Dear Area Presidency,
A little over five weeks ago I addressed an online open letter to you, posing some important questions relating to the founding claims of the Church. These questions, I suggested, required clear public answers if the growing tide of disaffected members was to be stemmed. I also invited you to open up a dialogue with me and others to consider these important issues. My intentions in doing so were honourable, for I am weary, (as I am sure many others also are), of feeling isolated from my local LDS community because I value historical truth. I am confident this letter must by now have been brought to your attention, as it is estimated that it has been viewed more than 15,000 times. However, in case you had by some misfortune not seen it, I also took the precaution of posting you a hard copy, explaining that my reason for going public was that there seems to be no other way of making ordinary voices such as mine audible to you.
In the last five weeks I have received many comments, mostly very supportive of my initiative. Some have been as hopeful as I, that my proposal to discuss these matters openly and honestly, would herald a new dawn for the LDS Church in Europe. However, others expressed cynicism over whether I would be taken at all seriously. One person wrote, for example: “The (LDS) corporation is run by businessmen and lawyers in love with Mammon and will do all they can to have the richest church in Babylon! Because of this they love good PR more than the truth! They will ignore the big issues of historical truth…” I sincerely hope that such views will be shown to be incorrect, but to date, as I have yet to receive any kind of response or acknowledgment from you, I admit to feeling growing concern.
Another observer warned me that I would probably be “jumped on” for asking searching questions publicly. However, my belief was that you would welcome an opportunity to set the record straight on the troublesome items which are currently causing disaffections. A recent statement on the official LDS newsroom blog, given in response to the David Twede issue, was reassuring, (see: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-news-getting-it-right-september-25), as it made it clear that having, (and presumably therefore asking), questions is by no means considered anathema. The official statement announced: “It is patently false for someone to suggest they face Church discipline for having questions or for expressing a political view.”
That is exactly as it should be of course, and I trust the rest of the world will duly take note that asking questions is definitely allowed within the LDS Church community. This is indeed positive, as it infers that when questions are asked, answers will follow, thereby making the process of questioning a genuinely meaningful one. I do trust you will answer me therefore, as it would surely be preferable that a constructive open dialogue be seen to take place, than for my request to become as a voice in the wilderness, heard by many but answered by none.
In the spirit of the above-mentioned official statement, I will therefore adopt what I understand to be an acceptable formula of asking a series of questions by way of reviewing the key matters which arose in my first letter. I petition you with respect, apologizing in advance if some of the questions unavoidably appear to be accusatory, and trsut that it will be possible to move the situation forward positively by this means:
- Is it true that those who actually witnessed Joseph Smith at work in the production of the Book of Mormon, stated that he recited the text while placing his face into a hat, in which was located a peep- or seer-stone, and that the gold plates were typically absent during that process?
- Are the missionaries trained today to teach prospective members an accurate account of this important historical event, or do they, and present-day LDS church publications, still indicate that translation was effected in another way directly from the gold plates?
- If there is a major disparity of this kind between historical reality and what is being taught to the youth and non-members, why does the Church continue to support and encourage it?
- Can it be credibly denied that Joseph Smith took other men’s wives as his own in polyandrous marriage unions, apparently without Emma’s knowledge?
- Is it true, commencing with Fanny Alger in c1833, that Joseph had approximately thirty plural wives, the youngest, Helen Mar Kimball, being just 14 when they married?
- Are we to accept as accurate the multiple sources used by respected historians, which indicate that some at least of those plural marriages were secured on the basis of Joseph representing that his life would be taken by an angel if the prospective wife refused him?
- Have we any reason to disbelieve that Helen Mar Kimball was promised by Joseph that her whole family would receive exaltation in return for her accepting his marriage proposal?
- Are stories of Joseph’s extra-monogamous activities, (some of the accounts resulting from a church-sponsored affidavit-gathering exercise later conducted by his nephew Joseph F. Smith), insufficient reason to consider that Joseph fell from grace?
- Alternatively, would we be on firm ground as far as the present LDS Church leadership is concerned, simply denying the veracity of any of those stories, (as some members of the Community of Christ attempt to do), or should we perhaps admit that such behaviour did occur, but was acceptable to God because Joseph was his chosen prophet?
- How are we to respond intelligently to the charge that the Book of Abraham is dead, embalmed and in its canopic jars?
- Are we to adopt and run with the dissembling arguments of LDS apologists?
- Or are we to make up our own answers, or perhaps try to avoid the subject altogether?
- Do we have to rely on obfuscating arguments which are diversionary, embarrassingly weak and often inappropriate?
- Why are the apologists permitted, and seemingly encouraged to stand in the front line on such important issues as the Book of Abraham?
- Do the Brethren not possess between them an authoritative voice capable of providing proper answers for those they routinely implore to support the LDS cause?
- Is it not long overdue that the leaders, if they be the living oracles of revealed truth, provide the membership with clear, honest, inspired directions on addressing critical questions relating to LDS founding claims, and the provenance of the LDS canon?
- Does Elder Kearon, (who I understand is now a member of your presidency), remember me with even a small degree of the fondness with which I remember him, and does he perhaps recollect from times when we served together that I am a fervent supporter of the cause of truth, and will try to follow wherever it will lead us, because I believe that truth is freedom?
- Does he sense as I do that certain of our shared past experiences foreshadowed this more important all-encompassing one?
- Does he recall the very sad example of one brother, (he will know to whom I refer), who, driven by his fears, repeatedly refused to confront truth, until it proved disastrously late?
- Does he appreciate the parallel I am compelled to draw now between that brother’s misfortune and the current dilemma of the institutional LDS church?
- Do any of you believe that any of us can ever afford to be driven by our fears in the face of truth?
- Are there not moral concerns of the most serious kind to be carefully weighed and considered?
- Until all the questions have been answered openly and guilelessly, how may it be claimed that truth has prevailed?
- Until whole answers are given in response to every heartfelt question, how might an enquirer be able to judge the LDS message objectively and within an authentic context?
- Is honesty not more precious than loyalty in the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment?
- If honest answers would reflect the institutional LDS Church or the Brethren in a negative light, should lies ever be employed to conceal that reality?
- Supposing a woman bought a motor vehicle, which the salesman assured her had been delivered new and in pristine condition straight from the factory, and she subsequently discovered it had a history of several former owners, hidden high mileage, and painted over rust, would she not be in her rights to question the salesman who had seemingly misrepresented the facts to her for the purpose of obtaining her custom?
- After all, isn’t it deception to misrepresent, and isn’t that unacceptable?
- Wouldn’t she have cause to feel upset because the vehicle had been, in a very real sense mis-sold to her?
- Would she have even greater cause for upset if the salesman, instead of admitting his error, and seeking a way to obtain reconciliation, attempted to maintain the original deception, and further compounded his error by casting aspersions upon the woman’s character?
- Are there not obvious disturbing parallels with this scenario, and should those parallels not be noted, confessed and acted upon without delay?
- Is the LDS church not a parody of righteousness if it does not fully embrace the principle of truth?
- And if so, then would the negative consequences of failing to address these issues not extend far into the future to the shame of those who are presently able to make the necessary changes?
- What of those to come, who may be misled unless they are fairly warned in advance of the full nature of the brand they are being asked to commit to?
- Where, in all of these unresolved, unaddressed, unanswered issues, (and these are really only the small tip of a huge iceberg), may the half-truths generally to be found, of which you, as an Area Presidency, spoke in your April 2012 letter to local leaders?
- And who is ultimately responsible for promoting and sustaining those half-truths?
- Brethren, is it not time that we spoke further about all of these concerns?
- Do the declining numbers, and the fabricated statistics, not offer their own warning?
- Does making peace with historical truth have to be only “the final resort”?
- Can it not be done now rather than as part of a future post mortem which will be held upon European Mormonism?
- Is it not plain that there is a willingness today to address the painful realities which isolate the LDS church from the thinking world?
- Is it not also clear as each day passes in non-response that this present willingness will become an ever rarer and diminishing commodity?
- When will the nettle be grasped?
- When will the bullet be bitten?
- When will it finally be understood that entering into dialogue with those of us whose hearts are yet with the Mormon community, but whose understanding of history has outgrown a milk-only diet of myth and dogma, would lead to a more open, honest, robust and authentic organization, which courageously would embrace truth, without constantly needing to spin and deceive, while looking in fear over its shoulder?
Some in the church apparently flatter themselves into thinking they lead the many, not realising that God is still well capable of leading the one; and for some reason they don’t seem to understand that unless truth is embraced, fully, unrelentingly, “warts and all”, then in time those many ones will be led away.
In all candour Brethren, is that not already happening?
You clearly need the support of all those who understand and care. Please, therefore, let us reason together.