Wanting Authenticity and Getting It

J._Golden_KimballMany of you may have seen the J. Golden Kimball stage show from a number of years ago. He was the infamous swearing general authority. I must admit I first heard it on my mission when a companion had some tapes of the show. We were in the southern states where J. Golden had served as a mission president during its more dangerous era. It was a very different portrait of general authorities than I was used to. One of the best known stories was his going off and telling wards they were going to hell. He was sometimes told he had to go back and apologize. According to the stage show he’d blame this on phone calls. “It’s that damn contraption the telephone that gets me in trouble. Before it was invented I could go out and say anything and come back and deny it. Now they call Heber and before I get back he’s waiting for me at the train station.”

In one case after swearing at a congregation in Wyoming, Heber J. Grant told Golden that he’d have to accompany Heber in the future. J. Golden tried to justify by saying that it was Wyoming and you need to swear at them to make them feel welcome. Needless to say there are some tales in having to visit stakes with Grant.

In my 20s, despite having had some great unexpected one on one conversations with various general authorities, I yearned for that kind of freewheeling attitude that was still common in the pre-war era in the church. It was said that most members in those days got to speak one on one with apostles quite regularly. I’ve no idea how true that was, but I’m sure it was far more common than today.

Today the internet has replaced the telephone and the pressures on general authorities to mind their speech is far greater than J. Golden faced. Just from the technology of the post war era that sort of situation the church had with J. Golden was not apt to happen again. Still those of you who have been able to be in small meetings with general authorities know they are far more open and forthright in such settings. The discourses we get in general conference or even during stake conferences are usually quite a bit more restrained. I remember a fire side with Elder Eyring about 10 years ago that showed the writing was on the wall even then. Elder Eyring prefaced his remarks saying, “now I don’t want to read about what I said on the internet tomorrow.” I wonder if even that level of off the cuff remarks is a thing of the past. Back on my mission Pres. Hinckley visited and talked for over an hour on making ones calling and election made sure. (Something that stuck with me after the kerfuffle over his interview on becoming like God by Time magazine in the 90’s)

We want and demand perfection from our leaders that they just can’t give. As with J. Golden Kimball, our “swearing apostle,” their weaknesses don’t diminish the power of their testimony or their work for the kingdom. J. Golden used to joke that they could never cut him off from the church. “They can’t do that! I repent too damn fast!”

Looking back we love colorful characters like J. Golden Kimball saying we wish it was like that again. Then, when we get anything approaching even a pale copy of it, we say the exact opposite.

64 comments for “Wanting Authenticity and Getting It

  1. I recall a recent post by John Dehlin which eviscerated an Elder Ballard Facebook post for maybe possibly kind of implying that members shouldn’t turn to God for direction. Of course Ballard meant nothing of the sort, but because he didn’t cover every possible angle in his post Dehlin pounced. Critics often exert pressure for every statement to be airtight. Then hypocritically complain that leaders’ statements are too canned.

  2. I don’t think people expect perfection of their leaders. But I also don’t think that people want to hear leader authenticity with no strings attached.

    No, I think that people want the leaders to be (authentically) compassionate, aware of, and sympathetic toward their issues, and at least trying to sympathize rather than to diminish. What is disappointing is not leader authenticity, but that the leaders authentically do not agree or sympathize (which probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it’s still a letdown.)

  3. Well, shouldn’t they then stop with the obedience rhetoric if they want us to give them some slack?

  4. Yeah, what Andrew said. People want openness+humility/compassion, which is not impossible, and is not asking for perfection.

    I was at a very popular megachurch this weekend, that is growing all across the country, and the pastor said, “When I get together with fellow pastors we all talk about the fact that we’re facing this problem that people just don’t want to go to church these days. And to be I honest, I just don’t know what to do about it.” It was so refreshing to hear someone say that. Can you imagine if our apostles said, “Some people are leaving the church, and our activity rate is abysmal, and I honestly don’t know what to do about it.”? And then hopefully, “But we’re really concerned about this problem, and are praying and thinking about ways to help people stay, and to get back those who have left.” What a world of difference that kind of humility and honesty would make to people.

    I imagine that the apostles will pull back on their off the cuff comments even more so than they have. How unfortunate that is. The original 12 apostles were all killed for what they said. If our modern apostles won’t be frank for fear of being pilloried on the internet, that would truly be a sad reflection of what the aposle-ship has become.

  5. @Greg – Fair enough, and I definitely don’t mean to speak for E Ballard. I hope the bright lights and permanence of what’s said on the Internet pushes us all in the opposite direction — to be more open, honest, candid, and charitable.

  6. I agree with Andrew; authentically showing compassion, personality, weakness, struggle, etc. I struggle when we authentically get barbs that could be used as weapons against people who are in pain.

  7. “We want and demand perfection from our leaders that they just can’t give.”

    (Preface: I’m speaking as a non-believer, and I often preface my comments with this because I find that it helps conversations go more smoothly). I often hear a like statement made as a criticism towards doubters, questioners, vocal observers, critics, ex-Mormons, NOMs, and other non-traditional or former Mormons. I think it is largely a straw man argument and a mischaracterization of why many people are leaving. In other words, there may be a couple of naive souls out there who were really expecting perfection and got shocked over a seemingly minor blemish and then decided to reject everything, but they appear to be few and far between.

    Speaking from my experience and perspective (which appears to be shared by many ex-Mormons with whom I have interacted), I didn’t have a huge problem with some seemingly minor imperfections of the leaders. I was fine with the idea that the original Book of Mormon text had to be corrected for grammar and spelling and the like. This is the first time that I have heard of this swearing GA (and thanks for bringing him to my attention, by the way), but he is not someone whom I could imagine in my believing days to have made me feel immense shock to the extent of dropping everything. In fact, I remember a visiting GA on my mission who used a couple of “damns” and “hells.” I wasn’t shocked at all, in fact, it made me respect him even more. When I heard GAs and apostles admit personal follies that they felt the need to repent of, it made me actually relate to them more.

    The problem was when I began to entertain the idea more that the problem was not just dirty bathwater, but the baby itself. In other words, once I started considering the possibility that the current leaders might be incorrigible bigots, delusional people, doubletalkers, liars, psychological manipulators, and gaslighters, and were motivated to use tricky tactics simply to preserve their prestige more than actually advance general human well-being, then it was no longer a question of the proverbial ship captain having the minor blemish of mismatched socks (a metaphor used in the comment section in Venting, Capping, and Sympathizing), but a question of the ship captain leading members in circular paths in the ocean with no actual land destination in sight, thus making jumping the ship the only possible way to reach land. Once I started considering the possibility that Joseph Smith might be a pedophile, fraud, liar, and a madman who had amazing powers of organization and persuasion, and found what appeared to be evidence confirming this, then it made me take a step back. Severe delusion, fraud, lying, bigotry, and the like aren’t minor blemishes on par with saying a couple of cusswords or shaming doubters, as Elder Holland recently did.

    As for Elder Holland’s recent talk in which he said that he was “furious” with people who left and said, “I’m not going to leave it and I’m not going to let you leave it,” it just appeared to be evidence that he had a controlling personality and encouraged coercion to keep people trapped inside the church who didn’t want to be there.

  8. Love the post and the issues it raises. To echo a few other folks (Andrew S, Kristine A), I certainly don’t expect anything close to perfection from our leaders. I do expect compassion, empathy and understanding, which I don’t (YMMV) generally feel from the apostles. I actually want more of the real Elder Holland and all of the rest of the leaders. If someone has racist or misogynist views, I want it all out in the open for all to see, just as I want all of their sympathy, empathy etc. out in the open. If we have leaders who aren’t afraid to be themselves, to me that’s a start, rather than something to be avoided.

    I don’t want to speak for others who are struggling, but I think part of this issue, too, might have to do with things like correlation and the fact that the church seems to want to protect and preserve the church as an institution more than it wants to minister to its members. I’d just like us, all of us, leaders included, to be able to tell the truth about where we’re at, rather than being afraid to do so, and start the community building from there. Wouldn’t it be great, for example, for our leaders to echo Greg’s experience and just admit there are some things we don’t have the answers for rather than trying, as was the case last night at the young adult devotional, to argue that four inconsistent first vision accounts actually means its “well-documented.”

  9. Clark, great point.

    There is simply no set of mortally possible things Church leaders could do that would satisfy critics.

    And the idea that Elder Holland does not regularly and emphatically express compassion and sympathy is laughable. Or cryable, depending on one’s perspective.

  10. @Mark

    “Once I started considering the possibility that
    Joseph Smith might be a pedophile, fraud, liar, and a madman who had amazing powers of organization and persuasion, and found what appeared to be evidence confirming this, then it made me take a step back.”

    This kind of stuff has been said about JS since he had his first vision.

    Didn’t give specific examples of the things you accuse JS of but that’s understandable because many don’t.

  11. Agree with Greg here. I don’t expect our leaders to be perfect. They’re human and fallible. I’m just tired of being told to obey and follow them as if they were perfect and infallible. Like Greg said, it’d go a long way if a GA or even a bishop said “Here are these problems. We’re not entirely sure what to do about them, but we’re praying and looking for ways to improve the situation. We’d love for you to help us figure it out, too.” Instead, we’re told everything is fine, to obey more, don’t get off the ship, and if there’s a problem, well, it’s your problem.

  12. I think part of the problem is that even in a single sermon you don’t get a good idea of the person nor their personality. How on earth can you tell from that how someone acts towards others in private?

    Really then, what’s being demanded can’t be empathy but rather the consistent portrayal of a certain manifestation of empathy.

  13. It certainly is an expectation of a certain portrayal of empathy. But however specific you go with it, church leaders don’t authentically feel it or express it

  14. I can only speak for myself but I don’t think people leave because of expecting perfection. That’s not what I was attempting to communicate with the post. If anything I’m rather skeptical the rise of the internet and more widespread knowledge of our history is behind all this. (I’ve tried to make that point with various demographic posts at my own blog) By and large I think people tend to be attracted to religion due to social needs and I think the main reason people leave is for similar reasons. While I’d love to imagine truth is behind most people’s experience with religion, so much I read suggests that’s likely not the case. Both for believers and doubters.

    Now there definitely are people who stay or leave because of their questioning of truth. I think that what throws so many of us off (both people frustrated for why anyone would believe, and those who are frustrated with those who appear to be throwing off commitment from belief) is that we see so much of retention and joining through the prism of knowledge. We assume people who join do so out of a testimony. We assume people who stay do so out of a testimony. We assume people who leave do so after losing a truly held testimony.

    While it’s impossible to know how often that is true, I just confess my skepticism that it’s true as often as we often unconsciously assume. What’s interesting to me when I read ex-Mormon discussions is that prism of truth still forms the paradigm through which they see so much of membership issues.

    There are implications to this notion, if I am correct. Maybe I’ll do an other post soon on that.

  15. To my eyes, the demand of sympathy, love, empathy and so much is a demand that a certain surface manifestation of them be always present in all that is said. I don’t think even Christ could live up to that. (What did the Jews think of the loving Jesus when he made his “hard sayings” or took the whips with spikes on them to the temple) We don’t want to judge a person in their full character but by whatever short snippets are said publicly.

  16. I’ll say a lot of things about Joseph but “amazing powers of organization” wouldn’t be one of them. That’s arguably one big thing he lacked. He was amazing in part because despite the many false or misleading charges and despite his weaknesses in organization (remember the Kirtland bank?), he was able to achieve so much.

  17. The J. Golden Kimball stories always make him sound like an outsider among the general authorities, known that way and (by some) loved for it. (I think I would have been one of those–loving him for it.) Is it possible for someone to be like J. Golden, today? The stories we hear, first hand, second hand, and third hand, make me think that a number of men enter the GA ranks thinking they might be such an outsider voice but are quickly pressed into the ‘one voice’ mold. There are obvious pros and cons to that one voice model, but the indications are that a J.Golden is not possible and would not be allowed in today’s Church.

  18. Clark, Thanks for your thoughtful responses to the various posts. Your comment about people not staying or leaving because of “truth” rings true to me (though I do think the church could and should be much more forthcoming about certain things) and I’m wondering if one thing that’s behind all of this is culture.

    What I mean is the culture/social coding that different generations have been infused with. It’s difficult, for example, for a member of Generation Y to see the November policy change as anything but bigotry/hatred. It’s difficult for someone who grew up before WW II to think of a wife and mother who’s also a dedicated neurosurgeon. As much as we/I would like to think that there’s a kind of universal truth that trumps all of this and will bring us all together harmoniously despite our differences, I’m not sure there is. And if there is, I don’t think we’ve got that going on in this particular church, anyway.

    And so I wonder if conceiving of and trying to reach this notion of universal truth ends up damaging our relationships to each other rather than enhancing them. I’m reminded of an earlier blog post some months back that made the argument that the most just and equal society is a secular one, since it’s more likely in that scenario that all folks will receive equal treatment. Just sort of thinking out loud.

  19. “during it more dangerous era” (its)
    “the best known stories” (best-known)
    “In my 20’s” (twenties, or, if you must use digits, 20s) (It’s not possessive.)
    “unexpected one on one conversations” (one-on-one)
    “before the war in the church” (What war in the Church? Not sure I’ve heard of this.)
    “speak one on one with” (one-on-one again)
    “the post war era” (the postwar era”
    “prefaced his remarks saying, ‘now I don’t want . . .'” (saying, ‘Now I don’t . . .’)
    “that level of off the cuff remarks” (off-the-cuff)
    “Pres. Hinkley” (Hinckley)
    “making ones calling” (one’s)
    “in the 90’s” (in the nineties, or ’90s) (It’s not possessive, and the apostrophe represents the omitted “19.”)

    Clark, you have some good things to say, but your lack of attention to the details of language (and lack of proofreading) gets in the way of your message. And please, please learn to use commas. Many of your sentences would be much more intelligible with well-placed commas. You also tend to get phrases out of position, which results in some reader confusion (see “war in the church” above, which is not the only example in this post). All this makes you one of the most difficult bloggers to read. Lucid writing takes some effort and perhaps some training. This post shows every sign of having been speed-typed without a second look.

  20. Franklin, when T&S asked me to participate I nearly didn’t simply because I didn’t think I had the time. They convinced me to participate anyway. I simply can in no way spend the time to treat a post the way I would a paper I would be handing in for college. The choice is saying nearly nothing or what I do. I appreciate the corrections, but I’d suggest that blog posts be viewed the way you would a verbal conversation and not a magazine article or the like. I wrote the above in less than 10 minutes. I have some other ones I’ve been working on longer, but my focus (thus far) has been content rather than form. So you’re right that it has the form of being speed typed. I’m unapologetic about that.

  21. I want my leaders to authentically admit that they don’t know everything, and that they are doing the best they can with what God has given them. The authenticity needs to be accompanied by authentically admitting their limitations. If a leader authentically thinks he has all the answers, then that’s not someone I want to follow. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have all the answers.

  22. I don’t think they’ve ever portrayed themselves as having all the answers. Quite the contrary. However not having all the answers doesn’t mean they have none. I think the type we have for the prophets is best seen in Ether 12. So many of the prophets, especially when called to be President, express a fear they are not up for it but faith God will sustain them in the calling.

    Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words. And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

  23. Franklin,

    Go somewhere else, and edit a paper someone actually asked you to edit. I speak from experience here: this sort of unsolicited “critique” does not make you look smart, it makes you look like a pedantic jackass.

  24. Peter and Paul were documented to be have authentically non-compassionate and non-sympathetic moments. Christ certainly didn’t appear very compassionate or sympathetic when he was cleansing the temple, nor when he diminished a Gentile woman by comparing her to a dog. And he didn’t even apologize!

    I personally do not believe that what you are asking is really all that possible. No one can actually feel & express compassion and sympathy to 100% of everything 100% of the time. In your words the “church leaders don’t authentically feel it or express it”. Frankly I believe that church leaders do feel authentically feel for those who are struggling, though sometimes frustration can cloud their feelings and can color their expressions.

    You feel like church leaders paint with a broad brush all those who leave the church as uncommitted weaklings. You then return the favor by painting all of them with a broad brush that none of them ever really care at all about those who leave. That seems rather non-compassionate and non-sympathetic of you.

  25. Anyone here able to be authentically compassionate in everything they do or say? Who wants to cast the first stone at Jeff Holland?

  26. Marc, my point was that I and other ex-Mormons I know, haven’t left the church we thought we saw a minor blemish. Instead it is because in our minds the flaws of the church and its leaders are huge. I’m not here to debate whether or not Joseph Smith is those things (plus, there are plenty of sites and forums that debate this issue at length). Besides, I don’t see myself as having needed to get believers to accept my justifications for leaving the church as valid in order to leave. Furthermore, I think that people who leave the LDS church don’t owe anyone an explanation or bear some burden of proof. If anything, it is the believers (at least those who are trying to get others to join the church or come back to it) who bear the burden of proof that Joseph Smith actually saw god, actually translated ancient texts, received revelations, etc. What I came to find was that these propositions seemed highly improbable using modern secular methods (and I think that many believers would agree). When using the LDS church-prescribed pray-and-ask-god method, I didn’t see any results either. Others claim to have witnessed the truthfulness of Joseph Smith seeing god and being a prophet through this method, but I haven’t. If Joseph Smith can’t be proven to have seen god, received revelations, translated, and so on and so forth, then by default he would be a fraud and/or delusional.

  27. Clark, the mere existence of the LDS church seems to me to be evidence that Joseph Smith had incredible powers of organization. Many of the passages of the Doctrine and Covenants reveal Joseph Smith’s incredible organizational mind (of course, I’m looking at the D&C as a product of Joseph’s mind, not a divine revelation like I imagine you do and other believing participants in the discussion on this blog).

  28. I think it’d be hard to have an other J. Golden Kimball if only because the nature of the church is so different. When he was called it was extremely small and largely regional. People knew each other in a way they just can’t today. Likewise the size of the church makes it unweldly in a way it wasn’t then. Then J. Golden could simply be assigned to accompany Heber J. Grant to keep an eye on him. Yet, at the same time my impression was that he was beloved even as he was offending people left and right. That almost certainly included Heber and others. The Church then, at least to my eyes as I read history, seemed fundamentally a family. We seek to make it like that today, but the size prohibits it. When the brethren have sought to do that, you get unfortunate results like baseball baptisms and a nearly bankrupt church.

    While people may decry it, the incentives to professionalize the church were to make it more reliable, more accountable and limit the effects of people who are unmanaged. The incentives towards this are huge as the costs of trying to do it in the old way can be devastating. There’s an attitude especially among those inclined towards academics in the humanities, that completely distrusts such moves without looking at the reasons. As I’ve noted many times the past week or so, the very things people want improved often require these changes. Likewise the things people say they don’t like (inauthenticity due to seeking consensus) are done to prevent the very things people say they hate. It’s why some more broadly like to joke that people want to be lied to that things are done as if on a small scale 100 years ago yet carefully professional behind the scenes. (Jokes about contemporary companies targeting this drive like Chipotle are completely apt – it’s an interesting facet of our contemporary society)

  29. I think generational gaps as well as big cultural divides in our country are a big part of this. We’re in a period of rapid cultural change. We used to talk about the huge shifts in the late 60’s. Yet if anything the shifts now are happening even faster. It’s not at all clear were things will go. (I’d say the current shift is at least as significant as shifts in the late 60’s, the immediate postwar era, and the depression)

    Like you I don’t think there’s some magic pill that’ll resolve all of this. To me the results were like a kind of slow moving train wreck that became inevitable in the lead-up to Prop-8. I’m not in the least making a judgment on the church’s actions. However at the same time it seemed a rear guard action inevitably doomed to failure in terms of changing cultural views. I don’t want to rehash discussions of all this. I’ll just say that unlike events in the 70’s with regards to the priesthood or even polygamy/united order in the 1880’s and 90’s there’s no clear resolution for this.

    I don’t want to make it seem like LGBT are all that are driving recent cultural shifts and conflicts. There’s a lot more going on as well. Some that intersect church issues and many that do not. As I’ve said I’m extremely interested in seeing the forthcoming ARIS data on religious identity to see how trends have shifted over the last 8 years or so.

  30. What’s with all the references to “authentic”, “authentically”, “authenticity”, etc. Maybe the GAs ARE being authentic. Depends on you point of view, I guess.

  31. I am not looking for perfection, just the honesty that they require of those who receive temple recommends. Is that too much to ask?

  32. Heavens, Holland is one of the most authentic and empathetic GAs! Go listen to his sermons at BYU, or his past General Conference talks. The unjustified generalizations and flack he’s getting from this is unbelievable, given his long public record.

  33. I confess I just don’t see any evidence they aren’t doing that. Elder Holland in particular.

  34. Mark,

    “If anything, it is the believers (at least those who are trying to get others to join the church or come back to it) who bear the burden of proof that Joseph Smith actually saw god, actually translated ancient texts, received revelations, etc.”

    I don’t think that it’s necessary to convince you the church is true because that’s what the Holy Ghost is for.

    That being said I find that Nahom is compelling evidence to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

  35. The Holy Ghost could have very well manifest the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon to you. But the method of praying and finding things out by the Holy Ghost is really only recognized as valid in the believing LDS world. Plus, according to LDS doctrine, the Holy Ghost manifests truth on a person-by-person basis. So just because you think that the Holy Ghost manifested this to you doesn’t mean that anyone else has to accept the implications of that.

    I’m surprised that you think that a historical Book of Mormon is at all defensible according to standards of modern secular scholarship. NHM is really weak evidence.

    Philip Jenkins, a professor of history at Baylor University), makes a persuasive argument for such in the links below:


    The principle of parsimony is pretty fundamental for modern secular scholarship. It is more parsimonious to accept that NHM is a coincidence, a variation of Nahum of the Old Testament, or that Joseph Smith found an NHM-sounding name on a map than the idea that NHM is evidence (well, evidence according to modern secular standards) of the BoM’s historicity.

  36. Your welcome to find it coincidental all you want. You and other detractors want archeological evidence and then when it’s presented to you you say “that’s not evidence”.

    It’s in the geographic correct location, for the correct purpose and there are archeological markings suggesting that the place is nahom or a similar variant.

    Down play it all you want but its archeological evidence and whenever you all for archeological evidence that’s what your going to get!

  37. According to my standard of determining what is likely to be historically true, I do require strong archaeological evidence, yes. But it is more than just someone tying evidence to claims. We have to consider the possibility that people misinterpret evidence, do not provide enough evidence, and commit logical fallacies. Look at it this way, I have conceded that NHM is possible evidence of the BoM’s historicity, but not probable evidence. In like manner, I have also conceded that Niede Guidon’s theory that the first migrants to Brazil came by boat from Africa 100,000 years ago could be true, but I would not consider that to be within the realm of probability. Until we find more evidence supporting such a proposition, I am prone to entertain the idea that she is misinterpreting some of the data at hand and jumping to conclusions. I think the same thing of the idea that NHM is evidence of the BoM’s historicity. There really should be more supporting evidence of the BoM’s claims before we fully embrace NHM as valid evidence. It is more likely that it is just a coincidence or that Joseph Smith saw a map with a Nahom-looking name in the region (and Philip Jenkins provides evidence of a map that would suggest such a possibility). Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And the claim that ancient Americans were followers of the ancient Hebrew religion is an extremely extraordinary claim. So yeah, you’re going to need much more evidence than NHM, which is highly circumstantial and not direct in any way, to substantiate the historicity claim of the BoM.

    By accepting the BoM as a 19th-century text whose only ancient elements are more or less copied from the KJV, I concede that I am forced to accept some parallels between the ancient Middle East and Americas (which have only been made known because of the copious research that apologists have undertaken to find these parallels) as coincidences. However, what I am forced to accept as cases of coincidence are few in number and in significance. In like manner, by believing that 19 Arab hijackers are behind 9/11, I am forced to accept as coincidence some data that appears to suggest that the government and other US elites had foreknowledge of 9/11 and may have been the ones actually behind it.

    On the other hand, the parallels between the BoM and the religious discourse and worldviews of the northern US in the 19th century that believing LDS people are forced to accept as cases of coincidence are far, far greater in number and weight. It just so happens that the baptism of infants was a hot topic of Moroni’s time and place AND early 19th century upstate New York. It also just so happens that in the northern US that it was commonly believed before the publication of the Book of Mormon that the Native Americans were descendants of the Hebrews and that Joseph Smith brought forth a text that confirmed this already common belief. My, my what coincidences. There are lots of other coincidences as well. Ancient Americans, who had had no apparent contact with Greek culture, just so happened to have Greek names (like Timothy – 3 Nephi 19:4). It also just so happens that Nephi used the exact same words as Paul in expressing his regret about his weak and imperfect nature: “O wretched man that I am.” And the list goes on and on.

    Lastly, bear in mind that a good test of whether or not a proposition should be accepted according to modern secular standards is its very acceptance by modern secular intelligentsia across different academic disciplines. It could be that a theory is too arcane to garner much attention or that it is relatively new and has yet to be noticed. But the BoM has received a great deal of scholarly interest for decades and the only scholars who accept the BoM as a historical text (with extremely few exceptions, such as Sami Hanna, who incidentally no longer believes the BoM’s historicity) are people who grew up LDS and who have been socialized in an LDS environment for decades. So if you want to say that the evidence for the historicity of the BoM is the Holy Ghost revealing that to you, that is one thing (and I’m not going to try to refute that). But we can’t really say there is any strong evidence for the historicity of the BoM using modern secular methods of inquiry.

  38. If you’re going to look at from a purely secular of view, actually, I would suggest that the existence today of the lds church is much more a testimony to Brigham Young’s organizational prowess than Joseph Smith’s. Without Brigham Young, and discounting the possibility of divine direction/assistance, it’s not hard to imagine that the church would have been splintered into many more groups like the Strangeites, the RLDS, and others, and today been largely a quaint 19th century relic. In fact, I would suggest that the mere existence of such groups in the aftermath of Joseph Smith’s death (the fact that competing claims were able to be successful) suggests that Joseph Smith wasn’t so good at organization and planning.

  39. “There really should be more supporting evidence of the BoM’s claims before we fully embrace NHM as valid evidence.”

    There’s plenty of evidence that supports it’s veracity as it stands but if you feel the need to not believe then so be it.

    “It is more likely that it is just a coincidence or that Joseph Smith saw a map with a Nahom-looking name in the region.”

    Nope it’s not. It’s funny how those that don’t believe or don’t want to believe start jumping to new conclusions because they can’t except anything outside of the realm of possibility. What you and others have suggested have no evidence whatsoever that Joseph even knew of a map for that particular area of the world.

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And the claim that ancient Americans were followers of the ancient Hebrew religion is an extremely extraordinary claim.”

    To state what you said correctly…

    “The claim is that a subset of ancient Americans…”

    If we are going to talk about what happened let’s not deal in vagueness. I’m fine hashing it out.

    “So yeah, you’re going to need much more evidence than NHM…”

    No I don’t. Your the one requiring such things.

  40. Yes, I’m not really prepared to argue down this tangent, but I think Joseph was never organizationally inclined really – although he did enjoy aspects of it. (Such as being head of the Nauvoo militia) The main counterargument is usually Zion’s March although I tend to think that’s a much more mixed bag than most do. (That despite Brigham suggesting what he learned about leadership came from that march) As often as not the actual running of organization was Joseph’s weakness. He’d get things in place and it’d all fall apart. Time and time again. I really think a lot of the failures and apostasies owed no small cause to Joseph’s abilities in terms of running organization. (Which doesn’t detract from his great strengths of course)

    Brigham had his own weaknesses and failures. However what he was good at was a pragmatic grasp of how to organize. For better or worse. While it’s fair to focus on his many failings, I rather doubt anyone else could have brought the church into an organized and persistent form. (That survived not only Brigham but the huge problems under Taylor and Woodruff) As is so often the case sometimes people’s weaknesses are simultaneously their strengths. That was true of Brigham. In some ways it was true of Joseph since his inabilities as organizer often allowed a strong dynamic to the church such that it could rapidly change. (The rate of change from 1830 to 1844 is frankly staggering when you stop and think about it)

  41. Marc, you’re still missing my main point. According to MODERN SECULAR METHODS OF INQUIRY, the evidence of a historical Book of Mormon is extremely weak (and to an infinitesimal degree). I don’t see any believers out there at academic conferences and symposia (at least among non-Mormon audiences) trying to make a case for a historical Book of Mormon using strictly modern secular methods. The seeming lack of attempt to do so on the part of believers suggests that believing academics also find that such a case is weak based on those methods.

    As for NHM, let me get this straight, you’re saying that according to modern secular methods of historical inquiry, it is more likely that the seeming correspondence between the NHM inscription in the Arabian peninsula and Nahom in the Book of Mormon is evidence that Joseph Smith saw an angel, translated the BoM using a magic rock in a hat, and that Hebrews migrated to and inhabited the Americas around 600 BCE (in spite of there being no hard evidence corroborating this through modern secular archaeological research) than this instance being just mere coincidence? If so, then you clearly don’t understand what the predominant modern secular methods of historical inquiry are.

    You can accept that the Book of Mormon is a historical document based on your private evidence and based on the belief that the NHM inscription confirms this. But your methods are inquiry for establishing this are far, far outside the mainstream modern secular norms, which do not confirm Mormonism’s truth claims in the least.

    Lastly, again, if we are having a discussion about truth in a modern secular framework (which, I’m beginning to think that we aren’t), I don’t bear the burden of proving the BoM to be a 19th-century text. If it can’t be proven to be ancient, then by default it is a 19th-century text. Now, of course, you claim that you don’t bear the burden of proof but the Holy Ghost does. OK, then you bear the burden of explaining what the Holy Ghost is, proving that it exists, and proving that it is a reliable way of knowing truth. Of course, by modern secular standards, claiming to feel the Holy Ghost is not reliable evidence worthy of any consideration.

  42. Someone should do a Thomas-Jefferson-style redacting of the scriptures that, instead of deleting the supernatural, deletes all strongly-worded statements by the Lord or His prophets. That ought to make the Quad much more portable.

  43. Mark,

    “…that Hebrews migrated to and inhabited the Americas around 600 BCE (in spite of there being no hard evidence corroborating this through modern secular archaeological research) than this instance being just mere coincidence? ”

    Let me ask you this oh wise one…

    If you and your family and perhaps some extended family moved from the US to let’s say…Israel or perhaps another middle eastern country.

    Your only allowed to bring limited amount of resources. Will there be any archeological evidence that you were there amongst the multitudes of middle easterners?

  44. I agree, Clark. Joseph liked the idea of organization. Not only the organization of cities, stakes, the Nauvoo legion, as you mentioned, etc., but also organization in a more cosmological way, such as the organization of priesthood quorums after a heavenly order, the organization of church members into sealed family hierarchies that would persist into eternity, the organization of church members into “tribes” through partiarchal blessings, etc. But while he liked the idea of organization and probably aspired to be good at it, he wasn’t so good at boots-on-the-ground organization.

    As just one example, Joseph’s revelations may have given us the seeds of the institution of the first presidency, but in practice, he kept counselors around even when he had stopped fully trusting or relying on them, allowing others to sort of step into the substantive role, but in a different institutional capacity, and the supervisory function of the first presidency wasn’t all that clearly defined, with the result that the first several successor presidents didn’t even feel comfortable calling a new first presidency until months or years had gone by since the death of the last church president. I was only through later practice that the institution as we know it today emerged.

    Brigham Young despite his other issues, was a master of organization (and reading Turner’s biography leaves the impression that he, at least in part, was determined to make the church organized and disciplined because he thought Joseph had been too lenient with chaos and dissent, though I can’t remember if Turner makes that argument explicitly). I completely agree that this is an example of weaknesses being strengths and vice versa. It is a bit difficult to imagine Joseph’s revelatory, visionary nature, his theological curiosity, his willingness to upset the status quo and Brigham’s steady-handedness (perhaps heavy-handedness), dogged discipline and organization in the same person. Joseph had a hard enough time managing Zion and Kirtland at the same time (though admittedly, that was no easy task, given the historical context), it is difficult to imagine him managing an exodus and settlements throughout the intermountain west. Though even that is an example of Joseph’s vision and Brigham pragmatism, because Joseph had notions of going to the west before he died, but it was only Brigham Young that could have made that vision into reality.

    Though, as it often does, Adam-God does tend to stand out an an exception that throws a wrench into this concept of Brigham Young. Then again, you could argue that as his attempt to follow Joseph’s lead in creating new doctrine, but unlike Joseph, he was not able to give his doctrine staying power much beyond his death. (Yes, of course there were strains that kept it alive longer, but as a mainstream doctrine of the church it did not outlive him by very long).

  45. Mark,

    Oh and speaking of Nahom as evidence yes it is quite compelling as archeological evidence if you compare it to previous evidences which the Book of Mormon had.

  46. Mark,

    Let’s pose another hypothetical idea. Your last name is clark. Soooo let’s say you and less than 10 others (5 Clark’s and 5 from another family with English ancestry) move to England.

    Since your already married you don’t need to marry but your children do. Is there going to be much if anything genetic speaking to differentiate you and your offspring from the natives?

    Now let’s take what’s known about native American DNA.

    “Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome.”

    And..where does Lehi and his fellow travelers come from…

    And why wouldn’t their DNA be as distinguishable? Or in other words why is the DNA of Nephites and Lamanites invisible? Perhaps because there was already a large chunk of middle eastern DNA already present. Also the amount of people to leave with Lehi and family is tiny.

    I’ll be awaiting your response with eagerness.

  47. Marc, I’m confused, are you trying to make a case that a historical Book of Mormon is likely and probable according to modern secular methods of inquiry? (And please answer this if you decide to reply. Also bear in mind that possibility and probability are two different things).

    Based on these methods, the historical Book of Mormon is a supernatural claim whose believers defend it with ad hoc hypotheses. The methods that you’re using to establish a historical BoM (which some other LDS apologists are using as well) simply don’t follow any pattern that would be recognized as being in conformity with predominant methodological trends in modern secular scholarship.

  48. Mark,

    I’m confused as to why your confused. I said nothing about history. I am simply refuting your assertions that the Book of Mormon could not in any way be possibly be true because of x, y, and z.

    The book of Mormon isn’t a history book. It says as much within its text. None of the writers are geographers.

    That being said I believe that Nahom provides the archeology that detractors as yourself like to suggest doesn’t exist for the Book of Mormon.

  49. Another problem, too, Marc, is that you seem to be assuming that I’m trying to make a case that the proposition of a historical Book of Mormon is false. I’m not. I’m simply saying that there is little to no convincing evidence of this (at least based on what would be accepted as valid evidence by modern secular standards). So I have no reason to accept a historical Book of Mormon as true. Do you see the difference?

  50. Well Mark.. the evidence Nahom presents is the most compelling of recent times.

  51. I wrote that last comment before seeing your 1:44pm reply. You’re clearly dodging my points. We cannot continue this discussion until you answer my question.

  52. If NHM is evidence of a historical Book of Mormon by modern secular standards of valid evidence, then we shouldn’t have a problem convincing non-Mormon scholars in different disciplines of this, right?

  53. Mark,

    I’m not dodging anything I’m just not addressing them in the precise manner in which you want me to.

    Understand the difference?

  54. Marc, can the Book of Mormon’s historicity be established by applying the predominant methodological trends of modern secular scholarship? It is a simply yes or no question.

  55. Mark,

    I don’t worship the world of secular scholarship that you obv do.

    I think that secular scholarship knows a lot but in no way do they know all or are the end all be all of knowledge.

  56. “I think that secular scholarship knows a lot but in no way do they know all or are the end all be all of knowledge.”

    I’ll take this as a no to my question. NOW it is finally apparent that we were in agreement the entire time (you could have saved a lot of mental energy by more carefully reading what I was saying from the get-go). Our side discussion never was over the question of whether or not the BoM is historical and true. Clearly, according to your method(s), it is and according to the methods that I find to be of value, it isn’t. The question at hand was whether you could establish the probability and likelihood of a historical BoM by using modern secular methods of inquiry. And you have conceded that you cannot. I fully agree. Now as to the question of the validity of these methods in establishing truth, that is a discussion for another day.

  57. @Mark

    “The question at hand was whether you could establish the probability and likelihood of a historical BoM by using modern secular methods of inquiry. And you have conceded that you cannot. ”

    I haven’t conceded yet because I won’t pretend that I am aware of or know ALL of the secular methods out there that are employed. A lot of the issues that you have presented to me are expected results.

    I will describe again what I described earlier which you wrote off simply as apologist stuff….Would a handful of people moving from the middle east to somewhere on the American continent cause a noticeable dent that would be recognized by experts today?

  58. Marc, allow me to repeat what you wrote in comment 24.1: “I don’t worship the world of secular scholarship that you obv do.” Here you suggested that you don’t hold secular scholarship in high esteem when it comes to establishing the truthfulness of LDS claims. It logically follows from that that you don’t think that modern secular methods of inquiry would support a historical BoM. But if you want to change the direction of what you strongly suggested in 24.1 and say that modern secular methods of inquiry do support a historical BoM, then you tell me what that method is, how it is part of mainstream secular scholarship, and how it supports a historical BoM. Otherwise you’re still dodging my main point.

    “Would a handful of people moving from the middle east to somewhere on the American continent cause a noticeable dent that would be recognized by experts today?”

    Probably not. But according to modern secular standards (which are the only standards that I regard to be valid), I don’t bear the burden of proving that the Lamanites and Nephites didn’t exist. You bear the burden of proving that they did.

    The bottom line: you and many other LDS apologists are simply using a different set of standards and methods that are far outside mainstream secular inquiry. It is delusional to think that methodological trends in modern secular scholarship would support a historical BoM.

  59. “I don’t bear the burden of proving that the Lamanites and Nephites didn’t exist. You bear the burden of proving that they did.”

    Your right I do but the so called burden isn’t as great as you and others purport it to be.

    It would be completely different if the claim was that thousands of Jews moved here but because the amount of people that moved here was quite a small amount then that greatly decreases the burden.

  60. I don’t understand all the big words and phrases being used here, but I believe Joseph Smith translated an ancient record by the power of God. I can’t prove it, but then, that’s not really the point of religion.

  61. I listen to General Conference more than less and recall several speakers asking, or begging, for the lost sheep to return, and others discuss methods of reaching out. Why do some doubt their sincerity? My sister is a retired Methodist minister and no one doubts her sincerity. Once we agree that we care and are sincere, we can look for eternal truth in Christ.

  62. Then, when we get anything approaching even a pale copy of it, we say the exact opposite.

    I disagree. There are lots of different people, and lots of different squeaky wheels. The people who wanted a bit more freewheeling are not complaining when we see the too rare pale copy.

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