Part 67: CES Letter Conclusion [Section A]
by Sarah Allen
After almost a year and a half, this series is drawing to a close. All we have left here is Jeremy’s conclusion (which is 3 pages long) and then my own concluding thoughts. It’s been a long road, with a lot of reading, studying, and personal growth. I’ve personally learned a lot, and putting aside so much of my free time to study the history of the Church and its primary documents has strengthened my own testimony more than I ever anticipated.
It’s funny; one of the common claims you hear from people who have left the Church is that the more they studied, the more they became convinced it wasn’t true. For me, it’s been the opposite. The more I study the Gospel and its history, the more deep my belief becomes. I’ve said before that you can’t study this stuff on your own, you have to study with the Spirit.
Maybe that’s the difference, maybe not. I can’t read anyone else’s mind. All I can do is speak to my own life, and it tells me that what you get out of an experience mirrors what you put into it. If you’re hoping to find reasons to leave the Church, you’ll find them. If you’re hoping to find reasons to stay, you’ll find those, too. And if you’re looking to grow your testimony while learning more about the Church you belong to, researching all of these questions on your own is a great way to do it.
Just don’t try to do it on your own. Don’t shut your Father in Heaven out of the process. He wants to help you. He wants to nudge you toward the answers that are available. He doesn’t want you to be alone, or scared, or hurting, or confused. He’s there, but you have to turn to Him. He won’t force the relationship, so you have to be the one to turn to Him. And if you do, He’ll send His Spirit to help guide you along your path.
Anyway, because this is such a long conclusion, I don’t know if we’ll finish the entire thing today. Most of this section is going to be an extended recap of everything we’ve covered already, but I’ll try to keep it from getting too boring.
It begins with a quote from Doctrines of Salvation by Joseph Fielding Smith:
“Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a Prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead people, then he should be exposed, his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false…” — PRESIDENT JOSEPH FIELDING SMITH, DOCTRINES OF SALVATION, P.188
Jeremy doesn’t add any of the rest of the sermon, which goes on to say that Joseph was not a deceiver and his claims and doctrines are not shown to be false:
If Joseph was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead people, then he should be exposed, his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false, for the doctrines of an imposter cannot be made to harmonize in all particulars with divine truth. If his claims and declarations were built upon fraud and deceit, there would appear many errors and contradictions, which would be easy to detect. The doctrines of false teachers will not stand the test when tried by the accepted standards of measurement, the scriptures.
There is no possibility of his being deceived, and on this issue we are ready to make our stand. I maintain that Joseph Smith was all that he claimed to be. His statements are too positive and his claims too great to admit of deception on his part. No imposter could have accomplished so great and wonderful a work. Had he been such, he would have been detected and exposed, and the plan would have failed and come to naught. … Attacks have been made from the beginning to the present, and yet every one has failed. The world has been unable to place a finger upon anything that is inconsistent, or out of harmony in the revelations to Joseph Smith, with that which has been revealed before, or predicted by the prophets and the Lord Himself.
… For upwards of 100 years the revealed gospel has stood the test of criticism, attack, and bitter opposition. I think we can say that never before in recorded history do we have an account of truth passing through such a crucible and being put to such a test as has the truth known in the world as Mormonism.
Every attack has failed, whether that attack has been waged against Joseph Smith in person or against the Book of Mormon, which by the power of God he translated from ancient records, or against the revelations received by him personally from the Lord….
It’s a strong testimony that reminds me very much of Elder Holland’s own powerful testimony, given in 2009. Speaking of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, he said:
As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?
Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator. In this I stand with my own great-grandfather, who said simply enough, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”
I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.
.. I ask that my testimony of the Book of Mormon and all that it implies, given today under my own oath and office, be recorded by men on earth and angels in heaven. I hope I have a few years left in my “last days,” but whether I do or do not, I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true, that it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the latter days.
The reason I wanted to open this section with these testimonies is because Jeremy is about to spend the next 3 pages of his PDF listing all of the reasons why he no longer has a testimony, and why he thinks you should abandon yours along with him. This letter is his attempt to crawl “over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make [his] exit.”
But Elder Holland and President Smith were right when they testified that these attacks have failed. There’s no reason for you to accept Jeremy’s word on any of it. I’ve spent nearly a year and a half going through every single question in his Letter and laying out all of the evidence to demonstrate that his attacks have no teeth. There’s simply nothing here.
And we’re going to go over everything again now to prove it.
Jeremy’s conclusion begins:
When I first discovered that gold plates were not used to translate the Book of Mormon, that Joseph Smith started polygamy and disturbingly practiced it in ways I never could have imagined, and that Joseph’s Book of Abraham translations and claims are gibberish…I went into a panic.
The gold plates were used to translate the Book of Mormon, just not in the way that Jeremy envisioned. The Church has never hidden that Joseph Smith reinstated plural marriage, even taking out numerous affidavits from Joseph’s plural wives to confirm it. He did not practice it in “disturbing” ways, and if Jeremy could never have imagined it, that means he quite clearly did not ever read D&C 132. The Book of Abraham translations and claims are not gibberish—quite the contrary.
I desperately needed answers and I needed them immediately. Among the first sources I looked to for answers were official Church sources such as Mormon.org and LDS.org. I couldn’t find them.
To this point in this series, I have cited 2,730 sources. Some of those are repeats, but I didn’t want to go through all of them individually to weed out the ones I’ve used more than once. However, 732 of them were taken directly from ChurchofJesusChrist.org, the updated version of LDS.org. This is not including other “official” Church sources that were not part of that 732 number, such as the Church’s YouTube channel, the Church News website, or the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
So, while Jeremy claims he couldn’t find any answers on official Church websites, I’ve found over 700 sources pointing to those answers on the Church’s main website alone. That tells me quite plainly that either he didn’t look very hard for them, or he rejected them because he wasn’t being honest when he said he wanted “official” answers to his questions.
I then went to FairMormon and Neal A. Maxwell Institute (formerly FARMS).
Both very useful sites, with thousands of answers to questions on them. I didn’t go through and count all of the FAIR sources I’ve cited, but it’s easily in the hundreds, as well.
FairMormon and these unofficial apologists have done more to destroy my testimony than any “anti-Mormon” source ever could.
That, I don’t believe, and I’ll tell you why. In the introduction to the CES Letter, Jeremy says that his faith crisis started in February of 2012. A paragraph earlier, he says that he left the Church in heart and mind, though not in deed, later that summer. That’s only 5 or 6 months.
You do not go from an active, practicing, faithful, believing Latter-day Saint to an atheist who loudly and repeatedly mocks God, the scriptures, the Spirit, the temple, the prophet, and anything else you can think of in that time span unless you are consuming large quantities of anti-LDS material. It just doesn’t happen. That’s flipping your life entirely upside down. If you’re questioning and sincerely researching from a variety of sources on both sides of the equation, pleading with God to direct you, even if you do eventually end up leaving the Church it’d take you longer than 6 months to get to the point Jeremy was at. That transformation is so abrupt, from one extreme to the other, in such a short amount of time that he had to be wallowing in material critical of the Church.
Either he wasn’t reading much of anything positive about the Church at all during that time period, or he’s not being honest about the timeline and the catalyst for his disaffection. So, he may not have been satisfied with the answers he found on FAIR or any other similar website, but they didn’t make him abandon his temple covenants and attack God and His Gospel the way he did. It was something else entirely that drove him to that.
I find their version of Mormonism to be alien and foreign to the Chapel Mormonism that I grew up in attending Church, seminary, reading scriptures, General Conferences, EFY, Church history tour, mission, and BYU.
I had no idea what “Chapel Mormonism” was supposed to be, as I’d never heard the term before. Reddit user WooperSlim pointed me toward a 2004 Sunstone presentation by Jason Gallentine, which suggests that “Chapel Mormonism” is a very literal, traditional version of the Gospel that doesn’t leave any room for nuance or ambiguity. I don’t know if this is what Jeremy was referring to or not, but regardless of his intent, there is nothing on FAIR that contradicts what you learn in Church, seminary, the scriptures, General Conference, EFY, Church history tours, missions, or BYU unless your teachers are way outside of the mainstream of the Church.
It frustrates me that apologists use so many words in their attempts to redefine words and their meanings.
This made me laugh out loud. Jeremy has repeatedly used words incorrectly throughout this entire Letter. I’ve called out many of them, but there were even more that I let slide. In different places, he uses alternately the wrong words and words for synonyms that are not actually synonyms.
Their pet theories, claims, and philosophies of men mingled with scripture are not only contradictory to the scriptures and Church teachings I learned through correlated Mormonism…they’re truly bizarre.
Again, this is ironic. Jeremy’s claims have distorted the Gospel into something unrecognizable, and yet he insists that those refuting his claims are the ones who have it wrong. I didn’t see FAIR or the Interpreter Foundation saying that the Spirit confirms that cartoon characters are real, living beings, and I never saw Book of Mormon Central stating that the Witnesses believed they could see fairies.
And “correlated Mormonism”? Really? Again, correlation was the act of creating Church manuals so that you’d have the same lessons everywhere in the world. This is a weird, weird criticism to make. Jeremy already complains bitterly that he wasn’t taught certain things by his Church leaders. Imagine how much worse it would be if teachers were left to their own devices to cobble together a lesson from scratch every week on whatever topic they saw fit.
I am amazed to learn that, according to these unofficial apologists, translate doesn’t really mean translate, horses aren’t really horses (they’re tapirs), chariots aren’t really chariots (since tapirs can’t pull chariots without wheels), steel isn’t really steel, the Hill Cumorah isn’t really in New York (it’s possibly in Mesoamerica), Lamanites aren’t really the principal ancestors of the Native American Indians, marriage isn’t really marriage (if they’re Joseph’s plural marriages? They’re mostly non-sexual spiritual sealings), and yesterday’s prophets weren’t really prophets when they taught today’s false doctrine.
Again, there’s no such thing as an “official apologist.” An “apologist,” by definition, is someone who defends something. It’s not an official title or designation.
Let’s take these claims one at a time. “Translate doesn’t really mean translate.” Did Jeremy think that Joseph Smith knew Reformed Egyptian? Because that’s the only way he would actually be able to translate the gold plates, since Jeremy wants official definitions. We say “translate” because that’s the word Joseph originally used, but a better word is actually “transmit,” and Joseph was the receiver, not the one doing the actual transmitting. Nothing Joseph ever did could be considered translating by the literal definition of the word. He was always receiving revelation.
“Horses aren’t really horses (they’re tapirs).” Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know. There is a lot of evidence that horses may have lived in North America during Nephite times. Regardless, horses were never ridden in the Book of Mormon, suggesting that even if they were real horses, they were a small breed unsuitable for riding.
But, while critics on the internet love to mock the idea of “loan-shifting,” it is a real, valid, well-documented phenomenon that occurs all over the world. For a few examples, American buffalos are not buffalos at all, but bison. They were simply called “buffalos” because European settlers thought they looked similar. Others called them “wild cows.” The word “hippopotamus” translates to “river horse” in Greek, despite hippos looking nothing like horses. The Spanish called badgers, raccoons, and cotamundis all by the same word, “tejon.” The Aztecs called European horses “deer,” while that was what the Maya called the Spanish goats and the Delaware Indians called cows. The Spanish referred to tapirs as “donkeys,” while some of the Maya similarly called horses and donkeys “tapirs.” There is also a report of at least one Spaniard describing a tapir as an, “elephant.” The most common Amerindian word for Spanish horses was, believe it or not, “dog.” Alpacas were described as “sheep” by Europeans seeing them for the first time. The Hebrew word for “deer” was also used for rams, ibexes, and mountain goats, depending on the context. In Sweden and Finland, some people referred to a reindeer as a “cow” or “ox.” “Wild ox” in the Bible usually meant an antelope or gazelle. The Miami Indians named sheep a word that translated to “looks-like-a-cow.” Etc. It’s super common, and what on Earth were the Nephites supposed to call a tapir or an alpaca or any of the other animals they’d never seen before? They didn’t have names for them in their native language.
So, maybe horses were horses, and maybe they were something else that sort of resembled a horse. Who knows?
“Chariots aren’t really chariots (since tapirs can’t pull chariots without wheels).” Chariots aren’t always wheeled chariots in the Bible, either. Sometimes they’re covered litters or palanquins, which were actually fairly common in Mesoamerica.
“Steel isn’t really steel.” Steel isn’t really steel in the Bible, either. It’s a tempered bronze alloy. It’d stand to reason that the Nephites, who came from Jerusalem, would use the word in the same way that Israelites from Jerusalem did during the same time period, such as with the Vered Jericho Sword.
“The Hill Cumorah isn’t really in New York (it’s possibly in Mesoamerica).” We don’t know where the Hill Cumorah really is, because the Book of Mormon took place somewhere roughly the size of the state of Oregon, and we don’t know where that was. Mesoamerica is the best guess today because of a lot of research pointing in that direction, but we don’t know for certain.
We do know that the hill where the plates were found in New York is a drumlin formed by a glacier, and it is geologically impossible for it to hold a cave. Therefore, it can’t be the original Hill Cumorah, which has a cave filled with all the other Nephite records.
Moreover, this is a pretty rich argument coming from Jeremy, who placed the Hill Ramah/Cumorah in Canada, not New York during one of his arguments.
“Lamanites aren’t really the principal ancestors of the Native American Indians.” Nope, they’re not. And the Book of Mormon text never said they were. The Introduction did at one point, but that wasn’t added to the Book of Mormon until 1981, and the decision wasn’t unanimous because the Book of Mormon never said that. Of course it was removed after DNA testing became available and it was shown to be untrue. It was always a tenuous statement anyway, based on a few people’s opinions rather than revealed truth, so why wouldn’t the Church remove it when it was known to be wrong?
“Marriage isn’t really marriage (if they’re Joseph’s plural marriages? They’re mostly non-sexual spiritual sealings).” I don’t know that I’d say “mostly.” We know that Joseph did have sexual relations with some of his wives, and that he didn’t with others. We also know there were several different types of sealings, some of which differed from the ones we do today. Some of them were indeed sealings for the next life with no marriage in this one. Yet again, marriage and sealing are not the same thing.
“Yesterday’s prophets weren’t really prophets when they taught today’s false doctrine.” If a prophet is called of God, he’s really a prophet regardless of what Jeremy thinks. Sometimes prophets make mistakes, that’s true. They’re human, just like we all are. But there is a difference between something somebody taught a few times and established, official doctrine. Elders Christofferson, Andersen, and Oaks have all done their best to clarify that for us in recent years, precisely because people like Jeremy were getting confused over the issue.
Why is it that I had to first discover all of this—from the internet—at 31-years-old after over 20 years of high activity in the Church?
My guess would be, because he didn’t study much Church history outside of Church. With a lay ministry, our teachers can only teach us what they already know, and they don’t know everything. We have to do the bulk of our studying on our own time. Not everyone enjoys that, and it’s hard to find the time to do it effectively. But if we don’t do it, we aren’t going to learn all that it’s possible to learn.
Most of the things in this Letter were things I learned on my own, doing my own outside studying, before the internet was really widespread. The internet makes it much, much easier to bring all these disparate sources together, for which I am very grateful. But study was possible prior to its advent, and all of this information was out there. Like I said way back when Jeremy first raised this issue, I don’t know if these are things that he necessarily should have known, but they are things he could have known. I found them, and he could have, too.
I wasn’t just a seat warmer at Church.
Nobody’s just a “seat warmer” at Church. We are all divine children of our Heavenly Father, and He loves each of us with all He has.
I’ve read the scriptures several times.
Except, apparently, for D&C 132.
I’ve read hundreds of “approved” Church books.
There is no such thing as “approved” or “unapproved” books or sources. We are not forbidden from reading anything. We are advised to read from the best books, but no list of those “best books” was ever provided to us, and we are allowed to read whatever we want. I’ve listed all kinds of sources in this series, from devout to critical. None of them were ever prohibited by the Church.
I was an extremely dedicated missionary who voluntarily asked to stay longer in the mission field. I was very interested in and dedicated to the Gospel.
That’s admirable of Jeremy. But nowhere in that list did I see that he actively studied Church history outside of Church, and nowhere did I see that he leaned on the Spirit while doing that studying. We’ve been encouraged from the very beginning to do our own studying and to learn all we can learn in this lifetime. We’ve also been encouraged repeatedly to study with the Lord’s help.
How am I supposed to feel about learning about these disturbing facts at 31-years-old? After making critical life decisions based on trust and faith that the Church was telling me the complete truth about its origins and history? After many books, seminary, EFY, Church history tour, mission, BYU, General Conferences, scriptures, Ensigns, and regular Church attendance?
I’m not going to tell Jeremy that he should have known those things, or tell him how to feel about discovering them. But, like I said, he could have known them much earlier than he did. I understand that was shocking to him to discover he didn’t know as much as he thought he did. I’ve had that same experience when learning new information before, too. But the Church and its leaders did not hide this information from him. They published it repeatedly, including in the Ensign and in the Doctrine and Covenants. They discussed it in interviews. They mentioned it in General Conference. They released First Presidency statements. They’ve put online thousands and thousands of documents for us to view for ourselves. This is not a Church that is hiding its history.
These answers were out there. That was the entire point of this series in the beginning, to show my Reddit sub members that these questions did have answers, and to show them where to start looking for them. If Jeremy didn’t find them, there are reasons for that. Maybe his leaders didn’t know it themselves. Maybe he didn’t study hard enough. Maybe he never figured out where to look. Maybe he did come across the information but didn’t pay attention in the moment. Maybe his leaders did teach it to him but he wasn’t listening. I don’t know. But I do know that all of this information was out there, and it’s been out there for a long, long time. We just have to put in the work to find it. Remember, the Lord loves effort on His behalf.
I’m going to close this one out here, so we’ll continue with more next week. In the meantime, please, if you’re not studying outside of Church, try to squeeze in a few minutes here and there to do it. There’s a lot out there for us to learn.
Sources in this entry:
Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.