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Is it Palmer that's endorsing the "revisionist" history? I think it's the other way around.

From a marketing standpoint, for the "Church of Jesus Christ" (talk about a revision) to take the stand Palmer seems to indicate is suicide. As they say, either it actually happened and it's the gosh golly greatest thing ever, or it's all made up. At least in the United States, fundamentalism sells much better than honesty.

At least this way the faith can keep its core membership going. However, based on recent convert batism numbers, it appears to be an increasingly hard sell to outsiders.

What I find the most interesting of the statement of the decline of the RLDS church after second guessing is the numbers. 250,000 to about 70,000, or roughly 28% the former members. One-third is a good estimate (possibly too high for a world-wide estimate) of active LDS folks. I wonder if the RLDS admin just cleared the books of inactive members. If that is the case, then the LDS church would likely see very similar drops just based on accounting methods.

i originally read midgley's article some time back when i was reading palmer's book. i reread it this morning to refresh my memory.

when i first read his review of palmer (let's be realistic, it's not really a review of the book) i was struggling w/ the implications of, if palmer's claims were backed up by the evidence, what the effect of my new view of joseph smith and many of the church's truth claims would be on my testimony. midgley spent nearly all of the article making ad hominen attacks on palmer, and very little time critically analyzing the claims put forth by him. the only parts of the actual book that he dealt w/ at all were the introduction and the chapter on the golden pot, and that chapter was not near as damning to the prophetic claims of joseph smith as were the other chapters, especially the first.

basically the article left me w/ the impression that many of the claims made by palmer could not easily be refuted (since midgley didn't even attempt to), and so he resorted to trying to attack palmer's credibility. i know that when i read a book like palmer's i am more interested in someone critically analyzing the points made in the book than the author himself.

it also seemed that midgley's best reason for rejecting many of palmer's arguments was because of what happened to the rlds church when it took similar action. but that seems irrelevant to me, we should as mormon's first seek to find the truth and worry about the consequences later.

if midgley's purpose was the convince the reader of the fallacy of palmer's arguments then he utterly failed.

Anon, this just won't do, there are just too many Anons out there. Consider picking a name or a handle so we can stop wondering whether this is the same Anon that came by yesterday or the day before.

While labels are used loosely, I favor the following: Historians that tell "orthodox Mormon history" I call traditionists. Those who give naturalistic explanations a more prominent role and (often) question some traditional Mormon claims but do so with some degree of sympathy for the Church or a carefully balanced objectivity I call revisionists. Those who use Mormon history apologetically, to attack traditional Mormon claims, I don't really call anything, but FARMS types tend to label both this last group and revisionists into an all-purpose "anti-Mormon" category.

So Palmer clearly seems to be endorsing revisionist LDS history. That's the whole point of his Preface, arguing that the teaching of history in the Church has not been revised to incorporate the last 40 years of historical research. And the "all or nothing" position you reference is that of traditionalists, whereas revisionists argue for a much broader spectrum of possibilities. Midgley's critique, however, questions whether the revisionist sense that there is a viable middle ground is really workable. So are you agreeing with Midgley's view?

Anon wrote either it actually happened and it's the gosh golly greatest thing ever, or it's all made up.

I think that, based on the truth claims of the restored Gospel, this is an accurate statement. It either happened or it didn't. If it didn't, then agendas such as Palmer's are pointless. This is because, if it didn't happen the way that the Church and the scriptures claim that it happened, then it is subterfuge and therefore morally reprehensible. If Palmer believes that it is a lie but still wants to worship Jesus Christ, then he should join one of the myriad non-LDS Christian denominations, rather than trying to remain a "Mormon" and trying to persuade other Latter-day Saints that things didn't happen the way they are taught they happened. The fact that he doesn't do this hints at some other agenda (rather than merely wanting to worship Jesus Christ and helping others to do so), perhaps to cause injury to the Church and its teachings and to those who hold sincere beliefs in those doctrines that Palmer considers unsound.

Anon, I was also interested in your assertion that the name, "The Church of Jesus Christ" was itself a form of revisionism. It is one thing for you to disagree with the Church's doctrines or truth claims, but it is another to make such an assertion. The former are untouchable but the latter suffers from the weakness that the record does not support it. That is, Jesus Christ has always been at the center of Latter-day Saint worship, doctrine, and belief, and the Church has been called the Church of Jesus Christ from day one.

A clarification: when I said above, "the former are untouchable," I was referring to personal disagreements with the Church's doctrines or truth claims. I was not referring to the Church's doctrines or truth claims themselves, even though that is how the syntax came out. Just clarifying.

I will have to come up with a better name, Dave. :-)

Given your interpetation of "revisionist," I can accept that Palmer wants to revise history. Perhaps Palmer is best thought of as a "reformer." He wants to update the Church, but is seen as a heretic. Given the way LDS authority hinges on the validity of certain claims, I see Palmer as tilting at windmills.

And about the "Church of Jesus Christ" thing, I haven't heard that until recently. But it seems to pop up more and more. Is dropping the Latter-Day Saint part just an abreviation, or a new (revised) way of naming the church, that de-emphasises the Latter-Days to outsiders?

Anon, I haven't noticed a general trend to shortening the name, although the full name is fairly unwieldy so I can see how it could become an accepted practice. It bothers me a little that people get so hung up on the name. The official name was "The Church of the Latter-day Saints" from 1834-1838, and it still bothers me that they didn't make it "The Church of the Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ" rather than the incorrectly constructed "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" when they decided to lengthen the name in 1838.

John F, you're doing a good job of stating the traditional view, but just saying it either happened or it didn't doesn't make problems of interpretation or understanding go away. Example: Paul says he saw a light on the road to Damascus, or that he heard a voice; others heard a loud noise, or even saw or heard nothing. Paul is struck blind. To say it happened or it didn't misses the point that there is a legitimate range of opinion as to what actually happened to Paul or didn't, and that the meaning of what happened to Paul is not necessarily self-evident. It certainly wasn't self-evident to Paul's contemporaries, even Peter.

So it's not like the only difference of opinion is between traditional and revisionist historians--there are many differences of opinion within each camp, just as there are differences of opinion on history and doctrine within higher councils of LDS leadership (although they take great pains to hide it).

One thing that jumps out at me is how Midgley tries to implicate something like dishonesty on Palmer's part because Palmer downplays the fact that his initial issues were inspired by Mark Hofmann forgeries. It seems that everyone was duped by Hofmann(sp?), and it's unfair to imply dishonesty to Palmer when Spencer W. Kimball, Gordon B. Hinckley, etc., were just as duped. The fact that Palmer used that as a spring board into interest in LDS history, while the leaders of the church were glad to wake up from a nightmare and put it behind them doesn't make Palmer's claims less believable.

When john fowles says that agendas like Palmer's are pointless if LDS history didn't happen, I simply don't see the connection. To the contrary, it would seem that the agenda would be infinitely more important if he's right. I don't agree with some of the conclusions that Palmer makes, but he has the right to come to them. To me, it seems perfectly logical that, if you're convinced to change your mind about something, you would want to share your new knowledge. That same justification is used by 10's of thousands of 19 year old missionaries every year, so why can't Palmer use it.

Having said that, the review by Midgley did bring some interesting facts/background out that I wouldn't have otherwise known. I just thought it was a little mean spirited

What I meant was that Palmer's agenda--to worship Jesus Christ--is not furthered by claiming that the Church is lying about its past or its truth claims. The only agenda in that (even if Palmer is convinced that it is true) could be to bring people away from believing in this past or in these truth claims. If all he really wants is to worship Jesus Christ and believes that the Church is not true, then to achieve his desires, all he has to do is go to a different Christian church. The fact that he writes his book shows that in addition to his claimed personal desire to worship Jesus Christ, he has another agenda--to draw people away from their beliefs in the Church.

Dave, I understand your point but that only speaks to the acknowledged ambiguities. Just because Peter and others might not have described an event the same way in a limited number of printed lines doesn't mean that there isn't one single way that the event happened. In fact, there can only be one way that the event happened. True, humans might err in their descriptions, or be forgetful or whatever, but that doesn't change how something actually happened. In the case of the Church, it either did happen or it didn't. Either JS had the First Vision or he did not. The fact that there are different descriptions of what happened there or what he saw and heard in that moment doesn't change the fact that it either did happen or it didn't. And that is my point. If it did not happen, then the Church is built on fraud and you could hardly argue that it has any claim to truth that all of the other Christian denominations have (which, I realize, is the exact argument that many "liberal" Mormons and revisionist/reformist Mormons are making). If it did happen, i.e. if JS did see God the Father and Jesus Christ in the resurrected flesh, then at the very least that means that, indeed, the other churches really are wrong in their conception of God, and that the Church has certain claims to Truth that simply cannot be made by other denominations. If it did happen, objectively speaking, then it also gives rise to a presumption of validity to the way the Church officially describes it happening, because it implies that the Church is still led by prophets and revelation (unless, of course, you are on boad with RLDS-type arguments that BY led the Church astray and that therefore BY and his successors are not prophets). If the Church has this access, then arguments against the Church's version of its past lose their power.

as far as the mark hoffman connection, i think that it's a little misleading. one reason that the hoffman forgeries were so widely accepted before being proven fakes was because they were believable. by this i mean that what they said wasn't too far away from the historical record, and as such seemed like things that early church members might have really written. granted hoffman chose to exploit some of the weirder aspects of early mormon history, especially folk magic, but in all they didn't seem too out of the ordinary to students of mormon history.

it's basically a red-herring as far as midgley's review goes. nothing in palmer's book is hinging on documents made by hoffman, and the fact that he may have accepted some of hoffman's forgeries as being genuine at the time does not really affect the arguments he's making.

No comment on Midgley. I've not read the article and don't have much desire to. However someone said Midgley's article made them believe Palmer more. That's unfortunate (and bad logic) but is something I've long worried about with many of the FARMS responses. They aren't clear who their audience is. Often in the past it has seemed like they are writing to the choir, sort of like many of the anti-Bush or anti-Kerry books of the election. They had little impact since those who read them were already pre-disposed to agree.

Now FARMS has done some great stuff and there have been some very informative and helpful reviews published. To assume that simply because one person don't address the points in a book does not entail that the charges are true. Regarding the Golden Pot, go look up the original sources on the web. There not hard to find. I thought it was a somewhat compelling argument until I found the original sources and read them. I think the Masonic parallels are a far stronger source of attack.

But that's the problem in all these issues. It really comes down to what is persuasive more than anything else. And, as the sophists taught us thousands of years ago, what is persuasive isn't necessarily the truth...

john fowles: thanks for the clarification as to which agenda (the worshipping Jesus one) you were refering to. That makes it easier for me to see your point. I thought you meant his agenda of trying to expose the LDS church's history. In that light, I guess the point is valid; my only counterpoint would be that it's only human nature to look at the details too, not just an agenda so broad as 'worshipping the one true God.' Compare Mormon's obsession with combining the gospel with the culture. Yeah, proving Book of Mormon lands existence isn't Mormonism's 'agenda,' but there is certainly plenty of interest in it by Mormons.

And about the "Church of Jesus Christ" thing, I haven't heard that until recently. But it seems to pop up more and more. Is dropping the Latter-Day Saint part just an abreviation, or a new (revised) way of naming the church, that de-emphasises the Latter-Days to outsiders?

In preparation for the Salt Lake City Olympics and the accompanying media coverage, in March 2001, the church asked the media to use the full name--The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--on the first reference and "the Church" or "the Church of Jesus Christ" if needed as shortened references.

The media, including the Deseret News, have ignored the request. "LDS Church" is still widely used as the shortened reference. The AP also ignored the request that the term "Mormon Church" not be used.

I've seen "the Church of Jesus Christ" used as a shortened reference in the Ensign, the Church News, and FARMS publications.

in response to clark goble...

i would agree w/ you regarding FARMS not being clear who their audience is/should be. in a lot of their articles it seems like their audience is other FARMS members. they will throw in a lot of jargon or arguments that are at best tangential, and often resort to ad hominen attacks. sometimes i feel like the articles are full of inside jokes and self-congratulatory banter between midgley, sorenson, peterson and others.

i know a lot of people who were struggling w/ their testimonies who were quite turned off by articles published by FARMS. i definitely think they are not serving the people that at least theoretically need it the most. maybe it's unrealistic to expect them to.

i also feel that a lot of FARMS' book reviews actually drive people to the books and authors that they are bashing. i know that after reading their review of in sacred loneliness i was much more eager to find out what all of the fuss was about.

Addressing Palmer's motives for writing, I understand his motives are for full disclosure and discourse to avoid members from finding out the unabridged history and subsequently dropping both Mormonism and Christianity altogether. It is this latter path that I have tended toward...once I learned of the past and current warts of the church, I questioned the only Christian religion that I knew and since would mainly consider myself an agnostic.

I think that Palmer's motives reflect avoidance to stories like mine; losing faith in both Mormonism and the literalness of Jesus' story and divinity.

Wow, great comments. I have a follow-up thread planned for next week's online essay post, after we've all gorged ourselves on Thanksgiving turkey, dressing, and pie. For now:

John F, I think you're presenting a false dichotomy when you make statements like Either JS had the First Vision or he did not, as plainly there are many different ways to accept or reject that claim and others. That's what the whole discussion (meaning Mormon history, not this thread) is about. Sometimes simplification is useful, but most questions interesting enough to argue about are also complex enough to offer more than two possible answers. At least that's how I see it.

Mike, yes I had the same initial reaction to the Midgley review when I first read it, but I've since decided the ad hominem charge is overused. The review provides useful information about Palmer and corrects some misleading statements and posing by him and his publisher. While that doesn't speak directly to Palmer's historical arguments, it is useful (and apparently accurate) information. I don't think Midgley's approach is really ad hominem. While I do think the tone of some FARMS writers rubs some readers the wrong way, there are also FARMS writers who use a more restrained style, as well as many non-FARMS LDS scholars who adopt a much friendlier approach towards fellow Christians and scholars (Millet and Robinson come to mind). So I'm learning to just filter out the prickly tone that creeps into some LDS (and Christian) writing.

Darren, Palmer apparently views a full discussion of LDS history, warts and all, as calculated specifically to avoid the kind of reaction you describe. Midgley and others, by contrast, view that hope as naive and seem to think that full disclosure almost certainly produces the kind of reaction you describe. This second perspective seems to underlie the CES approach to the presentation of LDS history. I sense some merit to both perspectives. Your experience actually suggests Midgley's view of things is more accurate than Palmer's. But the question of the effect of disclosure is distinct from the question of what is the proper course. Do what is right, let the consequence follow. As I see it, effects are consequences, disclosure is what is right. But, as a practical matter, consequences do matter.

It's worth remembering that Palmer is still (as far as I have heard, at least) a member in good standing. The way some LDS writers refer to him you would think he's in the cell next to Hoffman and Lafferty doing 8 to 10 for apostasy.

Dave, I am not talking about the complexities in the way we view some historical event. I am talking about the occurence of the event itself. This morning I either did or did not wake up at 5:26. The fact of that occurence is not a false dichotomy even though, as you point out, there could be myriad ways for observers to see and interpret that fact. JS either did or did not see the First Vision. I make that assertion with regards to the fact of it. The assertion has nothing to do with the myriad ways that observers or critics can "interpret" the record of what happened.

Okay John F, for the sake of argument I'll concede that point. The problem is that unless you are omniscient, you can't get to a knowledge of an event that did or did not happen except by way of observation (either first person or third person) reported by those who observed, or by way of other external evidence--which leads directly to the questions I raised with the example of Paul, where different people saw and heard different things. What one person sees cannot simply be equated with what really happened in an objective, realist sense once you accept the fact that in some cases different people see and hear different things. [Caveat to hypercritical readers--a full philosophical discussion of observation, reason, and intuition as three modes of acquiring knowledge is beyond the scope of this comment.]

By posing a point as an either/or gives the false impression that a simple inquiry can resolve it: Either there was a second gunman that shot President Kennedy, or there was not. Seemingly a simple point, but controversy still swirls. The devil is in the details.

I'm not trying to create a muddle where none exists, just make a case that simple dichotomies generally do violence to complex questions. But they are effective rhetorical devices so they appear regularly, especially it seems in apologetics. It's interesting to note that the world in general recognizes that dichotomies are oversimplifications--witness the popularity of quips using the form There are two kinds of people in the world . . . . Everyone knows the statement to follow is not to be taken without a wink. Well, most people. There are, after all, two kinds of people in the world: those who believe in dichotomies, and those who do not. ;-)

I would also submit that the proposition that "Either JS had the first vision or he did not" is far too complex a statement in and of itself to be posed in a dichotomy. The first vision is meaning more and more things to more and more people, and is far more up to interpretation than the time of day someone woke up. There are too many questions regarding the nature of the first vision, not just versions of it, but also what its implications are. To illustrate, if the first vision happened in Joseph Smith's head (i.e. if it was a hallucination that JS really believed happened), then it still happened in a sense; and I'm not sure that, in such a circumstance, it's lack of external reality would matter today. It certainly wouldn't matter to me.


thanks for your comments. my point really was that after reading midgley's review the reader might very well assume that he has no rebuttal for many of palmer's arguments, and that the personal attacks (regardless of whether they are well-founded or not) can easily appear as a diversionary tactic.

by and large most of the FARMS articles i've read have been hostile, probably because for the most part i've only read their reviews of controversial titles (a lot of signature stuff). i'm sure that there are more even-handed members of the org, i just haven't read many of their articles.

perhaps for a follow up you could do a post regarding FARMS review of in sacred loneliness.

I agree with APJ.

I've read that the bedroom where Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith is a very small space, and several other people were sleeping in it at the time of the visions. Why didn't they wake up? One possible answer is that God performed a miracle, and caused them to keep sleeping. But an equally good answer would be that God put the vision into the mind of Joseph Smith directly, and it was essentially a hallucination. I'm not sure why it would matter which one of these happened--each possibility requires that God miraculously alter someone's mind, and each produces the same outcomes for practical purposes. Once we're in the realm of unverifiable, supernatural phenomena, it becomes pretty hard to be confident about "what really happened."

Yeah, yeah, I know this thread has some age to it. Can't help but comment anyway.

The RLDS Church has over 250,000 members. Around 80,000 are judged as active because they attend at least once a month. On any given Sunday there is more than the active 80,000 members in attendance. In some nations there are many times more in attendance than on the rolls, for example Haiti, where there are 15,000 or so members but on any given Sunday an attendance of 45,000 or so.

Many RLDS who do not actively attend Community of Christ services nevertheless actively participate in RLDS community life...doing such things as attending reunions and so forth. We're a small demonination and most folks are kin to each other and this reinforces RLDS identity as well. 30,000 members of the Community of Christ are active in various Restoration Branches.

These are things that perhaps Midgley didn't consider or felt to be unimportant. If I felt similar facts about the LDS Church to be of less importance, then I could probably thin the ranks of North American LDS membership from 5.5 Million to less than 3 Million....even down toward 2 Million. In Latin America I could use activity figures to thin LDS membership to 700,000-1 Million or so. Just bet I could.

Radical Latter Day Saint

Nice comments, Alan. I've been closing off old threads as an anti-spam precaution, but your comments make me want to rethink that approach and leave them open.

Small denominations use numbers to bolster their sense of being an independent denomination, as opposed to a splinter group or an offshoot, and one can easily understand the pride a small group feels at sustained growth. The LDS Church, at this point a large and established denomination in the US, is still obsessed with numbers, I think, because of its recent historic role as a small church battling against hostile Protestants and an adversarial government. This obssession with numbers is also the result of a wonderfully detailed and centralized record system maintained by the LDS Church, giving them better information about their purported members than is available to any other major denomination.

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