Re-evaluating LDS Myths about Reorganized Latter Day Saints

A long time ago, I remember reading this post by John Hamer about the myths LDS people hold about the RLDS (Now the Community of Christ.) At the time, the Bloggernacle hailed this post as groundbreaking. Though I had some limited awareness that the LDS Church didn’t do a very good job of disentangling fact and myth about the RLDS, I also had some misgivings about the veracity of a few of Hamer’s points. 

Recently FireTag, who is a Believing member of the Community of Christ, wrote this article on the Community of Christ’s recent choice to join the NCC (National Council of the Churches of Christ) expressing at least some level of concern over their move away from their Joseph Smith Jr. and restorationist roots. Interestingly John Hamer has responded to the post defending the CoC’s move.

The RLDS made a move to try to simultaneously embrace both Conservative and Liberal view points within their Church and here we have two great representatives of both of those view points. This gives us a unique chance to see two perspectives on the same issue — both from within the CoC — and thereby tease out truth, myth, and apologetics. Based on this further information, I am going to reassess Hamer’s original “myths” in light of a fuller knowledge.

The RLDS church only gave women the priesthood because they ran out of male Smiths to lead the church. Status: Myth

This one seems pretty much true to me for pretty much the reasons that John states in his original article. I am familiar enough with the RLDS to know that they did not always pass the presidency on from father to son, contrary to LDS myths. There was one exception where it was passed from brother to brother. The rest were from father to son. But that does mean there was strong precedent that it didn’t have to be father to son, so I believe this one is pretty much pure myth.

The Community of Christ scrapped the Book of Mormon in order to join the World Council of Churches (WCC). Status: Partially True

This claim in particular is interesting because we are seeing an essential replay of it as the CoC joins the NCC. Here is FireTag’s point of view:

Then I read the NCC’s letter explaining their basis for accepting the membership application from the Community of Christ — and now I’m less certain about that interpretation. It seems we made some very important additional theological concessions, actively or by omission, in order to be accepted. The NCC report, published here, makes clear that the NCC is letting the CofChrist join because they believe the CofChrist is sufficiently far from its historical Restoration roots.

Another area of concern to the NCC was the Book of Mormon. Here, their opinion may be disturbingly factual:

“But it is not, in any sense, equivalent to the Bible in the life of their communion. Subscription to its teaching is not required for membership or ordination. While the Book of Mormon is sometimes used for worship, there are parts of the COC that seldom refer to it.”

Here is John Hamer’s point of view:

The Book of Mormon has not been decanonized, and the D&C not only remains canon, new sections of canon continue to be added. The Community of Christ is governed by World Conference Resolutions, not the NCC’s report. What’s happened here is that a group of liberal Christians has recognized that Community of Christ is Christian without requiring the Community of Christ to give up its Restoration scripture. In other words, it’s the mainline Christians who blinked or compromised. That’s the news here that’s remarkable.

You’ll have to read everything both of them wrote to understand their full point of view, but this should give you a taste for the differences. It would appear that the real truth is that the Book of Mormon and D&C are both officially “downgraded” so to speak (having been apparently “unofficially downgraded” prior to this point). So whereas John sees this downgrade as essentially still scripture (and thus the concession is on the part of the NCC) FireTag sees the downgrade as primarily the CoC’s concession.

I should probably note here that some of our Protestant neighbors have been very clear in the past that they have little or no concern with The Book of Mormon so long as we choose to not view it as ‘scripture’ as they understand the term. Consider, for example, Craig Blomberg’s point of view from back in 1997.

Evangelicals would be even more grateful if [Robin’s point of view] led to more modest claims for Joseph’s writings, which did not commend them as of equal or greater authority than the Old and New Testaments. then we might think of them as constituting for the LDS what Luther’s collected works do for Lutherans or what Calvin’s Institutions do for Presbyterian and Reformed thought – important, foundational theological works that nevertheless do not supplant the unique role of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. The Reorganized LDS Church has already adopted this position… (From How Wide the Divide?, p. 54)

It is interesting to note here that Blomberg’s assertion predates this move of the CoC joining the NCC and thus has reference to past changes, including joining the WCC. So it would appear that this ‘myth’ had and has some truth to it and depends largely on how you personally define the word ‘scripture.’

I should also note here that the status of Restorationist scripture in the RLDS prior to becoming the CoC did seem to differ by congregation. Back in the 90s I had already met RLDS members that claimed they did not ever use The Book of Mormon in worship services at all. I do not think this was the ‘norm’ however.

The RLDS church changed its name because it wants to become another Protestant church. Status: Strawman

Based on these articles, I see no reason to believe that the RLDS changed their name because they wanted to become another Protestant Church. However, it is clear that FireTag believes the recent NCC move does essentially move the CoC strongly towards being more of a Protestant Church, at least in some measure.

This is a little like Joshua telling the children of Israel that the purpose of Moses leading their generation into the wilderness was so they’d realize Egypt wasn’t that bad and they were supposed to turn around. The mental gears freeze up.

By comparison, John Hamer sees it like this:

My personal view is that Brigham Young was a usurper. I also don’t think he was a good person. But my personal beliefs aside, when I look at the history in an institutional sense, it must be conceded that one of the things Brigham “usurped” was the bulk of the existing corporate structure of the church that JSJr founded in 1830. That institutional historical analysis has zero bearing on the question of divine mandate, since traditional Restoration theology includes the idea that institutions can fall into Apostasy, i.e., the primary institutional heir of the early Christian church is the Catholic Church, but this hasn’t made Mormons accept the Catholic Church as “the true church.”

The view that the Reorganization was the only true continuation of the original church was also a theological claim, held by early members of the Reorganization. Community of Christ abandoned this claim decades ago when it came to understand that the very act of making the claim to be “the one and only true church,” is a sign that you aren’t it (i.e., because there isn’t just one).

Theologically early Mormons believed that they were the Restoration of the New Testament church in every sense, including recovering all the actual historical practices and institutional authority. This was a faith position that was zealously believed, but which cannot be shown to be possible in an actual historical sense. This is no shame on them; people regularly have these notions — the people of the Renaissance actually believed they had given birth anew to the Classical era. Of course they hadn’t. They created something new, because you can never go home again. Likewise the 1830 organization was something new. And the 1860 reorganization, although possessed of vast continuity of membership, belief, and practice with the 1830 organization, was (in fact) a new foundation in an institutional historical sense.

So while the change of name to Community of Christ may not have had anything to do with a change to become more Protestant, it seems very clear that – whether you see it as good or bad – the CoC has moved to become more liberal Protestant.

The LDS church should not end priesthood discrimination on gender basis (or adopt any other progressive ideal); look at what happened to the RLDS church. Status: Myth Based on Truth

John Hamer came down strongest on this myth:

Whereas the other myths are relatively harmless, I find this one to be pernicious. The problem with this comparison is that it assumes that at some point in the 1970s, the LDS and the RLDS church were in the same place and their different paths almost function like a controlled science experiment. The reality is that the organizations aren’t comparable and never were.

Does the Community of Christ’s experience (for good or ill) presage the results the LDS church can expect to reap when women are eventually ordained and welcomed into the leadership? In the words of the RLDS First Presidency, the true answer is: “ @#!*% , no!”

I admit, I largely agree with John’s assessment in the original post that you can’t compare apples and oranges here. The RLDS and the LDS do not share much institutional history at all. So saying “well, the RLDS gave women the priesthood and they dwindled to obscurity, thus if the LDS Church gives women the priesthood they will too” is a logical non-starter for me because it’s too specific and assumes more shared history than ever actually existed.

On the other hand, it did not surprise me when FireTag said the following:

The second largest demographic bloc in the church consists of relatively aged, relatively conservative members still very committed to the uniqueness of the Restoration and uncomfortable with any suggestion that their sacrifices would have been just as meaningful in another denomination.

Consequently, following the 2007 Conference, the First Presidency was left with an “action item” to address the issue of the “conditions of membership”, and has been directing a formal discernment process intended to lead to the January 17 guidance to the church. This issue is considered sufficiently divisive that the leading quorums had clearly indicated a desire not to deal with other divisive matters until the church has proven it can work through the issue. The schism that resulted in the church in the 1980’s over extension of priesthood to women has clearly instilled caution in the church leadership.

So while I do not find anything strictly untrue about Hamer’s original assessment, I do find it to be a case of ‘spinning.’ The truth is that the RLDS did give women the priesthood and that they directly perceive that move as the source of following schism — a fact Hamer never mentioned in his original article.

However, I mostly agree with John. I do not believe the LDS Church announcing a revelation that women are now to receive the priesthood would have any where near the negative effect it did on the RLDS Church, largely because the LDS Church has a stronger history of accepting revelations through their “magisterium.” [1] However, I do think there is a lesson to the LDS Church from the RLDS Churches failures and I think it might hit closer to this mark that John is admitting to.

I suspect the real lesson of the RLDS for us LDS is not that we should or should not give women the priesthood, nor even we should or shouldn’t <fill in the blank here with progressive ideal.> The real lesson of the RLDS Church for the LDS Church is that trying to simultaneously embrace everyone is not (currently anyhow) a road to long term religious vitality. While I am not prepared to say that religiously liberal beliefs are always a death wish (though often this is the case), there really is no doubt that as of yet no on has ever made a vital and growing religion out of this approach.

Some, however, have been more successful than others. The Church of England has capitalized on their more secular and cultural roots to embrace both religiously conservative and liberal points of view. But they have the added advantage of being a state religion supported by taxes. And I’m still not sure I’d call them a “success” either. In a similar fashion, Liberal Jewish religions have strong ethnic and cultural roots to pull upon.

Likewise, I suspect that three generations from now, there will still be a Believing Mormon community and a “Menu Mormon” community. Yet, I do not think these comparison are all fair. For example, I suspect a huge percent of the future Believing Mormon community will be decedents of Believing Mormons today. By comparison, I suspect that no matter how many generations you flash forward in time that the Menu Mormon community will always still be overwhelmingly first generation. The Menu Mormon community is, and probably always will be, a “Rejectionist Community” in that they theologically share primarily a common rejection of other people’s beliefs. If the LDS Church disappeared tomorrow, the Menu Mormon community would as well.

We should certainly have a strong desire to integrate those who “practice but do not believe” as far as possible into the LDS Church, but not at the expense of the religion itself. To me, this is the real lesson of the RLDS to the LDS. A religion (well, particularly Christian religions) exists to allow those that share a set of beliefs to strengthen each other’s beliefs. When the RLDS (and any liberal Christian sect) made a move towards trying to embrace ‘both sides’ they did so at the risk of no longer being a religion. Yet, I do not blame Religiously Rejectionist communities for wanting to integrate with their more conservative counterparts, for they lack a life of their own. I have not yet even worked out my personal answer to this very real dilemma, but I’m virtually certain the RLDSs approach is at least somewhat causally linked to their current situation.


[1] I should note here that I do not buy the myth that all the LDS Church needs to do to get their members to change beliefs is to “have a revelation.” The LDS Church, belief in the authority of its own magisterium aside, is still a group of humans with all that that implies. This means that at best the LDS Church can only change conservatively or they risk undermining the logical coherency of their own truth claims and thereby no longer having a set of shared beliefs. (i.e. become a ‘non-religion.’) 

61 thoughts on “Re-evaluating LDS Myths about Reorganized Latter Day Saints

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  3. Thanks for the attentive discussion.

    I think the differences between John and me are less a matter of conservative versus liberal than something else. I’m always less patient than John about the pace of movement in the church, even in cases like women in the priesthood or same sex marriage where we both take the “liberal” position. He compares us to other Restoration movements as a recent convert to the CofChrist. I compare us to our objectives in light of the fact that our North American baptisms peaked in the early 1950’s, so I’m quite a bit less patient having watched the decline from the inside.

    I think this is a key point in evaluating the lessons of RLDS liberalization as it affects the LDS: our conventional wisdom (even among our leaders) has reversed cause and effect. We didn’t decline because we chose to become liberal; liberalism was what we chose to try well after we were locked into demographic disaster. It had no impact on how many we baptized, though it had a pronounced impact on WHO we baptized and what worldviews they brought to the church.

    The more fundamental question remains: what is a Restorationist to do who feels particular liberal (or conservative) positions to be God’s will when the leadership moves in an unacceptable direction or pace? That’s really a repeat, in different form, or the positions that divided the LDS and the RLDS in the 1840-1860 events. The CofChrist acceptance of the notion that God calls more than one denomination to the task ought to open up many more solutions to consideration, because being in the RIGHT church becomes a less important, or at least individual, consideration.

  4. “I should note here that I do not buy the myth that all the LDS Church needs to do to get their members to change beliefs is to “have a revelation.” The LDS Church, belief in the authority of its own magisterium aside, is still a group of humans with all that that implies. This means that at best the LDS Church can only change conservatively or they risk undermining the logical coherency of their own truth claims and thereby no longer having a set of shared beliefs. (i.e. become a ‘non-religion.’)”

    If you’re a believing LDS, you have to believe there’s more to it than that. Namely, that if a Church leader tried to promulgate a “revelation” that did not actually come from God, the Spirit would not confirm that revelation to other leaders or the general membership. We can change as liberally as you please — if God is the one giving the revelation to change, so that the Spirit confirms it to the general membership.

    Would we still lose members? Sure. Would this “undermine the logical coherency of [our] own truth claims”? No.

  5. Lest I be misunderstood — I thought this was a good post. It was just the one point that raised my eyebrows. Or what’s left of them.

  6. Bruce, you cite some points where you and I are in agreement and some points where we are in minor or superficial disagreement. On the charge of “spinning,” I can’t honestly reject the charge, because there’s no doubt that I am an advocate of my own partisan positions.

    Regarding women’s ordination, I’ll merely say that there is a legitimate historical argument. My argument is that there was a fundamental disagreement in the RLDS Church between liberals and conservatives; that this was (in some ways) irreconcilable; and that the leadership in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, did a poorer job managing the liberal revolution than it might have, resulting in more schism than was necessary. That part is probably not controversial.

    My argument on top of that is that women’s ordination was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back, or the flint that started the powder keg. In other words, that this explosion was going down for completely unrelated reasons and exploded for this proximate cause. In much the same way, the the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the proximate cause of WW1, but few would argue that all the deaths and destruction in WW1 were fought because entirely in the name of some dead Hapsburg prince.

    Let me note concerning your post: Firetag is a believing member of Community of Christ. I am also a believing member of Community of Christ. Firetag and I have disagreements that are significant. And I am very happy to be in communion with him and that our communion embraces and encourages a profound diversity of belief.

    In your reevaluation of my post, you write: “the real truth is that the Book of Mormon and D&C are both officially ‘downgraded’ so to speak (having been apparently ‘unofficially downgraded’ prior to this point). So whereas John sees this downgrade as essentially still scripture (and thus the concession is on the part of the NCC).”

    John Hamer responds now: 100% false. The Book of Mormon and the D&C are not “officially ‘downgraded’.” The Book of Mormon and the D&C are officially canonized scripture of Community of Christ. They have in no way been “officially ‘downgraded’ so to speak.” I will make the point again, if anything the D&C is emphasized in Community of Christ to a much greater degree than it is in the LDS Church, which utterly lacks modern revelation and has failed to keep the canon open.

    The apostle who conducted the negotiations with the NCC just wrote a book about the Book of Mormon and using it in Community of Christ in a meaningful way. People in my congregation quote from the Book of Mormon more or less every week; however, in other congregations, it might be totally ignored, the way any other part of the canon is ignored. Maybe you don’t like Epistle to the Hebrews since it was proven to be a pseudonymous forgery. In Community of Christ no one is making you emphasize or deemphasize any part of the canon.

    * * *

    As you note, we agree about apples and oranges. But again, in my opinion, your final takeaway lesson is profoundly wrong. Despite our disagreements, Firetag and I are agreed that liberalism was not the cause of the Community of Christ’s demographic problems.

    In my own opinion, the problem of decline after peak 1950s RLDS baptisms is entirely about the core, original value proposition relating to being not-polygamist and being the legitimate familial heirs to Joseph Smith. It was actually a pretty big deal for Mormons to realize that the founding prophet’s son was not involved in the LDS Church. Being anti-polygamist was a cause. JSIII was dead after 1914 and polygamy was gone. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself and that’s the cause of the decline; obviously it didn’t collapse immediately any more than the LDS Church has collapsed since it experienced its peak in baptisms a couple decades ago.

    So expunge your final lesson from the brain; you’re wrong and you aren’t helping yourself by imagining this last myth is true.

  7. Extraordinarily fascinating. Your main points all ring true to me. Thanks for doing this!

  8. Let me add a couple of points to what John said — a couple of quibbles really — without getting too far into the weeds.

    The use of the BofM in John’s congregation is definitely not typical. There are indeed places in the North American church where administrators will actively discourage teaching of the Book of Mormon behind the scenes. The majority of congregations draw their Sunday worship materials and curriculum from the website. People can look at the resources there and decide for themselves how much emphasis is placed on the BofM in teaching.

    John is correct about the D&C emphasis, but does not notice that the attention is almost exclusively directed toward the 4 sections (161-164) given during the presidencies of Grant McMurray and Steve Veazey. This concentration on the “current administration” was NOT prevalent in the past, and really did arise in parallel with the growth of the “corporate church” distinct from the congregations in the past decades.

    John may be right in identifying the “archduke” really at the heart of the decline in 1950’s baptisms. However, the growth rate of the church was just as much beyond the control of the church in 1880 as it was in 1950 We grew at 1700 people per year whether we had 10,000 members or 200,000 members, and the change in our fate in the 1950’s and 1960’s is mirrored by multiple “mainstream” denominations at the same time that had none of the particular historical baggage the RLDS carried over polygamy. The “schism” over women in the priesthood, in fact, washes out in the membership data in a short period of time and returns to the pre-schism decline trend.

  9. “If you’re a believing LDS, you have to believe there’s more to it than that”

    Vader, you are absolutely correct that I personally believe there is *a lot* more to it than this.

    However, I was ‘heading off at the pass’ the argument that because the LDS church as massive mind control over it’s membership that if they claim a revelation the entire LDS church will follow along. History just doesn’t prove this out and, besides, it violates human nature. This would be true of any religion *regardless* of whether or not it was headed by a prophet or not.

  10. FireTag,

    When I said “conservative” I purely meant it in the religious sense, not the political sense. I really just meant you believe your beliefs entirely and they match the official teachings of the CoC both now and historically.


    I meant no offense that I didn’t refer to you as “believing” in the CoC. I didn’t say you didn’t believe either, I just didn’t know.

    I only found out you joined the CoC a day ago and to be honest, despite having read many of your articles, I haven’t the foggiest idea what your theological beliefs are or aren’t. By comparison, I do know what FireTag’s are after only reading a few of his posts.

    But I thank both of you for your participation. You are right that I basically think you got things right, John, albeit with a bit of ‘spin.’ But I spin things too, and honestly see little problem with this.

    I also did not expect you to agree with my final conclusions. I know this is your heart and soul and I don’t expect you to give up your position.

  11. Craig,

    You are either one of the best imposters ever, or I’m humbled that you responded to my post. 🙂 I check the email and you seem to be authentic. Thanks for commenting.

  12. You’re welcome. I have a daily Google Alert to see what people are saying about me so it makes it easy to drop in on relevant conversations!

  13. FireTag,

    I want to concede one of your points.

    The way I wrote my post above, I am basically implying that the RLDS lost it’s vitality *due* to becoming liberal protestants and that they had vitality before that point.

    But if your time line is correct, and I have no reason to reject it, then clearly this must not be the case.

    But in many ways, this seems to merely confirm my point.

    My point is really that you can’t survive as a religion by being a “Rejectionist” religion. Religions exist *because* they believe they have something important to say to the world that the world needs to (or should) listen to.

    Can you think of any exceptions? I can’t.

    Even the UU seem to hold to this because they have this underlying message that all religious *practices* are equal — which forms the crux of their own special truth claims to the world — the one and only true religion. (Try to be a UU and also believe that Mormon Temple worship is required for exalation.)

    It sounds like what you are saying is that the RLDS lost its vitality before becoming liberal protestant because they were too “not-Mormon” and “not-Prostestant” (to use what you said in a different comment) but not enough a unified body of their own beliefs. This might be the case. But this seems like the same problem I’m suggesting, but sooner. The end result would be the same.

    For example, if you have to, say, embrace both those that believe Joseph Smith taught Polygamy and also those that do not, you have already begun to seriously weaken the very foundations of what makes a religion a coherent group and you’ve already started to remove the very reason for people to want to participate — i.e. to meet with a group of people that share your beliefs. (And here, I am only using an example. I have no idea if this marked the end of the RLDSs vitatlity or not. It’s just an example of how it might have happened sooner.)

    From there (once the coherence starts to weaken, regardless of whether or not my example is valid), a slide to liberal protestantism would in fact make sense and is probably the only logical choice left.

  14. I really don’t know that much about the Church of Christ, but I would like to take advantage of two believing CoC people on this thread (and perhaps some sympathetic others) to ask: what do you believe?

    One of Bruce’s points, and based on my experience it is manifestly true, is that there is a large community of ex-Mormons, former Mormons, menu Mormons and apparently CofC people who have set up a belief system about what they don’t believe. They seem to spend their time pointing out that the LDS is church is homophobic, anti-feminist, Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck-worshipping, etc. It seems very clear to me that they have set up a straw man church that has nothing to do with the church I just attended this morning (and by the way, I was away from home attending another ward, and I still felt the Spirit, and it was still great). So, when Bruce says their religion is rejectionist, he is right because so many of their public pronouncements are not about what they believe but what they don’t believe, ie, what they don’t believe in is the straw man Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that they have created in their minds or in their internet fora.

    So, John Hamer and Firetag, what do you believe in? Is your religion simply to reject what other people believe in or do you have a religion of your own? Do you accept the Book of Mormon as scripture or not? How about the D&C? How about the Bible?

    I’m honestly curious.

  15. Chris H.,

    It seems like an honest question to me. There is a legitimate place for explaining what you don’t believe; reductio ad absurdum is the basis for a lot of mathematical proofs. But I’m not particularly interested by anyone’s disbelief in a straw man, nor am I particularly interested in expressions of disbelief that don’t help delineate a set of core beliefs.

    I reject the Catholic Church’s claims of apostolic succession, their doctrine of transubstantiation, and a few clauses on the nature of the Godhead in the Nicene Creed. But I can’t imagine that my disbelief in these things is really of very much interest to anyone if I don’t add that I do believe in the Restoration, the spiritual power of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper administered by duly ordained priests of the Aaronic order, and several of the other clauses of the Nicene Creed.

  16. Chris H,

    Whether or not you agree with Geoff’s wording is one thing. But without a doubt the question “what do you believe about God?” is an amazingly natural question.

    I fully expect FireTag will answer this question and I can probably even tell you what he will say. That he believes (i.e. accepts as true, not necessarily is certain) in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. That Joseph Smith is a prophet called by God with a unique message for the wordl and setup a church by revelation. That he believes the D&C to be the word of God and that he takes all scripture seriously as well as the need to work out the difficuties there in without resorting to merely backing into a position that is ‘comfortable.’ That he is comfortable with not believing in certain teachings of Joseph Smith (polygamy or the like) for precisely the reasons outlined by the spiritual leaders of his church (I don’t know what those are, but I know they exist.) Probaby even that he believe polygamy is at least somehow relate to eternities (I cheat here, he hinted at this in one of his posts.)

    I’m honestly curious what John will say because I have no idea. I’m guessing he’ll emphasize that he believes in tolerance, love, and compassion and the like, which of course well all do and it’s very important to all of us. And I don’t want to downplay the fact that John does hold such beliefs.

    But outside of that I have no idea. That’s what I mean by feeling like I understood FireTag after only a few posts. (Which now I’m worried that he’s going to say, nah, you got me all wrong, but that’s okay because that’s what discussion is about.)

  17. Readers: 16 and 17 are in response to a question by Chris H that is nothing but an ad hominem. To clean up his question, it was: why are you saying that the CoC’s beliefs are nothing but rejectionist?

    The truth is I don’t know what they believe. I’d really like to know. It seems to me as an outsider that their beliefs are primarily built up about NOT believing in the LDS church. There is an entire community of ex-Mormons and former Mormons who spend their time talking about how much they hate the LDS church but don’t really talk about what they believe in. Is that the same belief system as the CofC, yes or no? I am honestly curious.

  18. And to reiterate Vader’s very prescient comment, I know I don’t believe in the Catholic church (I’ve been many times), and I can tell you why I don’t believe in the Catholic church. But my religion is not based on NOT believing in the Catholic church. It is based on my personal belief system, which is in the Restoration, the BofM, and modern-day prophets. So I could spend days telling you what I do believe, but I don’t see rejectionists do that very much. Their belief system seems to be about what they don’t believe, which isn’t really a belief system but is intead an anti-belief system.

  19. I don’t think you can call anyone except perhaps certain atheists unmitigated “rejectionists”. I seriously doubt any active member of the Community of Christ could accurately be described by that term alone.

  20. Mark, few of us are absolutes in everything. I lean strongly conservative, but that doesn’t mean I am completely devoid of progressive impulses. I believe in God, but I cannot yet say I have a certain knowledge of His existence. I agree with Catholics on many things but not everything. I think my religion is defined by what I believe, but, as I posted earlier, delineating my beliefs also involves a certain amount of explaining what I don’t believe. Few of us are absolute in anything: As someone once said of me, “there is still some good in him.”

    It would nonetheless be reasonable for me to describe myself as a libertarian-leaning theoconservative, even if my libertarianism is far from absolute, my conservatism is not completely free of progressive impulses, and my theism falls short of a perfect faith in God. Likewise, I agree that the end point of rejectionism is likely to be a form of evangelical atheism, perhaps not too different from what Christopher Hitchens has been preaching, rather than religious liberalism in the CofC. But one can be positioned far short of Hitchens and still be defined more by what one rejects than by what one believes, and that probably warrants the label “rejectionist.”

    Whether that is where a particular person is positioned or not is of course a separate question. I don’t know the regulars here well enough to be comfortable applying the label without more information.

  21. Vader: Likewise, I agree that the end point of rejectionism is likely to be a form of evangelical atheism

    I agree with the whole concept of “rejectionism”. It is “rejectionist” as applied to anyone with religious faith I have a bit of a problem with.

    However, unless one views the world from a position where all journeys away from one’s particular brand of religious orthodoxy are stops on the highway to atheism, it seems a bit presumptuous to classify all “rejectionists” as rejecting faith as such.

    A number of people don’t seem to bother to make the distinction between someone who has religious disagreements and someone who thinks religion is bunk. Of course some people do eventually reject everything, I just don’t see them as more than a relatively small minority.

  22. Mark D,

    I totally agree that “Rejectionism” is probably rarely if ever an off and on switch.

    In fact, I feel I have a pretty heavy “rejectionist” strain within myself. Further more, I do not believe “rejectionism” is all bad. In fact, I think if handled correctly it can be quite useful.

    Further, I think there are communities that are “rejectionist” in that they are founded around what they disbelieve, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the individuals within are “rejectionist” themselves. (Though to be part of such a community probably usually implies a high probability of such.)

    In short, I guess I’m basically agreeing with you.

  23. Bruce and all:

    I apologize for being so slow to answer. John’s response to my post has generated a lot of discussion this week that neither of us had probably anticipated. Unfortunately, I have been having some vision problems the past few months that have slowed and rationed my ability to read and type on a computer, and that will require surgery after the holidays. So let me give very partial answers now and check back intermittently over the next couple of days as my reading “dosage” permits.

    Bruce, I do need to go into the weeds more to explain what I think happened to the CofChrist, when, and why. This will also illuminate where and how John and I agree and disagree.

    I do not think the RLDS tradition defined itself “negatively” in regard to Mormonism so much as it adopted a different survival strategy against the antagonism the 1830’s church provoked in US culture. That culture treated the Restoration in its Mormon form of gathering political power and social, economic, and theological teachings as if it had an allergy to us.

    At the risk of vast oversimplification, the LDS dealt with the attack by the country’s “immune system” by flight to Utah, where the church could be safe, at least until the country expanded West and again found itself allergic to your gathering political power and social, economic, and theological teachings.

    Our people ended up following a different strategy, often after trying and failing to find religious haven in fleeing and regathering. We ended up dispersing our concentration of membership, without consciously changing our other beliefs — remember, we either weren’t in the loop about, or actively opposed, things historians now believe were practiced in Nauvoo — in order to avoid provoking another allergic response.

    So, while our individual rejection of polygamy, certainly later reinforced by Emma Hale Smith and Joseph III, is real and important, we should see this not as a reaction against each other so much as different ways of reacting to a common threat. This dispersal strategy becomes conspicuous in the revelations given through Joseph III, and I BELIEVE IT IS EXPLICITLY WHY WE SURVIVED AND COULD REGROUP when so many other of the shards of the Restoration died or limped into the present with only a few thousand members. The available niche for us was larger than for the other Restoration groups that stayed within then-US territory BECAUSE we never diverged so far from mainstream American religion as the LDS did. We did not separate so far from Protestantism either theologically or geographically.

    But I can show that this niche had reached saturation by 1880 at the latest. We shifted then from a logistic (S-shaped) growth rate to a linear growth rate that we maintained until the 1950’s. A linear growth rate is a strong mathematical signal that some catalyst to growth has reached a limiting equilibrium.

    The existence of the equilibrium, I am convinced, goes back to our original survival strategy. By staying within, and tying ourselves to, American culture in the 19th Century, our fate became coupled to that culture’s spiritual development much more than did yours. It isn’t the liberal or conservative nature of the coupling that matters as much as the existence of the coupling itself. We literally, as well as metaphorically, have to lift up the spiritual burdens of the ENTIRE culture in order to be lifted ourselves. We are joined at the hip, and the tail cannot wag the dog.

    Something (perhaps many things) changed after WW2 to threaten the niche of religion ACROSS THE CULTURE. This tipped us out of equilibrium and the decline began to snowball so fast that no theological or programmatic changes we could make can keep up with it. Within a generation, conversions and baptisms of our own children were no longer able to keep up with deaths in an aging church. (We would have to increase our baptismal rate by 600% or so now just to stabilize ourselves.)

    Churches again chose among strategies of separation from the culture, or immersion with it. “Red” churches tended to choose the former; “blue” churches tended to go the other way, but it’s the fact that the red and blue strategies had results that were similar across each denomination that shows the mechanism has an extra-denominational source. It’s socio-economic, not theological.

    This is not a general claim that liberalism leads to failure or liberalism leads to success, anymore than the 2008 elections prove liberalism is a success and the 2010 elections prove liberalism is a failure. What it proves, IMO, is that changes in the religious environment can trump changes within the church.

    So here, I think are the points where John and I agree, but where we place different emphases:

    We both think there will be a happy ending. I think the middle is really going to leave a mark. I think that it is essential for the church to be WILLING to lose its institutional life to bring forth the Kingdom, even if God ultimately does not require that sacrifice. John has more confidence that the angel will show up before the knife is plunged into Isaac’s chest. John, though he hasn’t more than hinted at this yet, seems to see his calling as related to transformation within the Community of Christ. I see my calling as more preparing people to address the transforming changes God is going to make in history outside the confines of the church. These callings do not contradict each other, but they are different.

  24. Let me at least clarify what I said about polygamy (and, I emphasize, ONLY in the spiritual realm). It is a prediction based on combining garden variety Christian understanding that each individual person has an immortal spirit that survives us with modern cosmological theories which say we also each have vast numbers of copies of our physical bodies living throughout spacetime happily marrying OTHER physical people and procreating OTHER children and having OTHER siblings of their own.

    Even a Methodist is eventually going to have to start wondering what God plans to do with the spirits the Methodist associates with all those extra bodies — especially since we have no basis to claim we aren’t one of the “extras”.

    See this thread for more:

    Joseph, like Moses, saw things he couldn’t understand. Joseph, unlike Moses, did not follow the instruction to focus on the things of this world, outran his guidance, and at some point stumbled into error. Inspired prophets can later make mistakes, which is one of the reasons the RLDS tradition allows a wide latitude in persistently questioning the ideas of our own leadership.

  25. We LDS have our own rejectionist traits. Celebrating the restoration of the fulness of times carries an explicit rebuke of the dark slumber that veiled (and veils) the earth. Several Sunday School hours a year will be spent by most of us contemplating error that, thanks to latter-day revelation, we don’t believe.

    When I visited the Community of Christ visitors’ center in Kirtland a couple years ago, the display on the Book of Mormon certainly seemed to downplay the volume. The messge seemed to be to place it among the religious traditions of its day, at home among the writings of many other people, such as Jefferson’s edited bible.

  26. John M, I agree, and interesting info about the CofC’s view of the BoM. The rejectionist claims you are talking about is different than the rejectionist claims I see in many quarters with regard to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    We have all known people who leave the Church but cannot leave the Church alone. They hang around ex-Mo sites and other places evangelizing about their newfound anti-faith. But the point is that it is very difficult to nail down what they do believe in (beyond, as Elvis Costello would say: “peace, love and understanding”). They love to discuss problems with polygamy, the Church’s stances on gays, etc, but they seem (to me) to have a much bigger problem articulating their positive beliefs. That is what I am trying to bring out: what do they believe in? Firetag has partially answered for his view of the CofC, and I appreciate it.

    I think there is a more interesting rejectionist trend in Mormon doctrine that is especially illustrative and pernicious. For much of our history, we saw the BoM’s reference to the “Church of the Devil” as a reference to the Catholic church. GAs even believed this. Over time, we have come to see that the Church of the Devil is not a specific church but is instead a philosophy that exists in many places, even within our own church. To the extent that people spent their time talking down the Catholic church, they were emphasizing rejectionism instead of the positive, uplifting aspects of the Gospel.

    It seems rejectionism is a philosophy that should be rejected in all quarters.

  27. John M.:

    I concur with the accuracy of your view of our corporate view of the BofM, and assure you it does not reflect my personal view. Guides there find it difficult to avoid antagonizing believers on the one hand, or evangelicals on the other, regardless of what they say at a visitors center. They have a tough job.

    Personally, I could give several meaningful testimonies of powerful transforming experiences I’ve had in my life visiting Kirtland, from being allowed into the top of the bell tower of the Temple as a boy to having my wife play piano in the services in the main room celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Temple’s consecration.

    And I can give you strong personal testimonies of why my family and myself personally have been led into the Restoration Faith. I’m sure John Hamer has strong positive reasons for joining the CofChrist, too. He’s long forgotten more about all of the various forms of Mormonism than I ever knew, and his decision to be baptized is recent. His reasons (and his zeal) are not an ex-Mo negative reaction.

  28. I never cared enough about the RLDS to even be aware of these myths/facts, etc. I probably assumed that they ordained women and downplayed the Book of Mormon because that is what I would expect of a purportedly Mormon church that wasn’t God’s church (which is what I believe of the RLDS), and because the RLDS were partly founded on the principle of being more “acceptable” than the LDS in the item of polygamy.

    In any case, the RLDS are hardly the only example of the dangers of ordaining women and gays, etc., etc., and rejecting old-time truth claims. Going NCC is much like committing suicide, albeit more genteel.

  29. Very interesting discussion here. I thank those CoC who have generously explained many things here. I do have a question though that I often ask those of many Churches (including my own LDS faith).

    Given where your church now stands, what purpose is there for someone to join it rather than another Christian faith? If I understand correctly, CoC now accepts baptisms by other Protestant churches, which if this is the case, how would such separate the salvation they offer from the salvation offered by the CoC?

    For example, in the LDS tradition, we only accept authorized baptisms by LDS priesthood. This exclusivity and the importance of temple ordinances allows us to offer exaltation in the form of eternal families to those who are interested. And for those who accept other faiths, they too can be saved, albeit in a lower level of glory.

    How does the CoC differentiate themselves from an evangelical world that claims one only need believe in the Christ and Trinity to be saved, etc? If I were investigating, what of your beliefs would lead me to the CoC, rather than either the LDS (conservative Restorationist side), or the liberal Protestant faiths?

  30. FireTag,

    I respect what you are saying. And you certaintly have researched this quite well. But I find it very hard to believe that the problems of the CoC/RLDS stem even primarily from socio-economic, not theological issues.

    The death of any religion is that it has nothing compelling to pass along to those outside the religion and to their own children. (As per #31.)

    I certainly see that theology and socio-economic factors can be deeply intertwined and I can see your point that in this case they must have been.

    And you are right that the very thing that saved the RLDS when it was younger is the very thing I’m ascribing it to killing it now. But I don’t see how to read it any other way.

    The RLDS has been unfortunately forced to water down their reason for existing (i.e. have something unique and special from God to bring to the world) almost from the outset. You would think the polygamy issue would be more boon than problem, and perhaps it was early on. But that doesn’t change the fact that RLDS members had to fill chasms socially, politically, and theologically over it since they came down on the wrong side of that issue (I mean in terms of whether or not Joseph Smith did start polygamy).

    Then the chasm grew.

    I try to imagine someone that doesn’t believe the Book of Mormon is historical being a major priesthood leader in the LDS Church. It’s enough to make one’s head spin. If that were to ever happen, it would kill the LDS Church dead within a very short period of time. If you believed the Book of Mormon to be historical, then it causes you to see the world and God differently. God cared so much that he performed a tangible miracle that we can all partake in.

    Once you’ve crossed over to believing it is fiction, the Book of Mormon now actively plays the very opposite role — it’s proof there is no God after all, or at least not in any sense you can put faith in. (i.e. He’s a person, He’s all powerful, He can actually love you, He talks to us.)

    You can’t take people of both sides of the BoM historicity issue and mix them into a single religion. It is not possible. Those that believe in the Book of Mormon lose out entirely. They can’t even go to Church and share their beliefs with other believers any more without as much fear as trying to share that point of view with the rest of the world. It’s a total loss for them and total victory for the non-believers.

    And absolutely no amount of positioning by the non-Believers can ever fill that void. A fraudulent Book of Mormon inspired by God is literally a contradiction and we all know it, despite insistence of liberals to the contrary.

    The restoration is a strange religious movement precisely because it came already innoculated against the ‘it’s all just a bunch of inspiring myths’ point of view. (Which didn’t even exist back then in any large degree.)

    For better or worse, I do believe the RLDS violated that rule and it killed them for all believers within. (Though the death may be slow.) Becoming a liberal protestant church is still a viable path for them, and I encourage them to take that path. They can certainly continue to have long term stagnation if they wish to make themselves a safe haven for ex-Mormons who no longer believe.

    And I do hope all this will add just a touch of Mormonism to liberal protestantism, but I don’t have much hope it will be more than a drop.

  31. People rejoiced when the RLDS gave women the priesthood in the mid 1980’s.
    Something to think about.
    How do you give what you do not have?

  32. Actually, that’s exactly why I have no issue with them doing it.

    I thought if the RLDS really felt that they should give the priesthood to women then they should. Since I have a certain specific concept of priesthood that didn’t extend to other Churches, as far as I was concerned it didn’t affect me or the LDS Church whatsoever.

  33. Ram:

    To us. it isn’t about being saved, it’s about being faithful to our mission in this life and trusting God to sort out the glories. So I have to generalize your question, and note (see my response to Bruce immediately following) that I think there is a line that defines Restorationist from Protestant, and if you cross it, you do have to seriously consider whether you can accomplish mission better by joining one of the other 36 NCC denominations. Africa was being converted to Christ long before the CofChrist showed up.


    I largely agree with your comments, as I’ll get to in a moment, but in a question related to Ram’s, I’d like to suggest that God restored the church to save the world, not to save the church. The decoupling of the church from society is, at most, temporary just as it was in the example of Enoch: “Behold your brethren… should not the Heavens weep, seeing that these shall suffer?” If I may use a military analogy — thereby destroying all credibility as a member of a “peace and justice” church 😀 — we are supposed to be mounting Normandy, not Dunkirk!

    And the LDS is being coupled to society again, like it or not; think Glenn Beck, Prop 8, or Harry Reid — you are back in the arena. So you have to address the sane question we did, just later in time and with a larger resource base. How does the Restoration lift up a burdened society toward God once you’re joined with it at the hip.

    In regard to your points on the Book of Mormon, I largely agree, although I’d draw the line at a slightly different place. For me the line is not historical vs metaphor, but divinely inspired scripture versus human created art. That’s the bright red line for me. Lord of the Rings is epic art approaching myth, but it’s 99% perspiration and only 1% inspiration. There are hundreds of pages of backstory about the elf queen Galadriel alone, but it isn’t scripture.

    If we view the BofN as divine gift to be used as the keystone to completing our mission, we view the world from the Restorationist side of the line; if we view the BofN as the created work of even a religious genius, we view the world from the protestant side. Both sides may serve Christ, but they do not have the same mission.

    I’ve written more extensively about this issue here:

  34. Bruce N: Once you’ve crossed over to believing it is fiction, the Book of Mormon now actively plays the very opposite role — it’s proof there is no God after all, or at least not in any sense you can put faith in.

    That seems a bit of a stretch to me. Certainly it would try the faith of a former believer in the historicity of the Book of Mormon both in God and to a greater degree in the church that sustains and upholds it, but it certainly doesn’t follow that disbelief in the BofM entails atheism or belief that God is impotent. There are untold millions who found a vital and living faith on theological propositions we consider rather foreign.

    A fraudulent Book of Mormon inspired by God is literally a contradiction and we all know it, despite insistence of liberals to the contrary.

    I completely agree as to the proposition that God would commission a historical fraud. The proposition that God would inspire someone who was trying to document the tenets of true religion to “get it right” as much as possible, or as much as that individual’s background would allow is a much fairer question.

    We have a First Presidency statement to the effect that “the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”

    I think it is unquestionable that a rejection of BofM historicity would likely be nearly fatal to Mormonism, for rather obvious reasons. But the proposition that the BofM is devoid of inspired truths certainly does not automatically follow from the proposition that it wasn’t historical to begin with. One would have to be an unusually hostile outsider to conclude that about the sacred texts of any religion, historical or otherwise.

  35. Bruce,

    In his interview for the PBS documentary on The Mormons a few years back, Elder Holland said the follwing:

    I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. … We would say: “This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” … We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.

    Might I point out that to some readers, your comments on the issue of Book of Mormon historicity seem unnecessarily “smug, … uncompromising and insensitive”? Do you believe that one could reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon and still very much regard it as scripture–as God’s word to humankind?

    Your write:

    I try to imagine someone that doesn’t believe the Book of Mormon is historical being a major priesthood leader in the LDS Church. It’s enough to make one’s head spin. If that were to ever happen, it would kill the LDS Church dead within a very short period of time.

    I don’t know what you have in mind when you write “a major priesthood leader” (perhaps you only mean General Authorities), but I can assure you that there are Bishops and Stake Presidents, Elders’ Quorum Presidents and High Priest Group Leaders, Relief Society Presidents and Youth leaders, Primary Presidents and Mission Presidents all who do not accept the Book of Mormon’s historical claims as 100% literal. The vast majority of them however, believe the Book to be a revelation from God and accept it as scripture, study its teachings, and attempt to live by its precepts. I can’t say how common such views are among church leadership collectively, but I’ve known at least one person in each of those callings who holds such views. Is your head spinning? And why, exactly? Do you believe the LDS church has been “kill[ed] … dead” as a result? I’m honestly a little blown away by your comments on the issue.

  36. Mark D, FireTag, and Christopher,

    All of you, great comments! Let me give a respectful response.

    Mark D, you first. I don’t disagree with what you are saying. However, I think you are missing my point; I’m talking specifically about the Book of Mormon.

    The history of how the Book of Mormon came forth does not allow for a spiritualizing interpretation like this. Specifically, to simultaneously believe the Book of Mormon is inspired of God and also non-historical means that you *are* claiming that God commissioned it by fraud.

    This is due to what is known as “the scandal of the plates.” If Joseph Smith had not hefted around heavy plates under a cloth (including Emma Smith and a lot of others feeling them, etc. To say nothing of the 3 and 8 witnesses) then what you are saying could be true. But do to the “scandal of the plates” we can’t accept an inspired non-historical Book of Mormon without also accepting a fraud commissioned of God. This is what I meant by the Restoration came pre-innoculated against the liberalizing Christian point of view — at least for the Book of Mormon historicity.


    I feel really bad that you and I got off on the wrong foot months ago. I think you make excellent comments other than your need to be insulting at times.

    When we got started, I think it started out as tiny barbs and now it’s sort of gotten out of control. I feel really bad for my role in this. So let’s try to start off a fresh because I respect your intelligence and comments.

    First, I am hoping you can see by now that my comment was solely about the Church as a whole and said nothing about individuals. My question isn’t whether or not individuals can believe in an inspired but non-historical Book of Mormon; clearly people do.

    My question was rather “Can the LDS church ever officially accept that position (i.e. non-historical BoM) and survive?”

    I’m saying no. If you disagree, I’d appreciate more explanation on your part as to how this is possible.

    As to whether or not there are Bishops and Stake Presidents that reject Book of Mormon historicity, I have no doubt you are correct. The Adam / Cafeteria Mormon incident make it all too clear to me that there are members of the Rejectionist community that will use deception to hurt the Believeing community just like this. But I don’t even have to posit outright lying here. I could see someone that has learned to just not talk about their real beliefs about the Book of Mormon and then they get called and decide to accept. (I still see this as lying by omission, but it’s not as bad as what Cafeteria Mormon was advocating.)

    But this is besides the point. My question to you is this: Do the general authorities of the LDS Church knowingly call people to such positions (Bishop and Stake President) when they reject Book of Mormon historicity? We both know they do not.

    And when it comes to non-pastoral positions, I have no concerns at all with people that believe in an inspired by fictional Book of Mormon serving. I think the LDS Church has done a really good job of navigating between the need to be a logically coherent religion and reaching out to those that do not fully believe but wish to practice. Far better than the Rejectionist community gives us credit for.

    Christopher, I have a question for you: What is your stance on the historicity of the Book of Mormon?

    I think this is a really important question because your willingness to answer that question determines if you are a Rejectionist or not. If you refuse to answer that question, then you are literally just taking pot shots at other people and their beliefs, but refusing to even engage in dialog about your own beliefs. You therefore define yourself only by what you disbelieve.

    But if you are willing to stick your neck out and tell us what your position is, I’d really think that would be a productive thing for you to do. I personally can accept you either way. I’m willing to bet everyone here can.

    Now of course I’ll then have follow on questions.

    If you do believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, my next question for you will be “how do you personally think individuals that believe in an inspired but fraudulent Book of Mormon rationally reconcile that paradox? Or do you think it’s possible that they don’t even try to?”

    If, on the other hand, you personally do believe in an inspired but fictional Book of Mormon, then I would like for you to take some time to personally explain how you deal with the ‘scandal of the plates’ problem in your own life.

    This is a serious question to me and I’m anxious to talk to someone in the NOM community about it and expand my own point of view.

  37. FIreTag,
    As always, you give great answers. I am curious what your own personal position on Book of Mormon historicity is. Based on past posts, I’m going to venture a guess that you believe in Book of Mormon historicity.
    In any case, I think you are a courageous and believing soul that has done his best to navigate all the difficulties in the CoC but still stay loyal to what you believe as well as to the Church you love.

    I can’t really understand where you are coming from fully, because I am not you. The closest I think I can come is I can pretend that Thomas S. Monson suddenly accounced that from now on the LDS Churches official doctrine on the BoM is that (to paraphrase you) that it doesn’t matter if it’s historical or not, but rather only if we believe it to be a divine gift or not.

    I have thought a lot about how I’d react to a sudden revelation on many topics. If the LDS Church suddenly gave women the priesthood (via revelation of course) I’d applaud. If they decide to actively support gay marriage I’d have no issues whatsoever with it. (I do think this would kill the LDS Church, at least at this point, but that’s a different story. I just mean I personally would have no issues so long as it was a revelation from God.)

    But if the LDS Church – even by purported revelation – said that about the BoM, I’d leave the Church right away.

    Why? Because that isn’t a neutral position. That’s rationally equivalent to asking all believers to leave the Church and let non-believers run it.

    Now maybe you don’t see why, so let me explain.

    Imagine I decide to accept this position and then continue to personally believe in historicity. But now, when I go to church, I can’t really make a big deal out of the fact that I see non-historicity as a straight up contradiction (which is most certainly is for the reasons I gave in comment #39 above – i.e. the ‘scandal of the plates’ problem.) Why not? Because now I’d be violating Church doctrine by pointing this out, even though it’s true.

    So now I don’t even have a safe haven at Church any more. If I even try to admit I believe in Book of Mormon *at Church* I’ll get Bloggernacled to death – and rightly so – because I’m now going against Church doctrine.

    But, hey, no problem, right? I can just keep my personal beliefs to myself and still teach my children what I want to right? But is that really true?

    Let’s say my son comes to me one day and says, “Hey, Dad, you always tell us that Nephi really exists, but our Sunday School teacher said that some members of the Church believe that and some don’t. So why do you believe that?”

    Now what can I say? I could show him Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon or something. Or maybe I could show him Moroni 10:4. But these are now mostly worthless. He’s too smart *not* to see that these are arguments that not even the Church accepts.

    Plus, if I try to insist that the Book of Mormon is, in fact, historical, I am literally teaching him to be at odds with the Church. So then he’s bound to ask me: “Well, then why do we believe in the Church at all, if they don’t agree with us that it’s important to look at the Book of Mormon is historical?”

    Then maybe he gets a bit older and finds out about some of the potential problems with Book of Mormon historicity, like maybe the fact that Jacob says adieu or that there aren’t any archeological finds. Now what am I supposed to say? I’m literally trapped. I must either accept the Book of Mormon as historical and reject the Church or I must reject Book of Mormon historicity.

    But let’s say I reject Book of Mormon historicity. Then what? Now I have to explain to my son why God command Joseph Smith to forge fake plates. Do you honestly think he’d buy that without first having believed in the Book of Mormon at some point?


    In short, this seeming neutral position was actually a position asking all Believers to leave or to face seeing their posterity leave.
    The CoC *can* get away with this for one and only one reason – because they can harvest LDS people that used to believe in the Book of Mormon and had good experiences with it but now they don’t believe in it any more. That’s it. That’s (in my opinion anyhow) all that the CoC has to look forward to now.

    But if that were to happen to the LDS Church, there is no one else for us to harvest. So the end result would be – quite literally – the death of the entire restoration movement including the CoC.

    For these reasons, the CoC should never want the LDS Church to accept the ‘neutral position’ on Book or Mormon historicity. But this also explains why this maybe the one thing that would cause me to preemptively leave the Church (and probably the entire restoration movement) for good.

    I can’t give you any advice on what to do. If you honestly feel called to help the CoC through this, I think you should do exactly what you feel God has asked you to do. But I personally would never accept this ‘neutral position’ under any circumstances. I’d probably become a Catholic first.

  38. Bruce N: Specifically, to simultaneously believe the Book of Mormon is inspired of God and also non-historical means that you *are* claiming that God commissioned it by fraud.

    Perhaps I wasn’t explicit enough. I claim that it is contrary to both divine character and pragmatism for God not to try to inspire anybody who is trying to teach the truth to “get it right”, even if the latter is doing so by unusually questionable means.

    So you if you have a religion or religious sect founded on a claim of miraculous events that either did not occur or which were more or less mythical (and certainly most ancient religions are like that), it is not like God is going to sit around and say, nope, can’t give any inspiration to members of that religion, or can’t give any inspiration to that writer because he made up some faith promoting rumor, etc.

    Half of the stuff in the first chapters of Genesis has been declared to be symbolic or nursery school tales by more than one president of the Church. So what are we to think about the people who made it up? Brigham Young said that Moses made it up because the people then weren’t ready for the truth. Well, that still makes early Genesis much of a fraud doesn’t it?

    Or what about the parts of the Old Testament where God tells the Israelites to wipe out this people or that people, and spare no man, women, or child? It might have happened, of course, but it might equally be creative apologetics by some later author trying to justify such crimes against humanity. As soon as you go down the path of “divinely sanctioned lying” it is not easy to tell when you can stop.

    My claim is that unfortunately nearly all religions contain some number of propositions with dubious claims to truth, and God as a matter of pragmatism doesn’t cease to try to inspire people just because they wittingly or otherwise propagate pious frauds. As such the position of the folks who claim both that the BofM isn’t particularly historical and contains inspired religious truth is hardly untenable.

    To argue otherwise is to say that after an author had spent several years of study and prayer, including familiarity with the best religious understanding of the day, all the sudden God has to stop the author from writing any of it down in a non-historical narrative.

    I don’t think God is quite that interventionist, and it would be unusually counterproductive for him to do so, for the same reason it would be counterproductive to cease to inspire whatever Old Testament authors/transmitters that made things up – propositions in Genesis which are a first class injury to Christianity today, perhaps the number one reason why many don’t take the Bible seriously anymore. It apparently starts with a nursery school story.

    There are many who believe that Adam and Eve actually ate some fruit with cosmic consequences. That is a respectable position, but it is certainly not the only reasonable one. Of course the idea that the BoM should be taken seriously throughout even if non-historical is a much bigger pill to swallow, a pill so big that I can hardly imagine someone who believes that the BoM is non-historical can also believe that we should pay particular attention to more than about half the content.

  39. Christopher, really excellent comment #38. I guess my answer would be much shorter than Bruce’s. There is a big difference between somebody who has questions about the BoM and a rejectionist. We all have questions. Mine are too lengthy to list here. But I hope you would also see that there are people who actively reject the Church and, in effect, turn that into their religions. These are two completely separate groups of people, imho.

  40. Mark D:

    I agree with what you are saying. Period.

    But isn’t my point that a non-historical Book of Mormon is the end of the LDS Church? You are agreeing with me on that, right? If not, please explain yourself further.

    Mark D, what is your personal position here? You sound like you do in fact believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Am I right?

    Using your argument, I can see an individual justifying *their* personal beliefs in the Book of Mormon to a limited degree. And I can definitely see God taking someone that wrongly believes in such a fraud and blessing *their* (not Joseph Smith’s) sincere efforts to make something of it. How could that not be the case? (This is also one biggest beef with the Evangelical Christian position, that God would send someone to hell that was duped by Joseph Smith but found the real God through it.)

    But a non-historical Book of Mormon would still be the death of the LDS Church if they took that route and I can’t believe you could even accept half of the Book of Mormon once you decided it was a fraud.

    My personal feeling is that the reason ‘non-historical’ BoM believers tend to become heavy Rejectionists is precisely because there is so little left in the Church for them after they decide the Book of Mormon is fictional but to help the other (still Believing) members see “the truth” as they believe it to be.

    Plus, there is just no way around the fact that if Joseph Smith faked the plates that Joseph himself could not be inspired. (i.e. “I claim that it is contrary to both divine character and pragmatism for God not to try to inspire anybody who is trying to teach the truth to “get it right.” Is Joseph Smith trying to get it right by faking the plates? To me it seems not.)

  41. Geoff, excellent comment. I agree. Rejectionist and skeptics (waves hand) are two entirely different groups of people. Skepticism can be treated with faith.

  42. Mark D:

    I just realized that you are still responding to my comment that a fraudulent Book of Mormon would serve more as a proof that God doesn’t exist.

    Understand, I meant that only from the context of someone that had decided that there are no religious texts/truths greater than a fraudulent Book of Mormon. (My perception of the RLDSs position.)

    *Obviously* you could reject the Book of Mormon at that point and decide that your past experiences with it were still inspired of God, but that now you are moving on to truer and greater things. (Perhaps rejecting the Book of Mormon and then accepting the Bible Sola Scripture.) But if the best God can do is equivalent to the Book of Mormon as fiction… face it.. there is no God. Or at best, God is a myth as well and is a metaphor for human goodness.

  43. Bruce N, As to historicity, I just don’t know. I think the hard ahistorical position is pointless, unless you have some other reason to spirit yourself out of the Church. If one is remotely spiritual and open minded, baseline BofM historicity has to be regarded as a live possibility, even if you have serious concerns about some parts, the way many of the expansionists do.

    I agree that an explicit rejection of BofM historicity would be at least a century long set back for the Church, a setback that would likely be nearly fatal. Immediate schism, activity among the remainder dropping by 80%, etc.

    An explicit rejection is clearly not what would occur, however. If the problem was considered serious enough (for whatever reason), a habit of benign neglect would no doubt gradually ensue, over a period as long as several centuries. The Church is generally not in the business of saying that so and so was wrong, or such and such never actually happened, and for very good reason.

    I do think the Church has unique strengths that would allow it to prosper even after a centuries long de-emphasis of the BofM. Perhaps not take the world by storm, but early Christianity didn’t look so statistically promising for a quite a while either though.

  44. Mark D,

    If by “I just don’t know” you mean that you are undecided and don’t even have a belief on the subject yet, that is cool with me and I can understand.

    This really helps to understand where you are coming from and I appreciate your courage to answer the question rather than just ask questions.

    I must say, I think I’ve agreed with everything you’ve said so far except for one thing. I personally feel that a non-historical Book of Mormon is to the LDS Church what a non-risen Christ is to all of Christianity. Though I agree with you that the LDS Church has many and multiple unique strengths, I do not believe it can propser one whit without a historical Book of Mormon. I suppose that is why I ultimately realized, for me at least, it made sense to make a leap of faith and to choose to believe.

  45. By “I just don’t know” I mean that I think there is sufficient evidence for the question to come out either way. Not that I am happy about that.

    My general opinion is that inspiration is most effective in terms of guiding individuals as to what they should do, and why they should do it, and not nearly as effective as to indicating the truth value of arbitrary historical propositions.

    As to the first two categories, the Book of Mormon has been more than effective in my life, as to questions like did Alma have a road to Damascus experience, it just doesn’t have immediate practical import at all. It does of course have enormous implications for the reputation and credibility of Joseph Smith, which flows down to fundamental legitimacy questions about exclusive priesthood authority in the LDS Church and only in the Church and nowhere but the Church.

    I tend to be more of a divine recognition of priesthood exists where it deserves to exist (i.e. on the merits) person. The last verses of D&C 121. Build up a kingdom of God worthy of all acceptation, effectiveness of ordinances through the the keeping of covenants and the honor that God bestows on them thereby, and so on, and less legal formalism about which invocations God will honor and which not. That is in many ways a unusually uncomfortable position, far out of step with mainline teaching in the Church of course.

    As to the teachings of Joseph Smith in general, obviously one could hardly be too critical of his actions if he was engaged in “end-justifies-the-means” sort of behavior in this matter, but that wouldn’t ultimately impair the truth of anything he taught or revealed that is a fair indication of the way things really are.

    I will say that there is one thing that bothers me more than anything else about the historicity question. Reading through the non-canonical teachings of Joseph Smith, he could hardly go three sentences without paraphrasing some New Testament verse or another. But allusions to and paraphrases of the BofM are few to non-existent. This goes for the D&C as well. The D&C itself uses the language of the New and Old Testaments all over the place, but BofM verses almost do not register.

    I find it awfully disturbing when a new book of scripture is translated, a book that unquestionably does a better job of teaching the first principles of the gospel than the New Testament does not figure anywhere except in missionary work for who knows how long.

    Maybe this is all more pragmatism, I don’t know. For fifty years now we have had the reverse problem – neglect the New Testament to the point where most couldn’t pick out most of Joseph Smith’s paraphrases of the NT if they were beat over the head with them, but where virtually any verse from the Book of Mormon is immediately recognizable as to place and context.

  46. Mark D says: “It does of course have enormous implications for the reputation and credibility of Joseph Smith, which flows down to fundamental legitimacy questions about exclusive priesthood authority in the LDS Church and only in the Church and nowhere but the Church”

    Yes. Dead on!

    “That is in many ways a unusually uncomfortable position, far out of step with mainline teaching in the Church of course.”


    Mark, you should realize how rare you are to be willing to explain your beliefs like this. I have like tons more questions for you now (out of sincere interest) but I’m afraid to dump them all on you at once for fear of scaring you off. 🙂

    You have to understand the position I’m in. I’ve talked to literally tons of so-called “Menu Mormons” about their beliefs. All so far (and I mean literally 100% prior to meeting you) have fallen into one of two categories:

    Category 1: Tells you outright that they don’t believe in the LDS Church or the Book of Mormon but refuses to say what they do believe.

    Category 2: Refuses to even tell you if they do or do not believe in the Book of Mormon (and by extension, the LDS Church) but acts as if they do not. But refuses to tell you what they do believe.


    It would be nice if you, perhaps, gave an outline of what your “positive” theological beliefs are.

    Do you, for example, have faith in a personal God (i.e. not a force that can’t even communicate with us or only a metaphor) even if you are unsure? Do you have faith in an afterlife? Do you have a personal belief about what salvation is or isn’t? Etc.

    I can’t get answers like this out of Menu Mormons.

    In other words, I’m excited to ask you the very types of questions that no Menu Mormon is ever able to answer because it’s obvious you don’t mind answering questions like this.

    I get this really strong sense that you are capable of answering such questions and are actively trying to make sense of God. If I am right, then in my opinion you are a Believer with a capital B. (Though not necessarily a “Believing Mormon” of course, since that phrase implies more that that — not that you aren’t… I just mean one can be a Believer without being a Believing Mormon)

    But you seem to be an active seeker. Am I right? Nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

    Please please continue to participate in these discussions. We need people like you that aren’t sure about the LDS Church’s truth claims but aren’t hiding their personal beliefs.

  47. Do you, for example, have faith in a personal God (i.e. not a force that can’t even communicate with us or only a metaphor) even if you are unsure? Do you have faith in an afterlife? Do you have a personal belief about what salvation is or isn’t? Etc.

    Absolutely, on all three counts. I have unconventional beliefs on some points, but if you read my comments over at New Cool Thang, I think you would get a fair picture.

    I have to say I think the term “Menu Mormon” is wildly disparaging because it implies a sort of opportunism about idly rejecting things you have good reason to believe are true and/or morally obligatory. A serious believer has to take all those things seriously, even if he/she has heterodox opinions about this or that.

    I know (nearly as much as anything can be known) that God is personal. I believe the first principles of the gospel, the atonement, and the plan of salvation are the most important knowledge available to humanity. I believe that no one can truly be saved without repentance, nor can anyone as an individual nor as a group be saved without the Atonement. I believe that without inspiration and the influence of the Spirit, life and civilization as we know it would be impossible. I believe that keeping covenants is practically the only process by which sanctification and divine communion is possible. That justification is only possible by faith unto repentance, through the grace of god, and so on.

    Finally, that is is morally obligatory that individuals pay attention to and carefully evaluation the words of religious leaders, because “whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”.

    I am probably more ecumenical than most, but I think the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the most effective implementation of the gospel plan and of the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth today.

  48. Bruce: I can’t speak for Chris on the issue of the Book of Mormon’s historicity or anything else. On the other hand, I do sit in bishopric meetings each Sunday morning at 6:30 am with Chris. I know that he has a testimony and love of the Church and does much diligent and faithful service in blessing its members and advancing its mission. The idea that he is intentionally or unintentionally attacking the faith of “Believers” is — from what I have have seen as a friend and ward member — utterly ridiculous.

  49. Bruce:

    You do a very good job of explaining my situation; my denomination’s most recent prophets have not attempted more than a superficial job of reconciling the current direction of the church with the direction taken by the early Reorganization. They do not see the future as being an American church, but as a non-American church. And, in that context, membership in world-protestantism seems much more important to them than sectarian concerns. I have to decide whether that vision is truly prophetic or not – or if it is merely irrelevant to my personal mission. (Note here that belonging to the NCC is a prerequisite for eventually joining the World Council of Churches, even if that step may be a decade or two in the future.) We don’t come from the people who expect to answer to God with “just following orders”. 😀

    As to the Book of Mormon, I have personal testimony that it is true scripture, and I believe relying on its inspiration to be more important to my obeying Christ in the here and now than in relying on theological theses drawn from experience meant by Christ less specifically for us.

    The reconciliation of personal faith with science is a life-long preoccupation for me; I became a physicist, for crying out loud, because I was personally commanded in a dream that “Science is part of My divine plan” and I was to “study science”. As a scientist, I find the Book of Mormon as historical document to fit the data in disciplines in which I have expertise far better than it should. I know experts in other disciplines who find a historical fit to be MUCH too poor to be credible. That makes it a scientific anomaly, explainable NEITHER as 19th Century creation NOR as ancient historic document, and physicists spend their time trying to tease better explanations out of anomalies (and sometimes post about them).

    So I’ve got a testimony and an anomaly. Until and unless I resolve the anomaly otherwise, I default to following my testimony. (And I DO teach my daughter to be prepared to stand against the church if her testimony is to do so; being wrong when you’re trying to do right is forgivable, but doing anyway what you believe to be wrong is a slippery moral slope.)

  50. “We don’t come from the people who expect to answer to God with “just following orders”.”

    I would be interested in a post on CoFC myths about Latter-day Saints.

  51. Nate, I really appreciate your coming here to defend you friend Chris. That is a stand-up thing for you to do. Bruce cannot comment during the day usually because of his work situation. There is a LOT of history here that you probably are not aware of. There is always another side to a story, and I probably will not say anything else except to ask you to remember that.

  52. “just following orders” wasn’t meant about LDS, or about any particular religion. It was about people in any religion who expect the opinions of others in authority to substitute for personal responsibility. That;s about 80 per cent of us 80 per cent of the time. 😀

  53. Nate,

    I greatly appreciate your interest in this important topic.

    I would hope, however, that you will accept my correction on this point. No where do I see myself claiming that Christopher was, as you say, “intentionally or unintentionally attacking the faith of ‘Believers’” and I am perplexed that you jumped to such a wild conclusion based on the fairly benign things that I said.

    And Geoff is right that there is quite a bit of history to this interchange between us.

    I am expressing my concerns to him that he is unwilling to explain his own beliefs, yet he openly attacks others about their beliefs. I personally see his approach as ‘unfair play’ so to speak.

  54. Mark D,

    After reading your post, I confess that I see virtually no difference between your beliefs and mine.

    You are definitely no more a “Menu Mormon” than I am. (I suppose in a sense we all are. But this label probably doesn’t fit us well.)

    However, I am going to defend my use of the term. I was asked to use that term by people that self identified as such. I’ve also heard used things like “Cultural Mormon” or “Cafeteria Mormon” or the like. Some people prefer “New Order Mormon” (NOM).

    I am not willing to not have a label for a group that really exists. I am willing to use the label they ask me to as long as it doesn’t misrepresent who and what they really are. So I accepted Menu Mormon because I was told it was non-offensive and it seems to fit what I am trying to say really well.

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