April 3, 2018
Dear Brothers in Christ of the XXXX Stake Presidency and XXXX Bishopric,
As you know, I have not been attending church. Given you are all in leadership positions, I feel it only fair to let you know somewhat specifically why.
First of all, I do not believe “the witness of the Spirit” as taught by the LDS church is specific evidence for literal truth. Radical Muslims, Polygamists, Buddhists, Born-agains (in regards to their salvation) and many others also endorse very similar spiritual witnesses as validity to their truth claims. I believe there is Divinity within the LDS church, and God blesses His children within the LDS church for sure, but I do not believe in the literal truth claims of the LDS church. Rather I think much good that is experienced in the LDS church is God making “lemonade out of lemons.”
I do not believe there was a literal restoration of priesthood authority by Peter, James and John as well as John the Baptist as taught by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. There are contradictions and discrepancies in the historical record that make this appear to be a later back-dating of events at a time when leadership claims were being challenged. There was no specific mention of these events until 1834. And the actual historical record states the Melchizedek priesthood was restored in 1831 (after the church was established in 1830). Furthermore, an entire reading of the book of Hebrews casts great concerns to me upon the very LDS concept of “priesthood.” I believe Jesus Christ alone is our great and last high-priest. Our Mediator. To me, Hebrews seems to indicate he replaced the need for legalistic ordinances as well as the temple as well as the need for any further “high priests.”
I believe all three “standard works” brought forth by Joseph Smith have abundant proof of not being literal truth directly from God as they claim.
I believe the Book of Mormon is a product of the influences of the 1800’s to which Joseph Smith was exposed. Despite many literal “lines in the sand” being drawn about the historical truthfulness of the Book of Mormon both by Joseph Smith in and out of the Doctrine and Covenants, I do not believe it is literal history. For one thing, huge passages of Deutero-Isaiah are quoted “from the brass plates” in the Book of Mormon. Yet there is EXTENSIVE and VERY STRONG evidence this was written one hundred years AFTER Lehi supposedly left Jerusalem. The LDS apologetic arguments against Deutero-Isaiah are weak, incomplete, and frankly dishonest. Here are two articles by a believing member on this subject worth reading should you desire to do so: Deutero-Isaiah Part 1, Deutero-Isaiah Part 2
In addition to extensive passages being on the “brass plates” that could not possibly have been present, there are literally hundreds of unique phrases and words (sometimes extensive phrases) unique to the New Testament also found in the Book of Mormon hundreds of years before they were written or spoken in the New Testament. There are also passages directly quoting King James translational errors that could not possibly have been on the brass plates. In any court of law or university in the country, this would be deemed as sure evidence of plagiarism and fraud. Joseph Smith told the witnesses that he translated by a very specific process, specific words appearing in a stone. (Clearly this is what he told them, because this is what several of them related). Thus the very specific nature of the translation would seem to argue against any possibility of an incredibly “loose” translation. I believe “God cannot lie.” This being the case, phrases, and extensive quoting of scripts before they even exist, claiming that they do exist, comes across as incredibly deceptive to me. I cannot believe this is directly from God.
In addition to this, both the Nephites and Jaredites were documented to bring many seeds over from the old world for crops. And these were confirmed to “grow exceedingly” (1 Nephi 8:1; 1 Nephi 18:6,24; Ether 2:3; Ether 6:13,18). Yet there weren’t any old world crops in the Americas before Columbus. We know many of the Native Americans were prodigious farmers because they raised potatoes (not mentioned in the BofM), squash (not mentioned in the BofM), beans (not mentioned in the BofM), and maize in abundance. They did not raise any old world crops. And if they had at the time of Nephi… why do we not only see no evidence of this in the archeological record, but none of these crops perpetuated to later generations? (The ancient barley discovered in AZ is NOT an old world variety ). Furthermore, the Book of Mormon has numerous references to the inhabitants working in iron. Whenever any society has entered the iron age, there is abundant evidence of this in the archeological record. It is not just swords and weapons of war that are made, but nails, and MANY common items. It profoundly changes the way people live. Yet in the American archeological record, no iron other than rare artifacts are present, likely from meteoritic iron pre-Columbus. No evidence of smelting. The best argument apologists have for the numerous references to working in iron in the Book of Mormon are the ilmenite (a brittle iron-titanium oxide mineral) mirrors, beads and blocks reported from the San Lorenzo Olmec site. But nothing here begins to approach the type of refinement or workmanship required to make “all manner of tools” to “till the ground” and “the sharp pointed arrow,” the “dart,” the “javelin” and other preparations for war (Jarom 1:8) as well as earlier Jaredite “swords” with blades that had rusted (Mosiah 8:11). Add on to this the fact that all of the doctrinal Christian issues the Book of Mormon discusses were prominent topics of conversations during the 1800’s that had actually evolved over 1800 years and it becomes extraordinarily unlikely this is an actual historical record. And this doesn’t even get into the incredibly damning DNA evidence, which I will not even begin to touch upon, or many other issues I haven’t mentioned as well. The Book of Mormon teaches many profound and powerful concepts of Christianity for sure, but I believe these were products of 1800 years of discussion, debate and refinement of various Christian concepts, concepts to which Joseph Smith was well-exposed. NOT the product of literal Christians inhabiting the Americas millennia ago.
It is often stated there is absolutely no way Joseph Smith could have produced such a work as the BofM on his own. Yet there are other examples of individuals influenced under the phenomenon of “automatic writing” (likely related to temporal lobe hyperactivity) producing extensive and profound writings in very short periods of time as well. Pearl Curran (“Patience Worth”) is a classic example of this. Just because something is incredible, even “miraculous” viewed through the lenses of many, does not mean it is directly from God. Hebraisms and chiasmus are often cited as “evidence” of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as well. Yet we find similar hebraisms and EXTENSIVE chiasmus in “The Late War” (Gilbert Hunt, 1816). In addition, there are NUMEROUS phrases in common between this work and the Book of Mormon.
There are many issues with the Doctrine and Covenants as well. Many of the prior revelations from the Book of Commandments were changed or significantly added upon, sometimes in a manner to directly change the meaning of the prior revelations (An Address to All Believers, David Whitmer, pp 56-62). In addition, there are other very troublesome D&C passages. I will share but one, D&C 137. There are several false prophecies in the original manuscript of D&C 137. These were edited out/omitted in the official version. Yet in the church, we continue to teach this as scripture and sustain Joseph Smith as a true prophet of God.
The Book of Abraham is another HUGE issue. MUCH could be said about this. The bottom line is this, both LDS and Non-LDS Egyptologists absolutely agree that the three facsimiles in the Book of Abraham DO NOT say what Joseph Smith said they say, nor do other elements of the papyri. They just don’t. People often say, “Well, can Egyptologists read it… are they sure?” Yes. They are. Egyptology has come a very long way since the Rosetta Stone was discovered in the mid 1800’s, and experts in Egyptian can read Egyptian similar to the way we would read English.
Then there is the issue of Joseph’s behavior. Joseph was very gregarious, charming, persuasive and charismatic. The evidence strongly suggests he was also dishonest, manipulative and more than once acted in ways profoundly damaging to the psyches of some of those closest to him. He married over 30 women. Many of these relationships were initiated via what could only be interpreted by most today as the “grooming” of a sexual predator. Foster daughters, maids, etc living in his home first. Threats of salvation being withheld if the marital covenant was not entered into. Joseph married several women AFTER he had sent their husbands off on missions Clear evidence documenting sexual activity with many of his wives. Yet NO clear evidence of any offspring from any of them to me clearly indicate there was a deliberate attempt NOT to have offspring (despite this being the scriptural “reason” for this practice). I can not believe this behavior was from God. Many of these women were left utterly devastated in their personal lives. Some that wouldn’t comply subsequently had their character assassinated. Furthermore, Joseph lied extensively about this practice. (LDS historian Richard Bushman prefers the term “carefully worded denials.”) He had many affidavits, etc. written denying these unions. All of these were later proven to be false. When the Nauvoo Expositor was written, he had its printing press destroyed, not because none of the claims in it were true (Joseph claimed they were lies) but precisely because the claims in it WERE grounded in truth. LDS historians now know this to be the case. The charges that he was practicing polygamy, that at times he had benefited from the financial estates of those who became his wives, and that he had been coronated a King (in the council of 50 with views to later rule in an empire west of the United States) were absolutely true.
Add onto this, the issue of the church itself suppressing and frankly, sometimes lying about church history (many examples could be given, I won’t here). The recent LDS essays on lds.org are but one example. The way the Brigham Young Sunday-school manual was watered down years ago, quotes being deliberately changed is another. What were previously deemed “anti-mormon lies” (i.e. Joseph Smith practiced “money digging” for years, taking money for treasures he could “see” through his seer stone which were never found, being involved in magic, etc.) turn out to be true after all in the essays!!! Yet the essays frequently minimize many issues, and sometimes flat out distort or even lie about others (still). This becomes clear upon doing an in-depth analysis of the footnotes. In my view, for the most part, these are well-written pieces of propaganda due to recent questions raised by availability of information on the internet. Upon in-depth review, the essays do not seem to be aimed at authentically sharing the truth and being transparent, at authentically helping people have a full “informed consent” as to the nature of that which they are believing, following, and literally committing everything in their life to. Those who have presented unfavorable (but honest) historical church events have frequently been gas-lighted , shunned and/or even disciplined by the church. This as well as the need to tightly control the narrative, only advocating reading of “approved” and highly “correlated” (edited) material I believe is the type of behavior we would see from a dictatorial regime such as North Korea. Not an authentic entity such as the Church of Jesus Christ, valuing truth as its highest ideal.
I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe God makes lemonade out of lemons and has still been able to use Joseph’s efforts to bring many to Him. Ultimately, I believe God is in control and uses everything for His good. Clearly, many LDS members are devout followers of Christ. Despite much good in the church, I believe the most damaging aspect of Mormonism is frequently teaching the love of God in a manner 180 degrees opposed to what I understand the actual love of God to be. I believe God accepts us fully up front because He loves us. We are His children. We THEN become more like Him BECAUSE we are accepted. He doesn’t accept us only AFTER we become “good enough.” I believe the concept of works-based salvation as taught by the LDS church is a profound distortion and misrepresentation of the Love of God.
I know all of you are probably going to disagree with me, cite your own testimony, etc. I understand. And I respect your right to do so. I have been there. I HAVEN’T forgotten, despite this being a common belief in the church as well. But I must follow my conscience at this time. In my journey to follow God, to really “know” and “find” the truth, I have found myself in a very different spot than I ever thought years ago would be the case. I believe we will each be “judged” someday based on whatever understanding we have/had as we have it. And I believe I am being true to this in my own life. God knows my heart, despite what any may think or say about me. I am perfectly at peace in my relationship with God at this time in my life. I think I will be judged far more on if I followed my conscience, on the condition of my heart, than I will be on whether or not I “got the right answer.” I have spent 25 years examining nearly every aspect of the church I can think of from every possible angle to varying levels of depth. And have spent an incredible amount of time on my knees as well. I am done “doubting my doubts.” I will no longer reject my own analysis, my own thoughts, or what the brain God gave me is screaming at me. I believe I would be judged harshly for doing so. I have tried to “believe” along the purely metaphorical route as well, but I can’t. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no putting it back. It would be like trying to believe in the literal Santa Claus again. There is so much more I could say, but haven’t.
In conclusion, it is my belief Jesus Christ opened a direct channel for each of us to God and I believe ultimately, we are each responsible to foster that connection and relationship. I believe He is our Mediator. I personally believe it is very dangerous to allow anybody or anything else to act as the mediator that IS our Lord. I believe He is even the very “gospel” of Jesus Christ. I believe HE is the “good news.” I believe the LDS version of the gospel is an imitation. One which can bring people closer to Christ. But one which isn’t Christ.
With love and concern,
(This letter has slight edits in some of the text from the original and an addition about ilmenite. Many links have also been included that were not in the original letter.)
Jason Harris is a Neurologist/Neuro-Ophthalmologist, Dad and Husband who shares his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made and believes there is Divinity in all of them.