The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Consensus between LDS scholars and their critics: SITH and M2C

In my view, most people in the world seek a Zion-like society, with freedom and opportunity that enables life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone should have a good education, medical care, meaningful employment, and opportunities for family life, recreation, travel, etc.

People don't know where to turn for such a society, though. Societies throughout the world are politically divided. World conditions are continually improving, but divisions endure. Part of the problem is we're all dealing with the weaknesses of human nature (the natural man) that makes it difficult for us to live by our own ideals.

I think the best way to establish Zion in the world is through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because no other voluntary organization has the infrastructure, organization, and teachings that can lead to a Zion society. That said, the goal of Zion has been obscured by debates over doctrinal and social issues. I think people can "do Zion" regardless of their doctrinal beliefs. Hence my blog  

A major obstacle to establishing Zion are debates with critics over the theories of LDS intellectuals.

LDS apologetics has been problematic for a long time. Too often, LDS apologists have resorted to logical and factual fallacies, including ad hominem attacks. Of course, I disagree with much of what they say because they discount and even repudiate the teachings of the prophets in favor of their own theories. 

Specifically, LDS intellectuals have come to agree with long-time critics and unbelievers about the translation and geography issues. They have reached a "consensus" with critics and unbelievers about SITH and the New York Cumorah (M2C).


Lately, the web page has focused on LDS apologetics with three podcasts. 

One focused on finances, pointing out that the M2C citation cartel (Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FairMormon, etc.) have raised $28 million in recent years. It's appalling to me that these organizations have spent so much money to promote both SITH and M2C, while censoring faithful interpretations of Church history that contradicts SITH and M2C.

Another podcast focused on the different generations affected by apologetics. Boomers, Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z grew up with different conditioning and cultures, leading to different assumptions about the world and different expectations. That's a great topic for another discussion. 

A third podcast was an interview with Zelph on the Shelf, a name that epitomizes the problem with M2C. M2C forces faithful LDS to put "Zelph on the shelf" meaning they cannot reconcile M2C with what Joseph said about Zelph. The best effort I'm aware of is the "hinterlands" theory that Zelph lived in an area far from the main environment of the Nephites in Mesoamerica and that the various accounts are unreliable anyway because they refer to Cumorah in New York.

I think MormonStories does a good job promoting its narrative as a home for "post-Mormons" who deal with "faith transition." John Dehlin expresses empathy and understanding for people who, like him, do not believe the narratives promoted by LDS intellectuals, which he also attributes to LDS Church leaders. However, he seems oblivious to the alternative interpretations of LDS history and the Book of Mormon that corroborate the teachings of the prophets with external evidence.

This leads to another strange consensus between the M2C citation cartel and MormonStories: both groups resist alternative ideas and interpretations.

Consequently, we see Dehlin and other critics going back and forth with LDS apologists, promoting and debunking one another's assumptions. Both sides are simply confirming their biases. 

Meanwhile, many faithful LDS such as me think both sides are resorting to straw man arguments. 


Although I've spent a lot of time focusing on the fallacies of the M2C citation cartel, the same fallacies are found throughout MormonStories.  

MormonStories basically takes the teachings of LDS intellectuals as a given, then points out how irrational they are, how much they contradict the teachings of the prophets, etc. It's an effective strategy. The recent antics of the FairMormon videos and the fine young LDS scholars associated with the M2C citation cartel display a defensiveness that lends credibility to the MormonStories narrative. Many faithful LDS lose confidence after consulting the work of the LDS apologists and intellectuals.

Most of the interviews on MormonStories involve LDS or former LDS who, like LDS intellectuals, have chosen to repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon. Instead, accept the assumptions of the M2C citation cartel that:

(i) Joseph Smith did not translate the plates with the Urim and Thummim and

(ii) the Hill Cumorah is not in New York.

Because I disagree with both of those conclusions, I decided to start a new blog to review Mormon Stories.


I assume that both LDs intellectuals and critics have sincere intentions, given their assumptions and beliefs. I'm fully in favor of freedom of choice, but I also encourage people to make informed decisions. I think both MormonStories and the LDS citation cartel discourage people from making informed decisions.

My blog on MormonStories is in early stages, but here's a link to the page on Cumorah.

I'm following the same technique I have for the M2C citation cartel and Church historians. I'll post their articles in blue, with my comments in red, so you can see exactly who is saying what. 

I think that's the clearest way to help people make informed decisions.

You can see examples of this at

Friday, December 11, 2020

Conference on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020

Tomorrow I'm speaking at a conference on the Book of Mormon.

Here's the link: I'll be speaking around noon Mountain Time from my home in Oregon.

My main topic focuses on "how to Zion," meaning how to establish Zion within the context of modern society, wherever we live. A big emphasis is on achieving unity in diversity.

I'll touch on these topics:

- Examples of legal precedence as described in the Book of Mormon, including an example from Mosiah 27 that I discussed in my new book Between these Hills: A Case for the New York Cumorah,*. 

- The importance of free agency and its preservation. 

- The consequences of oppressive rule and the inevitability of tyranny. 

- How we can "Zion" under various governments, using examples from around the world.

- Why people everywhere seek Zion but don't know where to find it.


*Between these Hills discusses why Cumorah is central to understanding the Book of Mormon, how relevant sciences corroborate what the prophets have taught, and how we can build faith by supporting the prophets.

The book is now available.

I'll discuss it more next week.

Monday, November 30, 2020

changing minds with facts and reason

This has actually happened a few times when I've explained Moroni's America, the two sets of plates, the translation with the Urim and Thummim, and other topics.

(click to enlarge):

Fortunately, I had no problem sleeping.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sports millionaires and homelessness, side-by-side

The consensus values of society in Utah are featured on the cover of the Deseret News, November 22, 2020.

(click to enlarge)

Society today: big homeless problems, foster care in crisis, and a 24-year-old basketball player gets a 5-year deal with $195.6 million with a team owned by a 42-year-old who paid $1.66 billion for the team.


Alternative consensus:

18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

(Moses 7:18)

3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

(4 Nephi 1:3)

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Changing, unity, and consensus

Anyone who seeks unity and consensus must first ask, what am I willing to give up for the cause? Have I ever changed my mind about something important when I learned new facts, reconsidered priorities, or gained new wisdom?

Regarding Book of Mormon historicity, for decades I accepted what LDS scholars taught about the Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs theory (M2C). I accepted M2C because my CES and BYU teachers taught it, and I assumed they were the experts who had studied it. 

Only later in life did I realize they had led me to disbelieve the prophets. Then, when I looked into Church history and relevant sciences for myself, I discovered that the prophets were correct all along.

So I changed my mind.

It wasn't easy. It required some work to reorient my worldview on this issue. 

I have plenty of M2C critics who resort to ad hominem and other logical errors to defend M2C. And that's fine; we can all believe whatever we want. 

By now, it's obvious the M2C scholars and their employees and followers are driven by bias confirmation, not any pursuit of truth. 

They made up their minds when they adopted the mark of M2C as their logo, which has been used by FARMS, the Maxwell Institute, and Book of Mormon Central.

There is no possibility of unity and consensus on this issue so long as one side (M2C) repudiates the teachings of the prophets and the other side embraces the teachings of the prophets.


From Naval:

Everybody wants to change others. Nobody wants to be changed.


It’s easier to change yourself than to change the world ... Live the life you want other people to live.

From the comments:

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." ~ Leo Tolstoy

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.


The internal dialog going in our head justifies our own thoughts, behaviours and actions. So we think we are right. When looking at others, we see only their actions. So we often think others are wrong or have done things the way they should not have.

Vik Shukla

Far easier to demand someone to change than to go through that uncomfortable process yourself. One requires work, other requires nothing.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The pursuit of "consensus" often leads people to censor themselves, put things on "the shelf," or engage in forms of Groupthink that is unattractive to those who emphasize the pursuit of truth over the pursuit of group cohesion.

This is common to large organizations, political parties, religions, scientific fields, and so on. In LDS culture, we see it happen both within and without the Church. Groupthink dominates both Book of Mormon Central and Mormon Stories, for example. Neither group tolerates different ideas if those ideas threaten their respective sources of income and influence.

Polarization is becoming more prevalent all the time because of technology and sophisticated psychology. 

This analysis suggests the problem is more deep rooted than we usually realize.

Why Social Media Is So Good at Polarizing Us

Mathematicians are teaming up with political scientists to create models of how social media divides us, and results suggest at least one popular solution might actually make the problem worse


One of the challenges of studying polarization is defining polarization.

There are different kinds. One, known as affective polarization, measures how much people of one party dislike members of the opposite party. Various measures of affective polarization have shown that over the past 60 years, it’s gotten much worse. Another kind, known as ideological polarization, measures how far apart members of each party are on all issues, such as abortion and gun control. This kind of polarization has, contrary to what you might think, remained relatively stable over time.

In other words, many Americans hate each other more than ever, but they don’t disagree with each other any more than they used to....

One such model, just published by researchers at Northwestern University, incorporates recent, and in some ways counterintuitive, findings by political scientists. One, from a 2018 study by Dr. Bail, is that when you repeatedly expose people on social media to viewpoints different than their own, it just makes them dig in their heels and reinforces their own viewpoint, rather than swaying them to the other side. (Dr. Bail’s study was conducted on U.S. users of Twitter, but other studies have begun to replicate it, he adds.)

In the past, social-media giants have been accused of only showing us content that agrees with our preconceptions, creating echo chambers or “filter bubbles.” The proposed solution, trumpeted by pundits of every stripe, was to change the social-media algorithms so that they would show us more content from people who disagree with us.

According to David Sabin-Miller and Daniel Abrams, creators of this latest model, exposing us to viewpoints different from our own, in whatever medium we encounter them, might actually be part of the problem. The reason is probably intuitive for anyone who has the misfortune to spend an unhealthy amount of time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or even cable news. (During the pandemic, that’s more of us than ever.) Because social media and Balkanized TV networks tend to highlight content with the biggest emotional punch—that is, they operate on the principle that if it’s outrageous, it’s contagious—when we’re exposed to a differing view, it often takes an extreme form, one that seems personally noxious. 

Mr. Sabin-Miller and Dr. Abrams, both mathematicians, call this effect “repulsion.” In addition to the “pull” of repeatedly seeing viewpoints that reinforce our own, inside of our online echo chambers, repulsion provides a “push” away from opposing viewpoints, they argue. Importantly, this repulsion appears to be a more powerful force, psychologically, than attraction to our own side of a debate.

The end.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Open vs closed minded people

There's a thoughtful blog here I'd like to call attention to:

The blog makes an important point:

The ability to change your mind is a superpower.

I'm especially interested in the psychology of conversion. As a member of a missionary-oriented Church, I've observed and experienced the conversion process for many years. Why is it that the vast majority of people in the world stick with the religion they grew up with? What is it that leads people to change religions? How do principles of conversion apply outside of religion?

The blog post discusses 7 concepts from Ray Dalio's book Principles. They are worth considering and reviewing from time to time.

Here's the first one, which I hope will lead you to want to read the rest.

1. Challenging Ideas

Closed-minded people don’t want their ideas challenged. They are typically frustrated that they can’t get the other person to agree with them instead of curious as to why the other person disagrees.

Closed-minded people are more interested in proving themselves right than in getting the best outcome. They don’t ask questions. They want to show you where you’re wrong without understanding where you’re coming from. They get angry when you ask them to explain something. They think people who ask questions are slowing them down. And they think you’re an idiot if you don’t agree.

In short, they’re on the wrong side of right.

Open-minded people are more curious about why there is disagreement. … They understand that there is always the possibility that they might be wrong and that it’s worth the little bit of time it takes to consider the other person’s views….

Open-minded people see disagreement as a thoughtful means to expand their knowledge. They don’t get angry or upset at questions; rather, they want to identify where the disagreement lies so they can correct their misperceptions. They realize that being right means changing their minds when someone else knows something they don’t.

Friday, September 18, 2020

US Constitution Day

This is mostly cross-posted from another blog, but I have some additional comments here because yesterday was a good example of how difficult it is to get consensus even on such a basic concept as the merits of the U.S. Constitution.

There are always critics. Some are more subtle than others.

Yesterday, September 17, was Constitution Day in the United States. 

On September 17, 1787, 39 of the 55 delegates from the States signed the Constitution. Would you have signed the Declaration of Independence and/or the Constitution? 

There's a cool webpage that let's you add your own signature. Go to 


In commemoration of Constitution Day, I'm speaking on the topic of "The Liberty of Righteousness" at an online forum tomorrow on the Title of Liberty.


Yesterday, President Trump announced a highly significant initiative - the 1776 Commission.

Trump discussed the “left-wing indoctrination” in many American schools as well as curriculum that “views every issue through the lens of race." The 1776 Commission will lead to “patriotic education,” in connection with a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a ”pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation's great history." 

In that paragraph, I used quotations to show the terms used by the President, not to convey any sense of irony. I think this is an important initiative because students in public schools today are not learning basic facts of American history, the context of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, or even basic life success strategies.

In a new nationwide study of more than 10,000 Americans age 18 to 39 (200 randomly selected in each state), nearly two-thirds of respondents didn’t know 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, 48% couldn’t name a single World War II-era concentration camp or ghetto, and more than 10% believed Jews themselves caused the Holocaust.


This is comparable to the results of education in the Church, including the Saints book and the work of the M2C citation cartel. Most young LDS know nothing about why the hill in New York is called Cumorah, and most now believe that Joseph didn't use the Urim and Thummim or the plates themselves because he just read words off a stone he put in a hat. 

We need an 1830 Commission in the Church to revitalize what the founders taught.


Regarding the 1776 Commission, public schools have always been designed to indoctrinate kids to become productive citizens, but in recent years, teachers with private agendas have imposed their own views in many cases. 

As expected, critics framed the 1776 Commission with the latest code words from the left. Notice the adjectives the author chose, and which words are in scare quotes and which are not.

In austere, starkly divisive remarks, President Trump on Thursday said he would create a commission to promote "patriotic education" and announced the creation of a grant to develop a "pro-American curriculum." The move is largely political — a reaction to a growing push by some academics for schools to teach an American history that better acknowledges slavery and systemic racism.

Here's another way the same story could have been told.

In direct, specific and clear remarks, President Trump on Thursday said he would create a commission to promote patriotic education and announced the creation of a grant to develop a pro-American curriculum. The move is largely political — a reaction to a growing push by some academics for schools to teach an American history that "better acknowledges slavery" and "systemic racism."

These editing tactics are commonly used to influence readers, often without readers even realizing it.


Attorney General Barr also gave an important speech about the Constitution. The text is here:

The speech was a straightforward explanation of how the Justice Department is supposed to work, but predictably, leftist organizations and politicians performed outrage theater.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Good example of bias confirmation

The "worse than Watergate" guy, Bob Woodward (who always comes on CNN to explain that whatever Trump is doing is "worse than Watergate") has released a new book that is an awesome example of bias confirmation.

Here's one of the many articles about the book:

In the book, Kushner is quoted describing four texts people should "absorb" if they want to truly understand the President. Woodward writes the texts do not paint a flattering picture of someone who is both Kushner's boss and father-in-law.

Of course, Kushner's list of texts can also be explained as painting a flattering picture of someone (Trump) who understands human nature very well and knows how to get things done by employing that knowledge. 

It was clear to Woodward that none of this was meant to criticize Trump, just as a way to help understand him. That said, Woodward was surprised and writes, "when combined, Kushner's four texts painted President Trump as crazy, aimless, stubborn and manipulative. I could hardly believe anyone would recommend these as ways to understand their father-in-law, much less the president they believed in and served."

Look at that list of Woodward's adjectives, none of which are supported by either the texts Kushner cited nor the evidence of what Trump has actually accomplished. When combined, these for texts also paint Trump as someone who knows there is never just one point of view, only one possible decision, only one possible outcome, etc. He works in a world of multiple operating hypotheses, knowing that the best information surfaces through a competitive and confrontational system.

Which is similar to President Nelson's teaching that good inspiration comes from good information.


This is a good lesson in bias confirmation, but the article also includes an insight into how our M2C scholars, their employees and followers, influence the Church.

"And if people try to get a quick answer out of him, it's easy. You can get him to decide in your favor by limiting his information. But you better be sure as hell that people with competing views aren't going to find their way to him. And when that happens, he's going to undo his decision."

The M2C citation cartel employs every possible tactic to limit the information available to Church members. They seek to prevent members of the Church, as well as Church leaders, from getting information that contradicts their theories.

We've seen how the Saints book, for example, censored Cumorah. Cumorah was censored from the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon Geography. Joseph Smith's own statements about the Urim and Thummim were censored from the Gospel Topics Essay on the Translation of the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon Central continues to censor evidence and explanations that contradict M2C. Now they're doing the same with the Urim and Thummim. The entire M2C citation cartel participates in this, and it's amazing to watch.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

How memory works

Brief note from twitter:

It is vitally important to know that our changing memory is not a flaw but a feature of what it is like to be human. For it is this “memory drift” that allows us to “forgive and forget” and to grow. What was a crisis memory in the past may become less so in later perspective.

The most important understanding of the Human Brain is that memories are not stored in the brain a static thing.

We store memories in a dynamic way that keeps changing the perspective and relationships the memories have with each other.

Our memories keep changing and adjusting

Friday, July 31, 2020

Note on Producing Ancient Scripture

If you wondered why it is so difficult to reach consensus on basic issues such as whether Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, here's a fascinating example.

On another blog I've been discussing the book Producing Ancient Scripture.

Readers have been debating  the book at the FairMormon blog, here:

The participants are among the most prominent scholars in the Church today, all awesome people, smart, informed, etc.

You can see the range of opinions about the translation, the direction of the Maxwell Institute and other members of the M2C citation cartel, and even the Book of Abraham.

Notice the apparently unanimous agreement that Joseph "translated" with the "seer stone in the hat."

If you follow these issues, you know that people in the debate are essentially defending and promoting ideas they've been advocating for years. They are deeply invested in their ideas; hence the display of bias confirmation.

One lesson I take away from this: people will believe whatever they want (they develop a bias) and then find evidence to confirm their bias while ignoring, disputing, or not even seeing contrary evidence.

The exchange of ideas and facts is productive, even essential. We can only think and do things that we first imagine or conceptualize. After you read an exchange such as this, you are somewhat freer to make informed decisions for yourself.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Learn, unlearn, relearn

All the way back in 1970, Alvin Toffler provided an insight that is even more relevant today:

"By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education…Tomorrow's illiterate will not be the man who can't read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn."

now usually quoted as ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn’
Future Shock (1970)

Technically, there are problems with this statement. For example, those who cannot read in the 21st century are still illiterate. But Toffler's claim suggests that a person with obsolete knowledge has just as much a disadvantage as a person who cannot read. Maybe more so.

The learn, unlearn, relearn paradigm explains not only how we improve by adapting to rapidly changing knowledge and understanding, but also how we improve by converting to different ways of thinking and believing.

The paradigm can be applied in two ways. People learn (school, from parents, peers, school, etc.) When new knowledge comes along, if they are flexible and open, they unlearn what they had learned and relearn the new knowledge.

Everyone in the world has learned, from a young age, a framework for understanding the world. They learn language, customs, culture, and values, often (but not always) within a particular religious context.

As we mature, we learn new things that force us into a choice: we can incorporate new things into our existing framework, or we can unlearn that framework to adapt to the new things.

A couple of scriptures help apply these ideas:

54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
(Doctrine and Covenants 84:54)

1 Now, behold, I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them.
2 And you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened.
3 Nevertheless, it is now restored unto you again; therefore see that you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun.
(Doctrine and Covenants 10:1–3)

the end

Thursday, July 16, 2020

discovering the simulation

One way to achieve some degree of consensus is seeing more of the same movie on the screen. Here's an idea:

The closer a civilization gets to being able to program a simulated universe, the closer it gets to discovering it is one.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Good advice - assume nothing, question everything, etc.

Good advice:

1. See failure as a beginning. 2. Never stop learning. 3. Assume nothing, question everything. 4. Teach others what you know. 5. Analyze objectively. 6. Practice humility. 7. Respect constructive criticism. 8. Take initiative. 9. Give credit where it's due. 10. Love what you do.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Orson Pratt's prophecy

Journal of Discourses, vol. 18, pp. 335-348

Daniel's Vision—Nebuchadnezzar's Dream—Its Interpretation—The Coming of the Ancient of Days—Joseph Smith's Prophecy—Things Yet to Be Fulfilled—The Valley of God Where Adam Dwelt—The Establishment of the Kingdom of God—The Coming Millennium and Triumph of the Saints

Discourse by Elder Orson Pratt, delivered in the Eighteenth Ward Meetinghouse, Salt Lake City, Sunday Afternoon, Feb. 25, 1877.
Reported by Geo. F. Gibbs.

For instance, this great republic must pass away in the manner indicated unless the people repent. There is only one condition by which they can be preserved as a nation, and the Lord himself has decreed it. We can read it in the various revelations which God has given, respecting this land. 

The Book of Mormon, for instance, speaks in many places, of the overthrow of the government that should exist on this land if they should reject the divine message contained therein. Inasmuch as they repent not, the Lord has said that he would visit them in his anger, and that he would throw down all their strongholds. And he further says, that he will cut off their horses out of their midst. This will doubtless be done through some great calamity or disease. 

He also says that he will cut off the cities of our land, that all manner of lying, deceits, hypocrisy, murders, priestcrafts, whoredoms and secret abominations shall be done away, having reference particularly to this nation. He says, too, “I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.” We are told, too, that the nature of these judgments is to be swift and terrible, coming upon them like a fierce wind, when they expect it not; when they are crying peace and safety, behold sudden destruction is at their doors....

It has been revealed that the time will come in the history of our nation, that one State will rise against another, one city against another, even every man's hand shall be against his neighbor, until the whole Republic will be in general commotion and warfare. How and when this will take place, the Lord, in his wisdom, has not told us; but it is sufficient for us to say, that he has told us of the facts that such and such will be the case.
For aught we know, the fulfillment of this prophecy may grow out of politics. If the people are very nearly equally divided in politics, this feeling may run so high, in years to come, as to be the direct cause of war. And if this should be the case, it would very naturally spread to every neighborhood in the Union. 
One class of political opponents would rise up against the other class in the same city and country, and thus would arise a war of mobocracy.
If a war of this description should take place, who could carry on his business in safety? Who would feel safe to put his crops in the ground, or to carry on any enterprise? There would be fleeing from one State to another, and general confusion would exist throughout the whole Republic. Such eventually is to be the condition of this whole nation, if the people do not repent of their wickedness; and such a state of affairs means no more or less than the complete overthrow of the nation, and not only of this nation, but the nations of Europe, which form the feet and toes of that great image. They are the powers to be first broken; it is not the nation representing the head of gold, the remnant of the Babylonish Empire that still exists in Asia, that will be attacked first, neither is it the Persians and Medes, whose descendants still live; but the Lord will first break up those kingdoms which represent the feet and toes of the image, of which I have been speaking. After that, he will proceed to break in pieces the kingdoms that represent the brass, the silver, and the gold. Some are to be spared for a little season. The kingdom of God is to roll forth...

Monday, May 18, 2020

Friday, April 3, 2020

Chance to retool missionary approach

Now that most of the missionaries have been recalled to their homes of origin, there is an opportunity to retool the missionary program by trying a new approach.

We can look at the highly successful British Mission in 1840-1841 as an example (see below).

The table below compares the approach taken by the Apostles in the British Mission with the standard approach taken today in Church manuals, lessons, media presentations, visitors centers, magazines, etc.

As you consider these, realize that there is substantial extrinsic evidence to support both scenarios. You can find evidence from archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, linguistics, etc. to support whichever position you favor.

One happens to corroborate the prophets. The other happens to repudiate the prophets.

Which approach do you think would have more appeal? Which would generate more interest and bring more people to Christ?

British Mission 1840-1841
Joseph Smith translated ancient metal plates with the Urim and Thummim, an instrument created to enable prophets to translate ancient records and buried with the plates in the Hill Cumorah.
Joseph Smith didn’t really translate the plates but merely read words that appeared on a seer stone he found in a well. He didn’t even use the plates; they were covered with a cloth the whole time.
The Book of Mormon is an authentic history of real people who had the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Jaredite and Nephite nations fought final wars of extinction at the Hill Cumorah in western New York.
The Book of Mormon is an authentic history of real people, but we have no idea where they lived or who they were except that it was somewhere in the Western Hemisphere. All the prophets who taught that Cumorah was in New York were expressing their private, erroneous opinions.
The ancient mounds and burial sites in the midwestern United States are evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon (as stated by Joseph Smith).
The ancient mounds and burial sites in the midwestern United States have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. Instead, look to the stone pyramids of Mesoamerica.
The Indian tribes of the Northeastern U.S. are the Lamanites (D&C 28, 30, 32). As Joseph Smith wrote, “The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.” (Wentworth letter)
Early Latter-day Saints believed the Indian tribes in the Northeastern U.S. were the Lamanites, but actually the Lamanites are descendants of Mayans in Mesoamerica (who have completely different DNA than the Indians in the Northeastern U.S.)

The Church reportedly has $100 billion in liquid investments (probably reduced to around $80 billion now). Imagine a well-funded, re-tooled missionary message that focused on the teachings of the prophets instead of the teachings of the scholars.

It's an interesting thought experiment, at least.

Lessons from the British Mission

Modern missionary work could learn some important lessons from the British Mission in the 1830s and 1840s.

Then, as today, the Book of Mormon is the key to conversion. It's the instrument the Lord prepared to gather scattered Israel.

The missionaries in England in the 1830s and 1840s encouraged investigators to consider physical evidence as well as to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

Today, missionaries are told not to discuss, or even mention, physical evidence for the Book of Mormon. Investigators and the missionaries themselves are left wondering where all of these events took place.

Most investigators check the Internet. There, they learn four things:

1. DNA "disproves" the Book of Mormon (and the Gospel Topics DNA essay has little persuasive effect as a counter to the critics).

2. LDS scholars say the prophets and apostles have been wrong when they have taught that Cumorah is in New York.

3. LDS scholars generally agree the events occurred in Mesoamerica but strongly disagree about exactly where.

4. Non-LDS scholars see zero connection between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican civilizations.

Contrast this state of affairs with what the early Apostles did when they went to England.

Among other things, Parley P. Pratt published Oliver's historical letters in the Millennial Star, beginning with his second issue in June 1840. He published Letter VII in October 1840.

Not only was it a definite fact that Cumorah, the scene of the final battles, was in New York, but Pratt also editorialized about additional physical evidence. He explained, "If any further proof of the truth of the Book of Mormon were wanting than the spirit of inspiration and truth which is breathed into the soul of every honest man as he reads the blessed volume, he might easily find it in the ruins of cities, towns, military roads, forts, fortifications, mounds, artificial caves, temples, statues, monuments, obelisks, hieroglyphics, sculptured altars, aqueducts, and an endless variety of articles of husbandry, cooking utensils..."

Pratt mentioned physical evidence throughout North and South America. In our day, we have more detailed knowledge of these civilizations, including their DNA, and we see that what the Lord told us in D&C 28, 30, and 32--that the descendants of Lehi are the Indians living in New York, Ohio, and Missouri (where they had been relocated from the East)--fits the descriptions in the text in terms of anthropology, archaeology, geology and geography.

Now, let's compare the results of the two approaches to missionary work.

Brigham Young reported when he left in April 1841,

"We landed in the spring of 1840, as strangers in a strange land and penniless, but through the mercy of God we have gained many friends, established churches in almost every noted town and city in the kingdom of Great Britain, baptized between seven and eight thousand, printed 5,000 Books of Mormon, 3,000 Hymn Books, 2,500 [copies] of the Millennial Star, and 50,000 tracts, and emigrated to Zion 1,000 souls."

Assuming his numbers were correct, 7,000-8,000 converts in a year when there were only about 16,000 members total means nearly one convert per every two members. In terms of converts as a percentage of membership, this is 50%.

It means more than one convert per copy of the Book of Mormon printed.

Today, there are over 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon in print. There are nearly 16 million members, with around 300,000 converts per year. The chart below, from, is the conversion rate for the last few years, where it has declined from less than 5% to less than 2%.

Think of this. 50% vs 2%.

Obviously, when you have a smaller base, it's easier to grow at a rapid rate. We can't expect the success of the British Mission to continue today. We all know the challenges are different, etc.

Some things haven't changed. As in the British Mission, today's missionaries tell people to read the book, live the teachings, and pray about it.

But unlike today, the missionaries in the British Mission were not going around telling people there was no evidence of the Book of Mormon. 

And unlike today, the missionaries in the British Mission were not being taught before they left that the prophets and apostles were wrong about Cumorah in New York.

Instead, the British missionaries published and taught Letter VII. They encouraged people to consider the physical evidence.

And despite tremendous opposition, the missionaries in the British Mission succeeded in converting thousands of people, more than one for every Book of Mormon printed.

Printing numbers are irrelevant today when most people use electronic versions, but since more than 150 million physical copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed, a success rate comparable to the British Mission would have converted well over 150 million people.

Which is about what we should expect, given that we have the truth.

We all know there are myriad differences between 1840 England and the modern world in 2017, but those differences cut both ways. People may be more worldly and less religious, but communications are easier and there is far less opposition. Missionaries are free to travel and teach in most of the world, and the Internet gives additional access beyond that.

In fact, if the modern world is less religious and more skeptical than 1840 England, that's all the more reason to offer more evidence, not less.

We could start with a simple step.

Why not have missionaries teach the words of the prophets and apostles about Cumorah in New York? 

We may not have specific answers for the rest of the geography, but we have that pin in the map that takes the Book of Mormon out of the realm of mystical fiction, where it exists today in the minds of most of the world (and even in the minds of many members of the Church, especially those being taught an "abstract" fantasy map at BYU).

Once we as members reach unity by believing the words of the prophets on the Cumorah issue, then we can work on the rest of the physical evidence. 

Maybe, having exercised faith in the words of the prophets, we'll be in a position for the Lord to assist us (a topic for another day).

Now, here is the background on the British Mission.

After the keys of the gathering of Israel were restored to the earth to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple (D&C 110), Joseph sent Parley P. Pratt to Toronto, promising that his work there would "lead to the introduction of the gospel into England." Among his converts were John Taylor and Joseph Fielding. In 1837, Joseph sent Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde to England. They returned home in April 1838, having converted about 1,500 people in England.

In Far West in April 1838, Joseph received a revelation that the twelve should return to England (D&C 118). Here's a summary of their work from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

Departing in conditions of poverty and illness and trusting in the promises of God that all would be well with them and their families, most of the members of the Twelve made their way in various groups to Liverpool. By April 1840, they were together for the first time as a quorum in a foreign land. On April 14, 1840, in Preston, they ordained Willard Richards an apostle and sustained Brigham Young as "standing president" of their quorum. They held a general conference the next day in which they conducted Church business and further organized the mission. On the 16th they met again as a quorum and further planned their work. On the next day, they separated to various assigned geographical areas: Brigham Young and Willard Richards were to assist Wilford Woodruff with the work he had already begun among the United Brethren in Herefordshire; Heber C. Kimball was to return to the areas of his 1837-1838 missionary successes; Parley P. Pratt was to establish a mission home and publishing concern in Manchester; Orson Pratt was assigned to Scotland, where the work had already begun; John Taylor was to go to Liverpool, Ireland, and the Isle of Man; and George A. Smith was assigned to the area of the Staffordshire potteries. In time, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith would extend their work to London.

As a result of this mission, an additional 4,000 converts joined the Church by 1841.

I bolded Parley Pratt because he started the Millennial Star. The first issue was published in May 1840. Beginning with the second issue, Elder Pratt reprinted Oliver's eight historical letters as a continuing series under the title "A Remarkable Vision."

Letter VII was published in volume 6, October 1840. We can't tell how much of a role the letters played in the success of the mission, but popular demand for the letters led to them being printed in a special pamphlet in 1844. The introduction says, "We have frequently been solicited to publish, in pamphlet form, the following letters of Oliver Cowdery..." Thousands of copies were printed.

You can read the pamphlet here.

You can read the Millennial Star on google books here.

It's interesting that Elder Pratt offered evidence to support the Book of Mormon. In addition to Oliver's letters, he made comments such as this one on p. 117, after quoting 3 Nephi 10.

If any further proof of the truth of the Book of Mormon were wanting than the spirit of inspiration and truth which is breathed into the soul of every honest man as he reads the blessed volume, he might easily find it in the ruins of cities, towns, military roads, forts, fortifications, mounds, artificial caves, temples, statues, monuments, obelisks, hieroglyphics, sculptured altars, aqueducts, and an endless variety of articles of husbandry, cooking utensils, &c. &c. which are the product of some ancient race, who inhabited that land, and who had risen to a high state of refinement in the arts and sciences, as the relics of their labours prove—as they now lie scattered over a vast extent of North and South America, either on the surface, or buried beneath by the convulsions of nature, or the visitations of the Most High, as recorded in the fore-going extract; and which are frequently discovered and brought to light by antiquarian travellers.

Pratt followed those comments with an article about the travels of Stephens and Catherwood in Central America. Then he wrote, "For further testimony and proof positive of the Book of Mormon, we copy the following [the Testimony of Three Witnesses].

My take on all of this is that Elder Pratt accepted and endorsed Oliver's letters, including Letter VII. There was no question that Cumorah was in New York. Pratt suggested that ruins through the entire Western hemisphere were evidence to support the Book of Mormon, but he proposed it in a generalized way.

There is a definite contrast between the specificity of Letter VII, based as it was on the personal experience of Joseph and Oliver in Mormon's depository of Nephite records, and the generalized claim that evidence of advanced civilizations in ancient North and South America. Here are some of the excerpts from Letter VII as published in the 1840 Millennial Star.