Response to the New York TImes Article about Mormonism and Doubt

I had several problems with this article published in the New York Times today about doubting Mormons and wanted to point some of  the flawsand so I wrote this blog post.

However, more importantly it is important to emphasize that belief always requires an act of faith. One can read the exact same historical accounts, but if approached with faith rather than doubt the results will differ. The Jews in the wilderness quickly forgot the miracles and turned against Moses. The people of Jerusalem rejected the savior of the world. These things happen because those individuals failed to show faith. The people ignored the signs of the messiah, and therefore looked beyond the mark. They took negative things out of context and therefore missed the savior of the world.

Those that criticize the Church are often doing the same thing. They are taking a few negative examples out of context and therefore are missing the mark. The truth is that Joseph Smith was in fact a prophet, and the Church is inspired. Anyone can know this for himself if he turns to God and asks in faith. The truth of these things will be confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost. I know that this for myself and even though I have long studied Church history what I read only confirms the truth that I know.

Here are some of my major concerns

1) The article fails to make it clear that leadership in the Church is volunteer based. Instead, it repeatedly mentions that Brother Mattson “followed his father and grandfather into church leadership.” Overall, this article just does not suggest that the author really took the time to understand how the church is structured or what leadership positions mean. This is also visible in the fact that the article does not really explain what an ‘area authority’ does

2) This article suffers from a confirmation bias. It suggests that there is a wave of doubt and disillusionment, but basis this mostly on the words of individuals who have already left the church. How big is this wave? If so big, why is it that the Church is still one of the fastest growing in the world. The article does not grapple with these tensions. Instead, it relied on an online survey which was promoted through the bloggernacle and is admittedly unscientific.

3) The article really suggests that the church is very secretive at one point saying that “top leaders commonly deliberate in private,” but a lot of the anecdotes in the article such as the large fireside in Sweden with two Church Historians suggests otherwise. It briefly refutes this idea with a quote from Richard Bushman talking about increased openness, but this is buried much further into the article and the main article emphasizes the secretive aspect far too much.

4) The article does not quote many people that are still believers of the Church aside from scholars. It quotes Elder Holland from a conference talk, but takes only a tiny bit out of context. There is a complete lack of alternative voices testifying of the truth of the Church. This is what happens when a reporter only bothers to question one side of an issue.

5) The article does not offer responses to any of the questions in raises…It instead suggests that leaders hide or deny these questions. By raising doubts but not providing a source of answers this article does readers a great mis-service.

6) The mention of the Mountain Meadows Massacre is especially misleading as it merely sas that “church leaders plotted the slaughter of people” without saying which or mentioning that Brigham Young had no connection to it.

7) The article mentions that Brother Mattsson’s stake president told him not to discuss his doubts. While it is possible that a stake president gave such advice, but then the article also mentions that the church actually sent two general authorities to address his concerns and that of other members. Unfortunately, the article forgets to mention that an area authority is higher in church leadership than a stake president, and that the stake president’s advice can best be considered exactly that…advice.

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8 thoughts on “Response to the New York TImes Article about Mormonism and Doubt

  1. The article makes it sound like the Stake President wanted to silence Brother Mattsson, to tell him that he should never think or talk about or express questions he might have. If Brother Mattsson is, on a regular basis, discussing these doubts with church members while in church, trying to do his level best to find allies in doubt, I can fully understand why his Stake President would ask him to stop. He would have the full prerogative to. It seems, based on how persistent Brother Mattsson is (going to the media and all), that he is doing precisely that — trying to draw his fellow members away from faith and into doubt. The Stake President was right to ask him to stop.

  2. I’m curious as to your answers to three of the four bulleted questions in the article; namely:

    ■ Why were black men excluded from the priesthood from the mid-1800s until 1978?

    ■ Why did Smith claim that the Book of Abraham, a core scripture, was a translation of ancient writings from the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, when Egyptologists now identify the papyrus that Smith used in the translation as a common funerary scroll that has nothing to do with Abraham?

    ■ Is it true that Smith took dozens of wives, some as young as 14 and some already wed to other Mormon leaders, to the great pain of his first wife, Emma?

    • Andrew,

      I second Jeff Lindsay’s site. Another great source is FAIR, a grass-roots group of Latter-day Saint scholars and others who work to give answers to questions such as these. Their web site (including an extensive wiki) is at http://fairlds.org.

      That being said, I’ll give some extremely short answers here:

      1) The first black Latter-day Saint ordained to the Priesthood was Elijah Abel, ordained in 1836. Those “blacks” who were excluded from Priesthood ordination were excluded for the same reason that many “whites,” “yellows,” “reds,” and every other color were excluded: it wasn’t their calling. For more on this, I would recommend the wonderful http://blacklds.org.

      2) The papyri that Smith used in the translation of the Book of Abraham was apparently destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1881. However, we do have several small documents that were attached to said papyri, which documents the Book of Abraham specifically mentions were attached as illustrations of the concepts therein. These documents, which date to ca. 200 BC, are very similar to much earlier Egyptian documents such as were often repurposed by ancient Hebrews. Thus, the fact that Joseph’s interpretation of the extant documents does not line up with 2,000-BC Egyptian—a fact first discovered by Latter-day Saint Egyptologists in the 1960s—is wholly unsurprising and fairly irrelevant. What *is* relevant is that his interpretation lines up perfectly with how second-century BC Jews used such documents. Again, I would refer you to FAIR, where there is a considerable amount of scholarship on this point.

      3) Yes, it seems to be true that Joseph Smith took dozens of wives, some as young as 14 and some already wed to other Mormon leaders. (There is also considerable evidence that he didn’t, but I personally find that evidence unconvincing.) And yes, it was to the great pain of his wife Emma, just as it was to the great pain of Joseph himself. The problem is that these facts, taken wholly out of context, do very little to help us understand what these “marriages” were, nor why Joseph was commanded to engage therein. If you’re interested in learning about these, I would recommend both the aforementioned FAIR and Brian C. Hales’ site detailing his own extensive research on the subject: http://josephsmithspolygamy.com. (Regarding those wives who were already married to other men—Latter-day Saint or otherwise—there’s a very good page at http://josephsmithspolygamy.com/JSPolyandry/MASTERSexualPolyandry.html .)

      Hope all this helps, and good luck! 🙂

  3. Andrew EC.,
    1. I don’t know. I have opinions, but I don’t know for sure.
    2. This is an old rehash. The papyrus Smith used has been mostly lost.
    3. We make a mistake in confusing the word marriage with sealing. Joseph was sealed to these women in the eternities, not wed while they were wed to other men. It was not unusual for 14 year olds to marry back in the day. My grandmother was married at 14 in the early 1900’s. Grandpa was 16 or 17. I come from a family that were not Mormons. Yes, these were issues for Emma. We don’t know the veracity of what she said. Assuming Joseph Smith was a prophet, we don’t really know what the Lord told him to do or why.

  4. It just goes to show you how low the level of ‘journalism’ has sunk in this country. No integrity whatsoever, no bother to investigate both sides and present a non partisan view.

    Thank you for taking a stand and for trying to correct these misunderstandings.

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