A direct response to the New York Times article "Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt"
Recently the New York Times published an article entitled "Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt" in which they interview an area authority of the church who has lost his faith. This article is a direct response to that article.
While I am sure that the folks over at the New York Times were well intentioned, their source appears to be misinforming them of a few things which I thought I would address. I also thought I would add my thoughts to some of the questions which they pose that "cause doubt." While it is noted that some members may search the web and find doubt, many of us search the web and find that our faith is increased. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to search for truth in all places that it may reside. We are bound to find things that cause us to doubt our faith. But how else can great faith be forged unless it is challenged?
In the talk that the New York Times quotes, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland encourages members to study, seek, and learn truth. However the Times did not link to their source. They instead quoted a small snippet from the article addressing their needs, and linked to Elder Holland's profile instead. In that same talk, found here, Elder Holland also says,
"I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle."
Indeed Latter-day saints are encouraged to develop their own testimony of the gospel. He also says,
"Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe."
Now, onward to address some of the concerns that the area authority presented. First, according to the Times, he expressed to them that his faith was shaken when "he discovered credible evidence that the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, was a polygamist."
The problem with this claim is that if he is just discovering it, then it means that he has never read the LDS cannon of scripture found in Doctrine and Covenants or any of the manifestos attached to it. It also means that he hasn't attended church regularly, because the Doctrine and Covenants is studied every four years, and it is directly addressed in chapter 31 of the Doctrine and Covenants gospel doctrine course. It's hard to believe that he would have been called as an area authority without attending a lot of Sunday school, or even minimally, without reading the scriptures regularly. It's probably more accurate that he allowed his faith to erode for other issues, and this is how he has chosen to present it.
He also states that polygamy "was never mentioned in church periodicals." Since the LDS periodicals are published online clear back to 1971, this is easily checked. The Liahona magazine is the churches international magazine. A simple search on Google within the Liahona returns "about 157 results." Using the Ensign periodical produces "about 375 results." Both of these results include duplicated articles, but it is clear that it is published in the periodicals.
As far as the Book of Mormon "being rife with historical anomalies," which he quotes as the other thing that led to the loss of his faith, there is more historical evidence that coincides with the Book of Mormon now more than ever. When it was published in 1830, things like cement and roads were unheard of in Pre-Columbian America. Yet these have been found and are common knowledge now. This website wouldn't exist if there wasn't credible evidence that also supports the Book of Mormon. But this issue isn't found in the Book of Mormon alone, but in many ancient documents, such as the Bible.
Perhaps he's talking about the DNA "issue." LDS scholars have been stating for more than a hundred years (long before DNA sequencing) "All Indians Are Not the Descendants of Lehi," and that the "Jaredites came from some center in Asia." And when DNA said that the major Indian populations derived form Asia, the critics pointed and said, "Hah! Proved you wrong!" And some members had their faith tried, and that's ok. These things can and will continue to happen.
Now, to address the other questions:
Why does the church always portray Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates, when witnesses describe him looking down into a hat at a stone?
The stones are directly addressed in LDS scripture, in Joseph Smith - History 1:35, and in the Bible Dictionary of the LDS church. The seer stone was the catalyst to translate the plates, but the plates were still required and present.
It's also addressed several times in LDS periodicals. It's also addressed in this fairmormon.org article.
Did Joseph Smith use it to try and find buried treasure? It is confirmed that Joseph did do some treasure hunting for Josiah Stowell, which is a major part of this claim. The claim that Josehp looked into a glass to hunt treasure stems from an evangelical magazine in which an anti-LDS contributor, A. W. Benton, writes in to the periodical to inform them of the character of Joseph. He gives an account of a trial in which he claims Joseph was tried for; the records of the proceedings of which another anti-LDS author claims to have unearthed in 1971. He begins with this as a description of Joseph, but does not claim that he used the stone to hunt treasure. The record of the proceedings lacked any signatures required on official government documentation, which in itself should not exist because records were not kept at the time for misdemeanor charges.
Joseph was approached by Josiah to work for him attempting to mine for silver. Joseph commented that he made a whopping $14 dollars a month for working for Josiah. He eventually convinced Josiah to give up the pursuit after about a month.
Why were black men excluded from the priesthood from the mid-1800s until 1978?
"Members of the Church who were considered to be of African descent were restricted from holding the LDS Church's lay priesthood prior to 1978. The reason for the ban is not known. There is no contemporary, first-person account of the ban's implementation. There is no known written revelation instituting the ban. In 1949, the First Presidency, led by President George Albert Smith, indicated that the priesthood ban had been imposed by 'direct commandment from the Lord.'"
Why did Smith claim that the Book of Abraham, a core scripture, was a translation of ancient writings from the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, when Egyptologists now identify the papyrus that Smith used in the translation as a common funerary scroll that has nothing to do with Abraham?
What remains of the Papyrus is only a small fragment of its original document. The section visible could very well be just a simple funerary description. The original document was much larger than the existing section of text. The rest has disintegrated over time. Additional points are also addressed on fairmormon.org.
Is it true that Smith took dozens of wives, some as young as 14 and some already wed to other Mormon leaders, to the great pain of his first wife, Emma?
It's highly unlikely. Did Joseph have many wives? I would be really surprised to get to the other side and find out otherwise. But did he have dozens as young as 14? The only way he could is if every critic of the LDS church was right in their wild speculation. Some of those require giant leaps of faith. We also know that much of these speculative claims come from those who had an axe to grind against the church. For example, the accounts that Joseph married Fanny Alger comes, not from first hand accounts, not second hand, but only by third hand accounts. One of these accounts comes from William McLellin, who claimed that Emma Smith confided in him after Joseph's death about Fanny Alger. This is the same William McLellin who stripped Emma's home bare of everything save a single blanket for her and her children while Joseph was in jail. This is the same man pleaded with the sheriff for the privilege of flogging her husband while in custody. And yet we are also to believe that he is the only person that Emma confided this information to after Joseph's death.
(I am currently working on a project to review the probability of each scenario; watch for details to be released on this site)
In closing, such an article has but one real goal in mind, and it is certainly not to uplift. Many may struggle with their faith because of the inaccuracies presented therein. But that's ok. How else can faith be proven unless it is tested? Many will find their faith forged here, and will walk through it only to emerge with a faith that is unshakable. We are seeing a time where this is accelerating. In the mean time, we should encourage them to keep asking in faith if these things are true, and seeking truth in prayer. It will come, but not as quick as we would often like. We should exercise patience, long-suffering, gentleness meekness, and love unfeigned.
And it can't help to read up on some excellent research by members of the church. I specifically recommend fairlds.org, the Maxwell Institute, and Jeff Lindsay's LDS FAQ.