Detailed response to CES Letter, Prophets

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Detailed response to CES Letter, Prophets



A FAIR Analysis of: [[../|Letter to a CES Director]], a work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Chart CES Letter prophets.png

Response to section "Prophets Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author expresses concern about changes in doctrine. For example, "As a believing member, I had no idea that Joseph Smith gave the priesthood to black men. I’m supposed to go to the drawing board now and believe in a god who is not only a schizophrenic racist but who is inconsistent as well? Again, yesterday’s doctrine is today’s false doctrine. Yesterday’s 10 prophets are today’s heretics."


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Response to claim: "Brigham Young taught what is now known as 'Adam-God theory'. He taught that Adam is 'our Father and our God'"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The author states, "President Brigham Young taught what is now known as “Adam-God theory”. He taught that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do”. Young not only taught this doctrine over the pulpit at the 1852 and 1854 General Conferences but he also introduced this doctrine as the Lecture at the Veil in the endowment ceremony of the Temple."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Brigham declared that he never preached a sermon that the 'children of men may not call scripture.'"

The author(s) of Debunking FairMormon (July 2014) make(s) the following claim:

Brigham declared that he never preached a sermon that the 'children of men may not call scripture.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This quote is misused a lot by critics.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Yesterday's doctrine is today's false doctrine. Yesterday’s prophet is today’s heretic."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Along with Adam-God, Young taught a doctrine known as “Blood Atonement” where a person’s blood had to be shed to atone for their own sins as it was beyond the atonement of Jesus Christ....The doctrine was later declared false by future prophets and apostles. Yesterday's doctrine is today's false doctrine. Yesterday’s prophet is today’s heretic.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The Church does not consider past prophets "heretics" simply because some of the things that they taught are no longer taught.

Logical Fallacy: Black-or-White—The author presents two alternative states as the only two possibilities, when more possibilities exist.

The author does not allow prophets to be fallible: he presumes that they must either be "prophets" or "heretics."


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Brigham Young said, 'The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.'"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

[Brigham Young said] "The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy." – Journal of Discourses 11:269

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

If you read the entire passage from which this quote is taken, you will see that Brigham is also acknowledging those who do not actually practice plural marriage. Critics of the Church, however, only extract this single phrase.

Logical Fallacy: Contextomy (Citing out of context)—The author has created a false attribution in which he or she removed a passage by an authority from its surrounding context in such a way as to distort or reverse its intended meaning.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "The same God who 'denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female' is the same God who denied blacks from the saving ordinances"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The same God who "denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female" is the same God who denied blacks from the saving ordinances of the Temple for 130 years.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Book of Mormon scripture being referred to is not talking about skin color - the phrase "black and white" in the Book of Mormon is synonymous with the phrases "the wicked and the righteous" and "whether out of the church or in the church".


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Jimmy Carter’s IRS threatening to revoke the Church’s tax-exempt status"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Jimmy Carter’s IRS threatening to revoke the Church’s tax-exempt status

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The author takes this alleged "fact" from MormonThink: "Under President Jimmy Carter, Brigham Young University and possibly the LDS Church itself was in danger of losing their tax exempt status if they continued to discriminate against blacks." MormonThink provides no source for this claim. The removal of the Church's tax-exempt status is a longstanding cherished goal of the ex-Mormon community, so it is easy to see why this particular claim is so easily repeated.

Logical Fallacy: Bandwagon (Appeal to the Masses)—The author believes that this claim is true simply because all of his or her buddies believe that it is true, despite the lack of actual evidence supporting it.

The ex-Mormon community believes that this claim is true, yet there is no actual evidence to support it.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Of course, the revelation...has absolutely nothing to do with...Stanford and other universities boycotting BYU athletics"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Of course, the revelation...has absolutely nothing to do with...Stanford and other universities boycotting BYU athletics

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

However, the controversy surrounding BYU athletics occurred in the 1969-1972 timeframe, and ultimately resulted in BYU beginning to recruiting black athletes in 1972, six years before the 1978 revelation. Although Stanford continued to boycott BYU athletics until 1978, the demonstrations and controversy over BYU athletics had diminished by that time. There was no immediate societal pressure in 1978 to suddenly decide to lift the priesthood ban.

Logical Fallacy: False Cause—The author assumes that a real or perceived relationship between two events means that one caused the other.

The author infers cause and effect - that demonstrations and boycotts of BYU's athletic program triggered a Church-wide lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978, despite a lack of evidence that this was the case.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "As a believing member, I had no idea that Joseph Smith gave the priesthood to black men"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

As a believing member, I had no idea that Joseph Smith gave the priesthood to black men. I’m supposed to go to the drawing board now and believe in a god who is not only a schizophrenic racist but who is inconsistent as well?
See also the followup(s) to this claim from "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (20 July 2014 revision):
Response to claim: "FairMormon agrees and admits 'we do not know' while offering 3 different scenarios in their attempt to rationalize the ban"
Response to claim: "FairMormon's above response got debunked by none other than the Church itself on December 6, 2013 when the Church released its new Race and the Priesthood essay"
Response to claim: "We just need to edit out the racism and the 'black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse' stuff in the keystone Book of Mormon and we'll be set"

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

  • As a believing member, the author was aware that there had been a priesthood ban, and that this ban was lifted in 1978 (it is discussed in Latter-day Saint scriptures in Official Declaration 2).
  • Upon learning that Joseph Smith ordained several black men prior to the ban, the author now concludes that God is a "schizophrenic racist" and "inconsistent."

Logical Fallacy: Tu Quoque/Appeal to Hypocrisy—The author tries to discredit the validity of someone's position by asserting their failure to act consistently.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "FairMormon agrees and admits 'we do not know' while offering 3 different scenarios in their attempt to rationalize the ban"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

I’m supposed to go to the drawing board now and believe in a god who is not only a schizophrenic racist but who is inconsistent as well? FairMormon Agrees. FairMormon agrees and admits 'we do not know' while offering 3 different scenarios in their attempt to rationalize the ban.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Quite frankly, based upon the author's statement, we can't figure out what he is claiming that FairMormon is in agreement with. FairMormon certainly does not "agree" that god is a "schizophrenic racist" who is "inconsistent." FairMormon does not put forward any particular reason or rationalization for the priesthood ban. The Church, in fact, has repudiated such rationalizations that were proposed in the past such as the idea that certain groups of people not being "valiant" in the pre-existence, or that the ban was justified based upon the Book of Abraham.

Logical Fallacy: Strawman—The author sets up a weakened or caricatured version of the opponent's argument. The author then proceeds to demolish the weak version of the argument, and claim victory.

The Church states that we do not know the reason for the ban. FairMormon agrees with the Church, and has always stated that the reason for the ban was not known.


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Response to claim: "FairMormon's above response got debunked by none other than the Church itself on December 6, 2013 when the Church released its new Race and the Priesthood essay"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

FairMormon says...Sometimes God withholds certain blessings from certain people without explaining why He does this. Sometimes this is a willful decision on His part expressed via direct revelation to his prophet. At other times, God allows his prophets to act as they feel best. In the case of the priesthood ban, we do not know which of these scenarios is applicable. What we do know, however, is that the ban was lifted by revelation in God's due time. FairMormon's above response got debunked by none other than the Church itself on December 6, 2013 when the Church released its new Race and the Priesthood essay. Consequently, FairMormon had to delete their above response, which they did so on the same day.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

These statements made by FairMormon are not "rationalizations" for the priesthood ban. According to Webster,

Rationalize: to think about or describe something (such as bad behavior) in a way that explains it and makes it seem proper, more attractive

Attempts to rationalize the priesthood ban (to explain it) were the proposed explanations such as the "Curse of Cain" or the statements that certain groups of people were "less valiant in the pre-existence." Those were rationalizations, and such rationalizations have been repudiated by the Church.

The following points, on the other hand, simply illustrate the three different ways God can interact with his prophets and explain why we don't know the reason for the ban. None of them attempts to explain the ban:

  1. Sometimes God withholds certain blessings from certain people without explaining why He does this.
  2. Sometimes this is a willful decision on His part expressed via direct revelation to his prophet.
  3. At other times, God allows his prophets to act as they feel best.

FairMormon's conclusion to the statements above:

  • In the case of the priesthood ban, we do not know which of these scenarios is applicable.
  • What we do know, however, is that the ban was lifted by revelation in God's due time.

These conclusions are in complete agreement with the Church's statements on the subject:

  • Doctrine and Covenants Official Declaration 2: "Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice."
  • Church essay Race and the Priesthood: "Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy, and they made ongoing efforts to understand what should be done."

Logical Fallacy: Strawman—The author sets up a weakened or caricatured version of the opponent's argument. The author then proceeds to demolish the weak version of the argument, and claim victory.

This claim is nonsense: Nothing in FairMormon's statements on these matters contradicts anything the Church's Race and Priesthood essay.


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Response to claim: "We just need to edit out the racism and the 'black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse' stuff in the keystone Book of Mormon and we'll be set"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

We just need to edit out the racism and the "black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse" stuff in the keystone Book of Mormon and we'll be set.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The terms "black and white" have specific meanings in the Book of Mormon that go beyond skin color.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Mark Hofmann...to purchase and suppress bizarre and embarrassing documents into the Church vaults that undermined and threatened the Church’s story of its origins"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

In the early to mid-1980’s, the Church shelled out close to $900,000 in antiquities and cash to Mark Hofmann – a conman and soon-to-be serial killer – to purchase and suppress bizarre and embarrassing documents into the Church vaults that undermined and threatened the Church’s story of its origins.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Church didn't even attempt to hide the Salamander Letter, and at first they refused to even purchase it.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Lack of discernment by the Brethren on such a grave threat to the Church"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The documents were later proven to be forgeries....Lack of discernment by the Brethren on such a grave threat to the Church.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

President Hinckley and other General Authorities knew that the Salamander Letter created problems, yet they openly talked about it. There is no reason why they would have known that Hofmann was a con man and, eventually, a murderer.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "The following is Oaks’ 1985 defense of the fake Salamander letter (which Oaks evidently thought was real and legitimate at the time)"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The following is Oaks’ 1985 defense of the fake Salamander letter (which Oaks evidently thought was real and legitimate at the time):

“Another source of differences in the accounts of different witnesses is the different meanings that different persons attach to words. We have a vivid illustration of this in the recent media excitement about the word salamander in a letter Martin Harris is supposed to have sent to W. W. Phelps over 150 years ago. All of the scores of media stories on that subject apparently assume that the author of that letter used the word salamander in the modern sense of a ‘tailed amphibian.’

One wonders why so many writers neglected to reveal to their readers that there is another meaning of salamander, which may even have been the primary meaning in this context in the 1820s. That meaning, which is listed second in a current edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, is ‘a spirit supposed to live in fire’ (2d College ed. 1982, s.v. ‘salamander’). Modern and ancient literature contain many examples of this usage. 41

A spirit that is able to live in fire is a good approximation of the description Joseph Smith gave of the angel Moroni: a personage in the midst of a light, whose countenance was “truly like lightning” and whose overall appearance “was glorious beyond description” (Joseph Smith-History 1:32). As Joseph Smith wrote later, “The first sight [of this personage] was as though the house was filled with consuming fire” (History of the Church, 4:536). Since the letter purports only to be Martin Harris’s interpretation of what he had heard about Joseph’s experience, the use of the words white salamander and old spirit seem understandable.

In view of all this, and as a matter of intellectual evaluation, why all the excitement in the media, and why the apparent hand-wringing among those who profess friendship with or membership in the Church? The media should make more complete disclosures, but Latter-day Saint readers should also be more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read.”

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The talk by Elder Oaks is not offering a defense of the Salamander Letter, nor is he stating that he believed that the Salamander Letter was "real and legitimate".

The presentation was at a CES Symposium. Elder Oaks begins by stating:

"My fellow teachers: In the six months since I accepted this invitation, there has been a flurry of excitement about Church history. New histories and biographies are being published at an unprecedented rate. Heretofore unknown documents bearing the names of early Church leaders are coming forth. Experts are studying their authenticity. Scholars are debating their meaning."

Elder Oaks is actually encouraging skepticism of what is being claimed:

"Some of these general principles should cause readers and viewers to apply the discount of skepticism to media stories about developments in Church history. Other principles apply to all writings on Church history and biography. These general principles concern (1) scientific uncertainties, (2) lack of context, (3) truths and half-truths, (4) bias, (5) balance, and (6) evaluation."

Logical Fallacy: Contextomy (Citing out of context)—The author has created a false attribution in which he or she removed a passage by an authority from its surrounding context in such a way as to distort or reverse its intended meaning.

The portion of the talk quoted by the author of the CES Letter is discussing the "Evaluation" section. That admonition that "Latter-day Saint readers should also be more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read" is not a statement that Latter-day Saints should take the Salamander Letter at face value - it is a statement that they should read media reports of Church history events with a critical eye.


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Response to claim: "Why would I want them following the prophet when a prophet is just a man of his time?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Why would I want [my children] following the prophet when a prophet is just a man of his time?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is nonsense. All prophets must be "men of their time."

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem—The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.


Longer response(s) to criticism:


A FAIR Analysis of:
[[../|Letter to a CES Director]]
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells
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