Why are Steve Bloor and I supportive of Tom Phillips’ private criminal action against LDS Church President, Thomas Spencer Monson?
Our Joint Statement offers some clarification:
Here also are two current memes which offer further insight:
Why are Steve Bloor and I supportive of Tom Phillips’ private criminal action against LDS Church President, Thomas Spencer Monson?
Our Joint Statement offers some clarification:
Here also are two current memes which offer further insight:
The first time I attended an LDS church meeting was on 10th October 1971. I was 18 years old, and had been contacted on the doorstep five days previously by two young American elders, who were only a year or two older than me. They told me I would really enjoy their church meetings, and so, wearing jeans and a colourful shirt, I was escorted by them early on that Sunday morning to two meetings which they explained were called Priesthood and Sunday School. The local Branch President, in whose home I had been taught earlier that week, kindly provided the 10-mile lift for us to and from the meetings.
The meeting place was some rented rooms in a terraced Georgian house at Green Park, Bath. The congregation consisted of about 30 people, including four American missionary elders and three investigators. Half of the total congregation consisted of children or youth, and there were just four resident priesthood holders, the most senior of them, the founder member of the Bath Branch, having been a member for about 15 years. I was welcomed warmly.
During Priesthood time, the elders taught me a missionary discussion in a side room. That was followed by a special lesson for the investigators taught from a manual by the Branch President. I recall that lesson clearly. It was about the voluntary nature of priesthood service, and how a bishop, (translated for me as a branch president), might, in the course of his duties, receive a distress call from a member of his congregation at any hour of the day, and would respond to it. Apparently all service in the church was unpaid from top to bottom. It was a wonderful system emulating the service given by Jesus and his disciples. There was a clearly defined hierarchy, and they were all there to help me. If I had a question about something to do with the church I should take it first to my home teacher who would be assigned as soon as I was baptised. If he could not answer it, I could ask the branch president. If the question was too difficult for him to answer, then it could be referred to the stake president. Finally, if the stake president could not answer, there were apostles, and of course the prophet, who could ask the Lord on my behalf, and the answer would be provided. That sounded beautiful. The fount of all wisdom was at my disposal, and it felt very comforting.
Now I mention this early episode in my association with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by way of an explanation. My name was recently identified with a summons served upon Thomas Spencer Monson, and some have questioned how I came to be involved in any capacity with this private criminal action brought against the Mormon President by Tom Phillips. I have had many adjectives applied to me since this became public, ranging from ‘unspeakable’ to ‘heroic’. It might even be said that my name has been had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds and tongues. Well, perhaps not exactly all of them yet, but sometimes it feels a little bit that way.
Of course, this has not all happened spontaneously in a vacuum. There is a history, and underlying that history throughout has been my trust in the reassuring lesson I heard that very first Sunday I attended a Mormon meeting. Obviously I cannot place in the public domain specific evidence which I may later be required to give in court, but in order to facilitate general understanding I have permission to point to certain existing narratives and documents from the last five years, which are already part of the internet community’s record:
 To start with, this excerpt from my journal for 11th January 2009 details the final tithing settlement I attended:
Bishop A came at about 6pm to see Diana and me. He is a good man, and I like him, but he appears somewhat overawed by his responsibility, and even a little frightened of dealing with me. The three of us talked, and I was open about my feelings. I would have shared my specific concerns if he had allowed it. He said he feels I am on the edge of apostasy, and warned me not to speak to others about what I have discovered through my research, or he might have to take action against me, which he didn’t want to do because he admires me, and remembers how I welcomed him when he first moved into the ward. He hoped I would choose to become “a wise old owl”, someone who would learn to say not much at church if I knew differently from the rest of the congregation, and he hoped that what I did say would be aimed at strengthening people’s faith. I said I was not so sure that playing that role was on either my agenda or the Lord’s. I told him I really need further guidance and answers to my questions. He sympathised but admitted he knows really very little about church history and the things I have encountered, and did not want to hear any details. I told him that as far as I was concerned apostasy is not the act of confronting history, but is more commonly encountered in the kind of idolatry which places priesthood leaders on pedestals, so that their actions may never be questioned.
I decided then and there that I really can no longer associate with any of that carry-on. I simply cannot un-know what I know, and I cannot pretend; to do so would be a recipe for an implosion of the soul. I confess I am a little hurt at hearing that the Bishop wouldn’t trust me as I am “on the precipice of apostasy”, but those are only words to describe matters from his limited perspective. He told me some obvious things I have long known, like the church is not perfect, and no man in it is. That is self-evident from the history, but that isn’t the problem. I wish they would stop covering up. I just wish they would say it from the stand more often, and that the church would fess up to its besmirched history and repent like any decent organisation would do if it genuinely did stand for truth. Bp A could not answer me when I asked why the Lord’s church deals in lies, as it does. He would not discuss any historical anomalies with me. I could tell he was afraid of finding out what I know, and so the long and the short of it is that he cannot and will not be able to assist me.
We had tithing settlement. I am a full tithe payer at present, but I am seriously considering stopping that, as I feel the money is being used to mislead, and should be put to better use.
 After more than 37 years of being a full tithe payer I cancelled my standing order later that same month. I continued to live what I considered to be a good and moral life, but my attendance at church of necessity also dropped off, and by 2010 it was a rarity for me to attend at all. When I did go it was to support my son or his family. One such occasion was on 25th April 2010, when I recorded:
The sacrament meeting was mostly a dirge. In fact Diana said to me, “it’s boring but at least it’s not controversial”, as if to reassure me. Afterwards Bro. B, (our new home teacher now that I am off the bishop’s own list), walked out with me to the car, and chatted with me in the car park. We have known each other for more than 25 years, and he is someone I truly respect. I told him I was happy to speak with him but warned him that I might be taking him into topic areas he doesn’t like. He said that I should have had someone to talk to. I told him I was told 15 months ago by Bp A that I must not speak outside my family to anyone about my feelings, upon pain of facing disciplinary action, but more recently he had relented and said I should be very selective if I talk to friends about my concerns. I said I don’t blame Bp A for leaving me alone because he is inexperienced and doesn’t want to know these things himself.
I told Bro. B I care only about the truth, and will support it wherever I find it. If I find I am in error I will change and admit it, even after 38 years, and it seems he is of the same mind, so with these caveats duly issued we will meet and talk soon.
He also said that he thinks our experience with certain leaders in recent years hasn’t helped. I said that what I am presently feeling should not be seen as the cumulative effect of indifferent leadership, although that experience has certainly encouraged me to question all things. We had a brief discussion about what he termed “the kinks in Joseph Smith”. I told him frankly that I didn’t care whether JS had 33 wives, or even if he, (Bro. B), did, because that is between them and the Lord, but I do care about the foundational claims of the church. If the Lord spoke to JS in the First Vision as reported and taught, then that is all that matters in determining that JS was the Lord’s mouthpiece.
He told me he is not worried about talking with me because he knows the gospel is true. I told him that I also know a gospel which is true, but its truthfulness doesn’t automatically mean that the institutional church’s claims are founded, and it is these which are under scrutiny. It has taken strength, not weakness, to reach a point at which I am strong enough to be able to admit I have been wrong on some things. When you find out you are wrong there are only two choices: admit it and change, or deny it and pretend. I cannot pretend. I said I would be happy to be part of “all this” again, (gesturing towards the chapel), if truth were Master, which would require some major changes, but until that time I would not be able to be involved, as it would require pretence on my part. Bro. B finished as he had started by saying that he wanted to meet with me, because he likes me, and wants to allow me to air my feelings, not because he is required to do so, but simply as a friend, and without any agenda of re-converting me.
Unfortunately the promise of a more open dialogue which this conversation had seemingly offered did not materialise. Some months later we learned indirectly that Bro. B’s wife had been instrumental in dissuading him from getting involved. I do not know her reasons, but it was by now apparent that avoidance of open discussion about historical concerns was fast becoming the norm within modern LDS culture.
It was perhaps an opportunity missed, but in any case the next 18 months proved to be a time of poignant personal reflection. Our second son, aged 28, unexpectedly died in September 2010. The trauma of his passing caused me to analyse not only my deepest inner feelings, but also the past actions of my life which had served to frame and direct his short mortal experience. With a very tender heart, there were certain things I deeply regretted. One of those was my acquiescence in the racist attitudes of the church I had joined back in 1971. The church had changed its policy regarding Blacks and the priesthood in 1978, but it had never actually apologised for the racism which had become part of my worldview for at least two decades. I had had several Black friends over the years, and while I trust I never actually showed it, in my time I had felt them to be spiritually inferior because of the teachings I had received during the first seven years of my membership. My moral antennae had told me that they were my equals in every way, but the church had taught me something else, and I had of course believed the church. I needed to apologise, and I was unwilling to wait longer on the church to act for all of its members, and so I decided to do it unilaterally. I knew it might upset some LDS members who were friends, but it was important to me to express my regret: and so in March 2012 I published online “A Public Apology”, http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/apology
My younger daughter, Sophia, publicised fairly widely what I had done. This immediately drew fire from some conservative quarters of the LDS community, including from some members of my own ward, who decided to make a complaint to the Stake President about my initiative. Soon afterwards I received an invitation to meet for a discussion with the SP, Pres. J., and also Bp A. The executive secretary’s email explained:
“They have invited you to meet with them to discuss your personal thoughts and feelings about your testimony, the Church and its teachings. In recent weeks a number of members of the… Ward have expressed concern about a message posted on Facebook relating to the 1978 declaration by the President of the Church that all worthy male members should be entitled to receive the priesthood and have access to the associated ordinances and blessings. The item was posted by Sophia and accessed by many who are Facebook friends. From a later communication that appeared on Facebook, there is a suggestion that you may have had some personal involvement in writing the statement.”
Sophia and I duly met with Pres J. and Bp A. on 25th April 2012. We conceded no ground over the Public Apology, and stated that it was the moral right of any individual to apologise for himself, regardless of what others might think of it. That was not challenged and was all dealt with in two minutes. Sophia, later that same evening, summarised the rest of the meeting as follows:
It went really well. I think they’re pretty confused as to why we might want to remain cultural Mormons, for our love of the people and for the identity that it offers, despite rejecting the doctrines of the church. But Pres. J was very accommodating, letting us discuss some issues that we had, and nodded along, even volunteered some issues himself (e.g. he brought up polygamy of his own accord, which allowed Dad an opportunity to discuss historical records of polyandry, etc.).
We were well listened to, and there were a couple of times when there were some shocked expressions and quiet moments, in particular regarding the Book of Abraham, which I’m not sure even Pres. J. was aware of (we showed him copies of the original papyrus against the BoA’s image and the image of Anubis and the mummy, which Dad ran them through, said that it was being taught in schools now, and was available in children’s books from the local library – I showed them a children’s book from the library with Anubis and the canopic jars – and I explained how I’d travelled to Egypt and sought out these things in person, at the Egyptian museum, papyrus museum, a man who studies comparative religions, etc.). So I don’t know what will be the outcome of that, but it was interesting to see and hear the reaction, at least.
Pres. J. said he understood Dad’s predicament, and expressed it was a very difficult problem for him to have to deal with. He said he’d need to go away to think and pray about what to do, followed by an hilarious moment when he said “And I want you to go away… [and think about what had been discussed]”, whereupon Dad, Bishop A and myself all burst out laughing, and Dad said “I bet you do! Where would you like me to go? Onto Pres. M’s patch perhaps?”, whereupon Pres. J. laughed and said “No, I wouldn’t wish that on the man”. One of the few light moments of the evening, but a positive experience, I think.
Dad feels Pres. J. will have to go away and talk to the Area Presidency. He was obviously quite concerned by the thought of Dad publishing more papers, and the media involvement should disciplinary action be taken against Dad for telling the truth.
The nice thing was that Pres. J. did tell Dad that he knew that Dad was a man of integrity and honesty, and he respects him for that, regardless of whether we have different attitudes towards the doctrines of the Church. So that was really good: after years of Dad being badmouthed in certain quarters, accused of being corrupted or unrighteous, it was good that this was said, and Dad was very grateful for that sentiment. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, I suppose.
 On 12th June 2012 I received an email from the Stake President. It was couched in friendly terms, which I appreciated, informing me: “Having had a little time to reflect on the recent meeting… I would welcome the opportunity to meet again to talk about your feelings towards the Church and its teachings.”
I responded with similar cordiality, and an appointment on 12th July was arranged for us to continue our discussion. Before that meeting I decided that in order to be fair I should provide some academic findings which fundamentally challenged the LDS position on one important issue. I did not wish to force this information upon Pres. J. against his will, and so attached a file to my email, leaving him to decide whether or not he would look at the information. I wrote:
“Some time ago I prepared some notes on how I felt about one particular issue which deeply affects my understanding of things LDS. I drafted it because a couple of well-intentioned persons had asked me to share my concerns with them. You are the first however actually to receive it. The document comes with a caveat, which is that it does contain information which I believe would severely challenge anyone in their existing LDS belief.
It is something of a catch-22, because if you are looking to get a good handle on how I might present my case, you will need to have a working understanding of the contents, and yet that understanding might possibly lead to you being in my position yourself before long. So I attach it with that warning, and it’s your choice. I have always taken the view myself that truth cannot be harmed by investigation, but that no longer appears to be the orthodox LDS outlook, and you may take a different position. If your current assignment is merely to monitor rather than to engage with the root causes of my dilemma, I fully accept that you may choose not to read it.
As I say, you are the first to receive this, so to date I have not shared it with anyone else, and only with you after issuing fair warning. I’d like to emphasise that point in order to establish that this document is not in itself evidence of actionable LDS apostasy, but rather is just an indication of the awkward juxta-positioning of scholarly evidence, (i.e. demonstrable truth), with my allegedly heretical stance. This will be the focal point perhaps of further discussion about my standing.
I look forward to seeing you on 12th. It’s a pity it has to be about this though.”
Pres. J responded four days later:
Hi Chris – thanks for confirming the date and time. I look forward to seeing you at 10.00 on 12.07 at your home. I appreciate you sending the document but have chosen not to open at this time.
The meeting on 12th July 2012 seemed really to be more of a social visit than anything else, and passed pleasantly without anything of note being resolved. That was the last time that my feelings were discussed with the Stake President. It was apparent that he was not prepared to engage in the subject areas where I needed support and answers. Although that was not helpful to me, I respected him for taking that position, since he was after all just a Stake President, with a family and other everyday concerns, and not a General Authority who was paid to represent the church.
 It was now becoming very apparent that I would need to take my concerns to a higher level of church authority, since my bishop, home teacher, and stake president had all, in one way or another, been unable to assist me. I knew though, that any letter sent to the Area Presidency or other General Authority would, as a matter of routine, be returned to my Stake President to deal with, and he had already chosen not to become involved with the issues. I therefore considered how I might actually be heard by the Area Presidency. It occurred to me that an open letter, published on the internet, and also posted in hard copy to the office of the Area Presidency, would bring to their attention my questions, which I knew were also the questions of many others. In choosing this method, I felt it would be in the LDS Church’s public interest to respond in some meaningful way, even if it was only in the form of instructions conveyed to me through my Stake President. I duly published my first Open Letter to the Europe Area Presidency on 28th August 2012.
 This was ignored, and so a few weeks later, on 4th October 2012, I gave them a second opportunity to respond, when I published my second Open Letter to the Europe Area Presidency.
 To my disappointment this too was ignored. My father, aged 89, felt this discourtesy was not befitting men who claimed to serve God, and so took it upon himself to write to the Area Presidency in an Open Letter of his own on 29th October 2012.
 When that was also ignored, it became clear that the policy was to avoid answering these serious questions. However, one last opportunity was extended to the Europe Area Presidency on 3rd December 2012, when twelve British members of the church, (including my father and my two daughters), wrote a further open letter urging them to answer my two earlier communications:
 When this was also ignored it confirmed the opinion of many observers that not only could the Area Presidency not answer, but they were probably under specific instructions from higher up the hierarchy not to do so. The inference was that it was well understood at the highest levels of church authority that there were insurmountable problems with LDS truth claims, and that the policy was to disguise that fact from the tithe-paying membership at all costs. The twelve British signatories next published a Proclamation to The First Presidency & Quorum of The Twelve on 21st December 2012.
 I supported their initiative by adding a heartfelt letter of my own two days later, addressed to the same governing bodies of the LDS church.
Needless to say, no answers were forthcoming to any of these attempts to engage the LDS church leadership in a constructive, honest dialogue, and so the possibility of developing greater understanding and a working relationship between those who claimed to be Jesus Christ’s representatives, and those who incrementally had felt deceived and rejected, was dismissed out of hand by the former.
Every avenue of enquiry had been tried from the lowest to the highest authority, and all had been found to be lacking in ability and willingness to deal with the situation. Our experiences has not been in isolation. It is now apparent that this has been the experience of others also, when they have sought substantive answers to their reasonable questions from a church which had demanded so much from them as followers.
Avoiding the difficult questions has not solved anything. A policy which conveyed only contempt for truth seekers, inevitably also ensured a rising tide of dissent within the ranks. It is unsurprising that respect has all but evaporated, and alternative, less conciliatory approaches are now resulting; Tom Phillips’ private criminal action against Thomas Spencer Monson, (as sole owner of the LDS church corporation), which was initiated in London on 31st January 2014, should perhaps be viewed as just the first of many which will keep recurring until genuine openness, accountability, and inclusiveness are demonstrated within the LDS organisation.
POST SCRIPT, 3rd March 2015:
A further Open Letter was sent to the Europe Area Presidency. See
Dear First Presidency & Quorum of Twelve,
I am sorry I am writing this letter.
That is not an apology; it is a plain statement of fact. I sincerely am very sorry. It is regrettable that such a letter as this needs to be written at all.
However, when bishops and stake presidents find themselves unable to answer members’ basic concerns, and the Europe Area Presidency pointedly refuses to respond to crucial questions about the church’s foundational claims, it becomes obvious that something is very worryingly amiss. In such circumstances, what other option is there for troubled truth-seekers, than to refer the same unanswered questions to the fifteen men who are periodically sustained as prophets, seers and revelators, and who are sometimes reverentially termed “the living oracles”?
These matters are profoundly important, potentially influencing the daily lives of millions. Accordingly, answers are required from the governing body of the church. Whatever apologists, (self-appointed or otherwise), may have to say on the subject is irrelevant, unless of course, you, as that governing body, decide to endorse their ideas officially. In other words, a response needs to come directly from the horse’s mouth, and not from the mouth of just any aspiring stable-boy currently left to sweep up; stable-boys are hired and fired, and so their words carry no weight or authority.
You will, I assume, have some familiarity with my two Open Letters which were published earlier this year. If not, then they may be found here:
or alternatively here:
For the sake of brevity, I will not at this point repeat the full content of those letters, but ask for your considered responses when you have read them. Please answer honestly and openly, and please do so without further undue delay.
We have clearly arrived at an important crossroads in the evolution of the church, and history will almost certainly not judge you kindly if the content of those letters continues to be ignored. They represent the questions of many thousands already conversant with the uncensored historical information which is increasingly available to inquiring minds.
In the UK it is becoming apparent that we are nearing tipping point. The proclamation just published by twelve British members is the clearest evidence that disengagement is well underway. They represent thousands in this land who might now be properly described as “closet doubters”.
And who is to blame for that doubt? Are the members themselves culpable, or the local leaders perhaps? Hardly so. Those now leaving in significant numbers had, in many cases, been stalwart defenders of the faith for many years; they are not luke-warm converts of a few weeks’ duration, who have turned away for lack of understanding of gospel principles or church government. The current local leaders in many cases find themselves placed in the unenviable position of trying to advise men and women who are more knowledgeable than they themselves are about the issues. It is not the bishops’ and stake presidents’ faults that they soon find themselves in retreat, incapable of answering and unable to help. Blame for this situation rests squarely with the institutional church itself.
In an age of rapid information exchange, the practice of serving up sanitized history and empty spiritual placebos to the overworked and under-valued members, is without doubt poisoning the whole body of the church. The physician can hardly blame the patient for this perilous mis-judgment.
The tide is rising rapidly, and millions more who have yet to awaken to the uncomfortable facts, (usually because they have been actively discouraged from looking for them by church leaders and teachers), will before long also find out. And then the fairytale must give way to an era of post-fairytale reality. That means pain, and fear, and a sense of the deepest emptiness for many who are undeserving of such traumas, but it is a process which cannot be halted, because surely the God of Truth has willed it this way.
I am reporting this to you, but presumably you are already more than cognisant of these enormous challenges, and so you will also understand that this situation leaves you with a plain choice: either to continue to lead the people in a state of perpetual denial and ignorance, or to teach them to live by a new-found faith and trust in objectivity, which will permit truth to lead us where it will. It ought not to be too difficult for men of real integrity, men of God, to make an enlightened choice. Have we not sung together many times: “Do what is right, let the consequence follow”? The time is upon us when trust in that admonition needs to be expressed both in word and deed.
It is essential above all else to acknowledge that a brazen denial of the past has never been true faith, but just an avoidance of reality; and stubbornness has never been genuine strength, but just arrogance in disguise. This nettle before you must be grasped; this bullet must be bitten. It is for you to act now if you do not wish to stand condemned, not by history alone, but by all honest men and women throughout the world who value truth.
Take for example the case of the Book of Abraham. Scholars have been in no doubt about its true provenance for well over 40 years. However, the church hierarchy has in effect concealed the known facts from the tithe-paying membership. Why? Why are such vital historical discoveries not taught to the members as a matter of honour and integrity? Why is the myth of the Abrahamic papyrus still perpetuated even though it is proven to be false? After all, we read in church-approved manuals: “When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.” (p. 181 Priesthood & Relief Society manual, see http://lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-31-honesty?lang=eng).
Why then the deafening silence over something so radically important to the issue of belief in the prophetic office of Joseph Smith? Brethren, as the manual properly affirms, this kind of concealment is dishonesty; it cannot be called anything else. That fact alone is deeply distressing, but there is worse, for when such dishonesty is coupled with soliciting donations from a membership which lives in fear of spiritual condemnation if it fails to comply, it might perhaps be argued that institutional dishonesty has crossed a line and has become deception with intent to defraud. Or at any rate that is what we would probably call it in the UK. That reflects shamefully on all of us, and so I urge you to address this issue, or risk your names being forever tainted.
In the UK, most members pay their donations with added tax relief, and that resulting relief is additionally solicited by the church. This means that if deception with intent to defraud were ever to be proved, the long list of victims would not be limited just to the donors, but might also include the UK government, and therefore, in some way, each citizen of the UK. Assuming that UK offerings annually amount to a conservative £50m, it seems likely that the UK government is surrendering £10m per annum to the church as a corollary of the process. How much, therefore, has the average UK citizen unwittingly “donated” to the church over the last 40 years? This must be viewed as a potentially significant issue.
For most of us though, the deepest concern goes well beyond the earnings we have handed over under questionable circumstances. It is the devaluing of our standing in the eyes of our families and friends, which is most injurious to us, and it seems to occur whenever we place honesty above ecclesiastical loyalties.
I have a son I love and cherish as much as anything God has given me. I know he loves me too, but following my sincere attempt to be open with him about real church history, he concluded I had “lost the spirit”, and that I was no longer the person I had once been, the one he had always looked up to for advice and moral support. That wounded me deeply.
Why would he take such a view? Am I less honest, less charitable, less moral today than I was when I taught him at an early age to “follow the brethren”, and encouraged him to prepare to serve a mission for the church? Not at all. I am sure I am as much the person I ought to be now, as I ever have been. I have not really changed, even though my understanding of reality has. His respect for me has waned because you, (and those who formerly occupied your seats at General Conference), have consistently failed us. It is not his fault that he is afraid to look at the historical evidences which have opened my eyes. Nor is it his fault that he lives in fear of losing his own precious little eternal family if he should discover that my concerns are actually well founded. You have taught him throughout his life to fear the consequences of discovering the truth, and now he and we suffer daily for it.
It grieves me to know that he undoubtedly lives in a state of constant sorrow over what he sees as the disaffection of his parents and his siblings from the only divinely approved vehicle of salvation there is in this world. His life is needlessly streaked with unhappiness because of the fear of uncorrelated spiritual discovery you have sown in him since he first attended Primary. The demonstrably false tenet that God will not permit you, the Brethren, to lead the church astray has insidiously interpolated itself between us and his full trust, and so we are all condemned to suffer, as he doggedly tries to live an existence of false hope, vainly longing for things to be as they once were, but not knowing, (and, through fear, not wanting to know), the scale of the problems you have kept from him.
Having striven always to be honest with my fellow men, and having constantly held up that kind of example to our children, I find that a hidden wedge, (sometimes referred to by others as the “invisible elephant in the room”), has now resulted, and I am sure it is because he cannot prevent himself from measuring my worth by my unwillingness to pay you lip-service allegiance. As I no longer feel able to be supportive of your chosen ethos, he perceives that the fault is in me, for he has been thoroughly persuaded that you would not lead him astray. This is ironic on multiple levels, isn’t it?
We are more fortunate than many however, who, finding themselves in similar circumstances, are no longer even able to bring themselves to speak civilly to one another, for so great is the animosity arising from this issue of leadership infallibility. Tragically, Voltaire has been proven correct many times over in his observation that “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices”.
Many LDS families have suffered and continue to suffer such injustices because of this infallibility belief first promulgated by Wilford Woodruff. It is time therefore to de-commission that pernicious and destructive teaching, which is currently instrumental in destroying so many kin relationships and friendships throughout the world.
There is a great need instead to re-enthrone the liberating principle of honest inquiry that all may freely discover the facts for themselves. This has been advocated by various leaders in the past, such as James E. Talmage, who stated:
“The man who cannot listen to an argument which opposes his views either has a weak position or is a weak defender of it. No opinion that cannot stand discussion or criticism is worth holding… In general it is true that nothing which cannot stand up under discussion or criticism is worth defending”
and J. Reuben Clark, who said:
“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed”
and Hugh B. Brown, who observed:
“Only error fears freedom of expression.”
This current “control neurosis” should cease. It is time to do as Jesus would do, and teach a gospel of inclusiveness once more, which emphasizes that nobody should ever be considered a lesser person for pursuing ultimate truth, even if their quest leads them in due course to the conclusion that such truth is not found within Mormonism.
As you consider the humble origins of this church, and of Joseph Smith junior its founder, on this his 207th birthday, please don’t allow yourselves to be deceived into thinking that the finery and sophistry purchased with accumulated wealth in recent times, will ever be sufficient to cover up the sins of the past. The eventual cost of misleading the people at this crossroads would prove far greater than any price you would pay for championing transparency and inclusiveness. And if your courage begins to fail you as you stand upon this momentous brink, then please exercise full faith, and do not attempt to count the cost as you cast off the worn and torn rags of misrepresentation which, to be truthful, have adorned Joseph Smith’s church throughout its history.
Provided your intentions are worthy ones, we, the many disillusioned members, are ready to help in every possible way if you will only begin to speak to us, and also listen to what we have to say, just as Elder Holland promised he would do on BBC television earlier this year.
However, your desire for realignment must be full and sincere. Half-truths will no longer do, for they are also half-falsehoods, and will be found out. The searing light of truth must be shone upon every concern. Full disclosure is the only hope there is that the patient may be healed of his otherwise terminal condition.
The time has come; this moment of opportunity may never return.
I am in my 90th year; forgive me therefore if my senses are dulled, but I have always understood that courtesy is the watchword of our Church. Why therefore do we still await responses to my son Christopher’s open letters addressed to you on 28th August and 4th October?
My tired old mind can only surmise that your silence is either [a] sorrowful, [b] scornful, or [c] dependent upon the approaching fortune, or otherwise, of Brother Romney, with the election’s outcome determining the tone of your eventual reply. It has even crossed my mind that possibly you may not wish to risk jeopardizing electoral prospects by responding publicly prior to 6th November.
Should this all be fancy on my part, remember that I am in my dotage, and so, perhaps, may be allowed to muse that if the said Brother does not triumph, then a reply, if and when it comes, will nevertheless be couched in measured and considerate terms…
Lest we should meet a coterie
Of Danites at our door;
With nasal twangs, and muffled bangs…
And we shall be no more!
Yours, in continued patience,
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:
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.
The following letter was sent by the Europe Area Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to its Stake Presidents and Bishops, and various other leaders in April 2012. It was sent in response to the increase in levels of disaffection of members who were encountering the problematic history of the church through the medium of the internet. The letter was soon afterwards leaked to rank and file members and ex-members, and became a public document. It is here reproduced, together with my response in the form of an open letter to the Europe Area Presidency:
Dear Europe Area Presidency, While your letter to local leaders of the church, dated 10th April 2012, was not originally intended for public dissemination, “the technology and modern communication tools of our day”, as you refer to them in that letter, have swiftly rendered this a widely read public document.
As such it is clearly deserving of a constructive response from the intended end-beneficiaries, and I, (being one of a rising tide of long established members who have in recent years been deeply affected by an array of distressing historical disclosures), now offer the following thoughts in the hope that the sense of wounded trust may be positively addressed.
Firstly, I applaud the encouragement you have given to local leaders to “work patiently and lovingly” with those of us who, more often than not through devotion to the church and its history, have had our eyes opened to challenging historical facts. How much better and in tune this is than certain regrettable past attitudes, which sometimes labelled those who had discovered uncomfortable historical facts as “unrighteous”, or as “having lost the spirit”, or worse still as “anti-Mormon”.
Whenever the term “anti-Mormon” is employed in an attempt to disqualify those whose avowed purpose is “pro-truth” and “pro-history”, then surely the church is upon very uncertain moral ground. Please, therefore, may I ask you to discourage that kind of name calling which can only cause further damage, and please do what you are able to reignite among the membership that same spirit of enquiry and quest for truth which a couple of generations ago was so aptly articulated by President J. Reuben Clark when he stated: ‘If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.’
Perhaps also we could have clarification about whether we, as Latter-day Saints still believe, (as I was taught and believed when I was converted to the church over forty years ago), that truth is better than riches because it will set us free? Do we still place value upon the title Truth which the Saviour took to himself? Can it justifiably still be claimed that truth is the common currency of the LDS church in 2012? If so, then surely there must be a respectable place within the LDS church for those of us who love transparency enough to speak it, and share it, and stand for it, even though some of us have hitherto been despised and misunderstood for doing so.
Sadly, too many faithful advocates of historical truth have been shunned and discarded over the years, simply because they cared enough to question that which, although not of their own making or choosing, was nevertheless right there before them. What else could they do if they valued their integrity? It has long been a puzzle to me how we, as a church, might teach that the glory of God is intelligence, while, at the same time promoting the idea that when it comes to historical realities, ignorance is accounted a virtue. This, surely, is a contradiction which needs to be reconciled in the eyes of a quizzical world.
The concern extends beyond routine circumvention of intellectual discomfort however, to the weightier matter of commissioned institutional misrepresentation. The charge we, as Latter-day Saints of all levels of understanding, must confront is that the church has actively sought to replace authentic narratives of its history with deceitful mythologies.
For example, all of the contemporary accounts of the translation of the Book of Mormon refer to Joseph Smith using a seer- or peep-stone nestled inside his hat, into which he gazed for inspiration as he dictated the text, while the plates themselves were typically not present in the room. This process was of course an obvious extension of Joseph’s previous occultist practice of “scrying” during his treasure hunting days, (or “glass-looking” as the court papers referred to it when he was convicted of that misdemeanour in 1826). We have very detailed and reliable accounts of the actual translation process followed, and so a growing number of historically informed members feel concern that the church attempts in its publications to promote a different story without foundation in historical reality; these show Joseph apparently translating the gold plates by studying and touching them. Is this portrayal not disingenuous, given that we have a clear knowledge of how the text was actually produced, and also a tacit admission that the real history is perceived by church leaders to be an embarrassment?
It is disconcerting when our children alert us to the true facts of this crucial event in Mormon history after watching an episode of South Park. The discovery that the creators of South Park place a higher value on historical authenticity than do the Brethren creates spiritual shock-waves from which some members never recover. And may I state the obvious here? This faith-shaking disparity between what the missionaries are trained to teach, and what the world already knows about our spiritual heritage, can hardly be blamed upon those members who accidentally stumble upon it, or on their children, or on the creators of South Park; the burden of responsibility for the misrepresentation rests firmly upon the shoulders of the Brethren, who allowed, and apparently encouraged it to be introduced into LDS popular culture. It is a sin of commission no less. Furthermore it is most distasteful to suggest, as some do, that because the sin was committed by the Brethren, it is authorised by Jesus Christ, unless of course they are suggesting that the Saviour is a deceiver.
Is it not sadly ironic therefore that your letter advises local leaders that “some choose to dwell on half-truths or inaccurate information regarding the church, its history, or its leaders”? That statement is undoubtedly true, but the accusing finger is readily shown by numerous examples, such as the one already mentioned, to be pointing in quite the wrong direction. Nor is it enough to assert, as you have, that the church does not hide historical facts, when it may so easily be demonstrated that it has done so in the past, and continues to do so even today. To make such a claim is just adding a further layer of untruth to that which already exists, and will not accomplish any honourable purpose. How is this practice worthy of God’s servants?
Might I humbly suggest that some soul searching and realignment with reality is urgently needed? It is certain that the regaining of spiritual equilibrium, which your letter laudably aims to accomplish, is going to take a great deal of constrained dialogue, empathy, understanding, and, where necessary, concession. Only when truth is acknowledged as sovereign will equilibrium ever be regained. Inclusiveness is a very positive first step in this vital process though, so thank you for offering some hope in that respect. May I comment, that my own Stake President has to date been commendable in his sensitive attempts to understand and handle my case? It is a pity that others in a similar position, I am informed, have done rather less well in dealing with these challenges.
We may of course ascribe much of the present situation to human failing. We might ask: is it wrong to fail if we acknowledge failure, and try again? Do we ever truly repent and learn when we cover our sin? It seems to me that we do not, and what applies to the individual, also applies to the institution.
Many wrestle in their spiritual progress with the behavioural problems of past leaders. They cannot understand why it was necessary, for example, for Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to marry and have relations with other men’s wives, particularly, (in the case of Joseph), when his own wife was not even aware of several such relationships. They also baulk at the idea of an angel threatening Joseph with a sword if he did not enter into clandestine polygamous unions with numerous women, and they cannot begin to see the relevance of his secret marriage unions with teenage girls, some as young as fourteen. That kind of behaviour just does not resonate with their concept of what a prophet is, or ever has been. If you insist, as your letter does, that Joseph Smith was not a fallen prophet, then those who have become disillusioned and deeply offended by such disturbing disclosures, will need a full and honest explanation from you, which goes a long way beyond counsel to read the scriptures and pray. Perhaps the Brethren might follow that counsel themselves and seek the necessary inspiration about how the membership may be taught the historical truths, contextualising Joseph’s own fallibility. Nothing less will begin to win back a good number of members who presently feel disaffected for this reason.
However, even the behavioural anomalies of past leaders, is not the most serious concern causing disaffection. For some years I for one have taken the view that it matters far more what God did than what Joseph is recorded as having done. That Joseph was fallible, fallen even, is ultimately acceptable to the believer, for he was a man; however the scriptures, or Standard Works, are at the very foundation of LDS doctrine and practice. We, as members, are duty bound to acknowledge them as the mind and will of God, and as the means available to us for measuring spiritual truth. I ask you in all sincerity therefore to explain publicly an anomaly which apparently undermines the very authority of the LDS scriptures in the minds of many. The reason I ask for a public explanation is so that all may learn where the half-truths as well as the untruths may be identified in this matter.
I refer principally to the deeply disturbing anomalies encountered in the Book of Abraham, for they above all else have caused my own uncritical acceptance of LDS authority to unravel. I wish it had not been so, but nevertheless that is how it was for me, and once again, please remember that the circumstances were not of my choosing. In fact, like many others, I only became aware of the problem because I was attempting to defend, not attack, the position of the church. I and thousands like me now need a credible explanation from the Brethren if any degree of our support is to be regained.
You are probably already familiar with the concerns I shall raise, and also perhaps with some of the unconvincing apologetic responses which have been offered. In brief however, those concerns may be summed up as follows:
Even overlooking the anomaly, upon which historians are agreed, that the Chaldeans did not exist in the time of Abraham, or for several hundred years afterwards, how can such a mis-reading of one simple glyph leave any margin for doubt that Joseph Smith got it all very wrong in this case? Does it not take wilful blindness, and a high degree of spiritual contortionism to overcome plain common sense and believe otherwise? Are we really expected to believe that God, who gave each of us sufficient intelligence to reason and make sense of our environment, would require us in this instance not to use that same intelligence? In order to demonstrate faith, is it really necessary to practice such denial, or have faith and denial become one and the same?
For those of us who utilised native intelligence to renounce as hypocrisy those worldly systems and values around us when we turned our backs as converts on the world, and joined the LDS church, is it now reasonable to expect us to lay aside those same powers in considering this issue? Is it not more authentic, and pleasing to God, just to acknowledge the simple conclusion that Joseph may have tried but he failed? For me and for many others there is far greater peace in that course of action than in any amount of dissembling in a vain attempt to defend what is, and always will be indefensible. Can you or anyone, in the full glare of reason and reality, say I and others are wrong to feel as we do?
Brethren, where are the half-truths? Where are the falsehoods, and the false claims when the facts are properly and fairly illuminated?
It appears to me an impossibility in the light of the foregoing to disagree with the conclusion of one Egyptologist who remarked concerning the papyri: “Joseph Smith’s interpretation of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.” (James H. Breasted, Ph.D., Haskell Oriental Museum, University of Chicago)
I have not mentioned Joseph Smith’s interpretations of the other two Facsimiles, which are just as profoundly flawed; nor have I touched here upon any of the other scriptures revealed by him, but for now this one example will suffice. Please explain, with reference to the Book of Abraham, and the detailed evidence we now have concerning its provenance, how one may remain in harmony with Truth, and at the same time continue to believe that Joseph Smith was inspired.
You speak in your letter of providing the best possible answers. That is good, because those answers are what I and the rest of mankind deserve to hear, and we sincerely look forward to your response.
Please do not exclude me or others because we cannot agree with the position you feel forced to defend by virtue of your callings. Please accept us as those who wish for truth, wherever it may be found, to be upheld in the end as victorious over error. I agree with you that faith, (in truth at least), will always be a conscious choice, which is why I care enough to write and invite you to demonstrate the truthfulness of this matter to the world. Faith in that which is shown to be untrue however, is not worthy of the name. The apostle Orson Pratt, (writing with concern to the Book of Mormon, but his words may equally be applied to the case of the Book of Abraham), stated it well:
“If, after a rigid examination, it be found an imposition, it should be extensively published to the world as such; the evidences and arguments upon which the imposture was detected, should be clearly and logically stated, that those who have been sincerely yet unfortunately deceived, may perceive the nature of the deception, and be reclaimed, and that those who continue to publish the delusion, may be exposed and silenced, not by physical force, neither by persecutions, bare assertions, nor ridicule, but by strong and powerful arguments–by evidences adduced from scripture and reason. Such, and such only, should be the weapons employed to detect and overthrow false doctrines–to reclaim mankind from their errors, to expose religious enthusiasm, and put to silence base and wicked impostors.”
So, please provide your best answers, (even if those answers convey a sentiment of doubt), and please extend an honest hand of friendship to me and the many in my position, opening up a constructive dialogue with us, so that all may see that we are able to work together from here onwards in promoting truth and discarding past errors.
Sincerely and faithfully,
PART THREE: A Disrespectful Racket.
For most early British converts the painful discovery that they had not been fully informed concerning the true nature of what Fanny Stenhouse called “practical Mormonism”, did not take place until they arrived in America, by which time there was little realistic opportunity of turning back. However, some British members did catch a glimpse of things as they actually were through their close association with the American leaders of the church in Great Britain, and how they privately conducted themselves.
Samuel Hawthornthwaite was an elder in the Hulme Branch in Manchester in 1850, at a time when the growth of the 19th century British LDS church was nearing its zenith. At that point Cyrus Wheelock, (who had been a close friend and confidant of Joseph Smith at the time of Smith’s assassination in 1844), was called to preside over the Manchester Conference, (i.e. District), and Hawthornthwaite kindly offered accommodation in his home to Elder Wheelock and his English wife, whom he had recently married. An ugly rumour was already in circulation however, (and it was subsequently shown to be true), that Wheelock had another wife or perhaps wives back in America, and so Hawthornthwaite, not wishing to be an accessory to bigamy, privately confronted him about the matter, whereupon Wheelock issued strenuous denials and assurances.
Nevertheless, within a short time complaints arose against Elder Wheelock because of his “making too free with the younger sisters in the country branches”, concerning which conduct, Hawthornthwaite noted, even non-Mormons had begun to comment. Wheelock’s response was to deny all accusations, and to take disciplinary action against those members who had dared to accuse him of such predations. Continues Hawthornthwaite: “When he had been at my house a few months, he persuaded his wife to go and live with her friends at Birmingham, and in her stead, he brought a Miss Dallan, from Newport, where he had been preaching.” This part of the narrative is borne out by the 1851 census of 45 Clare Street, Hulme, in which it was recorded that Mary Ann Dallan, aged 19, a native of Ilfracombe, Devon, was staying with Cyrus H. Whellock (sic), a Gentleman, in the Hawthornthwaite household.
1851 Census enumeration of Samuel & Ann Hawthornthwaite’s household at Hulme.
The Hawthornthwaites were somewhat disconcerted that there appeared to be an inappropriate degree of intimacy between Elder Wheelock and young Sister Dallan, but nevertheless accommodated her as a guest, by altering the household sleeping arrangements. However, Miss Dallan soon affected to be unwell, and took to her bed, asking Wheelock to “lay hands” upon her, (i.e. to give her a priesthood blessing), to ease her sickness. After that Wheelock assured Hawthornthwaite he would sit up and look after the young woman each night. This aroused Sam Hawthornthwaite’s suspicions, until he, his wife and other witnesses one morning observed the couple sleeping together in bed. Mrs Wheelock was privately sent for, and when she arrived in a state of distress, Mrs Hawthornthwaite told her all that had taken place. Wheelock and Miss Dallan were out together at the circus that particular evening until 11.30pm, so were unaware that Mrs Wheelock had arrived in their absence. The couple returned in a state of some jollity, only to be confronted by the wronged wife.
In addition to the act of adultery, Elder Wheelock had also spent an estimated £90 on the wooing of Miss Dallan over the course of six weeks, and that money had come from donations made by the downtrodden members of the Manchester Conference. “He bought her three new dresses… boots, bonnets, ribbons, shawls, pomatums, paints, scents, in fact everything a capricious girl could wish, or an old fool lavish. He took her to the boxes of the Theatre Royal five nights out of six, where he fed her with wine, jellies, cakes, oranges, and the like, to such an extent, that when she emptied her pockets in the morning, there was enough of broken bits to feast my little boy during the day. This he did, while the Saints were starving themselves on his account.” Wheelock was in effect using the widows’ mites to further his own amorous ambitions, and so out of a sense of acute injustice, Hawthornthwaite attempted to hold his Conference President to full account before the church on charges of adultery and extravagance.
However, Wheelock’s reputation for vindictiveness, acquired when he had been previously accused of wrongdoing, was enough to persuade some witnesses to withdraw their evidence, for fear that they would in the process lose their membership, and with it, as they believed, all eternal hope. In the hour of their testing, loyalty appeared more important to them than truth. Even Hawthornthwaite’s branch president, who had previously complained to him that for fourteen years the Americans had been the greatest curse the English members had had to endure, when it really counted bore a hypocritical testimony to a church court, (held over the course of three consecutive evenings), that without servants of the Most High like Wheelock the British would have no salvation available to them. Unsurprisingly, Wheelock denied all the charges, whereupon the presiding officer, Elder Wallace, another American, dismissed the case as unproven, commenting: “I know it is hard to make you Englishmen believe that a servant of the Lord can sleep with a young lady for three weeks, and not commit adultery with her, but it is so.” Undoubtedly, Wallace, like Wheelock, already had knowledge of the secret system of plural marriage which was being practised in America, but it was not until the following year that this was officially revealed as a doctrine and practice of the church, and until then the British members were “protected” from hearing it, unless, of course, they emigrated and witnessed it first-hand.
Cyrus H. Wheelock, one-time friend of Joseph Smith and Manchester Conference President in 1851.
Having been acquitted, Wheelock then set about cutting off from the church all who had opposed him in the hearing, and according to Hawthornthwaite’s record, used his high priestly powers to curse him and his children publicly that they might be cast “as far into Hell, as a pigeon can fly in a day!” Such a volatile outcome was perhaps always likely when an experienced American frontiersman, believing himself to be uniquely authorised of God, encountered a stubborn Englishman, (and a Yorkshireman at that), who had discerned through reasoned observation that he was not. It was not long though before others reached similar conclusions to Hawthornthwaite: when a member by the name of Harrison was excommunicated for fathering an illegitimate child, he protested to the church court: “If you cut me off, you must also cut off Elder Wheelock, for while I was in one bed with one sister, he was in another bed with the other.”
The Mormon elite were permitted some extra degree of latitude apparently. They were their own judges in this land, as no resident British member was at that time authorised to sit in judgment upon them, so their word was effectively the law of the church, and the church, of course, was God’s prescribed means of salvation. Having known, or been personally acquainted with Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others, these men occupied a rarefied position in the gathering of the British people to Zion. Cyrus Wheelock, for example, was the man who had smuggled a pistol into Carthage Jail, Illinois, for Joseph Smith shortly before his death. (Smith and his brother were at the time being held, pending trial, to answer charges of treason, having destroyed the printing press of The Nauvoo Expositor newspaper, which had published details of Smith’s marital or extra-marital excesses.) Wheelock’s conduct was perhaps only in imitation therefore of that of his file leaders, whom he idolised.
Not long after Sam Hawthornthwaite found himself embroiled in troubles over the conduct of Cyrus Wheelock, Fanny Stenhouse received news from her Scottish husband, who was at the time serving a mission in Switzerland, that talk was rife among his American brethren that Brigham Young might be about to announce that the church would adopt the practice of polygamy. There had been rumours which had previously come to her ears, but they had been quickly dismissed as anti-Mormon propaganda. Upon hearing this shocking news therefore, her world fell apart: “I began to realize that the men to whom I had listened with such profound respect, and had regarded as the representatives of God, had been guilty of the most deliberate and unblushing falsehood; and I began to ask myself whether, if they could do this in order to carry out their purpose in one particular, they might not be guilty of deception upon other points? Who could I trust now? For ten years the Mormon Prophets and Apostles had been living in Polygamy at home, while abroad they vehemently denied it, and spoke of it as a deadly sin. This was a painful awakening to me; we had all of us been betrayed.”
Her sentiments so eloquently recorded for posterity in those words echoed the thoughts of many of the British members at the time, and when the official announcement duly came, many began to turn away from Mormonism in the British Isles. The decline in membership from 1852 onwards, accompanied by public hostility shown to Mormons, was a feature for the rest of the century.
The real disgrace though, was that so many devout British converts had already been encouraged to commit so much on trust to a cause about which they actually knew so very little. As a matter of policy, they had been deliberately deprived of full and accurate reports by their American leaders, and this had been done in order to elicit from them the kind of life-changing commitment, from which most inevitably later found themselves unable to retreat.
If the challenges of being a British Mormon had been significant before the shock of the polygamy announcement in 1852, they suddenly became much fiercer. Mormonism had previously been an object of ridicule in Britain, but afterwards became a target for hatred and despising. The following excerpt from ‘The Bristol Mercury’ in 1857 was a fairly typical illustration of how public disliking for polygamous Mormonism was apt to spill over:
“THE MORMONS AGAIN — Thomas Ingram was charged with being disorderly, and with having thrown a stone at the Mormon Chapel in Milk Street. Sunday night P.S. 91 saw a number of people, of whom the prisoner was one, throwing stones and dirt at the door of the Mormon chapel, and at the people assembled there… Mr Inspector Bell said the row on Sunday night was a very violent one; and that the mob hunted one of the Mormon elders all through the Horsefair. Mr Barrow remarked that however much the magistrates might differ from the Mormonites in their way of pursuing their religious calling —
Mr Herapath (interrupting) — Don’t call it religious. It is not that, and certainly not moral. It is a disgrace to England that we are obliged to permit these people.
Mr Barrow said that might be so, but the peace must not be broken.
Mr Herapath — Certainly not.
Mr Barrow — The magistrates would therefore call on the prisoner to find sureties, himself in £20, and two others in £10 each, to keep the peace for the future.”
A mid-19th century Petty Sessions Court
The public perception from the first had been that ignorance was the reason British people were deceived by Mormonism. “It is surprising”, reported the Worcester correspondent of the ‘Morning Post’ on 4th November 1846, “even to those who know the exceeding lack of education in the rural districts of this county, and its neighbour Herefordshire, that so clumsy an imposture, and so ungainly a set of adepts, could have succeeded so well, as, unhappily, too many wretched dupes can testify.”  The question arises as to whether that “ungainly set of adepts” really believed in the message they were spreading? Undoubtedly the answer to that reasonable question is that they did. The great majority of missionaries by this time were British, and being recent converts themselves, trusted fully in the message they carried. They were the ones who bore the main burden of taking Mormonism to their fellow citizens under the direction of a few American leaders, and they earnestly believed that they were living during the end times of a fallen world.
Some of the earliest converts had met and listened to Apostle Wilford Woodruff during his highly successful mission to England in 1840-1, so it is not difficult to imagine the profound effect on those men and women when they read Woodruff’s words in ‘The Millennial Star’, their own LDS newspaper, in 1845; Woodruff proclaimed: “You live in the day and hour of the judgments of God Almighty… Thrones will be cast down, nations will be overturned, anarchy will reign, all legal barriers will be broken down, and the laws will be trampled in the dust. You are about to be visited with war, sword, famine, pestilence, plague, earthquakes, whirlwinds, tempests, and with the flame of devouring fire…. the slain of the Lord will be many.” Little wonder then that those men called to serve missions had fire in their souls as they ventured forth into a sick and dying world with, as they believed, the single ultimate solution: Mormonism. Any personal rejection they encountered along the way merely strengthened their faith that the end was nigh. A Book of Mormon witness, Martin Harris, referring to that publication, had once stated, ”All who believed the new bible would see Christ within fifteen years, and all who did not would absolutely be destroyed and dam’d.” Christ’s return, it seems, had at one time, early in the church’s history, been expected by 1846, and a similarly fatalistic outlook seems to have infected not only Woodruff, but his many British converts.
A good illustration of this is the case of Henry Glover. In the summer of 1840, Apostle Brigham Young selected Glover to leave his native Ledbury and open up the work in the city of Bristol, 40 miles away. Glover was a former preacher of the United Brethren, a localised splinter group of the Primitive Methodists, which group had converted en masse a few months earlier, under the instruction of Woodruff, believing Mormonism to be a fulfilment of their spiritual aspirations. Young described Glover in a letter to Joseph Smith as “a humble, good man, and will do much good”. However, as Young in later years recollected, Glover “went to Bristol, and cried, ‘Mormonism,’… and no person would listen to him. On the next morning he was back at Ledbury, and said, ‘I came out of Bristol, washed my feet against them and sealed them all up to damnation.’” 
Here then is a clear example of the apocalyptic mindset of those early British Mormons. Anticipating an imminent return of Christ, Glover, in his religious fervour, had apparently felt justified in condemning a whole city of 140,000 citizens, because a token sample of its populace had rejected in a single afternoon what he himself had recently accepted as the one true gospel! Glover was promptly returned to Bristol however, and persevered for a while longer the second time, for Woodruff’s journal records on 14th September 1840 that the Bristol Branch consisted then of Elder H. Glover, and three others.
For a few years following the exodus of the church from Nauvoo to the Rocky Mountains in 1846/7, very few American brethren remained in Great Britain. Fanny Stenhouse records that in 1849 there were only two or three Americans in total preaching the gospel, so virtually the whole burden had fallen upon the British, and this also coincided with the greatest period of LDS success enjoyed in Britain during the 19th century. She noted that “Mormonism was bold then in Europe — it had no American history to meet… polygamy was unheard of as a doctrine of the Saints, and the blood-atonement, the doctrine that Adam is God, together with the polytheism and priestly theocracy of after years were things undreamed of.”
So what was the message British Mormons were teaching in the halls and streets and market places at that point? Fanny Stenhouse explained that it was: “The saving love of Christ, the glory and fulness of the everlasting Gospel, the gifts and graces of the Spirit, together with repentance, baptism, and faith… and who can wonder that with such topics as these, and fortifying every statement with powerful and numerous texts of Scripture, they should captivate the minds of religiously inclined people?”
Even so, proclaiming this watered-down version of Mormonism was a challenging enough undertaking, especially for those who had no former experience of preaching. Of those who were called to do so, (and this was an era when male members were not automatically given the priesthood, and relatively few were ordained elders), most set about it with typical British stoicism and workmanlike determination. They did so because they believed that they were God’s vessels for bringing salvation to a dying world. Richard Rawle, a native of Devon who had been baptised in Bristol in 1842, was a fairly typical example of such men. A humble cobbler during the working day, he spent much of his spare time preaching the gospel to his fellow citizens of Bristol in ad hoc open air meetings. On two occasions he was chased by mobs through the streets after preaching, and feared he would be badly beaten or killed if caught, but still accounted himself blessed to be entrusted in this way with God’s word. Mormonism may have been publicly despised, but in everyday situations individual Mormons seem to have been tolerated. William Jefferies, commenting on his interactions with non-LDS work colleagues in the 1850s stated that he had been “party to many a little ‘mormon’ debate with Sunday religionists who were my fellow-workmen, and although they pitied yet they respected me.”
Two of Bristol’s home-grown missionaries, (Left) Richard Rawle, (right) William Jefferies
The more able British male converts were sometimes called to serve missions away from home for weeks or months at a time, usually within a day or two’s walking distance from their homes. They covered an extraordinary number of miles on foot, hitching an occasional ride, and often simultaneously supported themselves by working at their trade as opportunity presented itself along the way. Many of their contacts occurred while walking from place to place. William Jefferies wrote that it had been when he was 17, “during the first few days of Jan. 1849, that I first heard ‘Mormonism’ as it is commonly called, from an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints… I was going from Coleford where my father resided, to Stoke Lane, to visit an uncle by the name of Taylor, when I met with Elder Edward Hanham… He was peddling tea and preaching the gospel, and he talked to me about the Church and its doctrines.” Conversations were not always so religiously themed however. William Willes, an American, recorded in his diary for 1st March 1864, “Left Bath, in the morning, on foot: I fell in with a lame man on the road, who was very talkative: and among other matters he stated that he once hiked with a man, who was a great drinker & who had an attack of the “Ringle Tringdums,” (Delirium Tremens). In a short time we were overtaken by a butcher, with a horse & cart, who gave us a lift nearly 8 miles from Bristol. I paid the turnpike fee for my ride.”
Most of the Americans, who oversaw and participated in the work, evidently believed in the prophetic powers and divine calling of Joseph Smith, and by inference their own providential calling to direct matters as they saw fit among the British saints. Probably few were as cynical and opportunistic as Hawthornthwaite portrayed Wheelock to be, although it is clear from contemporary accounts that the American leaders generally expected and were afforded preferential treatment. They had been called for a season to perform a challenging work in a strange land. They knew the mysteries of the kingdom, which they had received in the Endowment House, and to which the British were not party. Their knowledge of how the church functioned at headquarters was therefore superior. The means whereby desired ends were accomplished were ultimately of secondary importance. It did not matter that British converts were systematically deprived of knowledge concerning certain key “higher principles” of the gospel, or were left woefully unaware of the hellish struggle which their Zionist ambitions would bring them; in mid-19th century Mormon eschatology, Zion was still a far better place to be than “Babylon”, and gathering in the harvest of souls, (including for some a plural wife or two who would accompany them back to America), was what most counted. Pious lies were justifiable therefore.
However, when one considers from a modern perspective the evident sleight of hand with which early Mormonism in Britain was dispensed by a few “in the know” men who occupied the upper echelons, surely all but the most dyed-in-the-wool Mormons today would acknowledge, (as a significant number of the converts themselves later did), that in the 19th century Mormonism was routinely mis-sold to the British public. It becomes difficult to dismiss entirely from mind the idea, (regardless of how one might view today’s LDS church and culture), that the whole exercise was actually a disrespectful racket which mainly targeted the disenfranchised and uneducated.
Of course, for the sake of current public relations, it is absolutely essential that those early missionary endeavours be represented as having been in every respect honourable and full of faith. Equally, in order to foster an illusion of continuity in purpose, it must now be made to appear that British converts who migrated to America in the 19th century, did so in order to build up and strengthen the church so that it might in the subsequent centuries mount its present global mission. The problem with that concept, which is very popular within Mormonism today, is that it is not what the converts actually believed they were doing when they did it. Mormonism has endured because it is skilful at reinventing itself and its historical narrative from generation to generation. The plain truth is that those early British converts were living in their present, a very different present than our own, and considered themselves to be fleeing spiritual Babylon no less, (Great Britain), to avoid the scourges which they had been led to believe were about to be unleashed; they were seeking physical and spiritual refuge in God’s place of safety, Zion. Fear underpinned by a certain sense of elitism, is what induced them to forsake for ever their homes, their employment, and their unbelieving relatives and friends. This is more than clear from voyage notes like those recorded for the emigrant ship ‘George Washington’, which sailed from Liverpool for Boston on 28th March 1857: “During the meeting several hymns suitable to the occasion were sung by the brethren and sisters in a spirited manner, one of which was — ‘Ye elders of Israel come join now with me,’ &c., with the chorus ‘O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell, / We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.’ All hearts seemed to be filled with joy, peace, and praise to their Heavenly Father for his goodness in giving them an understanding of the gospel, for making known to them that the hour of his judgments (upon Babylon) were at hand, and for making a way for their deliverance.”
Mormon emigrants on deck between Liverpool and Boston
Mormonism succeeded in accomplishing its purposes in 19th century Britain to the extent that it did, largely because those overseeing the operation were prepared to cultivate the credulity of rank-and-file members year after year. They did so in order to produce a steady flow of human cargo, which commodity was to be used in establishing an American theocratic community, and it was done in the questionable belief that it was necessary that God’s chosen people be located in one place. Some may even see subtle parallels in those aims with their experience of Mormonism today. To be cynical, the all-consumingly important gathering of Israel, first to Nauvoo, and then to Utah, was ultimately about seizing and maintaining political power and identity, in the name of God, although of course that is not how Mormonism was ever promoted on Britain’s streets.
When the resulting cost in terms of human misery is taken into account, and weighed in the balance against the oft-shared faith-promoting material which understandably emanates from proud descendants of those who managed to endure the gathering process, that increasingly redundant Zionist worldview will be concluded by many to have been a social misjudgement, and a costly irrelevance. Further, it will with good reason be argued that the true legacy of the British Mormon experience, powered as it was by pious deception and spiritual manipulation, is an embarrassingly incongruous one for an organisation which today still proudly proclaims itself to be the only true and living church, with Jesus Christ having directed its progress throughout.
And this will become a stubborn legacy which will probably never be entirely shaken off by Mormonism until the full spectrum of the historical record is confronted and embraced with courage and honesty, and until a sense of genuine compassion and remorse is felt for those who, through a combination of circumstances and unrealisable promises, were eventually cast in the roles of victims and losers.
(to be continued)
 Samuel Hawthornthwaite. Mr Hawthornthwaite’s Adventures among the Mormons as an Elder during eight years. (Hulme, Samuel Hawthornthwaite, 1857). pp112-115.
 The Bristol Mercury (Bristol, England), Saturday, October 17, 1857; Issue 3526.
 “Fortunes of a Mormonite”, The Morning Post, (London, England), November 04, 1846; Issue 22751.
 Wilford Woodruff, Millennial Star, v. 41, p. 241
 Martin Harris, The Telegraph (Painesville, OH), March 15, 1831, v. 2, no. 39
 “The Church in Bristol 1840 – 1911”, Mormon History, accessed May 10, 2011, http://www.mormonhistory.org/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=41
 Fanny Stenhouse. “Tell It All”: The Story of a Life’s Experience in Mormonism (Hartford: A. D. Worthington and Co., 1875). pp 48-49.
 “Incidents From The Life Of Richard Rawle as told by Maybelle Millet Rawle, granddaughter-in-law of Richard Rawle, also of Morgan, Utah, Summarized by Dale S. King”, accessed July 14, 2010, http://www.fortunecity.com/millenium/grangehill/246/richardrawle.htm
 Mary C. Cutler & Glenda I. C. Sharp. “The life of William Willes : from his own personal journal and writings” (Provo: Family Footprints, 1999).
 http://mormonmigration.lib.byu.edu/Search/showDetails/db:MM_MII/t:account/id:461 (accessed August 04, 2013)