This page is a work-in-progress by Jeff Lindsay, a Book of Mormon fan in Appleton, Wisconsin, who is solely responsible for its content. All views and opinions are those of your highly opinionated Webmaster, so be warned.
I once met a new convert, a college student, in my town of Appleton, Wisconsin, who showed me a couple of thick books loaded with accusations against the Church. She was upset and angry and planning to leave the Church. I tried to calm her down, and one by one, we discussed the arguments that were bothering her. Once one attack was diffused, she raised another, and another, and I think I helped her see that there was little merit to what she had raised so far, and that the bulk of the anti-Mormon material was truly deceptive. Then she just dug in her heels and said, "Well, it doesn't matter. If only 10% of all the things in here are true, that's enough to destroy the Church!" She left the Church, and if she had lived 2,000 years ago as an early Christian convert, I'm sure she would have left the Church then, too. After all, if only 10% of the things that the anti-Christians said were true, then that would be enough to destroy Christianity, right? (Oh, how I wish modern education would help people understand that critical thinking means more than just thinking of criticism.)
Anti-Mormon literature is amazingly ignorant of what Latter-day Saints really believe and especially ignorant of LDS authors have written in response to anti-Mormon attacks. Many of the common attacks against the Church are regurgitated arguments from the nineteenth century, arguments which have been thoroughly and carefully treated by responsible LDS writers who do much more than just talk about some warm feeling in their hearts. But the anti-Mormon writers and speakers of today make it sound as if no Mormon has ever dared to respond to their awesome arguments, and that the Church can only retreat and hide when faced with an intellectual battle.
But many anti-Mormons are not simply ignorant of our response. Some have entered into debates and discussions with Latter-day Saint scholars and have had their intellectual fallacies soundly exposed, yet they continue saying the same things and acting as if there has never been a response. This form of intellectual dishonesty, based on the common anti-Mormon attitude of "the end justifies the means," does great disservice to the cause of Christianity. Even if our position is wrong, the tactics of some of our professional anti-Mormon opponents reveal whom they really follow.
The intellectual weakness of the standard anti-Mormon position has been pointed out by a number of non-LDS writers. In one interesting example, two evangelical critics of the Church, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, presented a paper at the 1997 Evangelical Theological Society Far West Annual Meeting, April 25, 1997 that warned the evangelical community about the impressive efforts of LDS scholars and criticized the blind approach of typical anti-Mormon literature. Their article, "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" (later published in Trinity Journal, Fall 1998, pp. 179-205), is one of the most intriguing non-LDS articles I've ever encountered from critics of the Church. (One of several copies of it on the Web can be found at ComeToZarahemla.org, Ben Spackman's Website, or Cephas Ministry.)
Mosser and Owen note that anti-LDS writers have ignored the significant work of respected LDS scholars who are providing "robust defenses" of the LDS faith. In preparing their paper, Mosser and Owen did something that few critics have done: they have actually read a wide variety of LDS scholarly writings. As a result, they came to the following five conclusions:
The first [conclusion] is that there are, contrary to popular evangelical perceptions, legitimate Mormon scholars. We use the term scholar in its formal sense of "intellectual, erudite; skilled in intellectual investigation; trained in ancient languages." Broadly, Mormon scholarship can be divided into four categories: traditional, neo-orthodox, liberal and cultural. We are referring to the largest and most influential of the four categories--traditional Mormon scholars. It is a point of fact that the Latter-day Saints are not an anti-intellectual group like Jehovah's Witnesses. Mormons, in distinction to groups like JWs, produce work that has more than the mere appearance of scholarship. The second conclusion we have come to is that Mormon scholars and apologists (not all apologists are scholars) have, with varying degrees of success, answered most of the usual evangelical criticisms. Often these answers adequately diffuse particular (minor) criticisms. When the criticism has not been diffused the issue has usually been made much more complex.(Further analysis based on the paper of Mosser and Owen has been provided by Justin Hart in "Winning the Battle and Not Knowing It," in MeridianMagazine.com, an article in five parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. For an interesting example of the issues that Owen and Mosser have raised, see Paul Owen's rebuttal of anti-Mormon John Weldon's response to the original article of Mosser and Owen. Owen appears to be appalled at the "head-in-the-sand" approach of John Weldon, who has demonstrated the very problems that Mosser and Owen speak against in their paper and says that Weldon's anti-Mormon "intellectual narrow-mindedness" is "astounding."
A third conclusion we have come to is that currently there are, as far as we are aware, no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibility interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings. In a survey of twenty recent evangelical books criticizing Mormonism we found that none interact with this growing body of literature. Only a handful demonstrate any awareness of pertinent works. Many of the authors promote criticisms that have long been refuted; some are sensationalistic while others are simply ridiculous. A number of these books claim to be "the definitive" book on the matter. That they make no attempt to interact with contemporary LDS scholarship is a stain upon the authors' integrity and causes one to wonder about their credibility.
Our fourth conclusion is that at the academic level evangelicals are losing the debate with the Mormons. We are losing the battle and do not know it. In recent years the sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably while evangelical responses have not. Those who have the skills necessary for this task rarely demonstrate an interest in the issues. Often they do not even know that there is a need. In large part this is due entirely to ignorance of the relevant literature.
Finally, our fifth conclusion is that most involved in the counter-cult movement lack the skills and training necessary to answer Mormon scholarly apologetic. The need is great for trained evangelical biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians to examine and answer the growing body of literature produced by traditional LDS scholars and apologists.
Latter-day Saints who study the responses of LDS writers to anti-Mormon criticisms know that there are many excellent resources which completely refute or at least defuse many of the arguments hurled against us. These resources, found at places like FARMS, The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIRLDS.org), SHIELDS, and even my little Web site (including my Mormon Answers section), do not rely on blind faith and emotional feelings to deal with the critics. In fact, Mosser and Own are correct in observing that there are "robust defenses." In fact, many of the defenses turn the tables on the critics and leave them in intellectually untenable positions. In fact, we could turn around and ask them a few tough questions of our own (though never with the nastiness and "any-lie-will-do" approach that we see from many critics)--something I have gently tried to do on my new page, "My Turn--Questions for Anti-Mormons."
There is plenty of room for decent people to disagree with us. Most Protestants and Catholics who disagree with us are not "anti-Mormons" but simply people of another denomination. But when someone strives to stir up anger toward the Church and relies on misinformation or half-truths, then I'm inclined to apply the anti-Mormon label--especially when they do it for a living. On the borderline are well meaning people who feel an evangelical duty to battle "cults" (which tend to be any group that disagrees with them) and write articles regurgitating the sensationalist and shocking diatribes of full-blooded anti-Mormons. I tend to call such critics anti-Mormons as well (I sense that they usually don't mind the title, unless they are posing as "loving friends of the Mormons" in order to launch more effective assaults on our faith). Those of other faiths who disagree with us and engage in civil discourse with us about their differences are usually not "anti-Mormons" but perhaps simply critics or just adherents of a different faith.
Ed Decker's classic anti-Mormon work, The God Makers, is deliberately deceptive. He knows what the LDS Church really believes, having been a member himself before his excommunication. In obvious bitterness, he has turned on the Church with all the fury and deceit of hell. His movies and writings create the impression that temples are evil, scary places with devil worship, homosexuality, and conspiracy. He alleges that Mormons are plotting to take over the country and impose a theological dictatorship. He warns people not to pray to understand the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, frightening them with the idea that Satan will come and deceive them if they do. (Now who is it that doesn't want people to pray to Heavenly Father? Understand the answer to that question and you'll understand just who it is that guides Mr. Decker.)
One of the strangest and most dishonest tactics of some anti-Mormons is falsely claiming to have advanced degrees in order to buttress their credibility. An amazing example is Dee Jay Nelson, who gained the trust of many people by claiming to have academic credentials and an international scholarly reputation--all of which was entirely bogus. He was a con-man who led many gullible people out of the Church during the peak of his illegitimate career as an anti-Mormon lecturer. Others include "Dr." Walter Martin and the amusing "Dr. Dr." John Ankenberg (yes, he lists himself as "Dr. Dr." as if he had two doctorates, though he lacks even one - and no real Ph.D. with two degrees would describe himself as "Dr. Dr."!). The father of anti-Mormons, Doctor Philastrus Hurlbut, was actually named "Doctor" by his parents but lacked a degree. I'm not sure if he ever promoted himself as if he had the degree, but that title has been used by others to increase respect for that immoral and twice excommunicated anti-Mormon. Other questionable anti-Mormon "Drs." include John Weldon, and James White.
Even for those who do not outright falsify their degrees or relationship to the Church, dressing up one's credentials is still fairly common among anti-Mormons. Most recently, Grant Palmer has palmed himself off as a high-placed "insider" in the Church, making much of his experience as a former "director" of the institutes of religion in the Church Educational System, which sounds impressive to those who don't know it just means an instructor in the Church's seminary program. Seminary teachers are hardly "insiders"--no more so than any other active member, in my opinion. He also boasts of having been a High Priest group instructor, which also sounds impressive to those who don't know that most adult males, when they get old enough, tend to end up in the local High Priests group, and that many of them will have a turn at being the instructor. These are hardly impressive of credentials for such an "insider." In fact, I'm a High Priest, too, and have been an instructor in my group, and I even taught early-morning seminary for a short while, though not as a full-time employee of CES. But to his credit, Palmer is not simply fabricating titles or degrees, but is just making them seem more impressive than they are. (For a discussion of Palmer's attacks and his highly questionable approach, see Louis Midgley, "Prying into Palmer," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2003, pp. 365-410, available online for FARMS subscribers.)
Michael T. Griffith has a page showing some of the tactics of a prominent anti-Mormon. It illustrates how some anti-Mormons seem to deliberately distort LDS writings to achieve their own questionable purposes. The anti-Mormon in this case is Mr. Bill McKeever, the director of the anti-Mormon group Mormonism Research Ministry. I have also corresponded with Mr. McKeever and encountered yet another tactic that typifies many of the self-appointed cult bashers on the Internet. I grew frustrated that my responses to lengthy lists of charges and allegations were largely ignored, and simply followed by other lengthy letters loaded with more allegations and accusations than I could possibly deal with. Any issue I addressed was ignored and followed by additional long letters on new topics. Soon it was clear that the communication was intended to be only one way. It took many requests and finally a complaint to McKeever's e-mail provider before Mr. McKeever would quit sending me unsolicited lengthy anti-Mormon articles.
Another interesting resource on the tactics of anti-Mormons is Wade Englund's Critique of the Critics, which catalogs the types of errors and tactics used by anti-Mormons.
Dishonest use of published materials is often a hallmark of anti-Mormons, such as Reverent Walters, who stole documents and destroyed any credibility in their provenance in an attempt to prove that Joseph Smith was convicted of "glass looking" in 1826, as described on my page Questions About Prophets. More recently, the Tanners (Jerald and Sandra Tanner) have established the improper use of documents as a primary modus operandi. They have demonstrated this many times. Some recent information is available at http://www.lds.org/med_inf/new_upd/19991110_Lawsuit3.html, http://www.lds.org/med_inf/new_upd/19991105_Lawsuit2.html, and http://www.desnews.com/dn/view/1%2C1249%2C125015585%2C00.html?.
Among the specific tactics used by anti-Mormons, an especially interesting one is their creative use of definitions to classify Mormons as a cult or as non-Christian. Ironically, the non-standard definitions they craft would also condemn Christ and His early disciples in the New Testament as cultists and non-Christians. For details, see my page, "Do Latter-day Saints Belong to a Cult?" For a tongue-in-cheek demonstration of related anti-Mormon techniques, see my spoof page about an exciting new software product, CultMaster 2000.
A useful resource for information of major anti-Mormons and anti-Mormon organizations, with links to refutational material, is the Critics Corner at Shields-Research.org.
An excellent resource exposing many anti-Mormon tactics is They Lie in Wait to Deceive, Volumes 1-4 by Robert and Rosemary Brown.
The fact is that evangelical Protestantism represents a faction, no more, of a minority faction, no more, of Christianity. That faction arose, relatively late, in northwestern Europe, and it is still basically dominant only among those of northwestern European extraction. It is distinctly a minority in Italy and Brazil and Mexico and Spain and France and Argentina, and it is virtually invisible in Greece and Romania and Russia and Armenia and the Ukraine, to say nothing of Syria, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq.
Latter-day Saints do not claim that their faith-group is exhaustive of Christendom. We recognize that there are Catholic and Orthodox and other Christians. Some evangelical Protestants seem reluctant, however, to grant that the Copts or the Catholics are Christians at all. Some say so implicitly, and others have told me so explicitly, under direct questioning.
Latter-day Saints do, of course, claim that God has acted to restore the true fullness of Christianity, and that that fulness is embodied in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such a claim can seem arrogant, and I, for one, would be very hesitant to make it -- indeed, I would refuse to make it -- were it not for the presupposition of direct revelation that undergirds it.
To assert, as some evangelicals have declared directly to me, that they alone are Christians, and that they have arrived at their unique Christianity by virtue of their own reading of the Bible -- implicitly dismissing the other claimants to Christianity as either preternaturally stupid or irrationally evil or some mixture of the two -- seems to me both arrogant and, in view of the fact that the preponderant majority of world "Christians" hold to different opinions, quite unlikely to be true. Even to claim that evangelical Protestants alone are "biblical" or "orthodox" Christians, seems an improbable and smug declaration.
That is the point. Ironically, Latter-day Saints rely, here, upon God's grace, where some of my evangelical interlocutors -- the ones that I have in mind -- seem quite evidently to trust in their own understanding.
Hugh Nibley: The Father of Mormon Scholarly Apologetics
Hugh Nibley is without question the pioneer of LDS scholarship and apologetics. Since earning his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in 1939, Nibley has produced a seemingly endless stream of books and articles covering a dauntingly vast array of subject matter. Whether writing on Patristics, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the apocrypha, the culture of the Ancient Near East or Mormonism, he demonstrates an impressive command of the original languages, primary texts and secondary literature. He has set a standard which younger LDS intellectuals are hard pressed to follow. There is not room here for anything approaching an exhaustive examination of Nibley's works.(1) We must confess with Truman Madsen, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion at Brigham Young University: "To those who know him best, and least, Hugh W. Nibley is a prodigy, an enigma, and a symbol."(2)
The few evangelicals who are aware of Hugh Nibley often dismiss him as a fraud or pseudo-scholar. Those who would like to quickly dismiss his writings would do well to heed Madsen's warning: "Ill-wishing critics have suspected over the years that Nibley is wrenching his sources, hiding behind his footnotes, and reading into antique languages what no responsible scholar would every read out. Unfortunately, few have the tools to do the checking."(3) The bulk of Nibley's work has gone unchallenged by evangelicals despite the fact that he has been publishing relevant material since 1946. Nibley's attitude toward evangelicals: "We need more anti-Mormon books. They keep us on our toes."(4)
No doubt there are flaws in Nibley's work, but most counter-cultists do not have the tools to demonstrate this. Few have tried.(5) It is beyond the scope of this paper to critique Nibley's methodology or to describe the breadth of his apologetic.(6) Whatever flaws may exist in his methodology, Nibley is a scholar of high caliber. Many of his more important essays first appeared in academic journals such as the Revue de Qumran, Vigiliae Christianae, Church History, and the Jewish Quarterly Review.(7) Nibley has also received praise from non-LDS scholars such as Jacob Neusner, James Charlesworth, Cyrus Gordon, Raphael Patai and Jacob Milgrom.(8) The former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, George MacRae, once lamented while hearing him lecture, "It is obscene for a man to know that much!"(9) Nibley has not worked in a cloister. It is amazing that few evangelical scholars are aware of his work. In light of the respect Nibley has earned in the non-LDS scholarly world it is more amazing that counter-cultists can so glibly dismiss his work.Footnotes from the above passage:
1. FARMS is currently working on a twenty volume collection of Nibley's works, ten of which are already published (abbr. CWHN).
2. Truman Madsen, foreword to Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh W. Nibley, edited by Madsen (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), ix.
3. Ibid., xiv.
4. Quoted by Madsen, ibid., xi.
5. In fact, the only substantial evangelical interaction we have seen to date is James White's 56 page (single spaced) disputation of the proper syntax of the pronoun in Matthew 16:18. This paper can be acquired from the Alpha & Omega Ministries Internet site.
6. For a sharp critique of Nibley's methodology from an LDS perspective see Kent P. Jackson in BYU Studies 28 no. 4 (Fall 1988):114-119.
7. Specific references can be found in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. and FARMS, 1990), 1:xviii-lxxxvii.
8. See the contributions by these men in volume one of Nibley's festschrift By Study and Also by Faith.
9. See Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 147 n. 105.