Robert Millet & Krista Tippet Pt. 3: Robert Millet as a Budding “Sunstone” or “New Order” Mormon

February 4, 2008
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As I’m sure you’ve discovered by now — my takeaways from this interview between Krista Tippet and LDS Theologian and BYU Religion Professor Robert Millet say much more about me than they do Brother Millet.

That said — in part 3 of this series, I’m going to make my argument that within this interview, we can see yet further signs that both Robert Millet, and the LDS Church, are becoming more and more open/liberal/progressive/tolerant in their willingness to allow for a “Sunstone” or even a “New Order Mormon“-like perspective when it comes to an LDS belief/testimony.

Here are the signs and tea leaves I’ve identified in my own personal Mormonism Rorscharch test….

On Modern-Day Confusion Amongst LDS Church Leadership Regarding Mormon Doctrine, and the Freedom LDS Members Should Feel to Accept or Reject the Teachings of Past LDS Prophets (as Appropriate)

Mr. Millet: In recent years, there’s been an effort to, to try to solidify and codify, if you will, what actually constitutes Latter-day Saint doctrine. And that’s caused us to ask hard questions like this: Is everything that was ever uttered by a church leader on a general level from the days of Joseph Smith, is that considered the doctrine of the church? And the answer has come back no. I’ll give you an illustration. At the time, The Da Vinci Code was very hot and a little controversy raged over it.

Ms. Tippett: Yes.

Mr. Millet: At the time it was raging, the church issued a very brief but insightful statement that I was appreciative for. It’s just something that just…

Ms. Tippett: The Church of the Latter-day Saints?

Mr. Millet: That’s right. The Latter-day Saint leaders issued this statement. It just said essentially, ‘The scriptures are silent as to whether Jesus was married. It is true that early church leaders may have offered their opinion on this matter, but those opinions did not then, nor do they now, constitute the doctrine of the church.’ Now, that’s a statement that’s very important, because what it establishes is while Latter Day Saints revere and honor and respect and uphold their church leaders, we do not believe in a form of prophetic infallibility.

And so we — as we, as we move into the 21st century now, and as we begin having a greater focus upon Christ and Christianity and Christian principles, I think there is a tendency to look back and say, ‘All right, what are the central saving doctrines? And what are some other things we, A, don’t know much about, B, just don’t seem to be in harmony with what, with what — and where we are now? And I think that’s taking place more and more.

On the Belief that the Book of Abraham is Translated Scripture:

Ms. Tippett: And, you know, I know that [Joseph Smith], he reported revelations, and the stories sometimes changed when he told them at different times. And then the thing may be more, on a practical level, there’s the book of Abraham, which he…

Mr. Millet: Right.

Ms. Tippett: …had said that he translated…

Mr. Millet: Translated.

Ms. Tippett: …from some Egyptian papyri that were found inside a mummy. And then later, you know, several generations later, when scholars could, could really translate hieroglyphs, they said that these were funeral documents and not a lost book of Abraham. So I want to ask, you know, as a very faithful member of the church and a scholar of the church, you know, how do you, how do you make sense of this kind of contradiction?

Mr. Millet: I guess this is the side of me that — this is the stubborn side of me that is prone to say, ‘Yeah, I have questions about the historicity in terms of how it came.’ He didn’t tell us how exactly this happened, how he got the information. I mean, you know, scholars even within the church have taken different views. One, one view is that he literally translated it from Egyptian. Another view, perhaps, is that the Egyptian papyri that he had proved as a kind of spiritual catalyst to receiving an independent revelation about the ancient figure of Abraham. I don’t know what the answer is on that. And I, and I’m as eager to learn about that as, as the critics of the church are just curious investigators of the church are.

On Faith or Testimonies Being a Decision — Sometimes Regardless of the Evidence/Facts

Mr. Millet: I heard a church leader not long ago say this, which is very simple, but it has a profound implication for me. He said, “Faith is just so much more than a feeling. Faith is a decision.” And I think that’s right for me. I made a decision a long time ago about Joseph Smith, fully aware now, maybe more so now as a professor for the last 25 years than I ever was as a young person, full aware that he was a human being, that he made mistakes.

But I made a decision back then that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the work he set in motion was divinely inspired and that what I was about was good and that it would bless my life and bless other lives. And, and I’m just, I’m just sort of taking the stance of I, I just will not allow my faith to be held hostage by what the things I do know to be held hostage by what science has or has not discovered at a given moment in time. Does that make sense?

On the Book of Mormon as an Historical Document

Mr. Millet: “That’s the faith part of me saying, ‘Well, of course I look forward to archeological evidences of the Book of Mormon.”

On the “The Mormon Lifestyle” or “Mormon Culture” Being Major Components to One’s LDS Faith/Testimony (e.g. being a cultural Mormon)

Mr. Millet: “But I will, for the time being, put on the shelf the things I don’t know because there are just too many things that I’m, I’m convinced of, and that the way of life that the church promotes highlights to me.’ In other words, would I, would I want to go another way? I wouldn’t.”

On the LDS Church Needing Time to Get Its Doctrine Together — and to Become More Mainstream (also on Religion as a Business, and on the LDS Church Being the “One True Church”)

Mr. Millet: “We’re in the religion-making business, as you intimated earlier, only for a short time, I mean, compared to the Christian church, which has been at this for a couple of millennia. We’re about halfway to Nicaea. And so, and so in that sense — I remember a very tender moment. I was speaking with — I’ve been invited to the Salt Lake Theological Seminary, basically an Evangelical seminary, to discuss a book I had done on Jesus. And they had read it, and they wanted me to come and just respond to questions. And it was, it was a very enjoyable couple of hours.

The very last question that was asked by one of my friends there was this one. He said, ‘Bob, what can we do for you?’ And I, I wasn’t ready for that question. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘What can we, as Evangelicals, do for our Mormon friends?’ And I, I guess my mind could have gone a hundred different ways, but what I came back with was this. I said, ‘Boy, I appreciate you asking that. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that.’ But, but I said, ‘Try this. Cut us a little slack, will you? Give us a little time. We’re in the religion-making business, and this takes time. It takes centuries. And, and trying to explain the faith and articulate the faith, that doesn’t come over night. We’ve really only been about that for 20 or 30 years.’ “

My Conclusion

I can very easily anticipate apologists commenting here that I am misinterpreting Dr. Millet — and taking his words out of context. In all honesty — I don’t believe that I am. If I were to think back 30 or 40 years — I could not imagine someone like Bruce R. McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, or Ezra Taft Benson even granting such an interview…let alone answering questions in this way. To me, these types of “New Order Mormon” or “Sunstone” responses from our chief theologian provides me, as a “New Order” / “Sunstone” – Mormon with a tremendous amount of encouragement that with each passing year — folks like us will be more and more tolerated within church culture.

Of course it may be a long, long time before we will ever hear our church leaders validate any of these points directly to us, as members, in General Conference (that’s usually not the way they work). Can you imagine the day (in modern times) when you will hear something like this over the pulpit at General Conference….

  • “There have been many, many doctrinally incorrect statements by past General Authorities and even by Prophets, Seers and Revelators — but you are free to choose the ones you wish to believe as true.”
  • “The Books of Abraham and Mormon may or may not be historical documents — we just don’t know. But their teachings are true regardless.”
  • “Whether or not our church is the “One True Church” — the lifestyle is good, and worth pursuing.”
  • Etc., etc., etc.

…but this is probably an unrealistic expectation. Churches that do this, I believe, ultimately become weak.

Still — in the mean time — I want to publicly express my gratitude for folks like Dr. Millet — who give the rest of us cover, and perhaps a little less guilt, for the perspectives and attitudes we have recently gained on Mormonism (through an in-depth study of its history).

Thanks again, Dr. Millet, and to you, too, Krista Tippet. You are our hero.

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98 Responses to Robert Millet & Krista Tippet Pt. 3: Robert Millet as a Budding “Sunstone” or “New Order” Mormon

  1. John Nilsson
    February 4, 2008 at 10:03 am

    John,

    I welcome these statements Dr. Millet has made. It is almost inevitable that as church leaders encourage the laity to get as much education as possible, statements like you have posted here will be heard more and more often. Attempts at a reconciliation of faith and belief may follow. For example, someone like Dr. Millet getting into the nitty-gritty of how one can simultaneously hold that Adam and Eve were historical figures and that natural selection is the mechanism by which God created the varied forms of life on our planet, that is something I look forward to.

    I think in this connection a conversation in my elder’s quorum about the change in wording to the BOM introduction is instructive. A member of the EQ presidency mentioned that his wife was Navajo and that they have seen many similarities over the years between Asian culture and American Indian culture. He was completely unruffled by the fact that his wife may not be a Lamanite, as he previously believed. The key here was that the Church moved on this issue. That’s when it becomes safe to say these kinds of things.

    Now this could all change when our new prophet is announced at 11 am today:)

  2. Jeff Spector
    February 4, 2008 at 10:54 am

    John,

    I too thoroughly enjoyed the extended interview as I have Dr. Millet’s talks.

    Could it be that this is always been the position of the Church itself with regard to these issues? That faith is a decision based on “Things not seen, but hoped for.” That this new demand for proof of everything is driving the position of so-called “New Order Mormons.” I realize that for years, various individuals have been, for instance, trying to prove the Book of Mormon is an historically document, based on georgraphy, artifacts, etc.

    There are so many things that we must rely soley on faith. Anyway, I, personally, can “put things ion the shelf” until such times as more information comes forth. It really doesn’t bother me.

  3. February 4, 2008 at 11:19 am

    “Could it be that this is always been the position of the Church itself with regard to these issues?”

    This is a mixed bag. When talking about the “position of the church”, I think a lot of people apologetically use that as a cop out. Sure, we can acknowledge the loopholes of what makes a church teaching official. Very few things are official by this standard. That does not change the reality that the church is colored and shaped by priesthood leaders from apostles down to bishops. The general vibe from these men is definitely less flexible than Dr. Millet. I think Millet has come to these positions because he has actually thought about this stuff, and is forced to answer these questions a lot. I think most LDS people prefer not to think about the things they have no answer for, moreso than allow for unorthodox positions.

    To me it feels like the church does allow for unsurety on these issues, but the only acceptable response is to put them on the shelf.

  4. February 4, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Jeff,

    To be honest, I think the desire to prove the church as true comes from believers within the church.

    – I think of Joseph F. Smith holding depositions on all of Joseph Smith’s wives in the late 1800′s — to counter the RLDS claim that Joseph never practiced polygamy

    – I think of B.H. Roberts and all of his issues/concerns about the historicity of the Book of Mormon in the early 1900′s

    – I think of the church getting the Book of Abraham papyri in the 1960s, with an almost giddyness that the authentic translations would prove the Book of Abraham as historical.

    – I think of the film strips produced by the church in the 1970s and 1980s (Ancient America speaks) attempting to demonstrate (fallaciously) Book of Mormon archeology.

    – I think of the urban legend that has gone around for some time (perpetuated by believing Mormons) that the Smithsonian institute uses the Book of Mormon as a guide for archeology expeditions.

    And on and on, and on.

    – Perhaps most of all, I think of the language we use 400x each Sunday. Instead of simply saying, “I believe this church is inspired of God” — we feel compelled to say, “I know this church is true” (sometimes even adding “beyond a shadow of a doubt” or “with ever fibre of my being” — which (in my mind and heart) begs for both believers and critics to try to prove or disprove its tenants.

    So I think we bring this on ourselves — but it’s the natural outcome of a growing religion. I don’t think it’s a bad thing — but I don’t think we have anyone else to blame but ourselves.

  5. February 4, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    I think you are completely misunderstanding Millet and Mormons like him. There just isn’t a name for it beyond the outdated neo-Orthodox, but FARMS Mormon might be a better term. Inclusion of Millet as a budding “New Mormon” or “Sunstone” Mormon is a gross mistatement of the postions you are reading in this interview. The problem is you are confusing the conclusions made about the re-invisioning of the history and doctrine.

    The difference is that the Sunstone and New Mormons look at the issues and conclude they are worthy of reflection, but ultimately come close to unbelief. However, FARMS Mormons look at the issues and conclude everything is as true as ever, but our perception of those truths isn’t what we had thought. As an example of the two I will use the Book of Abraham. Neo-Orthodox would look at the Egyptian paper discoveries and conclude we don’t have the whole collection. Sunstone Mormons would look at them and conclude Joseph Smith made it all up and charitably conclude he was writing a spiritual fraud. FARMS Mormons might consider the idea we don’t have all the collection, but if we do then they were as Millet implied a portal to more ancient and undiscovered material.

    Does this bring up many questions? Yes. Does it answer the questions in the way Sunstone and New Mormons’ would? No. They are at cross purposes.

  6. Heather Brown Martin
    February 4, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    “Whether or not our church is the “One True Church” — the lifestyle is good, and worth pursuing.”

    This is just the kind of statement that many of those who have left the church hear, but not until we have one or both feet out the door.

  7. February 4, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    FARMS Mormons might consider the idea we don’t have all the collection, but if we do then they were as Millet implied a portal to more ancient and undiscovered material.

    Indeed. If you study mystery religions and endowments, look at the Egyptian endowment (which moved between stages by either walking across a room or taking boats (symbolically or literally) room to room, and the text and then the Book of Abraham, in the context of an endowment text, you can tell that Joseph Smith had something going there. I’ve mentioned my gospel doctrine teacher who went to the King Tut exhibition and came back almost in shock at the realization that much of it was an endowment ceremony.

  8. February 4, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Jettboy,

    You are grossly inaccurate in your portrayals of what a Sunstone Mormon might believe or conclude. The overwhelming majority of the Sunstoners that I know believe that both Joseph Smith and the LDS Church are inspired of God — as are the Books of Mormon and Abraham. The group you are describing are called ex-Mormons…and they have their own site.

    Please learn more about people from Sunstone before you make such generalizations. You’re just flat wrong — and I think I can speak from authority on this one (having served on the Sunstone board for over 3 years).

  9. February 4, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    John, we need comments like yours to dispel some of the misconceptions people have about Sunstone.

    Though he does make a good point the other way. If you come at the LDS endowment after studying Chinese Triads and other survivals, you will have a completely different perspective than someone who comes at it from masonry. The same is true of other perspectives. It is easy to forget troubles that the Church had with several American Indian groups who felt we had stolen from them in our rituals and temple.

    But, getting back to the topic, this is part of the statistical and other studies the Church engaged in during the 80s about what it means to be a Church, what is the difference between a Church, a social group, a government and a family and what is the role of each, and other internal reflections. The Church leadership put a lot of time and effort into that. Interesting to see bits and pieces of it come out here and there.

  10. February 4, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    For anyone with an incomplete impression of Sunstone, please begin with the Pillars of My Faith series. The Pillars session is perennially Sunstone’s best attended session and the talks given represent the GIGANTIC variety of belief and approach you can find at Sunstone. Sunstone is essentially the grandfather of the Bloggernacle.

  11. Peter Brown
    February 4, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Dr. Millets response to the Evangelical organization “Cut us some slack . . it will take centuries . . religion-making business, et. al” was indicative that he is either trying to straddle the PR line even more than President Hinckley dared, or he is in fact a so-called budding New-Order Mormon. That dissapoints me if this is the case. For me, the redeeming quality of being a New-Order Mormon is that New Order was one of the greatest rock bands ever. Other than that, it is the Hellenization of Mormonism. We’re repeating the same mistakes made by our Cathloic bretheren at about the same time frame. We cast away the mystical, the faithful, and the realized and actual for the symbolic, philosophical, and metaphysical. Maybe Dr. Millet is campaigning for the title of Mormon Augustine. If its going to take us centuries to be “religion-makers” then we should just drop the latter-day part of our Church name. We would be the Church of Jesus Christ of the neo-Catholicized Saints. We thus are amillenial in outlook, and realize utopia through an actualization of a symbolic atonement doctrine that changes people and makes them more likely to be voluntary Marxists. Sounds like a movement falling asleep to me.

    I for one, think that the latter-day element is almost a keystone of what we believe. There will come a time when all of this will whither away and a new earth and new heaven will be created. Post-modernism, global capitalism, and materialsm will fall by the wayside. It may be sooner than we think. It is paranthetical to our doctrine to be a bit congnatively dissonant-what would faith be without a little bit of that anyway. Does it matter if we are ortho-praxically completely LDS in practice yet don’t believe in the mysticalism of our own faith and the actuality of its inception? Perhaps not, but alas, all of the non-orthodox or sybolic faiths have whithred on the vine. Why would we want to become more Methodist or more Prsbyterian? It’s certainly not working for them.

  12. February 4, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    I second Clay’s recommendation. I feel the spirit / Holy Ghost in spades when I listen to Pillars of my Faith.

  13. David
    February 4, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    John,

    First, the folks at Sunstone need to find a better word for “Person who associates with Sunstone magazine,” because Sunstoner just sounds like people who smoke pot at the beach. Sunstonist might work, who knows.

    Second, I think your response to Jettboy should give you pause. You were wildly uncharitable in reading his comment. Your whole response boils down to you not liking the way he used the word Sunstone. Fighting over the definition of a single word is boring and gets nowhere. His point was that there are different groups of people in the church who take different approaches to doctrinal difficulties and that you and he would put Millet in different groups, ergo, your original point is not valid. It was doubly ironic because part of the point of your original post was to conclude that the church is leading towards not enforcing a monolithic belief structure on its members, yet in the comment you took great pains to point out that the “overwhelming majority” or Sunstoners agree on certain points. Putting the two points together I guess Sunstoners are the monolith and the rank-and-file LDS church are a bunch of eclectic free-thinkers.

    Third, you have to put this interview in the context of Millet’s work for the past few years. Millet (along with Robinson) have been on personal crusades to get Evangelical Christians to like us more. Every single one of his responses can be seen as a very carefully crafted statement to try and further this goal. I also don’t think that any of his responses were very enlightening, they all boil down to “Gosh, I/we don’t really know too much about that!” This sounds much more like PR than scholarship to me. A PR person is content to say, “I don’t know, I can’t say, I’m not sure etc.” while a scholar will say, “I’ll tell you everything I do know and then exactly what I don’t know.” The PR response maximizes flexibility and good feeling. The scholarly response maximizes knowledge transfer, but is much riskier because you have to be specific about things. I think he was simply going for the PR/flexibility approach. I think when you say that the posts say much more about you than Millet you are correct. He gave you responses that were infinitely flexible which you bent, quite easily and naturally, into whatever you wanted.

  14. Peter Brown
    February 4, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    David, I agree with your comment. I think it was PR, but it did leave a sour taste in my mouth, because I think he overreached a bit. But to conclude this was an announcement of a change in church inertia towards greater flexibility of faith is a bit grasping. Anytime a church official, be it a Priesthood authority, prophet, or academic speaks with the media-often off-the-cuff-I should add, I take it with a grain of salt. Official statements and talks at General Conference–where ideas are fleshed out–I take more seriously.

  15. Bruce Nielson
    February 4, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    John,

    Excellent post. I’m curious, though. How do you see Millet’s answers as being any different than my posts? Millet and I seem to think the same. This thinking matches the Church’s official statement on the subject of what is Mormon Doctrine. (Quoted in my post.)

    I was with you right up until the end where you went on to suggest as future possibilities:

    1. “There have been many, many doctrinally incorrect statements by past General Authorities and even by Prophets, Seers and Revelators — but you are free to choose the ones you wish to believe as true.”
    2. “The Books of Abraham and Mormon may or may not be historical documents — we just don’t know. But their teachings are true regardless.”
    3. “Whether or not our church is the “One True Church” — the lifestyle is good, and worth pursuing.”

    The first point, I believe is correct and frankly always has been though perhaps culturally some Mormons (many Mormons? most Mormons?) didn’t “get it.” Many Mormons (perhaps even you?) were raised in a home where you were taught by parents that believed every statement of every general authority was to be taken as scripture. This view is often projected onto the rest of the Church even though those that disagree with this view are also very common.

    Despite many Mormons believing everything a GA says is scripture, I’d assert that it’s always been a false view. It’s “false doctrine” and always has been. My own posts have been to show that this view wasn’t believed universally in the past.

    The next two points I don’t see Millet as working towards at all.

    However, could it be that (to use Jettboy’s labels) that “FARMS Mormons” and “Sunstone Mormons” are perhaps closer than they first appear? Both groups basically reject 90% of the same things, it seems to me.

    And yet, my perception is still that they are mutually exclusive religious belief systems at this point in time. I see no way to bridge that remaining 10%. I wish there was a way. I have a lot of respect for “Sunstone Mormons.” They are thought, ethical, moral, God-fearing people worthy of respect and dignity and they should be included in the numbers called “Mormon.”

    However, I’m familiar enough with Sunstone to know that Jettboy’s view on them isn’t without merrit. I think he’s using language that you object to, specifically “unbelief.” However, to Farms/Millet Mormons, Sunstone views do in fact amount to unbelief. So I think you’re wrong to entirely reject Jettboy’s point of view here. It’s a valid summary of a difference that exists between the two groups. And in this case, it’s a difference that really matters to both groups.

    On the other hand, I am sympathetic to your view that Sunstone Mormons aren’t non-believers in the ultimate sense. They believe in God, they believe that the Mormon religion (usually) as well as other religions are equally inspired of God, they often believe the Book of Mormon to be inspired though not historical. I would be hard pressed to ultimately call them “unbelievers.” But we are dealing with a word here. Jettboy is using the word in a way differently than you. You are both correct. Don’t make the mistake of talking past each other.

    Update: Perhaps a better label would be “buffet Mormon” rather than “sunstone Mormon.” Obviously many people with Sunstone are not buffet Mormons. Labels are always impercise.

  16. February 4, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I don’t think these statements are indicative of NOM or “Sunstone” Mormonism. They sound like the positions taken by most regular Mormons that are informed on the issues. Which, where I currently live (greater Seattle erea) is most the folks I know.

  17. February 4, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    If I’m comparing FARMS to Sunstone, in the most generic sense of each, I would agree that Millet is more in line with FARMS. One caveat, FARMS seems to seek proving the LDS church to be the one true church, and Millet seeks a more ecumenical approach.

    I disagree that FARMS and Sunstone folks are all that close. In my impression, Sunstone is about facing the gospel and church history as openly as possible, no matter where that leads. FARMS and other apologetic groups seem to reach the point where the road might lead away from a faithful view and that is when the shelving technique comes in. I think a lot of people are drawn to Sunstone because they feel uncomfortable with putting stuff on the shelf, and Sunstone is a place where they aren’t made to feel spiritually weak for feeling that way. I think a lot of people are drawn to FARMS et. al. because they want to be sure the end result of exploration is on the side of faith.

  18. February 4, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    David — You are clearly wise, and correct in calling out my inconsistencies. That was a sloppy comment/reply on my behalf. My apologies. Have we met?

    Bruce — I do see you and Millet as quite similar. And quite intelligent as well. I also agree that more and more, FAIR/FARMS/Sunstone folks are sounding more and more alike (at least the believing Sunstone folks).

    JStapley — I sorta disagree that most rank and file members would be comfortable w/ many of these statements made by Dr. Millet. I believe that the # of Mormons that would be comfortable w/ the following things would remain well into the low single digits….

    1) That the Book of Abraham is not a translation as we usually employ the term.
    2) That we should all feel comfortable disregarding past statements by prophets and apostles if we feel so moved/inclined.
    3) That there is little credible scientific evidence arguing for an historical Book of Mormon (most that I know believe that modern day archeology PROVES the validity of the Book of Mormon)
    4) That most Native Americans are likely not Lamanites
    5) That God was NOT once a man
    6) That the golden plates were not likely used in the translation process for the Book of Mormon, but instead stone in hat, etc.
    7) Polyandry, Etc.

    I know that we’re being anecdotal here (which is pretty useless) — and I know that we’ve been around this horn many times before. I’m just saying that in my experience — the theological world that Millet, FAIR/FARMS, and Sunstone folks live in is quite remote from the church I attend in Logan, and that I attended in Issaquah, Dallas, DC, Chicago, Houston, etc.

    Just my experience…that’s all.

  19. David
    February 4, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    John,

    You are clearly wise I am sure my wife would be able to disabuse you of that notion in record time.

    Have we met? I don’t think so, but Mormondom is pretty small, perhaps we crossed paths in the 90′s.

  20. February 4, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    P.S. to Stapley — I agree with you that the church leadership seems to be moving in the direction of liberal and/or progressive Mormonism…and that eventually the membership will begin following that lead in increasing numbers. I also believe that Dialogue and Sunstone (along w/ FAIR/FARMS) were somewhat crucial in blazing this trail — even though Sunstone and Dialogue were somewhat punished for it during the day, and continue to be so punished in many ways to this day.

    I kinda think of the Bloggernacle in the same light. Many of the mainstream LDS blogs seem consider themselves to be “a cut above” the likes of Sunstone (in terms of their righteousness or faithfulness) — but in reality, I see very little difference (if any) between the types of articles and symposia being held at Sunstone in the 80s and 90s, and what I read in the average bloggernacle blog today.

    To be honest — I think most of those scholars back then (Mauss, Quinn, Bradley, Prince, Peterson, etc.) were actually much better informed, and in many ways much more faithful, that most of us blogging today.

    I just wish that more LDS folk were in a position to pay them the respect that they deserve(d) — instead of the derision or avoidance that so many of them have received, and continue to receive today.

    Sorry to be on a soapbox about this. I just wish that those who owe much of their thinking to the scholars that informed Dialogue and Sunstone were more loyal to, and supportive of it.

  21. Clark
    February 4, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    John, I think one has to distinguish between being comfortable right off and being comfortable if they knew folks like FARMS tended to believe them. (i.e. with a bit of explanation)

    I’ve yet to meet anyone around Utah county that found such ideas difficult. The worst one was (#7) of course. (And I dispute #5 but that’s a different discussion) I also think that (#2) is perhaps presented in a poor fashion. “So moved” suggests we can just discount statements of Church Leaders in a willy-nilly fashion. Something I don’t think Millet or FARMS asserts in the least.

  22. February 4, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Clark — I actually agree w/ you about #2. I believe that dismissing prophetic counsel and/or teachings should be done extremely rarely, and with much caution, etc.

    I have done extremely well (personally) by heeding the counsel of the brethren — and I’m genuinely grateful for their influence in my life.

  23. February 4, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Agreed that we are going off of empiricism.

    I personally have a tremendous respect for the old timers. The hard part about comparing Sunstone and Dialogue in the 1980′s to today, is that they are very different animals. I think that you are right that the Sunstone magazine content now wouldn’t raise to many eyebrows. But the vast majority of Members (even highly educated ones) would likely feel quite uncomfortable at many SLC Sunstone Symposia. So when you use terms like “Sunstone Mormon” or NOM, it carries with it a measure of antagonism towards the rank and file Church that isn’t prescriptive to educated Mormons that hold some of the beliefs you outline. Most my ward as read Rough Stone Rolling.

  24. Bruce Nielson
    February 4, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    >>> In my impression, Sunstone is about facing the gospel and church history as openly as possible, no matter where that leads. FARMS and other apologetic groups seem to reach the point where the road might lead away from a faithful view and that is when the shelving technique comes in.

    An interesting view, though one obviously biased towards the “Sunstone approach.”

    I think FARMS Mormons would reject that description of themselves. I think they’d probably see it more like they are facing all the evidence, including spiritual witnesses, and working to come up with a rational way to conform them, no matter where that collective set of evidence leads. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an apologist “shelf” an item. They pretty well tackle any question no matter how little evidence is currently available. (A charge I could equally level at Sunstone Mormons.)

    I think of myself, personally, as an “unjudging Mormon.” (I don’t mean that in the sense of judging salvation, just in terms of drawing certain conclusions. Though hopefully I’m also not judging people’s salvation either.) I recognize that we just don’t have all the facts needed for certain conclusions either way. My own bias is against both camps for acting too certain. However, as I’ve stated elsewhere, I think “making a case” is an important part of truth telling, so I find neither camp as immoral or unethical.

    Clay, you sometimes use terms for apologists like “crowbaring” to describe their approach. I think this is true, but I find it interesting that you don’t recognize this same tendency within yourself at times. It seems very clear to an outsider like me that you also crowbar the evidence to match your beliefs.

    But then again, so do I. I assume we are all “guilty” of this, we are all human after all, and perhaps we even all crowbar in equal measures.

    I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with crowbaring. It seems like it’s a necessary technique at times to me. If I were to look at a hard science, like physics, it’s full of crowbaring. Heck, the so-called “standard model” is just one huge crowbar of the facts.

  25. February 4, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    John D: 5) That God was NOT once a man

    Does Millet ever actually come out and say that God was NOT once a man? (I haven’t listened to the interview yet) I know Ostler certainly doesn’t say this. In fact I don’t know of any serious LDS theologian who says that outright. (Ostler and others assume that God condescended to a mortality on another world much like Jesus here.)

  26. Tarmac
    February 4, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    J. Stapley,

    What ward are you in, and are there any homes for sale in the boundaries?

  27. David
    February 4, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    I think FARMS Mormons would reject that description of themselves. I think they’d probably see it more like they are facing all the evidence, including spiritual witnesses, and working to come up with a rational way to conform them, no matter where that collective set of evidence leads. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an apologist “shelf” an item. They pretty well tackle any question no matter how little evidence is currently available. (A charge I could equally level at Sunstone Mormons.)

    Bruce,

    You have got to be kidding. FARMS does apologetics and nothing else. If you give me the topic, I can tell you what FARMS will write. FARMS is guaranteed to 100% of the time come to the defense of LDS doctrine. I am sure they think they are facing all of the evidence, but if I can predict with 100% certainty what conclusions FARMS will arrive at no matter what the evidence is, you cannot in all seriousness say they are going wherever the “collective set of evidence leads.”

    I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with crowbaring. It seems like it’s a necessary technique at times to me. If I were to look at a hard science, like physics, it’s full of crowbaring. Heck, the so-called “standard model” is just one huge crowbar of the facts. Actually, it’s not. It is simply a model that explains the evidence, in fact it is has been subject to the most exacting tests that have ever been devised. And you know what?, physicists are still trying to come up with a better model because physicists are constantly trying to push the limits and increase the explanatory power and beauty of their models. This is not crowbarring, and it’s not even remotely close to what FARMS does.

    Lest I be misunderstood, there is a place for apologetics. However, you simply cannot compare apologetics and more objective scholarly pursuits, the rules and goals are completely different.

  28. February 4, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    Geoff,

    No. He definitely doesn’t say this. I was adding to the list – -not intending to put words in Millet’s mouth — but to provide extra examples of progressive teachings that I believe most members would struggle with.

    Sorry for the confusion.

    Stapley — I see your points about the Sunstone labels. Labels really do suck…..someday I’ll learn my lesson.

  29. Bruce Nielson
    February 4, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    >>> Lest I be misunderstood, there is a place for apologetics. However, you simply cannot compare apologetics and more objective scholarly pursuits, the rules and goals are completely different.

    Lest I be misunderstood, my example was just to illustrate. I was not suggesting that physics and FARMS are all that particularly similar. :P However, my example is still sound, as long as it’s not taken to the extreme that you just took it to. Physics is still full of seeming contradictions (seeming to us macro entities anyhow that have never lived in a quantum universe) that are just accepted as true. The evidence really does come across like it’s “crowbared” compared to intuitive thinking. Try to explain to the average person that light is both a wave and a particle. It seems like crowbaring. Actually, there is a physist that was so concerned over this that he made up a more complex model that allowed him to hold onto his intuitive thinking. His model is an alternate to the standard model and it works too. But it’s way more complicated and the math is harder. So why use it? (If interested, I’ll get his name. He’s somewhat famous in physic circles. Famous in a bad way. But he’s legit.)

    In any case, the standard model is a crowbaring of the evidence because there isn’t yet a unified theory to take it’s place. Once it’s found the standard model (all of them) will be discarded in favor of whatever they eventually come up with. In the mean time, you just crowbar in the seeming contradictions and don’t worry about it and wait for further light and knowledge, so to speak.

    >>> And you know what?, physicists are still trying to come up with a better model because physicists are constantly trying to push the limits and increase the explanatory power and beauty of their models

    Exactly!!!! In other words, they want to improve the model so there is less crowbaring!!!! :)

    However, David, you are wrong that you can tell with 100% accuracy what FARMS will determine in advance. Actually, the whole point of this entire post was that you can’t. FARMS will always take their spiritual witnesses, that they believe they have, into consideration. Because of this they will always end up with answers that allow for belief. This is the point you made and you are right about that much.

    But outside of that, you have no idea what their answers will be. They reject all sort of things that were once considered true. They easily dumped the idea that the native americans were all Lamanites. Did you see that one coming? They dumped the general geography model. Did you see that coming? They dumped the JST as literal translation to some lost text (or some did anyway). Did you see that coming? They absolutely try to follow the evidence wherever it takes them. They simply accept their spiritual witnesses as being valid evidence that their theories must conform to.

    >>> Ostler and others assume that God condescended to a mortality on another world much like Jesus here

    I only found this out a recently. Ostler has the same belief I do. Actually, I’ve never heard of an “apologist” that rejects the idea that God was once a man. That belief, while generally recognized nowadays as being non-canonical, is still widely accepted though in various forms. I doubt it’s going away ever. It just “makes sense.”

  30. Kent
    February 4, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    David and others, do you see Blake Ostler as a FARMS Mormon or a Sunstone Mormon or what? He has published in FARMS, but also in Dialogue, Sunstone, BYU Studies, as well as independently with the publication of his books by Kofford books. He is an apologist, but also a scholar. What do you see his role being in the future with the way Mormons define themselves and their theology/doctrine?

  31. February 4, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    To me, these types of “New Order Mormon” or “Sunstone” responses from our chief theologian

    John, Did you just call Dr. Millet our “chief theologian”? If so I have to disagree.

  32. February 4, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    “Clay, you sometimes use terms for apologists like “crowbaring” to describe their approach. I think this is true, but I find it interesting that you don’t recognize this same tendency within yourself at times. It seems very clear to an outsider like me that you also crowbar the evidence to match your beliefs.”

    Bruce, you seem pretty bent on getting to the bottom of me. Since I’m a blogger here, and I don’t want to totally make other people’s posts about me, you’ll have to patiently allow me to explain myself through my articles. I promise my next one will be packed with data. ;-)

    As for that statement, I’ve never used the term “crowbarring” in my life, but I also don’t like to play semantic games so I’ll play along. Of course I’m guilty of imposing my own interpretation of data as being better. We all do that. If we didn’t think our interpretation was at least pointed in the right direction, we would have a different view, wouldn’t we? I think part of your problem with me is that you seem to feel people have to have a defined set of beliefs. The really (too)short summary of my belief structure is that I don’t find many things of faith and doctrine to be so compelling that they merit the imperialism that often characterizes their discussion. I realize that I am coming off as sniping and complaining, but in reality I feel that the challenge to faith needs to be voiced.

    My faith is truly a hope, not anything like a knowledge. I do try to hear God’s direction, and I do try to let my own pride and ego bow before greater wisdom. Does God arbitrarily love me less than those folks who know? Did God create me with a deficiency for accepting dissonance because I was maybe less valiant in the pre-existence? Or is the conclusion that I am less valiant now and too proud to realize it?

  33. Doug G.
    February 4, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Bruce,
    I’m learning to appreciate you more and more as I read your posts. Not that I agree with you most of the time but your points are well thought out. I wonder if you would indulge me in answering a question which is germane to the original podcast?

    Bruce wrote:
    “I have a lot of respect for “Sunstone Mormons.” They are thought, ethical, moral, God-fearing people worthy of respect and dignity and they should be included in the numbers called “Mormon.””
    In your opinion, is there room in the church for “NOMs “ or “Sunstone Mormons” in the present culture with President Monson at the head or should they be sought out and removed so as to protect the church from heretics?

    I’m sensing a mixed message from you and therefore wanted to ask. I’ve come to my own conclusions about the “one true church” but at the same time desire to remain a member despite my displeasure with that bigoted kind of thinking.

    Your thoughts…

  34. February 4, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Jacob,

    Who would you choose?

  35. Bruce Nielson
    February 4, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Clay,

    I can really apreciate you not getting into semantics with me. I was at work, typing fast, and didn’t look it up. You did not use the word “crowbar.” It was Nick that did. I’m glad you understood what I meant rather than got stuck on my words. That’s a real talent I have a great appreciation for.

    Yes, I am trying to get to the bottom of your beliefs… actually, I don’t mean it personally. I’m trying to get to the bottom of people that believe like you. I once believed like you, I think. I guess I can’t say that for sure because I don’t know what you believe in it’s entirety yet.

    You asked some questions: “Does God arbitrarily love me less than those folks who know? Did God create me with a deficiency for accepting dissonance because I was maybe less valiant in the pre-existence? Or is the conclusion that I am less valiant now and too proud to realize it?”

    I hope you weren’t asking me. Obviously I don’t know the answer. But let’s just say I have no reason to believe you were less valiant nor that you are now more proud. I don’t regret my own periods of doubt nor my current doubts. They are a part of my beliefs and who I am. They taught me Godly things. I would not discourage people from having similar experiences.

    What I am really curious about is how you deal with the difficulties of your belief system. This fascinates me about all belief systems. I used to spend time on the internet asking other religions about various paradoxical or seemingly contradictory beliefs that they hold. I was always curious about how they would respond. All religions have these. Oddly, we seem to understand the potential issues of someone else’s belief system better than we understand our own. Furthermore, we’re quick to call a problem in another religion a “contradiction” while calling our own “paradoxes” or by crowbaring in an answer.

    It’s my firm belief that all religious systems have massive issues that they have to explain away. (including Aetheism.) My frank view is that Mormonism, warts and all, has no more, and possibly less, to worry about than it’s alternatives. “Buffet Mormonism” (a term I learned from Mormon Stories) has it’s problems too; to me, they were massive. That’s why I couldn’t be one for very long.

  36. Peter Brown
    February 4, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Bruce – Tolerance of Ambiguity – Well done. I like to think that my ideas can be moved and that I can be fluid, whether towards a more NOM kind of thinking or perhaps the other way – batten down the hatches for the Apocalypse – either way, thanks for opening up the way on this post. We could all do with a little less certainty.

  37. February 4, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    Nice discussion. I’m on the Sunstone Board and didn’t find anything too problematic with Jettboy’s (Comment #5) description of Sunstone Mormons and FARMS Mormons. Bruce Nielson (Comment #15) picked out the problem with Jettboy’s taxonomy — use of the word “unbelief” to describe Sunstone Mormons. In my experience, Sunstone Mormons are bursting with “belief,” though it is fair to say their beliefs range far more heterodox or unorthodox, as a community, than mainstream Mormons. (The same might be said of FARMS Mormons.) Both groups are probably more rigorous about examining their faith than mainstream Mormons.

    I think Clay Whipkey (Comment #17) nails the real difference between the two groups, though Bruce helpts to soften his definition somewhat. Bruce might be right that all humans “crowbar” evidence to support a preconceived conclusion. The big difference between the two are the contours of said conclusion — the height, width, and depth — and the focus of the conclusion. FARMS Mormons ultimately marshall evidence to support one, largely monolithic conclusion: the church is true. The focus is on the answer. Sunstone Mormons are more interested in the question — What is true? The answers are very wide and far ranging, with varying degrees of fidelity to orthodox Mormon beliefs. (Along that spectrum, Sunstone welcomes orthodox believers and FARMS apologists as part of the discussion.)

    I think this is a fun discussion and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. A lot of people can’t be easily shoe-horned into one category or the other. But let me try… :)

    Kent asks about Blake Ostler? Though he engages and participates in both communities, I see him as primarily engaged in Apologetics, and therefore a FARMS Mormon. Same with Robert Millet, and even Richard Bushman, though both are much less strident than most FARMS Mormons. (By the way, Richard Bushman is speaking at the Sunstone West Symposium next month.)

    But what about Gene England, or Lowell Bennion, or Bob Rees, or Armand Mauss, or Bonner Ritchie? All are/were faithful “believers” like Ostler. The latter group have all engaged in “apologetics” for the church in one form or another over the years (i.e. defending scripture, prophetic authority, etc.), but I’d still classify them as Sunstone Mormons. I say this because they all did more than just defend the church, they were/are also activists for change (i.e. lobbying for changes with regard to blacks, women, homosexuals, intellectuals, etc.).

  38. Bruce Nielson
    February 4, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Doug G,

    You asked: “In your opinion, is there room in the church for “NOMs “ or “Sunstone Mormons” in the present culture with President Monson at the head or should they be sought out and removed so as to protect the church from heretics?”

    Good question. Would it suprise you if I don’t believe there is an either or answer here? I think there should — no must — be room for doubters. We are all doubters, or at least have been. I am a “doubter” myself, depending on how you define that term. But no matter what you believe, you have a belief system. I’ve talked to many atheists that try to claim that they aren’t a religion — i.e. a belief system. It’s not true. A “NOM” or “Sunstone Mormon” that has decided that the Book of Mormon is not historical, that’s part of their belief system. It’s part of their religion. That particularly belief is at odds with the majority of Mormons today, and frankly for good reasons.

    However, I don’t believe that makes that person bad, nor do I necessarily believe they lose salvation due such a belief. (I need to do a post on this.) The fact is that we all have beliefs that are at odds with “official doctrine” if for no other reason than because “official doctrine” is expected to change over time as more is known.

    The real issue here is whether a person starts to actively recruit people away from the current official position. (It’s sort of rare that the Church even has a current official position, so this isn’t asking that much.)

    If a person starts to recruit to their religious belief system, at what point are they now a separate religion doing missionary work to their religious system? This is obviously a tough judgement call. But it’s one that has to be made by local leaders.

    Imagine Greenpeace if they were required to allow anyone to enter their ranks and didn’t have the power to expel people. How long would it take for the businesses of the world to quickly fill in the ranks of Greenpeace and change their mission to something a bit more business friendly? The “Green” in Greenpeace would quickly be a reference to money.

    A group or organization, especially a religion, must have the ability to define themselves. That implies they must have the ability to remove people that are trying to redefine them via active recruiting to a different belief system. This is natural and obvious to me.

    The contention goes that you can believe whatever you like in the Mormon Church, so long as you keep it to yourself. It should be noted that this is not true of all other religions. There are many religions that state you must believe certain things to be a member. (Obviously you can lie about your beliefs, but that is a different issues.)

    That’s not the case for Mormonism. You really can believe whatever you like. In fact, my experience is that you can even openly talk about your beliefs without fear of getting execomunicated. You just can’t start recruiting to a different belief system.

    I think the real key is to be able to voice orthodoxy as an option. What I mean by that is that you have to voice your opinions in such a way as to not cause waves.

    Let me give an example: I have a good friend that confided in me he believes Job and pretty well most of the Old Testament is a work of fiction. He is a good “orthodox” member of the Church.

    In the Mormon Church, he can openly talk to me about his beliefs without anything bad happening to him. He is well within “orthodoxy” to decide something like this. But as he explained it to me: “I would never bring this up in a Church setting, because that would be wrong.” Furthermore he explained to me “of course I may be wrong in my theory and that’s fine by me.” He voiced orthodoxy. That’s all he needed to do.

    Do you see what I am driving at? I doubt there is any belief you could hold, even believing that the Book of Mormon is not historical, that you can’t openly hold in the Mormon Church so long as you voice the possiblity of the current orthodox position and avoid making waves or recruiting to your way of thinking.

    Please don’t ask me about specifics of anyone that’s been execomunicated. I can’t say for certain that every excommunication in the history of the Church was valid. It seems unreasonable that they would all be valid since local leaders are human. Furthermore, I know plain well that those that are excommunicated tend to cast themselves in a more positive light than is really true. This is human nature. And since the local Church leaders don’t come out and explain their point of view, I never have a basis for judging who is right. But let me just say that the few cases I am directly familiar with were all extremely valid excommunications even though the person claimed otherwise. I think the Church generally does pretty well in this regard.

  39. TJM
    February 4, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Regarding apologetics and physics:
    ”However, my example is still sound, as long as it’s not taken to the extreme that you just took it to. Physics is still full of seeming contradictions (seeming to us macro entities anyhow that have never lived in a quantum universe) that are just accepted as true.”

    Hmmm… I don’t know about that, really it seems like apologetics.

    apologetics: The branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines.

    As stated earlier, in apologetics the “thinking” is already made up. They are in “defense” mode, “crowbaring” to make things fit in to a puzzle to which the pieces are already cut.

    Physics/Science is in “offense” mode in an open search of truth no matter where the process leads.

    And, how do you know that “us macro entities” don’t already live in a quantum universe, how do you know we are not quantum particles of another system altogether? ;)

  40. February 4, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Bruce,

    I’m not athiest, but I also cannot say “I know” anything in particular is true. While I loved Gene England’s _Why The Church Is More True Than The Gospel_, I also loved Lowell Bennion’s response to it at a (1987?) Sunstone session. In it Bennion challenged the idea of calling a gospel or a church “true”. He said he preferred to measure those things on the basis of their goodness. That concept is really important, I think. Folks here keep arguing that the church maybe has always been flexible and allowing itself to be what it can be for each person on their own terms. I just have a hard to time reconciling that notion to the tone and rhetoric of Mormon worshipful discourse.

    For me, surety is a barrier to peace. Surety imposes itself on others in varying degrees of violence. I have said before that I am not in the kind of pain that is common for folks who walk this path, but I do struggle with anger. Surety bothers me and creates an urge to disabuse what I see as destructive notions. In my most sober moments I know very well that I’m not qualified to judge people’s beliefs as destructive. I know I can only have peace if I allow others their peace. Its just not easy to control.

  41. February 4, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    You can tell with 100% accuracy what FARMS will determine in advance

    So, how did FARMS react to the Lehi Cave discovery?

  42. Bruce Nielson
    February 4, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Clay says: I’m not athiest

    I hope you didn’t think I was saying you were. I was just using atheism as an extreme example. It had nothing to do with you.

    You mention a lot about your concerns with surety. That’s interesting because that’s my top concern too. (And indeed, is my top concern with some posters on this site who don’t seem able to even articulate the possiblity that their views might not be correct, no matter how inprobably they might feel that possibility is.)

    However, it’s clear we interpret the concept of “surety” differently. For example, I am only against surety at the detail level. (Say, being sure that God was once a sinful man on another planet, or being sure that Presidently Hinckley was trying to mislead. I find things like this very concerning and they get me up at arms as much as surety gets you up at arms.)

    But I have no problem with a person deciding to live their life as if they were sure there was a God, even though they aren’t completely sure really. In fact, I think this is a necessary step to salvation. (Think Puddleglum.) That’s what faith really is.

    I believe in “Hope” in the biblical sense: as expectation. Not in the modern sense of a wish. But I don’t believe most people have a perfect knowledge of the existence of God either. I sure don’t.

    Interestingly, I do not find this to be at odds with the current Mormon practice of saying they “know” such and such to be true via a spiritual witness. The word “know” rarely means perfect knowledge in any context I can think of. Usually it just means someone has knowledge about something. I know the world is round, but I don’t have a perfect knowledge of it, never having been in space.

    I question if using the word “know” is a best practice, but it’s certainly not an inappropriate use of the word. Officially, the Church encourages people to use “believe” or “have faith” in testimonies if they prefer. (I can show you official documents.) But I think culturally we’re pretty steeped in the word “know” at this point.

    >>> He said he preferred to measure those things on the basis of their goodness

    This is a good example of the ultimate conundrum of believeing in no surety at all, even at a macro level. Even as an act of faith. How do you know for SURE what goodness is? This basis Bennion is suggesting is based on surety in his ability to even know what good is. That’s a pretty high level of surety there. We are all SURE about many things, though that surety may actually be based in faith. In this case, Bennions faith that he had a God given conscience that he could rely upon, for the most part, to discern goodness with.

  43. Bruce Nielson
    February 4, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    I am once again spending too much time on this site. Have to take a break for a while. Good night all.

  44. David
    February 4, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    So, how did FARMS react to the Lehi Cave discovery?

    I tried to answer this honestly so I went searching for information on it, studiously trying to avoid any FARMS references. I was unsuccessful, I saw that FARMS thought it was bogus before I was able to gather more information, so I can’t give you an honest assessment on that one. Next time, please provide enough information so that I can make a guess without accidentally discovering what FARMS thinks about it.

    FARMS generally likes to be on the defense about claims, they rarely if ever make positive claims. They will most likely ignore or poo-poo the claim, mainly because FARMS does not want an albatross around their neck that they may have to end up defending later. They in general try and minimize what they have to defend. From what I can gather, that is what happened in the Lehi cave “controversy.” I think this also accounts for the near 100% agreement among FARMS people in LGT, it simply leaves much less to defend to take what the early saints thought about the matter at face value, Zelph anyone?

    Yes, I am sure that FARMS has tons of excuses for Zelph that leave LGT in tact. All, I am guessing, mostly try and confuse the issue and explain how clear statements are not so clear. Finally, they have a really nasty habit of going ad hominem, the best example of that was the Grant Palmer episode.

    In any event, FARMS is in the business of defending the Book of Mormon, which is an admirable goal, even if their tactics are sometimes less than admirable. That was my point, under no situation will FARMS ever deny Book of Mormon historicity. I am not saying they should, just that they never will. I can and do expect physicists to challenge established theories. If I gave the impression that you can determine with 100% accuracy the specifics of how they will defend an issue, my apologies. You can know the party line with 100% accuracy, not the tactical maneuvers. Sorry about the confusion.

  45. Doug G.
    February 4, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Bruce,

    Thanks for the thoughtful answer to my question. This is strange for me but I completely agree with your point regarding the churches need to remove those who wish to destroy others faith. I don’t believe someone should be removed for disclosing factual information, but the church certainly has a right to protect itself from those who would like to see it go away.

    Again, thanks for the response…

  46. February 5, 2008 at 7:10 am

    David, you ought to read the analysis. Nice, clean, direct.

    FARMS got its start on a table in Jack Welch’s office and had its roots in his outlining the scriptures as he studied them and noticing Chaismus in them and his doing some small, but well accepted scholarship. It picked up a little steam in making reprints of various out of print texts available (including Nibley’s famous talk about Goat Island, the location of the narrow neck of land and the zipper). But it was originally about research and thought. These days they are doing some nice work in document preservation and recovery.

    While their are apologists in the group, some of whom get pretty sharp, I think your overall characterization is unfair.

    That said, I met Jack Welch before he came to BYU, then again in 1980 when I took business organizations from him, and just saw him last year at the class reunion for my law school class. I probably have a different perspective on it than you do.

    They’ve made a lot of positive claims over the years.

    But I think your perspective isn’t fair (speaking of which, FAIR is the real apologetics group).

  47. February 5, 2008 at 9:18 am

    I think to the public, FARMS is most famous for their reviews of books. In some of the ones I’ve read they tend to deal with critical topics by attacking the credibility of the author and often leave some of the questions on the table. Grant Palmer’s book is a good example. This approach feels very litigious to me. It treats the issues as if all that matters is the perception you can walk away with, not where the issues naturally take you. The methodology essentially combats criticism by making critics look like bad enough people that they should be avoided like a bad influence.

    This tactic is not only used on the author, but also the sources. Whats funny to me is that while apologists will say that prophets and others are fallible and their mistakes can be accepted while still believing in their goodness and even their inspiration… the same charity is not extended to people whose witness stands against the apologetic point of view. Their mistakes or personal motivations are freely exploited and speculated on to demonstrate why their testimony is not trustworthy. I’m not saying the testimony of either side is clear, but rather the opposite. Its super confusing when you really take in the fact that all our “good guys” and our “bad guys” have good and bad parts and knowing who really is right or wrong is way more subjective than its made to appear.

  48. Kevin Christensen
    February 5, 2008 at 11:16 am

    The term “one true church” is not scriptural and therefore should not define critical LDS discussion. The key phrase in D&C 1:30 has 30 words, not three. I found it helpful to read the passage in question by assuming that the additional words actually have meaningful content, and are not just empty verbosity that we can safely whittle down to a few or replace whilly nilly according to our whims. I presented a Sunstone session on the topic.

    Regarding Grant Palmer, I’ve recently listened to the Sunstone “Author Meets the Critics” MP3 (which for accuracy in labeling should be called, “Author Meets Unqualified Surrender”, and four hours of John Dehlin’s interview. The only serious questions that any of panels or audience members or Dehlin put to Palmer was, “Why stay LDS if its all lies?” No one there had good answers. For the record, for any who might appreciate it, I think I do (even though I don’t agree with Palmer at all), which I first presented to a tiny audience at a Chicago Sunstone. (See my “Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience”, some extracts of which I used in my Sunstone essay “On Wagging the Dog.”

    The reviewers who published via FARMS, Davis Bitton, James Allen, Stephen Harper, Mark Ashurst McGee, and the collective Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, and Louis Midgely, asked many very well informed questions of Palmer’s effort with respect to historical sources and methodology. For example, given Palmer’s claim that the stories of the angelic priesthood restoration were only invented in 1834-5 to bolster Smith’s authority, why doesn’t Palmer refer to the first paragraph of the 1832 Joseph Smith History. Palmer uses that source elsewhere. Why does it disappear when it undermines this key claim? Any why do the free-thinking, well informed, open-minded questers in the “Meet the Critics” panel and session overlook this, and many other, obvious problems? Is the material in the first paragraph of the 1832 account merely subjective or ad hominem relative to Palmer’s argument?

    Why, when discussing sources like the Stephen Burnett letter, does Palmer completely ignore Richard L. Anderson’s four page discussion in the 1981 book Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses? Palmer dismisses Anderson by labeling him as too literal in a single footnote. Is this scholarship to emulate? For my money, Anderson shows the importance of not just gathering all sources, but critically evaluating them.

    Why does Palmer neglect literally hundreds of important studies and primary sources while claiming to represent a consensus view of LDS scholars? And why does he suppress important material in sources that he does cite? For example, why does he cite Ostler’s important 1987 essay on the “Expansion Theory” only to support the notion of a 19th Century origin, and ignore all of Ostler’s references to important comparisons to antiquity? For example, Ostler cites Hugh Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon, which compares Benjamin’s discourse to ancient coronation ceremonies. Nibley’s 1957 priesthood manual describes a 36 step ritual, compared to Palmer’s quote from Brent Metcalfe offering a four step revival conversion pattern. Palmer claims that he can account for 80% of the Book of Mormon in just six sources. It sseems to me that here the percentage claim fails here. Since 1957, several other scholars have extended the comparisons to the Day of Atonement, Tabernacles, Sabbath, and Jubilee years, ancient farewell addresses, and even more recently to Mesoamerican temple murals contemporary with Benjamin, and Mesoamerican rituals (see Dianne Wirth). Does “honestly confronting the LDS past” mean all of this can be completely ignored? Is it so hard to pick up and read the huge 1998 volume on King Benjamin’s Speech? Should we credit Palmer with courage, boldness, and daring insight, when he completely ignores something so conspicuous and relevant to his specific claims? Is it impolite to notice that not only does this new emperor of Mormon thought not only have no clothes, but that he’s not the emperor either? Should those who have read enough to see the glaring problems in his work defer to the tender sensitivies of those who have not?

    Why does Palmer complain about Midgely’s account of the Paul Pry name while also reporting that he refused to respond to three requests for more information from Midgely? I’ve seen evidence that Midgely is quite willing to revise his opinions in light of new information, and publically admit when he got something wrong. When has Palmer does so?

    While generalizing about FARMS, please be so considerate as to support generalizations with specific examples. We can then decide just how representative such examples are, given that around 500 scholars have published through FARMS. When claiming that FARMS is trying to “prove” things, please discuss the various authors, from Nibley, to Welch, to Sorenson, to Peterson, to Midgely, to Goff, and Ash, and even yours truely, who have insisted that “proof” is impossible. We all know that “so what?” works as an answer to the best stuff we’ve can offer. We’re just trying, as Nibley says, to keep the door open.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  49. Bruce Nielson
    February 5, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Excellent response, Kevin. All religious views/beliefs sytems have potential holes and perhaps what we are calling the “FARMS Mormon” view has the same or fewer holes as anyone else. I reject that idea that what we are calling “Sunstone Mormons” in some sense are more open to where the evidence leads than what we are calling “FARMS Mormons.” I think this is a bit of self aggrandizement at best and could be intellectual dishonesty at worst.

    But I will accept the notion that both groups accept different things as evidence. This I can agree with.

    Kevin, do you have a link to that article (“Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience”) you mentioned? If not, can I contact you somehow so you can send it to me?

  50. Kent
    February 5, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Bruce, that was my point with the question of Blake Ostler and what box one should put him in. As I see it we could generalize these categories differently: Sunstone Mormons are interested in cultural and community issues and “soft science” scholarship, FARMS Mormons are focused on textual analysis and “real” scholarship. The labels are stupid. Am I a Kofford Books kind of Mormon? Am I a Deseret Book kind of Mormon? Lame.

    The original question is important however, and that is how do we accept others who see things differently than we do? In response to that question I agree with John that the Church as a whole is more accepting of the “different” individuals than possibly any other time since 1950.

  51. Kevin Christensen
    February 5, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Bruce,

    Thanks. For a link to my “Model of Mormon Spiritual Experiece,”
    voila.
    http://www.meridianmagazine.com/articles/060103prayer.html

    http://www.meridianmagazine.com/articles/060104Experience.html

    http://www.meridianmagazine.com/articles/060215model.html

    Pity about the typos in my post. Tis a cross I must bear.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  52. Dude
    February 5, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Well, I thought I’d mostly be holding my peace here, but I can’t help it, I just have to chime in. Hopefully this will not create a firestorm. But I guess whether it creates one or not depends on whether people will respect my point of view or not and not call me arrogant and imperial or crap like that. Yes, it is true, I snapped back with other colorful language, but as I see it it was in reaction to those type of things. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter now. Now I will actually make my point.

    This “FARMS Mormon” stuff ties into the previous topic as well. As you all know, when I was posting before, I was arguing for the ethics of holding back information mostly, and only arguing for the ethics of putting out incorrect information in the most extreme of circumstances.

    The way I see it, a “FARMS Mormon” is a perfect label for an apologist who makes up a fairy tale land explanation for something rather than coming up with an explanation that fits the evidence. An example would be John Sorenson’s deer explanation for lack of horses, or obsidian blades for lack of steel, or Hugh Nibley’s “missing papyrus” theory about the Book of Abraham. To me these are a perfect example of someone who is choosing the “lesser portion” of the truth to try to build faith. This is another thing where the ethics of putting out incorrect information deliberately could be debated. But it is clear that these apologists who do this have deliberately chosen not to come up with an explanation that fits the evidence. I’m not so sure I’m very committed to defending these type of things as much as I defend the ethics of holding back information in extreme circumstances.

    As a side note, just yesterday, in the news conference, President Monson used the principle of holding back information by refusing to answer the lady’s question about people the marriage amendment (and homosexuality) directly. Instead, he stated that if someone is in apostasy, then it does matter whether they disagree with Church leaders. And then he cut her off when she tried to ask again about the specifics of what she was asking about.

  53. Bruce Nielson
    February 5, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Kent, I agree with you that labels don’t really ever fit. That’s not to say they don’t have their uses. But we should never forget that the masses don’t exist because every person is an individual.

    I have never in my life met a “stereotypical republican” or a “stereotypical democract” (though I’ve met some people that come close.) I have never in my life met a “FARMS Mormon” nor a “Sunstone Mormon” either. I doubt they actually exist.

    But if the label helps us discuss a general point of view worth discussing, I won’t reject the label, at least not for the purposes of that discussion. I feel that the labels we choose here do describe a divide that really exists in the LDS Church and is worth discussing. But I’d be hard pressed to place myself or any one else fully into one camp or the other.

    Oh, and I wouldn’t disagree with calling Blake a “FARMS Mormon” instead of a “Sunstone Mormon.” I think your description of the two groups might be more accurate than what we were previously describing them as.

  54. Kent
    February 5, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Dude, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that FARMS scholars do not follow the evidence (or lack of evidence).

    Bruce, you really want to use my description of FARMS Mormons vs. Sunstone Mormons? That would be folly since I was stereotyping. Lets have a fun exercise and define terms then. I’m sure by the time we are done everyone will be upset with portrayals. Better, I think, to use specific examples and circumstances to look at what members and leaders of the Church see as “threatening” beliefs/behaviors vs. acceptable beliefs/behaviors. Seriously, that would be a fruitful discussion (though likely equally frustrating).

  55. Bruce Nielson
    February 5, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    >>> Bruce, you really want to use my description of FARMS Mormons vs. Sunstone Mormons? That would be folly since I was stereotyping

    Did I say I wanted to use your definition? :P And I quote: “I think your description of the two groups might be more accurate than what [sic] we were previously describing them as.” (Pardon my bad grammar)

  56. Dude
    February 5, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    “Dude, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that FARMS scholars do not follow the evidence (or lack of evidence).”

    How does deer = horses? Horses are horses are horses. How does obsidian = steel? Steel is steel is steel. If you have lack of evidence, you simply say there is no evidence, and you look forward to when that evidence will appear. You don’t say, well, I think its obsidian. That is not following evidence.

  57. Kent
    February 5, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Dude, it is obvious that you have certain assumptions about the how the Book of Mormon came to be rendered into the English language. I would start by challenging your assumptions about Joseph Smith’s translation process, and that he was given a “ticker tape” word for word translation by the Lord. Such a view is untenable due to the evidence I have evaluated. I hold a view similar to Blake Ostler’s as to how the Book of Mormon came about, and ignoring the evidence of Joseph’s participatory role is naive in my opinion. There are thousands of members of the church that believe as you do and are waiting for the evidence to eventually show up and that is just fine, being a scholar is not a requirement for faith and covenant making with the Lord.

    It will do no violence to my faith to find out there actually was steel as we understand the word steel. My testimony will not be affected if I find out there was a world wide flood, or that the earth is really only 7000 years old. I believe your testimony would not be hurt if you find out that Joseph Smith used Isaiah in his Bible in the translation, rather than just getting each word from the stone/urim & thummin. The point of disagreement is actually rather small, but I do want to point out how big the issue is about how I, You, the Prophet, Joseph Smith, etc. receive revelation and what that means. That is the topic of discussion at hand, specifically how we accept those who have different views of authority/revelation (or the lack thereof) in the church.

  58. Dude
    February 5, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    “Dude, it is obvious that you have certain assumptions about the how the Book of Mormon came to be rendered into the English language. I would start by challenging your assumptions about Joseph Smith’s translation process, and that he was given a “ticker tape” word for word translation by the Lord.”

    Again, argument from lack of evidence. I would start by challenging your lack of evidence for being able to assert it, when there is plenty of evidence that the text was GIVEN WORD FOR WORD to the Prophet.

    “ignoring the evidence of Joseph’s participatory role is naive in my opinion.”

    Ostler’s theory is nice, and has explanatory power, but again, is an argument from silence. Therefore, I would first take the Book of Mormon at face value, which is the easiest thing to do, and then simply say, why not just let steel be steel, and say there is no evidence for it yet. Why not use the STRENGTHS of the archaeological record, such as how we have found so much CEMENT, and how we can expect that steel won’t be too far behind?

  59. Kent
    February 5, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Dude, I’m with you. You convinced me.

  60. Dude
    February 5, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    “Dude, I’m with you. You convinced me.”

    Cool. See, thats the thing. So often, we fail to recognize just how powerful our position really is based on what we do have already, and we discredit ourselves by trying to make it more than the evidence will allow. If you don’t have evidence for some particular something, then you acknowledge that lack of evidence and bear testimony of your confidence that it eventually will surface, and move on. I mean, my word, we have cities from the Pre-classic period such as el Mirador just starting to surface. These are the cities that really matter, since they date to the right time period. Furthermore, we have a place that fits the requirements of the text nicely. Maybe the neck of land is fatter than some would like, but its still a pretty good fit. The only thing that bugs me is the Mesoamerican Cumorah theory. An “obvious” reading of the text puts it in the great lakes region. It was an exceedingly great distance from Zarahemla, so why not let it be? Cumorah wasn’t where there was a bunch of volcanoes anyway. It was in a land that lies extremely far away from the core of Nephite civilization anyway, according to the text, so we dont need evidence of volcanoes or stone cities near it.

    I’m irritated by the fact that FARMS people always say that it can’t be the place of the Nephite destruction, but never once has a BYU archaeologist so much as lifted one shovel of dirt or done any serious dig at the Cumorah site in New York to DEMONSTRATE that it wasn’t an ancient battleground. It really seems to me that the burden is on them to prove that its not Cumorah because they are the ones that want to assert that it is NOT. So go dig BYU, go DIG, and prove to me its not!!! Demonstrate that it wasn’t an ancient battleground.

  61. Kent
    February 5, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Great, now back to your regularly scheduled topic.

  62. Bruce Nielson
    February 5, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    I think the exchange we just saw between Dude and Kent illustrates my point very well. Both Dude and Kent have very logical approaches. Both are logical people. Both consider all the facts (or at least the ones they are currently aware of.) Both follow the evidence. Both are intelligent. Both came to widely different conclusions.

    If I have one complaint about Dude’s approach, it isn’t that I think there is a problem with his approach per se. I only have a concern with his level of certainty that he has followed the evidence better than Kent.

    But both weight the evidence and interpret it differently.

    And yes, I agree with Kent that the evidence that the Book of Mormon was word for word is not as strong as Dude is assuming — not that I have ruled out that possibility. I’m very familiar with Royal Skowsen’s work on this subject and I find it impressive. But I’m not yet convinced his argument is stronger than the alternative argument, at least not yet. I’m certainly not convinced it’s a certainty, in any case. I’m content to wait for more knowledge on this subject and haven’t cast my lot to either camp yet.

    This is an area where we need to allow people to form their own personal opinions and not assume we have thought it through better than someone else.

    Dude, as an alternative to your view that the Book of Mormon is word for word… what if Skowsen is only half right? What if portions of the Book of Mormon were word for word but other parts were Midrash? Wouldn’t that explain Skowsen’s evidence while still allowing for Kent’s views as well? Can you at least be open to the possiblity even if you personally don’t feel it’s likely? (Hint: this is an easy question that frankly only has one viable answer. It is “yes” there is a possibility. No matter how improbable you feel it is based on the current evidence, there is still a possibility unless you care to take the full burden of proof on yourself… good luck with that if you choose that path. :) )

  63. Doug G.
    February 5, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Bruce,

    Help me with the logic here involving the word for word translation method. I thought this apologetic view arose from the many testimonials of key witnesses to the mechanics of the translation process. To sum up, Emma Smith, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Isaac Hale, Michael Morse, Oliver Cowdery, William Smith and Joseph Knight all described a very similar methodology of placing the seer stone or Urmin and Thummin (depending on the author) in a hat to exclude the light and reading off the translation. As this process didn’t involve looking at the actual plates, one must assume each word was delivered by direct revelation through the stone.

    I’m just having problems with people wanting it both ways here. If Joseph did actually translate from the plates then I can see the explanation put forth by Skowsen as possible. If we accept the stone in the hat methodology, then the word for word revelation is the only logical conclusion one can draw. I don’t believe you can be in both camps on this. If I’m missing something, please let me know…

  64. February 5, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    what if Skowsen is only half right? What if portions of the Book of Mormon were word for word but other parts were Midrash?

    Or what if Joseph was limited by his language, which is something he and Brigham Young both said about how God dealt with man and the limits of revelation?

  65. Bruce Nielson
    February 5, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Dude,

    >>> If I’m missing something, please let me know…

    No, you aren’t missing something. Yes, you are interpreting the data in one of many possible ways and you’re not yet seeing the strength of the other interpretations.

    Okay, consider these points: The main person that tells us about what you are calling “the stone in the hat method” is Martin Harris. It’s mentioned by several others, but in much less detail. Martin Harris tells us that Joseph looked into a hat and hieroglyphics would appear with a translation for each one underneath it. (I’ll have to look up the quote here.) Martin believed Joseph just read the translation to the scribe. He did not think Joseph had to study it out or anything like that. (A point that the D&C says isn’t true, btw.) He also tells us that if the scribe recorded anything wrong that the image of the heiroglyphics would not move to the next group.

    The first question that needs to be asked, before we continue any analysis, is “how did Martin Harris know this?” Did he, for instance, actually get to look into the hat and see this process in action himself? Well, we know he didn’t. So the only logical assumption is that he is explaining what he *thinks* happened. Perhaps this was based on knowledge from Joseph, perhaps not. It’s not hard to imagine Martin piecing together his view from things Joseph said, but maybe not really understanding fully and accidently inventing some of his view himself.

    In other words, logic demands we consider the possiblity that what Martin and others told us wasn’t entirely correct. Possibly even entirely wrong. We have no way of knowing how accurate they were.

    Joseph himself refused to tell anyone how the translation was done. He merely told people it wasn’t the Lords will for him to give an explanation. (I’ll have to find the quote for this too.)

    I highly recommend: “Plates of Gold” by Matthew B. Brown to futher your study on this subject.

    Now let’s look at what Martin actually said and let’s challenge it. It is true that if the scribe wrote something down wrong that Joseph wouldn’t move on? We know for a fact this isn’t the case. We have a critical text that has errors that proves this isn’t the case. Royal Skowsen’s view is that if they did their best, God would correct it. But if they were being sloppy God let them make mistakes. (This is consistent with a view that God let’s human’s make mistakes so long as it isn’t salvation critical. A view that I personally hold.)

    Is it realistic to believe that the seer stone showed heiroglyphics and then gave a literal translation under each one? No way! This has got to be a misunderstanding on Martin’s part. Language just doesn’t work that way.

    However, it may be that Martin was partially correct. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the seer stone did show heiroglyphics and did show a translation under each one, but that it was up to Joseph to study it out and figure out how to phrase it. If you are familiar with translation between languages, I’m sure you realize that a word for word translation is often unintelligible.

    Consider this literal translation of John 3:16: “so For Loved God the world, so as the Son of Him, the Only begottoen, He gave, that everyone believing into Him no may perish, but have life everlasting.”

    It’s possible to get what it’s saying, but the grammar is all wrong. What if Joseph Smith faced a situation like that? The final wording would have been drastically based on Joseph’s words in the end and yet still have been a translation.

    I’m not suggesting that this theory is true. It’s probably not. But if it were true, that might explain why Martin held the view he did, but it would also prove Martin wrong on some very important points.

    In other words, the idea that the Book of Mormon was given word for word is not LDS Doctrine and, while it may be true, it may also not be true.

    Consider something else: What if the seer stone allowed Joseph to view the plates at a distance. Then this might explain how the “stone in the hat” method was in fact still just like translating with the plates. Is it possible? Certainly, because all options have to be considered.

    Of course it’s also possible that Martin Harris was entirely wrong and that the other people that said similar things heard it from him. Is that possible? Certainly. We can’t rule it out.

  66. Kent
    February 5, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    Doug, if you haven’t read Blake Ostler’s article in Dialogue about the translation process, you are missing a major argument that has gained a lot of support over the last 20 years: http://content.lib.utah.edu/u?/dialogue,16115

  67. Eric
    February 5, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    You all have so much to say, and I wish I had the time to keep up! What a fascinating discussion. I was able to read a few of the comments. At the risk of saying something irrelevant or redundant, I thought I’d offer the following trusted anecdote. A friend of mine, who had served on the FARMS board before its acquisition by BYU, told of an invitation by FARMS to Elder Eyring to speak at its annual banquet. There was no reply for a few days. Suddenly, Elder Eyring appeared in Provo at the office of the FARMS director. He asked point-blank, “What is the difference between FARMS and all of the other guys?” The director replied, “We start by assuming the Church is true and go from there.” Elder Eyring: “Then I’ll speak at your banquet.”

  68. Kevin Christensen
    February 5, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    Bruce,

    The moderator held on to the links to my “Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience.” But you can find them by going to the Meridan Magazine website, and searching for my name under “articles.” Or email me. My current email is in my essay in the November 2005 Sunstone.

    And on the Hill of Considerable size in New York and archeology, see JBMS 13:1-2 2004, “Archeology and Cumorah Questions” by John E. Clark, pages 148-151.

    Best,

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  69. Doug G.
    February 5, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    Bruce,
    I hate to do this to you, but facts shouldn’t be swept away so easily.

    First, it Doug not Dude…

    “Okay, consider these points: The main person that tells us about what you are calling “the stone in the hat method” is Martin Harris. It’s mentioned by several others, but in much less detail. Martin Harris tells us that Joseph looked into a hat and hieroglyphics would appear with a translation for each one underneath it.”

    I completely agree that Martin couldn’t have actually known what the characters appearing in the hat looked like or whether or not the English translation was spelled out clearly. However, I think it’s disingenuous to infer that he didn’t observe the head in the hat translation methodology while writing the first 116 pages. There’s even a story he tells about testing Joseph by switching out his seer stone with a similar looking one to see if he could still do it. If you’re insinuating that he deliberately lied about the process, then the church has much bigger problems as this would effectively discredit him as a special witness.
    “Is it realistic to believe that the seer stone showed heiroglyphics and then gave a literal translation under each one? No way! This has got to be a misunderstanding on Martin’s part. Language just doesn’t work that way.”

    I’ve got to throw the “come on Bruce” at this statement. If we’re agreeing that God could make the characters appear in the hat’s stone, he certainly would have provided the correct English translation to go with it. I realize that this is just my opinion, but the God I believe in wouldn’t go to all the trouble of giving the reformed Egyptian characters in the spiritual light of the hat but fail to give a good English translation to go with it. Sorry, I just can’t make myself go there.

    “Of course it’s also possible that Martin Harris was entirely wrong and that the other people that said similar things heard it from him. Is that possible? Certainly. We can’t rule it out.”

    I don’t know about you, but having read the statements by people that we know were in the room while the translation was going on certainly wouldn’t have just repeated what Martin Harris said. Emma Smith was a scribe and must have been present for most of the work. Michael Morse claimed to have a first-hand account as well as Isaac Hale. They all gave a similar story of the stone in the hat methodology. Joseph Knight was a close friend of Joseph’s and wouldn’t make something like that up in my opinion. William Smith is also very creditable. They all told the same story of the stone in the hat. To say it didn’t happen that way means dismissing an awful lot of evidence including Russell M. Nelson’s July 1993 Ensign Article where he quoted David Whitmer’s statement about the stone in the hat. For me my friend, with this many collaborating testimonies of the same event, I am very comfortable ruling out your statement above.

    I’m not stating here that the process couldn’t have been inspired, I think that’s up to each individual to decide for themselves, but let’s not dismiss the well documented statements of so many of Joseph’s close friends and relatives not to mention a sitting member of the quorum of the twelve…

  70. Bruce Nielson
    February 6, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Doug,

    Sorry I called you Dude.

    I hate to do this to you, but please go back and read what I wrote again. You misunderstood basically all of it.

    >>> I think it’s disingenuous to infer that he didn’t observe the head in the hat translation methodology while writing the first 116 pages

    What I was saying here is that Martin never actually looked into the hat himself and saw what Joseph saw. I was not in any way challenging that Joseph used a “hat in the stone” technique itself, I am challenging if that processes is what Martin claimed it was – i.e. that Joseph saw a heiroglyphic with a translation under it that he merely needed to read off and that would then not disappear until it was written down correctly. We know from the critical text this methodology can’t be completely right. And we know from how translations work that there is no way that reformed Egyptian happens to have English grammar (which is the literal understanding of Martin’s explanation.)

    I then went on to give several variant possibilities for the sake of argument. I am not expecting you or anyone to believe in any of them. They were just for discussion purposes.

    Update: Oh, I see the confusion. I called the whole literal rendering method of Martin Harris’s “the stone in the hat method” which then confuses the issue. So let me clarify now: I am purposing “alternative stone in the hat methods” to the one that Martin Harris writes about. Sorry for the confusion. Poor wording on my part.

  71. Dude
    February 6, 2008 at 10:14 am

    “Dude, as an alternative to your view that the Book of Mormon is word for word… what if Skowsen is only half right? What if portions of the Book of Mormon were word for word but other parts were Midrash? Wouldn’t that explain Skowsen’s evidence while still allowing for Kent’s views as well?”

    I can allow for the possibility, but the possibility of something doesn’t make it probable or plausible when the weight of evidence doesn’t allow for it. Anything is possible, and that’s the whole problem with apologetics, with the confusion between possible and plausible. You all take what is possible and run with it, as if it is something that has weight to it. It’s possible, however unlikely, that I will grow a tumor on my big toe in the next days.

    On the other hand, even if something is “Midrash,” it totally possible. But it has no weight.

    “And we know from how translations work that there is no way that reformed Egyptian happens to have English grammar (which is the literal understanding of Martin’s explanation.)”

    Thats trying to impose a piece of data ALIEN to the evidence at hand. Thats like somebody trying to explain the meaning of an Egyptian Heiroglyph based on a Japanese Kanji ideogram. Joseph Smith never translated that way, according to the evidence we have.

    Furthermore, even if it is “Midrash”, I ask you WHO did it? Joseph Smith gave us the text, as he recieved it, according to the EVIDENCE. Was Moroni on the other end of the Urim and Thummim supplying the English text? Was it Jesus Christ? Who was supplying the English text to Joseph Smith? Did MORONI add a “Midrash” posthumously by acting as the entity on the other end of the Urim and Thummim communicating to Joseph Smith through it? I think that is a more plausible question than trying to say that Joseph Smith did it. I think that is the question you should be asking. Joseph Smith was simply the guy getting the text and writing it down. He wasn’t the ORIGIN of the English text!

  72. Dude
    February 6, 2008 at 10:19 am

    “The first question that needs to be asked, before we continue any analysis, is “how did Martin Harris know this?” Did he, for instance, actually get to look into the hat and see this process in action himself? Well, we know he didn’t. So the only logical assumption is that he is explaining what he *thinks* happened.”

    No. A more logical explanation is that Joseph Smith explained it to him. Nevertheless, he is EYEWITNESS, you arent. His report is what an eyewitness said happened. Your words are some guy trying to make sense of it in the 21st century. I say that I am taking his word at face value and letting it be exactly what he says it is. You are trying to complicate it by adding your interpretation to it! Let it be exactly what he says it was! That is how you let evidence speak, not by complicating it further by adding your own gobbldy gick to it.

  73. Bruce Nielson
    February 6, 2008 at 10:21 am

    >>> You all take what is possible and run with it

    Let me assure you, Dude, that I’m not running with anything. Thanks for admiting the possibility. That’s all I was after. Congratulations on being the first person on this site to admit to a possiblity that they don’t agree with. :) (This is intended as a sincere compliment by the way. I’m not trying to be ironic or anything.)

  74. Dude
    February 6, 2008 at 10:24 am

    “Now let’s look at what Martin actually said and let’s challenge it.”

    Why? It is the evidence from an Eyewitness. If you get in a car accident, and you know what happened, and some police officer who wasn’t there, but is a jerk, say, and then I say, Let’s challenge what you are saying. How about that? Would you like that? What if it affects the critical outcome of whether the fault gets pinned on you or not, and the perception of truth once the accident report is written. What if the cop gives you the ticket. Is that justice to your story when you know what happened, but because I’m the cop, I challenge it and don’t do your story justice? LET THE EVIDENCE SPEAK AND STOP TRYING TO THROW IN YOUR OWN JUNK. LET IT SPEAK.

  75. David
    February 6, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Dude,

    Stop Shouting.

    Bruce,

    You seem way more interested in getting people to admit they are wrong and/or agree with you than clarifying your opinion or anything else.

    John Dehlin,

    This thread has migrated pretty far from its original source, perhaps it’s time to shut it down. Just a suggestion, I am not an admin.

  76. Dude
    February 6, 2008 at 10:40 am

    “Stop Shouting.”

    I guess I should stop using caps for emphasis, and should withdraw myself anyway because I have a problem that I get too emotional in these things.

  77. Bruce Nielson
    February 6, 2008 at 10:45 am

    David,

    Correction: I admit I’m interested in people admiting that we’re not so certain about many things and leaving their minds open to many possibilities.

    For me to be interested in being right I would have had to have advanced my own pet theories as being the correct ones. Can you even tell what my pet theories are from this chain? I advanced more than one possibility. You say I am not clarifying my own position, and you are correct. Frankly, I don’t have a fully formed opinion on this subject yet.

    I didn’t think Dude was shouting at me. He’s just excited over where he thinks the evidence is going. I’m not disagreeing with him.

  78. Dude
    February 6, 2008 at 10:46 am

    “Let me assure you, Dude, that I’m not running with anything.”

    Giving more weight in your minds to complicated, convoluted explanations not based on weight of evidence is precisely what I define as fairly tale land apologetics, a term that I am proud to have coined myself. It is precisely what I refer to as “running with it.” There. Hows boldface for emphasis rather than caps?

  79. Bruce Nielson
    February 6, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Dude, I respect your point of view. I think you are very sincere in your attempts to follow the evidence and I think it’s exciting to see you get so excited about things like this. It sort of rubs off on me, so to speak. Thanks for the exchange.

  80. Dude
    February 6, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Thanks Bruce

  81. February 6, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    I saw a lot of dismissal of FARMS particularly, without any actual concrete examples of bad FARMS work, other than cast-off comments about horses and steel and ad hominem. Why do I often hear those exact complaints, with no actual references to actual work by FARMS? And why is FARMS treated like one person, rather than a number of people? I thought Kevin C. comments were especially telling, and deserve more response than they have garnered.

  82. Doug G.
    February 6, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Bruce,

    My apologies, I did go back and read your post and can see what you’re saying now in light of the basic understanding of the methodology employed with the seer stone. I made this too simple and should have realized that some of you folks have studied these issues to a far greater extent than I have. You really don’t know your audience when writing here. So again, please except my apology for misunderstanding your post.

    As we’re all on the same page with the seer stone in the hat and all, I reiterate my position that there are those in the church who’s concept of God doesn’t allow for believing He would give revelation in the stone of the characters on the plates but fail to give a proper translation to go with it. That would be like saying the God prepared these special interpreters for translating the plates and then took them away and told Joseph to just use his old seer stone… O wait that is what happened…

    For the sake of the discussion, many people have issues with certain parts of our doctrines and still find a way to be part of the community. As you stated before, every one of us have problems with one thing or another, so in essence we are all NOMs and that shouldn’t be a bad thing. I think what actually matters are ones’ intent with the beliefs or doubts he or she has.

  83. Dude
    February 7, 2008 at 10:20 am

    “I saw a lot of dismissal of FARMS particularly, without any actual concrete examples of bad FARMS work, other than cast-off comments about horses and steel and ad hominem.”

    Most of my impression comes from direct communication through emails over the years with John Gee, John Tvedtnes, John Sorenson, etc. John Sorenson called my Book of Mormon Geography like trying to “invent a perpetual motion machine” without so much as looking at it. John Tvednes has treated me good but dismissed my work over the years without looking at it. John Gee treated me like crap and because I believe in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and won’t answer my questions directly when I raise legitimate issues. The list goes on and on. And their work reflects these attitudes. You want examples? Try on for size everything that John Sorenson wrote on Book of Mormon Geography that rejects Cumorah in New York in a pompous arrrogance without really refuting the argument. Try on for size everything that John Gee has written on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers without really getting into the nitty gritty of them, when Ed Ashment makes him look like a bozo. And the list goes on and on. This is all personal experience, as well as tons of crap I’ve read. These men are to be otherwise praised for a lot of stuff, but there are a number of issues where they simply do not shine and are simply deserving of the harshest criticism.

  84. Bruce Nielson
    February 7, 2008 at 11:07 am

    >>> So again, please except my apology for misunderstanding your post

    Doug? What the heck are you apologizing for? I’m the one that didn’t read very carefully and called you Dude. (Not that there is anything wrong with being Dude, but Dude already has that position locked up.) :)

    Speaking of Dude: Dude, you have to realize that you’ve studied this a lot but that a forum like this is never going to allow you to really explain your full view. You can’t expect people to necessarily follow you unless you write a full book explaining all the evidence you have collected and how you fit it all together. (Maybe you have written a book?)

  85. Dude
    February 7, 2008 at 11:46 am

    “Speaking of Dude: Dude, you have to realize that you’ve studied this a lot but that a form like this is never going to allow you to really explain your full view. You can’t expect people to necessarily follow you unless you write a full book explaining all the evidence you have collected and how you fit it all together. (Maybe you have written a book?)”

    I didn’t intend my full view to be conveyed here in a forum like this. I am giving examples of pompous arrogance and lack of scholarly compassion and scholarly charity and plain meanness coming from FARMS that I have personally experienced. And yes, I lump them all together into one monolith, because they all support each other in their collective arrogance, all except for John Clark, the Mesoamerican archaeologist that does have scholarly charity.

    That’s all I’m expressing. I’m not going to get into specifics of Book of Mormon Geography or any other stuff here, or anything else. I’m only using these things as examples because BHodges #81 is asking for examples of bad scholarship from FARMS. So I’m naming names and giving specific examples.

    I don’t intend to get into whether I have ever written a book or not, because I’m “Dude” here purposefully, because that is what you call a pseudonym. Since I have good reasons for wanting to remain anonymous, not the least of which I never want to be dragged in to some Church court over some stupid thing online, I’m not putting in any plugs for any work I may or may not have done in book form or in any other form. I’m just saying these things as examples, and don’t care to get into specifics.

  86. Doug G.
    February 7, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Dude,

    You are wiser than you know. I made the mistake of talking to my bishop in an open an honest way after turning down a new calling that I just couldn’t bring myself to do. Rather than listening to understand me, I think he felt threatened for some reason and saw the need to discuss my being a heretic with the Stake President. They are now in the process of deciding if I should sit in on a church disciplinary counsel with them. That’s why I asked the question I did in post # 33 of Bruce. I appreciated Bruce’s response because it was what I was hoping my bishop would think.

    Several years ago I served as a High Councilman and therefore have been on the other side of the table in disciplinary counsels. Truthfully I think I would resign first before I would let them barbecue me for my disbeliefs in that “court of love”…

  87. Dude
    February 7, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Doug G. #86: “They are now in the process of deciding if I should sit in on a church disciplinary counsel with them.”

    If I were in your shoes, I would state your intention to them to submit to whatever they would require of you, and do whatever it takes to retain your membership. That’s one lesson “Sunstone Mormons” need to learn. And that is, there is freedom of belief and expression, but they need to keep quit. Seldom do Church courts realize that fact, that beliefs are not to be in question, only behavior.

    Truthfully, the following quote is possibly the best thing I’ve ever found that puts everything in perspective as far as disciplinary actions go, and further, since it’s on the Church site, they can’t question it. If they drag you in for disciplinary action, give them this quote from Elder Oaks chew on, and show them that you do not fit the description, which I promise you that you wont. If they try you on grounds of beliefs or lack thereof and not behavior, then they aren’t in the right, and overstepping their bounds:

    “We have the concept of apostasy. It is grounds for Church discipline. It is far less frequently grounds for Church discipline than immoral behavior. I think if you had 100 Church excommunications, 98 of them would be for immoral behavior. Two of them, perhaps, or one of a hundred, would be for apostasy.”

    “Apostasy, being rare, has to be carefully defined. We have three definitions of apostasy: one is open, public and repeated opposition to the Church or its leaders. Open, public, repeated opposition to the Church or its leaders — I’ll come back to that in a moment. A second one is to teach as doctrine something that is not Church doctrine after one has been advised by appropriate authority that that’s false doctrine. In other words, just teaching false doctrine is not apostasy, but [it is] teaching persistently after you’ve been warned. For example, if one were to teach that the Lord requires you to practice plural marriage in this day, it would be apostasy. And the third point would be to affiliate and belong to apostate sects, such as those that preach or practice polygamy.”

    “So, we go back to the first cause of apostasy — open, public and repeated opposition to the Church and its leaders. That does not include searching for a middle ground. It doesn’t include worrying over a doctrine. It doesn’t include not believing a particular doctrine. None of those are apostasy. None of those are the basis of Church discipline. But when a person comes out publicly and opposes the Church, such as by saying, “I do not think anyone should follow the leaders of the Church in their missionary program, calling these young people to go out and preach the gospel,” or whatever the particular issue of the day. And when you go out and begin to “thump the tub” and try to gather opposition and organize opposition and pronounce and preach against the Church — that can be a basis for Church discipline.”

    (http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-stories/elder-oaks-interview-transcript-from-pbs-documentary)

  88. Dude
    February 7, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I meant to say that Sunstone Mormons need to learn to keep quiet, especially in their local wards. That was a typo.

  89. Doug G.
    February 8, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Dude,

    Thanks for the link and the good advise…

  90. Stephen Douglas
    July 9, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Just out of curiosity, why would you, as an intellect, want anything to do with a religion that originally claimed divine origin that would turn around and say, “Hey, we may not be the only true church, but it’s a good church/lifestyle, one worth joining/pursuing?” Either this is the only true church or it is the biggest, most complex and most original idea/hoax Lucifer ever produced. (And I bet the ban on Agency was not even his idea.) After all, either Joseph Smith had the First Vision or he did not. Either he was told to join no church, that they were all wrong, or he did not. Either the Book of Mormon is an historical record of a real people, most probably from Mesoamerica, which is well-supported on the archaeological front, or it is a work of fiction. There is no middle ground on such claims. There is no room for compromise. And just because you are correct our leaders are human beings who state opinions with which you or I do or may not agree, President Hinckley’s stand against spanking kids for example, I say, to ever hope for such concessions to which you alluded shows little faith in them at any level. So, I wonder, the inquisitive/skeptical, former apostate, 22-year law enforcement veteran I am, how is it you could possibly want to belong to such an organization as presently constituted. And why would you consider staying, let alone wishing your suggested changes, with such a church that would deny its most basic claims of divinity? That kind of ignorance reminds of the Harley-Davidson “religion.” I use it as an allegory only because I own a Harley Street Rod and would never become “one of the faithful,” just because… They do not care if they have a more expensive but inferior product to what the Japanese and Europeans can build; they just belong for the sake of belonging to something unique, original, and or cool. Am I getting your mindset right? Far be it from me to jump to conclusions.

  91. Guy Smiley
    July 9, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I think I’ll chime in here. I’m not sure where you are coming from. When you say you are a former apostate, does that mean you are now one of the “faithful”?
    If so, then why not just yourself be faithful with your binary world view (which I also share), but also why not let the New Order/Middle Way Mormons have their worldview. If this worldview keeps them in the Church, then its better for them to have it. To me it is a tool for those who want to use it. I don’t espouse it myself, but if I ever stopped believing, then I would also be among them, seeing no reason to leave. It makes me realize that I have many options even if I stop believing. I have a friend that recently came back to the Church, and then he once again started to question things and was about ready to leave again. I reluctantly showed him John Dehlin’s site and reluctantly showed him the concepts of Middle Way Mormonism, because I knew it was the *last hope* for him. Guess what. He didn’t leave. It is an important last resort for people like these to know that they have their own free agency, and can be “cafeteria Mormons” if they want to be, to pick and choose what they want to believe rather than entirely leaving. Its better for that fact to be pointed out to them, then have them leave. My two cents.

  92. Thomas Parkin
    July 9, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Stephen,

    My bigger bit is this: are most members of the church actively excersing faith in Christ, repenting of their sins, and striving to receive the spiritual gifts that can sanctify them and prepare them to live with God? What percentage hope that because they act the part of a good Mormon that they are living the gospel? Are many or few unaquainted with the difference? I think there is a dividing line between the wise and foolish virgins – but it might not be easy to draw that line based on the set of beliefs that are held at any given time,- as that set will always morph with the constant new light received by those who are actually progressing – but between those who are living the _gospel_, and those who are living for something else.

    Guy,

    Is remaining in the church always a virtue? I left the church, and, in the long term, that did me a wealth of good. I have hoenstly thought that where I was there remained no path forward for me, that I had managed to hedge myself about. My theory is that sometimes we can be so fixed on a low plateau that life can force us to hit the reset button – and that might be a better hope than hanging about with all of one’s disbelief. Each person’s mileage may vary, and I hold out the possibility that I have misunderstood my own experience.

    ~

  93. Guy Smiley
    July 9, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Thomas,

    I think I read somewhere some stuff on some posts somewhere that I also agree with, that keeping covenants is essential. One can certainly “opt out” and remove one’s names from the records if one wishes, and thereby opt out of covenants, and secure whatever measure of salvation will be gained by the Christian and Pagan world in general who are “good people.” Or perhaps there may even be an even higher measure of salvation gained by those who “swear by their mouth” and accept Jesus. I’ll leave that up to the Lord to sort out.

    But then from the point of view of the faithful Mormon, that person who leaves has also opted out of whatever blessings that person would have gained by keeping covenants.

    Then there is the point of view of some who believe that they need some time away, and so they “opt out” to sort things out, and then they come back and get rebaptized. But any way you look at it, from the “faithful Mormon” point of view, opting out is a dangerous thing with a lot of risk, that is, if the blessings that come with keeping covenants are of any importance to the person opting out of them.

    Does that make sense?

  94. Ray
    July 9, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Each of us has to walk our own path according to the dictates of our own conscience. I’ll leave it at that.

  95. Stephen Douglas
    July 11, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Hey Brothers,
    Thanks for the feedback. I actually stumbled onto this site, looking for Robert Millet’s email. I recently sent him my manuscript that answers Evangelicals’ “questions.” Having spoken to him on prior occasions on doctrinal issues while coming back to the Church, he agreed to read it for doctrinal content. On the issue of my own personal apostasy, I regret the ten years I spent away, but, in hindsight, see the advantages gained by being on the outside, looking in.

    Yes, I am a former apostate (not the politically-correct “less-active”), but would be uncomfortable calling myself “one of the faithful.” I am in no way “binary.” I hardly fit in with most perennially active members. But then, I ride a Harley most tranditionalist Harley riders call the “Water Boy,” so I don’t fit in with them, either. I question everything, including the apparent difference in spiritual power manifested today vs. Joseph Smith’s day or the days of the Acts of the apostles. No one has been able to adequately explain the disparity in healing, inspiration, and faith of the general population of the Church members. And I refer to the carefully-worded, non-specific priesthood blessings given by uninspired, wishful thinkers (myself included) that leave an out for those who are eventually not healed, how Mark Hofmann was able to dupe President Kimball and the other Brethren when Peter exposed Ananias and Sapphira, and how easily people are offended and throw away their faith over silliness when our ancient counterparts were willing to die for their faith.

    Anyway, I stand by my lack of comprehension of how someone could stay, given my hypothetical statements of fact. By the way, when I was on my mission in Italy in 1980, one of my fellow elders subscribed to Sunstone. Sunstone categorized themselves as Liahonas and blind-faith members as Iron Rods. Is that still the case?