Must testimony be tied to historical claims?

Call him Ishmael. The man has been coming to church with the missionaries for six or eight months now, and he seems a bit different from other investigators and recent converts we’ve seen in our ward. Most of these people have been, let us say, humble in their financial circumstances and educational attainments. Ishmael, by contrast, seems like someone who will not be needing welfare assistance: he is a doctor, mid-30s, good health, thoughtful and well-spoken.

Before today, you had introduced yourself to Ishmael but had not talked with him at any length. But as it happens, it’s the third Sunday of the month, and you and I find ourselves seated next to Ishmael at the “Linger Longer” in the cultural hall after the meeting block. Following a bit of friendly conversation, you feel bold enough to ask: “So, Ishmael, you’ve been coming to church for a while, and we love having you here. Have you given any thought to . . . being baptized?”

“Of course,” he says. “A lot of thought. Hmm. . . . Part of me really wants to belong to this community. Not because I need a social group or anything– I’m actually more of an introvert– but because, well . . . I hope this doesn’t sound overly dramatic, but I really feel the presence of God here. In your testimony meetings, in your interactions with each other. I think that belonging to this church would help me live a more godly life, if I can put it that way. So, yes, I would like to be baptized. But I’m not sure that I can do that, or that I should do that.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” you answer. “Is there some . . . difficulty? Family, maybe?”

“Word of Wisdom?” I clumsily insert. “Tithing?”

“Oh no,” Ishmael responds. “Nothing like that. All of your commandments and rules of conduct seem to me to be very sound. Inspired, even. I’m far from perfect, of course. But I would happily commit myself to trying to live by the church’s rules. That would a reason to join.”

“What then?”

Ishmael hesitates, then begins slowly. “I’m not sure you’ll understand this. But since you asked . . . . You won’t be surprised to learn that the missionaries are eager to set a baptismal date. And your ward mission leader, Brother Firm, is encouraging as well. But he also explained that I shouldn’t be baptized unless I have a testimony. I asked what that entailed, and he said there are three components to a testimony. You have to have a conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. You have to believe that Joseph Smith was called by God to restore the Church. The First Vision, the Book of Mormon and all. And you have to believe that the Church is led today by living prophets.

“Well, I have no problem with the first of those items. Actually, I used to be a devout Episcopalian– that’s not an oxymoron, as some people seem to think– and I seriously considered going into the ministry. I actually did a year of divinity school before deciding to go to medical school instead, and I became disillusioned mostly because it wasn’t clear to me that many of my divinity school mentors actually did believe in what I regard as the essential truths about Jesus. One thing I really like about your church is that when people say they believe that Jesus is the Son of God or that he rose from the dead, I’m confident that they really mean it in some non-equivocal, non-metaphorical sense.

“I also have no problem with the third component. It’s impressive to me that your church has stayed on track when so many others, in my humble opinion, have wandered down wrong paths. To me, that’s an indication of divine guidance. And I’ve listened to two of your General Conferences now, and I don’t know of a place today where someone could go and be as confident of hearing sound, inspired Christian teaching. Teaching, I might add, that the world today desperately needs. That’s another reason why I would like to be a member, actually; I would like to devote some of my energies to supporting the things your church does.

“I agree completely,” you interject. “That’s wonderful. So . . . I’m still not sure what the difficulty is?”

“It’s with the second component,” Ishmael explains. “Joseph Smith. I’m not the kind of person who would take a big step like this without doing my research. So I’ve read about Joseph Smith. I’ve read quite a lot, actually. And he seems to me to be an impressive, charismatic, truly remarkable character– but, frankly . . . How can I put this in way that won’t be offensive? He seems a bit slippery. Not one-hundred percent trustworthy, if I can put it that way.

“What do you mean?” you ask.

“Well, I don’t want to say too much. These are sensitive subjects, and I really don’t want to offend anyone. But there is . . . well, the Book of Abraham. And polygamy– not just the practice of it, but the way it was practiced, and the disingenuous denials and all. I could go on, but I think you get the point. I know your President Nelson is currently urging members to reread Smith’s account of the First Vision. The official account. I agree that it’s an impressive and uplifting narrative. But somehow I just can’t stop myself from thinking, ‘Well, but that isn’t how he told it the first time he wrote it down.’”

“True,” I jump in. “But there aren’t any real inconsistencies. You wouldn’t expect someone to relate an experience in exactly the same way on different occasions.”

“That could be a long discussion, maybe for another time,” Ishmael replies. “The last thing I want to do is get into arguments, or offend anyone, or undermine anyone’s faith. Maybe I can just say this much? That I’ve read quite a lot on the subject, and thought about it– and I’ve also prayed about this, as the missionaries told me to (I would have done that anyway)– and Joseph Smith strikes me as, let’s say, a kind of magnificent, inspired story-teller.

“But let me be clear: I don’t really have a problem with that. God works in mysterious ways. I don’t see any reason why God couldn’t work through an inspired story-teller. It seems to me that God always, and necessarily, works through profoundly imperfect people to achieve his purposes. What else could He do? So when I was an Episcopalian, we didn’t stake our case on claims about the integrity of Thomas Cramner– or Henry VIII, Heaven help us.

“I would think that what should matter is whether I believe God is working in the church today. And I do believe that. So what difference should it make what I think about Joseph Smith?

“And yet Brother Firm tells me this is an essential part of a testimony. If that’s right, then I don’t think I have, or am likely to have, the requisite testimony. And yet I would like to be baptized– and to do my best to be a faithful member. So, what do you think?”

Ishmael is asking a hard question, I think– a hard question whether or not one shares his opinion about Joseph Smith– and I myself want to reflect a bit more about it. Maybe if I think I have anything useful to say, I might do a post or two on the subject. Meanwhile, what would you advise?

34 comments for “Must testimony be tied to historical claims?

  1. January 24, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    I would praise him for taking the decision to be baptized seriously. Not enough do. Then I would say that he should look at the “fruits” of Joseph Smith’s works. He already said how inspired they all appear to be. The positives really seem to out weigh the negatives. Let him know in your opinion that that should be sufficient. Yes, there are imperfections, yes there are things you may disagree with. Perhaps with some things Joseph Smith did do the right thing, and your imperfect self is misjudging it; but perhaps with other things Joseph’s ego got the better of him. But God had to use somebody. It’s worth wresting with. Many members already baptized have wrestled with it for a long time.
    So ask God and say that after all your study and effort, the LDS church appears to be His organization on the earth and that since joining it will do more good than bad in your life, you are going to join it. Ideally you should get a confirming feeling that this is the right thing to do, but that may not come (or be hard to recognize). But, if you get a very bad feeling about the decision, don’t join.

  2. Pacal
    January 24, 2020 at 9:48 pm

    $50 says Brother Firm is a boomer. Just sayin’ bro.

  3. January 24, 2020 at 9:53 pm

    Is this a thought experiment, or a real conversation? If an actual investigator, there could be some value in examining Ishmael’s acceptance of living prophets and his hesitation over the historical one — I would expect it to be the other way around, that it would be easier to accept a prophet safely in the past than a prophet who wears business suits and comments on current issues. True, Ishmael speaks of modern leaders only in terms of “sound, inspired Christian teaching” and not in terms of prophecy or revelation, but if he’s going to hold the missionary’s definition of testimony in such literal terms that he must be convinced by Joseph Smith’s absolute meeting of Ishmael’s own notions of prophetic fitness, then I have to assume he holds the same standards for and has made the same evaluation of living leaders before accepting them. What allows him to accept Russell M. Nelson or Dallin H. Oaks as living prophets, despite their very human imperfections? Can he apply those same tests and standards to Joseph Smith?

    Of course, if this is a fictional case designed to put Joseph Smith or historicity on trial, then I have little to offer. A thought experiment Ishmael cannot examine his imaginary acceptance of living prophets.

  4. Mark N.
    January 24, 2020 at 11:12 pm

    Was Moroni a thought experiment?

  5. JB
    January 25, 2020 at 12:14 am

    As Elder Holland has emphasized, it is OK if you don’t know, or don’t even believe, everything. Start from what you do believe, focus on that. Let the other pieces come as they will.

    How that looks will be different for different people. For some people, the piece they can believe is the Book of Mormon but struggle with other modern scriptures. The advice for them may be to build their testimony from the Book of Mormon, the strong point of their faith. Others may have a strong testimony of the First Vision, but struggle with this that came after.

    With Ishmael, it appears he has at least some testimony of the current prophets but struggles with what came earlier. I would have no problem telling him to build on that strong point. There’s no need for him to have all doubts resolved before he moves forward in faith.

    That’s not to minimize his doubts or to say he should be baptized cavalierly. Nor is it to say he should just ignore any concerns he has. He’ll ultimately have to be the one to decide whether he’s ready to be baptized, both in terms of making a covenant with God and aligning himself with this Church. But I don’t see any value in creating an artificial checklist of specific facts you have to be able to testify to before you can make a covenant with God to follow him.

  6. Sute
    January 25, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Steven, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen concern de-missionary trolling before. Maybe your “friend” has problems with women and the priesthood and LGBT issues too?

    In reality you can answer ever question straight to the source of the church — Jesus Christ. It’s his church, he chose Joseph. It’s not our place to criticize Joseph is we feel he’s made mistakes. We will be judged based on what we choose to do with the book of Mormon and the revelations brought forth from Joseph. We are on trial, not Joseph.

    The Lord no less was accused of being slippery in his own day; blasphemer, hanging around with apostates and sinners. Those accusations lead to his death.

    Judge him by his fruits. Even if you want to uncharitably claim his only fruits are polygamy (nonsense), look at the people it produced. The church is not, nor has it ever been a sex cult, but concerned with moral virtue in all forms and caring for others. Right back from it’s first prophet. You don’t get that from the seedsb of a secret sex cult self aggrandizer.

  7. Anna
    January 25, 2020 at 9:08 am

    Pascal, I find your prejudice toward boomers offensive, just saying bro. Prejudice is prejudice. There are jerks who are gen X and millennials too, as you just demonstrated.

    Other than that, I agree with JB, this investigator should be accepted where he is and be allowed to work toward a perfect testimony. If the church really is true, we should trust good people to see it. If Joseph Smith was more of a prophet than he was con man then we should trust that people will see the truth in time. I think we love people and accept them doubts and all. Our job isn’t to decide if this investigator believes enough. Our job is to love him. If he wants to make a commitment to the church because he sees good in it now, who are we to decide that isn’t good enough.

  8. Brandon
    January 25, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    I’ll keep my answer short and simple. No, you’re not a full believer if you do not accept the main historical claims of Joseph Smith. Not to accept such is to contradict so much of what the past and current leaders have said. The implications of a non-historical Book of Mormon are very damning to Joseph Smith. It is Joseph Smith’s claims that make Mormonism Mormonism.

    Can you consider yourself a partial believer and be active in the church without believing in historical truth claims? Yes.

  9. SDS
    January 25, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks, all– lots of good insights here. I’ll only attempt a couple of responsive comments.

    Pacal, I’m not sure whether Brother Firm is a boomer, but I know that I am. And I got a chuckle out of your remark, wasn’t offended in the slightest. But I am a bit curious. What about Br. Firm’s explanation of testimony makes you think he’s a boomer? I’ve heard this three-component explanation of testimony quite often; I had thought it was standard. Do non-boomers think differently about these things?

    Brandon’s “short and simple” response seems to me straightforward and pretty compelling, and also not uncharitable. Maybe that’s the right answer; maybe it’s where discussion of the question should come to rest. I have only a couple of reservations.

    First, it seems that in the history of salvation, there have been paradigm shifts– apologies for using that hackneyed term, but it seems to fit here– in which the received understanding (supportable by scripture or prophetic pronouncement) came to be displaced by a newer, initially jarring understanding. Some of what had seemed solid comes to be discarded, to be replaced by novel and unsettling understandings. I would say that the conflict between Paul and the Judaizers reflected one such shift. Scriptures on circumcision seemed to be pretty plain, and yet . . . . In modern times, the transition from the millenarian and polygamy-oriented Church to the more mainstream Church of the twentieth century was another such shift, I think. Might we be in the midst of still another such shift? I don’t know– and being of a conservative disposition, I don’t welcome radical changes– but I do wonder. And in a “living” Church, it seems the possibility can’t be summarily dismissed.

    Second, if I understand Ishmael’s thinking (and I believe I do), he is saying something like this: “It’s not just that I haven’t yet received confirmation of Joseph Smith’s central claims. I’ve thought and studied and prayed, and I just don’t find some of those claims to be tenable. I’m very fallible, of course, so I may be wrong, and I also try to keep an open mind. But that’s what I think. On the other hand, I am sincerely convinced that God is working in the Church– today and probably in the past as well. It’s not just that this is a nice and well-managed group of people doing some good things; I really believe that God is at work here. So although I understand the logic and the appeal of Brandon’s more straightforward position, it’s not one that I find myself able to accept. And I’m trying to figure out if these convictions are necessarily incompatible, or whether there is some way to reconcile them.” But of course maybe the answer is, “No, there isn’t.”

  10. Chad Nielsen
    January 25, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    This is a question I wrestle with for my own testimony. A part of me agrees with Brandon–Joseph Smith and his actions, teachings, and claims are at the root of what makes our Church what it is. Aspects of our current practice and beliefs that current Church leaders say are essential–temples, accepting and studying the Book of Mormon, believing and following prophets who receive revelation from God, to name a few–are tied to our history in ways that are difficult to separate. The second and third temple recommend questions (“Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of His role as your Savior and Redeemer?” and “Do you have a testimony of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?”) are tied to both historical and theological concerns. The latter question about the Restoration would probably be the root of the bishop’s statement that you have to have a testimony that Joseph Smith was called by God to restore the Church. The fact that current church leaders insist on us studying the First Vision, studying the Book of Mormon, having a testimony of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, etc. makes it difficult to accept the Church today without facing the prospect of accepting its history.

    And yet, I struggle with many of the concerns Ishmael brings up. The strength of my confidence in (or doubt of) specific historical claims that Joseph Smith or the current leaders of the Church make varies according to the day. I find Joseph Smith to be inspired, I love the Church and religious community that I’m a part of, and I draw inspiration and power from the Book of Mormon, but I also struggle with some of Joseph Smith’s choices and statements. On my bad days, I tell myself that I can keep going with my religion because that is all in the past and is not the present. While it affects the beliefs of my religious community, it doesn’t determine how I or the good people I meet with on a weekly basis at church choose to live our lives. And, by and large, I see God’s hand at work through the Church today, starting at the local level and moving up to the top. Thus, if the Church is bearing good fruit in my life, I don’t always feel a strong need to believe in historical claims. To put it another way, when the rubber meets the road, I don’t need to believe that the First Vision happened exactly how I read in Joseph Smith-History to go minister or to feel the Spirit while I am at Church.

    Yet, I also feel a nagging doubt about my own standing and faith during those bad days because of the doubts that I experience. I try to keep my faith burning bright and to express devotion to the Church through the ways I live my life and participate in the community, but there is the question of whether my doubts exclude me from being considered a full member of the Church on those bad days. It might be that I only qualify to pass muster on Brandon’s last statement on those days (partial believer and active), but is that good enough for exaltation (the ultimate goal of baptism and activity in the Church)? It’s a hard question. I wrestle with it all the time and I don’t know that I have found a good answer yet. For now, I like to think that JB’s comment is a good working point–keep moving forward in faith with what you believe and keep working on building up faith in those areas that you aren’t as sure on.

    There is also the question that underlies the bishop’s statement and Ishmael’s discussion–what are we required to believe in order to be ready to be baptized in the Church? In Preach My Gospel, the qualifications for baptism listed make no mention about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, or historical claims about the Church in the 1800s. It’s much more focused on personal conduct and faith in Christ (see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-do-i-prepare-people-for-baptism-and-confirmation?lang=eng). At the same time, the interview questions are similar to the temple recommend questions, including the questions: “Do you believe that the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith? Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?” The interview questions do give a good basis for the bishop’s statement to Ishmael about essential points of belief as set by the current Church leaders. As you mention, though, SDS, it may change in the future due to paradigm shifts. For now, though, it seems as though it is necessary to believe at least some historical claims about the Restoration.

  11. Tori
    January 25, 2020 at 7:46 pm

    If this hypothetical investigator thinks that God worked through Joseph (even though Joseph is a slippery character in his opinion) then that is as good a testimony as any.
    I find it odd to insist that believing in historical claims is one of the quoted 3 pillars of a testimony. Believing that God worked through Joseph Smith is key in my mind. God should always be at the center of a testimony, not a man, prophet or otherwise.

  12. Dr Cocoa
    January 25, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    I asked my kids (6 and 9) what should be the requirements for getting baptized into this church. Their response:
    1. Belief in Jesus
    2. Willingness to follow his teachings

    When I asked them if there was anything else, they asked, “What else is there?”

    From the mouth of babes.

  13. Brandon
    January 25, 2020 at 8:27 pm

    SDS and Chad, thanks for the replies. The church has clearly gone through paradigm shifts throughout its history, and it I think it has been undergoing a slight shift vis-a-vis historicity questions over the past few years. It has significantly deemphasized historicity over the past while. It has also emphasized more and more the concept of a flawed Joseph Smith. But implicit in the overall narratives is that the BOM is historical and that Joseph Smith’s good side outweighs his flaws. I can’t imagine it ever coming to the point where those who reject historicity outright would ever be seen as just as believing as those who accept historicity. It isn’t just a question of should it be that way, but could it be that way. I don’t think so. It seems that the expectation is more and more becoming that members don’t have to formulate a position on historicity to be accepted as a believer, but they have to keep quiet. Speaking up too much, or even at all, about the BOM not being historical is more than likely to ruffle feathers in any meetinghouse and cause people to see you as faithless if not an apostate.

  14. OK
    January 26, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    “I would praise him for taking the decision to be baptized seriously. Not enough do.”

    Like, eight year olds?

  15. p
    January 26, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    A determination of “historical” as opposed to “ahistorical” requires supporting evidence. It is not a faith decision.

  16. Travis
    January 26, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    Seems like the folks who have the hardest time reconciling the prophetic mantle of Joseph Smith are those believers, or members, whose images of prophesy have been thoroughly whitewashed and sanitized by the “corporatocracy” of the institution that runs the Restored Gospel.

    When an ecclesiastical institution’s leaders resemble Brighams more than Josephs, the bias bends towards business. The clean-cut conservatism, white-shirt-and-tie, model-Mormon-millionaire image, however, is not priesthood. It is an image of power and authority, and that is perhaps what many people worship—they get baptized by the power and authority of the corporate institution.

    Ever recognize so religious a fervor or devotion as a fan to his corporate sports team? Or a sales merchant to the products he sells? These people truly love and believe in their corporate images!

    Is the Church immune?

    If Jesus really doesn’t look like the painted-image in our chapels, how many will fall apostate?

    It is as if the institution knew everything about Joseph Smith, and felt shame, so covered up and lied about historical facts.

    Blame the Pharisees that run the CES for hard-pressing a sterile image of prophesy, and for censoring the fertile image of Joseph Smith! We have droves of well-intentioned, obedient saints—family and friends—who suffer in a quagmire of confusion and doubt, because early leadership couldn’t be forthcoming and honest about history.

    It is not so much what Joseph did. It is what the institution did with truth: if the institution will lie about Joseph Smith’s history, how can it be depended upon or reliable for any truth? This is the crux of it.

  17. jpv
    January 26, 2020 at 7:25 pm

    “I know your President Nelson is currently urging members to reread Smith’s account of the First Vision. The official account.”

    Highly skeptical of this point.

    The Church has several links aggregating un-cut versions of all the accounts.

    Put out a new podcast about it, again has likes to all the unedited primary accounts… In every degree of fidelity from scanned pages to transcripts to modernized.

  18. Chet
    January 26, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    Travis, great points above. I would state additionally that prophecy is not the same as things done due to political expediency.

  19. Ryan Mullen
    January 27, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    Ardis asked “I would expect it to be the other way around, that it would be easier to accept a prophet safely in the past than a prophet who wears business suits and comments on current issues. … What allows him to accept Russell M. Nelson or Dallin H. Oaks as living prophets, despite their very human imperfections?”

    I wonder if the amount of publicly available information about JS is what has flipped the expectation here. I think that part of why it’s easier to believe in past prophets than living prophets is because the accounts of past prophets are so short. We just really don’t have that many details on Moses or Isaiah. The reader fills in the gaps with their own expectations about how a prophet should act and assumes that Moses or Isaiah acted in just such a way. Living prophets, however, are their own actors and often don’t conform to the reader’s prophetic expectations. However, thanks to the JSPP and the number of biographies available about JS, we might just know more about him than we can learn about RMN or DHO. Do RMN’s private thoughts on an issue always match the Church’s official, public stance? Perhaps in 200 years when the RMNPP publishes full color scans of his private papers we will finally know.

  20. Nathan
    January 27, 2020 at 11:30 pm

    I struggle with Book of Mormon historicity. It is difficult to discuss with others including local leaders. Some of the Book of Mormon videos start with the painful phrase “Based on actual events.” That is the dominant narrative that Is now hard for me to believe. Can I be a welcome member without believing it? My hesitancy to confide in others about this answers my question.

  21. rickpowers
    January 28, 2020 at 6:12 am

    And thus sayeth the LDS boy to Stan in South Park, Colorado:

    “Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life and a great family and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice, and helping people, and even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy.”

    Maybe two out of three really ain’t that bad.

  22. larryco_
    January 28, 2020 at 9:57 am

    How far back does a need for historical inerrancy required to go for one to be a card-carrying member? Is it just applied to the historicity of the Book of Mormon? Here’s an example of what I am referring to: In the early 2000’s my daughters attended a seminary building which had a wrap-around wall display, produced by the Church, of the history on humankind. Following the “standard” Fall of Adam having taken place around 4,000 b.c. (with no death of any kind prior to that), it begins its march through the Old Testament. It presented Noah’s Ark/The Flood events taking place around 2,500 b.c., which posits that at this time all of the population of the earth was killed except for one family. This family admittedly built a very large boat (bigger than a football field), where two of each unclean animal and seven of each clean animal in existence from all over the world were ushered onto the boat (there are currently about 6,000 species of mammals alone – thousands more have become extinct over millennia – plus reptiles and all of the others). It then began to rain 40 days and the waters topped the highest peaks of the Himalayas around the entire earth. You know the story.

    Changing gears, let’s talk about Jesus. We all know that The Savior’s chief teaching method was parables. The messages are powerful allegories meant to lead us all to the Father’s kingdom. Everyone seems to understand this. No one ever asks the name of the father of the Prodigal Son or where and when they lived. Or who the 10 virgins or the 10 lepers were. It’s the teaching message that counts, designed to be vivid and worthy of pondering. We all get it. But where did Jesus learn about parables?

    Which brings us back to the flood. It seems like you can go basically two ways on this. The first is to accept the event as completely historical in the way that it was presented by the Church on the walls of the seminary building – even though this depiction is completely untenable by every possible measurement historically, scientifically, and logically. Or you can see it as a Jesus/Jehovah parable, given anciently to an inspired patriarch or matriarch to help the children of this earth understand that no matter how others may scoff or scorn you, if you keep the commandments faithfully and love your Heavenly Father with all your might, mind, and strength he will protect you and lift you (float you) above all the ugliness of this world and usher you safely back into His presence. This, in the pages of the Old Testament, is where I believe the earthly Jesus learned about parables.

    So, back to the beginning. Although there were many regional floods in ancient times that were often perilous, I do not believe there was a universal flood. Does that mean I’m out of harmony with an established teaching of the Church. Yah, it kinda does. Now I’m the one scrambling trying to figure out what to do with the fact that Noah and the gang show up in modern-day scriptures. If I also conclude that the Tower of Babel (which shows up on the seminary building wall taking place only 150 years after the flood, in which time the earth has grown from one family to multitudes) is also a parable, what do we make of the Book of Ether. I know, I pooched! I can’t lean back on the “as far as it is translated correctly” argument when it shows up in inspired writings outside the O.T.

    To this day, no one has asked me in a temple recommend interview what my views are on the Flood, or a few other things that I wouldn’t look too orthodox about. Does that mean I am disingenuous about some aspects of my faith? Probably. But I know I love the Church and have enjoyed serving in pretty much all the positions there are out there (I’m quite an old dude). And I do hope that Ishmael – whether he is also allegorical or not – will make his decision based on the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

  23. ji
    January 28, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Perhaps one can believe in a universal flood (a flood that erased mankind from the earth, except for Noah and his family) without also insisting that the water level rise higher than Mount Everest?

    Other faiths face the historicity problem, too. I know from personal experience that some Presbyterian ministers do not believe in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but see it as a nice story that teaches admirable principles.

    For me, it works better to believe in a universal flood (but I don’t dogmatically insist on water level) and to believe in a real corporeal and yet resurrected Jesus. For me, it works better to think of the Book of Mormon people as real people, not fictional characters in a nice story that teaches admirable principles. I am not ready to mythologize these matters. I am not sure how I could mythologize these matters and retain a firm faith in Jesus Christ and his power to save.

  24. Brandon
    January 28, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    Not all historicity claims are equal. Some stories can be interpreted as metaphorical without compromising the integrity of central LDS truth claims (I.e. a global flood). But to claim that the BOM isn’t historical is to undermine what the leaders themselves are claiming is evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophethood.

    As for not being asked directly in the temple recommend interview whether you believe in historicity, being a member involves regularly being put in positions where you are asked to defend the historicity of the BOM and to claim at least that Jesus actually appeared to ancient Americans.

  25. RL
    January 29, 2020 at 9:28 am

    I think most members would feel comfortable saying the Book of Mormon is evidence of broad revelation and a vehicle for personal revelation. Proving historicity is likely beyond the devotional nature of Church attendance, and most active Saints show charity and faith towards the book . The social mores I’ve experienced as a member is dont rock the boat for minor things, dont be a jerk, and dont publicly oppose the big stuff. , God exists. Jesus Saves. Revelation is real as illustrated in modern scripture and prophets. I would hope folks that want to believe that or do believe the big tent poles would feel welcomed and included. I feel like the LDS faith is orthodox in behavior but not as much in thought. We know not to push weird agendas in our meeting that subtract from the core purposes of Church. I probably believe stuff my congregation doesn’t on various subjects but I dont need the validation of my worldview by every member in the congregation or the wider Church and I dont want to publicly stick my finger in their eye..

  26. larryco_
    January 29, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    ji, this is from lds.org

    “During Noah’s time the earth was completely covered with water. This was the baptism of the earth and symbolized a cleansing (1 Pet. 3:20–21).” Baptism by immersion of the earth is part of the Church’s motif. They always use the term “completely”. It would seem that noses (like Everest) must be covered completely.

  27. ji
    January 29, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    larryco_,

    I don’t understand why you addressed your comment to me. What do you want me to do?

  28. p
    January 29, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    I will fail that historicity faith test, Brandon, because I will not lie and say “I believe” – just as there are Catholics who disbelieve preposterous accounts of Marian apparitions and will say so. The higher law is always truth.

  29. Brandon
    January 30, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    To those saying that belief in historicity doesn’t matter, if that is true, then shouldn’t we have an environment where metaphorical believers should be able to express their disbelief in historicity with no consequence? Imagine someone giving a talk at church where someone says, “even though I know Jesus didn’t actually appear to ancient Americans, I am inspired by this story because…” with no backlash. Imagine a seminary teacher telling students that he is pretty sure that the BOM isn’t historically true but is still inspired. Can we reach a point where beliefs in non-historicity of the BOM can be expressed with little to no complaints by co-religionists or at least to the point where complaints of historicity-believers wouldn’t receive support by the leaders? I highly doubt that.

    I have every reason to believe that when Mormons say the oft-heard phrase, “I know the Book of Mormon is true,” they are implicitly making a historical claim. I’m confident that if we took a poll (and we’ve reached a point in the collective discourse of the bloggernacle where we probably need this poll, and I would financially support such a poll) among believers on whether believers believed the BOM to be historically true, we would find overwhelming support for such an idea.

    You don’t need to believe in the historicity of the BOM to claim you are inspired by it or to claim you are a believer. But you need to keep quiet about your views among believers and not openly treat it as myth or fiction. And that is pretty big right there.

  30. p
    January 30, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    Brandon, your and other’s insistence that we must believe the unbelievable does not bode well for the future of the Church. In addition to being odious and reprehensible this mentality is also pathological. The Church has shifted gears before: polygamy & priesthood ban changes were huge. It can shift gears again.

  31. Brandon
    January 30, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    p, I am not doing the insisting. I am simply noting that the church leaders and the membership are doing the insisting. If you don’t believe in a historical BOM that’s fine. If you consider yourself a devout member and believer in spite of not believing in historicity of the BOM, that’s fine too. But you know darn well that you can’t broadcast any lack of belief in historicity without members and leaders alike looking down on you and considering you a non-believer. I predict that the LDS church will not in my lifetime (I’m 40), back away from a historical BOM. Polygamy and the priesthood doctrines were peripheral teachings and could be changed without compromising core doctrinal teachings. The historicity of the BOM is and has long been treated as central doctrine. Non-believers in the BOM’s historicity will always be treated as second class and will be strongly discouraged from airing their views.

  32. p
    January 30, 2020 at 8:13 pm

    Polygamy was and still is a central teaching: “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessing offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.” Brigham Young

    As to the remainder of your argument, that non-believers in BoM historicity will be treated as “second class” – where I live MORMONS are treated as second class. I don’t mind at all.

  33. Wondering
    January 30, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    I don’t understand how p’s quotation from BYU can still be a central teaching when Wilford Woodruff said otherwise, also said BY said otherwise, and it is not currently taught in the Church and hasn’t been for more than half a century. Who gets to pick which of BY’s statements is “still … a central teaching”?

  34. Brandon
    January 30, 2020 at 11:48 pm

    Joseph Smith rose to fame on being able to translate an ancient record. The nickname Mormon, after all, came from the Book of Mormon. Polygamy came later and was practiced secretly by Joseph Smith. JS allowed very few men to practice polygamy. Most of what Brigham Young taught simply didn’t gain nearly as much traction as what Joseph Smith taught.

    As for polygamy still being a central teaching, no not in the least. Polygamy is never spoken of in general conference talks, church lesson manuals, and First Presidency messages. Especially when compared with the Book of Mormon. Almost every missionary talks of Jesus appearing in the Americas during their first meeting with investigators. The leaders repeatedly tell members to read the Book of Mormon. The leaders regularly reference the stories of the Book of Mormon in their talks and talk as if these stories really took place and the people really existed. A key foundation of Mormon religious identity is the Book of Mormon as a history, not just some piece of inspired fiction.

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