“Welcome to Mormon.org chat.”

Missionary Chat

Screenshot from Missionary Chat taken Oct. 17, 2013. Screenshot by Brian Pellot

“A missionary will be with you shortly.”

“Please continue to hold for the next available missionary.”

What sounds like a customer service dead end is actually the automated start of a session on Missionary Chat, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ platform for online proselytizing.

Mormon.org launched in 2001 to provide an official portal for news and information about the Church. In 2008 the chat function was added, providing missionaries a new way to answer basic questions about their beliefs. Hundreds of baptisms have resulted from conversations that began on Missionary Chat in the past five years, and up to 5,000 strangers sign in each month.

I logged on to Missionary Chat one Sunday afternoon to see how the church’s teens and twentysomethings are using digital technologies to reach new audiences. Missionaries at chat centres in Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah greeted me with delight. Beyond Utah and the continental U.S., online missionaries cover multiple time zones in Hawaii, England and New Zealand.

Elder David F. Evans, executive director of the Church’s missionary department, recently discussed how new technologies and social media are changing the missionary’s traditional role.

“Social media and technology is a wonderful development for missionary work,” he said, noting that many young missionaries and church leaders are now using Facebook and Twitter to preach the gospel. The Mormon.org Facebook page has  4.9 million likes and @LDSChurch has more than 95,000 followers on Twitter. That’s impressive considering there are only about 15 million Mormons worldwide.

Evans expects that more missionaries will start using tablets, smartphones and new social media platforms to enhance their work in the coming year. “We anticipate that this technology and the use of digital devices will begin to be broadly available throughout all of the world where it’s safe to do so and where we can legally do so,” he said.

That legal caveat is a crucial one. At last count more than 80,000 Mormon missionaries were serving in over 150 countries. In many predominantly Muslim states and repressive countries like mainland China, Cuba and North Korea, Mormons are legally barred from preaching the gospel or converting new members to the church.

Mormon officials and missionaries say they respect those laws online as they do offline.

“Some governments have internet filters that block mormon.org along with other religious sites. In some cases people still get through, but we are aware of the laws and kindly explain the limitations we have in talking with them,” one missionary said. “When someone comes on from Pakistan, we get a prompt from the system indicating that we can answer questions that they have, but we can’t invite them to meet with missionaries or attend church.”

I asked a friend in Abu Dhabi, where proselytizing is illegal, to log on to Missionary Chat and see what happened. Rather than the friendly though somewhat generic greeting I received, his chat window said: “Missionaries are not available to chat with you at this time. You may return to Mormon.org to learn more. The chat session has ended.”

After a few hours chatting from London, I switched on my virtual private network and instantly relocated my Internet Protocol address to the United States. Millions of people in countries with internet restrictions use VPNs, proxies and other tools to fake their physical locations and experience an uncensored web.

Knowing this, and assuming missionaries and church officials do too, I was surprised that no one asked where I lived until the end of each conversation, when some politely asked to send missionaries to my home.

I filled out the “Request Missionary Visit” form using my London address and made a fake appointment in Pakistan, which is available in the “Select a Country” dropdown menu. Both prompted the message: “Thank you for requesting a visit from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You should be contacted by missionaries in a few days.” Such contact would presumably be illegal in Pakistan and in many countries.

Eric Hawkins, senior manager of media relations for the Church, said these apparent oversights should not be interpreted as foul play. “We go through the front door. We only proselytize where we’re formally recognized and welcomed by governments,” he said.

In addition to reaching new audiences, online missionary work serves other practical functions. Most Mormons who use Missionary Chat still spend a majority of their missions offline. Some work online full-time temporarily until they receive a field assignment. For missionaries with physical disabilities, the chat function allows them to serve in ways that would have once been impossible.

Tyson Boardman was born with congenital muscular dystrophy. He served a full-time online mission at the Provo Missionary Training Center in 2009. “Regardless of who you are, you can be an instrument in the Lord’s hands,” he said in a brief documentary.

Digital technologies may enhance proselytizing, but offline efforts are still necessary. Missionaries I chatted with noted that people cannot convert to Mormonism online because baptism requires physical contact, according to church doctrine.

Although 76 percent of missionaries are men, women also spread the gospel online and off. Last year the Mormon Church lowered the minimum age for missionary work from 19 to 18 for men and from 21 to 19 for women. I asked one female missionary: who made the change and why? “God did. It was announced at the General conference by our current prophet Thomas S. Monson and we believe it was a revelation from God,” she said.

Young missionaries work in teams of two. Women are paired with women and men with men, even online. When I asked why an individual’s sex mattered for Missionary Chat, one Mormon said, “those we work with are right next to us. [My partner] is two feet away from me. That way we can talk to each other and make sure we are on the same page.”

I asked missionaries what they hoped to accomplish via online chat. One said: “I think it has the potential to be more far-reaching. There are certain individuals that simply will not let people in their homes, but they will gladly participate in an online chat. The world is becoming more reclusive and suspicious of someone knocking on their door. This chat service provides a way for all people with internet access to have their questions answered about the church.”

Another added: “I really like that I get to talk to people from all over the world. It is sad that I don’t get to see them face-to-face, but I’m so happy that we are using this technology to spread the word of God.”

But surely there must be online trolls logging on to start a fight?

“People come here with different intentions. Many are insincere,” one missionary said. Another elaborated: “Some come on as a joke, some hoping to argue, but the majority are people who just want to know more. If those we chat with are crude, vulgar, argumentative, etc. we don’t hesitate to let them go and invite them to come back later.”

I logged on and tried a bit of light theological prodding and spamming to see how the missionaries would react. After trying to engage me for 30 seconds or so, one logged off with “Have a nice day!” Another signed off “God Bless.”

 A version of this post appeared in the winter 2013 issue of Index on Censorship magazine.

33 Comments

  1. A religion with a holy book that claims the Garden of Eden was in the US and non-whites have dark skin because of Cain or a curse sounds just as ridiculous online as it does in person.

  2. To people who know little or nothing about Mormonism, the missionaries they talk to through these chats may seem like a great way to answer questions about the church. But to those who are more familiar with the religion will find that any “deeper” questions will quickly result in the chat session being closed. To test this out for yourself, even if you don’t know anything about Mormon doctrine or history, try asking these questions and seeing how the missionaries respond:

    * Why does the introduction to the Book of Abraham (a crucial book of Mormon scripture that contains doctrine on the origins of God, the Creation, and His plan for mankind) say that it contains “the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus”, when the original documents have been proven to be nothing more than common funerary texts? The church’s position these days is that the papyrus simply served as a conduit for revelation – then why is it called a “translation”?

    * If Joseph Smith’s First Vision (when God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him as two distinct, corporeal beings to call him to become the prophet of the restoration of Christ’s true gospel) was the genesis of the creation of the LDS church, and “the greatest event in world history since the birth, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” then why wasn’t it included in the original publication of The History of the Church? Why wasn’t it mentioned in the Book of Commandments? Why wasn’t it included in the writings of the church, or indeed *anywhere* at all, until more than 20 years after the event supposedly occurred, and a decade after the church’s founding?

    * Mormons are taught that The Book of Mormon is said to contain the “fulness of the gospel”. They believe that due to centuries of re-translations, revisions, papal committees, protestant restructuring, etc., the Bible has lost many “plan and precious truths” from Christ’s original doctrine, and that because the Book of Mormon is a modern, direct translation from original scripture (the “golden plates”), it hasn’t lost any of the key elements of salvation. So what are they? Where in the Book of Mormon can one find essential Mormon doctrine such as: God having a body of flesh and bone that is separate and distinct from that of Jesus Christ; baptism for the dead; temple ordinances as practiced by the LDS church today; or the Plan of Salvation, including the pre-Existence and creation? Furthermore, if the Book of Mormon does contain the “fulness of the gospel”, then why the need for continuing revelation? Why the need for the Doctrine and Covenants? Why the Book of Abraham?

    If you were to ask these or similar questions to a missionary on the mormon.org chat, you would likely receive a “thanks for chatting, have a nice day!” and a prompt dismissal. Or, you would be told not to worry about these types of “anti-mormon” issues, and to rely instead on faith and on the feelings you receive when you pray. At best, you would be referred to a link to an apologetic essay that acknowledges these issues exist, but offers misdirection and circular reasoning rather than any kind of meaningful answers.

    But these are very real issues that many Mormons today face, and are in fact among the reasons that the LDS church is losing members “in droves”.

    So yes, if you want young Mormons to tell you how much their church values family, conservatism, and obedience, obedience, obedience, then by all means the mormon.org chat feature is the place for you. But if you’re looking for “meat” of Mormonism, rather than just the “milk”, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

    • judyblue. These are questions that the missionaries are not prepared to handle, because they are, or can be, contentious questions. If you are a non-member asking them, they are contentious and if you are a member, you should be asking someone else, like your bishop, or institute teacher, or someone like that. The thing is, they CAN be answered. And depending on how open you are, and on whether you want to doubt your doubts, or doubt your faith, you can know those answers, or find them for yourself.

      • Linda, these questions cannot be answered. I left the lds chyrch because of so many historical and doctrinal untruths. So if you can answer these questions please share. Please post them, I would really like to know the answers. If you can’t, please don’t just quote Uchtdorf, doubt your doubts. Where are the answers? Did you know that 70’s have left the church because they can’t get these answers. CES teachers are leaving because they have no answers, Bishops are leaving, stake presidents are leaving. Linda, look for answers yourself, you are being hoodwinked.

        • Dwight Rogers

          Critics claim that Joseph Smith made up the first vision account well after he organized the church and/or they charge that the first vision account evolved over time.

          Critics also claim that Joseph Smith was not telling the first vision in public in the 1830’s because he was still making it up and was still trying to settle on the details before he released it publicly in the 1840’s.

          This claim is not substantiated by the historic record. All of the following are early historic accounts of people hearing Joseph Smith or others relating the account of the first vision. All of these are during the time that critics allege Joseph was claiming to have seen only angels.

          For example, before December of 1829 Joseph Smith told people in Victor, New York, that God had “met” him like Paul at Damascus and “converted” him to the “true doctrine.”

          Plainsville Ohio residents heard from Cowdery, Pratt, Whitmer, and Peterson that Joseph Smith had seen God “personally.”

          In the fall of 1832 Lorenzo Snow heard Joseph Smith in Hiram, Ohio on seeing God.

          Missionaries tell of Joseph seeing God as recorded in the Fredonia Censor, 7 March 1832.

          By fall 1833 John Alger hears Joseph Smith speak of seeing God in Kirtland, Ohio.

          October 1834 Edward Stephenson and Joseph Curtis hear Joseph Smith in Pontiac, Michigan.

          August 1835, Samuel W. Richards hers a verbal report and also hears from LDS Missionaries while in Massachusetts.

          November 1834, Robert Matthews hears about the First Vision from Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio.

          November 1835 Erastus Holmes hears about the First Vision from Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio.

          August 1832, Mary Horne hears about the First Vision from Joseph Smith in Toronto, Canada.

          September 1837, William Appleby and a “huge congregation” hear about the First Vison from Orson Pratt in New Jersey.

          May 1839 Wendle Mace hears about the First Vision from the Prophet’s parents in Nauvoo, Illinois.

          Historic records show that Joseph told a consistent story all along. However, some reluctance to tell all details to every audience is understandable. You will recall that soon after receiving the first vision in 1820 Joseph told a minister he apparently trusted about his vision. The minister rebuked Joseph telling him that such visions had been done away with, that no one can see God, and that it was of the Devil. Joseph learned very quickly that persecutions were in store if he told the full story. Joseph Smith’s brother Samuel said “We were good folk until Joseph’s vison.” In other words, the Smith family was well respected and considered honest and hard working folk until the first vision. Then the criticisms started.

          It is understandable that there may have been some reluctance to include the detail that Joseph saw God It seems likely to me that Joseph and others who believed Joseph would have exercised some caution in who they told and how much they revealed.

        • Dwight Rogers

          The Book of Abraham remains one of the great witnesses of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. Why? Because he got so many things right that were unknowable through scholarship in his day. Many details in both the Facsimiles and in the text are supported by subsequent scholarly research and document finds not available in Joseph Smith’s day. Examples are available if interested.

          One of the most blatant mistakes that critics of the Book of Abraham make is that they don’t know the history of the papyri. Almost all of the papyri once in Joseph Smith’s possession are still missing. Joseph Smith translated only some of the papyri in his possession and evidence indicates that the portion he translated the text from is a long roll of papyri that is still missing. Joseph Smith had multiple long rolls of papyri and also some fragmented sections in his possession amounting to at least 125 feet of papyri. The long roll from which Joseph Smith translated is among those pieces still missing. Using historic records and bills of sale the papyri has been traced to the Woods Museum in Chicago where it burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871. However some small fragments from which Joseph did NOT translate are also described by eye witnesses. These fragments amount to a small percentage of the original collection and make about only 3 feet out of the 125 feet Joseph once had. These small pieces were not sold to the museum and, therefore, did not perish in th 1871 fire.

          The little bit of papyri that survive are not the long roll that Joseph Translated from. So when critics try to convince informed Mormons that Joseph Smith was a fraud based on little bit of papyri that survived they only demonstrate that they don’t understand the papyri and its history.

          Thus, when critics claim that the extant fragments don’t contain the text Joseph Smith produced we agree with them. This fact was published by the LDS Church in their official magazine less than two months after acquiring the papyri fragments. Several follow up articles were published complete with photos and explanations that the text found thereon is not the Book of Abraham text. Here are the first three articles:

          New Era in January 1968.
          Improvement Era, Jan. 1968, pp. 12-16
          Improvement Era, (March 1968-a): 17-18.)

          These articles published by the LDS Church are up front about stating that the content of these fragments are not the Book of Abraham. These articles state that the papyri fragments contain a part of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Egyptian Book of Breathings and that they do not the text of the Book of Abraham. Thus, critics make themselves look foolish when they demonstrate that they are unaware that three feet of papyri that were recovered are not the long roll that Joseph Smith translated from – the log roll still being missing.

          Discoveries such as “The Apocalypse of Abraham”,first published in 1897, “The Testament of Abraham which also surfaced long after the time of Joseph Smith, and many other ancient Abrahamic accounts now confirm many details in Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham – details that Joseph, nor anyone else from his time could have guessed. . Nobody in Joseph Smiths time had the information. Yet the Book of Abraham gets many details right that weren’t known in Joseph’s time.

        • Dwight Rogers

          Jewish traditions found in ancient texts contain details about Abraham’s life that were not available in Joseph’s Smith’s day but which mirror details in the Book of Abraham. Joseph Smith couldn’t have guessed these details and happen to get so many right, details which are now found in other ancient Abraham documents. The theory that he fabricated the translation does not hold up in light of current evidence; the information that he got correct wasn’t available during his lifetime. Two notable documents discovered well after Joseph’s lifetime are the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Testament of Abraham which contain many details that match Joseph’s translation. The Testament of Abraham was discovered in 1880. The Apocalypse of Abraham first appeared in England in 1898.

        • Dwight Rogers

          The critics argue that Joseph was wrong because the Book of Abraham text is not found on any of the eleven extant papyri fragments. What the critics don’t want to point out is that the fragments are only a small portion of the original material. Evidence shows that most of the Egyptian material once in the possession of Joseph Smith is still missing. Many eyewitnesses describe the roll of papyri from which Joseph Smith translated also describe other rolls and fragments from which he did not translate. The description of the small fragments from which he did not translate match the pieces that surfaced in1967. These are a few small fragments of Egyptian funerary texts in black ink only. Eye witnesses describe the long roll from which Joseph translated as having both black and red ink. The long rolls were sold after Joseph’s death and bills of sale trace them to the Woods Museum in Chicago which burned down in the great Chicago fire of 1871.

      • Judy, you hit the nail on the head. Please ignore the naysayers on here. Just because people leave the church doesn’t mean it’s not true as both you and I know. These are the latter days and many will find their faith weak. The more they kick against the church the more I believe in it.

        • “Just because people leave the church doesn’t mean it’s not true as both you and I know.”

          Setaf, your assumption could not be more wrong. There is not one atom in my body that believes any of the doctrine of Mormonism is true. However, if your belief works for you, then kudos.

      • Dwight Rogers

        According to several dictionaries the word “gospel” has various ways in which it is used ranging from meaning absolute truth to referring the Biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to being a reference to a type of music.

        The most central definition of Gospel is “the teaching or revelation of Christ.” The Gospel is the good news that Christ is the Savior and that only through him are we able to receive saving grace.

        That is the sense in which the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the Gospel. The Book of Mormon is full of the teaching about Christ and the atonement. That is the primary message of the Book of Mormon and it does contain that message its fullness.

    • Dear Judy, (And those who think that just because she says something is so, it is.)

      1. The Book of Abraham: Anyone who has taken the time to dig in to this issue, will note that many of the records from which the Book of Abraham is claimed to come were destroyed in the great Chicago fire. Those that remain do indeed Egyptian funerary texts. When one delves into Egyptian practices concerning their treatment of the dead, one finds some stunning parallels to current LDS beliefs and practices. As a young man in his late 20s or early 30s. Joseph Smith could not have known these things. There have also been several versions of a record of Abraham discovered concurrent to or subsequent to Smith’s record. These were unavailable to him when he produced the record, but compare favorably to what he claimed to be revelations from God. The Book of Abraham project at http://www.boap.org/
      will demonstrate that the case that you, Judy, present is not so cut and dried as you claim.

      The same may be said of the other contentions:

      http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith%27s_First_Vision/Accounts presents a summary of objections from non-LDS sources and LDS rebuttals.

      The Book of Mormon presents a re-opening of the heavens and revelation, which allows all truth to be sent forth from God through heavenly messengers and the Holy Spirit line upon line and precept on precept, as the Book of Isaiah says. Therefore, The Book of Mormon, by reasserting revelation opens the “fulness of the gospel.”

      As to continuing revelation, I am certain that many of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes of Jesus and the Apostles’ day asked the same question: “We have the Law of Moses,” said they. “Why do we need any new revelation?

      The scriptures claim that Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So if God revealed his will anciently, and he is the same, why would he not continue to reveal his will contemporarily?

      I hold a master’s degree in history, with an emphasis on American religions. I can tell those who read this, that history never approaches the cut and dried template that Judy wants to impose upon it. If, as a reader, you elect to approach these topics with a closed mind, you are welcome to your opinion, and I honor your right to think anyway you desire. However, if you believe in honestly intellectual inquiry, and finding truth for yourself, I invite you to dig deeper than Judy’s broad generalities.

      • Mike, I agree with you. I don’t think anyone should just take my word for it. I would encourage anyone who doubts my assertion of the Book of Abraham to read the excellently researched article here:

        http://www.mormonthink.com/book-of-abraham-issues.htm

        As for the First Vision accounts, thank you for pointing out the larger issue with the First Vision that I didn’t not even bring up. Overwhelmingly, FAIR’s articles about the issues with the First Vision cover the fact that there are conflicting versions – information which many people don’t know. However, if you read what I wrote more carefully, you’ll see that I didn’t mention these issues. I simply mentioned the fact that an account of the First Vision that coincides with the church’s current teachings was not published in the original History of the Church or Book of Commandments.

        • Judy,

          By all means, folks should feel free to read both sides. However, I note that until I brought up additional material and links, you seemed willing to allow folks to simply accept your opinion and unsubstantiated statements as truth. As a historian, I am, in fact, aware of all of the various accounts. As you see, and as others can see, as well, I do not shy away from presenting the opposing arguments as well as those that support my own understanding.

          The reason that I post has to do with you trying to assert, with no evidential support, that Mormons have no answers to your assertions. As anyone who reads may see, counter-arguments, and rather complete and involved ones, exist.

          Fair-minded persons will read both sides, evaluate the evidence and then test the way that each side sets forth for obtaining a correct perspective in order to come to truth.

          I would suggest that those who want to know about the Book of Mormon, for example, should read the Book of Mormon. If they so desire they may also read the comments of those who do not accept it as scripture, but I would also suggest that they read the accounts of those who assisted Joseph Smith during the process of producing and/or “translating” that work. I would also suggest that they try an experiment on each side of the argument.

          I suggest that after reading the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Abraham, or any other LDS standard work (scripture) that they do as those scriptures suggest. That they ponder over what they have read and then ask God if they are true.

          I will leave it to Judy to suggest the test to determine whether what she claims is true.

          • Links to the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants and the King James Version of the Old and New Testaments, together with cross-references and topical guides and dictionary may be found here:

            http://www.lds.org/scriptures?lang=eng&cid=rdscriptures

          • By the way, Judy, Do you plan to respond to anything besides the Book of Abraham material and the first Vision accounts? I also included discussions of the Book of Mormon or rather revelation as revealing how to obtain the Fulness of the Gospel, and presented an argument in favor of modern revelation based on Old and New Testament precedents.

          • Mike, my suggestion for a test would be to look at verifiable evidence rather than rely on emotions and feelings, especially emotions and feelings that you are trained to expect and told how to interpret.

        • Dwight Rogers

          MormonThink.com is disguised as a neutral website but it isn’t. It claims to be balanced due to supposedly presenting both sides of an argument. This is done by occasionally including a reference to FARMS or FAIR or something like that. But the best and most accurate first hand evidence is usually left out. The information presented by MormonThink resorts to using the typical skewed and out of context cherry-picked version of facts and history which leave out the best and most accurate sources of information. MormonThink heavily promotes and uses Grant palmer’s work “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”. This work has been shown by credible scholars to be inaccurate to say the least.

          MormonThink frequently criticizes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for lack of “transparency” yet MormonThink is operated by people who are not forthright about their own identities or purposes. MormonThink claims to be operated by faithful and active members of the Church when in reality it is operated by people who are not.

          For example, the Webmaster of MormonThink anonymously posted his true intent under the name “active-Mormon” on web site “‘I am the webmaster of MormonThink.com AMA’,” ex-Mormon reddit, Jan. 2012.

          In this post the webmaster of MormonThink admits under a pseudonym that that he remains in the church for appearance only. Notice that he says retaining membership in the Church “gives me greater credibility when speaking about my own religion.” Here is a person remaining in a church under false pretenses. Furthermore he says that he can work his purposes by “subtly mentioning things in meetings I may raise some doubts.” He says that he does not want to be a member but “I chose to be one” so I “can gently guide someone to further enlightenment about church history” and adds “I play the game to keep membership.” Here is someone who is dishonest and deceiving in his behavior and words. And Mormon-Think complains about the Mormon Church being non-transparent -????

          The webmaster further posted this:
          “I personally am still a member and I think I stay in mainly just to s[t]ay on top of the latest happenings in Moism and it gives me fodder to add to the website seeing the latest craziness the church is spewing out. We also have friends there and don’t want to lose them but we don’t let the church push us around and we take it on our own terms – no tithing, garmies or other things we disagree with.” (SpongeBob SquareGarments, responding to this praise on Recovery from Mormonism, April 20, 2012. )

          The attitude of MormonThink is illustrated by its link to a routine by the late comedian George Carlin called “Religion is BS” in which Carlin claims that all religion is phony. The webmaster of MormonThink posts in a number of online ex-Mormon message boards under names like “SpongeBob SquareGarments,” “mormonthink,” and “LDS Truthseeker.” His own words reveal the true purpose of MormonThink and it’s not to be objective or accurate:

          David Twede is a 47-year-old fifth-generation Mormon and the first managing editor of MormonThink.com. According to Reuters Twede posted on his blog that he understands that “some of what I wrote in my blog may have treated the church unfairly.” (Jennifer Dobner | Reuters – Sat, Sep 22, 2012)

          David Twede was excommunicated from the Church. A poster commenting on Twede’s excommunication expresses the obvious about MormonThink saying that “Mormonthink is an anti-mormon website.” And added, “If he was really just trying to give LDS a history lesson he wouldn’t have been afraid to share his name. He was purposefully hiding his identity because he knew the consequences of what he was doing.” (jesuscrisco, posted on Recovery from Mormonism, September 26, 2012.)

          Many people who post at sites like exmormon.org or mormonthink.org may are usually the very people who have fallen for a one-sided version of history and facts. There is a plethora of alleged “histories” of Mormonism written by people who quote third hand accounts or simply quote each other but don’t quote much from the primary and more reliable sources. Much of the information is cherry-picked from historic documents and distorted into anti-Mormon propaganda while the most accurate information is ignored. While appearing on the surface to sound good, they are, in fact, just repeating old out-dated arguments that have been debunked by credible historians and researchers.

          Some Mormons fall for this and leave the church.

          I am sure that there are other reasons people leave the church too so I’m not trying to unfairly lump them all into one category. Point is that they are probably not the most objective source to go to, especially if it’s the only source you look at. I would be very hesitant to take a disgruntled former Catholic’s viewpoint as accurately portraying the Catholic Church.

        • Dwight Rogers

          Critics claim that Joseph Smith made up the first vision account well after he organized the church and/or they charge that the first vision account evolved over time. They cite as evidence that each of the accounts contain details that are not in the other accounts. They also claim that the church published only one of the accounts and that it hides the others so that the public and the members of the Church won’t know that Joseph was making it up as he went.

          Real scholarship shows clearly that these claims are false but the arguments of the critics can have
          an impact on the uninformed.

          First, each of the four gospels contains details about Jesus and the events surrounding Jesus’ life that are not found in the other gospels. Additionally the gospels do not agree on the order of events. One gospel has one angel rolling away the stone and another has two angels rolling away the stone. There are four accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus. Some accounts say that the people with Paul heard a voice but saw nothing and the other accounts say that the people saw a light but heard not the voice. This does not mean that the gospel events did not happen or that Paul’s vision was not real. It simply means that multiple retellings of a true event bring out different details. These differences in the Biblical accounts are more contradictory to each other than anything in the accounts of the First Vision. Would those who criticize the accounts of Joseph Smiths’s First Vision also, then, apply the same standard to the Bible? Would they then reject the Bible?

          Second, scholars and historians know that multiple retellings of an event almost always results in different wording and even different details appearing in the several accounts, even when retold by the same person. A red flag is raised if the accounts are identical. Identical accounts mean that the claim to multiple retellings over time is false. Identical wording and details means that there is only one genuine account that was simply copied.

          A non-LDS scholar agrees:

          “Critics of Mormonism have delighted in the discrepancies between the canonical [1838 Pearl of Great Price] account and earlier renditions, especially one written in Smith’s own hand in 1832. For example, in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing. Any good lawyer (or historian) would expect to find contradictions or competing narratives written down years apart and decades after the event. And despite the contradictions, key elements abide. In each case, Jesus appears to Smith in a vision. In each case, Smith is blessed with a revelation. In each case, God tells him to remain aloof from all Christian denominations, as something better is in store.” (Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 171.)

          Third, the critics claim that the LDS Church is hiding the other accounts. Really? That’s a very interesting way of looking at it. The Church did a great job of “hiding” the accounts in the Ensign Magazine, BYU Studies, and publications available to the public at Deseret Book. Yes the Church is really hiding those accounts.

          Reality check:The Church has made no secret of the different accounts and has published them on multiple occasions and in multiple outlets. Critics claim that the Church is hiding these accounts but that has never been true. The accounts are not a problem with authenticity or honesty in the church but rather show the opposite – the honesty of the Church in making it’s history available. Credible scholars and historians reach the conclusion that variations in multiple re-tellings is normal and not a sign of dishonesty.

          Fourth: Critics claim that in Joseph Smith’s early accounts of the First Vision he saw angels but not the Father and the Son. They claim that Joseph Smith was developing the story over time and that he later modified the story to be the Father and the Son instead of angels. Their source for this claim is the Prophet’s diary entry of 14 November 1835 in which he says the “first visitation of angels” took place when he was about 14 years old. Critics say that this means that Joseph initially claimed only to have seen angels in the first vision but later changed to story.

          All anybody needs to do is look at another entry in the very same diary, just 5 days earlier, to see that this argument is utter nonsense. In Joseph’s diary entry on 9 November 1835 he says that during the First Vision he “saw many angels” in addition to the two exalted Beings who stood before him. So when he says in the 14 November 1835 diary entry that his “first visitation of angels” took place when he was about 14 years old, he is being very precise in what he is saying. He did indeed see angels for the first time in the Sacred Grove. In the earlier entry of November 9th he says: “a personage speared in the midst of this pillar of flame…another personage soon appeared like unto the first…and I saw many angels in this vision…I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication: When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision of angels.” (Joseph Smith to Robert Matthews, JS Diary, 9 November 1835)

          Joseph said all along that he saw two heavenly beings, the Father and the Son, and, in addition, he also saw “many angels.”

    • Dwight Rogers

      According to several dictionaries the word “gospel” has various ways in which it is used ranging from meaning absolute truth to referring the Biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to being a reference to a type of music.

      The most central definition of Gospel is “the teaching or revelation of Christ.” The Gospel is the good news that Christ is the Savior and that only through him are we able to receive saving grace.

      That is the sense in which the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the Gospel. The Book of Mormon is full of the teaching about Christ and the atonement. That is the primary message of the Book of Mormon and it does contain that message its fullness.

  3. Gregg Hadlock

    I know from personal experience that no one in the church will answer the tough questions. They simply do not have the answers. This is not to say they are not good people. They just believe in nonsense. I am a former missionary and did the same thing in my youth.

    • I kindly suggest that you simply did not talk to the right people, or perhaps failed to access the right material. After over a half-century in the church I have found sufficient answers to persist as a believer. I applaud your former service as a missionary, but you and anyone else who has served a mission (including the three that I have served) should understand that a single calling, devoid of serious religious and intellectual searching does not constitute authority to make sweeping pronouncements about the the truth or lack of truth in Mormonism.

  4. To answer those people with doubts against mormonism,i think it will be good to go back to our scriptures.it says;”it is hard the truth to be understood by the wicked.what did Christ say to doubting Thomas? we walk by faith not by sight.an evil generation seek after sign to believe.Joseph Smith did’nt wake up frm a dream,then came up with a church he was called of God to restore the truth.If there is questions unanswered about the truth,keep it to yourself you can ask during judgement.but remember,God’s ways are not our way.no o can understand the mistries of God,unless it is given him by God.

  5. I get a little tired of people posting their unsubstantiated statements that people are leaving the LDS Church in”droves”. As a current bishop, that is certainly news to me. I see wonderful people joining the church in my ward. I also see on a regular basis, those who have wandered, coming back. Most wards that I am aware of have more growth than not. So, while people may love to post inaccurate or unproven assertions to further their causes (I won’t even comment on what I think they are), something isn’t true just because someone can type it.

    • Most people who say people are leaving “in droves” are quoting a 2011 Q&A fireside with Marlin K Jensen, emeritus General Authority and former Church Historian. He acknowledged that the assessment that people were leaving the church “in droves” was true, and added that “since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now.”

      So yes, while there are no officially published accounts from the church regarding the number of resignations or totally inactive members, the statement isn’t completely unsubstantiated.

  6. “Social media and technology is a wonderful development for missionary work,” he said, noting that many young missionaries and church leaders are now using Facebook and Twitter to preach the gospel.”

    They’re preaching a gospel, but the wrong one.

  7. I agree with downtown dave. There is no need for the Book of Mormon when there is the Bible. This is per the end of Revelations. Choose one or the other. I choose the Bible as having authority over the false B of M.

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