One of the side benefits of running a Mormon blog is getting email questions on LDS doctrine or history from readers. The questions I get span the entire spectrum of LDS belief, from faithful Mormons to doubting Mormons to former Mormons to anti-Mormons. For the benefit of anyone with similar concerns, here's a selection of questions I've received over the last couple of months.
A reader asked for information about "appeal procedures for an excommunicated member," specifically whether such a person always has a right to appeal to the First Presidency and what the procedural details were. I replied that the letter from the bishop or stake president communicating the result of the disciplinary council is supposed to contain information on appeal rights. I also provided a link to some online CHI material on the appeal process.
A reader asked for advice about how to approach an impending meeting with the stake president to confess a serious sin (no details provided). I carefully composed the following short reply: "Confession is a private matter between you and the church official you are meeting with, so there's really no advice I can offer other than have an open and honest conversation. In general, those hearing confessions have great sympathy for those who have erred."
An LDS reader asked about the LDS view of the Gospel of Thomas, a friend having recommended it to her. In reply, I pointed her to D&C 91, provided a couple of quotes on the Gospel of Thomas from articles by BYU religion prof Thomas Waymant in the recently published book How the New Testament Came to Be, and gave links to earlier DMI posts here and here.
A graduate student who is also a returned missionary but is a little iffy about the Church at the moment asked if I'd read Fawn Brodie's controversial biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, as this grad student knew a friend who had read it and gotten very angry with the LDS Church. This grad student also asked how I could read anti-Mormon literature without "being swayed" and what tips I had for "keeping the faith" while reading such material. I provided a longer-than-usual reply to this inquiry.
After first suggesting she consider the Joseph Smith biographies by Remini and Bushman before reading or relying on Brodie, I gave the following short evaluation of No Man Knows My History:
I read No Man Knows My History about three years ago. Its good points: Brodie is a fine writer who put together an entertaining narrative; she consulted many of the widely scattered sources rather than just relying on "standard" LDS sources; she looked at the difficult events and issues in Joseph's life as well as the uplifting ones. Its bad points: it is now rather dated (first published in 1945); Brodie relied on Dale Morgan's research and advice for much of her material and approach, and Morgan has sort of a spotty record (he never really published anything); she adopted a naturalistic perspective that is unwilling to even consider the veracity of Joseph's spiritual experiences; and she used a psychological approach (looking into the mind of Joseph) that most historians, whether LDS or not, regard as a suspect approach.
Regarding anti-Mormon writings, I replied as follows:
I don't recommend true anti-Mormon books to LDS readers -- they don't use their sources fairly and sometimes they simply lie in order to score their points. As for the critical history books, I don't really recommend them to average Mormons who are just looking for a good book on LDS history. There are plenty of LDS-friendly books now that cover the same material. But if you are a serious LDS history buff or a grad student/scholar with a professional interest in that area, you'll end up reading some of them. No less an authority than Richard Bushman advises the curious to confront the tough questions directly and read broadly on them, which means reading accounts by scholars sympathetic to the LDS view as well as the critical accounts. That seems like sound advice.
And there was the kind reader who informed me I was misspelling the name of John Widtsoe in my posts (I was using "Widstoe"). A quick check aroung the Bloggernacle revealed I wasn't the only one misspelling his name! I had to go physically check my copy of Rational Theology before I accepted the correct spelling: W-I-D-T-S-O-E. Such an accomplished and respected LDS scholar deserves to have his name spelled correctly.