Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, September 29, 2006

LDS Views on Adam and Insights from Ancient Christian Texts

"Adam in Ancient Texts and the Restoration" by Matt Roper over at FAIRLDS.org scores some excellent points for the Restoration, showing that a number of LDS concepts about Adam were also found in at least some parts of early Christianity. Forgetting that LDS apologetics are nothing more than ad hominem attacks, Roper makes the mistake of providing extensive documentation and scholarly insight. Yes, I know a lot of his fellow apologists share that weakness, but that's no excuse. While weak on the mindless anti-anti-Mormon ranting that we all crave so much, Roper's article is still an interesting read.

Roper's discussion covers many topics of interest including the pre-mortal existence of Adam, God's foreknowledge that Adam would transgress, the resulting preparation of the Plan of Redemption through the Messiah from the beginning, Adam's baptism, his relationship with God, and his divine destiny (theosis), etc. These concepts do not fit well with a common modern spin on Adam that makes him into a monster who wrecked God's plan of happiness for all of us, but they certainly resonate with several LDS perspectives. Here is one brief excerpt to whet your appetite:

Adam in the Garden

Recent studies by Michael Stone, W. Lipscomb, Gary Anderson and others have focused on a set of Armenian Christian Adam and Eve texts. These texts were first published in Armenian in 1898 and only in English in the last several decades.25 These texts discuss the events which took place in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. In one of these entitled, Adam and Eve and the Incarnation, the serpent tells Eve, "God was a man like you. When he ate of the fruit of this tree he became God of all"26 In The History of the Creation and Transgression of Adam, the serpent states, "God was like you, because he had not eaten of that fruit, When he ate it, he attained the glory of divinity." Speaking of devil's words to Eve, Michael Stone, the editor and translator of the recently published Armenian and Georgian Adam and Eve texts observes, "The formulation in our text says not just that humans will become like God (gods)" but also that "God was himself originally human and became divine through eating the fruit."27 This variation on the serpent's words is also found in several later medieval Jewish texts about Adam and Eve.28 In the Transgression of Adam, after Eve partakes of the fruit, Adam asks her, "Why have you eaten the fruit?" Eve responds by saying, "The fruit is very sweet. Take and you taste, and notice the sweetness of this fruit" but Adam refuses, saying, 'I cannot taste it." According to this particular account Eve the begins to cry and beg Adam to eat and "do not separate me from you." After some deliberation (three hours according to one account) Adam reasons, "It is better for me to die than to become separated and detached from this woman." Then he partakes of the fruit as well.

These and other extra-canonical texts indicate that after the redemption of Christ that Adam would be taken to paradise and that after the resurrection he would be restored to his former inheritance which he had lost at the Fall. The significance here is that Adam's restoration to his pre-mortal inheritance, where according to these texts he once reigned under God as a king and at God's specific command was even worshiped by the angels, suggests a return to a state where he could again receive such adoration, a state clearly suggestive of deification. The theme of deification in fact is explicit in the Syriac Testament of Adam. There Adam explains to his son Seth that God would eventually fulfil Adam's desire for deification. Just before being cast out of the Garden, the Lord tells him, "Adam, Adam, do not fear. You wanted to be a god; I will make you a god, not right now, but after the space of many years."

For your sake I will taste death and enter into the house of the dead.... And after three days, while I am in the tomb, I will raise up the body I received from you. And I will set you at the right hand of my divinity, and I will make you a god just like you wanted."*

Citations:
25. W. Lowndes Lipscomb, The Armenian Apocryphal Adam Literature (University of Pennsylvania, 1990), 7.

26. Adam and Eve and the Incarnation, 4 (M5913), in Michael Stone, Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Adam and Eve (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 25.

27. Stone, Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Adam and Eve, 25.

28. "He well knows that if you eat thereof your eyes will be opened, and you will know how to create the world just as He." Chronicles of Jerahmeel, 22:3, in M. Gaster, ed., The Chronicles of Jerahmeel; or, The Hebrew Bible Historiale (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1971), 47; "What he said, however, was that God ate of the tree and so built the world. `Therefore,' he went on, `eat you of it and you shall create worlds." Zohar, Genesis 36a, in Harry Sperling, ed., The Zohar (New York: Rebecca Bennet Publications, 1958), 134.
If you've been to the Temple recently, you may note that some Temple-related concepts resonate well with some parts of those ancient Christian texts.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Let No Corrupt Communication Proceed Out of Your Keyboard

In Ephesians 4:29, Paul says, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth." Mouths aren't the only problem when it comes to corrupt communication. Today I'd like to warn against corrupt communication from your keyboard.

Real-life Example 1: An employee learns that he is being fired. He sends out an email to hundreds of fellow employees, including the CEO, harshly criticizing management. This email violates corporate policy on several counts and results in loss of a large severance package that would have been his if he had followed the rules. Ouch.

Real-life Example 2: An employee accidentally selected "reply to all" instead of "reply" in responding to e-mail that was sent to hundreds of employees, including senior management. The employee criticizes her boss in the email. People are unhappy - especially the employee who had to face the consequences of such an ugly mistake.

There are dozens more stories like this that can be told. Email is a terrible thing, often far worse than spoken words, because it leaves a written record that can be seen by many and often misunderstood by many. It may have been funny or clever at first, among those who understood its sarcastic or humorous twist, but under the harsh gaze of other eyes, it may be offensive and damaging to your career. Email can even result in legal disasters, providing a weapon for opponents to blast at you years later.

Email can save all sorts of time, but always remember that it may create a permanent record that can spread like a virus to people you never wanted to see it. For anything sensitive or personal, better use spoken conversation instead.

And for your LDS apologists out there, email communication with anti-Mormons can be dangerous. I've seen many cases where the alleged email of LDS defenders is posted on anti-Mormon Websites to make an attack on the credibility of the defender or to mock LDS beliefs. I've seen my correspondence posted by enemies as well and abused in unkind ways. Now I'm more likely to simply delete questions from obvious anti-Mormons. Why waste my time and create more problems?

Be careful with email. At a minimum, don't throw away tens of thousands of dollars by saying something stupid, even if you're mad. That's corrupt communication indeed.

The Breath of Life: Jennifer Sabin Sattley and the Amazing Sacrifice of Two Ward Members

The October 2006 Ensign (in print but not yet online) shares the story of Jennifer Sabin Sattley, a beautiful 24-year-old and new bride. Jenny would have died long ago from cystic fibrosis were it not for the incredible sacrifice of two ward members who donated lobes of their lungs for Jenny. Two donors were needed for a new medical procedure that would remove Jenny's diseased lungs and replace them with two single lobes taken from the large and healthy lungs of two donors.

Donating a portion of your lungs is a risky and permanent sacrifice, and requires weeks of recovery after the difficult procedure (a lot of lost work at a minimum). In spite of that, 30 friends and acquaintances came forward and offered to serve as donors, mostly members of the Poway California Stake where she lived. Doctors were shocked at this loving response of so many. Five passed the preliminary screening, and in the end only two of the five had lungs healthy enough for the procedure: her Bishop, Graham Bullick, and another member of her ward, Jim Davies. The charitable attitude of these men floors me. Both were guided by the Spirit and knew that this was the right thing for them to do. As they prepared for surgery, they gave Jenny and each other blessings. Jennifer's father, Gary Sabin, said, "I don't know how you really describe the feelings of the powers of heaven that we felt in that room."

The surgery went well. Doctors were amazed to see the condition of Jenny's lungs, operating at about 9% capacity, and were surprised that she had remained alive at all with such damage, though she was near death. Several days later, the donors were able to see Jenny, and it was a powerful and beautiful reunion. The surgery was successful - Jenny would live. "We all just wept," Debbie Bullick said, " for we knew that we were standing on holy ground."

I marvel at how the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings people together, willing to work together, to bless each other, and to make great sacrifices for one another. The miracle of charity, the hallmark of real Christianity, is so beautifully illustrated by this story of two men, including Jenny's own bishop, who risked their very lives to give Jenny the breath of life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Advanced Parenting Tip: Don't Leave Every Decision to Your Kids - And Don't Send Them to Their Deaths

A few days ago I wrote about a the Columbine-like disaster that was almost unleashed in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Were it not for a young man who contacted the police at his school to warn of the possible plot, dozens may have been killed. A few days later, another disturbing aspect of the story came out. The young man who contacted the authorities first went to his mother to share what he knew - how two troubled boys were collecting weapons and making plans for vengeance. He wanted to know if he should go to the police. His mother, incredibly, told him that the decision would have to be his, and that she would trust him to come up with the right answer. The boy then spent a long time mulling over the decision - the newspaper story didn't report how long, but it may have been several days. He finally chose to go to the police, and the school was saved. The story quoted the young man praising his mother for her "good parenting" skills.

The media seemed so bubbly about the heroic young man that they missed a key point here: Why didn't the mother immediately call the police herself? Why leave a life-and-death decision to her son, who may have been going to his death at school the next day? Maybe she didn't understand how serious the situation was, but I know many who grew up influenced by pop culture in the 60s and 70s think it's cool and wise to just be a "life coach" or "facilitator" for a child's self-directed journey rather than actually telling kids what to do. Did that happen here?

Whatever was going on in Green Bay, here's my little tip as a life coach for you parents: When people are making bombs, gathering weapons, and preparing for a massacre, don't sit back calmly and wait for your kids to decide what to do. Call the police ASAP. Your duty is to protect your children and keep them out of harm's way.

This principle can be extended beyond the scope of school massacres or even violence itself. Are you protecting them from danger on the Internet or other media outlets? Are you protecting them from drugs and other harmful substances? Are you protecting them from dangerous friends or other harmful influences? There are times when parents need to be actual guardians and take vigorous though sometimes unpopular steps to actually protect their children. Teaching correct principles is the best course - but sometimes, you simply have to say "no" or even call the police.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Gilbert W. Scharffs' Book Online

Gilbert W. Scharffs' book, The Truth About "The God Makers, is available online at FAIRLDS.org, if you haven't noticed. It's his point-by-point response to the book, The God Makers. A lucrative anti-Mormon video was made based on the arguments in the book. Somewhat dated, but still kicking around. Anti-Mormon arguments generally haven't changed much over the years, so it's helpful to have Scharffs' response. Nice addition to the Internet library.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Palestinian Televangelists: New Trends in Pop Culture - Or Is That BOOM Culture?

American televangelists don't look so bad after taking a glance at the religious sermons being broadcast with the implicit approval of America's favorite "man of peace," Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority. As reported on Y-net News:
In a sermon broadcast on PA television, Ismail al-Radouan, a prominent Palestinian sheikh, declares, "When the Shahid [martyr] meets his maker, all his sins are forgiven from the first gush of blood. He is exempted from the torments of the grave; he sees his place in paradise, he is shielded from the great shock, and marries 72 Dark Eyed (Virgins)."
This is part of a lengthy series of sermons given with government approval in Palestine encouraging martyrdom.

In addition to great sermons, the Palestinian TV station under control of Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party also appeals to pop culture (or is that BOOM culture?) with multimedia marketing efforts. While the production quality is not up to LDS Mormanad standards (perhaps we could send a BYU TV crew to help out?), the Palestinian Authority has generated some inspiring religious commercials to encourage proper religious action by its people. One such spot, a music video you can view at Palestinian Media Watch, shows a Palestinian woman who is shot in the back by Israeli soldiers and then taken to paradise to join other smiling maidens dancing in white robes while standing in water, waiting for a nice male martyr to marry them. I think the special effects need a little work, frankly, but it is touching. (Hat tip to JihadWatch.org.)

In another recent video discussed at Y-net News, a Palestinian man about to blow himself up among Jewish civilians offers a prayer:
Angels of mercy, escort our souls to Heaven after we fulfill this duty of crushing the descendents of monkeys and pigs. Dear father and mother, blessings of honor and respect to you, while you escort me to the Maidens of Paradise as a Martyr.
I'm sure our government has correctly identified Mahmoud Abbas, former right-hand man of Yasser Arafat, as "a man of peace" and a true ally, as we heard this week from President Bush, who has been sending Mahmoud a lot of your money and some of mine. The only questions remaining are how much more of your money should we give him to help him promote peace, when will he be on Oprah, and when will he get the Nobel Peace Prize? And could there be a music video award in his future?

I also listened to the first part of the President of Iran's carefully reasoned speech to the United Nations this week, and was touched to hear him make so many references to religion and God, describing their cause as one based on peace and mercy. Yes, it's all about peace. Of course, it might be the Marxist definition of peace: "the elimination of all opposition." I'm not sure that eliminating Israel or other peoples and religions is the best path toward peace, but at least peace is the goal. And world peace at that.

Peace. Do we really need it?

Anyway, maybe we need to keep up with the global competition with some new glitzy music videos of our own. Perhaps we can show a 19-year-old young man getting a haircut, putting on a white shirt and nametag, and then strapping some Books of Mormon to his chest and running into a crowd of atheists - perhaps an ACLU office party - or even more moving, a crowd of anti-Mormon ministers waving underwear over their heads at General Conference. Then, after his martyrdom, he gets a Macintosh laptop. OK, it's not all that scriptural, but that's marketing. And good co-branding as well.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Salvation by Charity Alone?

In a previous post, I noted that the only place in the Bible that mentions "faith alone" or "faith only" is James 2:24, where we are plainly told that salvation is NOT by faith alone (KJV: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only"; NIV: "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone"). I make this point especially for those who condemn us as somehow being non-Christian for not accepting their doctrine of "salvation by faith alone." Another verse to consider on this issue is 1 Corinthians 13:2, part of Paul's famous discourse on charity:
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
Paul the Apostle declares that even if he had all faith, it would be inadequate of he did not have charity. How, then, can faith alone be sufficient for salvation? Of faith, hope, charity, Paul states in verse 13 of that chapter that "the greatest of these is charity." Perhaps a doctrine of "salvation by charity alone" would be a step closer to the truth.

When we understand that humans have free will and that we are the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:14-18; Acts 17:28; Hebrews 12:9-10), it helps us also realize that God's desire is for us to choose Him and follow Him that we might grow and "put on the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3-10) and become more like Him (1 John 3:2). Then we will understand why He is more interested in having us accept the grace of Jesus Christ in a covenant relationship, in which we strive to follow Him and repent of all our sins and grow in Him, rather than merely believe and be instantly assured of salvation. Keeping the commandments earns nothing and does not save us - it is the grace of Christ that does all that - but Christ nevertheless tells us that we must do so to have eternal life in Matthew 19:16-22, for example: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Keeping the commandments helps us gain access to His blessings and grace, and prepare to enter into His kingdom. Especially the commandment about having charity. Note that the Book of Mormon teaches that charity is a divine gift - but it's up to us to seek it, and pray with all the energy of heart that we might be filled with it (Moroni 7). We rely on the grace of Christ to have power to keep His commandments and develop charity in the first place - there is never any grounds for boasting in the kingdom of God. But we do have free agency, and must choose to move in that direction with God's help. We must choose Him and seek to follow Him and to seek His grace in a covenant relationship that includes the covenant of baptism. My advice: don't delay!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Columbine-Like Tragedy Barely Averted Here in Wisconsin: Time for More Parents to Wake Up

Northeastern Wisconsin barely escaped suffering a Columbine-like disaster at East High School in Green Bay, just 30 minutes north of my town, Appleton. Thanks to a tip from another student, Green Bay police were able to stop two seventeen-year-olds who had prepared bombs and weapons to carry out a massacre at their suburban school. Details are in the story, "Green Bay Teens Were Obsessed With Columbine Massacre."

These students were truly into the dark side, being heavily into "Goth culture" and obsessed with thoughts of pain and death.

Even in seemingly healthy communities, kids can access all sorts of materials and influences that can bring them to become agents of destruction. More vigilance from parents and others is needed. We were tremendously lucky, but more problems may be brewing anywhere.

The dark and violent nature of video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment available online and through major media outlets can make it all the easier for the mentally unstable to go from troubled to demonic.

Parents, wake up. What kind of materials do you expose your kids to? What are they learning from the movies they watch and games they play? Are your children becoming psychopaths in your own home?

You've heard me rant about movies and violent video games before - and I won't stop. I've seen too many promising young men (not as many young women) of all denominations abandon their education, fail to go on a mission (for the LDS segment), do poorly in their jobs, and become social misfits as they became obsessed with video games and role-playing games. Some even became frightening in terms of the darkness that is so abundant in their lives.

Violent movies and games certainly played a role in the lives of the two psychopaths who almost committed mass murder at East High School in Green Bay. Sure, I know that plenty of non-psychopaths spent hours with these same materials and remain law-abiding citizens. But is there any reason to let such things into our lives?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How to Avoid Compromising Gospel Principles in Business?

I heard a talk show host the other day refer to the owners of a major hotel chain as "good Mormon folks who disseminate pornography just because it's a profit center." Ouch.

I recall the first time I ever stayed in a well-known Mormon-owned hotel chain, a fine hotel near the San Francisco airport. I had heard that there would be a Book of Mormon in every room, but there wasn't one in mine. Instead, I had a wine list about four pages long. I was much more disappointed to see that my television offered a sophisticated menu of in-room movies with 50 or 100 different "adult" films (what a terrible word to describe the sexual immaturity and dysfunction that drives people to watch such filth). This was around 1987. They were certainly on the cutting edge of societal decay.

My purpose here is not to pick on that hotel chain or any particular individuals (notice how I have NOT mentioned the name of the chain in question to avoid undue embarrassment to the owners or to the many people who attend sports and religious evens in the eponymous building at BYU). I suspect that all LDS people in business face pressures to do things in ways that might be viewed as contrary to some Gospel principles. The company I work for once made cigarette paper, for example, arguably playing a role in the grotesque tobacco industry. Retailers often believe that they cannot stay in business if they don't offer cigarettes or alcohol. Business partners might indirectly or even directly build up regimes that stamp out the Gospel. Life gets very complex, sometimes making it too easy to point fingers and to overlook our own shortcomings.

The real issue is this: where do we draw the line? When should we walk from a business opportunity that may be perfectly legal and socially acceptable, but questionable from a Gospel perspective? Or when do we quit or job or change our career? Is it fair to do any more than to say that each person must work these issues out themselves, prayerfully seeking the Spirit and good counsel from others, and striving not to be deceived by filthy lucre? Or is filthy lucre the inevitable victor in our moral battles?

It's easy to find the apparent weaknesses in the business decisions of others, but I'd be interested in your success stories on this topic.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Of Poodles and Cults

"I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult."
- Rita Rudner

Guess it's all a matter of what's popular and what's annoying. I wish my religion weren't so annoying to others. But looking over history, Judaism was pretty annoying to outsiders, and so was original Christianity. It was international popularity that led to its most dramatic losses -- the loss of doctrine and authority when Constantine and others took over, replacing spiritual leadership with political power.

But I'd rather be compared to a cult than a poodle any day.

I know, just a weird random thought. Please go read something inspiring at LDS.org and come back in a couple days.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Death Squeeze of Debt - Including the Foolishness of Investing on Margin


"Owe no man any thing" (Romans 13:8). Those inspired words of scripture could save tens of thousands of marriages and careers, help millions avoid poverty, and even save some lives. Debt is a killer. Debt initially deceives and pacifies, but, as shown in the adjacent photo of Bence Máté, it can quickly and suddenly put its victim into a death squeeze.

The photo, by the way, is used with the kind permission of Bence and his manager. Bence Máté has been honored in the International Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition and is one of my favorite photographers, a Hungarian who uses incredible patience and stealth to capture amazing wildlife scenes. His Website is www.matebence.hu. Also see this Wildlife Photographer of the Year page or this one from the Burke Museum.

I've often written on the need to save and invest for the future, and have discussed the strength of commodities like gold and silver as an important investment opportunity. Sadly, some people pursue their investments through debt. This can be disastrous and create an especially sudden and tragic death squeeze.

Jim Sinclair's commentary at JSMineset.com for Sept. 11 discusses the recent and amazing assault on commodities such as gold, silver, and oil, painting it as an orchestrated short-term attempt to placate the masses regarding the economy and the strength of the dollar, while taking vast amounts of money from those in debt. The latter part refers to those who take the dangerous risk of investing on margin; i.e., going into debt to purchase an investment (gold, silver, stocks, etc.). When the investment tanks, margin buyers may get a margin call, requiring them to come up with the money or sell the investment at a heavy loss. Here's what Jim has to say about all this:
The Fed is working overtime on the creation of a mass perspective of a non inflationary economy. The media is working overtime to call the end of the commodity market. Crude oil is being painted as a rotten apple ready to and in fact dropping from the tree.

The item that allows this game is not energy or metals of edibles, but rather the US dollar. . . .

The goldilocks economy is being repeated on the airwaves today. It claims the economy is slowing perfectly and the cooling of commodity prices proves the wisdom, timing and depth of intellect of the new Conan the Money Man, Professor Bernanke. Greenspan has, like an old soldier, just faded away.

The Fed'’s Poole has just come out and said everything the market wanted to hear to fit the Goldilocks economy. We are right back on the 1930 Plateau of Prosperity as the markets seem to have forgotten about the Cinderella Economy that was in play a few months ago. I guess Goldilocks with its implication of the 3 BEARS is even better than a Cinderella (she vanishes at midnight).

Right behind Poole was Cathy Minehan of the Fed repeating the perfect balance now existing economically by the FedÂ’s sage actions. This Monday 9/11 has got to be the best day ever in media reporting of the health of the US economy. There is hardly a challenge out there.

Geopolitically, both Iran and North Korea are ready to lay down their arms and beat them into plow shares.

Today Afghanistan and Iraq do not even exist.

Forgotten is every fundamental for which there is neither fix nor today attention. Every black box has gone bear oil and bear energy, yet the dollar remains the key. Gold is all in the US dollar.

It is inhumane to lecture people who are suffering. All I can say is damn margin, damn writing options, damn credit card use in investments and damn personal loans to speculate. They are the killer today as no one can stand pat and change the channel when the margin call person is banging on your front door looking for your first born.

If anything proves Wag the Dog is in action it is the concerted commentary from all corners of government and international banking TODAY concerning the miracle of the perfect Federal Reserve management of the economy with geopolitics falling directly into orderly control.

Gold is going to set the bear trap of all time, but those hanging on by a thumbnail might just be the means by which the wash out occurs. They always are.

As far as I am concerned:
  1. The "Formula" is absolutely correct [reference to the factors that will inevitably lead to the weakening of the dollar and the increased value of commodities].

  2. Gold [currently just under $600 an ounce] is headed for $1650.

  3. This is an attempt to break the back of inflationary psychology before October 1st.

  4. The amount of gold, silver and precious metals shares on margin is shocking. Even the most conservative I have spoken to has been nursing margin debt for the past month. I feel so deeply for their pain.
I try not to put too much of a secular nature on this blog, but let me throw out this free word of advice. Gold and silver are being knocked down sharply right now in spite of incredibly solid fundamentals. This is a fabulous opportunity to purchase some bullion and perhaps some gold and silver mining stocks (go for unhedged producers making a profit). Investing in precious metals rather than buying the next soon-to-be-outdated gizmo could make a huge difference in your future. Gold could very well double in the next 18 months, and silver may rise even more.

Similar advice applied to energy stocks. They've been knocked down sharply in the past few days. This is a great time to get invested in proven energy companies such as refiners, oil producers, coal producers, natural gas suppliers, etc.dividendvident-paying companies like the Canadian Royalty Trusts might be an especially good option. Just my secular two cents worth (but if those two cents are in the form of two solid copper pennies, there are worth about six cents right now, thanks to the sharp rise in copper prices - another area worthy of investment).

But first and foremost, don't go further into debt, and get out as much as you can.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Apostasy 2.0? Now Purpose Driven

Preaching against sin and vice may be taking a backdoor to Madison Avenue-style church growth marketing plans based on the popular "Purpose Driven" approach that is sweeping the American religious scene, at least according to the Wall Street Journal. This movement gets front page attention in WSJ's Sept. 5 edition in the article, "A Popular Strategy For Church Growth Splits Congregants" by Suzanne Sataline. The controversy centers on Rev. Rick Warren, the pastor of the huge and popular Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, now famous for his book "The Purpose Driven Life." Over 25 million have been sold. According to the WSJ, Rev. Warren's book has "spawned an industry advising churches to become 'purpose-driven' by attracting nonbelievers with lively worship services" and by making classes and sermons more relevant rather than focusing on traditional themes. I'm all for more liveliness and relevance, especially when I think back on all the dull lessons and talks I've given. But there are some controversial issues around this "purpose driven" approach.

Quite a fury has been stirred in some congregations, with many evangelicals charging that this approach is diluting Christianity. Some say it is "inappropriate for churches to use growth tactics akin to modern management tools, including concepts such as researching the church 'market' and writing mission statements. Others say it encourages simplistic Bible teaching." I've read some comments online calling it pure evil.
Mr. Warren preaches in sandals and a Hawaiian shirt, and he encourages ministers to banish church traditions such as hymns, choirs and pews. He and his followers use "praise team" singers, backed by rock bands playing contemporary Christian songs. His sermons rarely linger on self-denial and fighting sin, instead focusing on healing modern American angst, such as troubled marriages and stress.
I see two possible problems here. First, when the goal is to reach marketing objectives and gain popularity, the message of repentance often has to go. If so, it could be Apostasy 2.0. Of course, growth and dilution of the Gospel message don't necessarily have to go hand in hand. As for the second problem, I'm not into Hawaiian shirts.

There may be other serious issues, including hardball tactics used to implement the marketing plans:
Some pastors learn how to make their churches purpose-driven through training workshops. Speakers at Church Transitions Inc., a Waxhaw, N.C., nonprofit that works closely with Mr. Warren's church, stress that the transition will be rough. At a seminar outside of Austin, Texas, in April, the Revs. Roddy Clyde and Glen Sartain advised 80 audience members to trust very few people with their plans. "All the forces of hell are going to come at you when you wake up that church," said Mr. Sartain, who has taught the material at Mr. Warren's Saddleback Church.

During a session titled "Dealing with Opposition," Mr. Clyde recommended that the pastor speak to critical members, then help them leave if they don't stop objecting. Then when those congregants join a new church, Mr. Clyde instructed, pastors should call their new minister and suggest that the congregants be barred from any leadership role.

"There are moments when you've got to play hardball," said the Rev. Dan Southerland, Church Transitions' president, in an interview. "You cannot transition a church...and placate every whiny Christian along the way."
I suspect that WSJ is being too harsh on the purpose-driven approach. I've had some acquaintances praise it and say that it has really helped them get religion back into their lives. And any change is going to be controversial and get some people riled. We've seen that plenty of times in our own religion.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Maxims to Minimize Mormon Moving Madness

Contemplating sublime theology is only part of what it means to be a Mormon. Much of the other part involves moving people in and out of the ward.

One of the top reasons for converting to the Church may well be the free moving service offered by priesthood quorums. I think there are much better reasons, like eternal joy and all that, but who can argue with free service?

"Mighty Mormon Movers" can be found in almost every ward and branch of the Church, men and women who freely give of their Saturdays or other times to help others move in our out of apartments and homes. The men tend to take on the heavy lifting, while the women (based on my experience) often apply genius-level Tetris-like skills in finding how to make a semitruck load of junk fit into a tiny trailer, sometimes apparently violating the laws of physics. The women and sometimes the men also often play an especially difficult role in helping to pack or even to clean - sometimes the cleaning is the real nightmare (we usually shouldn't and typically don't do that, thankfully). Moving events can be great ways to show our care for others and can even be good social events as brethren work together. I have some very positive memories of Mormon moving projects - though I still need psychotherapy for a few nightmares.

For many people in the Church, moving day is their primary contact with the Church. While we wish they would come to Church more often, we're usually happy to help, whether it's moving them in or out. And we've often helped people who were not members of the Church who were in need - hoping, perhaps, that it might be a good experience for them. Whether the people moving are active or less active in the Church, or even non-members, we want their moving experience to be positive, and we want those who sacrifice their time in helping to have a positive, productive, safe and efficient experience as well.

With that in mind, here are my Maxims to Minimize Mormon Moving Madness. This list is a work in progress, and will be edited over time as I get your suggestions.

Maxims to Minimize Mormon Moving Madness


  1. Preparation is the key. The people moving need to start packing and cleaning at least a week before the move. If 10 people show up and you don't have a lot of things ready to put on a truck, you're wasting their time. Please don't expect people to pack a significant portion of your items on the day of the move, and especially don't expect people to help you sort out what's garbage and what you wish to keep. Church leaders, please coach the people moving so they can know how to prepare and what you expect.

  2. Remember that the move is your responsibility, not the Church's. Do as much as you can on your own - obtaining boxes, packing, cleaning, arranging for friends and relatives to help, renting a truck, etc. Your responsibility does not end when you call the Elders Quorum President.

  3. Arrange for transportation and supplies ahead of time. In most cases, you should rent a truck, even if you are just moving across town. If you can't afford to rent a suitable truck from U-Haul or another rental service, make sure you arrange with a friend or relative to borrow a truck. And if you've done all you can but still don't know how to get a truck, let the leaders at the Church know a couple weeks in advance so that they can try to find some people with trucks who can be there. Don't wait until the day of the move to ask if anyone has a truck you can borrow. Also have other supplies ready ahead of time: a dolly for moving heavy items, tools, boxes, tape, etc.

  4. Don't expect professional results. Be willing to accept some property damage. You're going to have people moving your stuff that aren't trained, perhaps aren't all that strong or graceful, and sometimes not all that bright. I fit all those categories. If you aren't careful and watchful, your fragile picture frames might be packed beneath a bowling ball. And even if you are watchful, someone might drop something or scratch furniture or knock a hole in the wall or even break a window. Don't get mad and expect the ward or, worse yet, the missionaries to pay.

  5. Mark boxes with their contents and where they should go. For example, "John's clothing - upstairs bedroom." This will help movers know where to put things, and help you in finding things later.

  6. Simplify! Get rid of junk - and preferably do it before the move. If you have three old refrigerators in your basement (true story), do you really need to keep and move all of them? Especially if they are almost as heavy as a piano and need to go up a rickety narrow staircase with multiple turns?

  7. Feed the movers. Consider pizza, drinks, snacks, nuts and definitely some healthy fruits and veggies (yes, I am from a different planet). A little food can make a difficult move more much more fun.

  8. Keep it safe. Don't let people move objects that could cut them or injure them. If you've got a piano, for example, have it moved by professionals - there have been nasty injuries when pianos or other heavy objects were moved by inadequate amateur crews. Also watch out for tripping hazards and other things that could put people at risk.

  9. Be grateful! Don't complain about the poor work or accidents that occurred. If even one person shows up, be grateful - even if it's only me. People have plenty of other things to do, and many of those serving you might not even know you or have any obligation or reason to help other than trying to follow the Savior in serving others.

Paul's Warning to Christians: Take Heed and Fear, for Christians Can Fall

While I've heard many of my fellow Christians state that once God has turned someone into a Christian, they need not worry about falling from grace, I see many warnings in the Bible that point to the LDS view - namely, that we still have free agency and can fall if we do not continue in the faith. Here are a few passages from Paul, for example, on this topic:

Romans 11:20-23
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
I Corinthians 10:12
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
Romans 11:20-23
1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. . . .

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
Romans 11:20-23
12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.
Philippians 2:12-15
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:

15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
And finally, a timely warning in our lust-filled society on the need for self-control over the body, lest Christians should become castaways relative to God's kingdom:

I Corinthians 9:24-27
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

One More Mormon Boycotts Miller Beer

Here's one more reason why a number of outraged people in Wisconsin are boycotting Wisconsin-based Miller Beer. Well, count me in. No Miller Beer for me!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Did the Witnesses Actually See the Plates with Their Eyes?

A short article from Daniel C. Peterson (closely related to a passage in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, pp. 204-205, of Peterson et al.) reminds us of the impressive record of Book of Mormon witnesses, who actually saw the gold plates with their eyes:
On the day following the death of David Whitmer in 1888, the Chicago Times reported an interview with an unnamed "Chicago Man." This man related a conversation that he had carried on with another individual some years before, a prominent resident of the county in which David Whitmer had lived, who had been a lawyer and a sheriff there and who had, he said, known the Witness very well and had told him a remarkable story of David Whitmer's later life.
In the opinion of this gentleman, no man in Missouri possessed greater courage or honesty than this heroic old man [David Whitmer]. "His oath," he said, "would send a man to the gallows quicker than that of any man I ever knew." He then went on to say that no person had ever questioned his word to his knowledge about any other matter than finding the Book of Mormon. He was always a loser and never a gainer by adhering to the faith of Joseph Smith. Why persons should question his word about the golden plates, when they took it in relation to all other matters, was to him a mystery.[Cited in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 224.]
In an 1878 interview with Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, David Whitmer gave dramatic and emphatic testimony of his experience as a Witness:
I saw [the plates and other Lehite artifacts] just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.[ Interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith (Richmond, Mo., 7-8 September 1878), reported in a letter to President John Taylor and the Council of the Twelve dated 17 September 1878. Originally published in the Deseret News, 16 November 1878, and reprinted in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 40.]
Six years later, Whitmer was interviewed by the leader of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith III:
Rather suggestively [Colonel Giles] asked if it might not have been possible that he, Mr. Whitmer, had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived him into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban.

How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height--a little over six feet--and said, in solemn and impressive tones: "No, sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!" [Interview with Joseph Smith III et al. (Richmond, Mo., July 1884), originally published in The Saints' Herald, 28 January 1936, and reprinted in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 134-5, emphasis in the original.]
We are fortunate to have, too, the witness of Joseph Smith's family and of many of the other early Latter-day Saints. . . .
Remember, Joseph didn't just claim to have seen an angel and some ethereal plates in a vision. He had many others touch and feel the plates, and some even saw, heard, and felt angels (such as Oliver being ordained under the hands of John the Baptist). And these men, men like Martin Harris, were well known and respected for their integrity, though they were naturally mocked for their "crazy" religious ideas. How to make sense of all this? They were actual witnesses of genuine divine events.

Nevertheless, critics attempt to downplay the emphatic testimony of the witnesses, and have even gone so far as to claim that they didn't really see anything with their own eyes. I just found a good resource which discusses some aspects of their efforts, one that also clarifies some issues that were raised in my last couple of posts regarding William Smith. Yes, his experience with the covered plates did occur in 1827, and his statement must be understood as referring to a time before the official witnesses saw the uncovered plates in 1829. The resource is "Historical or Hysterical: Anti-Mormons and Documentary Sources" by Matthew Brown at FAIRLDS.org. Here is an excerpt (see the original for the references that I have deleted here):
Now, let us take a look at the related idea that none of the Book of Mormon witnesses ever actually saw the golden plates. It is claimed by some critics that since the Three Witnesses had a 'visionary' experience they did not actually view the plates with their natural sight, and therefore their testimony cannot be accepted as recounting something that happened in the real or empirical world. Critics typically construct their 'visionary' argument using second-hand accounts of things that Martin Harris supposedly said. These retellings originated with opponents of the LDS faith such as Stephen Burnett, Jesse Townsend, Anthony Metcalf and John Gilbert.

In response to this accusation I would like to point out the three quotations on the left-hand portion of this slide. Here you will see statements from each of the Three Witnesses which were recorded by persons who were not antagonistic toward Mormonism. I have highlighted words that I would like to draw your attention to. Here we see that each of the Three Witnesses testified, independent of each other and at different times, that their experience was registered by both their physical "eyes" and "ears." In addition, David Whitmer provided an invaluable perspective on the nature of the Three Witnesses' experience when he said,
Of course we were in the Spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view. But we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time.
As the documents on this slide show, the witnesses were careful to clarify that they were not fooled by an illusion, they were not suffering from any type of hallucination, and they most certainly were not having a dream.

Modern anti-Mormons claim that as far as the Eight Witnesses are concerned, none of them saw the golden plates either--they only saw an object that was covered over with a cloth! But take a look at what two of the Eight Witnesses had to say about their experience and determine whether or not the anti-Mormon view can be sustained. When John Whitmer was asked point blank, "Did you see [the plates] covered with a cloth?" He answered, "No. [Joseph Smith] handed them uncovered into our hands, and we turned the leaves sufficient to satisfy us." In this same interview John Whitmer stated that the plates were a material substance, they were gold, they were heavy, they measured 8 by 6 or 7 inches, they had engravings on both sides, and they were connected together by three rings in the shape of the letter D. In the Spring of 1832 Samuel H. Smith (the Prophet's younger brother) informed a group of people that he was a witness to the Book of Mormon. He said "he knew his brother Joseph had the plates, for the Prophet had shown them to him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon." These men obviously saw and handled an identifiable, physical object and were able to supply a detailed description of it. The anti-Mormon stance on this issue simply cannot be taken with any degree of seriousness.

As a side note, I would like to draw attention to the attempt made by some anti-Mormons to 'qualify' the published testimonies of Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith and Samuel Smith by appealing to a statement made by William Smith--who did in fact speak of these men handling the plates while they were concealed by a piece of cloth. This is a prime example of the type of 'hysterical but not historical' scholarship that some critics of the Church engage in. William's statement refers only to his brother bringing the golden plates into his family's home in late September 1827, not to the experience of the Eight Witnesses which occurred in June 1829. Anti-Mormons would do well to educate themselves on this point so that they can avoid any future embarrassment by employing this bogus argument.
It's understandable that good LDS people encountering William Smith's quote in anti-Mormon literature would be troubled by it. That's what anti-Mormon literature is meant to do, of course. But the details that are cleverly left out, such as the time of the experience and the rest of William's statement, do more to tell us about the motives of the anti-Mormons than the origins of the Book of Mormon. To a few of my readers who have been bothered by the anti-Mormon material they've encountered, I'd encourage you to press forward and move past such sources, turning more fully to a careful study of the Book of Mormon itself.

It really is true. There really were golden plates and eye witnesses who were not hallucinating.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

William Smith: An Often-Overlooked Witness for the Book of Mormon and Joseph's Divine Calling

William Smith, the-not-too-religious younger brother of Joseph Smith, was recently invoked by a commenter here in an effort to impugn the testimony of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Before I deal with some confusion about a quote from William, let me point out that he is an interesting and often-overlooked witness for the reality of the gold plates and the divinity of Joseph Smith's divine calling. A useful resource on this topic is "The Trustworthiness of Young Joseph Smith" by Richard Lloyd Anderson, The Improvement Era, Vol. 73, No. 10 (October 1970). Here is an excerpt from the article (footnotes deleted here - see the article itself for details on sources):
The memoirs of William Smith nicely supplement those of the mother. One sees Joseph Smith through very feminine, the other through very masculine eyes. Moreover, the confidence of the mother is balanced by the more detached point of view of the brother. In this case, the brother is the most spiritually skeptical of all of the Smith family. His later religious history proves a lifelong rebelliousness, tempered only by older years.

At the time of Joseph Smith's visions, Hyrum and Samuel H. Smith had followed their mother into the Presbyterian Church, while most other family members were religious yet aloof from organized religion. William, however, describes himself as not even religious. Family worship "often became irksome or tiresome to me," he writes of this early period; he paid "no attention to religion of any kind. . . ." Only a powerful experience could unite this religiously divided family, and Lucy Mack Smith and William represented opposite poles.

Carelessly quoting William Smith is an irresponsible procedure. He published rather detailed recollections of his youth in 1883. He also wrote detailed comments on the published stories about the Prophet about 1875. Besides this, access to William's memory is gained mainly through an interview of 1841, a speech of 1884, and an interview of 1893. These five basic sources for William Smith show a historical method that resembles his religious career, spontaneous and not highly organized. Sequence is not as important to him as making his point with a random illustration. One must be aware of these characteristics because he does not relate the first vision of his brother. That is understandable, first of all, because he was barely nine when it took place. Furthermore, speaking of later visions, he indicated firm belief but carelessness: "being young and naturally high-spirited, I did not realize the importance of such things as I should have done...." Memory depends on deep interest. William, therefore, writes impressionistic history, recalling accurately his basic feelings of a time while often only approximating details. In this matter, he is his own best critic, for more than once he alerts the reader that Joseph Smith's story is more precise than his own: "A more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history."

Through the recollections of Lucy Mack and William Smith, the clock can be turned back to the day when Joseph announced Moroni's coming to the family. As discussed, the stripling prophet first confided this news to his father in the field. Of course, Lucy Smith was not there, but from family knowledge she reported that on that morning Alvin noticed an unusual slackness in Joseph's work and that "Joseph was very pale." William confirmed this episode from firsthand knowledge: "I was at work in the field together with Joseph and my eldest brother Alvin. Joseph looked pale and unwell."

The most dramatic moment that day for the family circle was Joseph's narration to them of his visions of the night before. William places this event prior to Joseph's going to the hill, and Mother Smith afterwards. Yet both could be right. Possibly Joseph gave an announcement before and a detailed report afterwards. As to the family's reaction, there is no doubt. Lucy Mack Smith describes the intense interest of Alvin and "the most profound attention" of the entire family at Joseph's first reports of what had happened to him. William also described the family's reaction to Joseph's explanations: "They were astounded, but not altogether incredulous."

The foregoing words are those of an interested professor of church history who talked at length with William in 1841. Later William specifically described the reaction of the Smiths when Joseph told them of Moroni's coming:

"[H]e arose and told us how the angel appeared to him, what he had told him.... He continued talking to us [for] sometime. The whole family were melted to tears, and believed all he said. Knowing that he was very young, that he had not enjoyed the advantages of a common education; and knowing too, his whole character and disposition, they were convinced that he was totally incapable of arising before his aged parents, his brothers and sisters, and so solemnly giving utterance to anything but the truth." In this comment William singled out reasons for the implicit trust of the household in the nearly 18-year-old Joseph: his limited education, and "his whole character and disposition." There are important historical insights on these points that enable one to see young Joseph Smith through the eyes of his day-to-day companions.

First of all, it came as a shock that the teenager thought himself capable of writing a book. One autobiographical sketch summarizes his total education in one terse sentence: "My father was a farmer and taught me the art of husbandry." That is to say, muscle and tools were his skills, not study and books. Although not illiterate, Joseph at this point of life was relatively unskilled in reading and writing. One contemporary at Palmyra pays him the compliment of showing native intelligence in the "juvenile debating club," but it is a long leap from that to gaining either the interest or capacity to reproduce scripture.

Joseph himself commented on the demands of life that prevented his doing much reading. He mentioned the "indigent circumstances" of the family, and the necessity "to labor hard" to support the dozen members alive in 1823. This "required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the family; therefore, we were deprived of the benefit of an education. Suffice it to say, I was merely instructed in reading, writing, and the ground rules of arithmetic, which constituted my whole literary acquirements."

William and Lucy Smith concur. The former pictures his brother as educated only in a rudimentary way: "That he was illiterate to some extent is admitted, but that he was entirely unlettered is a mistake. In syntax, orthography, mathematics, grammar, geography, with other studies in the common schools of his day, he was no novice, and for writing, he wrote a plain, intelligible hand." In other words, Joseph had taken advantage of limited opportunities for basic education, but (as his mother insists) he was anything but widely read: at 18 he "had never read the Bible through in his life. He seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study." The Smith family measured the adolescent Joseph and found it unbelievable that he would know history or aspire to writing it down without the divine direction that he claimed.
Now let's turn to a quote from one of the interviews with William Smith that was cited by a recent commenter. Here is what the commenter said:
It seems there is abundant evidence supporting the fact that not only the 3 witnesses, but the 8 witnesses as well, indeed never saw the plates with the naked eye. . . .

William Smith (JS's Brother) goes on to state that no one had seen them with the naked eye, nor could they:

"I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. ... Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So did Hyrum and others of the family...No, for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said; 'No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again." (Zion's Ensign, p. 6, January 13, 1894)
One reading the above might think that one of the Eight Witnesses was denying the details of the published testimony about seeing and handling the plates. Not so. First of all, William Smith was not one of the Eight. In fact, he stands as yet another person, apart from the main witnesses, who offered important testimony relevant to the divinity of the Book of Mormon. He was in a good position to know whether Joseph was a fraud or not, and though he was much less religious, he affirmed that Joseph was the real thing, an honest man called of God, and he stayed true to that testimony to the end of his life.

Second, we are supposed to believe that William's comment denies the experience recorded by the official witnesses to the Book of Mormon, who saw the actual plates with no cloth covering over them. In fact, William is referring to a time apparently before any of the Three or Eight Witnesses had seen the plates, and apparently shortly after the 116 pages had been lost, an incident of carelessness that resulted in the plates temporarily being taken away from Joseph. Joseph had the plates, but was being strict to follow the commandment not to show them to others. But that commandment would be modified with a revelation given in June 1929, recorded in Section 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants, in which the Lord revealed that Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer would be shown the plates, or that through faith they would have a view of them. Indeed, they would all see not only the plates, but an angel showing them the plates, and hear the voice of the Lord in that experience as well. The Eignht Witnesses would come later, and be shown the plates under more ordinary circumstances. I do not know how aware William was of those later experiences of others, but I assume he knew of them but was simply referring to his own encounter with the plates. Surely the interviewers did not see his words as somehow challenging the reliability of the official accounts of the origins of the Book of Mormon, especially whe William Smith goes on to affirm its divinity.

It is instructive to read the full 1893 statement of William Smith from this interview shortly before his death. Here is an excerpt in which he discusses the Book of Mormon:
Bro. Briggs and I visited him [William] next day after he returned from St. Paul being about two weeks before his death. We found him able to be about the house and quite willing to talk. After passing the time of day, etc., Bro. Briggs and he spoke of former meetings and finally drifted on to the subject of Bro. Smith's early boyhood and his knowledge of the rise of the church, Book of Mormon, etc.

Bro. Briggs then handed me a pencil and asked Bro. Smith if he ever saw the plates his brother had had, from which the Book of Mormon was translated"

He replied, "I did not see them uncovered but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in the tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back. Their size was as described in Mother's history."

Bro. Briggs then asked, "Did any others of the family see them?"

"Yes," said he, "Father and my Brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock So did Hyrum and others of the family."

"Was this frock one that Joseph took with him especially to wrap the plates in?"

"No, it was his every day frock such as young men used to wear then."

"Didn't you want to remove the cloth and see the bare plates?" said Bro. B.

"No," he replied; "for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said, 'No; I am instructed not to show them to anyone. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again.' Besides we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before.'

"Did you not doubt Joseph's testimony sometimes?" said Bro. Briggs.

"No," was the reply. "We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and mother believed him, why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that belief shows that he was truthful. No sir, we never doubted his word for one minute."

"Well," said Bro. B. "It is said that Joseph and the rest of the family were lazy and indolent."

"We never heard of such a thing until after Joseph told his vision, and not then by our friends. Whenever the neighbors wanted a good days work done they knew where they could get a good hand and they were not particular to take any of the other boys before Joseph either. We cleared sixty acres of the heaviest timber I ever saw. We had a good place, but it required a great deal of labor to make it a good place. We also had on it from twelve to fifteen hundred sugar trees, and to gather the sap and make sugar and molasses from that number of trees was no lazy job. We worked hard to clear our place and the neighbors were a little jealous. If you will figure up how much work it would take to clear sixty acres of heavy timber land, heavier than any here, trees you could not conveniently cut down, you can tell whether we were lazy or not, and Joseph did his share of the work with the rest of the boys.

We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision. We were considered respectable till then, but at once people began to circulate falsehoods and stories in a wonderful way."
William Smith's statement cannot be taken as denying the vivid and emphatically affirmed experiences of the official witnesses to the Book of Mormon, who all insisted throughout their lives, as did William, that the plates were real and that the Book of Mormon was of God, not a fabrication of Joseph Smith. But unlike William, the official eleven witnesses would affirm that they had actually seen the plates under a couple of different circumstances, one miraculous (with an angel and the voice of God - an experience that could be described as a vision or as seen with spiritual eyes but every bit as real as seeing one's hand in front of one's face, as David Whitmer insisted), or under more mundane circumstances, where the plates could be viewed and handled in plain sight without miraculous trappings. Both offer more direct evidence for the reality of the plates than William's experience feeling them while covered, but his testimony is also valuable in creating a mosaic of varied but consistent data from credible sources pointing to the reality of the Book of Mormon and the enormous difficulty of accounting for the Book of Mormon as some kind of fraudulent scheme devised by Joseph Smith.

For some further information, see "Book of Mormon Witnesses" by R.L. Anderson.