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Mr McCue's letter is interesting and very honest. Whether it likes it or not, the Church does face a problem as Mr McCue points out: challenge to orthodoxy is no longer a fringe issue, existing only in anti-Mormon publications or journals that 99% of the membership don't read.

Do a google search for Mormon and the fourth hit is exmormon.org. Today, members can easily find counterviews and they can be damaging because our apologetics are so scattershot. By this I mean that FARMS and FAIR do a great job, but not everyone knows about them and they only really serve the English-speaking Saints (do a google search at google.de with "mormonen" and you'll see how stark this problem is).

So maybe the Church (not Palmer) will feel the need to openly confront these issues and make a more candid and accessible apology for the faith. We cannot bury our heads in the sand as we will lose too many people.

Yes, Palmer and others like him have floated the "Look, I'm really doing you a favor" position, but I've never seen any sign that those in leadership or the CES recognize any merit to that view. The KUTV video I linked to is interesting -- Daniel Peterson, a FARMS scholar, speaks on camera giving his opinion that the Palmer book is especially dangerous because it presents its historical criticisms in a gentle, considerate tone rather than a harsh and insulting tone. Leadership and apologists want (and therefore see) stock enemies, bad guys in black hats. The idea that some criticisms are legitimate or that there can be a loyal opposition in religion (i.e., reformers) is simply not in their conceptual toolkit, it seems.

I just blogged on this (sort of) over at United Brethren.

In the DaMU, there is speculation that the letter you have linked as "Pro" is actually satire. This is based mostly on the closing paragraph.


Ann, normally, that last paragraph would be a dead giveaway that the letter was meant as satire. In this case, I'm not so sure.

Sometimes I hear members of my ward say things, and I really hope they are spoofing, but I am pretty sure they are not.

"Wouldn't it be better if we all just thought alike" sounds a lot like a poorly worded version of "can't we all just get along," which is very much in line with the strong bias in Mormon culture against contention or disagreement of any sort. But it's funny, whether it is serious or satire. No doubt every guy in Salt Lake named Jeff Anderson will get teased about it.

Update on the letter: There's a post over at View From the Foyer by the fellow who wrote the "anti" letter in the SL Trib (also linked in my post) and he notes that the Trib called him to verify he wrote the letter before publishing/posting it. Good for the Trib! We like media publications that check sources before publishing. Assuming the Trib checked the "pro" letter too, I think this rules out the "pro" letter being satirical to the point of a false pose on the part of the writer, although one can still think he was using a sort of subtle self-satire to make a point in the last paragraph. I think he was just innocently repeating the popular view -- that all good Mormons should think alike and those who think differently are therefore suspect -- without realizing how odd it sounds in public.

Am I alone, or does anyone else think that Palmer's more public appearance this week is actually counter-productive for the court? He reportedly been interviewed on radio shows and so forth. Were I the SP, I admit I might find that a little annoying.

Good question, Clark. I think Palmer is sincere in saying he doesn't want to be excommunicated. The September Six and subsequent Mormon writers tried to make reasonable arguments why they shouldn't be exed but got nowhere, for the most part. Murphy participated in a media awareness campaign and the trial was called off. So it's reasonable for someone in Palmer's position to think that the best way to avoid being exed is to make the impending trial publicly known and talk to the media when they ask questions or want interviews. I don't think it matters how the SP reacts -- we all know he isn't the one pulling the strings.

This is a problem for the Church, but it is a problem of its own making. If only out of self-interest in avoiding bad PR, the leadership badly needs to reassess its policies and procedures on heresy trials.

"Daniel Peterson, a FARMS scholar, speaks on camera giving his opinion that the Palmer book is especially dangerous because it presents its historical criticisms in a gentle, considerate tone rather than a harsh and insulting tone"

Does anyone else find this statement a little ironic, given the tone of many FARMS publications?

I tend to have more faith in the SP and think it will all hinge upon Palmer's humility. That's why I think actions of the past few days won't go well for Palmer.

I don't think the parallels to Murphy work, for a variety of ways, not the least being Palmer's background in the CES.

I'm not so sure. If he humbly confesses that his book was wrong and he was deceived by the devil (following the BoM model that his local leaders are familiar with), I'm sure he'll be well received. If he humbly defends his right to affirm his "reformed" view of Mormon origins (which his local leaders are likely unfamiliar with), he'll have problems. So I don't think his humility or lack thereof is really the issue. At the same time, he seems pretty low-key in the interviews I've seen, although such restraint may evaporate if hardliners on his Stake High Council (there are generally two or three) start taking potshots at him. It's 15 to 1 against him, remember.

Sure the CES affiliation and the "Insider's" term in the title seem like sources of irritation to leadership. But if he had been a history teacher at a high school or state college and titled his book "A Teacher's View of Mormon Origins," would things be any different?

The common thread among Mormon writers who are targeted for heresy trials is simply that they have published books or articles on LDS themes that senior leaders don't like. As far as I can tell, being charged has nothing to do with either their personality, their conduct, or the quality and accuracy of their work.

for anyone who's interested you can listen to his interview w/ KRCL here.

okay, it looks like dave already added the KRCL link.

Thanks for the link, Mike. I haven't listened to it yet, but I'm sure it is interesting.

FYI, the anti point of view in the SL Tribune readers' forum was written by Bob McCue, a prominent poster on exmormon.org. People there love him. I know this because my father (a disaffected Mormon) emails his posts to me all the time.

He actually makes a pretty good point: that sheltering people from the shadier aspects of LDS history can only make our inevitable exposure to these aspects more damaging to our testimonies. Today, you can be an active member of the church and only be vaguely aware that polygamy was once an extremely important part of the church. Is this a disservice to the membership of the church?

i agree w/ mccue's POV. by obscuring a lot of the known history of the church and presenting a whitewashed version there will be a lot of members who will be very distraught or upset upon learning some of the less savory aspects of mormon history/doctrine. i think it would be better for the church to find a way to present this information to members while still maintaining some control over its dissemination, rather than ignoring it and letting them find out on their own. it makes people feel like the church is trying to hide something. eventually members deserve to graduate from the milk and learn the meat.

Mike and Pheo, it's easy to argue the "whitewashing history is not a good idea" line as if that's good policy advice to leadership. It's not and they know it. The problem is that whitewashing history actually works quite well from an organizational perspective. Most people are quite happy with whitewashed history and generally get upset if you start peeling away layers, and Mormons seem particularly pleased with their own whitewashed history. Case in point, when the RLDS Church made an institutional move toward "unwhitewashed" history, it went into immediate decline. Their own head Prophet, Seer, and Revelator just resigned! So LDS leaders are correct in viewing the "whitewashed history is bad for the Church" line with a high degree of skepticism.

Not that I advocate whitewashed history, it's just that recommending reformed history under the "it's good for the Church" banner is misguided. That invites people to conclude that if unwhitewashed history is bad for the Church it should be avoided. That's the wrong conclusion.

Dave, first I believe the RLDS leader resigned for some self-described poor decisions. They have an FAQ up about it on their web page. So I think that is quite different from the theological issues of basically adopting very liberal Protestantism. Of course I do agree with the numbers game. Liberal Protestantism isn't exactly a growing movement no matter how much more attractive it is to some academically oriented people.

I'd also say that a lot of Palmer's arguments, such as the Golden Pot arguments, aren't criticisms of whitewashed history any more than Nibley's goofier arguments are somehow criticism of Catholic conspiracies to hide the Judaic nature of early Christianity. It's just poor arguments. He's free to make such arguments, but surely the issue is attacking the origins. I think one could have presented the same data, but done it in a very different manner and not have had any problem.

BTW - I'd also reject McCurie's thesis that somehow criticism of the orthodoxy is new or that somehow the internet has suddenly opened up criticisms to people that never heard them before. Nearly anyone living in the so-called Mission field has heard most of the arguments before. Seriously, it's a very Utah-centric perspective. Further even in Utah history there were tons of movements, like the Godbeites that were very large and had very public spats with orthodoxy. Indeed it was from the Godbeites that the Salt Lake Tribune originated. In its early days it spent most of its time doing exactly what McCurie thinks is new. The trib must not even know its own history...


Clark,

I grew up in the mission field, and I hadn't heard much of what Palmer wrote about until it was brought to light by the internet. I know many people in that situation. Most of the anti-Mormon arguments I had heard were along the lines of "Bible bashing," rather than historical analysis.

I agree that such viewpoints were available before the internet got big, but I think it is easier to just stumble across something on the net. I never accidentally stumbled into an anti-Mormon bookstore. (I haven't stumbled on to exmormon.org, either, but controversial things came up all the time on alt.religion.mormon back in the day.

It is now also easier to find answers to whatever questions arise. You might have heard bad things before about the church, but to seek out answers to new questions would take much more effort than simply logging on to the net.

Incidentally, Bob McCue is from Calgary, so I'm not sure how Utah-centric his view is.

I added a new link at the bottom of the list this morning -- an AP story with some new quotes by FARMS' Daniel Peterson, which probably reflects the broader "insider" view of Palmer. Peterson is especially irate about Palmer because (1) he claimed to be an "insider"; (2) his book was directed to a general audience rather than to specialists; and (3) he wrote in a pleasant and friendly style rather than a harsh, polemical tone. These all strike me as weak arguments, the kind people come up with as justifications when a more legitimate reason is not at hand.

Replying: (1) If he taught with CES for 24 years, it's not inaccurate to call himself an insider, and a quick look at any FARMS Review table of contents shows FARMS is hardly one to criticize the clever use of titles; (2) there's nothing wrong with directing a book on history, even (gasp!) Mormon history, to a popular audience; and (3) Palmer deserves praise, not criticism, for adopting a friendly tone. Can you imagine the Stake High Council telling him, "If you had written a nasty book you'd be okay, but because you employed a friendly tone you are subject to Church discipline"? Sometimes smart people say the dumbest things.

Perhaps for odd reasons I've just been antied more than most. Both by Evangelicals and by "naturalists." You are right, that they often use different arguments, although the Evangelicals do seem to use their fair share of naturalistic arguments. Witness the popular works of the Tanners which, as often as not, appeal to history rather than theology.

It saddens me so to see this whole fiasco. No, I don't think that saying, "Wouldn't it be better if we all just thought alike" is anything like, "Can't we all just get along", because the second statement seems to encourage diversity and acceptance, and the first seems to do anything but. It's a good thing that church leaders can't tell what members are thinking or they might have to excommunicate non-book-writing dissenters right and left. Thinkers such as Palmer don't undermine the Church; the Church's unwillingness to acknowledge its past undermines the Church. Pray for free agency.

Yes, Rick, however one spins it, that certainly is a revealing phrase, isn't it? I think that it reflects conformity as a latent Mormon social ideal -- in a perfect world, we would all think alike, clones of righteousness. Marvin Hill's book Quest for Refuge(see my Mormon Studies book list on the right sidebar) looked at the flight from American pluralism as a theme of early LDS history, and that theme seems to retain its relevance in contemporary Mormon culture.

For what it's worth, I agree with Peterson that the problem is that Palmer is using his "insider" status to lend credibility to his rather poor book. I am surely against ex-ing anyone just because they get history wrong -- but it would be naive to see Palmer as merely doing poor scholarship. His aim to is to use his former status in the CES as a selling point to lend credibility to his assertion that the Church is white washing its history. After all, we all know that if he worked for CES he must really be in the in the know (not). However, it is also a rather poor response to summarize DEP's points as has been done here. There are reviews in FARMS by respected (at least I respect them) historians who point out numerous flaws in Palmer's work -- and his methodological disdain for the more traditional views. His systematically ignoring sources that disagree with his views that anyone working in the area should cite and deal with is really revealing to me.

Blake, nice comments. I suppose 19th-century leaders were upsent with "wife number 19" because she claimed to be an actual polygamous wife, giving her account extra credibility. And polygamous wives just weren't supposed to show that kind of independence and disobedience -- they were just supposed to do what they were told. I see the same kind of thinking by those who see Palmer's CES background as making him especially disloyal in writing and publishing his book. Those CES people are bought and paid for -- how dare they exercise independent thought and write a book that deviates from what we told them they were supposed to think!

As for Peterson's comments, I was commenting on what he stated in the interview that was broadcase on KUTV. You can click on the link and listen to it yourself (that's why I posted the link). If a TV interview is too short to properly represent his evevated FARMS view of things, he should have declined the interview and just referred people to one of the 50-page FARMS reviews. There's nothing wrong with me taking his interview comments at face value and commenting. I guess I should ask whether you are suggesting that the interview fairly presented Peterson's comments and I inaccurately summarized them, or merely that the interview misrepresented Peterson's true opinions.

I just posted a link to the 12/11 P-I story (that's for Post-Intelligencer, not private investigator), which is actually a widely carried AP story that showed up in dozens of papers. In it, Peterson is quoted making comments very similar to those in the KUTV interview.

Word on the street says that Palmer was excommunicated this morning.

According to this KSL news story, he wasn't excommunicated but was disfellowshipped.

Mormonism? It seems like pretty much your basic Protestant offshoot to me, only with weird theology and some weird practices. Disfellowship and excommunication are nothing new; it's been done by the Amish (shunning), Catholics (the original "excommunication"), and probably by just about any religious orthodoxy under the sun. The main problem I see with Mormonism is not its history (I consider the religion's original language to be English and much of the stuff in the Book of Mormon to be made-up) but in some of its emphasis on family values. Yes, it's good for families. Perhaps a bit too good for families - it's thrust Utah into a perennial population boom, and one of those days, overpopulation is going to be enough of an issue to deserve a Presidental revelation. Other than that (and I'll ignore the hullabaloo over the gay issue for this post) Mormonism is a generally good religion, with practices comparable to other religions (exclusion of outsiders from central sanctuaries, proselytism, focus on civilization-building). So what if the edifice was based on a false history? Just because the central book isn't exactly true doesn't mean the church based on it is necessarily bad.

My error.

Here are some recent letters to the editor:

Des News letter

Another Des News letter

SL Tribune letter


Scribner's magazine of 1880 seems to provide the acceptable source of Joseph Smith's inspiration; after all, Joseph Smith was an employee of Dr. Spaulding as a young man,
and Mr. Smith probably never heard of "The Golden Pot" in a young country where large libraries were scarce.

Mr. Palmer's "disfellowship" is a result of pointing out that the facts collide with the "truth" and this is anathema in the mormon church.
Reminds me of the sincere graduate student at BYU whose DNA studies proved that native Americans were linked to the ancient people of northern Japan and had no DNA identification with Middle Eastern tribes. His reward for this discovery was expulsion from BYU and probably the "excommunication"; Myth often wins over reality!

http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs/1880Dick.htm

The thing about Palmer's claim of being an insider (and he disavows the title as something the publisher chose) is that he strongly implies that other LDS historians agree with his conclusions but simply aren't upfront about it, hence the statement from the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute that rebuts this view.
http://smithinstitute.byu.edu/news/announcements.asp

Statement regarding Grant Palmer's book, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins

In the preface (pp. vii-viii) to his book, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer speaks approvingly of historical work done by the faculty of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History. To some readers, this has suggested that Smith Institute faculty are among Palmer's category of "historians and religion teachers like myself" who share his views of Latter-day Saint origins (p. x). In subsequent remarks to audiences Palmer has encouraged this view.

Smith Institute scholars are unified in rejecting Palmer's argument that Mormon foundational stories are largely inaccurate myths and fictional accounts.

Palmer writes of a "near-consensus on many of the details" (p. ix) regarding early Church origins, as if most scholars see them in much the same way that he does. We and many other historians take issue with a substantial portion of Palmer's treatment of such details. We encourage and participate in rigorous scholarly investigation and discussion of the historical record, and from our perspective acceptance of Joseph Smith's foundational religious claims remains compatible with such investigation. Our publications, past and present, which are readily available to the public, speak for themselves on these matters.

Jill Mulvay Derr, Managing Director
The Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History

"rigorous scholarly investigation" by the Smith Institute?!!

That's scary.

Reminds me of the "rigorous" Bush investigation that resulted in the latest Iraqi war.

As Will Rogers might have said, "you can whitewash a tiger's stripes, but that doesn't make him a mythological white pussycat."


Next thing you know, they'll be telling us that Trojans were Celts and Troy was in Cambridge, England, or that Odysseus' Ithaca is now called Cadiz, Spain.

Setting aside the conclusions or bias of either side (and I'm not convinced that you know much about Mormonism or the Smith Institute from your other comments), this statement does show that there is not agreement on these issues, as Palmer claims.

Again, setting aside the conclusions or bias of both parties, many of those employed by the Smith Institute are academics and professional historicans while Palmer is not.

Palmer- Education: MA and some PhD work at BYU in American History. Publications? One book.

Richard Bushman (first one listed at the site): Education: PhD, Harvard, in American Civilization

Publications: Looks like 9 books (Harvard Press, Oxford Press, University of Illinois Press, etc.) His "select list" of articles numbers 46, primarily in non-LDS journals relating to American history.
http://smithinstitute.byu.edu/Personnel/Bushman/bushman_publications.asp

On that alone, I would qualify Bushman as being rigorous and academic, yes. His comments on Palmer's work? Palmer " presents himself as just wanting to deepen our understanding of our own history, but under his cloak, there's a dagger," said Richard Bushman, professor of history emeritus at Columbia University and author of a forthcoming biography of Joseph Smith." http://www.sltrib.com/utah/ci_2483377


Ben, yes the Golden Pot chapter stretched things a little -- one thinks of the "parallelomania" charge that often gets thrown at apologists. And the remarks about the Smith Institute seemed part of an understandable effort to bolster Palmer's history credentials and credibility which (predictably) served up a fat pitch to his critics.

I don't know if comparing academic credentials is the best line of argument in a church that extols the virtues of a lay clergy. Besides, that argument works in reverse, too -- Quinn and Wright would not dispute that their academic credentials bolster their conclusions, not to mention Krister Stendahl.

And what do orthodox LDS historians carry under their cloaks? Nothing, of course, they are objective and unbiased researchers motivated by nothing but the love of God and truth, while those who tell alternative histories carry dagger-like agendas under their cloaks of innocence.

You've got an itchy trigger finger, Dave:)

I was simply responding to the sarcastic assertion that Palmer was scholarly but those at the Fielding Institute are not, hence my explicit comment about "setting aside the conclusions or bias on either side."

The quotation from Bushman simply served to contradict Palmer's assertation that LDS historians agree with him.

Having a lay clergy has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

1) Do LDS historians agree with Palmer's conclusions, or is there scholarly consensus? No.

2) Is Palmer scholarly in a way that the Smith Institute is not (issue raised by Balanor, who is clearly cheerleading for Palmer's naturalism)? Also, clearly, no.


Let's not muddy the waters further.

I'll agree on both points, Ben. Palmer's reference to the Smith Institute didn't do anyone any good -- how did he expect them to respond?

Funny how the church is so fast to ex this brave man for coming out with all the Church's lies hidden and buried for 130 years, but yet I know Mormons who cannot get out of the church membership, even in the proper way of formally requesting removal of church membership. I guess apostasy against the mormon faith is the only way to do it. Thank God, Grant has had his eyes opened, and that the "truth has set him free." Hallelujah!!!!!!

Oh, and by the way, FARMS and FAIR, what can we say about them? Let me give you a perfect analogy, in diving there is a term called vertigo, where you lose all sense of balance and cannot figure out whether you are ascending to the surface or descending to a deeper depth. They are so far out there with their so called "proofs" about the Mormon faith, that there situation of "vertigo" gets them deeper. And if you are a diver, then you know what happens when you go to deep.

Dale, I think there's some bad air in your tanks. Let me offer some corrections to a few of your errant statements: (1) Palmer wasn't exed, he was merely disfellowshipped, a result with which Palmer himself was not unhappy; (2) it wasn't fast, it took two years for The Committee to prompt his local leaders to act; (3) almost all of the material in Palmer's book had been published elsewhere years ago, so he wasn't unearthing stuff that was "hidden and buried for 130 years"; (4) it's not hard to get one's name removed these days -- this website will tell you everything you need to know; (5) it is unclear what Palmer would think he has been made free of when in fact he is grateful to still be a member of the LDS Church; (6) while I'm not the biggest fan of FARMS and FAIR, they don't claim to offer proofs, just research and opinion.

Dave,

Checked my air tank. Good air. No smell, not like rotten eggs when you get a bad tank of air. You stated that Palmer wasn't exed. Well my friend, let me ask you, what does disfellowship mean? Let me clarify, according to the dictionary, and not "so long as it is translated correctly" in Mormondom.

disfellowhip: v. to exclude from fellowhip; to refuse intercourse with, as an associate.

excommunicate: 1. to deprive the right of church membership by ecclesiastical authority. 2. to exclude by or as if by decree from membership or participation by a group.

By all accounts, they mean the same thing. But I guess disfellowship does sound like the lesser of two evils.

Dale, in practical terms, disfellowshipment just goes away when the local leader waves his hands, whereas excommunication is a formal action that terminates membership and can't be undone -- someone would have to start at the beginning with baptism, etc. I guess there's an expectation that excommunication is permanent, whereas the expectation with disfellowshipment is that it's temporary.

Further disfellowship merely means you can't take the sacrament or go to the temple (punishments often given without disfellowship by ones bishop), give public prayers, have a calling or use ones priesthood. However one can still be a home teacher (I had a disfellowshipped roommate for the usual problem of sex with his girlfriend), can still make comments in church, still go to activities and all the rest.

It really is a fairly minor punishment and to be frank, a fairly common one.

Dave, I will concede and give you that one ;) But here's my question, why was the fact that he was supposedly going to a "disciplinary action board" for lack of a better term, where in the article that I read that his "teachings" was going to be more Christ centered, which I would assume that he would not delve into D&C, PoGP, etc.? Is it so important that the LDS leadership feels threatened about Christ centered only teachings? My question to that would be, "What? are they really trying to hide, then? I guess one of the things that really confuses me about the LDS teachings is that one of the LDS Scriptures says this, and the Bible says that, and the Book of Mormon agrees with the Bible in some issues, but the D&C goes against what the BOM and The Bible says. How does one explain white compared to black, or cloudy as compared to a sunny day?

Great stuff. It's fun to discover these old discussions.

For the record, television interviews are brief, and don't typically allow one to fully nuance the expression of one's views. Moreover, most of any given television interview will end up on the cutting room floor. (As most of this one did.) And, finally, it is possible for certain members of the audience to substantially and fundamentally misunderstand even what remains. (As happened, for example, with Dave here.)

Cheers.

I confess I have no specific recollection of what was said in the TV interview or of how I might have misconstrued it. Anecdotal comments from LDS leaders and luminaries suggests the mainstream media often publishes or broadcasts the one controversial or out-of-context response out of many reasonable and friendly ones. I would think the SLC media would do better on LDS issues, though.

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