Grant Palmer" Enochs says:

    I feel like Grant Palmer. It seems like this kind of censure stuff is part of your whole approach.

    Mormon Church Disciplines Author for Book

    By TRAVIS REED, Associated Press Writer

    SANDY, Utah – A retired Mormon educator who wrote a
    book questioning whether the founder of The Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints misrepresented his
    authority as a prophet was suspended from the church

    Grant Palmer, 64, who wrote “An Insider’s View of
    Mormon Origins,” could have been excommunicated.
    Instead, he said the church “disfellowshipped” him at
    a hearing, which means he will retain his membership
    but lose certain privileges, such as being able to go
    into temples or serve in an official church capacity.

    The length of a disfellowshipment varies by case, and
    Palmer wouldn’t comment more specifically on his

    The fourth-generation Mormon said he was pleased with
    the decision, still loves the church and wants to
    remain a member because he believes in its fundamental

    Church spokesman Dale Bills declined to comment on the

    Palmer, who served as a church director and educator
    for 34 years and has a master’s degree in history from
    Brigham Young University, said his research stemmed
    from a growing inability to reconcile discrepancies
    between history and his church service.

    In the book, Palmer suggests that church founder
    Joseph Smith revised church scripture to his

    The book says Smith didn’t actually translate the Book
    of Mormon “by the gift and power of God” from an
    ancient set of golden plates, as the church’s
    followers believe. Palmer suggested Smith wrote it
    himself, leaning heavily on the King James Bible and
    personal experiences.

    Mormon scholars said Palmer’s work was more damaging
    than other similar books because of his long history
    as a church member and educator. Others questioned how
    Palmer could still be a true believer, as he
    professed, if he had so many doubts.

    Palmer’s case is similar to six others in 1993 who
    faced disciplinary hearings for writing about Mormon
    history, feminism and new interpretations of theology.
    Five of the members were excommunicated, and one was

  24. Pretty amazing that this event was either (1) newsworthy enough to post on the main yahoo! page for a while or (2) that not enough other newsworthy things happened so that this came to the fore.

    I can understand John’s point, but I also see the others. I personally think it must take a lot of faith to stay in the Church despite nagging doubts about its historical underpinnings. We could probably all learn a bit about faith from those who so perservere.

  25. APJ: I think we are talking about degrees here. It is one thing to have questions and doubts; it is quite another to dismiss as fantasy the foundational events of our faith’s inception (restoration). John Fowles has laid out well the religious commoditization that must take place if this line of thinking pervades.

  26. Ed Enochs: “I feel like Grant Palmer. It seems like this kind of censure stuff is part of your whole approach.”

    Ed, what are you talking about? We’ve never censured you here. If you’re talking about some other blog, you should take it up with them.

  27. Oops- I mean we could all learn a LOT about faith from such- not merely a “bit”…

  28. john fowles says:

    ed wrote You may be correct that for Palmer or others, the mormon church isn’t fundamentally much different than other protestant churches. But that doesn’t mean that protestant churches are are all worthless, or that nobody should have any reason for prefering one protestant church over another, or care if they get kicked out.

    Good point. I guess that I am overlooking that aspect of this in my confusion as to why Palmer would even want to be in the Church if he rejects it’s founding premises.

  29. Davis Bell says:

    I was just about to post on this, and you guys beat me to it. I, for one, am not familiar with the “alternative lines” of thinking that allow one to disbelieve in the restoration (priesthood, BOM, etc.) and yet stay in the Church. It seems intellectually inconsistent to me, but I haven’t given the matter too much thought prior to the last few months, and I’m interested to hear the reasoning behind believing JS made a lot of the stuff up and still wanting to be a member.

  30. john fowles says:

    APJ wrote But those who doubt and choose to stay can’t simply be written off as hypocrites; they are doing the best with the brains the Lord gave them.

    This is very true, and I certainly didn’t mean to say that they were hypocrites. I was just genuinely curious about why they would want to be a part of the organization given their views. But some of your other thoughts also help explain that as well.

    APJ wrote Even straitliners like yourself probably don’t know everything about your faith. You do not understand exactly why you believe what you do. The doubter who stays isn’t afraid to entertain the questions; while the straitliner flees from them.

    The first part of this is very true. I don’t claim to know everything about the beginnings of the Restored Gospel. But I don’t include dishonesty on the part of JS as one possiblity. That is just part of my faith. The last part of that statement is a little mean. A “straightliner” isn’t necessarily fleeing from doubts by giving the “party line” the benefit of the doubt rather than questioning it or criticizing it.

    Jordan, I agree with you that we can learn a lot from people who doubt but decide to stay in the organization anyway. Everyone doubts and many decide to stay; this encompasses the whole continuum from “straightliners” like myself (or even worse, straightliners who have never read up on anything outside of just reading the BoM and believing what they were taught in Primary) to the other end of the spectrum, perhaps represented by some at BCC (I don’t make that as a definitive statement, just a possibility). We all stay despite our doubts, though those doubts differ in their subject matter. What is remarkable to me is that someone like Palmer claims he wants to stay. Palmer has written a book that is directly antithetical to the Church’s claims of its own origins. In that sense, he has directly attacked the Church at its very heart, not merely harbored some doubts and tried to work through them. He is not trying to work through doubts, but rather trying to “expose” inaccuracies or untruths in the Church’s history and claims. My question is why would such a person want to stay? APJ, ed, Jordan, and Steve have all provided helpful insight as to why doubters in general stay and I agree with them. Maybe the answer is that we should take Palmer’s statement that he is only trying to worship Jesus Christ with his “insider’s view” of the fraud of Latter-day Saint history at face value. That is probably a better approach than ascribing ulterior motives to him, even though the subject matter might invite such as logical conclusions.

  31. Well, OK Davis — you’re not the only one who’s curious about it. I guess it’s worth exploring, but I really don’t think there’s anything earth-shattering to say. I just wrote John a little while ago about it, so I’ll put up my ideas here.

    None of these may be enough for everyday members to keep going, but for many people they are sufficient:

    1. Social. It’s nice to belong to a group that meets, talks, plays basketball, etc. Mormons are very good company. If you’ve grown up a Mormon, all your friends are Mormon, etc., then it might make sense to remain a Mormon even if you don’t believe 100%.

    2. Doctrinal. Even if you don’t buy all of Church history (i.e., the BoM was written instead of translated, or other stuff), it’s still possible to believe the fundamental doctrines of the Church regarding the nature of God & Jesus (physical bodies, separate personages, etc.). There are degrees of skepticism and rejection: for example, I don’t know whether the BoM is a complete or even entirely accurate account of native americans, or even if there are any Lamanite descendants living today, but that isn’t as important as the central testimony of Christ the book contains.

    3. Any port in a storm. The fact of the matter is, it’s possible to doubt the historic origins of any religion. Belief in mormonism can entail the rejection of the histories behind all other major religions. So if you aren’t sure about any of them, all choices start to become equal, so you pick the one that feels most comfortable and
    which brings you the desired result (a sense of belonging or a feeling of forgiveness for your sins).

    Again, none of these will likely be enough for the true-blue believer, but it’s a better alternative than atheism.

  32. How about a simple spiritual manifestation that the Church is true and that the priesthood ordinances performed therein are efficacious- a manifestation that you can’t deny no matter what your doubts may be as to the origin of the Book of Mormon, etc.

    In other words, despite your perhaps strong doubts about the very foundations of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, you still remember the way you felt when you were baptized or sealed in the temple, etc. Or you draw on some other personal spiritual experience.

  33. Jordan, I think that’s a very revealing statement. The experiences and thoughts we draw upon in moments of doubt and weakness are what really count, I think. If, when questioning, the best thing we can come up with is “well, there’s that chiasmus in Mosiah…” then I think we’re sunk. Clearly, personalized spiritual experience is preferable.

    Now, that brings up a couple of questions. 1) if it’s personalized spiritual experience that matters, can chiasmus in Mosiah produce that experience? 2) Do certain kinds of personalized experience trump others (i.e., the feeling following baptism vs. the feeling following “On the Way Home”)? If so, what criteria make one spiritual experience mean more than another?

    That may mean yet another threadjack, but so be it.

  34. If you get the Legiao Urbana MTV Acustic CD or DVD there is a great cover of “On the Way Home” which always gives me a special feeling.

  35. I think that any spiritual experience I’ve had definitely trumps that of anyone else- especially here…. ;)

    Really, though, I don’t think there is any one set of criteria which makes one’s spiritual experience more valid than another. That almost seems like importing the “reasonable person” standard into spiritual experiences.

    For the non-lawyers, the “reasonable person” is the fiction we use to “objectively” test a person’s actions in many areas of law, such as the care that should be taken to avoid certain harms on others or the amount of provocation necessary to mitigate murder to manslaughter.

    It seems an obvious thing for lawyers to want to do- wanting to import a “reasonable person” standard into the church for the purpose of gauging spiritual experiences, since we perhaps don’t want something as “trivial” as the spiritual feeling spawned by chiasmus in Mosiah to count as powerfully as other more “reasonably” based spiritual experiences. We lawyers need standards against which to measure things.

    But I don’t think you can measure the depth or impact of one spiritual experience to another- the standard is inherently subjective.

    Hence, I am not sure we can derive a set of criteria which make one spiritual experience more meaningful than another.

    (Except of course, that my spiritual experiences trump everyone elses. That much is clear… ;) )

  36. Tom Manney says:


    As one who works in the news industry, I can attest that the last 24 hours have been a pretty slow news cycle. Things are looking up a little with the Peterson sentencing this afternoon, however.

    Anyway, speaking from personal experience, I have what I would like to think is a pretty rock-solid testimony of the Church and its priesthood based on a personal, spiritual relationship with deity and countless experiences, some of a rather miraculous nature, that leave no doubt in my mind.

    That being said, I don’t always accept the party line on the Church’s origins nor do I think that mortal men who exercise the priesthood are infallible. In fact, I think they screw up quite often. But in the same way that I would prefer the Church reserve judgment on those whose ideas may be eccentric but faith remains solid, I try to reserve judgment on some of the dopier things that mortal priesthood holders do.

    Either way, I’m in it for the long haul. There will be other well-intentioned Saints who are punished for thinking outside the box, and as a writer I always worry that someday I will have to account for my ideas to a stake president and high council with little or no understanding of the medium I work in. But I would like to believe that in the end (sometime after this life but before or at the final judgment) a lot of hurt feelings will be assuaged and a lot of misunderstandings corrected.

  37. How does one get the Salty Lake Tribune to refer to oneself as a Mormon intellectual? Is there a club, maybe a handshake, and what are the yearly dues? I’d like to put in an application and get my card.

  38. Rick,

    One asks John H. He knows all the mormon intellectuals. ;)

  39. Mat Parke has a lock on all the pseudo-intellectuals, too. Between the two guys, we’re set!

  40. D. Fletcher says:

    Rick, I know somebody to talk to…

  41. “How does one get the Salty Lake Tribune to refer to oneself as a Mormon intellectual? Is there a club, maybe a handshake, and what are the yearly dues? I’d like to put in an application and get my card.”

    The price is too high – you don’t have it in you. Trust me.

  42. John Fowles (and others):

    There might be many reasons why someone would want to remain a member, even if they don’t believe in certain aspects of the restoration.

    Again, we have yet another example of certain groups controlling the discourse and therefore allowing them to marginalize other groups.

    So John Fowles, et al have privileged priesthood restoration, first vision, etc. over other things the Mormon Church has to offer. They’re telling us why we ought to be members and why we ought to leave if we don’t accept the same explanations they believe in.

    It reminds me of current Conservative attempts to label Liberals as “unpatriotic.” We hear the same kind of rhetoric – “move to France or Canada” if we don’t agree with them. They assume one can’t value their citizenship as an American if they disagree with certain things – the same is true about valuing ones membership in the Mormon Church.

  43. D. Fletcher says:

    Funny you should mention that, John H, I was just reading in the NYTimes about playwright Craig Lucas and his longtime companion are considering “immigrating” to Vancouver, Canada to take advantage of more lenient same-sex marriage laws.

  44. D. Fletcher says:

    Here’s the story (if anyone is interested).

    Now back to our regularly-scheduled programming.

  45. D. Fletcher says:


    Sorry, here it is:

  46. D., if only that was the playwright George Lucas. Then we’d be on to something.

  47. Davis Bell says:

    John H.,

    I hope you’re not responding to my remarks. I sincerely wanted to hear others’ reasons for wanting to stay in the Church while disbelieving in critical elements of the Restoration. I’m sure there are many reasons, as you say, and I want to hear them. That’s why I asked. So let’s hear them.

  48. John’s being a bit harsh, I think, but perhaps that’s a reaction to perceived intolerance of dissenting or doubtful viewpoints in the Church.

  49. “So John Fowles, et al have privileged priesthood restoration, first vision, etc. over other things the Mormon Church has to offer. They’re telling us why we ought to be members and why we ought to leave if we don’t accept the same explanations they believe in.”

    To be fair, it’s not just John Fowles who is “priviliging” these things, it’s also the church leaders. I think asking why people want to stay is a fair question, and has been the subject of essays in Sunstone itself. I suspect the majority of people who believe what Palmer believes do not stay.

  50. Davis:

    Sorry, I wasn’t referring to you. Here are some reasons why one might want to stay in the Church, despite their differing beliefs:

    1. A way to stay connected with values and ethics.

    2. A way to stay connected to God.

    3. Bringing children up in a righteous environment.

    Essentially, what I hear whenever someone suggests there’s really no reason why a Grant Palmer-type should stay is that these reasons aren’t good enough. Shouldn’t that be up to the individual to decide?

    What’s interesting to me is how obviously grounded in the traditional believers mentality such complaints are (Stage 3, for you faith-development theorists). The assumption is that we think alike – in this case, we all think Mormonism is the one true Church. If you lose that faith, why not leave it?

    Well, we don’t all share that kind of black-and-white thinking. We’ve had the “one true church” thing pounded into us for so long that it’s difficult to imagine an alternative scenario. Therefore, I often hear Latter-day Saints say if they found out the Mormon Church wasn’t true, they’d join the Catholic Church. Others say they’d become Jewish. The rest say they’d basically be Atheists, because if Mormonism isn’t true, then nothing is and there’s probably no God.

    This approach ironically relies on Mormon teachings about the apostasy and authority. So if you no longer accept Mormonism, why would you continue to believe in their teachings about authority and join Catholicism or Judaism or become an Atheist? Or why would assume that any spiritual experiences you or anyone else has had are actually fictitious since Mormonism isn’t true?

    I rarely hear Latter-day Saints articulate that:

    “Even though I find it difficult to reconcile certain Mormon teachings or beliefs with science or the historical record, I also find it difficult to dismiss what appears to be inspiration on Joseph Smith’s part. Although I wonder at God’s seemingly random and capricious nature, I myself have experienced His love and inspiration in my life, and don’t feel a need to rationalize it. Although two competing camps (believers and non-believers) expect me to either turn off one-half my brain and “just have faith” in things that I clearly don’t believe are true, or turn off the other half and dismiss spiritual experience I know I’ve had, I choose to live with the paradox of faith and doubt.”

  51. Once I deduced that Joseph Smith had not seen what the Church claims he saw and did not “translate” what he was said to have translated, I had no further use for the Church.

    I cannot believe in or sustain a priesthood that had perfidious origins.

    I no longer believe in the temple ordinances and a three-tiered order of heaven that demands “strict obedience” rather than simple faith and belief in God.

    I cannot trust the leaders of the Church and therefore trust only myself.

  52. Sophia, it’s safe to say that you’re more representative of the non-traditional believer! Here at BCC we’re definitely more in the traditional beliefs camp, so please try to keep things respectful. Saying that the priesthood has “perfidious” origins isn’t welcome.

  53. Bob Caswell says:

    John H,

    I often agree with you. In this case, I’m fence sitting a little. I need more. Your reasons combined with Steve’s still don’t do it for me.

    If the following is true: “The book says Smith didn’t actually translate the Book
    of Mormon…Palmer suggested Smith wrote it himself…” Hold the phone! If I sincerely believed this, even Jordan’s example of wanting to hang onto “feelings” wouldn’t do it for me… much less some need for church basketball or family-friendly environments. I would be out of this Church pretty quickly even having been raised in it.

    Thus, perhaps my own perceptions of the situation make it difficult for me to empathize with such people. I’m not saying they can’t think the way they think or publish books… But let’s be honest, no one’s being censored, no one’s losing his/her free agency. The man chose to publish material that directly contradicts some of the fundamentals of the Church… Of course some action is going to take place! Now, I may not agree with how the action does take place in every instance; but it would be very confusing for investigators to run into people who say, “No, I’m not THAT kind of Mormon, I’m the faithful go-to-Church kind that believes Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon. Here, read my book that contradicts most everything the missionaries have been teaching you.”

    So the question of the day is, what SHOULD the Church do in situations like this if doing what they did do is so wrong? Again, I may not like every aspect of what happened. But doing nothing isn’t necessarily the best solution either.

  54. Bob,

    First, welcome back to blogging!

    I don’t think any of the reasons I’ve advanced would be enough for me to stay in the Church — I was just putting them out there. I’m a fairly run-of-the-mill member, myself. But for someone who’s been a part of the LDS community his/her own life, those social connections may mean a lot more. I don’t know. But in the same way that we don’t compare testimonies or levels of faith, we shouldn’t condemn people who want to be a part of our crowd. We should, I think, be extremely wary of walking down the road of examining other people’s rationales for attending Church.

  55. D. Fletcher says:

    I’ve now read the book. Does anybody need to hear about it, or should I just keep it to myself?

    I really found only one assertion which I haven’t already heard about for like… ever.

  56. Bob Caswell says:


    It’s good to be back, only two more finals!

    Anyway…I agree that “walking down the road of examining other people’s rationales for attending Church” can be a bad idea. I, personally, think Church attendance should almost never be taken away from someone. But in the same way there are certain requirements for temple admittance, I have no problem with there being certain requirements for, you know, being a full fledged member of the Church. This man (if the quote I used above is true) obviously violated some of those requirements and is simply facing the consequences. Now, as to what those consequences should be… that is a discussion worth entertaining, but I feel like some here have alluded to the idea that consequences for such actions should NOT exist, which is hard for me to understand.

  57. D. Fletcher says:

    It is pretty…amusing…to me, that a disfellowshipped member is still expected to pay tithing and wear garments, but not speak, teach, have a calling or attend the Temple.

  58. Sorry; I should have prefaced that with “in my opinion…”

    Obviously, those who remain in and faithful to the Church do not find its priesthood perfidious. I was stating my opinion, and my findings, from my point of view. If opposing points of view aren’t welcome here, please remove my posts. Thanks.

  59. Sophia, not to worry — opposing views are OK; we just try to all get along here.

  60. Bob Caswell says:

    D., I don’t think a disfellowshipped member is “expected” to do anything. I think, heaven forbid I give the Church the benefit of the doubt yet again (it’s ok, that way I’ll fill my quota for the month), that “encouraged” is a much more appropriate word here.

  61. D. Fletcher says:

    Yes, that’s what I meant, sort of. What I meant is, a disfellowshipped member is asked to contribute tithing, but not participate in the community in a normal way. I don’t think anything will happen to that person if they accidentally take the Sacrament, but it is interesting to consider it. Why not include tithing in the group of non-participatory activities, or wearing garments? It almost sounds like, actually doing these behaviors is a kind of punishment. I know it isn’t a punishment, which is why I found the idea ironic, and it amused me.

  62. John, perhaps a different question might be not why people without a normal testimony stay (and I think they ought be encouraged to come to church so they can gain one). Rather it seems to me that the real question is at what point is one a hypocrite or worse?

    I ask this because I had a friend at BYU who went to her Stake president over doubts regarding the history of the Book of Mormon. Her Stake President in the interview told her that he didn’t believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. (i.e. basically adopted Palmer’s view) Even if you think Palmer shouldn’t have been disfellowshipped, wouldn’t you agree that this person should not have accepted the calling of Bishop or Stake President or even Elder’s Quorum President?

  63. Both dedicated orthodox Mormons and dedicated ex-Mormons tend to share the view that no one who rejects strong divinity/inspiration in Church governance and Mormon scriptures could possibly want to stay in the Church. That works if you ignore the facts, namely that Palmer, hundreds of Sunstoners, and thousands of rank-and-file members do reject strong divinity/inspiration but still want to stay in the Church. Are they illusions? Are they lying? How do hardliners (both pro and anti) explain people like Palmer? The fact that they can’t really explain people like Palmer might be a clue why such people get so upset about Palmer. It’s a reflection of their own frustrated understanding, an expression of denial rather than disagreement. [I’m making general comments, not to be taken personally by anyone who happens to look at things that way.]

  64. Clark:

    The question of this Stake President at BYU is interesting. Perhaps he shouldn’t have accepted the calling. But would we say the same thing if he didn’t believe in a literal flood of Noah? Or the literal story of Adam and Eve? Or Jonah? At what point are beliefs still faithful, but just go against the cultural grain, and at what point do they cross the line into “not good enough?”

    For example, even though Joseph Smith called his work with the Book of Abraham a “translation”, it clearly isn’t one. Today it’s perfectly acceptable to believe the book was a revelation, inspired by his receiving the papyri, but not from an actual translation. I suspect such a belief would not have been well received by Joseph Fielding Smith 70 years ago. Not to mention that Joseph Fielding Smith was pretty adamantly against the now-popular idea of two Hill Cumorah’s.

    Again, where is the line? I’m not sure I know.

  65. “How do hardliners (both pro and anti) explain people like Palmer? The fact that they can’t really explain people like Palmer might be a clue why such people get so upset about Palmer. It’s a reflection of their own frustrated understanding, an expression of denial rather than disagreement.”

    I’d just like to applaud one of the more insightful statements I’ve seen on this issue. Thanks, Dave.

  66. Bob Caswell says:

    Dave, John,

    “How do hardliners (both pro and anti) explain people like Palmer? The fact that they can’t really explain people like Palmer might be a clue why such people get so upset about Palmer. It’s a reflection of their own frustrated understanding, an expression of denial rather than disagreement.”

    Due to the fact that people like this are a very small minority and can’t easily explain themselves, I’m not losing sleep over the fact that I can’t explain them either (my turn to make a general comment that hopefully isn’t offensive).

  67. D. wrote: “a disfellowshipped member is still expected to pay tithing and wear garments, but not speak, teach, have a calling or attend the Temple.”

    I don’t really know anything about this, but it seems to me that the objective might be to have the disfellowshiped member live *as if* he or she were preparing for a temple recommend interview (thus the importance of tithing and garments), while limiting his or her opportunity to promulgate false doctrine or bad example (speaking, teaching, etc). And not going to the temple is a simply worthiness issue.

  68. John, it seems to me that the semantics of how Joseph used the word “translate” is a different issue from whether what he translated has a basis in reality. So that seems a false argument, conflating method of production with the meaning of the production itself.

    Regarding the “how” of what is or isn’t acceptable, it seems that to me the obvious issue is whether it is a necessary condition for basic truth conditions of the church. But that sounds a little circular. Basically it just means whether one ought rationally accept Joseph as a prophet in the sense he meant by prophet.

    One can, of course, produce apologetics for some other sense of prophet. (Which is really what Palmer was doing I feel) However that gets to the heart of the issue – denying the prophetic status of Joseph Smith.

    Regarding the flood and so forth, it seems to me we must distinguish questions of accuracy from question of historicity. Nibley makes this point in Before Adam and I think it has guided most of those at FARMS who’ve spoken on topics like the flood or evolution.

    As I said, the issue is less the cultural grain than their implications. A lot of FARMS beliefs, at least initially, went against the cultural grain. Yet they maintained the basic position of the prophetic status of Joseph and his successors. (I’d argue they do this better than the “cultural grain” of the period from 1950 – 1985) This is why you’ll be unlikely to see Bill Hamblin taken to task by the brethren for his comments on the flood.

    To me the line is thus fairly easy to see and I confess that arguments for it’s missing or difficult to see status are hard for me to fathom.

    Bob, regarding how “hardliners” explain Palmer, I’m not entirely sure what you mean. I suppose I am thrust in the position of hardliner, or at least conservative. Do you mean how hardliners deal with not everyone getting clear answers to prayer? If so, then it seems D&C 42 answers that rather clearly regarding the gifts of the spirit. If you mean how do we explain someone who may very well have had a testimony at some time loosing it, then it is because a testimony is never a static thing. To have a testimony one must always be re-gaining it. I suspect Palmer still had remnants of that testimony and couldn’t deny those truths, but had talked himself out of the other elements of his testimony. I’ve seen it before. Heavens, I’ve probably come close myself at times regarding certain things.

    But I truly believe, contra Palmer’s “testimony” in his book, that one can know the truth of things by the Holy Ghost. Once Palmer denied that, then he could easily discount any prompting he was given.

  69. Rosalynd, the disfellowshipping is part of the process of repentence. Ideally it illustrates for a person what they are losing by their course of action without having it all taken away. I’d like to believe that the penitent will recognize the promptings of the spirit in this regard and thereby bring about the change they need to get back to where they were. In a sense, it is a way of directing people to regain their testimony.

    Paying tithing is one way of witnessing that change of heart that the penitent need to rediscover.

    I pray that Br. Palmer has that penitent heart. Last week, given some of his actions in the press I wondered. Given his actions since the court, despite comments by some of his defenders, I rather suspect that the spirit has pricked his heart and he is on his way back. I truly pray that he can gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon and of the prophets so that he can turn to Christ as he professes in a deeper way than his book appears to allow.

  70. Tom Manney says:

    This conversation is a little hard to have unless you’ve read Palmer. I haven’t, so maybe attempting to comment is a fool’s errand, but for me the fundamental question is whether he (or anyone who is disciplined for thought crimes) denied that the Church is true. As I understand it, he didn’t make this assertion. He only said that some of the details of its history are inaccurate.

    But, if I understand Clark Goble correctly, that’s not enough. It’s not enough to assert that the Church is true if the implication of all your arguments is that the Church isn’t true. In Clark’s view, if I’ve got it right, it’s okay to argue details so long as they are of a more trivial nature. To disagree with any principle, tenet, or historical detail that strikes at the heart of the religion’s foundation is off-limits.

    And I think I mostly agree. I’m open to the possibility that a person who still has a spark of a testimony can take an attitude or approach to the Gospel that wanders so far astray that the Brethren are obligated to convey a word of warning, especially if the individual in question is making a point of sharing their eccentric ideas with anyone who will listen by, say, publishing a book of their ideas.

    The problem is that I’m not sure this is what happens in thought-crime Church disciplinary courts, at least not all of them. I’m worried that there are occasions when leaders misconstrue anti-Mormon implications where none exists.

    The problem with communication is that it’s so subjective. One person’s academic theory is another person’s heresy. As Dave pointed out, it seems that hardliners just can’t fathom how a person could entertain two seemingly contradictory thoughts. They are Adams, living in a world of black and white, fact and fiction. But this Church also has Eves who don’t shudder at the sight of apparent contradictions, whose testimonies are not shaken by eccentric interpretations of doctrine or history, and I worry that the Eves are sometimes punished for what is, ultimately, a misunderstanding over what does — or does not — deny that the Church is “true.”

  71. I think it’s a bad thing to have requisite ‘fundamentals’ of faith. It seems a lot of the people who have a problem with Palmer or people of that type seem to say that his is the wrong kind of faith for this church. But to assert that others should have a certain kind of faith just because they belong to a group may sound logical, but probably does more harm than good over time and essentially reduces the effect of that faith. For example, we’re encouraged to accept the BofM as a result of our faith in Joseph Smith (or vice versa, depending on which you have faith in first), as if accepting one means you now logically must accept the other. And of course, faith in that means you must have faith in modern day prophets and GBH. So, it seems frequently in the church, it’s such an all-or-nothing approach. But does one really have faith in all facets of the faith just as a result of their faith in one concept? I think not.

    On a side note, I have a question for many of the people who write here. It seems that many have teaching assignments at church, based on the comments made. My question is how do those of you who teach others in an Elder’s quorum or Sunday school class (who have less strait-line views of church policies) pull it off? Do you find yourself censoring yourself often? Or does the class know what you really think? It just seems to me that the two would be incompatible…how do you who pull it off do so?

  72. Wow! You leave a thread for a few hours to sleep… and boom!

    I’m not comfortable with evaluating other people’s reasons for coming to Church, as I explained above, because I take it as a form of judgment upon the person that we’re not entitled to exercise. That being said, I can see how it’s hard to understand why some people keep coming to Church. Heck, I ask myself that question sometimes. It’s important I think in this context to keep in mind that we all are subject to ebbs and flows of spirituality and community, and so it can be unfair to pick out and evaluate someone’s church attendance at a given moment.

    I agree with Clark on a couple of points: first, I believe that it is possible to know the truth of things through the Holy Ghost (of course, the substance of this sentence is deliciously undefined). Second, I share his prayer for Bro. Palmer that he can grow in the Spirit and become at one with us again soon.

  73. Here’s my question: how do those who served missions, told the JS story and testified it was TRUE (i.e. that it actually happened, whatever the “it” is they no longer beleive) stand there with a straight face and still say it’s true when that truth has fundamentally changed. Converts and investigators are made to believe that it’s literally true, not just metaphorically.

    How to people claim to be “honest in all their dealings” at recommend interviews and also answer the question about JS’s restoration affirmatively?

    I couldn’t deal with this dissonance, and I consider myself a person of integrity, so in my case I had to leave.

  74. Bob Caswell says:

    Clark, thanks for replying. In my comment, I was replying rather cynically to a comment that Dave made (it was late, and now that I reread it, it probably didn’t help in a discussion like this).

    But for the record, I’m sure it’s possible for parts of someone’s testimony to still be in tact even if he/she disagrees with a Church fundamental. I think, though, that even had he only “talked himself out of the other elements of his testimony”, he subconsciously (or consciously, I don’t know) decided what’s more important to him. He didn’t write a book on drawing nearer to Christ, rather he wrote on Joseph Smith making up the BOM.

    I suppose my point in all this is that certain actions merit certain consequences. When John H. asks, “…Again, where is the line?” I agree with him that perhaps we don’t know. But if we’re already straddling it in some aspect (I know I am in certain contexts), one thing’s for sure, writing a book about it is a sure way to show the world what’s more important to you.

  75. Can Latter-day Saints harbor private doubts as long as they do not write a book or talk about those queries at Sunday meetings? What if the doubter is not skilled in writing? Is it only scholars who are earmarked for discipline?

    What is the extent of unbelief one may harbor, and how does this make honest people of all of us?

  76. It looks like this will end up being a win-win for the Church too since Palmer will presumably begin paying tithing on the royalties of his now famous book. Do you think there was any collusion?

  77. john fowles says:

    Sophia, your comment/question was a little confusing. Did you mean someone like Palmer who once served a mission and testified that it was true but now says it’s not true, so how can he pass a temple recommend interview? I also wonder that, if that is your question, and that is what has animated some of my own questions on this thread, which only few have taken seriously (i.e. Davis asked the same thing and was taken more seriously; I understand that is probably the result of a net accumulation of “conservative” commentary that builds a reservoir of assumptions about my point of view in the mind of the reader of my comments).

    Sophia, I am sorry that you, like Palmer, no longer believe these foundational events of the Church. In answer to your question, at least from my perspective, I don’t know all things, much less the mysteries of God, but I testified as a missionary that JS was a true prophet and that he truly saw the Father and the Son. I don’t see how this truth has changed at all since it happened. You can have myriad academic discussions about our perception or reading/interpretation of a historical event, but I honestly don’t feel that it’s too naive (or black-and-white) to say that something either did happen or it did not. Since I believe it did happen as a historical fact, I also believe the Church’s “official” party line about how it happened; that is, I give the Church the benefit of the doubt as to the interpretation of the historical event.

  78. john fowles says:

    Sophia, it oversimplifies what Palmer did to characterize it as merely “doubting.” Everyone doubts and questions and comes to grip with things in their own personal lives. Only a few write a book to try to convice the others that the Church’s version of things is wrong; that the Church is not telling the truth about “how it really happened” and that an “insider’s view” is therefore needed to reveal it to the rest of the members who “deserve more.” It is Palmer’s affirmative agenda that got him in trouble. I agree with Bob that it is just for the Church to take action. Granted, many here disagree with certain aspects of that action, and I can accept that, but what amazes me is that people are criticizing the Church for taking action against someone who has written something that is directly hostile to the Church. Peggy Fletcher Stack in her Trib article even quoted someone to the effect that Palmer’s sources were very one-sided against the Church. It seems self-evident that the Church is justified in controlling the discourse about its origins to a certain extent, at least from within its own ranks (it can’t exert any control over someone outside the Church who publishes material antithetical to the Church’s fundamental truth and authority claims). This type of thinking is what led me to my initial question about why someone like Palmer would want to remain a member if he really believes that the Church’s claims to its origins are false to the extent of certainty that he is willing to publish a book to “expose” this to the rest of the members. What Palmer has done distinguishes him from members who simply doubt or who remain out of the reasons that Steve and John H. have listed.

    Along these lines, I have a question for John H.: do you see a difference between Palmer (based on what he has done) and those who attend for the reasons that you listed?

  79. To some degree, Sophia, I feel differently about a lot of the things I taught people as a missionary. My attitude toward the Word of Wisdom is much different now than it was then, for example — I see it as an identifying mark as much as being intrinsically worthy, but that’s another discussion. . .

    Anyway, I don’t know the extent to which Palmer has argued that the BoM wasn’t translated, but written, by JS. Taking it as true for the sake of argument, however, perhaps there is still truth in saying that Joseph Smith brought forth the BoM by the power of God. That’s just one example. I guess what I’m saying is that we don’t necessarily need to accept — as John Fowles does — “the Church’s ‘official’ party line about how it happened”. I think there are a lot of things that come from The Brethren that are simply unexamined assumptions surrounding what’s taken as true.

    My point is that I think it’s possible to believe Grant Palmer (although I haven’t read his book, so take this for what it’s worth) and to still have a testimony. Of course, I think it’s possible to believe what he says and not have a testimony as well.

  80. John Fowles:

    The difference I see is that Palmer not only published a book, he published it under the title, “An Insiders View of Mormon Origins.” Not wise, IMO (and Palmer didn’t pick the title, Signature did). Even though I’ll defend Palmer and insist excommunication is outdated, I think the title is problematic. The vast, vast majority of other “insiders” in CES, at BYU, etc., do not share Palmer’s view of Mormon origins. It’s also just plain weird to call him an insider. Typically we think of an insider as having privileged or accessed information. This isn’t the case here. If Palmer had written an expose about insider politics in the modern Church or something, then maybe. But being in CES doesn’t grant you any kind of special access to historical documents – all of which were previously available before Grant’s book came out.

    I think most of the problem lies with the title, which was most likely just an error in judgment.

    But again, I think the larger questions are what we do with a Grant Palmer-type in the Church?

  81. I guess my question was more like this:

    Once a member finds that s/he does not believe what was once taught to be true or what s/he has taught to others, what responsibility does that person have towards others–members, non-members, him/herself, etc.?

    If the answer is, “there should be no responsibility; that person should just keep quiet, go with the flow, and pray for the rest of his/her life that the former beliefs return,” then I cannot accept that as a viable or honest alternative.

  82. Bob Caswell says:

    Sophia, did you read me latest post, “The Mormon We Problem”? I analyze some of your way of thinking. You’re assuming that since you’ve found something once taught to you to be NOT true… you should now convert as many people as possible to your way of thinking. To what end?

  83. Sophia, that’s a tough one. I’m not sure what the answer is. But I can agree with you about that hypothetical answer you gave; I don’t think it’s very honest or viable either.

  84. Sophia, you’re not the first to come to that conclusion. But there are other elements to consider. For some, it’s the breaking of social ties and damaging family relationships. For others, it’s a conflict between an intellectual doubt and a spiritual confirmation of truth. It’s rarely as black-and-white as you’re making it out to be.

    But — to speak directly to your scenario — what responsibility does a now non-believing member have? I believe those aren’t that different than a believing member’s:

    1. To be kind, considerate, and Christian to all.
    2. To seek the good of others first.
    3. To love God and your fellow man.

    That’s probably not what you were getting at; my guess is that you want to explore issues of how non-believers should preach their newfound gospel of nonbelief, or something like that. But that’s a selfish thing, in my mind.

  85. Bob Caswell says:

    Thanks, Steve, for saying much more eloquently what I was trying to say quickly.

  86. Hi Bob,

    I’ve never said people should “now convert as many people as possible to (their) way of thinking.”

    All I’m asking is, having converted others (or invited others to convert) to Mormonism, with as much zeal and fervency as often accompanies such evangelism, what is the responsibility of someone who no longer believes that way? Is it to keep mum at all costs to preserve the integrity of the institution? At all costs?

    Assuredly, some people might believe their way is to “convert” others by publishing a book. Others might feel that talking about these things on an anonymous forum via the Internet is best. My question has to do with which method is sanctioned by the Church, and why. Why is it the Church’s business what others are saying about its institutional failings or foundational fallacies, quirks or inconsistencies?

    If the Church doesn’t mind that fresh-faced nineteen-year olds are spreading the gospel, testifying that certain things are true even if they aren’t literally so, then as an ethical institution it shouldn’t mind when some of those boys grow up, research, decide that what they taught is not literally true, and record those findings on their own.

  87. Full disclosure: I skimmed through Palmer’s book in the bookstore, but didn’t buy it because, as D noted above, it really didn’t have anything too original in it (OK, I’m also cheap). A closer reading might change my views, but for now I came away with the clear impression that Palmer did not accept anything JS asserted about his prophetic ministry. Palmer basically put himself in the Fawn Brodie Joseph-was-a-conscious-fraud camp, although all the time using a very calm tone of voice.

    Now some commentators here have asked whether there is an intellectual middle ground that allows one to doubt some historical facts while still valuing participation in the Church. I think that in fact such a middle ground can be posited (whether it is ultimately tenable is another question). That is the position that JS was in fact in some way an inspired person and that his stories were his sincere attempts to communicate his genuine spiritual encounters with the Divine. Now this position is not compatible with the doctrine of The One True Church, but it is intellectually compatible with the modern view that the Divine can speak through many sources, and that our task is to find the one which best helps us approach the Divine. For some people, this well could be the LDS Church, which provides a strong spiritual community and very encouraging teachings about the human potential for goodness.

    I know this to be the position of some people who question the historicity of the BoM, and many of those have not had any trouble with Church discpline (which might also be a function of living outside of Utah or other circumstantial factors).

    However in his book Palmer did not take this middle position and deliberately played on his background as a CES teacher to rather dishonestly (IMHO) imply that his views were incontrovertible although hidden facts.

    I am not advocating that the Church adopt this middle view, and find it disruptive to the community when it is advocated stridently. However, I would hope that we would be able to embrace people in this middle ground in the Church. Even in the most orthodox perspective, we are all journeying in this life, and no one is perfect in everything.

    PS For the record, I am basically orthodox on these questions, and thus have no problem teaching the BoM as an ancient text.

  88. D. Fletcher says:

    I think the Palmer book wasn’t meant to convert others to his way of thinking, but rather to present some scholarship he’d been working on for years. Nonetheless, it did have the unfortunate effect of destroying a number of people’s faith. I have heard that a number of members of his ward left the Church because of the book. I’m not surprised at all that the Church, specifically his local leaders, felt that something needed to be done.

    But ultimately, I don’t think the book is particularly new or suddenly relevant. This stuff has been available for years, in published form and here on the Internet.

  89. Great thread — it used to be like this over at T&S. Let’s distinguish two problems. First, a “Sophia problem.” It’s not a problem for Sophia — she has doubts and elected to exit. Others have doubts and elect to stay, for various reasons. The Church doesn’t really have a problem with those who stay. If a Sophia-like doubter who stays confides to her Bishop, “I find Church history confusing, even depressing, but I still enjoy being a Mormon,” the Bish is going to say, “Great to have you here, hang in there, keep reading and praying.” Simply put, there really is no “Sophia problem.”

    Then there’s a “Palmer problem” — someone who publishes their doubts in a detailed and organized fashion. It’s not really a problem for Palmer, who could say in identical fashion to the quiet doubter in the prior paragraph, “I find Church history confusing, even depressing, but I still enjoy being a Mormon.” It’s only a problem for Church leaders, who have to figure out what to do with a publishing doubter who nevertheless wants to continue being an active Mormon. If neither ignoring them nor exing them is a desirable solution, maybe we’ve muddled through to disfellowshipment as a meaningful yet limited official response? All in favor, say “aye.”

    By the way, conservative Christians go through a similar process of being completely incapable of comprehending how anyone could read early Christian historical events as symbolic or metaphorical rather than literal historical events, yet still call themselves a Christian.

  90. You may be right, Dave, when you call disfellowhipment “a meaningful yet limited official response”. But that immediately makes me wonder: what would be the best possible response by an organization that had unlimited options, rather than just three (excommunication, disfellowhipment, or nothing)?

  91. I disagree. I believe there is a “Sophia problem.” When I began expressing my doubts (privately, to my bishop), he revealed to me that he also had doubts and did not believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet in the same way that the Church intends belief.

    He thinks the Church is a “useful tool” in socializing and rearing families, but does not believe in priesthood power. He remains in the Church for family reasons.

    True, I have left, and it’s also true that I believe those who stay while speaking out of both sides of their mouths are rather hypocritical, but the Church often leaves them no option.

  92. Dear LDS Friends,

    This whole thing about Grant Palmer being dis-fellowshipped from the Mormon church, barred from the temple and any teaching position in the church is very disturbing.

    All the man did was try to explore the historical evidence around a man who said an angel appeared to him and showed him some gold tablets which became the Book of Mormon.

    Grant Palmer, a fourth generation Mormon doubted the historical evidence for the Book of Mormon and was tried like Gailleo before the Spanish Inquisition.

    Yes, I believe Joseph Smith truly lived in history. He was a true historical figure and lived from 1805-1844. I really do believe that. There is really no doubt in my mind that Joseph Smith walked this earth, said he had a visitation from heavenly beings he said were two separate gods and then said he saw an angelic being or something, which he said led him to some golden plates which he said were the Book of Mormon.

    But to me the question of whether or not Joseph Smith saw an angel cannot be solved by the LDS just saying they are the true church and they received a testimony of confirmation from a spirit.

    Anyone can make a similar claim and do all the time.

    The Muslims (which Islam is a one Billion member group not 12 million like the LDS) say that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mohammed and inspired him to write the most perfect book which is the Q’uran (Koran).

    The same line of argumentation that the Church of
    Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints uses to defend the
    vision of Joseph Smith and the formulation of the Book of Mormon is used by Muslims in the defense of the truth of Islam and formulation of the Q’uran.

    Muslims say that like Joseph Smith, Mohammed was a virtous man who was led by god to lead his people from false religion and to true worship, wrote down the Q’uran which they say is the most perfect book and we should not ever question it.

    But the Bible teaches us to test the spirits, to
    examine everything carefully and to hold fast to the truth (1 Thess. 5:21, 2 Tim. 2:15, 1 John 4:1).

    I do not agree that there are any new Scriptures or revelations from God like Scripture, true, but if their was “new revelation” it would not contradict God’s first Word the Bible on any of it’s teachings on the nature of God and the way of Salvation.

    That’s why so many people had and do have a problem with the LDS Church, not because they say they believe in God, but because they have said in the history of thier church that the Mormon religion is the only true church possessing the authority of Christ, which we reject based on the total lack of historical evidence.

    Please explain to me what Galatians 1:6-9 and 2
    Corinthians 11 means when Paul warns us to not believe the testimony of people who say they saw angels if it contradicts God’s word.

    I love you my friends, and I always will. I am not angry at you, just trying to appeal to you as a well reasoned people to offer proof to these important things you guys are saying
    happened in history.

    Sincerely in Jesus Christ,

  93. I agree with Jim (JWL) when he says that the middle position can be posited but may not be tenable. The reasons why such a middle ground is untenable are many, but interesting nonetheless (though perhaps worthy of a future post — JWL, hows about a guest post? :))

    I also agree with Jim’s & D.’s assessment of the book, which I’ve been able to recently skim as well (thanks Wendy!). It makes me wonder to what extend Palmer’s thoughts are his own, and how much of his book was the product of perhaps poor marketing strategies. The book seems incongruous with its cover, as it were.

  94. I’m fascinated by the claim that the “middle ground” position may be untenable. What does that mean, Steve and JWL? That if someone believes Grant Palmer their integrity requires them to leave the Church? I guess I don’t know what you mean.

  95. Logan, I think it’s a little more nuanced than that, although JWL should also chime in.

    Basically, it’s that the orthodox view of Church history isn’t just the most popular view – it’s also an exclusive view. Ultimately, those that do not subscribe wholesale to the Church history set forth in the Gospel Principles manual and other sources are deemed to be in error. There’s no flexibility, however reasoned they may be. Thus, the position’s untenable.

    That’s a separate question altogether than the one you raise about someone having to leave the church out of some sense of intellectual integrity.

  96. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m somebody that chooses to stay in, despite huge doubts as to the veracity of the origins of the Church, and a continuous unpleasantness when dealing with the bureaucracy.

    Joseph Smith’s main value is that he brought back to the earth real feeling for Jesus (admittedly a controversial point for other faiths). Joseph “restored” Jesus to the earth, in my view, and this is the chief reason I have attended the LDS church. I have looked into other faiths, but I didn’t feel the feeling there.

    Though I also grate at the abuse of authority in our Church, I enjoy many of the uplifting messages, in talks and classes, pertaining to Jesus, His divinity, His sacrifice, and my benefit. Nothing is so moving as unresolved yearning, the yearning of someone wanting to alter their life for the better. The power in Jesus’s message is that everyone can alter their life and gain a bit of eternal happiness.

    I haven’t sought a Temple Recommend for 20 years, and I didn’t serve a mission call. I’m a mousy, social invert, a little bit thick of tongue and mind, but in my solitary way eminently suited to accompanying hymn-singing on the organ or piano. As an accompanist, I have found a social outlet, because a good accompanist is a catalyst for a lot of different kinds of events, stage plays, concerts, recitals, parties, weddings, funerals, and regular church services. It is my central identity, and the chief way that I participate in the LDS meetings.

    I’ve been chastized for this viewpoint, and I’ve had some traumatic episodes, particularly this year. But I’ve recovered, surprisingly energized, to realize that my talents haven’t gone away, and may be employed another day.

  97. I’m one who believes the middle ground is untenable, although my opinion is less valuable for these purposed than someone who’s still a member of the Church.

    I left, because I value my integrity and could not in good conscience answer the belief questions of the Temple Recommend interview in the affirmative.

    I also no longer believe the literal necessity or efficacy of priesthood ordinance, so I find a spiritual home closer to my current beliefs. I don’t believe in teaching young children and young adults the kinds of lessons that would cause them to fear not being with their families forever if they are not strictly obedience to the ordinances of the Church. I don’t believe I can teach that Joseph Smith literally saw and hefted gold plates that contained records of an ancient people when in fact (as I see it) he wrote that record as a way of founding a religion.

    I can’t teach or vocalize these things, ending by invoking the name of Jesus Christ, and then look in the mirror and feel good about myself.

  98. In the days of the middle ages when the Catholic Church was the only accepted religious gig in the West, people were tried and convicted for heresy before inquistorial boards of corrupt power driven men. Then, men like William Tyndale, G. Savanarolla, John Hus, John Wycliffe and Martin Luther came upon the scene and tries to communicate a word of truth and reason amongst the people.

    Many of these brave men were sentenced to death for standing up for the truth, some were burned at the stake only for talking about God in a different manner than what was accepted. I mean what did Grant Palmer do that warranted this people are asking all over the country right now. This issue is not closed. Many are asking what the Palmer did so wrong but just questioned the truth of Joseph Smith.

  99. As a gentle nudge to those commenting, I’d like to say that this isn’t the place to discuss beefs with the Church, to talk about why we’ve left the Church, or to suggest why others should do so. There are plenty of other places on the internet for that.

    By and large, BCC is a place for liberal mormons who nevertheless share a belief in the Church. We don’t want to silence voices, but we also don’t want to inappropriately question our own beliefs.


  100. Well, Steve, when I hear (or read) “untenable”, I basically interpret it (I could be wrong) as “logically inconsistent”. The implication of which is that if someone looked deeply and was honest with him- or herself that person would have to choose one side or the other.

    In other words, when you say the middle ground position is untenable I interpret the situation as Sophia describes it — that you’re being hypocrital by remaining in the Church.

    I guess you’re trying to say that that’s not exactly what you mean, but it sounds like you mean that you either have to accept all of the Church’s position or none of it. Is that right? I think I still don’t get it, because I don’t see much of a difference. But I’d like to see the nuances you describe.

    (I don’t mean to be suggesting anyone leave the Church here. I’m just interested in understanding your argument.)

  101. I’m wi’cha Logan, I’m not using the untenable in the same way. By untenable I largely mean that you can’t successfully take that position in the Church from a social standpoint. It might be logical, even historically supported, but ultimately the Church will require that you accept the more traditional view (historicity, church history, and all that).

    I’m not doing a great jorb of explaining myself, but I’m also not trying very hard. We should discuss this sometime between us, I think, because obviously I’ve been hitting the crank a little hard lately.

  102. Ed,
    You can’t be serious when you compare what our church is doing to the Spanish Inquisition or burning at the stake, can you? It’s laughable to suggest that a court where church leaders come together and pray about the fate of someone’s spiritual standing in the Church to what was done by the Catholic Church in previous centuries. It’s nice that you are using examples we are all familiar with, but it just isn’t the same.

  103. I am not saying the Mormon church is killing people for denying tenets of their faith. But the fact the Grant Palmer was tried before an excommunication board for questioning for historical questioning smacks of the trial of Gailleo.

    Please don’t just become another Times and Seasons LDS lovathon, man, you guys got something good going on here. Please don’t start supressing people too. Let free speech reign Steve. Be the investigative voice of the LDS.

  104. Ed,
    I’m having a hard time understanding why everyone is so up in arms about why the church did what it did. The result of this is that he no longer has privileges in the volunteer organization in which he belonged. Sure, I agree that when he was being asked questions it was probably like when church leaders asked Galileo questions, that church had authority and power to do more than just release him from his church duties and obligations. Our Chruch has no such power or authority (ha ha, well, I guess unless he works for the Church, in which case he did, then they could fire him, but I don’t think that’s everyone’s beef here).

  105. Instead of the cloistered robes of medevil Roman Catholicism, men in Wall Steet Suits are laying down dis-fellowshipping verdicts, shunnings and ex-communications. For what? All because an elderly and kind man dared to explore some questions of history? Come on, what is that?

  106. Maybe it’s my southern california surfer ways coming out man, but this whole thing is surreal, like a flashback to gothic cathedrals where back room deals were going down to exploit and supress the people so popes and kings could hang on to power.

    Grant Palmer did nothing warranting this church dis-fellowshipping, he just used his BYU historians background to explore some historical issues concering some highly debated events. It just does not add up. Something is fishey here.
    That’s why there is such a hugh outcry on the Grant Palmer issue, it’s raging all over America.
    I need to get to the bottom of all this. It just doesn’t add up I tell ya, just doen’t add up.

  107. Tom Manney says:

    Well, this thread seems to be rapidly devolving. Not sure if I should bother to wade in.

    Let me just make a few unrelated points:

    * Any Latter-day Saint who doesn’t think the Church is true but thinks its values build good communities and raise better children shouldn’t be serving in positions of leadership or proclaiming something to be true if they don’t really think it is. Lying at the pulpit just isn’t appropriate, no matter how “good” it can encourage people to be.

    I don’t think those who have lost the faith are obligated to “apologize” to anyone they may have converted to Mormonism. You’ve made your decision; they’ve made theirs. If they are true converts, then it wasn’t you who converted them. The Spirit of the Lord did. Of course, if you don’t believe in the Holy Ghost or the gifts of the spirit, you probably have no other conclusion to draw than that you alone converted them and that you are responsible for their church membership. I guess if you feel that way, I can see why you might feel responsible for, in your view, leading them astray. But if they have been spiritually born of God, don’t be surprised if they don’t follow you a second time.

    * Any Latter-day Saint who believes the Church isn’t true but wishes to remain a silent member who shows up for Sunday meetings and other activities but does not go to the temple has that right, I think. For that matter, any nonmember off the street has that right.

    * Any Latter-day Saint who entertains unorthodox interpretations of church doctine or history but maintains a testimony of the Gospel overall and keeps their opinions to themself probably isn’t disciplined by the Church in most cases and probably shouldn’t be.

    Mostly I’m pretty orthodox in my Mormon beliefs, but I reserve the right to make my own conclusions, no matter how out of favor they may be with the Brethren, so long as they are not logically inconsistent with the fundamental truthfulness of the Gospel.

    * Although I am not in any way involved in the organization or maintenance of BCC, as one who frequents the site, I would just like to say that it serves a unique purpose found nowhere else, and it should continue to serve that purpose: it offers Latter-day Saints of a more liberal bent an opportunity to voice their opinions honestly and to explore the limits of their faith, doctrine and lifestyle without challenging its fundamental truhtfulness. When you have a testimony, you don’t need to keep asking if it’s true so much as you need to improve your knowledge of what that truth consists of. And in that process, its truthfulness is repeatedly ratified by the presence of the Spirit, at least for me it is. Please don’t try to hijack this site into an assault on the faith. There are many other places in cyberspace for that.

    * Maybe this last point is a little redundant, but given the numerous near and actual assaults on the Church in some of the more recent posts, I just want to say that there is a very simple way to “know” if the Church is true or not, and that is to ask God. I believe he will answer the question because I’ve gotten an answer. Frankly, Enoch, if I thought the only path to truth was through logic, I would choose atheism before I ever attempted to hang my religion on the Bible alone.

  108. Tom, thanks for that comment — I really appreciate it. I think you’ve said what many of us have been awkwardly trying to say for 106+ comments.

  109. john fowles says:

    Ed, you mentioned Martin Luther and others who were persecuted, some of them killed, for “standing up for the truth” and looking at God in a different way.

    You forgot to mention Joseph Smith in your list of people who were killed “for standing up for the truth” and for “talking about God in a different manner than what was accepted.” You are eager to line Palmer up with Luther and the others without even considering that maybe Joseph Smith is the one who should be lined up with them and not Palmer.

    Also, you are eager to make the Church into an oppressive organization but you still haven’t answered questions regarding evangelicalism’s stance towards open theism and other “heresies” and the resulting repression of “freedom of speech” resulting from those controversies.

  110. i have to say that i agree that i with steve about the purpose of BCC. i know that there are some people visiting here from the DaMU, or disaffected mormon underground, a term i’ve picked up from another blog. regardless of your POV i think that you should respect the forum that you are visiting. i know that people on or similar sites don’t like it when mormon apologists come over to their sites and stir things up, but some feel the need to do so anyway.

    there are places where you can debate to your heart’s content regarding the merits of mormonism, like ZLMB or the FAIR message boards.

    although i have views that would likely be considered unorthodox even for this board, i realize that i am coming to their turf and try to be respectful in my comments. i really value what these guys are trying to do and hope that this place and others like it can keep on doing their thing, and not devolve into another forum where people trash each others’ views and beliefs. not that you can’t ask penetrating and thoughtful questions or make insightful comments, but just remember where you are and what the intended audience of this board is.

  111. Ed, I wonder if you feel the same of people like Morton Smith who point out that most of Jesus’ miracles paralleled magic traditions of the era. Or the “historical Jesus” people who suggest most of the stories about Jesus were latter additions are primarily made up. Could someone believe that, deny the resurrection, and remain a member in good standing in most conservative Protestant congregations?

  112. john fowles says:

    JWL wrote I am not advocating that the Church adopt this middle view, and find it disruptive to the community when it is advocated stridently. However, I would hope that we would be able to embrace people in this middle ground in the Church. Even in the most orthodox perspective, we are all journeying in this life, and no one is perfect in everything.

    I really like this perspective. Thank you.

  113. Steve, from what I understand the book’s title, its cover, and its marketing were primarily due to Signature. Probably his publisher bears considerable blame for what happened and for not accurately representing the content. Having said that though there are plenty of problems with the content including an explicit denial of Moroni 10:4-5.

    But I’m sure that what was Signature’s doing and what was Palmer’s doing could be clarified in the court, and I imagine was.

  114. Davis Bell says:

    Thanks to all who tried to answer my questions. To be honest, I’m still struggling a bit to understand why someone with Palmer’s beliefs would want to stay in the Church, but that’s okay.

  115. Tom Manney says:

    Clark, that sounds like a pretty good set of assumptions about what happened to Palmer’s book.

    If I were ever to publish anything even a little bit radical with regard to LDS doctrine, I think I would steer clear of Signature. I think they sometimes serve a useful purpose, publishing works that ought to be published that no one else will publish. But the danger with that kind of libertine behavior is that it tends to lead to an utter lack of reverence or respect for things which out to be respected.

    (As a political liberal, I have the same problem with many of my allies on the left who lack all sense of respect or reverence for things which ought to be held sacred by all Americans.)

    Since I, for the most part, respect the Church and what it stands for, I would fain keep my hypothetical manuscript unpublished than turn to Signature in desperation because who knows how they might try to sell it.

  116. Davis, I’m actually convinced that he has had a strong spiritual experience telling him it is true. However he’s then come up with these ideas of what that ma mean which allow him to reconcile fundamentally irreconcilable positions. So now this church court has brought that problem to light. I rather suspect that he now has come to resee his original testimony in a fashion that perhaps he hadn’t a few weeks ago. (Just a suspicion) Thus, in this case, one can hope that the court worked and has allowed Palmer to turn to God and hopefully receive further revelation. Which is the ideal aim of any court.

  117. Clark, you’re making some pretty big leaps in that last comment of yours, as I’m sure you realize….

  118. The question of whether the middle view I posited is ultimately tenable depends on what you decide is essential to accomplish in this life. If having an absolutely solid conviction that the LDS Church is The Only True Church is essential in this life, then the middle view may be only useful as a stopgap. If it is enough that we act on faith in living the gospel as taught by the LDS Church despite personal doubts then maybe the middle view is good enough, although not optimal, for this life.

    There is no bright line here — obviously tolerating this middle view may enable laziness in pursuing a stronger testimony or worse provide cover for those who delight in proudly debunking others’ beliefs. However, I think that tolerance of this middle view when sincerely held can help make many people feel more welcome and at home in the Church. I, for one, would hesitate to say that a Church member with doubts and questions who nonetheless works sincerely at serving others is less worthy than one who professes rock-solid conviction on various matters of history, especially if that conviction makes them feel that they are a better Church member than the one with questions.

  119. Jim, are you suggesting that the middle view is a quitter’s option, for those who haven’t the guts to believe in the Only True Church?

    I guess my problem here is that we’re not talking about really distinct categories of approaching church beliefs. As we study the history of the Church, we’re going to encounter things we don’t like or understand, and so that Only True Church paradigm is going to shift. It must shift, I think. The question is, what will you do when it shifts? Perhaps what we’re really talking about with middle-road vs. True Church lines of thought is the ability for people to continue to rely on and believe in the primary interpretation of Church history in the face of some historical or scientific evidence.

  120. Last_lemming says:

    The orthodox view is that you have to accept the whole package or none of it–you can’t pick and choose. Say this view is false. Then you can pick and choose. Well, the first choice I make under those conditions is to reject the assertion that you can’t pick and choose. Having eliminated that stumbling block, I can proceed to pick and choose freely. No contradiction there.

  121. Lemming, that’s not quite accurate. The orthodox view is that as your testimony deepens one will understand the whole. However I’ve never heard a claim that one has to have, right off the bat, a testimony of everything. Far from it.

  122. But Clark, LL’s right that the orthodox view doesn’t let you pick-and-choose. You can “not have a testimony” of something, but in layman’s terms that’s the equivalent of spiritual ignorance. You can’t, ever, make your mind up against the orthodox view, I don’t think.

  123. I think we’re getting somewhere with “tenability.” Plainly some people don’t have any problem entertaining Palmer-type doubts yet still wanting to remain active Mormons and, in fact, doing so quite successfully. Even to the point of being Stake Presidents. These are the facts.

    Two types of people struggle against these facts. First, departed ex-Mormons who think anyone who doubts like they do must follow their example and exit. Second, religiously conservative Mormons who think anyone who has Palmer-like doubts should exit the Church. This should be an eye-opener to conservative Mormons who hold this opinion: You are thinking like ex-Mormons in trying to chase doubters out of the Church. That alone ought to cause you to question your view of things. The fact that you are motivated by good intentions is irrelevant. Palmer’s good intentions don’t seem to count for much — why should yours?

  124. Interesting perspective, Dave. I hadn’t made that connection before.

  125. I suspect that the middle ground described by JWL is quite large and includes many active, orthodox members. A lot of members are relatively uninformed about historical, scriptural and doctrinal issues. They feel strong loyalty to the church for family and cultural reasons. They have had moving spiritual experiences and, based on these experiences, proclaim that they know the church to be true. Many of the doubters feel the same loyalty and have experienced the same moving experiences. However, they are unwilling to connect the dots in the same way. They don’t interpret these experiences as God revealing to them to that JS did indeed see an angel and translate an ancient record. Although I can only offer some personal anecdotal experiences in support of my opinion, I do believe that the only thing that separates many, though by no means all, of the orthodox, true believers from those occupying the middle ground described by JWL is ignorance of many of the issues and a willingness to accept a moving spiritual experience as “knowledge” of historical facts.

  126. john fowles says:

    Gary, it sounds like you are saying that many who are orthodox believers would be middle-road believers if only they took historical “facts” more seriously. That’s not a very nice thing to say.

    JWL, Steve, Dave: does being a middle-road believer require rejection of One True Church belief? The way this dichotomy has been framed in this latter part of this thread is making it sound that way. Can someone who has doubts (though not outright hostile views like Palmer) about some aspects of the Church’s origins (thus qualifying under your paradigm as a middle-of-the-roader?) still nevertheless believe that it is and must be the only true church, else none are, based on the doctrines of the Church?

  127. John, you’ve got it backwards: the One True Church belief set is the exclusionary one, not the middle-road. Now of course, your question hinges on what it means to say that this is the only true church… but you see how those types of questions only open up once you go beyond the priesthood manual paradigm?

    Like Gary, I think the middle-road is quite wide (broad is the way…).

  128. Dave, I think that a poor caricature of what conservative Mormons say about people with Palmer like doubts. I do think conservatives feel people with Palmer like doubts ought not be in significant teaching positions or counseling positions or places where revelation is important. I don’t think anyone wants Palmer to leave. However I think most recognize that teaching that not only are doubts acceptable, but the denial of certain positions is acceptable.

    There are three issues at hand. One is doubts, one is denials the last is teachings. I personally didn’t even have problems with Palmer working at the prison for the CES after he made his doubts known. Were he teaching kids I’d have been more troubled. Where the problem arose was with the book.

    Steve regarding doubts of the orthodox view. I’m afraid there is a great deal of vagueness there. What exactly is the orthodox view in the sense some are using it? I think we can say somethings were fairly orthodox, such as some of Elder McConkie’s theology, without it being necessary. For instance I think one could have, pre-1978, doubted the blacks and the priesthood issue. Heavens, I don’t think anyone would be that upset if someone doubted any inspiration to it now, despite that being unorthodox. Yet there clearly are some essential doctrines one can’t activity teach against.

  129. Sorry, typing too fast. That last line on the first paragraph should read,

    However I think most recognize that teaching that not only are doubts acceptable, but the denial of certain positions is acceptable, can’t be accepted by the church.

  130. Clark, there has never been any suggestion that he taught that stuff (while a teacher with CES for all those years). Teaching is different. All he did was write a book.

    Right now, the question isn’t whether any Palmer-like doubts get into the curriculum (they don’t) or whether they get published (they do). It isn’t whether Palmer, any CES teacher, or any Sunday School teacher ought to be able to teach gray-area historical or doctrinal stuff (they shouldn’t). It’s whether Palmer types who publish get excommunicated. In 1993, the answer was yes. Now, it appears, the answer is no. I think the Church has learned from its mistakes. Bravo.

    Comparing Murphy and Palmer, there are various ways to explain the different outcomes between the two. First, that historians get disfellowshipped whereas scientists get a free pass (I know Murphy is an anthropologist not a biologist, but he does a good job faking it). Second, that those who claim close affiliation with the Church, as with Palmer’s Insider’s pose, get disfellowshipped, while others get a free pass. Third, those in Utah get disfellowshipped while those on the coasts can get away with things (one can speculate why the geographical difference, but I’ll decline that temptation).

  131. In case someone hasn’t said something similar, my MIL paid tithing before she was a member. She was an active non-member, however. So if a disfellowshipped member can’t pay tithing, I am surprised that a non-member could.

  132. Throughout the annals of ecclessiatical history there have been debates and controversies that have arisen that have needed to be discussed and hashed through. I believe a format similar to National Reviews founder William F. Buckley Jr.’s old PBS television show the “Firing Line” is necessary where people of different ideological and religious perspectives can discuss the issues without fear of repercussion or repression. I am a very conservative Evangelical, White Republican
    and I believe in conservatism greatly, however I am against the supression of free thought and expression.

    My expereince with many LDS has been generally pretty good, but lately I am meeting more and more Mormons that have been very repressive and want to stifle any debate. Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t everyone share their opinions without fear of repression and censure. I am all for expression of careful and thoughtful discourse on any subject. This zeal for cesure is turning a lot of people off greatly.

  133. Dave exactly how is a book not teaching? I’m missing something.

    Ed, there is a difference between stifling debate and asking that it be conducted in an appropriate forum.

  134. That call for appropriate forums and the mindset that anytime anyone says anything whatsoever critical about the Mormon church, the conversation is then “devolving” is completely self refuting. I am not speaking in anger. Many Mormons here and on Times and Seasons have written me thanking me for my careful arguments.

    This call to censure anyone that dissents from any aspect of LDS thought is why you guys are having such a hard time at the University of Utah, where they are tired of Mormons telling them they can’t teach on anything that is in any way critical of the Mormon church.

    who defines what an appropriate forum is though? Most LDS I meet want nothing to do with any serious discussion. I just ran into several LDS Missionaries at a Wall Mart here in Southern California. All of them were pretty nice young guys, but one of them came over with such arrogance telling me that speaking to Evangelicals is a waste of time because the LDS church alone has the authority. That kind of stuff just angers people. That is one of the major reasons why people shut their doors on you guys when you come on your missions to our homes. Remember there are over 60 million practicing Evangelical conservative Christians in this nation, most of whom got Bush elected. We are not an insignificant voice in this country, if anything we are the moral leaders of this country and doing what we can to promote virtue, pro life, traditional familes. Please do not repress us.

  135. Ed, let me try to explain things to you.

    Blogs and comment threads are like electronic conversations. Generally, people are free to contribute to the conversation however they see fit. However, when someone enters the conversation on a given topic, and abruptly tries to shift the topic to something else they had in mind, that person is practicing poor etiquette. At its worst, such behavior can be disruptive. We call that “threadjacking.”

    Now, for example, this thread is largely about the collision between mainstream views and unorthodox views of mormonism. Your last comment, however, was mostly about the repression on evangelicals in online forums. Can you see how that’s off-topic?

    Let’s return to the subject at hand, please. Otherwise, I need to warn the participants on this blog that persistent threadjacking could get you kicked out for being rude.

  136. Nathan Smith says:


    Where do you get your information on the curriculum of the University of Utah and its relationship to LDS cultural pressure? Are you referring to recent “hard times” or to hard times over the years?

    PS I am a fan of careful arguments. I have found, though, that it is hard to argue carefully when one uses quadruple-hyperbolic phrases like “anytime anyone says anything whatsoever…”. :)

  137. Nathan, same goes for you, you threadjacker!!

  138. Ed, I’m going to try to say what Steve said a little different way.

    It’s not that any of us are afraid of looking at fundamental questions about the LDS faith, or hearing Evangelical arguments against Mormonism. I grew up in Nashville, so I have *lots* of exposure to those arguments; I even know how to win them sometimes. I just think they’re BORING. We’re all here to have a different conversation, one which we happen to find more interesting than the one about whether Joseph Smith was a fraud or not, or whether or not there can be extrabiblical scripture, or whether the Mormon Jesus is the Jesus of mainstream Christianity, or any of the things you seem to want to talk about. I’m sure that’s frustrating to you, since you seem to have a real sense of mission and a desire to witness to us. What we’re saying is that we really, really don’t want to hear it right now. We’ve pointed you in the direction of other Mormons who *are* interested in the sorts of discussions you want to have, and we’d like you to let us have the conversation we were having before.

    I think you’ve done your duty to warn us, and you can feel good that you’ve tried as hard as anyone possibly could to witness to a not very receptive crowd. That’s the fate of most evangelists; you are in great company.

  139. I thought this thread was about Grant Palmer.

    I thought you guys were talking about Grant Palmer’s disfellowshipping. I really do not think it is good to try to critique each and every word, dot and tittle a person says to see if it meets some sort of imaginary standard.

    I believe in optimum and maximum liberty of thought and expression.

    I wanted to tell John F. that I believe that there has to be forums where freedom of scholary research can go on without fear of repression. That is the idea of the modern university.

    I do not believe in supressing anyones voice in the area of scholarship.

    I am so glad I am an American where we can say what we want without getting kicked out of the country. If the LDS church was America I would be deported!

  140. Ed Enochs wrote:

    I just ran into several LDS Missionaries at a Wall Mart here in Southern California. All of them were pretty nice young guys, but one of them came over with such arrogance telling me that speaking to Evangelicals is a waste of time because the LDS church alone has the authority. That kind of stuff just angers people. That is one of the major reasons why people shut their doors on you guys when you come on your missions to our homes.

    Unfortunately, the experience you relate seems to have reinforced a negative stereotype you have of LDS missionaries, one that is not entirely without merit. While the LDS church does claim to have exclusive access to divine authority on earth, there are ways of talking about this that are respectful of others’ beliefs, and to the extent that we as a missionary people do not do this, we deserve a bad reputation.

    I mention this to point out to you that your recent posts have only served to reinforce in my mind several negative stereotypes of evangelical Christians, which saddens me greatly. I have read each of your posts trying to understand why you wrote them, and trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I have come to the conclusion that you have no real interest in engaging in any of the conversations here or at Times and Seasons in good faith, but rather are seeking an LDS audience to witness to in the vain hope that you will convince some of us to see the error of our ways.

    For someone who has admitted to trying to deceive the readers of these blogs, you are amazingly bold in denouncing your hosts, who voluntarily pay for this space so that we can talk about the issues that they are interested in. If you want to talk about something else, spend your own money and set up a blog, and work as hard as the people here have to attract an audience.

    Sorry, Steve. It’s getting out of hand, and I’m not helping, I know, but this has got to stop.

  141. But Kristine, I have to geg to differ and say that several, not imaginary people, but several real Mormons like Matt Evans and many others have personally thanked me for my contributions. I do not think you decide what is “boring” or not. Others differ that is what makes democracy great. We are in America not Communist China.

  142. Sorry, Ed. We’ve appreciated having you along so far, but maybe it’s for the best if you cut back on your participation here. You’re right that this is America, and you have your right to free speech. But this blog you’re on is private property, and I’m afraid you may be overstaying your welcome.

  143. Ed —

    I’ve left a comment on the blog you set up this week at I’m willing to talk there if you have anything that I’m interested in discussing.

  144. Nathan Smith says:

    Dave says “there has never been any suggestion that he taught that stuff (while a teacher with CES for all those years). Teaching is different. All he did was write a book.”

    This is technically correct, but I don’t like the “all he did…” formulation. In civil rights law, commentators occassionally talk about “selective sympathy.” My favorite example of this concept is someone who stretches their leg (because it really needs to be stretched) just as someone else is walking by, causing him to trip. We wouldn’t let that person get away with arguing that

    “All I did is stretch my leg; it needed to be stretched, and stretching is a perfectly legitimate thing to do; I was completely ambivalent to whether he tripped – indeed I would prefer that it didn’t happen – but my motto is ‘stretch when you gotta, let the consequences follow'”

    So it is with Palmer. His book, with its “Insider” posture, hurts the Church more than anything Ed Decker has ever come up with. We can’t let him get away with distinguishing himself from Decker on the grounds that “Decker tripped them on purpose.”

    And when I say it hurts the Church, I am not just referring to undermining its truth claims. A book like his also tend to encourage discrimination against Latter-day Saints and closed mindedness toward our viewpoints in places where we are culturally vulnerable, such as the American South, Europe, and elite academia. Those consequences should be obvious, and I charge knowledge of them to Brother Palmer, as well.

    So you are right: He didn’t break the rules by teaching the high school kids Moroni wasn’t real. But he did take advantage of CES’s good graces to build a resume that was then used to harm the Church. Until I see him publicly ask Signature Books to change the title of his book to something reflecting his actual status in CES and the Church, I will have a hard time with people starting sentences about him with “all he did…”

    [FYI the civil rights arguments tend to concern ostensibly objective municipal decisions such as where to place public facilities or what requirements to impose for public employment, which can be expected to impact minorities disproportionately.]

    PS Sorry about continuing Ed’s tangent in my prior post…

  145. Everyone’s coming a little unhinged today — maybe it’s just bad karma on the thread. Let me clarify what troubled people in my earlier comment.

    The generally meticulous Clark said, I think most recognize that teaching that not only are doubts acceptable, but the denial of certain positions is acceptable, can’t be accepted by the church. That was in a paragraph where he talked about conservatives who “feel people with Palmer-like doubts ought not be in significant teaching positions.” That implies Palmer taught things similar to his book while in his “significant teaching position” as a CES instructor and that this is unacceptable. But no one has suggested Palmer did this. What he did, as a private person after retiring from CES, was to write a book. Teaching as a CES instructor is different than writing a book as a private person.

    Nathan, I don’t understand why people are getting hung up on the title, which seems to be judging a book by its cover. It’s the contents, not the title, that are at issue. Perhaps the contents “harmed” someone, but that tends to be assumed rather than demonstrated. History books don’t cause much harm. Insider’s View was pretty much off the radar screen until the recent trial.

    Bob, I’m no insider, I’m just going off the public record of recent heresy trials back to 1993. Their primary effect has been to create negative publicity for the Church and make minor celebrities out of the targeted individuals. The policy needs to be revamped so individuals know the rules and to avoid bad PR. Similar policy changes have been done before, as when the sustaining of Church officers was moved from General Conference to local meetings when it became a focus for public displays of opposition to the Church. I think the Palmer episode has actually gone fairly well compared to the earlier ones, but others may feel differently.

  146. Tom Manney says:

    Dave, I’m probably misreading your last post because it seems that you’re suggesting the Church should privilege good PR over doing the right thing. Or that good PR at all costs is doing the right thing.

    Either way, I hope that’s not what you’re suggesting. Coincidentally, that’s one of the central difficulties some “middle grounders” have with the Church. (It’s like we’ve come full circle!) It sometimes seems that the Church subordinates truth or accuracy to making a good impression. As an evangelizing church, PR concerns are understandable, but they shouldn’t take priority over doing the right thing with respect to being open about Church history or doctrine or, to use your example, disciplining members who warrant disciplining.

    I’m not saying that the Church does this, but it sometimes gives the impression that it does, and your assumptions about the difference between 1993 and 2004 seem to fall right in line with that impression.

    Let’s leave good-PR-at-all-costs to the professionals — politicians. :D

  147. Bob Caswell says:


    I’m glad that you feel the Palmer episode has actually gone fairly well compared to earlier ones… I wouldn’t know because I know nothing beyond early ones = excommunicated and now = disfellowshipped. That, to me, isn’t enough to necessarily mean eary ones = bad mistake of the Church and now = good. But again, I don’t know, maybe that’s all there is to it.

  148. Bob, disfellowshipment is definitely a more nuanced reaction than excommunication. Since ex’ing someone is the harshest punishment the Church can give, any other option is preferable if possible. The feeling is that the Church is less reactionary than in times past towards those with differing ideas. Not sure why that is.

  149. Steve,
    But aren’t these just a few people in Sandy? I mean, they don’t really represent the whole Church do they? It doesn’t even go to the Seventy does it? I don’t know the details of who is present at one of these courts, but I would imagine we could say that those involved in this one were less reactionary than those ten years ago.

  150. Bob Caswell says:

    Steve, I’m ready to discuss a correlation there, but I’m also willing to accept that possibly the Church exed people who should have been exed and disfellowshipped people who should be disfellowshipped. I need to hear more before I lift my benefit-of-the-doubt feeling toward the Church. It’s just that I don’t want to assume the Church has made mistakes and then figure out how exactly. I want to know the “how” before I make the conclusions. And as such, excommunication being the harshest punishment is irrelevant to my query.

  151. Bob Caswell says:

    Thanks, Rusty. Saying things like the Church was like this and now is like this… makes it sound like there’s some general handbook for exing that’s been rewritten over the years, when in reality, we’re probably talking about a handful of people in separate isolated situations.

  152. Bob, you’ve also got to keep in mind that being disfellowshipped is I believe a fairly modern invention. Back in the early days, there wasn’t the option — if you cheesed off the Prophet, that was it!

    It’s not a question of the Church being wrong, or having ex’ed people by mistake – no need to lift the benefit of the doubt in the Church’s direction. Rather, it’s a matter of the Church’s attitude towards diverse thought evolving over time, as it has also evolved towards other religions (not too long ago we were chock full of “whore of the earth” talk!). I don’t think we can look at previous excommunications and re-examine them in light of the Church’s current attitude. Although that’s an interesting thought experiment, the fact remains that it was a different time, and a different Church back then — even for the Sept. Six.

  153. Having said that though there are plenty of problems with the content including an explicit denial of Moroni 10:4-5.

    I’d be curious to know exactly what Palmer said about this. Did he deny it, or did he merely say that many in the church misuse the passage? (I haven’t read Palmer’s book, so I don’t know totally what perspective he’s coming from.) Thanks!

  154. Nathan Smith says:


    Would it be “judging a book by its cover” to criticize someone for, say, committing outright fraud on the “about the author” page on the back flap? That’s not content, either. I’m not quite accusing Palmer of this, but it makes the point that covers are part of the content of books, and that they matter in evaluating them.

    In particular with this genre of literature, I think that an author’s representations about who he is, where he’s been, and which organizations have put stamps of approval on him is a major factor affecting distribution of the book and the credence people give to it. This book would be a blip on everyone’s radar if Palmer and Signature had not dishonestly leveraged Palmer’s CES pedigree.

    Do you really believe that history books can never harm people or institutions? It seems to me that one would have to define both “history” and “harm” very narrowly to make that one work.

  155. Good morning, everyone. Good karma is back — what changed? Anyway, I’m not suggesting PR effects as the sole or even primary rationale for designing a reformed “heresy trial policy,” but it is a factor that must be considered. First, PR is inevitably invoked in explaining why these people are hauled into a church court — because they make the Church look bad or because they hurt missionary work. Those are PR reasons. Second, a good reform proposal takes the interests of the client institution into account, and PR matters to LDS leaders. This makes the activities of The Committee rather curious, even paradoxical, as they have to know they are manufacturing bad PR.

    I don’t think it’s correct to view these proceedings as purely local matters that bubble up randomly, as if there is no central direction. Senior leaders, you might have noticed, are a fairly “hands on” bunch. And it is packets from The Committee that drive the process. It’s clear that senior leaders are the ones pulling the strings in the first place. Nothing wrong with that.

    Although local leaders obediently mouth the mantra “this is a local matter, we receive no direction from Salt Lake,” they can turn around and, in the next sentence, reveal they spoke to a senior leader in Salt Lake on the phone the prior day. So what were they getting, advice? Counsel? Hints? Just not “direction.” Well, I think it’s clear there is some sort of policy coordinating the activities of The Committee. It is hard to think that senior leaders (who certainly read the newspaper), if they think things are proceeding improperly, won’t pick up the phone and give some “friendly advice” (not direction, of course) to the local leaders that are involved. Something as simple as “In my experience, disfellowshipping the rebellious writer generally makes a sufficient impression to lead to sincere repentance” would certainly get the message across.

    I guess we just have to wait for the next trial to know whether there has been a coordinated policy shift or whether what looks like a pattern is just random variation.

  156. john fowles says:

    Steve wrote, John, you’ve got it backwards: the One True Church belief set is the exclusionary one, not the middle-road. Now of course, your question hinges on what it means to say that this is the only true church… but you see how those types of questions only open up once you go beyond the priesthood manual paradigm?

    I’m not talking about the One True Church belief set. I know some of what you feel about that camp. I find it unfortunate.

    But I am asking whether being a middle-roader also requires rejection of the One True Church belief. Can one be a middle-roader and still believe that this is the One True Church? This question is stemming from some of the things that Sophia was saying earlier.

  157. Dave — LOL! Too bad we don’t have more church trials so that we could finally get some reliable data!

    John F — the short answer to your question is yes, a middle roader can believe that this is the One True Church.

  158. john fowles says:

    Steve, this is where Sophia’s perspective comes in. She seemed to imply a level of intellectual dishonesty on the part of people who are middle-roaders in the sense of rejecting aspects of the Church’s origins but who still maintain a One True Church belief (or profess to such). This seems like an accurate view but I am interested to hear other perspectives of how that might work.

  159. I think a lot of this discussion too severely discounts the powerful impact of personal revelation- that is, that a person can perhaps even doubt the very foundations of our faith, like the origins of the Book of Mormon, and still claim to know from personal spiritual experiences that the truth of God is contained in the LDS Church.

    Relying on such personal impressions, even when they contradict what you suspect as the dubious foundations of the Book of Mormon or other aspects of the Restoration, does not seem like “intellectual dishonesty,” but rather like incredible faith!

    Thus, these so-called “middle-roaders” must have very strong faith rather than being intellectually dishonest.

  160. John, listen to your brother — I think he’s right.

    Someone who has studied Church history and found inconsistencies, or who has studied BoM science and found it lacking can nevertheless believe in the Church as the One True Church.

    I’m one of those people, though an intellectual lightweight, and the reason I stick around is because I realize that both sides are not yet fully developed: I neither know all that history/science have to offer, nor do I know what God will reveal. I have faith that it will all work out somehow, and that in the meantime this is the best place to be.

  161. Frank McIntyre says:

    “I’m one of those people, though an intellectual lightweight, and the reason I stick around is because I realize that both sides are not yet fully developed:”

    Steve, this is actually quite different from the position that gets people in trouble. I think the people who stand up and start shouting about how sure they are that the science is complete and incontrevertible are the ones who find themselves in a real quandary.

    So for example, when we were discussing Zelph a ways back, I was amazed at how convinced some people were on the basis of incredibly fragmentary scientific evidence. This is completely different that saying, “The current evidence does not and cannot affirm or reject the truth of the Gospel or historical claims about the Book of Mormon because the current evidence is woefully inadequate.”

  162. Last_lemming says:

    To give a more nuanced answer than Steve–

    Yes, a “middle of the roader” can believe that the LDS church is “…the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased…” (from D&C 1:30).

    Is there another scriptural assertion of the One True Church that I am missing?

  163. Dave, I simply disagree that the only issue is the content of the book. I guarantee that had Palmer held to the content but never said anything about it or even written the book but never published it that no one would care in the least. So I think you’re whole approach to the issue is incorrect.

    I also disagree with your comments that Palmer’s intents don’t matter. I rather strongly suspect his intents were key in the court.

    Eric, regarding your question of Palmer’s relation to Moroni 10:4-5. Allow me to quote from Eyring-L and then folks here can tell me if this is reconcilable to Moroni 10:4-5.

    As for my testimony of the BM in the book, see Preface x, third paragraph, the first two lines; and page 133.

    It’s no wonder I missed it when I read the book. I can’t even recognize his
    “testimony of the BM” when specifically pointed out to me.

    Can anyone else help me understand what he is saying about the Book of
    Mormon here?

    This is the first two lines of the third paragraph on page x:
    “Second, I would like church members to understand historians and religious
    teachers like myself. When I or my colleagues talk or”

    And some excerpts from page 133:
    “I assert that the Holy Ghost does exist, that it does speak to human
    beings. This Spirit of love gives peace, comfort, prompts, and enhances
    belief in God, but abundant evidence also demonstrates that it is an
    unreliable means of proving truth…. When a person experiences the Spirit
    …. when reading the Book of Mormon, it is not my belief that this feeling
    proves the truthfulness of the doctrines heard, taught or read…. in my
    view it is a God-felt urging to repent and come unto Christ.”

    I am at a loss to see how this support his claim below that he has a
    “testimony of the BM”.

  164. Frank, what I’m saying is a little different than your position, because I’m admitting failings on the part of both science and religion. When I say that the current evidence is incomplete, for example, I mean both external scientific evidence as well as internal spiritual evidence and revelation. Neither science nor religion have yet revealed all their cards.

  165. Frank McIntyre says:

    “When I say that the current evidence is incomplete, for example, I mean both external scientific evidence as well as internal spiritual evidence and revelation. Neither science nor religion have yet revealed all their cards.”

    We have scriptures saying right out that God has not told us all there is to tell. Elder Nelson actually quoted one of these quite recently in Conference and it is an indisputable doctrine of our religion. So I guess I take it for granted that we have more to learn on the religion front, both personally and as a Church.

    Once again, the problems come from pushing hard to ignore revelation as “cultural bias” while lapping up even the most tentative antogonistic evidence. This is not just a matter of temperament, but also training. Some people simply do not understand how tentative the science is on this front, and so they are victims on this front. And so those that do know the problems, who parade the science without mentioning the caveats become tools to destroy others’ faith by their own intellectual dishonesty. This is wolf behavior, and dealing with it is one of the jobs of the shepherd.

  166. Bob Caswell says:

    Dave, I think it would be funny if the Stake President received a one word answer over the phone with a whisper… “disfellowship!” And then the whole six hours they just played yahtzee. I’m not saying this to disagree; I’m just saying it would be funny if that’s what happened.

  167. Clark,

    According to Midgley’s review of the book in the FARMS review of books, it seems that Palmer did write a version of the book (based on Salamander lettered inspired understanding) and circulated the manuscript for quite some time. It is unclear if there were any repercussions from that, but he wasn’t disfellowshipped.

  168. Clark:

    Waaaaaaaaaaaay back when (damn these things are hard to keep up with!), you said, “To me the line is thus fairly easy to see and I confess that arguments for it’s missing or difficult to see status are hard for me to fathom.”

    Here’s where I think part of the problem lies. There seems to be an assumption, even on the part of well-educated, moderate believers that there is some static, solid foundation in Mormonism that one can place their faith in. If they don’t (as Palmer apparently hasn’t), their status as Church members is questionable. This static foundation is usually identified as the First Vision, Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, or Priesthood authority.

    The problem is, these things themselves aren’t really static. We are aware of some of the dilemmas surrounding the First Vision.

    As for Joseph’s prophetic calling, I think someone (perhaps you, Clark – sorry!) said that we ought to see Joseph as he saw himself. But even Joseph’s idea of what his “prophetic calling” was changed and evolved over the years. He went from seeing himself as a charismatic leader of a protestant-like sect, to a single prophet-leader over a unique movement, to being ordained King over the political and temporal kingdom of God. Had he not been killed, I suspect the evolution would have continued.

    Today, sure we have a definite sense of what “prophetic calling” means, but it wasn’t always the case. Until David O. McKay’s presidency, the term “the prophet” was reserved for Joseph and Joseph alone. He stood apart; today, President Hinckley is seen as his equal.

    As for Priesthood authority, that’s changed dramatically over the years. Despite the restoration of the priesthood in 1829-30, it took Joseph Smith several years before he bothered teaching anyone that two priesthoods had been restored, and the emphasis on authority changed throughout Joseph’s life and continued to change after his death.

    My point isn’t to suggest that current interpretations of prophetic authority or priesthood authority are incorrect; they may be spot-on, exactly what God has in mind for us. But history grants room for a Palmer-type to question even these seemingly fundamental points in the Church. It isn’t fair to portray these issues as like saying 2+2=4, but someone like Palmer continues to insist 2=2+5. There’s a lot more room for interpretation than that, and it isn’t as simple as saying God placed the line, there it is, and if Palmer can’t see it, that’s his problem.

  169. Bob Caswell says:

    So, John H., if Palmer’s book didn’t merit any sort of action by the Church, and bearing in mind all of the info you presented us about Church changes, etc., what, to you, is there that is Mormonism and not up for Palmer types to discredit? I’m not necessarily saying there has to be something, I’m just curious to know if you think there is (or if anyone else thinks there is).

  170. I’m not sure there is anything, Bob. I’d hope any discussion of the temple ceremony would be appropriately respectful, in accordance with the Church’s wishes. I don’t think it’s an issue of trying to discredit so much as it is trying to reinterpret.

    And it isn’t like I expect us to be discussing historicity in Gospel Doctrine, either. It just seems like it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation: We either embrace Palmer-types and the Church becomes like any other progressive Protestant Church, or we excommunicate the Palmer-types and preserve the status quo.

    If nothing had happened to Palmer, he would have appealed to a tiny group in the Church who enjoy discussing these issues. No harm done, IMO.

  171. John: There seems to be an assumption, even on the part of well-educated, moderate believers that there is some static, solid foundation in Mormonism that one can place their faith in. If they don’t (as Palmer apparently hasn’t), their status as Church members is questionable. This static foundation is usually identified as the First Vision, Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, or Priesthood authority.

    First, I’d say that the only place to put one’s faith in is Jesus Christ. However there are things that I think we ought have faith that. (If one sees the difference – it is I think an important one)

    Second I reject your assumption that not believing these matters would necessarily affect ones status as members. Once again I think that if one doesn’t go about teaching ones views on such matters, no one cares. Seriouslly. Had Palmer not published a book, no one would have cared.

    Now I think there are issues related to callings, and perhaps that is what you meant by “ones status.” In that I think you have a point. But I tend to think that is a completely valid concern by members, that their Bishop actually believe what he is representing.

    Regarding how Joseph saw himself, no that wasn’t me. I tend to agree that our perception of ourselves changes with time and hopefully becomes more mature. Joseph, as you said, certainly evolved in both his role as prophet as well as his understanding of what that meant.

    That’s why I don’t think the church really does or ought kick people out for belief. By having them around, we can hope that the spirit will touch them and expand their understanding. As I said back a ways, I think that was the goal of the church court with respect to Palmer. The cynical might doubt it and perhaps even doubt the spirit played much of a role in the court. But I think one is warranted to believe the Stake President and his councilors were sincere and seeking the guidance of the Lord. Further I think one is warranted in believing the Lord provided that guidance.

    I think though that you confuse meaning with existence. I can change in my understanding of the priesthood and so forth. However there seems a rather clear and unambiguous line that one ought not teach what the brethren teach against. It was that line that I was speaking of. Likewise on matters such as the role of the spirit, I think there a clear line which Palmer missed.

    To say that our understanding is incomplete does not entail that we have no understanding.

  172. john fowles says:

    John H. wrote concerning JS: He went from seeing himself as a charismatic leader of a protestant-like sect, to a single prophet-leader over a unique movement, to being ordained King over the political and temporal kingdom of God. Had he not been killed, I suspect the evolution would have continued.

    What would have been the next step in that evolution in your view? The only logical next step is that he would have claimed the title of Messiah if he had not been killed. That’s not a very flattering perspective of the man Joseph Smith. That is the type of thing that makes me wonder why one would believe in the church he established if that is what Joseph Smith was (simply a very ambitious man upping the ante whenever he felt like he could).

  173. John, it’s clear from history that Joseph Smith “upped the ante” his whole life. His revelations got bigger and bigger, and his role in the dispensation became stronger and stronger. Consider what was said of him following his death – none save Jesus have done more for the world. That’s an amazingly bold statement to make, and what makes it even more bold is that it was believed and preached during Joseph’s lifetime as well.

    We can theorize about what the next stop on the road would have been for Joseph, though I have doubts about the value of such an exercise. What’s important is to realize that during his life, the Prophet continually expanded his role and his dominion — and likewise after him, the role of President has changed and altered to fit the times.

  174. john fowles says:

    It seems to me that there are two ways of looking at it: (1) the Prophet continually expanded his role and his dominion throughout his life; or (2) the Lord continually expanded Joseph’s role and his dominion as he grew into his calling step by step and precept by precept. If he got “bigger and bigger” revelations during his life it was either because (1) he was more confident in his fraud or (2) he was growing more in tune with the will of the Lord and more in communion with Him such that the Lord was giving him more and more (the principle that more is given unto him who has). Of course, as you know, I side with the latter. And I am curious that many here seem to side with the former.

    What is it that influences someone to be one or the other? I certainly don’t buy Gary’s explanation above that many who are orthodox believers (like myself) would be middle-road believers or downright non-believers (like Palmer) if only they just took historical “facts” more seriously. That argument takes far too many assumptions for granted and essentially represents, in my mind, both an easy and an arrogant way out of the discussion.

  175. JF, I don’t think it’s that easy or arrogant. You’re misquoting Gary, but his point is worth repeating. He said, “I do believe that the only thing that separates many, though by no means all, of the orthodox, true believers from those occupying the middle ground described by JWL is ignorance of many of the issues and a willingness to accept a moving spiritual experience as “knowledge” of historical facts.”

    That strikes me as a well thought-out and reasoned position. Nobody here is asserting that Joseph Smith was a fraud; however, you seem blind to the Joseph Smith described in any other history than that of his mother or “Truth Restored”. Dig around a little, and you may find that not everything the Prophet did was rainbows and daisies.

    I know that you are the type of person who likes to quickly reduce things to binaries, but in the case of the Prophet, you can’t just say “there are two ways of looking”. Personally, I accept the divine calling of Joseph Smith, but I also understand and (try to) accept his warts — sometimes major warts — as well. To do otherwise is to be willfully ignorant.

  176. “Dig around a little, and you may find that not everything the Prophet did was rainbows and daisies.”

    John doesn’t strike me as the type of fellow to believe otherwise. I’ve dug around as much as anyone, and nothing I’ve come across so far has jarred my belief in (e.g.) the literal reception and translation of tangible golden plates; nothing in Palmer’s book, certainly; in fact, he struck me as a little naive in places, like when a freshman learns that Brigham Young chewed tobacco most of his life and triumphantly runs home to shock his mother with the news. Church history is gritty, complicated, tragic, funny, human, as well as wondrous and profound; it is possible to view this as natural without becoming naturalistic.

  177. John F is nothing if not determined, but I’ll support at least part of what he’s saying. Some orthodox Mormons think anyone who has doubts is simply someone who doesn’t pray hard enough or doesn’t pray at all. In similar fashion, there are some doubting Mormons who think that anyone who doesn’t have doubts is simply someone who doesn’t read enough history or doesn’t read at all. Both claims rub people the wrong way, even when properly qualified as was Gary’s statement. Honestly, neither praying nor reading alone determines one’s faith or level of belief. It’s worth noting that Paul includes both faith and knowledge as charisms or spiritual gifts that God parcels out in distinctly different quantities to different members of the Church. So diversity of faith is part of the plan.

    As for John’s comment that either the Prophet or the Lord expanded Joseph’s role, there’s a third option: the people of the Church expanded his role, whether he willed it or not. For an illustration, I appeal to The Life of Bryan, where the lead character opens the shutters early in the morning to see a crowd already cheering and he mutters something like, “Don’t these people ever go home?” I wonder if Joseph ever closed his door at night and muttered, “Why don’t these people spend more time farming and less time at my doorstep demanding another revelation?”

  178. “I really found only one assertion which I haven’t already heard about for like… ever.”

    D. Fletcher’s review is the best yet.

  179. craigwilliams says:

    As an outside observer, I would have to say that what happened here yesterday with that evangelical guy was pretty bad guys. I am am really concerned about what you guys did to him. I read all his posts and your responses and I have to say that I am ashamed to be associated with the LDS church now.

  180. John F: Steve and Dave are correct in their interpretation of my earlier statement. I certainly did not intend it to be insulting or arrogant. It is certainly that many well informed, intelligent people remain absolutely orthodox. I did not mean to suggest otherwise. However, it has been my experience that several of my friends and acquaintances have significantly altered their beliefs toward the middle of the road category after becoming better informed. Some have driven off the road entirely, but they are a minority. Based on this experience, I have come to believe that many more would find themselves in that same position if they were better informed and asked the same questions. That in no way is meant to suggest that those who don’t come to that conclusion are intellectually or morally inferior.

  181. john fowles says:

    Steve wrote Personally, I accept the divine calling of Joseph Smith, but I also understand and (try to) accept his warts — sometimes major warts — as well. To do otherwise is to be willfully ignorant.

    What I don’t see is how taking this view of JS (to which I also subscribe) necessarily makes one a middle of the roader. Implicit in your statement, Steve, is the idea that an orthodox believer can’t see this and still buy at face value the official teachings of the Church on its origins. Here is the major disconnect; Kingsley does it justice in his reply.

    In fact, Dave also put it well when he said In similar fashion, there are some doubting Mormons who think that anyone who doesn’t have doubts is simply someone who doesn’t read enough history or doesn’t read at all. This is actually the predominant feeling that I get from “doubting” Mormons, as Dave put it. What this terminology obscures is that even the most “orthodox” of Latter-day Saints–someone such as myself, I suppose, since I seem to have earned that description through my comments around the blogs–has doubts, some of them significant doubts, about God and religion. Having doubts isn’t the distinguishing factor here. It can’t be. Rather, what we do with the doubts is paramount. Some of my doubts might shock you; I haven’t published a book though. Yes, I truly believe in the “official” party line of the Church, even in spite of my own reading and knowledge of historical facts/aspects of LDS origins; but that does not address the complexity of a faith in the Church as defined by the Church itself. I do understand Jordan’s comment above and agree with it–but I find it hard to group someone like Palmer with the “doubters.” He is more appropriately defined as a detractor and as such, yes, his faith does come into question.

  182. Does it really surprise anyone that there is no

  183. craigwilliams says:

    i am very bummed out about the whole thing…

  184. craigwilliams says:

    what in the world are you talking about?

  185. I must’ve missed out on something fantastic; where can I find this Mormon-Evangelical exchange I’ve been hearing so much about? Steve (above, I think) implies that it happened elsewhere, maybe T&S; can someone point me in the right direction?

  186. Bob Caswell says:

    Kingsley, I don’t think you’re interested. The exchanges here and at T&S were not only pointless, but the boring kind of pointless. “Fantastic” is hardly the word, one of the exchanges here is in this very thread.

  187. D. Fletcher says:

    There was a separate site for the debate, but it seems to have been removed.

  188. John, if you want to reach craig williams, you might try; that’s the equally invalid address (s)he used at Times and Seasons.

    Ed, these sites are administered by reasonably bright people, who are now onto your tricks and will ban every IP address you use. Give up.

  189. Bob: That shows you how carefully I read each thread before adding my two cents.

  190. Bob Caswell says:

    Kingsley, don’t worry, you could have read the entire thread meticulously; and you still would have missed it!

  191. Not much of an exchange, Kingsley. An Evangelical and several of his own fake internet identities had an extended discussion with themselves. The fake identities engaged in a lot of back-patting and cheering each other on.

    They harped on a few of the same topics. Every thread became a discussion of whether Joseph Smith was really a prophet. And every time someone tried to bring him back to the topic, this poster and his imaginary friends cried repression.

    After numerous warnings, this person was asked to refrain from any further posts at T & S. From what I can tell, essentially the same pattern played out at BCC.

  192. Kingsley, here’s the lesson: don’t ever sign on a guest blogger without vetting him first with all the others!

  193. I beg to differ; I think the exchange between Ed (and his various names) is well worth the time, if for no other reason than that Ed had one of his pseudonyms call him one of the greatest evangelical scholars of his generation.

    PS — Did you guys really need to check the IP address to know Craig was Ed?

  194. kristin braunnase says:

    Oh, Davis, don’t be so cynical: it was such a privilege to see one of the greatest evangelical scholars of his generation called “boring” by *the* greatest Mormon scholar of her generation!


  195. Dr. Jonas VanDerlund says:

    Quite, Davis. You’re on the mark, as you always are. To be honest, I’m very surprised BCC hasn’t asked you to join them. You BCCers should be ashamed of yourselves.

  196. Amanda Houghginkiss says:

    I personally am very ashamed at the outcome of this thread. Shame on Steve Evans for starting it. Usually his posts are interesting, if a bit repetitive, but this was the worst. The appearance of Mr. Davis Bell only cements my conclusions.

  197. Hi Amanda. Do we know each other?

  198. Davis, I can tell you that you’ve met Amanda. And you secretly find her attractive.

  199. 200 comments!! Yay!! Thanks Davis for that extra nudge.

  200. Davis Bell says:

    Actually, I’ve never met her. I was just wondering why she found my presence so revolting.

  201. Sometimes it seems as though LDS scholars, even “party line” believers, are too eager to put a naturalistic spin on foundational LDS events. For example, Philip Barlow, in his excellent Mormons and the Bible, writes that Joseph Smith “reported that when [Moroni] first came to tell him of the plates, he thought it was a dream but later changed his mind. He thereafter seemed to understand his visions in a literal sense.” Teryl Givens cites this uncritically in By the Hand of Mormon.

    Barlow and Givens, therefore, are telling us that (1) Joseph thought he had dreamed Moroni from the get-go (that is, from the moment Moroni “appeared” to him); (2) that at some unspecified later date he switched to the literal view canonized in the PoPG and BoM; and (3) that only after this mysterious change of heart did he began to literalize all of his other experiences as well.

    Now read Joseph’s 1832 account of Moroni’s first visit (Barlow’s source). After the angel had departed, Joseph

    immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them. Then being exedingly frightened I supposed it had been a dreem of Vision, but when I consid[e]red I knew that it was not. Therefore I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul, “Why cannot I not obtain them?”

    That is, he followed Moroni’s instructions to the letter, and after repeated failures to actually take hold of the plates, which which were in plain sight, became terrifed and wildly wondered what the hell was going on. In context, his comment about “a dreem of Vision” seems more rhetorical than anything else; in the very next moment, anyhow, he “knew that it was not” a dream. It seems to me that Barlow has taken some liberties with his interpretation. He turns an episode that was short, physical, almost violent, into something drawn out, ethereal, almost imaginery.

    In my experience, most, if not all, talk of Joseph’s “warts” and the ambiguities of Church history depend largely on how far one is willing to take this or that stray comment from a journal entry, letter, newspaper article, etc. If I may get into a little autobiography here, on my mission I was blessed with a rather dramatic spiritual manifestation which I immediately described in my diary. I described it again, in greater detail, a few weeks later. Years afterward, I was very surprised to learn that had I contradicted myself in the two different accounts and also left out an item of huge significance in the first. Probably the mistakes (if that’s what one calls them) had to do with emotion, the complexities of memory, including selectivity (i.e., I recorded only what mattered to me at the time), mental laziness, etc. Whatever the reason, I would be dismayed if some grandchild down the line naturalized my miracle out of existence because of the discrepancies.

    I repeat, nothing that I have read, and I have read a lot, has nudged me one inch from my belief that Joseph literally saw the Father, the Son, the angel, the plates, and so on. The actual sources always seem to take much of the potency from the scholar’s claims.

  202. Sorry, all, about that “terrifed” and “imaginery.”

  203. john fowles says:

    Kingsley, let me add my voice to yours. Very nicely put. This Church exists in the first place precisely because JS literally saw and heard what he said he saw and heard, as given to us by the “official party line” of this Church.

  204. Thanks, John; it would be really interesting to see some more examples posted of Joseph’s constantly changing worldview from the primary sources themselves, and so see whether they are earth-shakingly significant or simply dramatically interpreted.

  205. “ambiguities of Church history depend largely on how far one is willing to take this or that stray comment”

    Not just Church history. That’s the essence of all history, I think. Did you happen to see the latest hub-bub, asserting that Abe Lincoln was gay? A great example of your thesis, I think.

    The problem is, and always has been, that primary sources are lacking.

  206. Steve: True. And no, I don’t think I saw the latest hub-bub about Lincoln being gay; but I did read the claim somewhere, which was based on the fact that he slept on a cot with his original law partner occasionally. The same claim has been made about Joseph Smith based on (e.g.) his allowing Dan Jones to use his arm for a pillow in Carthage. Holy hell, I’ve not only slept in the same cot with other fellows (Boy Scouts, you know); I once watched nearly an entire season of Sex and the City in the same damn bed with another fellow (it was king-sized, and our girlfriends were with us, but still). Just wait: if I ever become President of the Church or the United States, By Common Consent will appear in all the radical history books.

  207. john fowles says:

    Steve wrote That’s the essence of all history, I think. Did you happen to see the latest hub-bub, asserting that Abe Lincoln was gay?

    This is actually a huge problem in academia. Kristine and I have discussed it a while ago over at T&S. I just have to roll my eyes when someone tells me that their master’s thesis is on e.g. “Goethe and why he was gay” (he was not gay). When I was working on my own master’s thesis in the field of literature, the title of my thesis had the word “genre” in it. While printing up a draft in the college’s graduate computer lab, another grad student noticed the title page and gave me a wierd insider’s look and near-wink. Half smiling he gave me thumbs up and said ” ‘Nineteenth-century Polemics of Gender’? You can’t go wrong with a title like that!” while nudging me with an elbow. That experience spoke volumes to me, as did my graduate seminar with a group of women’s studies master’s students who thought I was a woman-hater just because I was a married white male.

    These are problems with academia generally. I don’t think this is the same phenomenon as what Kingsley is referring to. In the case of Abe Lincoln or Goethe being gay, that is an example of someone furthering a political agenda through ostensible “history.” These theories are attenuated at best. Kingsley is pointing out, as does FARMS in so much of its work (sorry Dave), that “orthodox” LDS believers are standing on very firm historical ground, even if “doubters” try to make them believe otherwise. Adherence to the primary sources can definitely confirm this in many cases.

    And Kingsley has a great point in noting that such earth-shattering revelations about the origins or the doctrines of the Church might often be dramatic and novel interpretations of something that is actually relatively innocuous. A good example of this is Dave’s observation on the other thread that the Church has changed emphasis from “free agency” to “moral agency” or just plain “agency.” It certainly is a dramatic (and unwarranted) interpretation to see some change in the Church’s doctrine of agency in this, if such a shift in emphasis really is happening at all. It is true that there have been some real changes in direction following specific revelation in the history of the Church. Dave rightly notes polygamy and the priesthood revelation as two of those instances. That is the beauty of a Gospel that includes living prophets and modern revelation. But it goes too far to ascribe shifts in policy, driven by politics, to semantic usages that may or may not change over the decades. If Dallin H. Oaks gives a talk, printed in the Clark Memorandum, in which he implies that we only have agency if we choose the right b/c only then are we free (I assume this is the talk Dave is referring to), then I think it is a mistake to take that as a fundamental change in the doctrines of the Church. After all, Oaks is really only expressing the doctrine of agency from a slightly different perspective; I’m not sure that his formulation strays much from the way the Church has always viewed agency, even if Oaks did express it in a very stark way. The BoM itself, to which the Church has always adhered, shows that Satan will bind with flaxen cords such that, after a long procession of “wrong” choices, the subject is bound and restricted in his or her free agency. Often, church leaders refer to the consequences of WoW violations to illustrate this (i.e. addiction to stimulants), but that is only one expression of the principle. The principle is: sure we have free agency, but only if we choose the right do we remain free. I don’t see how this departs from older Latter-day Saint views of free agency. Nevertheless, because Oaks expressed it differently and very abruptly, a dramatic interpretation of it can become the basis for an argument that the Church is, yet again, changing its doctrines.

  208. Bob Caswell says:

    Not to pick on Dave, but what John Fowles is saying is similar to how I felt when Dave thought the Church had learned from its mistakes. I don’t doubt Dave is probably very familiar with the Sept. Six and the latest Palmer fiasco… But the Church exes and/or disfellowships members all the time without Dave knowing (as an example, I’m familiar with a few in Eastern Europe, of which I’m sure Dave isn’t aware). So making a generalized remark like… I think the Church is changing because of the two examples I know of (be it conference talks about agency, disfellowshipped / exed members, or what have you) is rather bold and doesn’t really hold water, IMO.

  209. Bob, I think Dave was talking about the Church learning about how to deal with highly publicized cases of excommunications involving intellectual work. Dave even acknowledged that two post-September Six examples were not enough to draw conclusions from. His was a limited, specific argument, and you’re arguing against some broad, totalized claim about excommunication which he did not make. (If I can put words in his mouth.)

  210. Bob Caswell says:

    Kristine, welcome back to your true home for blogging! I’m not sure where Dave “acknowledged that two…” blah, blah, and I wasn’t convinced that his was a limited, specific argument… You could convince me that I’m just delirious and point me to exactly how you came to all that… But there’s probably no need, as I’ll take the words you put in his mouth and agree that with everything you’ve said, my issues with Dave would be unwarranted.

    Do you want to put words in his mouth on the agency one too? It would help me out. :-)

  211. If I may get into a little autobiography here, on my mission I was blessed with a rather dramatic spiritual manifestation which I immediately described in my diary. I described it again, in greater detail, a few weeks later. Years afterward, I was very surprised to learn that had I contradicted myself in the two different accounts and also left out an item of huge significance in the first.

    I’m a litigator. I deal with witnesses all the time. To real events (well, at least ones where there are pictures and police reports and witness statements and funerals afterwards). Often the accounts by the same witness differ when taken at different times. Often people in the same vehicle, from virtually the same viewpoint, differ dramatically.

    People who do not have the realizations that Kingsley reports have really missed dealing with reality, time and time again.

    Must say that I appreciate his comments and posts.

  212. Man I’ve been missing some good conversations here … glad I finally stumbled back upon them.

    Kingsley, as usual I’m enjoying your comments and insights as well as your sense of humor in expressing them.

    Obviously there was a time when two men could sleep in close proximity to each other without feeling gay or being viewed as gay in their lifestyle. I know that in the Middle East today it is much more common to see two Arab men walking hand in hand down a street and it is completely an innocent sign of friendship without any of the homosexual intonations that we read into such things.

    Unfortunately when we look back on more innocent times and see that men sometimes shared a room or even a bed, our corrupted minds immediately draw sexual conclusions.

    I have to say though that I’m a product of my time and consequently I won’t be comfortable sharing my cot with another man anytime soon.

  213. Bob Caswell says:

    “…It’s whether Palmer types who publish get excommunicated. In 1993, the answer was yes. Now, it appears, the answer is no. I think the Church has learned from its mistakes. Bravo.”

    Dave, either you must have been in on both disciplinary councils and have some sort of inside track or you’re jumping to huge conclusions based on your own preconceived guesses. I, for one, am not to comfortable calling this action “the Church learning from its mistakes”. There are millions of factors we’re completely ignoring by making such assumptions. Just because we may not like excommunication doesn’t mean it’s a mistake every time the Church uses it (although, I’m open to the idea that it is a mistake sometimes or even most of the time, but not just because).

    And yeah, I’m with Clark. “All he did was write a book” doesn’t show me how he wasn’t purposely trying to spread his message (a.k.a. teaching). Most people don’t publish books to have only one copy tucked away on their own shelf.

  214. Shannon Keeley says:

    Well now I know why Steve Evans and D. Fletcher have yet to post their favorite movie lines on our T & S thread. Obviously, they’ve been engaged in a much more meaningful discussion rich in one quality our thread is sorely lacking: substance!

    I don’t have much insight to add, really. I really enjoyed reading everyone’s posts (even the whole Ed Enochs and his multiple personalities part). The news about Palmer is troubling, and I think there is great value in exploring our feelings about his experience.

    I’m feeling a bit guilty and intellectually lazy because, for the most part, I don’t take the time to think really deeply about these historical issues any more. I guess for me it is a question of how I want to spend my time. (And as you can see from our movie lines thread, I’m obviously spending way too much time consuming media. . .)

    I’m not saying that books like Palmer’s are a waste of time, or that his research and questions should be dismissed. But is anyone else familiar with a cycle like this: Read a troubling church history book, Doubt church doctrines / historical accuracy. etc., Re-work testimony to allow for inconsistencies.. .Read a troubling church history book. . .etc.

    I guess I just haven’t found that cycle particularly productive for me spiritually, so I haven’t been very good about keeping up with the latest scholarship from the Mormon intellectual community. I’m not saying that that’s a good thing. . .just offering my incoherent thoughts in the wee hours of the night. . .

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