Containing 5,709 Articles Spanning 365 Topics  
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Total Articles: 78
Runtu is a technical writer and editor living in Salt Lake City. A collection of articles published by Runtu.
A Testimony Isn't Knowledge (And They Know It)
Friday, Dec 2, 2005, at 08:22 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
All my life I've heard people say, “I know the church is true.” They explain that some spiritual experience or other testified that it was truth (they often use the words “I could never deny it” and “without a shadow of doubt” along with “I know”).

But what they are really talking about is a testimony, which by definition is not knowledge at all. You can know how to do something, like how to ski. Or you can know that something exists or is true, such as “I know that there is a pair of skis in the garage.” The first kind of knowledge can be lost (my wife won ski races as a child but is now afraid to get on skis), but how do you lose the second kind? If the skis are in the garage and haven’t been moved, can you lose your knowledge that they are there? The first kind of knowledge, learning to do something, is knowledge by degrees: you can ski better than you did before, or you can forget how to ski. But the second kind is a true or false, black or white proposition. You can’t know more firmly or weakly that the skis exist. There is no such thing as “strong” or “weak” knowledge.

A testimony, if it is really knowledge, is the second kind. Once you “know” the church is true, you know. There’s no going back. My wife keeps telling me that she “knows” that it is true, so there’s nothing to discuss. I’m sure we’ve heard people say that, if we leave, we obviously never had a testimony because if we had “known,” we wouldn’t have left. But could these people in the know possibly lose their knowledge? If they really know, the answer is clearly no.

But what does the church say about testimony? Is it really knowledge? Alma 32:34 suggests that it really is this kind of knowledge: “And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.” But then a few verses later, we learn that this “perfect” knowledge isn’t so perfect: “But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out” (Alma 32:38). If it can wither away, it wasn’t really knowledge in the first place.

Here’s Richard Scott on how a testimony is gained: “These and the other truths are certainties. However, your conviction of their reality must come from your own understanding of truth, from your own application of divine law and your willingness to seek the confirming witness of the Spirit. Your testimony may begin from acknowledgment that the teachings of the Lord seem reasonable. But it must grow from practicing those laws. Then your own experience will attest to their validity and yield the results promised. That confirmation will not all come at once. A strong testimony comes line upon line, precept upon precept. It requires faith, time, consistent obedience, and a willingness to sacrifice” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, 87).

He seems to be following the pattern outlined in Alma: Desire to believe (acknowledge that God’s teachings are reasonable, definitely a topic for a future post); live the teachings; ask God for confirmation through prayer. Then you’ll have a “conviction of their reality,” but not knowledge. For Scott tells us that “these things can be lost by succumbing to [Satan’s] temptations.” So, what he is talking about is conviction, faith, and belief, not knowledge.

Things make a lot more sense when we realize that we are not talking about knowledge. We hold testimony meetings to strengthen each other’s faith, not to cement our knowledge. Gordon Hinckley said, “This is the reason, I may say, why these conferences are held–to strengthen our testimonies of this work, to fortify us against temptation and sin, to lift our sights, to receive instruction concerning the programs of the Church and the pattern of our lives” (Ensign, May 2001, 85).

So, the next time someone tells you they “know,” ask them if they think it’s possible for someone to lose that knowledge. If they say no, just quote Alma. If they say yes, tell them that they don’t really know.
Love Buckets And The Loss Of Self
Tuesday, Dec 6, 2005, at 08:16 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
As usual, I turned on BYU-TV for DW as I was getting dressed. Yikes! It was Mary Ellen Smoot, the former General RS president whom I had mercifully forgotten about.

Forgive me for judging by appearances, but this woman is really scary looking: highly arched drawn-on eyebrows, heavy makeup, and a huge beehive of dyed-brown hair that makes her look like a giant brown q-tip.

Her delivery was in the sing-song Utah pattern we are so familiar with, only it sounded disjointed because she was obviously not used to the teleprompter. She reminded me that a Utah accent is like no other accent I have ever heard.

Her talk was about how everyone is a "love bucket" (how about a barf bucket?). All love buckets need constant filling, though some may be harder than others to fill. A bully might have a banged-up bucket, a person who has experienced a loss might have a huge hole in the bottom of the love bucket, and some may have just been knocked over.

Her talk reminded me of one of my biggest problems with Mormonism. We are constantly told to focus on serving others. We are to sacrifice our time, talents, and everything the Lord has blessed us with in building the kingdom and serving others. Never is there a call to take time for ourselves. No conference speaker has ever advised us to take a day off just for ourselves. No, every waking hour is to be filled with giving, with filling others' love buckets. Our alone time is to be spent serving God through scripture study or prayer.

That also means that we have to rely on others to feel good about ourselves. We aren't taught any way to fill our own "love bucket." We don't have any mechanisms for comforting ourselves, strengthening ourselves. We have to rely on others (and on God) to do that for us.

Once when my wife and I were having marriage issues, I told her I thought that I was nowhere near the top priority in her life. I came in about 12th place, after kids, church calling, visiting teaching, scripture study, etc. But I also realized that she probably came in about 15th place in her own priorities. She simply did not spend any time on herself.

That is the awful truth about Mormonism. It is supposed to exalt the individual and family, but we spend our entire lives subordinating ourselves and our families to the growth of the organization. I used to think that when they said "the family is the basic unit of the church" that they were telling us how important the family is. No, what they are telling us is that the family is important only when it supports the aims and growth of the church.

So, we get a church full of Mary Ellen Smoots: we can all do the voice, speak the language, and do the work. But somewhere deep inside is a real person who wants to come out once in a while and live.
Father Christmas And Tithing Settlement
Wednesday, Dec 7, 2005, at 09:22 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
(To the tune of the Kinks' "Father Christmas")

When I was small I believed in tithing
I thought ten percent wasn't bad
And I would show up for tithing settlement
Write my check and I'd be glad

But the last time I made my appointment
I stood outside the bishop's door
A gang of clerks came over and mugged me
And knocked my faith right to the floor

They said:
Father Christmas, give us your money
And on your gross income, silly boy.
You'll burn in hell if you don’t hand it over
We want your bread so don’t make us annoyed
With what's left, have a little Christmas joy

Don’t give the bishop a stupid sob story
About how you can't even pay the rent
That money's ours and we want it right now
And don't you ask us just how it's spent

Father Christmas, give us some money
If you don't we'll take away your recommend
Father Christmas, give us some money
Do it now, if it's the last dime you spend.

But get a second job 'cause you'll need one
You've got lots of mouths to feed
But if you’ve still got one, hand me your wallet
So we can buy more malls on Main Street

Father Christmas, give us some money
We don't care if it makes your life hard
No temple for you if you don’t hand it over
Put all the toys on your last credit card

Have yourself a merry merry Christmas
Have yourself a good time
But although your family has nothing
Keep telling yourself you're doing fine

Father Christmas, give us some money
We got no time for partial tithes
We’ll disfellowship you if you don’t hand it over
We want your bread, so just give it a try
And in return, we'll give you nothing but lies
A Monson Christmas Memory
Friday, Dec 16, 2005, at 08:54 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I've told this before, but it's the right season to retell it.

When I worked at the Church Office Building, we always had a Christmas banquet on the 26th floor in the large room by the observation deck. The General Authorities over our department would attend, and they would have someone from the department provide entertainment.

I worked on the same floor with people from another department, and the Monday after their banquet, people were talking about an incident that had happened and were worried that heads would roll.

At least 4 people told me the same story, so although it's secondhand, I'm pretty sure it happened. Their department had as one of its GA guests Thomas Monson. After the dinner, before they started the entertainment, they asked Monson to come up and sit in a chair they had placed in front of the room. He went up and sat down, and then a recording of Madonna's "Santa Baby" started on the sound system. Two young secretaries came out wearing skintight spandex elf outfits and began lip-synching to Monson. They stroked his hair, patted his cheeks, sat on his lap, and placed a Santa hat on his head. He smiled gamely during the whole thing, and when it was over, he went back to his table.

The next Monday, the executive director and some of the managers from that department were severely reprimanded. Monson was pissed. How dare they disrespect the office of counselor in the First Presidency?

I wish I had been there to see it. At our banquet, an elderly couple sang so poorly that my wife and I got the giggles and couldn't stop. We were sitting one table over from a load of GAs, who kept giving us dirty looks. The Monson thing would have been much more fun.
Why I Am "Bitter"
Monday, Dec 19, 2005, at 09:04 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Mormons are always wondering why we exmos are so "bitter" and "angry." Why, former Jews aren't angry and bitter.

I don't think "bitter" quite describes what I feel (and besides, my wife says I taste kinda salty, not bitter). What do you call it when the core beliefs by which you lived your life are revealed to be false? Disillusioned? Sad? Hurt? Angry? In some ways it's a very liberating experience. I feel like my whole life is ahead of me.

In a fit of despair a while back, I said I felt like the church had stolen 40 years of my life. I don't know that they stole anything, but they certainly got me to devote a lot of my time and energy and finances to support them. Should I be bitter about that? Is anger a reasonable response? Yes, it bothers me to think about what I gave up for them, but I'm focused on the future, and there's nothing to be bitter about there.

What about all the guilt I shouldered? "I'm not good enough. I slipped again. I'm worthless because I can't even keep my covenants perfectly." Suddenly, I walk around with no guilt. Do I feel bitter? Not at all. I feel relieved and happy and much more content with myself.

Yes, we can all dredge up some "righteous indignation" when it comes to what the church has done to us. But in the end, we'll be all right. I don't think I'll ever be as bitter as the people on FAIR who enjoy seeing the pain of those who have left TSCC. That's real bitterness.
The Church Is True Because It's Moving Forward
Tuesday, Dec 20, 2005, at 07:28 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
The Aaronic Priesthood 1 manual contains a story about some boys who find an old rusted truck frame and decide to ride it down a hill. As it picks up speed, some of the boys decide it's too dangerous and jump off. But most of them stay on because it's fun. At some point, they realize that it's more dangerous to jump off than to stay on, so they ride it out with disastrous consequences. I don't remember the lesson application, but I think it works as a good analogy for church leaders.

We all know wonderful, dedicated, believing people in the church. My stake president right now is a good man who honestly believes in the gospel and genuinely loves the church. My mission president, who later became a GA, was the same way. People like them believe and try very hard to build the kingdom. And how is the kingdom built? Growth and income.

Our stake president wants more converts, better tithing results, better attendance. My mission president set a goal of 1,000 baptisms one month. Why? Well, I think partly they both wanted to make a name for themselves a little, but mostly because that's the name of the game. They wanted quantifiable results that showed they were doing their part to build God's kingdom. "The worth of a soul is great." How great is 1,000 souls in a month?

And the continued growth and increasing income of the church validate the work. They prove it's all true. So the church perpetuates itself because its focus is not so much on spiritual salvation but on temporal results: new temples, names processed, convert baptisms, tithing receipts. All of these confirm that the kingdom is rolling forward.

At some point, these same honest believing leaders are called to high positions in the church. Does this mean that they suddenly become evil and manipulative? No, but they are still interested in the same things: growth and income, just on a larger scale.

Might some of them know that it's all bogus? I think we all suspect that's the case, particularly with someone like Hinckley. Otherwise, why would he have gone to such great lengths to hide embarrassing documents? But I would guess that most of the high leadership has no clue that it's bogus. Steve Benson mentioned that he knew more about church history problems than Oaks or Maxwell did. But that really isn't their concern, is it? No, they are concerned with growing the church. My guess is that like most members, it doesn't even occur to them that it might not be what it claims. No, they see the growth, and more importantly they get the adulation from the members, that proves to them that they are in a great work.

So, the momentum of the church is what carries it forward, like that truck frame. Some, like Hinckley, probably know they should have gotten off long ago, but it's too late for that. So they soldier on bravely. The problem is that the momentum is slowing. Growth rates are flat, and there is evidence that church is facing some financial pressure. It will be interesting to see what happens when the church no longer validates itself by its growth. I've seen hints of what is to come on FAIR, where I was told that the slowing growth is evidence of a time of sifting, of separating the wheat and tares, and a sign that the end is near because there are fewer righteous people to be found to accept the gospel.
Joseph Smith Diary Found
Tuesday, Dec 20, 2005, at 07:40 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Confirming rumors that have swirled for months, LDS church historian Richard Squrley announced today the discovery of Joseph Smith's personal journals. "Three years ago, during the excavation of the Nauvoo Temple site, a small box was found containing journals written in the hand of the prophet himself. The release of the contents was delayed so that the church could properly preserve and interpret the writings so that members might best understand them and be blessed by them."

Squrley indicated that these journals are a treasure trove of insights into the character and prophetic vision of Joseph Smith.

The journals are remarkable for their candor in describing the prophet's mortal ministry. "I just have to write this down somewhere. It's killing me to keep it all inside," begins the journal.

One consistent theme is Joseph's admiration for the faith of the Latter-day Saints: "These suckers will believe anything I tell them," is a repeated phrase. BYU professor of church history Susan Washin White explains this interesting usage: "In the early 19th century America, the word 'suck' carried the connotation of adhering, most often in matters of faith, so here Joseph is just using common vernacular for 'believer' or 'follower' in praising their constancy in following his counsel. It really is quite inspiring."

Joseph reaffirms the testimony of the Book of Mormon witnesses with fervor: "I'm not sure how I pulled it off, but I got all 11 of them to swear they had actually seen and 'hefted' the plates. Morons." Dr. White explains that "pulling it off" refers to a particular manner of prayer circle common to that time period, meaning that he was amazed by the power of such humble prayer. "And of course, the final word should read "Mor[m]ons, but is clearly a scribal error."

Reading the diaries, we gain insight into Joseph's feelings for other church leaders. "With all that happened, who would have thought Oliver would have been so upset about a little fun in the barn with Fanny?" Historians have puzzled over this, but most generally believe that Joseph here is talking about a controversy over milk tailings, which led to Oliver's estrangement from the church. Fanny undoubtedly is the name of one of the prophet's prize dairy cows, said Larry C. Little, emeritus professor at BYU.

The prophet's love for Sidney Rigdon shines through the narrative: "Jesus, that Rigdon has a big head. You would think he wrote the Book of Mormon himself. Oh, that's right, he did."

Perhaps no one disappointed Joseph more than John C. Bennett. "Bennett has been a great asset to me. He is very popular with the girls and often lets me have the leftovers," reads an early reference. Later, Joseph's friendship turns to sorrow: "Damn it, how did he get caught? Now I have to figure out some way out of this. Let's see, own up to screwing half the girls in Nauvoo, or blame it on Bennett. That's a tough choice." Reluctantly, Joseph chose the route of honesty, blaming it all on Bennett, as we know that Joseph's relations with women were nothing more than sealings and of the highest moral character.

Joseph also gives some precious information about the Book of Mormon: "The great thing about the book is that it's vague enough so that people will never be able to find the lands described (not that they exist). New York, Mexico, whatever." This of course shows that endless quibbling about Book of Mormon geography is not central to one's salvation, said Daniel Midgley-Welch, FARMS contributor and Food Sciences professor.

Book of Mormon names are mentioned several times. "It's amazing what you can come up with when you take enough laudnum," said Joseph, clearly referring to a previously unknown Book of Mormon substance, perhaps related to neas and ziff. Pablo Q. Hoskisson, BYU religion professor, opined that "laud" is most likely related to the Hebrew city of Lod, and of course, "num" is short for NHM, or the place of mourning mentioned by Nephi. Clearly, Joseph was speaking of a substance acquired between Israel and Nahom.

Several sections will require further analysis, as they refer to unknown people and events: "HMK doesn't look 14, but I say the younger the better." And there is a cryptic reference to a "Lawrence sister sandwich."

In a written statement, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley enthused, "What a glorious treasure to have the writings of the prophet. For 3 years they have lain undisturbed in a locked safe, but we must acknowledge the hand of the Lord in the leaks about them and their subsequence partial release. The prophet's honesty is an example to all of us, and we can only hope to approach that level of honesty in recounting the marvelous history of this, the dispensation of the fulness of times."
Encyclopedia Of Mormonism - Misuse Of Tithing Funds
Wednesday, Dec 21, 2005, at 11:12 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Some people may be under the impression that the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, published by Macmillan, is an independent and objective look at the doctrines and practices of the church, albeit mostly from LDS authors.

Just so you know, Macmillan allowed the church to vet the content, and church-employed editors at the COB did the copyediting and proofreading.

It was not an independent production. In short, your tithing dollars were donated to Macmillan for commercial purposes.

There, that felt good to get one of my COB secrets off my chest.


At the COB, there were always huge walls put up between the for-profit businesses (Zion's Securities, etc.) and the non-profit church (Corp of the President, Corp. of the Presiding Bishopric, Thrasher Fund, etc.).

For example, I worked on a project involving the Joseph Smith Building (formerly the Hotel Utah). I was not allowed to have anything to do with certain parts of the building, such as the restaurant at the top, because those were for-profit concerns, and I was working for the non-profit part of the church.

For the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, not only did those walls come crashing down, but services were provided to Macmillan, an outside publishing firm, but billed as regular non-profit church work.

Again, the encyclopedia mentions the cooperation of the church and BYU, but nowhere does it acknowledge that church funds were used to provide services supporting a for-profit business and publication.

That is the big problem. I am not a tax lawyer, but it seems to me that there was a big problem here.
The Projection Of Normalcy
Thursday, Dec 22, 2005, at 08:51 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
In writing another post, I just had this sickening realization. How many times have we encountered people who said, "I found out x and y about your church, and I can't believe you would believe something so bizarre." The standard answer was "If that's what Mormonism was about, do you really think I'd be involved in something like that? If you want to know about the church, you need to ask its friends and its members. If you want, I'll get the missionaries to come over and teach you."

But the scary thing is, we were involved in something bizarre. The nice people with the large family and the wonderful values were heading over to Champions Forest on Friday nights to dress in outlandish robes and make weird signs and tokens. We told ourselves and everyone around us that we were just normal people who were trying to serve God. But we weren't.

We wore special underwear with little symbols sewn in them. We had to be careful with these sacred garments. I was taught that they were never to touch the floor because that was disrespectful, and I had to carefully obliterate the markings when the garments had worn out.

We went to meetings dedicated to reinforcing each other's belief in these weird things. "I know that ..." soothed us and made us feel like we were all in this together. We dressed like we were told: no shorts (have to keep those garments covered), one set of earrings, simple makeup. We probably would have worn a tin foil hat if the prophet had told us to. To do otherwise is to be rebellious and proud.

But we tried to project normalcy. Our kids were involved in all the usual activities, and we were careful to tell them they had to be "examples" to the unbelievers around them. We got on the PTA board to make sure the children weren't taught heathen doctrines and unholy books. Our TV commercials talked about family and Jesus and the Bible.

And our leaders told us, "You are a peculiar people. The world is watching you. They look up to you. Make sure you don't disappoint them."

Now I can see that the world doesn't look up to Mormons. They may not know about the green aprons and the throat-slitting, but they think we're pretty damn weird. Gordon's PR isn't working all that well.
Blindness And Clarity
Tuesday, Dec 27, 2005, at 07:52 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Our friendly troll told us that we are all blind. I'm reminded of the reference in the scriptures to being a light in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

We were told that apostates have rejected the light, and their lives are full of darkness. Their consciences are seared, and they have driven the light of Christ from their souls.

But a funny thing happened on the way to apostasy. Rather than wallowing in darkness, I find that I see life so much more clearly once I took the Mormon blindfold off.

Being a Mormon is like walking around with a cardboard box over your head. All you can see is what's on the inside of the box, and the church has convinced you that the inside of the box is all that is real in the world. They tell you that outside of the box is a wicked, scary place that will lead you to misery.

So you wander around, not seeing anything, and constantly bumping into things and hurting yourself. Others try to explain that life is better outside the box, but you don't believe them. They are just bitter and blind and can't get over it.

People take the box off for many reasons, but once it's off, you see a whole, beautiful world out there, and everything suddenly makes sense.

Yet your family and church friends plead with you to put the box back on, for they are sure that you have gone over to the scary evil side because you no longer see what they see.

I'm glad the box is off. Life is full of clarity now.
Time To Post My Church Office Building Experience
Tuesday, Jan 10, 2006, at 07:58 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I'm far enough out that I really don't care if they track me down. I've shared the following with a few people, but I thought you might like to hear it all. I could say a lot more, and I probably will sometime in the future, but here are a few highlights from my church employment.

I got a summer internship as an editor for the church. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, as I was doing real work and getting paid for it. I edited such exciting things as the organ recital programs, but also I did a lot of software documentation there.

The next spring, I got a real job in the software industry and was making a starving wage, at the same time "managing" 4 other people. My old boss from the church called and asked me if I would be interested in working full-time for the church. It was a big pay raise, so I took it.

I don't remember what I did when, but here are some of the things that happened. I worked in a tiny office overlooking Temple Square.

I got assigned to edit the Aaronic Priesthood manuals. Previously, there were 6 manuals, 2 for each quorum. They reduced these to 3 and recycled the old lessons. As usual, I edited them, meaning that I rewrote quite a bit of it. Some of it was positively neanderthal in outlook. One lesson about sex contained a bunch of bizarre quotes. The one that sticks out the most was this quote, which was used in a way to suggest that men would naturally abandon home and family if it weren't for our sex drive: "This power must be strong, for most men by nature seek adventure. Except for the compelling persuasion of these feelings, men would be reluctant to accept the responsibility of sustaining a home and a family. This power must be constant, too, for it becomes a binding tie in family life" (I looked this up on I replaced it with a quote from SWK saying that the sex drive is a gift from God to be used in marriage.

I removed a lot of the Utah-culture specific references, dated material, etc., and turned in my revision. The curriculum guy completely freaked. He had personally promised a member of the First Presidency that we would save money by reusing the old stuff verbatim. I said the money savings were moot now because the changes had already been made and it would still have had to go to correlation. Nope, I had to put all the stuff back. Being a good sheep, I did, though grumbling. I managed to leave out the most egregiously bad stuff in there, like the sex quote above.

In the meantime, these two curriculum guys in charge of this manual put their pet "God's writing style" lesson in. They had been assigned to recheck all the footnotes in the scriptures. Oddly enough, some of the same phrases appear over and over (most likely because Joseph wasn't very original). This means God has favorite phrases and a distinct writing style. Anyway, I objected, but both these guys were on vacation, so I went to their boss, who agreed and told me to rewrite the lesson. When they came back they had a fit, and I was called to a meeting in their boss's office. The one guy literally screamed at me, "I haven't worked 25 years in CES to have some punk kid come in and rewrite my work!" Their boss did not back me up, and the crappy lesson went back in, with some modification. Then I got yelled at because we had a 52-page correlation report (maybe I'll explain how that works later). They said it wouldn't have happened had I not insisted on so many changes.

At the same time, they were doing the same thing to the young women's manuals. Some of the work overlapped, so we helped each other out. Even though I managed to get some of my changes in, they would not let her make even the most minor change. I asked her why they wouldn’t give her the time of day, even though she’d been there 20 years. She said it was because she didn't have a penis. When we got the press proofs back, mine was in Helvetica, and hers was in Palatino, a much more readable font. We asked why, and the layout guy said, "Helvetica is much more masculine font." The other editor said, "Is that because it's more erect?" I just about died laughing.

They printed 50,000 of those manuals, and each had a photo of a black boy praying on the cover. Before they were sent out, someone complained to a member of the First Presidency about the content, and he read a copy. He said it was OK, but the cover had to go. So they paid temps to come in and use razors to cut the covers off so they could be rebound. The curriculum guy told me, “I’m sure [the FP member] would have been fine if the boy on the cover had been white. But don’t tell anyone I said that, or I’ll deny it.”

Then we did the new Primary manuals. Rather than being based on moral lessons (Little Donny stole some gum from the store, what should he do?), they were to be scriptures-based and leave a lot of discretion to the teacher. The Primary general president had a fit, saying that there was no way kids could grasp such difficult things. So, we had a big meeting with two seventies, the Primary president, her assistant, and representatives from editing, graphics, printing, and production. Before the GAs got there, the Primary president and her assistant started singing Primary songs. My boss told me that it was done to take control of the meeting by throwing everyone off. Didn’t work. Everyone agreed that the new manuals were pretty good, though the Primary president and her buddy strenuously objected. They argued for black tabs (!) on the page edge so that you could thumb through the manual. No way, we said. They insisted that the lessons needed to be dumbed down and more explicit. Not going to happen. When we left,everyone was supposedly on board. As we went down the elevator, my boss said, “Today I learned that when you are playing with the Primary, you are playing hardball.” The next day my boss called me, furious because the Primary president had made a phone call to someone in the twelve to back her position. The two seventies were pissed, as no one likes getting a call from the twelve ordering you to change your mind, and in the end she didn’t get her way.

Church departments are extremely territorial. Once I worked on an innocuous little fold-out brochure with a map showing “points of interest” in downtown Salt Lake. It was done and the color proofs came back from the press. Color proofs mean that the multimillion-dollar press in West Valley City is loaded and ready to roll. Only serious issues are enough to correct because it costs money to load the press. I got a call from the guy who created the brochure, and he said, “I have the color proofs. I’m concerned that the Relief Society Building is on the map but not labeled, and there’s no explanatory blurb.” I told him that this thing was essentially a reprint and that the RS building had never been mentioned before. Who wants to tour that building, anyway? He said, “Well, you should probably call over to the Relief Society just to make sure.” WTF? I thought. But, I was obedient and called over there. I had no idea who to talk to, so I just asked the operator to someone who could help me. 3 transfers later, I was on speaker phone with the Relief Society general president. She said, “I was just talking about this with [the Primary and Young Women presidents], who are with me now. We are very concerned that our building is not mentioned.” I said that this brochure was reprinted at least once a year, so we’d put it on the next one, but it would be far too costly to stop the presses at this time. “I don’t have the authority to make this change,” I said. “You can do this, John,” she said curtly and hung up on me. I called the guy back and thanked him for setting me up. I said, “You’re the originating department. You’re going to have to tell them no.” Nobody likes to say no up there.

My colleague edited the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. I was “second editor” on it, meaning that I did a few proofreads/copy edits after he had seen it. It had gone to the Twelve in a much more explicit form than the way it was eventually published. When it came back from the Twelve, it had initialed comments in the margins, the vast majority of which were cuts marked “BKP.” Everything explicit was removed. And we’re not talking soft-core porn, just definitions of terms. I don’t know about you, but I was married before I understood what was meant by petting, and I’m still not sure what “heavy petting” is. The reason for doing so was that these terms could be defined by bishops and quorum instructors (even though the manuals tell them not to do so). Lessons aren’t carried around in teenage boys’ pockets, and we didn’t want to give them any ideas. Yeah, that’s it. Boys must be taught to have a sex drive and masturbate. Another colleague told me that years earlier she had worked on “A Parents Guide” which originally had been a manual for couples about making marriage work, including issues of intimacy. A panel of family therapists, psychologists, physicians, etc., had written the manual, and 11 of the 12 apostles had approved, but one was adamant that the church had no business talking about these kinds of things. She wouldn’t say who it was, but she gave enough hints that I knew she meant BKP. The manual ended up being exclusively about parenting, with some high-level stuff about teaching your kids the facts of life. Totally worthless.

Speaking of worthless, one day my boss came into my office, seething with anger. He had been working on the Branch Guidebook, a little 20-page booklet about how to run a bare-bones branch from your home. My boss got input from all the relevant organizations, and the book expanded to about 28 pages, with a little bit more detail on how to run the meetings and the addition of photos. It came back with the word “NO!!!!!” scrawled across the front page and underlined in red pencil. Clipped to the draft was a scathing letter from one of the 70, who said this was “a mile off the mark” because in expanding the book, we were trying to impose “Wasatch front culture” on other parts of the world. If anything, he said, it should be smaller, at most 12 pages. My boss said he was too upset to deal with this project, so he said, “Just do what you have to do to fit it in 12 pages.” Including the photos. So I hacked at it until it was just 12 pages. It said next to nothing. It went back to the GA, who loved it. Almost immediately after its release, letters began pouring in from small branches asking for more information. So, I edited a series of form responses from the different organizations, which contained the stuff I had deleted from the guide book.

When I arrived at the COB, there was a guy whose job was to proofread three things: stationary, “signage” (building signs), and the little quotes they put up in the elevators. At some point, I got asked to do the signs, and my boss put a sign above my nameplate saying “Mr. Signage.” At that time they were redoing the Hotel Utah into Church offices, and I got to do the signs. For this 10-story building, the main signs were made of brushed brass and cost $70-$150 apiece. On each floor outside the elevator was a sign that read “Accessible Restroom on First Floor.” I had to ask what that meant, and they said that it meant a wheelchair-accessible restroom was located on the first floor. I asked why they didn’t say that, and they told me that such was the official language required by law. I didn’t believe them and said they should at least put the little “handicapped” symbol on the sign, but they refused. On the first day of the open house for the building, there was a huge line at the first floor restroom becauseeveryone thought it was the only one in the building. They had to redo the signs for the 12 floors (including the 2 lower levels) at a cost of nearly $1000 dollars.

The guy who did the stationery also recorded church magazine tapes for the blind. Once a month he would go over to a studio and record the GAs reading their talks and articles. He said that he had gotten to know every one of the Twelve really well, except one, who would come in, read his part, and then leave. Never once did this man ask my friend anything about himself, his family, not even a polite greeting. It was always, “OK, what do I have to do?” and then he was done. Of course, this was a particular apostle who presents a rather kindly, grandfatherly persona. He told me of a time many years earlier when he had been present when a young man delivered ice cream for a COB party. He had gone in the wrong way and ended up outside a high-up GA’s office. He said that the GA unleashed a string of obscenities at high volume at this young man. I asked who it was, and he said he wouldn’t tell me because this GA had gone on to the highest levels of the church.

The grounds there are carefully manicured, and all publicly accessible parts of the building are kept immaculate. The Administration Building is astoundingly luxurious. But the nonpublic parts of the Church Office Building are threadbare and cheap. The interior walls in the building are vinyl-sided movable panels, most of which look like fake dark paneling from the 1970s. When I started, they just moved a couple of partitions and made my office from a small unoccupied space off a hallway. The carpets were a light gold color and were very worn. The seams between carpet pieces had long since worn away, and there were gaps of 6-12 inches where the worn pad was showing. One Monday morning, I came in to find that the gaps had been repaired by stitching together the carpet sections with what looked like fishing line. So, there were Frankenstein-like scars on the carpet every few feet.

On our floor was the typesetting department. One morning I came in to find that some strange-smelling liquid had soaked the carpet outside the typesetting offices. My boss said he hoped it wasn’t toxic. I found out that day that they kept highly toxic and dangerous chemicals in there, but there was no notice outside or any hint that we were in a potentially dangerous place.

People often told me that the COB was a “sick” building, that a lot of people had health problems after starting there. I developed a constant ache in my chest (not the burning in my bosom) when I was working there. My doctor diagnosed me with an inflammation of the cartilage in my rib cage. I took large doses of anti-inflammatories for over a year. It went away mysteriously after I quit working there. One time they sent a memo out saying that they were “retrofitting the peripheral units.” No one knew what that meant, but they came and replaced all the vents and filters in the building with smaller ones. Soon after that I developed adult-onset asthma.
Speaking Of Underwear
Wednesday, Jan 11, 2006, at 07:20 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Buying underwear is not like riding a bike. When you haven't done it in 26 years (well, other than going to the church's distribution center), it can be a bewildering experience. Back in my previous underwear-wearing life, there wasn't much more than white briefs and cotton boxers. Now there is an amazing array of styles and colors and fabrics.

I made the mistake of going to Ross and getting some underwear on clearance. I purposely didn't buy anything white (I have worn enough white for a lifetime). Unfortunately, I discovered too late that what I bought has no fly. Almost made me miss the garments. Almost.

I have half a mind to buy something outrageous, like a leather thong, to wear the next time I have to go to church (which I am sure I will have to do at some point). Or I could just skip the underwear entirely.

It's strange how such a small thing can mean so much. Over the past few months, putting on my temple garments was a daily reminder that I was still in the church, even though I might not have been of the church. Just another baby step in getting out.

I wonder what I'd look like in bikini briefs?

Note: that was a rhetorical question.
Tales From The Temple Department
Wednesday, Jan 11, 2006, at 08:39 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I used to ride the bus with an engineer in the Temples and Special Projects department at the church office building. He told me a lot of great stories. From memory, here are a few.

He was sent to St. George to inspect damage to the temple after the Springdale earthquake. The roof there was designed by the man who did the tabernacle roof. He was a bridge designer, so the roof was done in a lattice-work structure, with wooden footings extending down into the corners of the temple. It was designed to hold the four walls together. Over time, the church had decided that the footings were wasting space, so they cut most of them out to use the space for storage or for furnaces. This meant that the roof wasn't really attached to the walls, and when the earthquake hit, walls shifted in some places up to 18 inches. He said that the building was in serious danger of collapse at that point.

When he got back to Salt Lake, he had to give a presentation to Hinckley and Monson. He told them they could either make minor repairs in a quick fix, gut the building and shore up the structure, or knock it down and start over again, which would be the cheapest option. In his words, Hinckley was "pissed" because they had spent a ton of money renovating the temple in the 80s. Apparently, revelation in the 80s didn't help make the building seismically sound.

Speaking of seismic soundness, he said the worst place to be in an earthquake would be outside the church office building. He said he could guarantee that the concrete facing on the outside would fall off in even a moderate earthquake.

He went over to inspect the Promised Valley Playhouse one day. He said, "I've never been afraid to be in a building before, but I went in there and got out immediately." He said the building had originally been 3 walls bolted onto the building next door. When that building was knocked down later, the playhouse became extremely unstable.

One day he said, "I just condemned a parking garage." The covered garage north of Temple Square had a nasty habit of dropping chunks of concrete onto parked cars. He said the building was on the verge of falling over, so he condemned it on the spot.

While I was working there, they did an exterior renovation of the Salt Lake Temple. He said that the building had never been measured, so he was assigned to go up on the scaffolding and take measurements. He said the scariest thing in the world is to be standing by Moroni's head during a windstorm. Apparently, in the top of the spires are leftover construction equipment that the original workers just left in there.

He also got to inspect the tabernacle roof. He said there were no nails used. Rather, it is a wooden lattice held together with wooden pegs and rawhide strips. He said that most of the rawhide was intact, though some had been replaced by metal bands.

One day he was in his cubicle, and the dark-suited guys with the earpieces came in and escorted his co-worker out. Apparently, the guy had a porn stash in his desk.

He told me that there was a table in the celestial room of one of the temples that cost $80,000. But don't worry. It was donated.
What We Don't Know
Thursday, Jan 12, 2006, at 07:16 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I used to use the phrase "I know" a lot. I was absolutely assured that certain concepts and events were true. I belonged to "the" true organization. I heard people say all the time that it was really wonderful to know, to not have to wonder whether what we were involved in was really true. Everyone else in the world was tossed around by blowing winds of doctrine and doubt, but not us. We knew.

Some friends have asked me if I'm terrified of not knowing. They tell me that to even consider that they might be wrong scares them to death. Certainty of their path and their reward is what keeps them going.

But it's not frightening to say, "I don't know." I don't go to bed at night fearing an unknown future, worried about some dark, eternal punishment.

In fact, it's almost exhilarating to admit I don't know much. I understand enough to know that my lack of knowledge is nearly limitless. I know a little about writing and editing, about literature, about Mormonism, about Latin America. But beyond that, I know very little. I have unknown worlds to explore. I'm like Magellan just setting out from port. How exciting is that?

I find myself drawn to things I'd never paid much attention to: math and science, for instance. I want to understand how things work. I don't need to know the grand scheme, the plan of salvation. I don't need to know.

So off I go to explore. There's a scripture about those who are forever learning but never come to a knowledge of the truth. In a strange way, I hope I end up like that. I hope I never get satisfied with what I know. I hope I never sit back and say, "Well, that's it. I know everything I need to know."

I've already been there, and I am not going back.
FARMS Announces Reformed Egyptian Alphabet And Grammar
Monday, Jan 16, 2006, at 04:21 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
In an exciting development, Food Sciences professor and FARMS contributor Daniel Midgley-Welch announced publication of the Reformed Egyptian User's Syntax Encyclopedia, which will help students of the scriptures better understand the meaning of the Book of Mormon.

“We started with Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,” said Midgley-Welch. “We thought if Joseph was able to get entire paragraphs and pages out of one character, we could manage to get reasonable interpretations from one word that would otherwise seem far-fetched and absurd.” Midgley-Welch presented a few examples from the REFUSE, as it has come to be known.

Barley – This of course refers to a Native American crop specific to the Lamanites and Nephites. Its meaning depends on the theory being used to explain Book of Mormon. A limited geography theory might best use the word Quinoa , whereas a hemispheric model might suggest using “corn.” Apologists should remember that the theories can be used interchangeably, depending on what is being defended. Do not allow critics to nail you down on a particular theory.

Lamanites – These are any inhabitants of the New World, whether they descended from Lehi or not. This is useful when critics say that the Lamanites were Asiatic. You might answer that Lamanites also included Nordic peoples descended from early Scandinavian explorers. Of course, this use is restricted to apologetics and should not be used in church settings, where a more restrictive lineage-based definition is appropriate.

Horse – A beast that is used for carrying humans or cargo. Again, its definition will depend on the theory being expounded, but it must be remembered that in no circumstances is the word to be used to refer to any equine animals (unless of course you are talking about fossilized remains of American horses, which you can expand to show that the Nephites clearly used domesticated horses).

Cumorah – Most likely a generic term for hill or mountain, though its etymology is unclear (it might be related to the Spanish cumbre, or summit). You should be prepared to argue that there were at least two Cumorahs where plates were deposited (and possibly three), but again, you must be firm with the critics in denying any knowledge of any specific location. Joseph’s description of the hill in New York is a prime example of the generic use of Cumorah and should not be taken as evidence that there are or were plates buried there.

Chariot – This is a platform used to carry ceremonial small animals (see “Horse” above). When critics argue that no wheeled vehicles were used in pre-Columbian America, you can simply reply that one would not expect a platform to have wheels. Special thanks to Brant Gardner for clarifying this definition.

Steel – An unknown material completely unrelated to Old World steel and perhaps similar to ziff. Further research is needed. Nephite description of using a bellows to “molten” steel are to be taken figuratively.

Sword – A wooden club edged with sharp pieces of obsidian. Jaredite descriptions of steel moltened from a hill to make swords are to be taken figuratively.

Ox – Another generic term for a beast of burden whose meaning will depend on the geographic location used. For example, it might be a llama for a Peruvian setting or a tapir for a Central American setting, or a deer for an upstate New York setting.

Land – A generic term having very little meaning, apparently. When discussing Nephite geography, the term means a very limited space confining a small group of insignificant families. In prophecies regarding the future of the Lamanite peoples, it can be interpreted as meaning the entire Western Hemisphere. And of course, when it speaks of Jesus birth in the land of Jerusalem, it means everywhere in Israel except Jerusalem.

FARMS hopes to follow the REFUSE with a Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia in Terminology (D-CEIT), which can be used to validate any and all of Joseph’s prophecies and teachings. An effort was made to create a similar lexicon for the Book of Abraham, but the project was abandoned because even FARMS couldn’t make it work.
Spinning Smith
Wednesday, Jan 25, 2006, at 07:51 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
The story of Joseph Smith is pretty cut and dried. Nothing in the man's story holds up under scrutiny: anachronistic scriptures, obviously false translations, false and altered revelations, visions invented years after the fact. Add to that the bank fraud, the adultery/polygamy, the lying to his wife and to the public, seducing teenagers with promises of eternal life, sending friends on missions so he could "marry" their wives, skipping out of Kirtland so that impoverished members would lose $38,000 in bail money, and so on.

At least you would think so, right? I've often wondered what it is that drives people who well know the history and the evidence and choose to spin it all away. I was lurking over on FAIR, and someone gave essentially the same summary as my first paragraph here, and they were accused of mudslinging. Separately, someone asked how to reconcile Joseph's obviously wrong translation of the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham, and they were told to see the latest publications from FARMS, as if some real or imagined parallel overcomes the enormous problems known since 1968.

I've concluded that these spinners are no different from the people I know who say facts don't matter, testimony from "the spirit" is what counts. The only difference is that these guys feel some need to find a rational justification for their feelings. But in the end, it's feelings that trump all. I watched a BYU-TV program in which a returned missionary told his brother that he needed to "stop thinking things through, and start feeling them through." And that in a nutshell is Mormonism. Turn off your brain, but if need be, start spinning.

That sounds much more bitter than I intended. I'll end on a silly note.

There once was a boy from Jerusalem
He sought Laban's plates; couldn't get 'em
He cut off his head
Made sure he was dead
And the plates? Now we're stuck with them.
It Made More Sense When They Had The Minister Part
Friday, Jan 27, 2006, at 10:38 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
The whole priesthoods/minister part of the endowment was meant to show that other religions were really serving the devil.

If you went to the temple before 1990, you know that the church was teaching that professional clergy who had been "trained for the ministry" were paid employees of Satan.

That's how I always interpreted it. They also changed the reference to the popes.

Satan, pre-1990: Then with that enmity I will buy up armies and navies, popes and priests, and reign with blood and horror on this earth.

Satan, post-1900: Then with that enmity I will buy up armies and navies, false priest who oppress and tyrants who destroy, and reign with blood and horror on this earth.

Scary that I can remember both word for word, isn't it?
Pay Attention, Or Else!
Monday, Feb 6, 2006, at 07:14 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Yesterday's priesthood lesson was James E. Faust's Ensign Message about why we have trials and sorrows in life. It starts out OK, as he says the message is one of "hope, strength, and deliverance" for "those who feel they have had more trials, sorrows, pricks, and thorns than they can bear and in their adversity are almost drowned in the waters of bitterness."

He aims to explain why we must all suffer and go through excruciating trials. Is it to make us stronger? Is it to help us be better people? Nope.

"Here, then, is a great truth. In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner's fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong. In this way the divine image can be mirrored from the soul. It is part of the purging toll exacted of some to become acquainted with God. In the agonies of life, we seem to listen better to the faint, godly whisperings of the Divine Shepherd."

Got that? We suffer because it's God's way of helping us get better acquainted with Him. The message is that God wants us to pay attention to Him and His "faint, godly whisperings," but we wouldn't do that unless we had pain and suffering and death, and lots of it. Sounds like the spoiled child who threatens to break all his toys if Mommy doesn't give him what he wants. Ultimately, then, the answer to "why do we have trials" is that we should just have more faith (the catch-all answer in Mormonism).

He then goes on to say that God wants His children to suffer to learn compassion and to learn to be like Him; after all, "God has suffered far more than man ever did or ever will." This begs the question of why God's suffering was necessary in the first place. We read in Mormon scripture that Satan is miserable and wants us to be miserable like him. What's the difference, if God is suffering, so He wants us all to suffer, too?

We then get the inspiring story of Stillman Pond, who lost most of his family in the journey across the plains to Utah. He suffered more than most people can imagine. And what was his glorious end? Why, usefulness as a church leader. "Having lost these nine children and his wife in crossing the plains, Stillman Pond did not lose his faith. He did not quit. He went forward. He paid a price, as have many others before and since, to become acquainted with God."

He leaves us with these words: "Out of the refiner's fire can come a glorious deliverance. It can be a noble and lasting rebirth. The price to become acquainted with God will have been paid. There can come a sacred peace. There will be a reawakening of dormant, inner resources. A comfortable cloak of righteousness will be drawn around us to protect us and to keep us warm spiritually. Self-pity will vanish as our blessings are counted."

Did you hear that? No peace until you've paid the price to become acquainted with God. And then we're supposed to count our blessings for having been made to suffer. If there were some important lesson to be learned, I could see God putting people through this awful suffering. But if the point is merely to have more faith, what kind of God is that?
When The Guilt Trips Don't Work Anymore
Thursday, Feb 9, 2006, at 07:08 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
My best friend used to say that his stepfather was "The Master of the Guilt Trip." He could get us to do anything, just by making us feel guilty about not doing it. "Well," he would say, "If you feel good about leaving that work for your poor mother, who does so much for you but never asks much in return, go ahead. But I think the Savior would have something to say about this." Needless to say, he's now a stake president.

In the church, we could be guilted into anything. One year, when I was elders quorum president, I got asked to move someone at a moment's notice just as my kids and I were leaving to go trick-or-treating. It didn't occur to me to tell them to wait. I made a few phone calls, and a few of the men were pretty angry, but I used every guilt trip I could think of. How would you feel if you were in their situation? Wouldn't you want someone to help you? Here's your chance to show some Christlike love and be a positive influence in their lives. If we don't help them, they might not ever come back to church. Kind of shameful, isn't it? But I had been trained well.

Over the years I got guilted into doing a lot of things: moving people (I spent 2 days in bed once because I injured my back trying to get a piano out of a basement), cleaning the chapel, going on campouts, giving a working mom a ride to work at 1:00 a.m., going out with the missionaries. Anything and everything.

Guilt is probably the primary tool in Mormonism; without it, not much would get done. But I realized that the guilt trips don't work with me anymore. I don't wonder if I'm "worthy" to shove a pinched morsel of bread into my mouth on Sundays, or whether I need to speak to my bishop about anything in particular (I'm sure he's relieved). It just doesn't work anymore.

I think that means they have lost their power over me. I'm not giving it back. But don't worry, there are millions more who will go to bed tonight feeling unworthy of God's blessings. Mormonism is counting on it.
Thoughs On The First Vision, Part I
Thursday, Feb 9, 2006, at 07:09 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Most people reading this page will be familiar with Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision, in which God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared and told him not to join any churches, that they were all corrupt. I thought I would spend some time discussing my thoughts on this account.

I thought I’d start with this interesting statement from Joseph Smith’s official history:
“Some few days after I had this vision, I happened to be in company with one of the Methodist preachers, who was very active in the before mentioned religious excitement; and, conversing with him on the subject of religion, I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had. I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.

“I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects–all united to persecute me.

“It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself” (Joseph Smith–History 1:21-23).
That should be easy to verify, one would think. If this vision had so excited his neighbors against him, surely one of his neighbors, either friendly or antagonistic, would have mentioned the vision and its attendant persecution. But no mention is made, for example, in the much-maligned Hurlbut affidavits, which were recorded in 1833. Rather, the first vision mentioned in any of the affidavits is the purported appearance of Moroni in 1823. Here are a few excerpts:
“I, William Stafford, … first became acquainted with Joseph, Sen., and his family in the year 1820. They lived, at that time, in Palmyra, about one mile and a half from my residence. A great part of their time was devoted to digging for money: especially in the night time, when they said the money could be most easily obtained. I have heard them tell marvelous tales, respecting the discoveries they had made in their peculiar occupation of money digging. …When they found that the people of this vicinity would no longer put any faith in their schemes for digging money, they then pretended to find a gold bible, of which, they said, the book of Mormon was only an introduction.”

“I [Willard Chase] became acquainted with the Smith family, known as the authors of the Mormon Bible, in the year 1820. … In the month of June, 1827, Joseph Smith, Sen., related to me the following story: That some years ago, a spirit had appeared to Joseph his son, in a vision, and informed him that in a certain place there was a record on plates of gold, and that he was the person that must obtain them.”
The rest of the affidavits are similar in that no one mentions anything about a First Vision. These affidavits, however, have been dismissed as biased and polemical, and they may well be tainted evidence. But even friendly accounts make no mention of the First Vision. Lucy Mack Smith wrote a history of her son’s life and for some reason neglected to mention the First Vision, even though she discussed his fourteenth year as a matter of course. The later published version, however, contained an account of the First Vision, not surprisingly the official version published in LDS scriptures.

In 1893, William Smith gave an account of his brother’s First Vision as following a Methodist revival in 1822 and 1823, which “stirred up the neighborhood”:
“At length he determined to call upon the Lord until he should get a manifestation from him. He accordingly went out into the woods and falling upon his knees called for a long time upon the Lord for wisdom and knowledge. While engaged in prayer a light appeared in the heavens, and descended until it rested upon the trees where he was. It appeared like fire. But to his great astonishment, did not burn the trees. An angel then appeared to him and conversed with him upon many things. He told him that none of the sects were right; but that if he was faithful in keeping the commandments he should receive, the true way should be made known to him; that his sins were forgiven, etc. A more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history” (William Smith on Mormonism, 8-9).
At first glance, this account seems to corroborate Joseph’s account, but let’s read on:
“The next day I was at work in the field together with Joseph and my eldest brother Alvin. Joseph looked pale and unwell, so that Alvin told him if he was sick he need not work; he then went and sat down by the fence, when the angel again appeared to him, and told him to call his father's house together and communicate to them the visions he had received, which he had not yet told to any one; and promised him that if he would do so, they would believe it. He accordingly asked us to come to the house, as he had something to tell us. After we were all gathered, he arose and told us how the angel appeared to him; what he had told them as written above; and that the angel had also given him a short account of the inhabitants who formerly resided upon this continent, a full history of whom he said was engraved on some plates which were hidden, and which the angel promised to show him” (Ibid. 9-10).
Joseph speaks of this event as having occurred the morning after the appearance of Moroni, and William seems to be confirming this. The dates and details are consistent with Moroni’s appearance, and the accounts seem heavily influenced by Joseph’s published accounts.

To sum up, we have this pithy statement from Fawn Brodie: “If something happened that spring morning in 1820, it passed totally unnoticed in Joseph's home town, and apparently did not even fix itself in the minds of members of his own family” (No Man Knows My History, New York, 1957, pp. 24).

James B. Allen, former Assistant Church Historian, agrees with Brodie:
“According to Joseph Smith, he told the story of the vision immediately after it happened the early spring of 1820. As a result, he said, he received immediate criticism in the community. There is little if any evidence, however, that by the early 1830's Joseph Smith was telling the story in public. At least if he were telling it, no one seemed to consider it important enough to have recorded it at the time, and no one was criticizing him for it . . . The fact that none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830's, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the first vision is convincing evidence that at best it received only limited circulation in those early days . . . as far as non-Mormons were concerned there was little, if any, awareness of it in the 1830's . . ."As far as Mormon literature is concerned, there was apparently no reference to Joseph Smith's first vision in any publishedmaterial in the 1830's . . . From all this it would appear that the general church membership did not receive information about the first vision until the 1840's and that the story certainly did not hold the prominent place in Mormon thought that it does today” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, pages 30-34).
Why didn’t he tell anyone? Here’s Hugh Nibley’s attempt at an explanation: “But, one may ask, why should Joseph Smith have waited so long to tell his story officially? From his own explanation it is apparent that he would not have told it publicly at all had he not been 'induced' to do so by all the scandal stories that were circulating” (Improvement Era, July 1961, 522).

Again, according to Joseph, he told the story immediately, and he was roundly criticized and even persecuted for telling the tale. But no one seems to remember being told the story or the subsequent persecution.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but an account at odds with the facts is certainly interesting.
A Hymn For Apologists
Friday, Feb 10, 2006, at 10:37 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
[sung to the tune of Count Your Blessings]

When upon doubt’s billows you are tempest tossed
When Lindsay can’t explain it and DCP feels lost,
Count your obfuscations, pile them one by one
And the antis will go running, it will be so fun.

Obfuscation, pile it one by one
Obfuscation, how our work is done
Obfuscation, no logic will suffice
Say they’re being prideful, we’re just being nice

When there are no horses and the steel’s not there
And the plates are much too heavy for Joseph Smith to bear
Do not get discouraged, faith will see you through
And if that’s not enough, add a red herring or two

More red herrings than the ocean blue
More red herrings, that’s what Dan would do
More red herrings, Nibley taught us well
And if you don’t believe it you will go to hell

When you look at others with their conscience clear
Know the church has promised you a prize that’s dear.
Change the subject quick, and if all else fails
Say you’re a postmodern, watch the antis rail.

Change the subject, keep them on their toes.
Change the subject, to what God only knows.
Change the subject, a fluid gospel works
And you can berate those fundamentalist jerks.

So in your discussions whether great or small
Do not be discouraged, the spirit conquers all
Throw out reason, logic, and your ethics, too.
That burning in your bosom will surely see you through.

Burning bosoms, reason has no chance.
Burning bosoms, and those temple chants.
Burning bosoms will be your only friend
When you know it’s bullshit that you must defend.
Packer's 3 Threats: Why Are They Threatening?
Friday, Apr 13, 2007, at 09:23 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Most of you are familiar with Boyd Packer's 1993 talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council in which he described three threats to the church: the gay rights movement, feminism, and "so-called intellectuals." I've thought a lot about this talk over the years, as sitting in the back of the auditorium that day probably started the long road to apostasy for me.

But I'm wondering what it is about those three things that are so threatening to the church. Packer's topic that day was "facing the right direction," in other words, not questioning but following your leaders obediently. What about those 3 things encourages disobedience? In some ways, the threat is obvious.

Homosexuals have long been marginalized within society, and particularly in a religion that holds heterosexual marriage to be the highest expression of the divine. Naturally, the idea that gay men and women are worthwhile members of the human family directly challenges Mormon dogma. Anyone who is gay or knows someone who is gay instinctively realizes that it's not some "perversion" that some "degenerates" choose to embrace. And if the Brethren are wrong about homosexuality, one might begin to wonder what else they're wrong about.

Similarly, women have always been second-class citizens in the church. My daughter said not long ago that "Heavenly Father must like boys more than he likes girls" because girls cannot hold the priesthood or serve as leaders in the church. If you adopt the feminist attitude that men and women are of equal worth, then the Mormon priesthood cannot claim some God-given mandate to "preside" over women.

Finally, I've always thought intellectuals in the church were sort of an odd group. I suspect that Packer is referring to liberal Mormons, or those who maintain a belief in the church but don't hold to the more rigid and literalist leanings of someone like Packer. The intellectuals have thought through the bases of their faith. These are the people who manage to acknowledge the bad and the untrue in the church and yet cling to what they see as the good. The problem is, and I think Packer recognizes it, that if your membership in the church has become merely a weighing of good and bad, you aren't likely to obey your leaders simply because they hold a position of authority over you.

All of these add up to one troubling problem for Packer: people who are not content to blindly obey but who will question and follow their consciences. At the end of his talk, Packer spoke of all members facing the same direction, with the light of the gospel shining over our shoulders, trusting in our leaders to forge ahead in front of us.

I don't know about you, but I prefer turning around and looking toward the light.
If Present Trends Continue
Friday, Oct 26, 2007, at 04:31 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
From what I've seen, growth in the church these days seems limited to underdeveloped countries (such as those in Latin America and West Africa) and in the developed world to immigrants and those with little education and low income. The church is not attracting educated people in any areas of the world. It is not attracting the financially secure (and this is probably the most worrisome to the suits). It is not attracting the emotionally and psychologically stable. In short, the missionary program, which has always thrived on attracting people at a vulnerable point in their lives, is attracting the chronically vulnerable. For a church whose mission appears to be growth and income, this is not a healthy trend.

But even the growth areas are deceptive. The retention rate among such people is quite low (less than 20% in many areas of the world). I well remember attending nearly empty chapels in Bolivia. One example: in the southern Bolivian city of Tarija (which had about 50,000 residents), there were 4 small LDS branches, 2 of which met in the recently constructed chapel. Our branch (Rama 3) met in a rented house. The first week I was there, attendance was 5, including us, although there were over 250 members on the records. The other branches averaged between 10 and 20 members a week. As a missionary, it was depressing to attend a church meeting in a gleaming new chapel with half of those in attendance being missionaries. Imagine my surprise when a couple of months later in the mission office, I was informed that the church would be starting an aggressive building campaign: over 50 chapels would be constructed in the next year, including 3 new chapels in Tarija. Even to a 19-year-old missionary, that seemed insane.But looking back on it, it follows a pattern I've seen over and over in the church: build to the numbers on paper. In Bolivia, that meant spending millions in construction money to build chapels that were not needed. I suspect that this practice goes on all over the world. Look at the Conference Center. Given the church's broadcast capabilities, this was a building that serves no purpose whatsoever.

Another similar experience happened in Texas. When we arrived in 2000, members in the Houston area would travel by bus 4 hours north to the Dallas Temple. Our ward had a monthly temple trip that was reasonably well-attended. When the Houston Temple opened, it was fairly busy for a few months. But after that, it was deserted, even on weekends. It was not uncommon to see sessions with 4 or 5 people in them, and they would get temple workers to attend the session so that there would be enough for a prayer circle. Just before we left, the new temple president, ex-GA William Bradford, became so alarmed at temple attendance that he began a program called "Fill the Temple." Wards were assigned a two-day period during which they were responsible for performing all the ordinances (endowments, sealings, baptisms, etc.). Each member was expected to sign up for at least half a day to do ordinances. I just got an email from my old bishop putting the pressure on for us to sign up for our temple "assignment."

The church seems to be operating under the idea that if you build churches, people will come. But that isn't happening, so what you are getting is unnecessary building draining funds. And declining growth rates (and lower income rates for those joining) mean less income from tithing with greater expenditures for welfare. The PEF seems a response to that in that it's designed to increase economic stability for church members in underdeveloped countries, a win-win situation for the church. But at some point they are going to have to look at the return on investment from their building projects. Temples now dot the land, but they aren't generating the levels of activity expected (my friend told me that in his recent visit to Bolivia, the temple in Cochabamba was staffed entirely by American missionary couples).

So, Hinckley's building push has been, in my judgment, a net drain on church finances. The missionary program is dead in the water in the developed world, and construction in the underdeveloped world has drained finances further. Frankly, the church's downtown mall project is an important investment to them. If this project, now estimated at over $2 billion, fails, the church could for the first time since 1959 face real financial problems. My visit to the Gateway complex tells me that the downtown malls project is iffy at best. The Gateway is already entrenched with upscale tenants, whom the church will have to attract for their mall project to succeed.

I think we can see some of the effects of the church's financial stresses already: the firing of church maintenance workers and the subsequent push for members to clean and maintain buildings, the tighter restrictions on budgets, particularly for Scouting and Young Women, the increased reliance on members to house and feed missionaries, and the increased use of broadcasts from the home office instead of GA travel.

None of this is to say that I believe that the church is on the verge of collapse. It's not. But I do suspect that further belt-tightening is coming, and the church is going to have to rely more on its investments if it wants to continue to thrive.
LDS - Themed Breakfast Cereal
Wednesday, Apr 16, 2008, at 11:55 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Kellogg's is looking into a new line of cereal that will be marketed in the Intermountain West. Top ten proposals:

10. Honey Bunches of Bullshit
9. Lucky Charms (now with purple peepstones)
8. Guilty-Os
7. Joseph Pops (with real cherry)
6. Frosted Prozac Puffs
5. Boyd-berry Crunch (free little factory inside every box)
4. Kokaubeam Krispies
3. Golden Plates Grahams (they're in the box, I swear)
2. Marshmallow Massacre (Slogan: Mormons, do your duty, and eat a bowl every day!)
1. Prix (GA-shaped cereal in 15 vanilla flavors)
Dying In The Service Of The Lord
Thursday, May 29, 2008, at 09:32 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I remember very well what I was doing when I heard of the murders of Todd Wilson and Jeff Ball, two missionaries who were working in La Paz, Bolivia, in May of 1989. My wife and I were sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Spanish Fork, Utah, and the announcement came over the radio. I couldn't breathe when I heard the news. It was as if someone had punched me in the stomach and driven all the air from my lungs. My wife and I sat there, staring at each other and unable to speak.

Over the next couple of weeks some old, suppressed feelings came back to me. I remembered the hateful insults, the threats, the things thrown at us--all because we were different from most people in Bolivia. We were strangers from the United States, and we were mostly greeted with a mixture of distrust and fear. Many people believed we were agents of the US government, and many more saw us as agents of a cultural and economic imperialism that threatened Bolivia on many fronts.

At the time I didn't understand the animus. After all, these people were strangers who had never met me. How could people hate me if they didn't know me? How could people throw rocks at my wife merely because of the color of her hair and skin? Now that I'm older and know a little bit more of the history, I understand better why so many Bolivians feel the way the do about my country. Let's just say that the US has a rather spotty record of doing the right thing when it comes to Latin America.

But at 19 years old, we didn't know that, and our church certainly didn't explain that to us when we being trained as missionaries, though they did tell us that people would approach us on the street and ask for baptism. The best they could say was that we should avoid all discussions of politics and the differences between our country and Bolivia, as if simply avoiding taboo subjects could overcome ingrained attitudes developed over centuries.

Of course it doesn't help that the LDS church's reaction to the murders was to reassure its members that missionaries are the safest people in the world. And the one church member who made specific recommendations to the church to improve missionary safety, David Knowlton, was accused of putting the missionaries at risk and was fired from BYU.

Not surprisingly, more murders followed in neighboring Peru. And despite what you might imagine, there was little sympathy for the murdered Americans in Bolivia; from everyone I've talked to, the general consensus was that the murders confirmed the suspicions about what the Americans were doing in Bolivia. After all, if the missionaries were totally innocent, the reasoning went, they wouldn't have been killed.

This sad incident led to a bizarre series of events wherein the mission president was removed and excommunicated for having sex with some of his male missionaries, and the church removed all Americans from Bolivia and Peru for a few years until things blew over a little.

Writing this reminds me that even after nearly twenty years, the feelings are still there. I drove past the cemetery in Wellington, Utah, a few weeks ago, where Todd Wilson is buried, and the same grief and pain resurfaced. I ended up doing some reading about the murders a few days later, and I discovered something: a name. Ronald Jamon Eastland.

I had never heard of this missionary before, but he had died in Bolivia on July 23, 1989, not quite two months after the murders. I searched for information about him, but I could find nothing. Whereas Elders Ball and Wilson were rightly mourned by the highest levels of church leadership, there was a curious silence about Elder Eastland. The only indication that he had died as a missionary was this description on the church's FamilySearch web site of the place where he died: "LaPaz, Bolivia, South America serving the Lord."

Fortunately, I found a Bolivian who was in the mission at that time who knew what had happened. Elder Eastland had died in a car accident on his way to a zone conference in Oruro. I don't know the details, but it's somehow comforting to know at least the gist of what happened.

So, twenty years late, let me apologize to Ronald Eastland for not marking his passing. In fact, I hadn't even noticed it. No, his death wasn't a high-profile political assassination, just an ordinary traffic accident. But his family grieved just the same, and I'm guessing that they took some comfort in believing he had died in God's service. And no matter how you feel about Mormonism, that's what he was doing: serving God the best way he knew how.

I wish I knew something about him, what kind of person he was, what he looked like, what his hopes and dreams were. But I don't suppose I'll ever know any of that. All I know is that he died in a place far from home among people who most likely did not welcome him. I am sure someone there in Bolivia remembers him and mourns him. And so will I.
Milk Before Meat And Tent Cities
Monday, Jun 2, 2008, at 07:45 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Most Mormons are familiar with the idea of teaching “milk before meat,” meaning that the basics of the gospel must be preached and understood before you can move on to the deeper doctrines (”meat”) of the gospel.

Many people in and out of the church have noted that for many years, church manuals and leaders’ addresses have focused exclusively on the milk. Our lesson manuals, for one, avoid the thornier issues; see, for example, the injunction in the Gospel Doctrine manual to avoid discussing polygamy when studying Doctrine and Covenants 132, which is largely about polygamy. Similarly, late church president Gordon B. Hinckley caused a bit of a stir when on national television he downplayed a core doctrine (the potential of humans to become like God), stating merely, “I don’t know that we teach it.”

I understand why they do this. Since 1970, the church has sought to control the content of its publications through a process called “correlation,” whereby all materials must be reviewed by a committee to ensure they are in line with established church doctrine. This process has indeed put a stop to the publishing of embarrassing statements through official channels, but it has had an unintended consequence.

People in the church know that the prophets used to be quite bold in declaring meat from the pulpit, and they wonder why such is not happening today. Into the vacuum of deep, dark mysteries step the conspiracy theorists, the religious fanatics, and the self-proclaimed prophets. I ran across one such group today, who call themselves “A Voice of Warning.”

These folks believe that “in the very near future (within a few years perhaps) there will probably come a call from the Prophet of the Church (the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve), through the proper priesthood channels, to the members of the Church to voluntarily gather to tent cities that will be primarily located in and around the Rocky Mountains.”

Why, you might ask, do they believe this in the absence of any suggestion whatsoever from church leaders that such a day is coming? The answer lies in the idea of milk before meat.

Why aren’t the brethren teaching about tent cities[?] I cannot speak for them, but may I suggest the point that the key to favorably responding to a call to a tent city, perhaps when there is no other reason than faith and obedience, will not happen unless the Church members are obeying the basics, referred to as the milk of the gospel.

You have to admire someone’s having a strong enough conviction to suggest that the reason that their own personal hobbyhorses aren’t being taught by prophets and apostles is that the rest of the church isn’t ready for such “meat.”

It’s ironic that the church’s efforts to rein in such speculation has in some ways encouraged it, although the church has been successful in pushing such stuff to the fringes.

I’m not too worried either way. I have a nice twelve-person tent in my garage.
How To Get Out Of Mormonism
Monday, Jun 16, 2008, at 07:51 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I've decided that the single best thing you can do in leaving Mormonism is to not take it so damned seriously.

Let me explain. We were taught our whole lives that Mormonism was the center of our existence. Without it, we were nothing, and we had nothing. And when we figure out it's not true, it's as if our world completely fell apart.

Meanwhile our friends and family are still stuck in the "Oh my God they've apostatized" mindframe, so they use every weapon at their disposal: guilt, shame, anger, manipulation to keep us in the church.

And we let them do it, because we still are in the same state of mind: we lost our life, we think. This is *supposed* to be a big deal, so we make it a huge deal.

I've figured out that you have to break yourself from treating it so seriously. At some point you have to realize that it is not an earth-shattering event to learn that a moneygrubbing, sex-starved con man did not actually see an angel who told him about a Hebraic culture that flourished in the Americas for a thousand years without leaving a trace.

In some ways, Mormonism is unintentionally but hysterically funny, like a Madonna film. Let your friends and relatives take it seriously, but don't follow them into the trap.

Learn to laugh at the silliness so that you don't have to cry at the cruelty of it all. It's much harder to get angry when you see the church for the absurdity that it is.
Interesting Excerpt From The Joseph Smith Manual
Tuesday, Jun 17, 2008, at 07:34 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I came across this interesting paragraph in the current LDS priesthood/Relief Society manual Teachings of Joseph Smith in a lesson about apostasy (I may write more about this lesson later):
As that year [1837] wore on, a spirit of apostasy grew among some of the Saints in Kirtland. Some members became proud, greedy, and disobedient to the commandments. Some blamed Church leaders for economic problems caused by the failure of a Kirtland financial institution established by Church members.
At first glance, if you didn't know anything about the bank failure, you would wonder why on earth anyone would blame Church leaders for the actions of Church members. Why, anyone who would do such a thing would have to have a spirit of contention and apostasy. But if you know the context, it makes perfect sense.

First, who were the "Church leaders" who were being blamed? Chiefly Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon.

And who were the "Church members" who founded the bank? Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon.

And who were the church members who fled Kirtland under cover of darkness to avoid having to face retaliation from enraged investors? Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon.

Thus, the sentence ought to read: "Some blamed Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon for economic problems caused by the failure of a Kirtland financial institution established by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon."

Makes a lot more sense, doesn't it?
Erasing The United Order
Sunday, Dec 14, 2008, at 09:05 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
In reading Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History, I learned that, with the collapse of the United Order in both Kirtland and Missouri in 1833, Joseph Smith quietly divided the church’s property among the leadership. Sidney Rigdon had pressed Joseph to create a society in which the Saints held all things in common, but it had failed miserably. Here’s how Brodie describes it:

“On April 10, 1834, the Kirtland council dissolved the Order. Dividing the community property was a thorny business. Tired of quibbling and recrimination, Joseph finally resorted to a revelation to parcel out the real estate, deeding himself the temple lot, [Sidney] Rigdon the tannery, [Oliver] Cowdery the printing shop, and most of the other leaders the lots on which they were then living. In 1835 , when the time came to print this curious document in the Doctrine and Covenants, he substituted fictitious names to avoid any unpleasantness–Ahashdah for [Newel] Whitney, Olilah for Cowdery, Pelagorum for Rigdon, Mahemson for [Martin] Harris, and Gazelam for himself. He even used code names for the industries–Laneshine house for the printing shop and Ozondah for the store. Except for a few leaders who knew better, the Mormons believed these to be the names of people living in the days of Enoch” (p. 141).

Brodie is correct that, originally, section 104 of the Doctrine and Covenants (section 98 in the original) is presented as a “revelation given to Enoch, concerning the order of the church for the benefit of the poor.” In the current edition, it is presented as a “revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, April 23, 1834, concerning the United Order, or the order of the Church for the benefit of the poor.” The wording is borrowed from the original, but the meaning is quite different. Brodie is probably right that most members would have understood the revelation to apply to the people of Enoch, not to the current church and its leaders. The “substituted names occur in all editions of the DandC from 1835 on, although the practice of bracketing the real names next to the substituted names began with the 1876 edition. By the 1921 edition almost all the real names had been identified. In the 1981 edition the code names were removed from the text in all but four cases, and the identity of one of these four is suggested in a textual note” (David J. Whittaker, “Substituted Names in the Published Revelations of Joseph Smith, BYU Studies [1983] 1-9).

But here’s where it gets interesting. Joseph had preached the United Order as requiring church members to consecrate all their property to the bishop, who would then distribute them according to the needs of the members. With the failure of the Kirtland and Independence Orders and the deeding of consecrated properties to the leadership, Joseph needed a change in doctrine. Here’s Brodie again:

“From this moment Joseph began to efface the communistic rubric in his young theology. Since most of the copies of the Book of Commandments had been burned, it was easy for him to revise drastically the revelation on the United Order when it was republished in the enlarged Doctrine and Covenants in 1835. The Lord no longer demanded consecration of a man’s total property, but only a donation of his “surplus” over and above living expenses. In reprinting the first twelve issues of the Evening and Morning Star, Joseph revised most, though not all, of the descriptions of the original Order and commanded his missionaries to destroy the notion abroad that the church had ever been a common-stock concern” (p. 1 41).

Comparing the current section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants (section 13 in the 1835 edition) to the original section 14 of the 1833 Book of Commandments, we see that Brodie is right: Joseph has rewritten the revelation to erase the idea of consecrating all of one’s property to a mere donation of what is “more than necessary” to the poor.

Compare the following verses. Words that appear only in the 1835 and subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants are marked in red. Words that appear only in the 1833 Book of Commandments are marked in blue. Words appearing in both editions are in normal text.

29 If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.

30 And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and shalt consecrate of all thy properties for their support, that which thou hast to impart unto them me, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.

31 And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose.

32 And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they it cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, he shall appoint every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, inasmuch as much as is sufficient for himself and family.

33 And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a the residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those him who have has not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants as he stands in need.

34 Therefore, And the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council elders of the church, and the bishop and his council;

35 And for the purpose of purchasing lands for the public benefit of the church, and building houses of worship, and the building up of the New Jerusalem, which is hereafter to be revealed–

36 That my covenant people may be gathered in one, in that day when I shall come to my temple. And this I do for the salvation of my people.

As the reader can see, in the original, church members are commanded to consecrate “all thy properties” to the church. The bishop, in turn, appoints each man to be a steward over the property that the bishop gives to him. The “residue” of the property is to be used to “administer to the poor and needy” and also “for the purpose of purchasing lands” for the gathering of church members.

The revised revelation advises church members to “remember the poor” and “consecrate of [members’] properties for their support.” These donations to the poor are to be given to the bishop for distribution to the poor "from time to time." There is no mention of the bishop giving property back to the members; rather, the members are told they are accountable as stewards to the Lord. The consecration of properties and goods is limited to that which is “more than is necessary for [members’] support, and the purchase of lands is likewise limited to providing for the construction of church buildings.

With the erasure of key tenets of the United Order, Joseph Smith abandoned his attempts to build a communal society, and never again in his lifetime would the Church attempt such an experiment. Interestingly enough, Joseph’s successor, Brigham Young, despite the loss of clear doctrinal exposition on the law of consecration, attempted further United Order communities in Utah, all of them failing within a generation.
Evidence Trending In Frosty's Direction, FARMS Says
Sunday, Dec 28, 2008, at 09:21 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Researchers for the Foundation for Arctic, Reindeer, and Magical Snowmen say that, despite the claims of skeptics, more and more evidence supports the belief that Frosty the Snowman really did come to life that day. Food Sciences professor and FARMS president Daniel Midgley-Welch summarized discoveries in 2008 as "very promising and encouraging, indeed. For more than half a century," Midgley-Welch said, "scoffers have ridiculed the idea of a living, breathing snowman, but these days, there's just too much evidence for anyone, except the hardcore anti-Snowmen and ex-snows, to ignore."

Midgley-Welch explained that the best evidence for the reality of Frosty is the warm feeling children everywhere get when they sing "bumpety-bump-bump" and think of the "jolly, happy soul" frolicking in the winter snow. But no longer must believers rely solely on their own personal knowledge of the Snowman.

"First of all, the production of the text is miraculous in and of itself. After the success of 1949's 'Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer,' writers Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins had only months to write, produce, and record the song for the upcoming 1950 Christmas season. There's no way two ordinary mortals could have accomplished that without some kind of divine intervention."

"But perhaps the strongest evidence of divinity is the text itself," said Russell Thwetwipes, professor of Greek History. "Our first clue is the use of very specific items in the construction of the snowman itself."

Several things stand out initially as anachronistic to 1950. Corncob pipes, silk hats, and coal had all been supplanted by cigarettes, fedoras (which were on their way out), and central heating. The use of these items suggests a deeper rooting in the past, which would be unusual for popular writers of the 1950s. But the images seem to have been chosen with care. A corncob situates the story in the Americas, which squares nicely with the use of the word "cop" to refer to a policeman (how could Nelson and Rollins have scored such a bullseye?). The coal for the eyes suggests the Biblical idea of coal as burning fire and life being breathed into mortals (see Ezek. 1:13). And of course, the old silk hat has reference to the ancient practice of using seerstones to connect with the divine. Indeed, the text specifically places the "magic" (which here may refer more to spiritual power) in the hat itself.

The text also anticipates skepticism. "Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say" speaks to the song's prophetic nature. The writers (Thwetwipes prefers "transcribers") expected that their claims would be ridiculed, and indeed they have. "Once you have heard 'Frosty the Snowman,' you are no longer on neutral ground," said Midgley-welch.

Expecting a poor reception in an increasingly godless world, the transcribers made sure that there were witnesses to the miraculous event. We are told that the children "know" that he really did live and breathe. Their testimony is clear and specific: "Frosty the snowman was alive as he could be, and the children say he could laugh qnd play just the same as you and me." There is no equivocation, no hesitation in the testimony. "We aren't sure how many children there were, but the use of the plural indicates more than one," said Thwetwipes. "And none of them ever denied their testimony. They had plenty of opportunity to deny what they had seen and expose the fraud, if there had been one. But they remained faithful to the end of their lives."

Forthcoming research will explore the relationship between the broom Frosty carried (perhaps symbolic of a sceptre?) and the ritual dance he performed. "This dovetails rather nicely with what we know about Egyptian kingship rites," Midgley-Welch asserted. "And we are aggressively researching the etymology of those two strange phrases, 'thumpety, thump-thump' and 'bumpety, bump-bump.' We expect to release our findings in a forthcoming edition of the "Journal of Elf, Easter bunny, Reindeer, and Snowmen."

Asked of skeptics' claims of a lost Gene Autry manuscript, Midgley-Welch was dismissive. "That's been floating around for years, and so far we have nothing but a few unfounded word-print studies. I'm confident that Rollins and Nelson will be vindicated in the end."
What I've Learned From Apologetics
Tuesday, Mar 24, 2009, at 10:00 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Sometime around 1995-96, I stumbled across the old listserv boards. A few of the usual suspects were there: Russell C. McGregor, Charles Dowis, Randy Jordan, and others.

That was where I first realized that I wasn't alone in having rethought my beliefs in response to new information. A lot of the posters there were what Shades would call "Internet Mormons," people who rejected orthodox teachings because current evidence no longer supports the old views. Back then, I thought we were perilously close to heretical, but these days the views espoused on a.r.m. wouldn't even cause the major apologists to shrug in disinterest.

But the anger was always there. I don't think I'd ever met an angry apologist until I met Brother McGregor. Some of us tried to build bridges with secular and religious critics, but he and others of his stripe were having none of it. I could never figure out what made them so damned angry, but it was frustrating to me that they often destroyed whatever good will anyone else may have brought about.

I read my posts from back then, and I see a hopelessly naïve believer, someone who thought that, underneath it all, people were basically good. Then I started posting on the old FAIR board.

Back when I was posting as a believer on FAIR, my beliefs were pretty mainstream, at least to the group that posted there. Sure there were a few uber-orthodox fanatics, but most of us had adjusted our Mormon paradigm enough to make things work, and we were pretty much on the same page.

I had some good exchanges with ex-Mormons, some of whom, like Ray A and Polygamy Porter, became good friends. I learned that, even the "vilest" of ex-Mormon could still be a hell of a good guy.

Then I left the church. Suddenly, people who had once been friendly and respectful treated me as if I were the worst kind of degenerate. One poster sent emails around to mutual friends suggesting that I was a sexual predator and perhaps mentally ill. When I reached a suicidal point in my life, one FAIR poster told me I deserved to feel that way, that I really should want to kill myself.

It was then that I realized that most of what goes on in the boards has nothing to do with Mormonism or religion at all. It has to do with personality, with group think, and with an us vs. them mentality. A lot of the pettiness, the hate, the sneering, would have come about even if it had been a board about, say, the Simpsons or bird watching. That the boards are about Mormonism dictates the content of the discussion, but other than that, it's the same.

What is fascinating to me is not so much that ex-Mormons can be angry and bitter and nasty; I get that. I understand why people would be angry. But it's utterly amazing to see otherwise normal Mormons spew such rage and hatred (and then say, who me?). I've often said that the main difference between RfM and some of the LDS boards is not the level of hate, but rather the absence of overt profanity.

Several friends of mine from way back have likewise left the church. One of the founders of a.r.m. left several years ago; and one of my closest TBM friends from back in the FAIR days is now one of my closest exmo friends. Oddly enough, we're not really different, though our views have changed. We're still the same people, even though we're supposed to be wallowing in despair and alcoholism.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say in this longwinded post is that discussing Mormonism comes down to dealing with personalities. The wisest people I've met online don't take the religious discussion all that seriously but enjoy the exchange of perspectives and personalities.

So these days I'm glad I'm still here. I've met a lot of good people, and some not-so-good people. Thank you to everyone who has made my stay on these boards interesting.
Suspension Of The Relief Society In 1844
Wednesday, May 13, 2009, at 10:24 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
In early 1844, a few months before the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Relief Society, organized two years earlier and headed by the prophet's wife, Emma Smith, suspended its operations. The society would not meet again for more than twenty years.

In the weeks before the suspension, a man named Orsimus F. Bostwick had circulated rumors about Hyrum Smith's practice of polygamy. At Joseph Smith's instruction. W. W. Phelps wrote a refutation of the rumors entitled "A Voice of Innocence from Nauvoo," which Emma presented to the Relief Society on March 9, 1844.
She explained that the women had met to lend their collective voice to a proclamation that countered Orsimus Bostwick's slander of Hyrum Smith. Emma read the "Voice of Innocence from Nauvoo" aloud to the group. ... Emma received a unanimous positive vote from the women, who were willing to "receive the principles of Virtue, keep the commandments of God, and uphold the Prest. in putting down iniquity." With a remark that may have seemed pointed toward Elizabeth Whitney and Vilate Kimball, whose young daughters had married Joseph, Emma told the women, "It is high time for Mothers to watch over their daughters and exhort them to keep the path of virtue" (Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, p 173).
She then read the First Presidency's original letter to the Relief Society on its founding in 1842:
We therefore warn you, and forwarn you ... we do not want anyone to believe anything as coming from us contrary to the old established morals and virtues, and scriptural laws. ... All persons pretending to be authorized by us ... are and will be liars and base imposters and you are authorized ... to denounce them as such ... whether they are prophets, Seers, or revelators, patriarchs, twelve apostles ... you are alike culpable and shall be damned for such evil practices" (Ibid., 173-174).
In a later session that afternoon, Emma emphasized that the church had publicly declared itself opposed to plural marriage in the Doctrine and Covenants and reiterated that the Relief Society's original charge was to root out iniquity.
[Emma] then presented both the "Voice of Innocence" and the presidency's letter, stating that the two documents contained the principles the society had started upon, but she "was sorry to have to say that all had not adhere'd to them." Referring to Joseph's original charge to search out iniquity, Emma reminded the women that she was the president of the society by the authority of Joseph. The minutes record, "If there ever was any Authority on earth [to search out iniquity] she had it--and had [it] yet." Emma urged the women to follow the teachings of Joseph Smith as he taught them "from the stand," implying that his private teachings should be disregarded. Reminding them that "there could not be stronger language than that just read," she emphasized that those were Joseph's words" (Ibid., 174).
The Relief Society would not meet again. "When Emma had the women take a public oath with their hands raised in support of virtue, she caused enough consternation in the men's councils to stop the Relief Society meetings" (Ibid., 174).

Church president John Taylor explained that the "reason why the Relief Society did not continue from the first organization was that Emma Smith the Pres. taught the Sisters that the principle of Celestial Marriage as taught and practiced by Joseph Smith was not of God" (174).

Yet the official history of the Relief Society states that the Relief Society's meetings "were suspended in 1844 due to the various calamities which befell the saints" (174). At the Relief Society's sesquicentennial. Sheri Dew wrote that "by 1844 Relief Society membership exceeded 1,300. But after the martyrdom, and with increasing persecution, Brigham Young decided to "defer" operations of the society, and it ceased to function" (Ensign, Mar. 1992, 51).

Here's how the CES Manual "Church History in the Fulness of Times" describes it:
Although at that time Latter-day Saint women had to apply to become members, the Relief Society was very popular and grew rapidly. Membership had grown to over thirteen hundred women at the time of Joseph Smith’s death. Because of the crisis created by the Martyrdom and the exodus to and settlement in the West, there were few Relief Society meetings until the organization was revived in 1867.

The Relief Society's Certificate against the Polygamy Charges

The Ladies' Relief Society was only a few months old, having had its first meeting on March 24,1842 (Times and Seasons 3 [April 1, 1842]: 743). Imagine the extreme disgust with which the ladies of Nauvoo viewed the story that Bennett had written about their being a part of a harem! The seraglio story incriminated them as much as it did the Prophet, since Bennett had claimed that the chief purpose of the Relief Society was to provide women for the plural marriage system. Accordingly, these women came forward to declare that plural marriage was not taught by Joseph, nor by the Church; neither was it a part of their organization, but that it was a falsehood invented by John Bennett. Their certificate read:

We the undersigned members of the ladies' relief society, and married females do certify and declare that we know of no system of marriage being practised in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints save the one contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and we give this certificate to the public to show that J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system" is a disclosure of his own make.

Emma Smith, President,
Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Counsellor,
Sarah M. Cleveland, Counsellor,
Eliza R. Snow, Secretary,

Mary C. Miller, Catharine Pettey,
Lois Cutler, Sarah Higbee,
Thirza Cahoon, Phebe Woodruff,
Ann Hunter, Leonora Taylor,
Jane Law, Sarah Hillman,
Sophia R. Marks, Rosannah Marks,
Polly Z. Johnson,
Angeline Robinson,
Abigail Works.

(Times and Seasons 3 [October 1, 1842]: 940)

Some apologists constantly ridicule critics and former members for stating that the church "covers up" embarrassing history. But this kind of rewriting of history is exactly that. The truth is uncomfortable, so it is swept under the rug, and church members are left to choose to believe Sheri Dew over John Taylor.
Reductive Ex-Mormons
Wednesday, Sep 2, 2009, at 12:30 PM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
The other day more than one apologist on the aptly named MAD board mocked me and other ex-Mormons for being "reductive" in our approach to Mormonism and apologetics. They said that we looked too simplistically at complex issues and saw things in too much of a black-and-white way.

Of course, the issue at hand was the Book of Abraham. Mind you, Joseph Smith made some very specific claims about the papyrus and what it was, and of course none of his claims hold up to scrutiny. Enter the apologists to take the straightforward and spin it into possibilities, catalyst theories, and missing scrolls. But as has been shown repeatedly, these attempts to cloud the issues are just ad hoc reactions to evidence not pointing in the church's direction.

I used to call FARMS et al "The Ministry of Excuses," but really it's more than that. The job of the apologists is to take the straightforward, the obvious, and turn it into a seething cauldron of uncertainty from which can be ladled just enough "plausibility" to satisfy those who really want to believe.

It doesn't help them that every single falsifiable claim the church has made ends up in this "nuanced" approach. Nothing holds up when it is viewed as a straightforward claim. Judeo-Christians dominating the political and cultural life of Mesoamerica? Well, they assimilated. Joseph Smith's "translations" of the vignette facsimiles are gibberish? We don't know what he meant by "translating." And so on.

If evaluating claims against reality makes me reductive, I'm happy to be reductive.
Utah Schools To Show President's Message
Tuesday, Sep 8, 2009, at 11:51 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
In a surprise move, the Utah State Office of Education has announced that after reviewing the controversy surrounding President Barack Obama's upcoming live address to the nation's students, state leaders have arranged for a more acceptable alternative speaker: LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson.

"Over the last few days, we've received hundreds of calls and emails from parents worried that their children would be subjected to political propaganda from President Obama," said Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction, L. Garth Groesbeck. "We didn't want anyone to feel excluded or pressured, so we looked for someone who could serve as a positive role model for all students, regardless of political stripe."

Groesbeck said that Monson was a "natural choice" to inspire the students. "Here is a man who has throughout his life reached out to others, especially widows, and who has consistently avoided political positions, except on crucial moral matters such as same-sex marriage rights and alcohol consumption laws. We feel strongly that by substituting President Monson for President Obama, we can give our children access to a more inclusive and inspiring speaker."

LDS church officials indicated that the prophet would speak from the campus of Brigham Young University. "President Monson felt that, by speaking from the namesake university of one of the state's founders, he would be able to share his message of faith and testimony without offending anyone's political sensibilities."

Monson's theme will be "Strengthening Testimonies in the Latter Days." Church spokesman Daniel Jenks explained that in these last days of trial and tribulation, "the most important knowledge one can accumulate is a testimony of our Savior. No other education can compare."

Utah ACLU attorney Laurel Meyer said that she had been startled and outraged at first. "But then when I thought about it, I realized that all we would be seeing was a laundry list of platitudes and bad poetry. What's the harm in that?"

Eagle Fortress president Gail Ruzkinsky applauded the state's choice. "I have to tell you I was disgusted at the thought of our children being exposed to the virulent socialism of our so-called president, This choice leaves no doubt that, at least in Utah, we stand up for American ideals. We support God and country, not gays and socialized medicine."

Church leaders indicated that the church would be happy to broadcast the prophet's message to all fifty states, but so far, none of the governors contacted had accepted the offer.
The LDS Church Ended The Cold War
Thursday, Sep 9, 2010, at 07:14 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Russell Nelson said years ago that the temple in Freiberg, in what was then the German Democratic Republic, was the "pivot point" around which the Iron Curtain fell and Eastern Europe awoke to the sunshine of western democracy and Mormon missionaries. Never mind that, while thousands were risking their lives in protest in the street, the church (notably in the person of Thomas Monson) was cozying up to the leaders of a brutal, Stalinist state.

With the dedication of the Kyiv, Ukraine, temple, we're again being treated to more self-congratulation about the church's alleged role in the fall of Eastern European Stalinism.

LDS official calls German temple catalyst for 'cataclysmic change' in Europe

An excerpt:
Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander, emeritus LDS Church general authority, is one who points to the Freiberg Temple as the catalyst for not only spiritual opportunities but what he calls "cataclysmic change across Europe."

All in a half-dozen years.

And the result: "Communism overthrown without war, without destruction, without bloodshed, really," he said.

The four key dates he lists:

• June 29, 1985, the dedication of the Freiberg Temple in the German Democratic Republic, the result of nearly two decades of efforts in East Germany by President Thomas S. Monson, then a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

• July 1, 1987, the creation of the church's Austria Vienna East Mission, with its missionaries not serving in Austria but scattered throughout neighboring countries where Mormonism and most other religions had been quashed

• Nov. 8 and 9, 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the symbol of Soviet authority

• Throughout 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union following Mikhail Gorbachev's push for glasnost (Russian for "openness" or "transparency") and perestroika ("restructuring") in the USSR.

"Not many people think of that incremental development, but for me it's quite fascinating," said Elder Neuenschwander, a former BYU and University of Utah professor of Russian languages who was later hired by the LDS Church to assist in arranging the microfilming of genealogical records in central and Eastern Europe.

In 1985, the Berlin Wall and the area's communist-dominated powers seemed absolute.

Elder Neuenschwander said the introduction of the temple coincided with increased information flowing to previously isolated and closed-off European countries, an increased desire by the people to have the freedoms they were just then learning about, and grass-roots developments striving for more political and religious freedoms.

"But the temple became a standard, a light," he said. "And whenever there is a temple, there is additional power and enlightenment and spirituality."

He went on to say that there was a "major development" every two years, and the visible changes, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, were just "the beginning of the end," after the church had put in the leg-work.

Apostle Dieter Uchtdorf agreed that the building of the temple was "key to the changes in Europe and in the world. The Cold War ended because of that."
The Good, The Bad, And Cleanflix
Tuesday, Nov 16, 2010, at 07:59 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Friday night as I was waiting for a takeout order in a downtown Salt Lake sandwich shop, I read a fascinating article in the City Weekly paper about a UVU professor's dismay at prevailing attitudes in Utah toward "inappropriate" movies and, in particular, his disgust at the existence of movie-editing businesses, such as CleanFlix. (

He wrote of how difficult it is to teach a class on media and communication when half of your class refuses to view the material you want to discuss. As an outsider to Mormon culture, he tried to understand his students' perspective, with predictable results:
"I try and try, and fail and fail, to take their perspective. 'So, what are you afraid is going to happen if you watch an R-rated movie?'

"'Those images go in and you can’t get them out. It affects the way you think. It will desensitize you to the real thing.'

"'The real thing?'


“'Do you all read romance novels and watch romantic movies?'

Oh, yes, they do!

“'Does that desensitize you to romance?'

“'It’s not the same thing!'
But, to argue about the reasons for fearing R-rated movies is to miss the point.

"But the 'death of the author' also implies that the meanings of words and images are in people, at the moment and in the context of their interpretation, while clean-movie editing is based on the idea that the meanings of words and images are in the symbols themselves, fixed and stable across time, context and audience members. Thus, some words are good–here, there, now and always–and some words are bad–here, there, now and always. That’s why they call them “bad words.” The theory is that certain words and images have bad meanings and create bad thoughts, regardless of their contexts. They must, otherwise, the whole enterprise, of allowing this word but excluding that word (yes to 'Jesus,' but no to 'penis'), would be entirely absurd!

"Language codes (like Carlin’s famous list of the seven dirty words you can’t say on TV) don’t work because language doesn’t work that way. The meanings of words don’t stand still long enough for us to put them into boxes with their meanings affixed like postage stamps. When a would-be verbal prison guard attempts to lock up a word, he doesn’t touch its meaning. Put a word in a box and its meaning leaks right out. Can’t say “sex”? Let’s just call it “rock and roll.” Can’t say “sexy”? I’ll just say, “that girl over there, she’s got it.” Are they going to banish the word “it”?

"Above all else, CleanFlicks presents an attempt to police sexual expression and desire organized around the “clean/dirty” dichotomy. But, the idea of “clean movies” and “dirty movies” is a fairy tale for children. It is as real as the Easter Bunny. There is no objective or moral science there. Words and images don’t have objective or scientific meanings. They have subjective, cultural meanings. They are contextual. People, with particular values, histories, vocabularies, patterns of cultural taste, etc., interpret them, in relation to a whole range of elements, inside the texts and out."

Language is a messy business, to be sure. Context is everything, and context is random, beyond our control. We invent these language codes to impose stability and order so we can sleep at night. A world where things mean what they say is quite comforting to a lot of people, and these codes of acceptable language and images contribute to that sense of well-being. But how strange is it that a religion as large and diverse as the LDS church would adopt the American film industry's rating system as an arbiter of acceptable images and language? The MPAA determines ratings by checking off a list of words, images, and actions--and then quantifying their occurrence in a film. Say the word "fuck" once, and it's a PG-13 film; say it again, and you're in R territory. And what distinguishes the bare-breasted woman in Oskar Schindler's bed from, say, the bare-breasted woman who literally pops into the frame of Airplane!?

In short, the codes themselves are random, subjective, and contextual, yet they give the illusion of hard-and-fast boundaries. And thus we remove meaning from where it is rightly created (within ourselves) and invest it in symbols. We effectively censor our ability to "read" and interpret by adopting the limits and biases of some other reader who has determined in advance what we should and should not experience. We surrender to the idea that words and images mean something fixed, with a stark line separating the good from the bad--we stay safe and clean by staying on the right side of the line.

Terry Eagleton suggested that Mormonism has evolved from a once-vibrant and revolutionary movement to one in which you aren't allowed to say "fuck." But it wasn't always that way. Early Mormonism seems rooted in possibilities: creating a Zion on earth, building the kingdom, redeeming the House of Israel. But the same impulse to impose order and structure on a random and often frightening universe drove the early Mormons just as much as the CleanFlix folks. Early Mormons sought for reassurance that what they did mattered, that there was some sort of cosmic significance in even the most mundane activities in frontier America. The Mormon community sought from the beginning to separate itself from the Gentile world; they set up cooperative economic and social structures and called for converts to gather to places of refuge from the world. Latter-day Saints were constructing their own dichotomies, seeking to establish something "fixed and stable across time, context, and audience."

In the 21st century, Mormons are far less separated from the rest of the world geographically or culturally, so these dichotomies become much more important for many as cultural markers that delineate the borders of what it is to be a Latter-day Saint. Not surprisingly, these markers almost always appear as dichotomies. Thus, Boyd Packer warns that we should not allow "inappropriate" thoughts to remain on the stage of our minds (they can be driven out with a hymn), and Thomas Monson insists that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind, thus "doubting, agnostic thoughts" must be banished from our thoughts.

But, like language, life is rarely lived within the black and white. Joseph Smith seems to have recognized this with his emphasis on a more situation and relative morality. But trying to live a black-and-white life not only causes us to miss the gray areas, but it also prevents us from seeing all the other colors of the spectrum.
Christmas Clue
Tuesday, Nov 30, 2010, at 07:35 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
(To the tune of "The Christmas Shoes")

It was almost Christmas time, struggling with another line
Tryin' to write that last article or two, not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing 'round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a manuscript
His hands were stained with ink, there was panic in his eyes
And when he stood in front of me
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Sir, I need some answers now, for my Mama, please.
It's Christmas Eve, and Mama's losing faith.
Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there's not much time
She's had Shaken Faith Syndrome for quite a while.
It doesn't really have to be true
It just has to seem plausible to save Mama's testimony tonight.

He read his rambling article through his tears.
I shook my head and said, "Son, there's not much here."
He searched his notes frantically
"I've quoted the big guns, you see.
Nibley, Welch, and Lou Midgley.
But Mama says that stuff is %$#@
Please help me, Sir, I'm desperate!"
Tell me Sir, what am I going to do?
Somehow I've got to buy a Christmas clue.

I had to help him out,
So told him what to do.
Son, you're Mama's already lost to sin.
She's hiding something dark within.

Son, let me buy you a clue, on this Christmas Eve.
If tapirs and NHM don't work, nothing will.
Don't you worry, son, we've got all worked out
Be thankful you're not bitter like her.
No, it doesn't really make much sense,
But it is remotely possible that there might have been Nephites.

I knew I'd caught a glimpse of heaven's love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what apologetics is all about

Sir, I need some answers now, for my Mama, please.
It's Christmas Eve, and Mama's losing faith.
Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there's not much time
She's had Shaken Faith Syndrome for quite a while.
It doesn't really have to be true
It just has to seem plausible to save Mama's testimony tonight.
When Is A Manual Speaking As A Man?
Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010, at 08:36 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Manuolatry: A Reality Check

Recently I've been reminded that some people hold LDS Church manuals in the same esteem as the pronouncements of living prophets and the scriptures themselves. One person asserted, for example, that "doctrine is more important tha[n] scripture ... because we are not qualified to interpet scripture whereas the prophets are." Doctrine, he tells us, is "enshrined" in "official publication[s]" of the LDS Church. By this logic, then, Church manuals are more authoritative than the scriptures themselves because manuals have been vetted and approved as official doctrinal statements by the apostles and prophets.

This rather strange elevation of Church manuals stems from a misinterpretation of a 2007 Church statement intended (, ironically, to clarify what constitutes doctrine. The key passage in this statement and the one that seems to cause the most confusion is this one:

"With divine inspiration, the First Presidency ... and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles ... counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith."

Let's summarize:
  1. The First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles "establish doctrine."
  2. This doctrine "is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications."
  3. The doctrine "resides" in the standard works of scripture, official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. (Technically, the Articles of Faith are part of the standard works because they are published as part of the Pearl of Great Price, but to point out this error would evince a spirit of apostasy, so never mind.)
We could argue about the distinction between "establish," "proclaim," and "reside," but that's not the point of this post. We will better understand what doctrine is by examining how the Church proclaims its doctrines in practice. I will simply mention in passing that, when I worked at the Church Office Building, we were told that a Church publication that had been through the Correlation process and published under a Church copyright after 1971 was considered "consistent" with doctrine, which resided in the scriptures. This was an important distinction because it acknowledged that Church publications may at times be incorrect doctrinally and thus need revision or correction. The scriptures, or where the doctrine "resides," are never incorrect doctrinally and are thus not subject to revision or correction (except for, obviously, printing mistakes such as typographical errors; the infamous "ano" passage in El Libro de Mormón comes to mind).

I don't think we need to discuss the doctrinal authority of "the four 'standard works' of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith." Rather, I wanted to focus on the Church's publication process and how it tries to guarantee doctrinal consistency.

A short history lesson might help. Before 1971, Church priesthood and auxiliary organizations published their own manuals, magazines, and other materials without central oversight from Church authorities: "As the programs and activities of Church organizations expanded in number and complexity, they came to have their own general and local officers, curricula, reporting systems, meetings, magazines, funding, and lines of communications" (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "Correlation"). Without central oversight, these various organizations published what they wanted, which often resulted in consternation and dismay from the leadership. It's not surprising that many of the strange statements alleged by critics to be "doctrine" have been quote-mined from these un-Correlated publications; thus one reads in these volumes about Quakers with tall hats living on the moon and the statement "when the prophet has spoken, the thinking has been done,"

Efforts to exert central "correlation" control over the various organizations began in 1907, but the current Correlation program was not fully in place until 1971. So, the first thing to consider about "official" Church publications is the date. Anything published before 1971 has not been through the Correlation process and thus does not qualify as consistent with Church doctrine. Consequently, the Church's official web site does not contain any official publications with a copyright date earlier than 1971. Church magazines, for example, can be searched only as far back as January 1971. True, works both in and out of the Church from earlier dates are cited often, but the inclusion of excerpts from such publications indicates that the teachings cited have passed a Correlation review, not that the entire work being cited reflects doctrine. In short, the Church does not consider pre-1971 publications to consistently proclaim its doctrines.

But what of current publications? Do they consistently proclaim Church doctrine? Yes, so far as the Correlation committee is concerned, as they have been delegated the responsibility to evaluate Church publications against the established doctrines of the Church.

The process of Church publication is not all that complicated. Generally speaking, the organization involved (the Priesthood Department or the Curriculum Department, for example) proposes a new publication to the General Authority (a Seventy) who oversees that department. Depending on the publication, the proposal may have to be sent to the Twelve for approval, but I didn't see this happen very often. Upon approval, the department creates a writing committee, composed of COB staff and volunteers (David Bokovoy and Daniel Peterson have both served on such committees). The committee follows the general instructions (sometimes a topical outline) and writes the publication. When the department has approved the document, it goes to the Curriculum Department for editing. Curriculum editors have a great deal of freedom to revise and often rewrite the contents of publications, and sometimes this was necessary. When the department has approved the edits, the publication is sent to the Graphics Department for layout and illustration, and then it goes back to the department for final approval. The last step is the Correlation report. Staffers in Correlation review the publication and return a report suggesting changes (ranging from typographical errors to doctrinal issues). After the changes have been made and the originating department, the editor, and the Correlation committee sign off on the publication, it is sent to the press for printing.

"For the Strength of Youth" is a good example of the process. Hoyt Brewster, then director of the Priesthood Department, proposed updating a pamphlet from the 1960s to meet the needs of the youth of the Church today. He submitted the proposal, which was approved, and then a committee worked with Brother Brewster's original draft and then sent a draft to Curriculum for editing. Two editors (one of whom was me) went through the draft, made changes, and then sent the document on for layout and formatting. This was only one of two times while I worked there that I knew of the Twelve being involved in any project (the other being a leadership handbook I worked on). The completed draft came back with changes initialed by the requesting apostle (most were marked "BKP"). We made the changes, got final approval, and sent it out to be published.

Most of the time, however, publications were proposed and produced by the organizations and their professional staff. We all understood that what we had published was not infallible or beyond questioning. That is why Church publications usually include a request for comments and corrections. In short, Church publications are not scripture; they are subject to change, revision, and deletion; they reflect the understanding of those who produce and review them, but they do not enshrine established doctrine. One document I revised had at its original publication stated that the male sex drive was given to us because otherwise men would not want to stay with their families. That isn't doctrine, but it was published in a post-Correlation manual. Similarly, another publication defined "visual contact" as constituting sexual harassment. Is that doctrine, or not?

It's strange that in a religion that allows for translation errors and doctrinal issues with scripture (at least the Bible), some cling to Church publications as some sort of doctrinal pillar of truth. We never thought of them that way, and I never heard any General Authorities refer to them that way; in fact, Elder Gene Cook lamented quite often that instructors had become "slaves" to the manuals, and he wished people would open up a little and do their homework. Thus, in 1989, the Church revised its Sunday School curriculum to focus on the scriptures, not the manuals, as stated by Joseph Wirthlin: "Rather than use so much of the material supplementary to this unique book of scripture, our teachers are being encouraged to concentrate on teaching directly from the text of the Doctrine and Covenants itself.... These questions are also designed to be answered from the scriptural text instead of from resource materials in a manual. We feel this direction will turn the teacher and the students more to the Spirit,to the scriptures, and to prayer for understanding" (Ensign, Jan. 1989, 12). If the manuals were considered "more important" than the scriptures, Elder Wirthlin's concern that the "supplementary" material from the manuals was distracting from the scriptures would have been nonsensical. The manuals were reduced in size and content precisely because they were and are considered less important than the scriptures.

Perhaps the best indicator of the Church's attitude toward the manuals is how often they are cited by the Brethren in their writings and conference addresses. They aren't. They quote scriptures and prophets, and even bad poetry on occasion. But it is rare for any Church leader to refer to Church publications, except on those occasions when a new publication is being introduced.
Another Christmas Repost: Twelve Weeks Of Apostasy
Monday, Dec 20, 2010, at 07:48 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
On the first week I skipped church,
my bishop sent to me
A home teacher preaching to me.

On the second week I skipped church,
my bishop sent to me
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the third week I skipped church,
my bishop sent to me
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the fourth week I skipped church,
my bishop sent to me
Four phone calls,
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the fifth week I skipped church,
my bishop sent to me
Five plates of cookies,
Four phone calls,
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the sixth week I skipped church,
my bishop sent to me
Six major guilt trips,
Five plates of cookies,
Four phone calls,
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the seventh week I skipped church,
My bishop sent to me
Seven First Presidency Messages,
Six major guilt trips,
Five plates of cookies,
Four phone calls,
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the eighth week I skipped church,
My bishop sent to me
Eight links to FARMS,
Seven First Presidency Messages,
Six major guilt trips,
Five plates of cookies,
Four phone calls,
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the ninth week I skipped church,
My bishop sent to me
Nine rumors about my sexual orientation,
Eight links to FARMS,
Seven First Presidency Messages,
Six major guilt trips,
Five plates of cookies,
Four phone calls,
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the tenth week I skipped church,
My bishop sent to me
Ten predictions of divorce,
Nine rumors about my sexual orientation,
Eight links to FARMS,
Seven First Presidency Messages,
Six major guilt trips,
Five plates of cookies,
Four phone calls,
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the eleventh week I skipped church,
My bishop sent to me
Eleven promises of damnation,
Ten predictions of divorce,
Nine rumors about my sexual orientation,
Eight links to FARMS,
Seven First Presidency Messages,
Six major guilt trips,
Five plates of cookies,
Four phone calls,
Three emails,
Two visiting teachers,
And a home teacher preaching to me.

On the twelfth week I skipped church,
My bishop came to me
And we had a beer and watched football.
Evidence Trending In Frosty's Direction, Farms Says
Wednesday, Dec 22, 2010, at 08:07 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Researchers for the Foundation for Arctic, Reindeer, and Magical Snowmen say that, despite the claims of skeptics, more and more evidence supports the belief that Frosty the Snowman really did come to life that day. Food Sciences professor and FARMS president J. Wallace Gitt summarized discoveries in 2008 as “very promising and encouraging, indeed. For more than half a century,” Gitt said, “scoffers have ridiculed the idea of a living, breathing snowman, but these days, there’s just too much evidence for anyone, except the hardcore anti-Snowmen and ex-snows, to ignore.”

Gitt explained that the best evidence for the reality of Frosty is the warm feeling children everywhere get when they sing “bumpety-bump-bump” and think of the “jolly, happy soul” frolicking in the winter snow. But no longer must believers rely solely on their own personal knowledge of the Snowman.

“First of all, the production of the text is miraculous in and of itself. After the success of 1949?s ‘Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer,’ writers Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins had only months to write, produce, and record the song for the upcoming 1950 Christmas season. There’s no way two ordinary mortals could have accomplished that without some kind of divine intervention.”

“But perhaps the strongest evidence of divinity is the text itself,” said Russell Thwetwipes, professor of Greek History. “Our first clue is the use of very specific items in the construction of the snowman itself.”

Several things stand out initially as anachronistic to 1950. Corncob pipes, silk hats, and coal had all been supplanted by cigarettes, fedoras (which were on their way out), and central heating. The use of these items suggests a deeper rooting in the past, which would be unusual for popular writers of the 1950s. But the images seem to have been chosen with care. A corncob situates the story in the Americas, which squares nicely with the use of the word “cop” to refer to a policeman (how could Nelson and Rollins have scored such a bullseye?). The coal for the eyes suggests the Biblical idea of coal as burning fire and life being breathed into mortals (see Ezek. 1:13). And of course, the old silk hat has reference to the ancient practice of using seerstones to connect with the divine. Indeed, the text specifically places the “magic” (which here may refer more to spiritual power) in the hat itself.

The text also anticipates skepticism. “Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say” speaks to the song’s prophetic nature. The writers (Thwetwipes prefers “transcribers”) expected that their claims would be ridiculed, and indeed they have. “Once you have heard ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ you are no longer on neutral ground,” said Gitt.

Expecting a poor reception in an increasingly godless world, the transcribers made sure that there were witnesses to the miraculous event. We are told that the children “know” that he really did live and breathe. Their testimony is clear and specific: “Frosty the snowman was alive as he could be, and the children say he could laugh and play just the same as you and me.” There is no equivocation, no hesitation in the testimony. “We aren’t sure how many children there were, but the use of the plural indicates more than one,” said Thwetwipes. “And none of them ever denied their testimony. They had plenty of opportunity to deny what they had seen and expose the fraud, if there had been one. But they remained faithful to the end of their lives.”

Forthcoming research will explore the relationship between the broom Frosty carried (perhaps symbolic of a sceptre?) and the ritual dance he performed. “This dovetails rather nicely with what we know about Egyptian kingship rites,” Gitt asserted. “And we are aggressively researching the etymology of those two strange phrases, ‘thumpety, thump-thump’ and ‘bumpety, bump-bump.’ We expect to release our findings in a forthcoming edition of the “Journal of Elf, Easter bunny, Reindeer, and Snowmen.”

Asked of skeptics’ claims of a lost Gene Autry manuscript, Gitt was dismissive. “That’s been floating around for years, and so far we have nothing but a few unfounded word-print studies. I’m confident that Rollins and Nelson will be vindicated in the end.”
Flight Risk
Wednesday, Jan 5, 2011, at 08:02 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
The other night I was reminded that, when I arrived in Bolivia, I had to surrender my passport to the mission president for "safekeeping" in the small safe in the mission office.

The safe was in my companion's office, and the passports were all there, sorted by country in alphabetical order and held together in stacks with rubber bands. The vast majority were the navy-blue American, but we had missionaries from such places as Chile, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, and Zimbabwe.

Once I began working in the office, I realized that the "safekeeping" reasoning was just an excuse. All it would have taken was a break-in after hours or someone to sneak in during office hours to steal all those passports (the safe door was often left ajar all day).

In fact, one missionary did sneak in and retrieve his passport. His companion started having paranoid delusions, and when he couldn't get any help from the mission president, he just hopped on a plane and left.

But in general, missionaries are not allowed to go home unless they have committed a grave sin. In such cases, at least in our mission, they were shipped off immediately, though sometimes a disciplinary council was held before they headed to the airport.

Another reason for going home was physical or mental illness. During my tenure as travel secretary, I sent more than a few people home for health reasons ranging from typhoid to septic strep and meningitis.

But going home voluntarily was another matter entirely. You couldn't just go home because you wanted to go. For one thing, you had to go to the mission office to get your passport, which meant that you had to meet with the mission president, who would do just about anything to convince you to stay. And of course, if you aren't honorably released, you have to pay the airfare home.

One of my companions had what he called "a nervous breakdown," but I'd say it was serious depression and a sort of psychotic break (it's a long story, and one I don't care to revisit). He desperately wanted to go home, but the mission president believed his psychological symptoms were just an act so he could go home. Soon, my companion's mother, bishop, stake president, and young men's leader called him on the phone and told him how much he would regret leaving and how disappointed they would be in him. So, he stuck it out, somehow, but I'm convinced he was suffering from major depression the rest of his mission (he once told me, "I barely made it out alive).

Another missionary arrived in Bolivia and informed the mission president that he didn't want to be there, was only there because his girlfriend wanted him to serve a mission, and by agreement with her, he was only going to stay 3 months. As the 3 months approached, our mission president tried everything he could to get this guy to stay. Because he was going of his own accord, I was told not to do any of his visa papers, which meant that he would be delayed at least 2-3 weeks to do the paperwork himself. Nothing worked, from delays to guilt trips to pleading, and the guy went home on his own dime. And this was for someone who hadn't wanted to be there from day one.

In short, it's not easy to leave a mission.

But I wonder, why do they make it so hard to go home?
Selling To My Hardened Heart
Wednesday, Jan 5, 2011, at 08:03 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I went to church Sunday. This year's Gospel Doctrine subject is the New Testament, so for most of the class period we watched the church film, "Finding Faith in Christ."

The film combines scenes from the life of Jesus with a fictional conversation between the Apostle Thomas and an unbeliever named Jonah. A couple of things stood out to me:

First, many of the scenes depicting Jesus are designed to recreated famous LDS paintings. I thought that was kind of a nice touch, as most of the film is instantly familiar to Mormons.

Second, the unbeliever is depicted as being hard-hearted not for any logical or rational reason, but because he's bitter following the death of his wife. He sneers at the believers not because he has any reason not to believe them but because he's angry. What struck me was that he went from smug unbeliever to teary eyed potential convert in no time flat. One minute he's cursing God for taking his wife, and the next he's practically bearing his testimony.

It struck me that the film hadn't moved me in the least bit. The approach seemed to be that a combination of touching scenes of Jesus, coupled with earnest testifying, will soften the hardest heart. But it didn't soften mine.

I think these types of films give us a good view of what the corporation thinks will sell the religion. This is a great example of the church's "HeartSell" approach, which they describe as "strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response." That's really all this film is, an advertisement designed to stimulate an emotional response. It is intended to trigger positive emotions from the life of the Savior and the testimony of "Thomas" and negative emotions toward the unbelieving Jonah, at least until his miraculous transformation.

But I wonder how successful such approaches are. We as Mormons were taught to associate strong emotion with the Spirit, so getting choked up about something is often seen as spiritual confirmation of truth. But people outside the LDS church don't have that automatic response. People I've talked to find Mormon testimonies mystifying, and a few have told me they seem creepy (kind of like my response to those Evangelicals who put their arms up, close their eyes, and mutter during sermons and songs). Witness the response to John Boehner's emotional election night speech. We Mormons would probably see that as being genuine and sincere and praiseworthy, but a lot of people criticized Boehner for it, calling it "bizarre" and "weird," among other things.

So, I wonder if the church does its self-promotion assuming that most people are like Mormons. Surely, the emotional-response model works in most church settings. But it may be a hard sell for others.
Can I Have That In Writing? Joseph Smith, Sex, And Apologists
Friday, Jan 7, 2011, at 08:28 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
One of my good friends has over the last year or so traveled the difficult road of discovering some of the more unpleasant realities about the origins and rise of Mormonism. He spoke to his father about one of his concerns, Joseph Smith's practice of polygyny and polyandry without the consent of his legal wife, Emma. My friend's father assured him that such wasn't the case, that Joseph may have introduced polygamy, but it wasn't practiced "fully" (in the sense of the marriages being consummated) until Brigham Young. My friend's father offered to put him in touch with a well-known BYU Religion professor who specializes in Church History to confirm that Joseph Smith was not a polygamist, except in that "loose, dynastic" sort of way the apologists like to talk about.

My friend emailed me with a brief account of his phone conversation with this professor. It went something like this (I'll put his questions and her direct responses in quotes):

"I asked, did Joseph consummate the marriages?"

She replied, "We don't know because if you read all of Joseph's writings you will see he never mentions the words 'polygamy' or 'plural marriage.'"

"I brought up the temple lot case and asked if the Partridge sisters were lying" (they testified that they had married Joseph without Emma's consent and consummated the marriages).

She replied, "No, I believe they were telling the truth."

"I asked, 'Where do you stand on this issue? Do you believe Joseph Smith consummated the marriages?'"

"She said we don't know."

"I asked, 'Do you believe Joseph Smith married them but didn't consummate the marriages and that Brigham Young actually started the practice in full?'"

"She finally said Joseph Smith very likely practiced it in full just like Brigham Young, but we don't have DNA evidence."

"She was really reluctant. She did make the comment that I have learned a lot."

"She kept saying this over and over: 'We have a one-sided view of church history because Joseph Smith didn't say anything about the subject. All we get are the women testifying against him.'"

"I could tell she was waiting to see what I know before saying anything."

This kind of evasiveness and equivocation really bothers me. On the one hand, yes, the Partridge sisters were telling the truth about marrying Joseph Smith and consummating the marriages, but on the other, we don't know because Joseph never said anything, and there's no DNA proof.

Saying that we can't know anything because Joseph Smith didn't write it down (in specific words, no less) is one of the worst apologetic arguments I have ever come across. Mind you, this is the best the church has to offer. This woman studies and teaches the life of Joseph Smith and early LDS history for a living, and yet she can't commit herself to anything beyond, "We don't know."
Mark Hofmann: "Drastic Measures Were Called For"
Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011, at 07:59 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
There's a fascinating article about Mark Hofmann in the Salt Lake Tribune today (the condensed version is in the Deseret News, natch). The article discusses Hofmann's four-page letter entitled "A Summary of My Crimes," which he wrote to the board of pardons in 1988.

I've often wondered what it is that can drive a person to perpetrate a fraud and then continue in it, even when other people's lives and livelihoods may be destroyed. I can't relate to that. I guess I don't have it in me to do such a thing to other people. But throughout history, fraudsters have destroyed anyone they could get their hands on, and this letter helps me understand. Here is a man who carried out a five-year career of forgery, and rather than allow himself to be caught, he was willing to kill two others and himself.

His career as a forger seems to have started with a childhood need to impress others:

"As far back as I can remember I have liked to impress people through my deceptions," Hofmann wrote in a January 1988 letter to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. "Fooling people gave me a sense of power and superiority. I believe this is what led to my forging activities. ... [At age 12] I figured out some crude ways to fool other collectors by altering coins to make them appear more desirable," Hofmann wrote. "By the time I was 14, I had developed a forgery technique which I felt was undetectable. I exuded [sic] in impressing other collectors and dealers with my rare coins."

"Money was not the object," insisted Hofmann, who said he never sold a forgery until he was 24. By then, his interest had shifted from U.S. coins to Mormon money, which he created with the help of old ink recipes.

From an early age, then, successfully deceiving people gave him a "sense of power and superiority," and that was enough to motivate him to create an "undetectable" forgery technique. Obviously, it's impossible to know why Hofmann needed or wanted that power and authority. Perhaps he had a narcissistic personality or maybe he was just a psychopath, incapable of caring for anyone but himself.

At times he apparently felt some guilt from his activities: "He writes that during what he called his 'life of crime,' he had 'learned to live with the inherent stress, guilt and fears through rationalization and hypnosis.'"

He was able to rationalize quite a bit, apparently. When planning the murders, "for example, for the first time in my life I took an interest in the obituaries," he wrote. "I believe I was trying to convince myself of the worthlessness of life and of life's unfairness. I told myself that my survival and that of my family was the most important thing."

Hofmann also told himself that his intended victims might die that day in a car accident or from a heart attack, and he thought about "the Nazi Holocaust, the earthquake in Mexico and other disasters."

He spoke of his "toying" with the religious faith of other as ""experimentation ... to see why they believe what they do."

Ultimately, however, what mattered was not getting caught. ""The most important thing in my mind was to keep from being exposed as a fraud in front of my friends and family," Hofmann wrote. "When I say this was the most important thing I mean it literally. I felt I would rather take human life or even my own life rather than to be exposed. ... "At the time I was not even sure who the victim(s) would be, only that drastic measures were called for."

Think about that: his identity was so intertwined with the fraud that he would rather kill others and himself than be exposed for who and what he was.

For years, people have been telling me that no one would willingly go to their grave to avoid being exposed as a fraud. Hofmann is solid evidence to the contrary.
The Church Of George Costanza Of Latter-Day Saints
Wednesday, Feb 2, 2011, at 08:03 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I don’t watch a lot of TV these days (no time for it anymore), but occasionally I will watch a rerun of “Seinfeld,” which I still enjoy, even though I’ve seen every episode, as far as I can tell.

The show is sometimes hit and miss, but generally the hits far outnumber the misses. But the one consistent piece of brilliance is the character of George Costanza, which Larry David says that he based on himself.

George is a squat, balding man who says (accurately),”I lie every second of the day. My whole life is a sham.” Rather than face the sad reality of a life of mediocrity, George simply makes up a successful life for himself. When asked what he does for a living, he says he’s a marine biologist or an architect: “You know I always wanted to pretend I was an architect.” Even his aspirations and dreams involve lying.

His entire life is compartmentalized, as well. The persona he adopts in relationships (Relationship George) is entirely different from the person he is with his friends (Independent George), and he lives in fear that the two will eventually collide: “A George divided against itself cannot stand; if Relationship George is allowed to infiltrate George’s sanctuary, he will kill Independent George!”

George spends a lot of time trying to keep reality from invading the dreamland of lies. He swims out into the ocean to save a suffocating whale rather than admit he’s not a marine biologist; he claims to have designed the “new addition to the Guggenheim”; and he tells NBC that he had produced an off-Broadway play (called La Cocina) about a cook named Pepe.

So much of George’s life is fictitious that even he has trouble determining what is real: “Remember, Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it,” he says. We wonder if there is a real George hiding somewhere behind the facade.

For me, this is how Mormonism operates. If you think about it, it all started with a simple lie: an angel appeared to Joseph Smith and told him about some plates, though technically, it begins earlier with Joseph’s discovery of a “peepstone” while digging a well (and no, it doesn’t begin on a beautiful spring day in 1820–that was added later). And everything thereafter has been an extension of that one lie to the point that it’s sometimes hard to separate reality from the prevarication. But it’s OK, because “it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

FARMS is probably the church’s most visible Costanza-like agent of denial. They spend their time making sure that the real church does not collide with the fantasy church. Some people have harshly criticized FARMS for dishonesty, but I think it goes deeper than that; these people really believe it. At least they have constructed such an alternative reality based on the lies that it would be catastrophic if they let the superstructure fall.

In one “Seinfeld” episode, George tells his fiancee’s parents that he is going to his nonexistent house in the Hamptons for the weekend (“I figured since I was lying about my income for a couple of years, I could afford a fake house in the Hamptons”). Calling his bluff, the in-laws offer to go with him. George drives almost all the way across Long Island, hoping against hope that they will give up and turn around before he’s confronted with reality. I think the FARMS folks find themselves in the same position: they hope no one will call their bluff but will just accept their pat answers and move on. But each day they move closer to a confrontation with reality. I once tried to get Daniel Peterson to respond to Robert Ritner’s demolition of the Book of Abraham; nothing doing. I was told to do my homework, and then when I read Peterson’s list of articles, I was told that Ritner’s tone was unacceptable for a peer-reviewed journal.

Sorry, but at this point, I’d trust Art Vandelay more than I would FARMS.
No Lion Remains In Israel: Another One Bites The Dust
Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011, at 06:48 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
So I'm reading Mike Ash's 2007 piece on the FAIR web site about horses in the Book of Mormon. He makes the claim that no horse bones have been found among Hun archaeological remains, though as beastie and Chris Smith have shown, this claim is erroneous.

He also makes this statement, which made me curious:
Even in areas of the world where animals lived in abundance, we sometimes have problems finding archaeological remains. The textual evidence for lions in Israel, for example, suggests that lions were present in Israel from ancient times until at least the sixteenth century AD, yet no lion remains from ancient Israel have ever been found.
His citation for this is:
John Tvedtnes, "The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy" (unpublished, 1994), 29-30 (copy in author's possession); Benjamin Urrutia, "Lack of Animal Remains at Bible and Book-of-Mormon Sites," Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology, 150 (August 1982), 3-4.
So, here we have two LDS sources suggesting that "no lions remains from ancient Israel have ever been found." That should be pretty easy to confirm, right?

Apparently not.
The fauna of the country [Palestine] is almost unchanged from the earliest historic times. The lion and the wild ox have become extinct; the former is noticed by an Egyptian traveller in Lebanon in the 14th cent. B.C., and is even said to have survived to the 12th cent. A.D.; its bones are found in caves and in the Jordan gravels. (Dictionary of the Bible, ed. James Hastings, 1900).
More recent archaeological excavation confirms this:
The largest faunal collections and most intensive archaeo-zoological research for [the Chalcolithic] period have been carried out in the northern Negev. This biological data provides us with a detailed picture of human/animal relations during this formative period. ... If Shiqmim is taken as a representative sample for the valley, sheep ... and goat ... make up over 90 percent of the faunal assemblage with the remaining 10 percent consisting of cattle, ... dog, equid and ca. 3.8 percent of wild animals (gazelle, hartebeest, hippopotamus, lion, small cat, fox, hare, ostrich, bird and fish). (The Archeology of Society in the Holy Land, ed. Thomas Levy, New York, Continuum, 1998, pp. 231-32)
Heck, even another Maxwell Institute article from 2000 contradicts Ash:
The biblical narrative mentions lions, yet it was not until very recently that the only other evidence for lions in Palestine was pictographic or literary. Before the announcement in a 1988 publication [L. Martin. "The Faunal Remains from Tell es Saidiyeh," Levant 20 (1988): 83-84] of two bone samples, there was no archaeological evidence to confirm the existence of lions in that region. (Robert R. Bennett, "Horses in the Book of Mormon," Maxwell Institute, 2000).
Someone needs to alert Mike Ash and Wiki Wonka.
Dissent From The Right? The Church And Immigration Law
Friday, Apr 22, 2011, at 08:02 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Years ago, when I worked at the Church Office Building, I was often amused by a colleague who expressed extremist political views. He would talk about government conspiracies, the United Nations, and black helicopters, and how he was stockpiling food and guns to protect his family against the coming collapse of the United States (you know, when the Constitution would "hang by a thread"). All the while he insisted that the LDS church endorsed his views, although he understood that they couldn't be too explicit publicly, as they needed to be publicly "neutral."

At the time I wondered what would happen if at some point the church said or did something that ran counter to this man's political beliefs. I suspected that, rather than try to adjust his thinking to stay in line with the church, he would likely consider the church to be in apostasy and would choose his political beliefs over loyalty to the church. I've known a few fanatics who have made such a choice, one of whom started his own "church" (membership: 2) and two brothers who took weapons to Temple Square to rescue Ezra Taft Benson, who they believed was being held captive in his apartment by those who wanted to silence him politically (needless to say, these two guys spent time in federal prison).

Boyd K. Packer discussed the choice that church members have to make sometimes between their personal beliefs and the church's teachings. "You need to decide now which way you face.... Perhaps too many of us are strong advocates of our own specialized work or are such strong protectors of our own turf that we face the wrong way -- maybe just sideways.... Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. Let me say that again. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. In our efforts to comfort them, we lose our bearings and leave that segment of the line to which we are assigned unprotected.... We face invasions of the intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before. There is the need now to be united with everyone facing the same way. Then the sunlight of truth, coming over our shoulders, will mark the path ahead. If we perchance turn the wrong way, we will shade our eyes from that light and we will fail in our ministries."

In the last couple of months we've seen some members "facing the wrong way," on a somewhat larger scale, as the church has taken a position on immigration legislation that conflicts with the conservative political beliefs of many of its members. Some background is probably in order.

In November 2010 representatives of business, political, community, and religious groups signed the Utah Compact, a "declaration of five principles to guide Utah's immigration discussion." The LDS church did not sign the compact, but on the day the compact was signed, the church released a statement of support for the compact: "The Church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform. It is consistent with important principles for which we stand."

During the legislative session, the church quietly lobbied lawmakers in support of House Bill 116, which provides for undocumented workers to receive "guest worker" status in the state. As part of the lobbying effort, legislators were given copies of a Deseret News editorial, "A Model for the Nation," which they were told reflects the church's position on H.B. 116. Although the editorial does not mention the bill by name, it mentions its principal authors and sponsors, making clear what legislation the editorial is talking about. Some legislators have said that the church's "lobbyists were heavily involved and explicitly lobbying legislators to support that specific bill." Curt Bramble, author of H.B. 116, said that LDS lobbyists did “make it clear where the church stood on immigration.”

Rep. Brian King agrees that the church “made it pretty clear, in subtle and unsubtle ways, that it supported a more moderate approach to dealing with immigration that recognized the complexity of human lives. They weren’t telling legislators anything they hadn’t been conveying to the public, even before the session.”

On March 15, 2011, Governor Gary Herbert signed the legislation. Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, representing the LDS church, attended the signing, which apparently upset more than a few church members. In response, the church issued another press release, "A Principle-Based Approach to Immigration," which praised the legislation as a "responsible approach to a very complicated issue" and expressed "support for the diligent efforts of lawmakers in this area."

This past weekend, Paul Rolly reports that the Salt Lake County Republican Party convention, which is overwhelmingly LDS, passed a "resolution rejecting the legislation allowing for a guest-worker program and asking for it be overturned." Rolly also mentions a growing movement "in Republican circles in Salt Lake and Utah counties to 'throw out the bums' who voted for the bills."

Told of the church's support for the guest worker legislation, delegates were shocked and dismayed. "Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, expressed that frustration as a church member. He said on K-TALK’s 'Red Meat Radio' program Saturday that he was amazed at how many Republican delegates refused to accept the fact that the church favors a kinder and gentler approach to immigration reform."

Some church members are not taking this lying down. Ron Mortensen, a church member and fellow of the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-undocumented worker organization, has written a long piece decrying the church's involvement in the legislation. He charges the church with dishonesty in its claims of neutrality on the legislation and in one case accuses the church of an "outright lie." He suggests that the church has lost its bearings:
"The press release reveals just how far the LDS Church has moved from its American roots. The statement acknowledges that the Church is dealing with complex issues around the world. Mercy (compassion) is emphasized over justice and the press release gives the distinct impression that the Church is moving to the left and closer to a social justice position."
To me this sounds suspiciously like something a fundamentalist Mormon might write. (Note the reference to Glenn Beck's condemnation of "social justice" churches.) However, Mortensen is careful to couch his criticisms as asking the church to clarify its position, which he calls inconsistent.

"Mortensen said he hasn’t lost his faith over this issue, nor is he anti-Mormon. He sent a copy of his paper to LDS President Thomas S. Monson, who sent a note saying he doesn’t comment on publications, and four apostles, who never replied. Some Mormon opponents of the bills, Mortensen said, are withholding some contributions from the church because of its stance."

But I think Brother Mortensen is going to find that he has crossed a line with the church. It is one thing to question the church's position on specifics, but it is quite another thing to publicly chastise the church and its leaders for abandoning its teachings--at one point claiming the church is "separat[ing]" itself "from the 12th Article of Faith and the rule of law"--and supporting criminal activities.

It will be interesting to see where this debate goes from here.
Some Perspective
Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011, at 08:36 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
President Hinckley used to say that the church was coming out of obscurity, and indeed his PR appearances and the predictions of Rodney Stark that the LDS church would soon become a major world religion seemed to confirm such a notion.

It was a huge shock to me, when I lost my faith and non-Mormons talked more openly with me about the church, that the church was a miniscule presence in American life, and that most people didn't think much about it, other than seeing it as a bit odd.

Joseph Smith had predicted that his name would be had for good and evil the world over, but mostly people have never heard of him, and those who have are indifferent to an obscure religious leader who lived nearly 200 years ago. Far from being a stone that has rolled forth to cover the earth, the LDS church has made minor inroads in places around the world, with perhaps 4 million active adherents, but the stone appears to be slowing to a halt and perhaps beginning to roll backwards.

A good comparison to Mormonism, in my view, is the movement of Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru who died this past week. Sai Baba had at his death, it is said, 6 million or so active followers around the world. His organization has spread throughout the world, and it has built schools, universities, and hospitals, and funded charitable work, such as water-purification plants, in poor areas. Sai Baba counted as friends and followers presidents, prime ministers, and celebrities.

This is the kind of career that I believe Joseph Smith envisioned for himself. Instead, he lived and died in and out of jail in obscure frontier towns, disdained by the powerful and influential. I would bet money that in 200 years, Sathya Sai Baba will still be more influential than Joseph Smith.
You Might Be An Apologist If
Friday, Apr 29, 2011, at 06:58 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
10. You followed your priesthood leaders' counsel and proudly worked hard to support Proposition 8, and then when it passed, you wondered why people were blaming you.

9. You think having sex with women behind your wife's back is ordained of God, but following your conscience is a sign of pride and a lack of faith and imagination.

8. You think Mesoamerica is the "best fit" for a Book of Mormon setting, so long as you discount mention of horses, chariots, and steel weapons.

7. You believe the counsel to have only one earring per ear is an example of continuing revelation, but teachings about Deity proclaimed by prophets and taught in the temple are just the speculations of men speaking as men.

6. You believe that women have total equality in the LDS church because three women said so.

5. You consider a lapsed Mormon and practicing Catholic to be more faithful than a BYU professor, who is on his way toward apostasy.

4. You consider those who read only church-approved materials "lazy and intransigent" at the same time you say that the church publishes everything a member needs to know.

3. You think that NHM is a direct hit for the Book of Mormon, but the similarities of several place names in New York and Ohio to Book of Mormon place names are purely coincidental.

2. You consider Jeff Lindsay and Kerry Shirts scholars of the highest order, but Dan Vogel, Brent Metcalfe, and Michael Quinn are "skilled iconoclasts," amateurs with an axe to grind.

1. You think "Mormon Dialogue" encourages actual dialogue.
Dishonesty And DNA
Monday, May 2, 2011, at 07:36 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Disclaimer: I have no expertise in DNA of any kind, so I will not be discussing the legitimacy of certain scientific assertions. I do, however, know how to check sources against how they are being used, which is the focus of this post.

Recently, Simon Southerton, a DNA scientist and former Mormon, posted some thoughts on the state of DNA evidence for or against the Book of Mormon. In response, someone referred to a FAIR article by David Stewart, an orthopedic surgeon, entitled "DNA and the Book of Mormon."( I will say up front that I have had no interaction with David Stewart, and he is only known to me for his epic debate with DNA researcher "The Dude" on the now-defunct "Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board."

Stewart begins by discussing the "traditional LDS position" regarding Native American ancestry before discussing Thomas Murphy's "challenge" to that position.

He begins by telling us that "Critic Thomas Murphy" is hanging his hat on two types of evidence: Native American mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is passed through females, and Y-chromosome "Cohan Modal Haplotype," which is passed through males. Stewart says, "Murphy writes that 'some of the most revealing research into Native American genetics comes from analyses of mtDNA,' and presents mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data to support his conclusion that Native Americans could not possibly have an origin in ancient Israel." The direct quote is accurate in that Murphy right says that mtDNA has revealed a great deal about Native American genetics. That said, Murphy does not conclude that "Native Americans could not possibly have an origin in ancient Israel."

Here's what Murphy actually says. In the first cited article, Murphy writes:
Quantitative scientific methods can now test the claims of an Israelite genetic presence in ancient America. So far, they have demonstrated that nearly all Native Americans can trace their lineages to migrations from Asia sometime between 7,000 and 50,000 years ago. Latter-day Saints who prematurely pointed to haplogroup X as the best hope to salvage Mormon claims were mistaken–indeed, the timing and destination of that migration is inconsistent with either a hemispheric or limited Mesoamerican geography for the BoMor. Moreover, the most recent studies have identified haplogroup X in Siberian populations which share a common ancestry with Native Americans. While molecular anthropologists have demonstrated a technological capability to use DNA to identify descendants of ancient Hebrews, no such evidence has turned up in Central America or elsewhere among Native Americans. Ultimately, as Sorenson has noted, these findings may not matter to Latter-day Saints who have a spiritual witness of the "truth" of the BoMor, yet they caution against confusing a spiritual witness with scientific evidence. Spiritual witnesses may reach beyond science but they should never be confused with it.
Note that Murphy acknowledges that evidence of Hebrew origins "so far" has not "turned up in Central America or elsewhere among Native Americans" and nowhere insists that such evidence cannot possibly be forthcoming.

In the second cited piece (a PowerPoint presentation, I might add), he states:
Lamanites could not possibly be “the principal ancestors of the American Indians” as claimed in the current introduction to the Book of Mormon.
This is hardly controversial, as the church itself has changed the wording of the introduction to "among the ancestors of the American Indians." More importantly, however, Stewart dramatically exaggerates Murphy's statement to make it seem as if Murphy believes that the case against Nephite migration is over and has been, metaphorically speaking, been pretty much thrown into Mount Doom, with Mount Doom being then dropped under the continental plates. With this strawman firmly in place, Stewart takes on mtDNA evidence.
Over 98% of Native Americans tested to date carry mitochondrial DNA haplogroups A, B, C, or D. Outside of the Americas, these haplogroups are most commonly found in Mongolians and south Siberians, and are rarely found in modern Jews. Another 1% carry haplogroup X, which is found in south Siberian, European, and Near Eastern populations.
So far, so good. We know that these haplogroups appeared in the Americas some 16,000 years BC, indicating that nearly all Native Americans originate in south Siberia or Mongolia some 18,000 years ago, at least.
Murphy's arguments are based on the assumption that modern Jewish mtDNA accurately represents the mtDNA of ancient Israel.
This is another misstatement. Here's Murphy's discussion of "Israelite DNA":
Researchers have uncovered distinctive genetic markers on the Y-chromosome that can be useful in establishing linkages between ancient Hebrew and contemporary populations. Within the modern Jewish religion there are three patrilineal castes that genetic anthropologists Neil Bradman et al. describe thus: "the Priests (Cohanim, singular Cohen), non-Cohen members of the priestly tribe (Levites) and Israelites (non Cohanim and non-Levites)." As they use the term Israelite, it constitutes a subgroup of Jews "who are neither Cohanim nor Levites." While Cohanim and Levites are present in most Jewish communities, one becomes a Jew through matrilineal heritage (being born to a Jewess) or through conversion. Thus "Israelite" haplotypes are very diverse, with only the Cohen modal haplotype appearing more frequently than 0.1 (14 out of 119). The Cohen modal haplotype is much more frequent in both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Cohanim (0.509, n = 54) and relatively rare in Levites (0.037). Despite different understandings of the terms Jew and Israelite than those commonly held among Mormons, Bradman and colleagues date the origin of the Cohen modal haplotype to 2,100 to 3,250 years ago (putting it within the historical range of alleged Lehite and Mulekite migrations to the New World). They conclude that it may "be useful for testing hypotheses regarding the relationship between specific contemporary communities and the ancient Hebrew population."[68] Markers on the Y Chromosome are not the only genetic linkages between descendants of ancient Hebrews. Numerous nuclear DNA polymorphisms and various types of mtDNAs have been used to cluster and chart genetic relationships among Jews in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They have even provided evidence of Jewish connections among probable Spanish American descendants of conversos (Spanish Jews forcefully converted to Christianity in the 15th century).[69] Yet, they consistently fail to produce the linkages one would expect to find if Native Americans descended from ancient Hebrews as the BoMor suggests.
Once again, when Murphy does mention mtDNA, it is simply to note that mtDNA has been used successfully to "cluster and chart genetic relationships among Jews in Europe, Asia, and Africa" and point out that there are no such linkages among Native Americans.

Next Stewart tells us that "Findings that Jewish groups share little mtDNA commonality, but closely reflect the mtDNA of their host populations, flatly contradict Mr. Murphy's assumptions. Mitochondrial DNA studies have had little success in linking different Jewish groups, leading geneticists to discount mtDNA as being notoriously unreliable in ascertaining 'Jewish' roots. " Does the cited study suggest that?
Previous low-resolution RFLP studies of the maternally inherited mtDNA of Jews, using five or six restriction enzymes, have also revealed patterns interpreted both in terms of common origin and local admixture. Ritte et al. (1993b) found that genetic distances among seven Jewish communities and Israeli Arabs were comparable to those found among five globally dispersed populations, with Ethiopian Jews appearing more as an outgroup than Israeli Arabs. Tikochinski et al. (1991) and Ritte et al. (1992) found that genetic diversity within Jewish populations was generally lower than in populations with a geographically extensive distribution, such as whites, Asians, Australians, and Africans, but was greater than that found in geographically restricted populations such as New Guineans, a pattern they attributed to an unusually polymorphic ancestral Jewish population, a high rate of growth in Jewish populations, or introgression events from neighboring populations. Ritte et al. (1993a) compared mtDNAand Y-chromosome haplotypes in six Jewish communities and found consistently lower genetic diversity in the mtDNA than in the Y-chromosome haplotypes, although differences in mutational processes between these two marker systems make it very difficult to ascribe such differences with certainty to demographic effects.
mtDNA is used in the study cited to show that groups of diaspora Jews tend to have descended from a small group of presumably local women. However, this does not apply to groups such as the Samaritans, who can be traced geographically and genetically (using mtDNA) to ancient Near Easter sources. So, the similarity of the mtDNA to local host populations is irrelevant, as I will discuss.
The University College London study found that that while separate Jewish communities were founded by relatively few female ancestors, this "process was independent in different geographic areas" and that the female ancestors of different communities were largely unrelated.
Coupled with the statement that "the female ancestors of different communities were largely unrelated," Stewart makes it appear that, because the "founding process" for Jewish communities was "independent in different geographic areas," one cannot possibly use mtDNA to trace Jewish ancestry.

Next Stewart quotes a summary of the UCL study by New York Times reporter Nicholas Wade:
Nicholas Wade wrote: "A new study now shows that the women in nine Jewish communities from Georgia... to Morocco have vastly different genetic histories from the men.... The women's identities, however, are a mystery, because...their genetic signatures are not related to one another or to those of present-day Middle Eastern populations."
This sounds pretty devastating to the suggestion that Jewish ancestry can be traced through mtDNA. But here Stewart ignores a key finding in the UCL study:
We have analyzed the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA from each of nine geographically separated Jewish groups, eight non-Jewish host populations, and an Israeli Arab/Palestinian population, and we have compared the differences found in Jews and non-Jews with those found using Y-chromosome data that were obtained, in most cases, from the same population samples. The results suggest that most Jewish communities were founded by relatively few women, that the founding process was independent in different geographic areas, and that subsequent genetic input from surrounding populations was limited on the female side.
The last part is important. The study is talking about the founding of a Jewish community outside of Israel/Palestine. An "earlier study, led by Dr. Michael Hammer of University of Arizona, showed from an analysis of the male, or Y chromosome, that Jewish men from seven communities were related to one another and to present-day Palestinian and Syrian populations, but not to the men of their host communities."

So, what this study shows is that Jewish males (probably traders) settled in non-Jewish communities, and of necessity married local women. However, because the Jewish communities are traditionally insular, further intermarriage with locals was, in the words of the study, "limited." According to Dr. David Goldstein, one of the study's authors:
The men came from the Near East, perhaps as traders. They established local populations, probably with local women. But once the community was founded, the barriers had to go up, because otherwise mitochondrial diversity would be increased.
This is important because, according to Mormon proponents of a limited geography theory (LGT) of Nephite/Lamanite population, intermarriage with existing Native American populations caused the genetic traces of Middle Eastern ancestry to vanish with time. There are a couple of differences that are worth noting:
  1. The study shows that these diaspora communities were founded by men, who intermarried with local women, thus the lack of Middle Eastern mtDNA, but
  2. The Book of Mormon emigrants were both male and female, and there are three separate migrations from the Middle East mentioned. Thus, unlike the diaspora communities studied, there should be both mtDNA and Y-chromosome evidence of Middle Eastern ancestry among Native Americans.
Moving on, Stewart states:
Dr. Mark Thomas and colleagues reported: "In no case is there clear evidence of unbroken genetic continuity from early dispersal events to the present....Unfortunately, in many cases, it is not possible to infer the geographic origin of the founding mtDNAs within the different Jewish groups with any confidence." (MG Thomas, ME Weale, AL Jones, et. al. "Founding mothers of Jewish communities: geographically separated Jewish groups were independently founded by very few female ancestors." American Journal of Human Genetics, 70:6 (June 2002), 1411-1420.)
The statement before the ellipses makes it appear that a scientific study found no "clear evidence of unbroken genetic continuity" from early Jews to today's Jewish population.

Is that what the original source claims? Here is the citation in context, which is an introduction discussing the difficulty in establishing historical evidence to substantiate claims of descent from Israel and Judea (you can find the entire article here: (
Before the Second World War (1939–1945) and the founding of the modern state of Israel (1948), there were many long-standing separate Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. All of them claimed an origin in one or another dispersal from Israel and Judea.However, the origins of small minority communities founded before the 16th century are rarely well documented. For some Jews (e.g., the Babylonian Jews and modern Iraqi Jews), evidence exists of ancient Jewish communities in the same locations as in present times, but gaps often exist in the records of intervening centuries (Rejwan 1985, p. 143). In no case is there clear evidence of unbroken genetic continuity from early dispersal events to the present (de Lange 1984, p. 15; Encyclopaedia Judaica 1972).
Note that the first citation tells us that "gaps often exist in the records of intervening centuries" and that the last two support that original statement. None of these citations is from a scientific article, and none talks about DNA. The first is from a book published by the Theodore Herzl foundation entitled "The Jews of Iraq: 3000 Years of History and Culture"; the second is from the "Atlas of the Jewish World"; and the third is from a 1972 edition of the "Encyclopedia Judaica." None of these sources discusses DNA issues; rather, they discuss gaps in genealogical records. Stewart's piece picks up on the word "genetics" and presents the quote as if it suggested that there is no DNA evidence of genetic continuity, which is a gross distortion of the original source.

After the ellipses--which of course suggests a relationship between the two statements--we are told "Unfortunately, in many cases, it is not possible to infer the geographic origin of the founding mtDNAs within the different Jewish groups with any confidence." Stewart appears to be linking gaps in genealogical records to an inability to determine the geographic origins of Jews. Again, since the study finds that the mtDNA comes from non-Jewish women, the statement is irrelevant to a discussion of Jewish mtDNA. Rather the authors suggest that "an indigenous origin is certainly possible, given the data," and that two of the groups (Bene Israel and Ethiopian Jews) are most likely the result of intermarriage by "local recruitment."

Next comes more from the New York Times:
Dr. Shaye Cohen of Harvard University observed, "The authors are correct in saying the historical origins of most Jewish communities are unknown.
Most of those founding narratives do not have strong historical support. Dr. Lawrence H. Schiffman, professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, said the new genetic data could well explain how certain far-flung Jewish communities were formed. But he doubted that it would account for the origin of larger Jewish communities that seemed more likely to have been formed by families who were fleeing persecution or making invited settlements.

Dr. Shaye Cohen, professor of Jewish literature and philosophy at Harvard, said the implication of the findings and the idea of Jewish communities' having been founded by traders, was ''by no means implausible.''

''The authors are correct in saying the historical origins of most Jewish communities are unknown,'' Dr. Cohen said. ''Not only the little ones like in India, but even the mainstream Ashkenazic culture from which most American Jews descend.''

In a recent book, ''The Beginnings of Jewishness,'' Dr. Cohen argued that far-flung Jewish communities had adopted the rabbinic teaching of the matrilineal descent of Jewishness soon after the Islamic conquests in the seventh, eight and ninth centuries A.D.

One part of the Goldstein team's analysis, that matrilineal descent of Jewishness was practiced at or soon after the founding of each community, could fit in with this conclusion, Dr. Cohen said, if the communities were founded around this time.
So, Dr. Cohen is not talking about genetic evidence but rather the "founding narratives" of these various communities; in other words, we do not know how or why these Jewish men settled in various locations, but we know they did. But Stewart distorts his source to make it seem damning to Murphy's paper.

Next Stewart dismisses the relevance of mtDNA entirely from a study of Jewish ancestry:
Even close mtDNA homologies would not necessarily prove an Israelite origin, but the conspicuous absence of such homologies provides strong circumstantial evidence of non-Israelite origins for the mtDNA and much of the other genetic makeup of most modern Jews. With no evidence that modern Jewish mtDNA constitutes a valid control of the genetics of ancient Israel--and considerable evidence to the contrary--claims of Israelite lineage cannot be either confirmed or denied based on mtDNA data.
A couple of things:

Every study I have consulted suggests that the oldest Jewish communities, those of Iran and Iraq, which were formed around the time of Lehi (500-600 BCE) can be traced to Near Eastern origins through mtDNA analysis:
The Jewish communities of Iraq and Iran constitute the oldest non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities outside the Levant and were established during the 6th century B.C.E. For the Iranian (Persian) Jewish community sample set, we found that 41.5% of the mtDNA variation can be attributed to 6 women carrying mtDNA genomes that belong to sub-branches of Hgs H6a1b1, H14a1, T2g, T2c1, U1a1a, and J1b1 (Table 2), all known to be present in West Eurasia. In this regard, it is noteworthy that though Hg H is the dominant European mtDNA Hg (40-50%), its sub-Hgs H6 and H14 are largely restricted to the Near East and the South Caucasus [12]. Similarly, we found that about 43% of the Iraqi Jewish community can be traced back to 5 women whose mtDNA belongs to Hgs T2c1, J1b'e/J1e, U3b1a, H13a2b and W1d (Table 2), all frequent in the Near and Middle East. Again, Hg H13 is typically the Near Eastern, not European variant of Hg H [12]. Consistent with our findings, an independent sample of Iraqi Jews reported in a previous study [7], contained eleven out of 20 individuals who carry mtDNA variants, that can be assigned to the five founding lineages identified in the current study. (Behar et al., Counting the Founders: The Matrilineal Genetic Ancestry of the Jewish Diaspora, Molecular Medicine Laboratory, Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa, Israel, 2008).
So, whether an "Israelite origin" can be proven is again, irrelevant. Jewish populations from the time period of Lehi show Near Eastern mtDNA. That Native Americans do not have such mtDNA suggests that there is no evidence for Near Eastern ancestry, Israelite or not.

Other studies have used combinations of Y-chromosome evidence, mtDNA, and identity by descent (IBD) to show that "This study demonstrates that the studied Jewish populations ["European/Syrian and Middle Eastern Jews"] represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters with genetic threads that weave them together. These threads are observed as IBD segments that are shared within and between Jewish groups." (Atzmon et al., "Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry," American Journal of Human Genetics 86, 850-859, 2010).

Stewart finishes his discussion of mtDNA with this paragraph:
Joseph's wife Asenath, daughter of Potipherah priest of On, is the ancestral mother of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 46:20). While her genealogy is unknown, there is no reason to believe that her mitochondrial lineage or that of her descendants, including the Lehites, would have matched that of the tribe of Judah. The presence of mtDNA types in Native Americans that do not match those found in modern Jewish groups is fully consistent with both Book of Mormon and Bible accounts.
This is mind-boggling. In essence, he's saying that, because we don't know exactly what the mtDNA of Asenath would look like, we cannot determine a Near Eastern connection to Native Americans. As I mentioned, we know what the mtDNA of Near Eastern peoples looks like, so all it would take to make Israelite ancestry plausible would be the presence of one marker from Middle Eastern DNA. A good analogy would be to the Samaritans, who trace their lineage back to those Israelites who did not go into exile when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 BC, but married Assyrian and female exiles relocated from other conquered lands, which was a typical Assyrian policy to obliterate national identities. This is in line with biblical texts that emphasize a common heritage of Jews and Samaritans, but also record the negative attitude of Jews towards the Samaritans because of their association with people that were not Jewish. Such a scenario could explain why Samaritan Y chromosome lineages cluster tightly with Jewish Y lineages, while their mitochondrial lineages are closest to Iraqi Jewish and Palestinian mtDNA sequences.

In short, the older the lineage, the greater affinity in both Y chromosome and mtDNA with other groups founded at the same time. That the Jews exiled to Iraq at the time of the Assyrian conquest are closely related by mtDNA to Samaritan communities founded at the same time suggests that we do know what kind of mtDNA evidence would support the claim that Near Eastern immigrants were assimilated into Native American populations. So, not only is mtDNA not "notoriously unreliable but has been used to link two Jewish groups to common Near Eastern ancestry.

This is just one section of Stewart's paper, but it shows that Murphy's statements are correct: so far, there is no evidence for Israelite origins among Native Americans. I could go through the rest of the article, but this ought to be sufficient to show that Stewart has built up a strawman and then manipulated sources to knock it down.

If nothing else, I conclude, first, that Stewart's article is not a trustworthy response to Murphy, and second, that FAIR does not source-check their publications.
Jump? How High? More On The LDS Church And Immigration
Wednesday, May 4, 2011, at 07:41 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Interesting piece the other day in the Provo Herald:

They note, as I did in an earlier post, that the church’s position on immigration is so far from the position of right-wing members that it could potentially cause a “schism” (their word, not mine) among members. But they include a timeline of events that shows clearly how most people in the church will adjust their positions to align with the church’s position, no matter how passionately they feel about it.

Two weeks ago, Salt Lake County Republicans held a convention of delegates. On the agenda was a proposed resolution calling for the repeal of HB 116, the immigration reform bill passed by the Utah Legislature creating a permit system that would allow illegal immigrants to work legally within the state.

The repeal resolution was introduced late in the evening, after many delegates had gone home. The remaining delegates tended to be anti-immigrant, and the measure passed.

• A few days later, the LDS Church issued a formal statement on its website stating clearly that it approved of the philosophical underpinnings of HB 116. It went on to say that its position on immigration reform was being “distorted” by opponents of the bill, and that it would speak further if necessary.

We suppose the church thought its position had been made clear enough by the attendance of Presiding Bishop H. David Burton at the signing ceremony.

• Two days after the church’s statement was released, the executive committee of the Utah County Republican Party considered the repeal resolution. It failed by a 2-1 margin.

• Shortly thereafter, Republican delegates in Davis County met in convention. The repeal resolution failed by roughly the same margin.

• Then Republicans in Weber County met in convention. They refused to allow the repeal resolution to be introduced.

Now the word on the street is that Republicans in Salt Lake County desperately want a redo. Their timing in passing the repeal resolution was, well … awkward.

In Provo on Tuesday night a town hall meeting was held for delegates of Senate District 16 – Sen. Curt Bramble’s district. Many delegates were in attendance, including a number who have opposed the LDS Church’s stand – Keri Witte, Rep. Chris Herrod of Provo and others. Given the opportunity to learn details of the new law by asking questions of Bramble (HB 116?s chief architect), not a single question was asked.

The silence was deafening. Up to now, the anti-immigrant agitators have held that the LDS Church had left plenty of philosophical room for good Mormons to oppose HB 116.

Herrod, an ardent advocate of an “enforcement” approach, has stood in opposition to the LDS Church on a regular basis and in fact was the point person for repeal at the Utah County executive committee meeting. But not Tuesday. On Tuesday he was silent.
I support the church’s position on HB116 and other common-sense approaches to immigration, but I am fascinated by how this has all played out.
Joseph Smith, Superstar: More On Faithful History
Monday, May 9, 2011, at 07:53 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
When I was growing up, I was taught to revere Joseph Smith, who was so good, so nearly perfect, that he had reached mythic proportions. We sang "Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah," and we meant it. He wasn't just a man; he was a demigod (who even "mingl[ed] with Gods") with no apparent human failings or flaws. People who never knew the man wept openly when speaking of his prophetic calling, his sacrifices, and especially his martyrdom in a lowly jail cell, his blood "shed by assassins." In my youthful innocence, he had lost all trace of the human and had assumed the form of some half-Superman, half-Jesus personage. He was humble, pious, courageous, a hard worker, and the strongest athlete in town (we all heard stories of his skills at "stick pulling" and wrestling). He was no mere mortal.

No, that's not right. I knew he was just a man, with ordinary human failings and weaknesses. I just never knew what those failings were. He himself said, "I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God." Teenaged boys get into all kinds of trouble, and many have speculated about Joseph's youthful indiscretions, but Joseph tells us, "In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company." So, I was left to suppose that he was free of any real flaws other than a youthful tendency to be too jovial (I thought that I could die happy if my only flaw were joviality).

Of course, discovering the reality of Joseph Smith the man was more than a little jarring, given his legendary status in my mind. There was a huge disconnect between Olympian Joseph and the man who lived and breathed in the nineteenth century, and mortal Joseph was, in all honesty, both a disappointment and a relief. I wanted him to be that demigod of my childhood, but then I was glad to see that God might work through a flawed individual who in many ways wasn't all that different from me. Wilford Woodruff once said that he was glad he had seen Joseph's flaws and failings because if God could use a flawed man to do such a great work, there was hope for Wilford Woodruff. Maybe there was hope for me, too.

Where did my unrealistic view of Joseph Smith come from? I'm assured by apologists that the church does not glorify Joseph in any way or downplay any of his flaws. I was just being "selective" in what I read and understood about the prophet. Naturally, they tell me, anyone with such a ridiculous and irrational view of the prophet is destined to be disappointed and will probably fall away from the church. I'm Exhibit A in that regard.

Looking back, though, I wonder how unrealistic my view was. The Joseph Smith of the church manuals, conference talks, and seminary classes was this demigod Joseph, the good and humble wise and athletic. Nonsense, the apologists say. That version of Joseph was a figment of your imagination.

But was it?

Reading some church materials, I realize that the impression I had of Joseph Smith was intentional. Church materials do not attempt to define the man Joseph Smith, but they build up a legend; history becomes hagiography. Let's look at a couple of examples: the chapter on Joseph Smith from the Presidents of the Church manual and the church's official web site about Joseph Smith,

Headings in the manual describe Joseph as a "boy of courage and resolve," "humble," "prophet, seer, revelator, restorer, witness, and martyr," and "the great prophet of this dispensation." Besides his great visions, Joseph's life was filled with honorable vocations and activities, though he was so much more than other men: "No man or combination of men possessed greater intelligence than he, nor could the combined wisdom and cunning of the age produce an equivalent for what he did." Throughout the manual, Joseph's accomplishments are played up, and much is omitted that would give the reader a more balanced and accurate account of his life. An instructive episode in the manual is Joseph's marriage to Emma Hale, which is described thus:

"While Joseph Smith awaited the appointed time to remove the plates and begin translation of the Book of Mormon, he worked for a man named Josiah Stowell. During this employment, Joseph boarded in the home of Mr. Isaac Hale in Harmony, Pennsylvania. "Isaac Hale had a daughter, Emma, a good girl of high mind and devout feelings. This worthy young woman and Joseph formed a mutual attachment, and her father was requested to give his permission to their marriage. Mr. Hale opposed their desire for a time, as he was prosperous while Joseph's people had lost their property; and it was on the 18th day of January, 1827, the last year of waiting for the plates, before Joseph and Emma could accomplish their desired union. On that day they were married by one Squire [Tarbell], at the residence of that gentleman, in South Bainbridge, in Chenango County, New York. Immediately after the marriage, Joseph left the employ of Mr. [Stowell] and journeyed with his wife to his parental home at Manchester, where during the succeeding summer, he worked to obtain means for his family and his mission. The time was near at hand for the great promise to be fulfilled and for his patience and faithfulness to be rewarded" (George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Classics in Mormon Literature series [1986], 43)."

So much is left out here that is important to understanding the events that happened. Let me just answer a few questions:

1. What was Joseph doing when he worked for Josiah Stowell? You wouldn't know from the manual account that Joseph had convinced Mr. Stowell that he could find buried treasure by looking into a stone. Joseph was later arrested and charged in this matter, and the following comes from the court record of his trial:

"Prisoner [Joseph Smith] brought before Court March 20, 1826. Prisoner examined: says that he came from the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowel in Bainbridge most of time since; had small part of time been employed in looking for mines, but the major part had been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school. That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them. That at Palmyra he pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account of its injuring his health, especially his eyes, making them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business.

"Josiah Stowel sworn: says that prisoner had been at his house something like five months; had been employed by him to work on farm part of time; that he pretended to have skill of telling where hidden treasures in the earth were by means of looking through a certain stone; that prisoner had looked for him sometimes; once to tell him about money buried in Bend Mountain in Pennsylvania, once for gold on Monument Hill, and once for a salt spring; and that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and did possess the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone."

It's not surprising, then, that the manual makes no mention of Joseph's employment other than that he was employed.

2. Why was Emma's father so opposed to their getting married? According to the manual, the reason was the Smith family's poverty. But here's what Isaac Hale had to say about it:

"I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. in November, 1825. He was at that time in the employ of a set of men who were called "money-diggers;" and his occupation was that of seeing, or pretending to see by means of a stone placed in his hat, and his hat closed over his face. In this way he pretended to discover minerals and hidden treasure. His appearance at this time, was that of a careless young man - not very well educated, and very saucy and insolent to his father.

"Smith, and his father, with several other 'money-diggers' boarded at my house while they were employed in digging for a mine that they supposed had been opened and worked by the Spaniards, many years since. Young Smith gave the 'money-diggers' great encouragement, at first, but when they had arrived in digging, to near the place where he had stated an immense treasure would be found - he said the enchantment was so powerful that he could not see. They then became discourged, and soon after dispersed. This took place about the 17th of November, 1825; and one of the company gave me his note for $12[.]68 for his board, which is still unpaid.

"After these occurrences, young Smith made several visits at my house, and at length asked my consent to his marrying my daughter Emma. This I refused, and gave him my reasons for so doing; some of which were, that he was a stranger, and followed a business that I could not approve; he then left the place."

Mr. Hale was not so much concerned about Joseph's poverty but that he was a stranger engaged in a shady business. Most parents would be reluctant to allow their daughter to marry someone engaged in endeavors involving enchantments and magic stones.

3. Why were they married in South Bainbridge, New York, rather than in Emma's hometown of Harmony, Pennsylvania? The manual doesn't say. Instead we read that that Isaac Hale opposed the marriage only "for a time," but eventually they were able to "accomplish their desired union," implying that he had in the meantime had a change of heart. Again, here's Mr. Hale on the subject:

"Not long after [Joseph's request to marry Emma had been refused], he returned, and while I was absent from home, carried off my daughter, into the state of New York, where they were married without my approbation or consent."

In other words, they eloped without Mr. Hale's consent. No change of heart had happened--quite the contrary. When Joseph returned for Emma's belongings, Peter Ingersoll, an eyewitness, records what happened:

"When we arrived at Mr. Hale's, in Harmony, Pa. from which place he had taken his wife, a scene presented itself, truly affecting. His father-in-law (Mr. Hale) addressed Joseph, in a flood of tears: 'You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money, pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people.'

"Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false. He then promised to give up his old habits of digging for money and looking into stones."

I'm not writing this as an assault on Joseph's character but rather as an example of the unrealistic and overglorified version of Joseph Smith we get through church publications.

The manual I've been discussing is notable mostly for its omissions, but the church's web site,, goes well beyond that and ventures into the territory of encomium. Headings on the site include "Teacher of God's Truth," "Leading with Love," "Prisoner for Jesus Christ," "Friend of Man," and "Martyr for God." Dig a little deeper, and we find "Honored and Blest Be His Ever Great Name" and a description of his character as "Gentleness and Meekness and Love Unfeigned."

In one section titled "A Servant of All," we learn that "the Prophet refused to place himself above others. Rather, as he humbly said, 'I love to wait upon the Saints, and be a servant to all, hoping that I may be exalted in the due time of the Lord.' Bereft of pride, Joseph personified the Lord's counsel: 'Whosoever will be great among you, . . . shall be servant of all.'"

This doesn't sound like the Joseph Smith who said, "I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. ... Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.... God made Aaron to be the mouth piece for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don't like it, you must lump it." Nor does it sound like the Joseph Smith who "soundly thrashed" his brother for "insolence" or the Joseph Smith who warned prospective wives not to expose his practice of polygamy or "I will ruin you."

Similarly, Joseph's marriage to Emma is described, sans anything but the bare minimum of details, in idealized romantic terms, finishing with this gem: "Joseph and Emma Smith centered their marriage and family in the gospel of Jesus Christ-an example to all." When I first read that, I wondered if we should all follow Joseph's example in marrying (and bedding) young girls without Emma's knowledge or consent.

That Joseph kept his marriages hidden from Emma suggests that he was afraid of her reaction; indeed, in "Mormon Enigma," we read that Joseph was under great "strain in his private life," which calmed only temporarily: "Although Emma's attempt to accept plural marriage brought temporary peace to the Smith household, neither Emma's resolve nor the peace lasted long. Emily Partridge commented that Joseph 'would walk the floor back and forth, with his hands clasped behind him (a way he had of placing his hands when his mind was deeply troubled), his countenance showing that he was weighed down with some terrible burden.'" Emma publicly and privately opposed Joseph's practice of plural marriage, and for a time there was so much hostility in the house that Joseph accused Emma of poisoning him:

"On Sunday, November 5, Joseph became suddenly sick and vomited so hard that he dislocated his jaw and 'raised fresh blood.'

"His self-diagnosis was that he had every symptom of poisoning. But he was well enough in the evening to attend an Endowment Council meeting in the room over the red brick store.

"According to current medical literature, no poison available in 1844 was caustic enough to pool blood in the stomach so rapidly after ingestion as Joseph's symptoms indicate and still be so ineffective as to allow the victim to pursue normal activities within a few hours . . . .

"Twenty-two years later Brigham Young described a 'secret council,' . . . at which he said Joseph accused Emma of the poisoning and 'called upon her to deny it if she could . . . . He told her that she was a child of hell, and literally the most wicked woman on this earth, that there was not one more wicked than she. He told her where she got the poison, and how she put it in a cup of coffee; said he, 'You got that poison so and so, and I drank it, but you could not kill me.' When it entered his stomach he went to the door and threw it off. He spoke to her in that council in a very severe manner, and she never said one word in reply. I have witnesses all around, who can testify that I am now telling the truth. Twice she undertook to kill him.' [Young] did not elaborate on the alleged second occurrence, but in 1866 Brigham's rhetoric could well have been stronger that Joseph's actual words, for it came at a time when Brigham was particularly hostile toward Emma.

"Evidence suggests that Joseph indeed accused Emma of poisoning his coffee. His diary records that he and Emma did not participate in the Prayer Circle at that meeting . . . . This is particularly significant because members were asked not to join the Prayer Circle if they had feelings of antagonism toward anyone else in the group. Only unusual circumstances would have restrained them. Apparently Joseph believed at the time that Emma poisoned him."

Again, I'm pointing these things out not to attack either Joseph or Emma but to show the disconnect between the reality and the mythology build up around the prophet. You cannot read without believing that Joseph Smith was near perfect, that he lived a blameless, Christ-centered life "bereft of pride" or any other human failing. But no one has ever lived such a faultless life, unless you count Jesus.

But this is the wrong approach. Joseph Smith was not Jesus, and when people find out about his failings, they are genuinely shocked because we were taught that "A more virtuous man never existed on the footstool of the Great Jehovah."

My father taught me to expect human failings in others, especially if they claimed some sort of spiritual authority. "That way, when they screw up, you won't be disappointed." I probably applied that teaching to every other human except Joseph Smith, and I was disappointed when I learned who he was, but as I said, I was relieved that he, too, was a human like me. In all honesty, I like the human Joseph Smith much more than I liked the demigod. It's hard to feel a connection to someone so obviously beyond my human experience, but I can relate to someone who made mistakes, even major ones. Joseph himself once said, "I told them [the Saints] I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities … I would likewise bear with their infirmities."

Seems about right to me.
A Cool Little Mormon Trick
Friday, May 27, 2011, at 08:32 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-

Yesterday I was listening to some of the songs from Parker and Stone's "The Book of Mormon (The Musical)." Yes, much of it is crude, and they have taken some liberties with Mormon beliefs and practices (OK, that's a bit of an understatement), but it is funny and creative, and the songs are well-done and catchy. But one song hit me hard, and I wondered how Stone and Parker could have understood so clearly my experience growing up in the LDS church.

I shouldn't have to say this, but it's obvious to me that my experience isn't the same as anyone else's; I am speaking only of my experience. But the song suggests to me that I may not be alone.

Many of the songs in the show make joking references to the perception that Mormons are perpetually "nice" and polite, but it's this song that explains why this may be so. Part of the socialization process in every human being involves suppressing our desires in favor of the greater good. We count it civilized, for example, to obey the laws of traffic, even if we need to be somewhere in a hurry. Those who do not keep their desires in check in accordance with the law may find themselves paying a fine or serving a prison term.

And many of us take this self-suppression even further. Because we need to fit in, we keep our desires, our dreams, hidden. I've always loved this quote from Marge Simpson, which explains beautifully this need to suppress the self: "It doesn't matter how you feel inside, you know. It's what shows up on the outside that counts. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you're almost walking on them. And then you'll fit in, and you'll be invited to parties, and boys will like you. And happiness will follow." Of course, going along to fit in never results in happiness, and you probably won't be invited to parties, either.

What Marge is talking about is external actions that express our feelings. "It's what shows up on the outside that counts." As a Latter-day Saint, I was really good at keeping up surface appearances, and I think a lot Mormons are. In every leadership position I held in the LDS Church, I learned that, while on the surface, most church members seemed to be doing just fine, there were serious problems in a lot of homes and families. There really wasn't anywhere in the church to frankly discuss our problems, except to the bishop, but we had been told that bishops were not there to counsel us or help us with our problems. In public, we had every incentive to proclaim that what was on the surface was reality. We told everyone in testimony meeting and other places how happy we were.

But, for me at least, the reality under the surface was quite different. For one thing, I was dealing with chronic depression, and ironically, my attempts to be happy on the surface kept me from acknowledging the depression or dealing with it. And part of the reason for that was my desire to make my feelings and desires accord with the surface appearance of "doing fine." Thomas Monson famously said that, if we were struggling with our desires, we should "fake it till you make it"; in other words, if we act as if our desires are "good," eventually our thoughts will catch up with our actions.

Looking back, I can see that there was tremendous pressure to bend (or break) my desires in favor of doing and thinking what the church teaches. Jesus taught that lusting after someone was the same as adultery, and in keeping with this, LDS scripture tells us, “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12) and on the other side, "Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly" (DandC 121:45). In other words, I was supposed to drive out bad thoughts and think only good thoughts.

So, controlling your thoughts becomes paramount for a Latter-day Saint. Boyd K. Packer taught:

"Probably the greatest challenge and the most difficult thing you will face in mortal life is to learn to control your thoughts. ... The mind is like a stage. During every waking moment the curtain is up. ... Have you noticed that shady little thoughts may creep in from the wings and attract your attention in the middle of almost any performance on that stage and without any real intent on your part? These delinquent thoughts will try to upstage everybody. If you permit them to go on, all thoughts of any virtue will leave the stage. You will be left, because you consented to it, to the influence of unrighteous thoughts. If you yield to them, they will enact for you on the stage of your mind anything to the limits of your toleration. They may enact themes of bitterness, jealousy, or hatred. They may be vulgar, immoral, even depraved. When they have the stage, if you let them, they will devise the most clever persuasions to hold your attention. They can make it interesting all right, even convince you that theyare innocent, for they are but thoughts. What do you do at a time like that, when the stage of your mind is commandeered by the imps of unclean thinking, whether they be the gray ones that seem almost clean, or the filthy ones which leave no room for doubt? If you can fill your mind with clean and constructive thoughts, then there will be no room for these persistent imps, and they will leave."

So, it's not enough to behave righteously, but it is important to think and feel righteously, too; otherwise, your mind will yield to evil such that "all thoughts of any virtue will leave." The ability to think and feel only righteous thoughts is variously spoken of as "self-control," "self-mastery," and "purity of thought." Parker and Stone describe pretty well the way I did it:

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head Don't feel those feelings hold them in instead

Turn it off, like a light switch
Just go click
It's a cool little Mormon trick
We do it all the time
When you're feeling certain feelings
That just don't seem right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
And turn 'em off like a light switch

But I was never entirely sure that the feelings were really gone and would not resurface at some point. Was I the only Mormon who was afraid of alcohol and drugs not because they were dangerous but because I might "lose control"? No, I had to switch it all off, as the song describes:

Well, Elder McKinley, I think it's okay that you're having gay thoughts Just so long as you never act upon them

No – cause then you're just keeping it down
Like a dimmer switch
On low (on low)
Thinking nobody needs to know (uh oh)
But that's not true
Being gay is bad but lying is worse
So just realize you have a curable curse
And turn it off

I don't think my struggles were anything compared to that of gay Mormons, but the principle is the same. As long as you still feel and desire something contrary to the gospel, you are guilty. Church leaders have often used this passage from "Huckleberry Finn" to illustrate the point:

"It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. … I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing … ; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie–I found that out."

Of course, Huck's lament is mean to be taken as ironic, as it is his conscience that won't allow him to do the "right thing and the clean thing" by turning in the slave, Jim. But we were meant to understand that, if our heart isn't right, we have to find the "determination to choose the right when a choice is placed before us" (Thomas Monson, Ensign, Sept. 1993).

The only solution is to choose only positive, uplifting thoughts and switch off every bad thought or feeling: anger, lust, greed, laziness, whatever it is. Self-mastery, then, is a constant effort to think and feel and do the right, no matter what, and it isn't just avoiding pornography. In the "Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood" manual, we read, "Developing self-mastery will help us form positive habits such as arising early, studying the scriptures daily, and fulfilling our assignments promptly. Such habits can free us from confusion." Other positive habits listed include paying tithing and keeping the Word of Wisdom. The manual urges us to set goals "to live [gospel] principles" and "do our best to reach those goals."

Strangely, the analogous lesson in the manual "The Latter-day Saint Woman" gives an example of how to achieve such goals. The manual describes an American woman who feels tremendous guilt for eating "nearly a whole box of chocolates" at Christmas time. She continues:

"Eating the chocolates represented my low point. I cannot describe what I went through to one who has never experienced similar feelings: I was stuffed with chocolates, disgusted with myself, despondent, and thoroughly discouraged. Through this ridiculous, silly weakness, Satan worked with me and brought me down. All my feelings and thoughts at this time were unworthy.

“So that Christmas I decided that I would never experience that situation again. I sat down and wrote myself a letter. In the letter I described my feelings so I couldn’t forget them, and I promised myself that I would not let another year pass without gaining total control over my appetite. I’ve seen such progress in myself in the year since then, and my confidence has grown daily. I know that I have almost won this particular battle” (“My Worst Enemy–Me!” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 62)."

Most people would just shrug this off as a typical holiday overindulgence and not repeat it (well, at least until the next Christmas). But this woman feels disgusted, despondent, and discouraged; this is truly her "low point." One box chocolates, and Satan has brought her down until all her thoughts were "unworthy."

I could relate to this overreaction. Towards the end of my mission, I saw a movie poster in the main plaza, which showed a woman in thigh-high stockings and heels. I quickly averted my eyes, but I knew I had felt something unclean when I saw it. I spent a ridiculous amount of effort chastising myself for that fleeting thought, which otherwise would have been nothing more than a moment in time. But I couldn't allow that image to gain a foothold in my mind, as I had recently read in a church magazine that, once an image was in your mind, it "may never be erased."

Obviously, I'm not advocating that we abandon all self-restraint in our lives, but I don't think I was the only Mormon who obsessed over small things because I desperately wanted the stage of my mind to be free and clear of any shady thoughts that might commandeer it and lead me to misery and sin. It seems to me that obsessing over these things made me miserable, perhaps as much so as if I had let the persistent imps take over.
Why You Leave Is No One Else's Business
Thursday, Jun 30, 2011, at 07:46 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
A friend of mine realized that he did not believe in the LDS church about the same time I did (summer 2005 or so), so we connected over similar experiences. He was serving in a bishopric, and I was in the high priests group leadership. Both of us ended up serving in our callings for a while because we couldn't get released. So, being dutiful church members, we kept on serving in our callings, even though we did not believe. He served in the bishopric for over a year as an unbeliever, finally calling it quits when he realized that they had no intention of releasing him. As for me, they just put me in the nursery.

One way that we are different is that I had an intense need for people I cared about to understand where I was coming from, so when people asked me why I had lost my faith, I told them. My friend, on the other hand, just says, "I don't believe in the church anymore, and I have good reasons. If you want to know about it, you'll have to do your own homework."

On the one hand, this has been much better for him than it has been for me, as there's been less arguing, fewer attempts to drag him back to church, than there has been for me. Every time I ever brought up a church issue with friends or family, it ended badly. So, in that respect, he's chosen the better path. Of course, he's been told that one consequence of his silence has been rampant rumor-mongering, such as that he was involved in "swinging" or polygamy, or that he started his own cult. He thinks that's funny, as do I, but I admit I'd probably be a little perturbed if that kind of stuff were said about me.

But in the end, he's right. What he believes or doesn't believe is his business and no one else's. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I was raised to be keenly aware of what other people thought of me and how well I was living the gospel. Sometimes Zee's posts remind me of that terrible angst from feeling like other people disapprove of things I've done, but for the most part, the angst is gone.

I know why I don't believe in Mormonism, but it's no one else's business but mine.
After "This Is The Right Place"
Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011, at 08:21 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Most people are aware of Brigham Young's famous declaration upon reaching the Salt Lake Valley. For the first time, I present the ten things said by arriving pioneers after Brigham got there.

10. Is that the welcoming committee from the Eagle Forum?

9. No, Brother Kimball, I'm not seeing anyone currently.

8. This can't be the place. Srsly?

7. Now that we're free from the mobs, all we have to worry about are gays, feminists, and so-called intellectuals.

6. No, I am not a Democrat. Why do you ask?

5. You left your keys where?

4. Why would anyone want to re-enact that?

3. Stop crying, Brother Beck!

2. What do you mean, "no beer sales on Sunday"?

1. It's all right, President Young, but the Correlation Committee recommends shortening "the right place" to "the place."
No Lions In Israel? Another Apologetic Claim Bites The Dust
Thursday, Aug 11, 2011, at 07:00 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
So I’m reading Mike Ash’s 2007 piece on the FAIR web site about horses in the Book of Mormon. He makes the claim that no horse bones have been found among Hun archaeological remains, though as others have shown, this claim is erroneous.

He also makes this statement, which made me curious:
"Even in areas of the world where animals lived in abundance, we sometimes have problems finding archaeological remains. The textual evidence for lions in Israel, for example, suggests that lions were present in Israel from ancient times until at least the sixteenth century AD, yet no lion remains from ancient Israel have ever been found."
I should mention that here he’s suggesting that the lack of archaeological evidence for something attested to in ancient writings and art may not be conclusive negative evidence. We know that ancient Israel depicted lions as native to Palestine, but according to Ash, no lion bones have been discovered. Thus, if horse bones haven’t been found in the New World, that doesn’t mean the ancient Mesoamericans did not have horses.

Ash’s citation for this claim is:
"John Tvedtnes, “The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy” (unpublished, 1994), 29-30 (copy in author’s possession); Benjamin Urrutia, “Lack of Animal Remains at Bible and Book-of-Mormon Sites,” Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology, 150 (August 1982), 3-4."
So, here we have two LDS sources suggesting that “no lion remains from ancient Israel have ever been found.” That should be pretty easy to confirm, right?

Apparently not.

"The fauna of the country [Palestine] is almost unchanged from the earliest historic times. The lion and the wild ox have become extinct; the former is noticed by an Egyptian traveller in Lebanon in the 14th cent. B.C., and is even said to have survived to the 12th cent. A.D.; its bones are found in caves and in the Jordan gravels. (Dictionary of the Bible, ed. James Hastings, 1900)."

More recent archaeological excavation confirms this:
"The largest faunal collections and most intensive archaeo-zoological research for [the Chalcolithic] period have been carried out in the northern Negev. This biological data provides us with a detailed picture of human/animal relations during this formative period. … If Shiqmim is taken as a representative sample for the valley, sheep … and goat … make up over 90 percent of the faunal assemblage with the remaining 10 percent consisting of cattle, … dog, equid and ca. 3.8 percent of wild animals (gazelle, hartebeest, hippopotamus, lion, small cat, fox, hare, ostrich, bird and fish). (The Archeology of Society in the Holy Land, ed. Thomas Levy, New York, Continuum, 1998, pp. 231-32)"
Heck, even another Maxwell Institute article from 2000 contradicts Ash:
"The biblical narrative mentions lions, yet it was not until very recently that the only other evidence for lions in Palestine was pictographic or literary. Before the announcement in a 1988 publication [L. Martin. "The Faunal Remains from Tell es Saidiyeh," Levant 20 (1988): 83–84] of two bone samples, there was no archaeological evidence to confirm the existence of lions in that region. (Robert R. Bennett, “Horses in the Book of Mormon,” Maxwell Institute, 2000)"
Individual Worth
Wednesday, Oct 26, 2011, at 07:28 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
The "Mission Story" thread got me thinking.

One of the church's Young Women Values is "Individual Worth." I used to think it was a real positive that Mormonism taught us that we were children of God and had the potential to become like Him. That "spark of divinity" within us made us inherently worth something.

But the more I've thought about this, our worth as church members was always conditioned on our ability to contribute to the growth and prosperity of the church.

"The worth of souls is great." This means that a soul that contributes to the church has worth. If not, we're worthless.

"The family is the basic unit of the church." This means that the church sees our families as existing for the church's benefit, and not the other way around. Families that do not contribute have no worth.

I think this is why it's so easy for a lot of church members to completely write us out of their lives when we leave or stop contributing. We are literally worthless.

The good thing, of course, is that we do not need the church's approval to be worth something. Each human being has inherent worth and dignity, with or without the approval of Mormons.
Giving Without Prejudice: A Mormon Story For Thanksgiving
Wednesday, Nov 23, 2011, at 11:42 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I've told this story before, but it's a reminder to me of the importance of giving and sharing without being judgmental. I'm not telling this to bash the church, and my family has forgiven the people involved. And, because I know some people will tell me this is an exaggeration or we don't know the whole story, this story has been confirmed to me by my mother (who was appalled that my dad had told me about it) and two different family friends who were there.

My father told me this story about 3 or 4 years ago. I had never heard any of this, and it still hurts to think about it.

When my mother became pregnant with me, my father was a Ph.D. student at USC. He worked for an aerospace company one day a week, and they paid most of his tuition.

My parents had three children before I was born, and my dad's income barely paid the bills. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment that had been converted from a detached garage behind someone's house. Needless to say, they did not have health insurance.

About 5 months into the pregnancy, my mom started bleeding, and not just a little spotting. The doctor told her that she was going to miscarry, and she should just have a DandC and get it over with. But, since she insisted she was going to do everything possible to have the baby, he told her she would need bed rest until I was born.

My parents sent my brother and two sisters to my grandparents in Utah for four months so my mom could stay in bed. When I was born, the doctors discovered a life-threatening birth defect, and I had major surgery that day. I spent the next six weeks in the hospital before coming home on Christmas Eve.

My uncle gave my dad everything in his savings account, but it wasn't half as much as the bills. The Crippled Children's Fund loaned my dad the rest of the money. My dad was forced to quit school and go to work full-time.

Until I was almost 6 years old, I had to go to the hospital overnight once or twice a week to have my esophagus dilated. By then I had two younger brothers. My family was very poor, heavily in debt, and under a lot of stress.

From the time that my mom started the bed rest until I was done having my bi-weekly procedures, no one from the church provided child care, meals, rides to the hospital, nothing. We didn't get anything from the bishop's storehouse, and no money to help with the bills. Literally, the local ward did nothing to help my family.

Just after I turned six, we moved from that ward. A few days before we moved, the former Relief Society president showed up at our house. She begged my mother's forgiveness for not helping when we obviously needed help. She said that, in a ward council meeting, the bishop had said no one was to help the Williams family because "Brother Williams is not a full-tithe payer."

I can't tell you how much it hurt to hear this story. I gave so much of my life to the church, and this felt like a real betrayal. It still hurts.

But it reminds me that we must help people in need, even if we think they don't "deserve" it, even if it inconveniences us, and even if it's hard. I do not want anyone to think of me as someone who saw their need and didn't help.
Deception At The Desnews
Friday, Dec 2, 2011, at 09:21 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I know this is kind of minor, but it's indicative of standard practice over there.

This morning I read in the Deseret News that a group of philanthropists toured the LDS Church's Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. They quote the CEO of the Philanthropy Round Table as follows:

"'We came to Utah to see Welfare Square because it is one of the nation's greatest models of cultivating self-reliance, not only for members of the Mormon faith but for people everywhere,' said Shannon Toronto, CEO of The Philanthropy Round Table, a national network of individual donors, corporate giving officers and foundation trustees.

"Previous stops on The Philanthropy Round Table's economic opportunity tour included Lemonade Day in Houston, which teaches children business skills, and Florida's Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit that teams up with athletic leagues to teach principles of family and community.

"The Philanthropy Round Table, which is based in Washington D.C., seeks to improve charitable outcomes by educating donors, Toronto said. Self-reliance is one of the organization's pet initiatives.

"'The best programs are those that help people to move along a continuum where they not only no longer need charity, but also have the skills and the means to give to charity themselves,' Toronto said."

High praise from an outside source, right? Not exactly. I happen to know Shannon Toronto, as we went to grad school together at BYU.

Would it have made a difference if readers had known she is LDS? I think so, but the impression is left that a bunch of impartial outsiders were impressed enough with the church's welfare program to come and tour it and then extol its virtues. Meh.
The Cure For Counsel-Itis
Thursday, Jan 19, 2012, at 08:38 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I don't have time to write anything up, but someone I know wrote this up, and it's rather depressing. He acknowledges his own self-interest in his assessment, but I am as concerned about this development as he is. The church is cutting costs, which I completely understand, but this seems like a very bad move. A few years ago, the Ensign reprinted President Packer's warning against "counsel-itis," or expecting lay bishops to serve as personal counselors. But now, in a complete about-face, bishops are being asked to perform that very function, albeit with a "hotline" and some phone apps. And the church is now discouraging financial assistance for counseling.
I work in [western city] as a family therapist, and historically have received the brunt of my clients from LDS family services (LDSFS). Over a year ago, the LDSFS here began a pilot program for the church where all in-house therapists were gradually let go, and all counseling was done by referring out to community counselors. As such, the church could eliminate the costs of maintaining family services (except adoption services, which will stay intact). However, under new direction, the Welfare Program is now attempting to serve globally, instead of only (for the most part) in North America; with family services, anyway. To accomplish this, a new system is being put in to play, and all of the [western city] area therapists who are on the referral list for LDSFS were called in to a meeting to learn about this today.

We were instructed by the director of family services who is now moving into a supervisory position over a large area of N. America states. The change is this: Bishops will now be instructed that they are to work on a local level to solve ward problems. This is to include that Bishops should find ways to solve members’ problems in lieu of referring them to therapy. This is not to say that counseling should never be recommended, but other solutions should be attempted by bishops FIRST. Previously, training about how to assist ward members was occasionally provided for area bishops, but that will cease to occur. A 24-hour hotline will exist for Bishops to call and receive suggestions to try with their ward members’ issues, instead. As well, it is expected that they will be able to receive text messages with suggested helps, and that there will be phone apps developed; i.e. an app for how to assist a member with a “porn problem”. But the clear and basic pressure (instruction) is for Bishops to solve the problem,and try to avoid sending them to counseling. As well, we were informed that Bishops are being strongly discouraged from financially supporting therapy for their ward members as they have in the past. How that will shake out on an individual basis, is to be left to the Bishop to decide.

Naturally, this will mean less referrals for therapists, and that’s not good news for a room full of counselors; so let me concede the bias that suggests, right now. But I think it’s a poor move for greater reasons than just “it gives me less clients”; there were/are understandable concerns about the burden this places on a Bishop. In my limited experience (essentially a case study of one – me) of 8 years in practice, I’ve had multiple Bishops, multiple times request counseling assistance because they literally didn’t have time to even visit with all the ward members that wanted appointments. This could put sensitive-personality Bishops in the grave, and make dismissive asses out of the more Type-A leaders. In other words, I find it scary. Undeniably, It is financially genius on the part of the church, and while I don’t know if this will be different in a fairly LDS saturated place like Utah, I would also say it does place the world as a whole at an equal level; sort of like “if everybody doesn’t get LDSFS, then nobody does”. Also, essentially forcing Bishops to become capable of helping people better (albeit without any training) isn’t a bad thing. Ultimately, however, I would guess that this will mean better services and assistance for ward members who only need ecclesiastical counsel, and much greater harm done to those who really are in need of professional services.

So I’m trying to say there are obvious positives to this change in system. But my personal disgust came from the clearly stated reason for this change in the welfare system (and I quote): “We’re talking about a church that has infinite needs, and finite resources”. While that is objectively true, all I could think about was the multi-billion dollar mall. Ugh, and gross.

We were further informed that if we wanted to be beneficiaries of the much fewer referrals for counseling that would now be sent out from Bishops, we essentially needed to be buddies with the Bishops. It was made very clear that this could be accomplished by our finding a way to offer free consultation services and phone assistance for said Bishops in dealing with their ward members, so that they would want to use our services if needed for actual counseling. Again- financially brilliant on the part of the church, and rather common as a business model, I suppose. But it kind of feels gross.

I’ve been thinking about some of [other friend's] statements that the church could be better at using its professional and educated resources. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a move towards or fully away from that…?

In any case, there you go.
Packer On Being Born Gay
Friday, Apr 20, 2012, at 07:26 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
It's interesting that, even though Packer last year was edited when he said that gays weren't born with homosexual "tendencies," he's said virtually the same thing in this month's Ensign, in which he implicitly lumps gays in with "the enemy":
"A few of you may have felt or been told that you were born with troubling feelings and that you are not guilty if you act on those temptations. Doctrinally we know that if that were true, your agency would have been erased, and that cannot happen. You always have a choice to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and live a morally pure and chaste life, one filled with virtue."

I know some people believe the church is softening its stance on homosexuality, but that softening appears to be coming from the membership at large, not the leaders, who are teaching the same old tired stuff.
Seven Deadly Heresies Speech Is Now Doctrine
Thursday, Apr 26, 2012, at 07:17 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I just noticed something interesting about Bruce R. McConkie's 1980 speech at BYU entitled, "Seven Deadly Heresies." I was once attacked for citing this "non doctrinal [sic] speech" in talking about the doctrines of the church.

However, I have been vindicated. The speech now bears the following copyright:

"andcopy; Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved."

As my detractor noted, "Doctrine is found in the published works of the Church. You want to pin us down? There it is." Anything bearing the IRI copyright has been through the Correlation process and is official doctrine.

In this famous speech, McConkie contrasts "the revealed religion that has come to us with the theoretical postulates of Darwinism and the diverse speculations descending therefrom," giving his readers a choice between believing the prophets or accepting "the theories of men." To underscore the impossibility of harmonizing evolution with the gospel, he compares Darwinism to "the false religions of the Dark Ages " and the truths of God to "the truths of science as they have now been discovered."

Some have insisted that McConkie was in this speech softening his position when he said, "These are questions to which all of us should find answers. Every person must choose for himself what he will believe. I recommend that all of you study and ponder and pray and seek light and knowledge in these and in all fields."

Of course, this is like saying, You can choose to follow God or the philosophies of men. Come to think of it, that's exactly how McConkie presented it. It has been said that McConkie "essentially says if you can find a way for it to work in the context of doctrine, more power to you." That would explain why McConkie included harmonizing evolution in a list of heresies. "If you can find a way for heresy to work in the context of doctrine, more power to you." Does that sound like something McConkie would say?

Either way, the Seven Deadly Heresies are now doctrine:
  1. God is progressing in knowledge and is learning new truths.
  2. Church members can harmonize evolution and doctrine.
  3. Temple marriage assures us of an eventual exaltation.
  4. The doctrine of salvation for the dead offers men a second chance for salvation.
  5. There is progression from one kingdom to another in the eternal worlds.
  6. Adam is our father and our god, ... he is the father of our spirits and our bodies, and ... he is the one we worship.
  7. We must be perfect to gain salvation.
Also: It is recommend for anyone interested to listen to the audio version of the talk. Several key phrases have been omitted from the text version. McConkie states several times that evolution "cannot be harmonized" with the gospel.
More On The Missionary Numbers Game
Wednesday, May 9, 2012, at 07:48 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
A friend of mine recently read my book and wrote to me wondering why I hadn’t spent much time writing about the message we missionaries brought and why that message resonated with the people we baptized. I didn’t have a good answer, but after I thought about it, I realized that the message was not really an important part of being a Mormon missionary. Missions were about obedience to our leaders and increasing the number of church members. I wrote a while back about the pressure among Mormon missionaries to produce numbers of baptisms, which in our mission led to some shocking abuses.

I know enough about other missions to understand that the emphasis on numbers has disastrous effects on church members, wards, and stakes. For example, the LDS church grew at a phenomenal rate in Chile until 2002–at least on paper. That year, in an unusual move, the church sent apostle Jeffrey Holland to Chile to train leaders, but mostly to reorganize the church there. Before Holland arrived, there were 951 congregations (wards and branches) and 116 stakes in Chile; by 2005, there were 607 congregations and 74 stakes, meaning that 344 congregations and 42 stakes had been closed. Years of focusing on baptisms at all costs led to abysmal retention and activity rates, though the church kept creating these phantom congregations and stakes based on the number of people in the church’s records. The discrepancy between the membership numbers the church reports and those who self-identified as Latter-day Saints in the 2002 Chilean census is telling: That year, the LDS church reported 527,972 members in Chile. In thecensus, only 103,735 people self-identified as LDS. (For details, see I should also note that apostle Dallin Oaks was sent on a similar mission to the Philippines at the same time, resulting in the closing of six stakes.

Most of us are familiar with missionary techniques for increasing numbers: quick teaching and baptism of children and teens and going after those “in transition,” such as people who have experienced a death in the family, loss of job, or other instability. In his excellent article, “I-Thou vs. I-It Conversions: The Mormon “Baseball Baptism” Era,” Michael Quinn explains how pressure for numbers drove these tactics, reaching their nadir in the era of the “Baseball Baptisms” in Britain in the 1960s.

At least I thought that was the nadir until I read about “The Groberg Era” in the Tokyo South Mission in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1978 the new mission president, Delbert H. Groberg (brother of general authority and author John Groberg) arrived in Japan and met with Yoshihiko Kikuchi, who had recently been called as the first Japanese general authority. Groberg wrote in his journal:

"Elder Kikuchi came out to our home and we talked from 3:30pm until 7:00pm. He really has high expectations of me. I had thought that 10 times as many baptisms as they are getting now would be a good goal to shoot for (about 10,000). Before telling him, I asked him what he felt I should do. He mapped out the progress as he expected and it turned out to be 25 times as much as what is currently happening minimum! (And he stressed minimum!) That seems like a lot, but I believe we can make it."

To achieve these goals, Kikuchi and Groberg implemented what they called the “Investigator Extraction” method. A former missionary who served at that time explains how it worked (note that his choice of words reflects his cynicism and disdain for the “method”):

"Missionary apartments were relocated to areas near major pedestrian shopping and transportation traffic centers. In Tokyo, existing chapels were used as teaching centers, and when distance from a chapel rendered that option unfeasible, offices were rented with the intent to use them for the same purpose and as branch meetinghouses. In outlying areas, missionary apartments were to be used as teaching centers as well as branch meeting-houses.

Missionaries were no longer to waste their time tracting [going door to door]. They were instead instructed to use the major traffic centers as a resource pool, and make street contacts through a variety of cheap tricks, the most popular being to offer English lessons and tutoring (imagine a 19-year-old farm boy tutoring someone in English…).

Missionaries were to target teens, young adults, and needy types in their street contacting. These were “easy marks.” They were to take advantage of a certain Japanese reluctance to directly disagree or contradict in face-to-face interaction, and were given techniques on how to establish an easy rapport and how to get the “mark” to constantly agree with the missionary. A pattern was developed so that the missionary could steer the conversation and control it. Then the missionary would get the “mark” to agree (easy by that time) to go with him/her and talk briefly about Something Very Important.

The missionaries were to MAKE CONTACT AND NOT LOSE IT. They were to bring the “mark” to whatever teaching center had been designated and begin indoctrination immediately.

The six missionary discussions were rewritten and condensed into six five- to ten-minute presentations. It was dramatized and made very charismatic. Missionaries were advised that they could “teach” all six discussions at once “if so directed by the spirit.”

Following the mini-discussion presentation, missionaries were instructed to challenge the “mark” to baptism, immediately. If the “mark” accepted, missionaries were to contact their zone leaders and schedule a baptismal interview. Zone leaders were never more than ten or fifteen minutes away by train.

Apartments/teaching centers/meeting-houses were all equipped with makeshift “baptismal fonts.” If the “mark” accepted and passed the “interview” (who would not? almost nobody failed it!), the “mark’ was loaned a white jumsuit or shift, and baptism immediately followed the six lessons and interview, witnessed by the Zone Leaders. Confirmation followed, again witnessed by the Zone Leaders.

The entire process (contact to confirmation) was timed and refined until it was streamlined down to approximately 1.5 HOURS. It could be–and most frequently was–all done at the same time.

The missionary was to exchange contact information (address and phone #) with the “new member,” give them a Book of Mormon, and give them a small map showing them where church services were held, times, etc.

The contact was “allowed” to depart.

New baptism statistics were posted weekly in the mission newsletter, to increase the level of competition among the missionaries.

Missionaries were required to meet regularly for “mutual encouragement” meetings (rah-rah sessions). Zone or All-Mission Conferences were scheduled to raise the excitement level even further and sustain it at fever pitch.

Never let up on the pressure to perform."

Another man who served in the same mission writes:

"These are deep wounds, and I am touched and saddened to see how vivid the memories are for some of us.

A few additional details. Regarding the Groberg/Kikuchi model, the basic premise was a relentless focus on sheer numbers. If one in 100 (?) who hear the lessons are baptised and one in three (?) converts remain active, then teaching 300 lessons produces one active members. It follows that teaching 30,000 lessons must result in 100 active members. This quantitative logic is all that matters, since no individual human is valuable enough as a mere child of God to warrant personal attention. The rule, effectively, was to dump Japanese in the waters of baptism and then let the Lord sort them out.

Manipulative techniques. I should add … that not all of these practices came directly from Groberg and Kikuchi; a lot were innovations by missionaries who functioned under intense pressure. The leaders retrospectively claim that they did not know some of these things were happening–and that may be true, though I think there was, and still is, a lot of intentional ignorance.

With that caveat, we were taught to teach only young people, ideally men between 18 and 22, because they baptized the fastest. We were explicitly ordered not to teach families because they took too much time; and I know of one instance in which a companionship was punished for insisting on teaching a family. The entire lesson plan was condensed into one hour, and during that hour each missionary was to shake hands with the investigator at least ten times. This worked because Japanese don’t normally shake hands and the sudden, repetitive physical contact tended to facilitate persuasion. During that hour we were also to speak frequently in broken English, saying things like “berry, berry goodo” because that made the investigator feel like he was engaged in an English language conversation. Finally, once the baptism was done we were ordered to see each convert a maximum of one time, since it was now the members’ responsibility to develop and maintain a human connection. Friendships between missionaries and Japanese converts were virtually proscribed.

Of course, the missionaries were manipulated with equal cynicism and zeal. Status and approval were based on the number of baptisms a person could perform. This gave an advantage to the charismatic, strong personalities at the expense of quieter, often more sensitive and spiritual missionaries. The former rose fast through the hierarchy, becoming zone leaders and APs while the less forceful characters were continually condemned as inadequate, a disappointment to God, because they did not produce enough. Nor did personal “worthiness” matter. Missionaries turned to their old vices to let off steam; and if the leadership found out about their chemical or other indiscretions, the consequence was a demotion followed–assuming that the requisite number of baptisms was achieved–by immediate promotion back into the ranks of the godly. There was thus very little connection between the moral and ethical codes of our childhood congregations and the definition of success in the mission field.

So what happened as a result of all of this? Baptisms skyrocketed for a couple of years, until Groberg was replaced and some of his senior missionaries excommunicated for things that he had not wanted to see. The Church then tried to turn back the clock, but the prominent comedian Takeshi Beat made “accept baptism!” routines a staple of late night television and Japanese people, for various reasons, lost much of their interest in American culture and religion. As the rate of new baptisms fell through the 1980s and 1990s, one or two mission presidents tried to resurrect parts of the Groberg system but, frankly, the moment had passed and there was no Kikuchi to provide support.

Meanwhile, the missionaries returned to their home communities having been through hell. These were the years of Spencer Kimball, when “every young man must go on a mission and he will like it,” so our families and friends could not comprehend the stories we had to tell. We were shunned, avoided by members who were uncomfortable with us and in many instances condemned by local leaders who thought that we must surely be to blame for our pain. After all, the Lord’s Church could not possibly have done what we described. Some missionaries and their families complained to apostles–I am aware of two such conversations by friends’ parents–so it is pretty clear that SLC knew the depth and breadth of the problem. But rather than reaching out to help the missionaries or, at the very least, warning bishops and other leaders of the difficulties the RMs were bringing home, the brothren in SLC swept the whole thing under the rug, leaving the isolated and traumatized missionaries to work through the social ostracization, self-condemnation, and disillusionment in solitude.

Even today we cannot share these stories with Mormon friends. The truth is that the one thing the religion can never forgive–other than diety’s intransident decision, contrary to the urging of his prophets, to create a certain percentage of his children gay–is the arrogance of those who dare to have been harmed by the Church. It would be inconvenient and embarrassing, after all, to ask leaders to admit mistakes…

Let the Lord sort it out."

Another missionary describes how President Groberg “bullied, forced, coerced, threatened and at times, even blackmailed missionaries to perform ‘miracles.’” I used to say that it’s impossible to be too cynical about the LDS church, but this shocked even a hardened cynic like me. The words of another survivor of that mission sum things up for me: “I came home feeling robbed of spiritual nature of the experience, having been reduced to nothing more than a salesman with daily and weekly quotas that I couldn’t possibly live up to.”

I’d like to think that such practices are behind the church, but I suspect they aren’t. Similar methods were used in the England Manchester Mission in the 1990s. It’s a fair bet that it’s still going on, most likely in areas where the church has recently begun missionary work, such as Eastern Europe and Africa.
Mexican Martyrs: Another Mormon Myth Bites The Dust
Friday, May 18, 2012, at 09:43 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I have had a vague memory of seeing a cheesy church-produced film in my youth involving two Mexican men who were executed by Emiliano Zapata's guerrillas during the Mexican Revolution.

According to the film, these men were killed because they refused to renounce their Mormon faith. Here is the account as told in the current Book of Mormon teacher resource manual:

"A neighbor of the Monroys, fiercely opposed to their religious activities, went to the Zapata headquarters and denounced Rafael as a Carranzista and as a Mormon.

"Soldiers surrounded the Monroy house. Rafael was arrested together with Vicente, a member of the Church who happened to be visiting there. 'Give up your arms,' the soldiers demanded.

"Drawing from his pocket a Bible and a Book of Mormon, Rafael answered, 'Senores, there are the only arms I ever carry. They are the arms of truth against error.'

"The two men were tortured, threatened and told to renounce their religion. 'My religion is dearer to me than my life and I cannot forsake it,' Rafael declared.

"He spent the afternoon in jail reading and explaining the scriptures to his fellow prisoners and to the guards. At 7 p.m. his mother brought some food. Rafael blessed it, but did not eat. 'I am fasting today,' he said.

"Moments later he and Vicente were marched to a large tree on the outskirts of San Marcos. They were offered their freedom if they would forsake their religion and join the Zapatistas. They refused.

"Rafael was allowed to pray. He knelt, and asked protection for his family, for the little branch. Finally, he prayed for his executioners, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'

"Rising and folding his arms, he announced, 'Senores, I am at your service.'

"'Never have I seen men die more courageously,' the soldier said" ("Two Members Died Courageously for the Truth," Church News, 12 Sept. 1959, 19).

As a boy I was deeply impressed by this story of faith. Truly these men were martyrs for the cause.

The problem is that it's not true. According to an article by Mark Grover of BYU, the men were killed because they had been accused of being supporters of Venustiano Carranza, Zapata's enemy, and of having a hidden cache of weapons. Further, they were known to have associated with American missionaries and businessmen, which made them suspect to the Carranzistas.

Their religion was involved only tangentially. According to Monroy's mother:

"As the days pass we are finding out little by little that also in this town there were false witnesses that helped to condemn to death my son saying that he perverted the people and taught a kind of religion and that he was a mormon and that word that they had not before heard they interpreted as some very bad thing and hatred and ill will follow us with the stories."

The Zapatistas had never heard of Mormons, making it unlikely that they were told to deny their faith. Further, there were no witnesses to the execution other than the Zapatistas, who didn't mention anything about renouncing faith.

So, where did this incredibly faith-promoting story come from? It was related by mission president Rey Pratt, who seems to have laid things on more thickly with each telling.

It drives me crazy that, every time I dig into these faith-promoting stories, they turn out to be completely bogus. Brigham Young transfigured into Joseph Smith? Nope. Seagull miracle? Nope. Mexican martyrs? Nope.
Top Ten Joseph Smith Excuses For Helen Mar Kimball
Friday, Jun 15, 2012, at 07:52 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
10. I was just conducting her annual Young Women's interview.

9. Her 16 year old cousin said no, so what was I supposed to do?

8. I was just following the Lord's admonition to become as a little child--a really horny little child.

7. It's been revealed to me that I won't live longer than 85 years, so I have to make the best use of my time to raise up seed unto the Lord.

6. Without my glasses, she looks just like her mother.

5. Well, if she were any younger, those folks at FARMS would have a hard time justifying it.

4. It's not my fault that even the teenagers find an overweight prophet with a limp and chipped teeth incredibly hot.

3. She and the other 32 women forced themselves on me against my will.

2. It's OK because Emma doesn't know. You aren't going to tell Emma, are you?

1. An angel came down with a drawn sword and ... oh, never mind. No one would believe that one.
Apostasy And The Five Stages Of Grief
Friday, Jun 15, 2012, at 07:55 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I don't know if anyone else will find this helpful, but I did a lot better in my transition out of Mormonism when I recognized that I had experienced a tremendous loss when I realized the church wasn't true.

Seeing the Kubler-Ross model helped me see where I was in my "recovery," or grieving process.

For me, it went something like this:

1. Denial: For several years I refused to accept the logical conclusions of the evidence about the church. I had a testimony, so there obviously were answers somewhere. It was true, period. So, I put a lot on the "shelf" and pretended it wasn't real.

2. Anger: I probably went through two years of real anger toward the church. I used to flip off our stake center in Texas when I would drive by.

3. Bargaining: I made all kinds of compromises and promises with God and my family just to put things back the way they had been before. Didn't work.

4. Depression: Considering I attempted suicide in June of 2007, I'd say that qualifies.

5. Acceptance: I have my moments, but mostly I'm OK with life as it is. I know my wife will never look into the problems with the church. For a long time I wanted so badly for her to just listen, but she wouldn't. I finally had to be OK with her not knowing, as long as she was OK with me. I go to sacrament meetings fairly often with my wife, and that's OK. I used to roll my eyes and grind my teeth a lot, but now I mostly just take it as an hour of observing a culture. It's kind of entertaining.

Anyway, I don't know if this helps anyone, but it helped me.
Top Ten Reasons For The Shakeup At The Maxwell Institute
Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012, at 01:28 PM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
10. Gerald Bradford's email is actually a cipher key used to decode secret messages from the Illuminati.
9. Bill Hamblin needed an excuse to tell apostates to "bugger off."
8. One more review of "An Insider's View," and they'd have to give Grant Palmer a free Slurpee.
7. The Review of Books was beginning to make the MADB board look like a testimony meeting.
6. Lou Midgley has been unmasked as the elusive "Doctor Scratch."
5. John Dehlin had his calling and election made sure.
4. Apparently, sacrificing babies to Moloch is frowned upon in some circles.
3. The "Internet Mormons" have finally defeated the "Chapel Mormons."
2. An angel with a drawn sword appeared to President Samuelson.
1. My 5-year mission to infiltrate NAMIRS with closet apostates has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.
Fear: The Great Motivator
Tuesday, Jul 10, 2012, at 11:12 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
After watching for a few years, I understand that what motivates much of Mormon apologetics and “defense of Mormonism” efforts is fear.

The worst fear is that Mormonism might not be true, after all, and that it might be obviously untrue to those who look at it objectively. It’s a terrifying thought to contemplate that the “knowledge” by which you organize and live your life might actually be a lie, that you have given so much of yourself for a manmade institution, that your spiritual confirmation of Mormonism might not have been anything spiritual at all.

When you’re afraid you do funny things like see everything in black and white, good and evil, and you carefully draw lines between yourself and the evil around you. You see those who disagree with you not just as opponents but as enemies to be destroyed lest they destroy you. You adopt an exaggerated, overwrought, outward image of certainty, but inside you’re just a scared child.

This is the only way to explain the bizarre antics of so many apologists from an apostle who warns that “some things that are true are not very useful” to university professors who fake photos to self-professed cleaners of the temple who decide for themselves who is faithful and who is not.

People who aren’t afraid stand out because they are comfortable in their own skin, they aren’t threatened by different points of view, and acknowledge that their understanding is always limited, so they could be wrong. That’s the key: Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Often we learn best by discovering we were wrong in our earlier understanding. To insist that what we believe is true, full stop, is to stop learning and growing.
Joseph Smith And Sexual Polyandry
Friday, Aug 10, 2012, at 07:12 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I've written before about sexuality in Joseph Smith's plural marriages, but until now there seemed to be definite evidence that one of his polyandrous marriages, that with Sylvia Sessions Lyon, involved sexual relations. If we are to believe Sylvia's statements (and I have no reason not to do so), it is highly likely that her daughter Josephine was the biological daughter of Joseph Smith.andnbsp;

LDS apologist Brian Hales has done some pretty thorough work on Joseph's practice of polygamy, but he believes that the polyandrous relationships were not sexual. I won't go into detail about his support for this belief, as it can be found on his web site, but Michael Quinn has delivered a devastating response to Hales's presentation on this subject at the Mormon History Association's conference in June of 2012. Some highlights:

There is strong evidence for sexual polyandry in the case of Mary Heron Snider, a married LDS woman living in Nauvoo. Mary's son-in-law Joseph Johnson testified in 1850 before a council of apostles that he "was familiar with the first frigging " that was done in his house with his mother in law " byandnbsp;Joseph." Hales suggests that the statement was a fabrication to justify Johnson's own sexual behavior. Quinn refutes that statement by noting Johnson's statement just before the "frigging" sentence:andnbsp;"I never heard anyandnbsp;conversation to say it was right to go to bed with a woman if not found out–I was aware theandnbsp;thing [with Mrs. Snow] was wrong."

Johnson's testimony was given before a council of apostles, presided over by Brigham Young. Although at least one member of the council said the statement had "taken me by surprise," no one denounced Johnson for saying what he did. Quinn notes that in June of 1841, Mary Isabella Horne stated thatandnbsp;"the prophet with Sister Snyder called in his buggyandnbsp;upon Sister Clev[e]land" in Quincy, Illinois." This statement is significant for a couple of reasons: First, Sarah Cleveland, one of Joseph's wives, had "served as [Joseph's] "intermediary" in the spring ofandnbsp;1842 for introducing the idea of polygamous marriage to Eliza R. Snow." At that time Mrs. Snider was living alone with her son. This visit does not definitively corroborate Johnson's statement, but it does refute Hales's statement, "Despite intensive research, Iandnbsp;have found no additional evidence linking Mary Heron Snider with Joseph Smith." Later that year Joseph Smith sent John Snider to England, as he done with other polyandrous husbands, who may or may not have been aware of their wives' relationships with Joseph Smith.

Another polyandrous wife was Flora Ann Woodworth Gove, who married Joseph Smith at age 16 and then married Carlos Gove. Smith's secretary, William Clayton, notes that Joseph met with Flora alone at Clayton's house "while Clayton was intentionally absent." Flora regretted marrying Gove and as Quinn puts it, "two subsequentandnbsp;trysts with the 37-year-old Prophet in Clayton's house onandnbsp;consecutive days showed how much she regretted marrying a younger man earlier in the week."

A third wife Quinn mentions is Esther Dutcher Smith, who married Joseph Smith in 1843. Although married for 10 years, Esther had not conceived a child by her husband, but at the time of Joseph Smith's death, she was six months pregnant with a son, Joseph Albert. Her marriage to Joseph was noted by Brigham Young's counselor Daniel Wells in 1877, who wrote that Esther "nearly broke his heart by telling him [her legal husband] of it, and expressing her intention ofandnbsp;adhering to that relationship" with the prophet. Wells further wrote that Albert Smith "got to feeling better about it" seven years later. Wells's wording shows that Esther was married to Joseph without Albert Smith's knowledge, and had this been an "eternity only sealing," Albert would not have been upset about the relationship, and her plans to "adhere" to it would not make sense. (Quinn further notes that there is no record of any "eternity only" sealings performed in the LDS church throughout the entire nineteenth century.andnbsp;

A fourth wife Quinn mentions is Philo Dibble's wife, Hannah Ann Dubois Smith Dibble, who is mentioned in an 1857 anti-Mormon book as having been Joseph's wife. Quinn notes that in 1843, Joseph was accused of "improper conduct" with Hannah Dibble and Agnes Smith, who was Don Carlos Smith's widow. Agnes Smith was later acknowledged as Joseph's plural wife, and Benjamin Johnson's autobiography states, "At this time [May 1843,] I knew that the Prophet had as hisandnbsp;wives … Sisters Lyon and Dibble."

Finally, Hales states that evidence was "ambiguous" for Joseph's marriage to Elvira Ann Cowles Holmes, wife of Jonathan Holmes, although Hales cites the following statement from Elvira's daughter Phebe:"I heard my mother [Elvira Ann Cowles Holmes] testify that she wasandnbsp;indeed the Prophet Joseph Smith's plural wife in life and lived with him as such during hisandnbsp;lifetime." That doesn't sound ambiguous to me (or to Quinn). And, as Quinn puts it, "I find it difficult to believe that Elvira's 37-year-oldandnbsp;widower-husband Jonathan stopped having sex with her only six months after their civilandnbsp;wedding, simply to accommodate the Prophet's sexual relations with her (which in June 1843andnbsp;seemed likely to continue for many years)." This is an important point. If we are to believe that there was no sexual polyandry in this case, there are only two options: Jonathan Holmes stopped having sex with his wife, or Joseph "lived with" Elvira as a wife but did not have sex with him. I'm with Quinn on this one.

Regrettably, Quinn's paper is not available online so far as I know, but I have a copy in my possession and can provide citations as needed. For me, there is no question that Joseph's marriages included sexual polyandry, as the evidence is quite clear.
The Truth Shall Make You Free, And We Can't Have That
Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012, at 07:37 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I wrote just a few days ago about my absolute horror when reading Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and discovering that a lot of what Orwell describes as the tools and effects of totalitarianism have been present in my life because of my association with the LDS church. Almost on cue, the church decided to prove my point by going after the editor of a site run. according to its home page, "largely by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are interested in the historical accuracy of our church and how it is being taught to its members and portrayed in the media."

In my experience, the information presented at the site is historically accurate, indeed far more so than the church's own web site, or the apologetic site, I support their mission and believe they are sincere and have made a good-faith effort to be fair and accurate. Accuracy is apparently unwelcome in the LDS church.

What is so ironic to me is that, as members of the LDS church, we were taught that truth matters. We sang in our hymns, "true to the faith that our parents have cherished, true to the truth for which martyrs have perished" because
Yes, say, what is truth? 'Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
'Tis an aim for the noblest desire.
Our leaders taught us the value of truth. Here are a couple of representative quotes:
"To those who humbly seek, there is no need to stumble or falter along the pathway leading to truth. It is well marked by our Heavenly Father. We must first have a desire to know for ourselves. We must study. We must pray. We must do the will of the Father. And then we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free" (Thomas S. Monson, "Great Expectations," CES fireside for young adults, Jan. 11, 2009).

"Clear declaration of truth makes a difference in people's lives. That is what changes hearts. That is what the Holy Ghost can confirm in the hearts of God's children" (M. Russell Ballard, "Pure Testimony," Ensign, Nov. 2004, 41).
For many of us, seeking and discovering the truth about our religion led us to doubt and even leave the church, but others have stayed because they were able to absorb that truth into their beliefs. I find that admirable, and in some ways I wish I could have done that as well.

But the LDS church hierarchy clearly does not admire continued faith in the face of troubling information. No, it's not quite that. It seems to be fine within in the church to question or hold unorthodox beliefs, as long as you do so privately. The moment you share the truth, you are on dangerous ground. I've had many Mormon leaders and friends tell me I need to keep my opinions and knowledge to myself, lest I damage someone's faith.

I won't do that. I have never tried to dissuade people from their faith in Mormonism, but I will not be silenced. If speaking the truth damages one's faith, that is a pretty good sign that it's a misplaced faith. Truth is not scary; it is not hurtful. It may be uncomfortable and perhaps painful to acknowledge, but Jesus was right that knowing the truth sets you free because knowing the truth allows you to see clearly and make informed decisions.

So, I stand in solidarity and support with those who have dared to publish truth. I'm a little surprised that the church hasn't come after me, but then it won't matter to me if they excommunicate me.

And let me just say something to those members and leaders of the LDS church who would attempt to silence those who publish the truth: You may succeed in quieting some people, but you cannot put the truth back in a hidden corner. You can't quash the truth because you taught us to cherish it.
Top Ten New Revelations
Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012, at 06:51 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
According to blogger DenverSnuffer, apostle Russell Nelson has told several stake presidents that there will be a major revelation announced at general conference next week. As the blogger put it, "President Thomas M. Monson has received a revelation that will affect every man, woman, and child in the church."

If true, this could be big news. Of course, rumors of new revelations crop up every few conferences, and nothing much happens. That said, at the request of a good friend, I have inquired of my sources and have been given a list of recent revelations. Perhaps one of these may be announced in conference:

10. And again, Fry Sauce is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is a blight on the land and to be used in the destruction of thine enemies with judgment and skill.

9. The righteous in Utah County will all be lifted up to heaven-both of them.

8. But this generation shall have my word through press releases from the Public Affairs department.

7. He may be a dodo, after all.

6. CTR rings to be replaced by LGS (Let's go shopping!) rings, available exclusively at City Creek mall.

5. New Church Historian: Brandon Flowers.

4. The sun borrows its light from Dieter Uchtdorf's tan.

3. The anti-Christ is a mild-mannered blogger who lives in Provo, Utah.

2. BYU really did lose last week because you tampered with your "little factory."

1. God is voting for Obama.
Circling The Wagons
Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012, at 12:52 PM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend who has served on several committees for the LDS church putting together instructional manuals for priesthood and auxiliary manuals. We talked about how the Joseph Smith presented by the church has always been like George Washington, Superman, and Jesus rolled into one. He agreed with me that the portrayals of Joseph Smith have been far too slanted and unrealistic.

We discussed how a lot of people are shocked when they discover that the real Joseph Smith bears little resemblance to the correlated Joseph, and a number of people end up leaving the church because of the disconnect. He said that he'd worked with "probably more than a hundred people" who had come to him for help, but he gave them the same answer he gave me: Joseph Smith was who he was, but the church he founded is good and benefits the world.

I suppose that's the only answer an honest person can give because Joseph Smith wasn't a particularly truthful or moral man. When I said I thought the church should at least acknowledge Joseph's humanity and make him less of a figure to be spoken of in awe, my friend said he had tried many times in his committee assignments to make that same point and get the church to open up a little about who Joseph Smith was. But he said that he got absolutely nowhere with the church or the committees.

So, for the time being, the church appears to be taking the Boyd Packer approach: "Some things that are true are not very useful." In my view, this is a mistake, but then I don't imagine the church cares what I think. At some point, more than a few Mormons will be confronted with their church's real history, and a lot will be shaken in their faith, perhaps enough to leave the church.

To me, this circling of the wagons suggests that church leaders do not yet understand just how completely they have lost control of their message. Several leaders mentioned "exaggerated or invented" information on the Internet, presumably as a warning to members not to believe what they read (this is the Chico Marx defense: "Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"). Of course, the problem is that a great deal of information is neither exaggerated nor invented; worse yet, I can imagine that more than a few people who heard those talks will be thinking, "Hmmm, I wonder what he's talking about," and venture out into the demonic recesses of the Internet.

In the long run, the LDS church has no choice but to open up if it wants to survive as a belief system and not just an institution. For the time being, however, it seems to have chosen to circle the wagons and pretend that the official, squeaky-clean version of itself is the correct one.
Importance Of Giving And Sharing Without Being Judgmental
Thursday, Oct 18, 2012, at 08:55 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
I've told this story before, but it's a reminder to me of the importance of giving and sharing without being judgmental.

My father told me this story about 3 years ago. I had never heard any of this, and it still hurts to think about it.

When my mother became pregnant with me, my father was a Ph.D. student at USC. He worked for an aerospace company one day a week, and they paid most of his tuition.

My parents had three children before I was born, and my dad's income barely paid the bills. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment that had been converted from a detached garage behind someone's house. Needless to say, they did not have health insurance.

About 5 months into the pregnancy, my mom started bleeding, and not just a little spotting. The doctor told her that she was going to miscarry, and she should just have a DandC and get it over with. But, since she insisted she was going to do everything possible to have the baby, he told her she would need bed rest until I was born.

My parents sent my brother and two sisters to my grandparents in Utah for four months so my mom could stay in bed. When I was born, the doctors discovered a life-threatening birth defect, and I had major surgery that day. I spent the next six weeks in the hospital before coming home on Christmas Eve.

My uncle gave my dad everything in his savings account, but it wasn't half as much as the bills. The Crippled Children's Fund loaned my dad the rest of the money. My dad was forced to quit school and go to work full-time.

Until I was almost 6 years old, I had to go to the hospital overnight once or twice a week to have my esophagus dilated. By then I had two younger brothers. My family was very poor, heavily in debt, and under a lot of stress.

From the time that my mom started the bed rest until I was done having my bi-weekly procedures, no one from the church provided child care, meals, rides to the hospital, nothing. We didn't get anything from the bishop's storehouse, and no money to help with the bills. Literally, the local ward did nothing to help my family.

Just after I turned six, we moved from that ward. A few days before we moved, the former Relief Society president showed up at our house. She begged my mother's forgiveness for not helping when we obviously needed help. She said that, in a ward council meeting, the bishop had said no one was to help the Williams family because "Brother Williams is not a full-tithe payer."

I can't tell you how much it hurt to hear this story. I gave so much of my life to the church, and this felt like a real betrayal. It still hurts.

But it reminds me that we must help people in need, even if we think they don't "deserve" it, even if it inconveniences us, and even if it's hard. I do not want anyone to think of me as someone who saw their need and didn't help.
Top Ten Reasons For The New Temple Film
Tuesday, Aug 20, 2013, at 07:48 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
10. Matt Groening was threatening to sue Michael Ballam for plagiarizing Sideshow Mel.

9. Ever since the old film was released on youtube, enterprising BYU students had been bubbling Eve ... and Adam.

8. Surveys showed that many patrons thought the film was boring, so they made it longer.

7. Corbin Allred just oozes evil.

6. Boyd K. Packer couldn't remember if the old film was true or uplifting.

5. You can't be too early for Oscar season.

4. Rumor has it that Gordon Jump's ghost appears in several frames of the old film.

3. Now that the mall has been built, they had to find something to do with the extra cash.

2. Who doesn't love LEDs in the ceiling?

1. If nothing else, curiosity probably raised the attendance temporarily.
Expert Ex-Mormon
Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013, at 07:21 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Yes, I am an expert in how to leave the church and do it the wrong way. A little background:

I have always been a history and knowledge junkie, and when I worked at the Church Office Building in the early 90s, I would go down to the historical library on my lunch hour and read whatever looked interesting. Around 1995, when I was no longer working for the church, I got invited to participate in an online listserv group, I moved on to other places, such as the ironically named FAIR board, where I was a defender of the church but tried to be fair and honest and kind with people who disagreed.

In 2005, I took an 8-month break from all Mormon online participation, and during that break, I realized that I'd known for quite some time that the church wasn't true, but I just hadn't let myself admit it. Literally, everything fell apart during a phone conversation with a friend who was distraught about Joseph Smith and polyandry.

When I got home, my wife could tell something was wrong, so I blurted out that I didn't believe in the church anymore. For 2 years I tried to get her to listen to what I knew. I sent her articles, quoted books, asked questions about her beliefs, and generally challenged her as much as I could. Needless to say, we fought for 2 years. My sister, to whom I've always been close, began having long conversations with my wife about how to "fix" me. Our marriage nearly broke up, and I sank into a deep depression. In 2007 I attempted suicide and ended up spending 3 days as an unwilling guest of a psych ward in Houston.

That was a turning point for me. I realized that I'd been pushing my wife to hear things she didn't want to hear, and she had been pushing back just as hard to get me to step back in line. We both changed because of my suicide attempt. We learned that it was OK to disagree, that it was OK for her not to want to know what I knew, and it was OK for me not to bow to her religious wishes.

So, here are some of the things I've learned:

1. Why do Mormons take it so personally when you state the facts about their religion?

Mormonism was part of our identity, perhaps even the main part. The LDS church is designed to be the center of a member's existence; without the church, there would be a huge, gaping hole (which we all experience when we leave). So, whether they realize it or not, most Mormons predictably react as though a criticism of the church is a personal attack on them. No, it's not rational, and in a perfect world, you could get people to step back and separate the church from themselves. But in reality, they do not draw a distinct line between the self and Mormonism.

2. Why is relatively uncontroversial information so threatening to a lot of Mormons?

The church has done such a great job of packaging its history and doctrines that anything else, no matter how trivial it may seem, is jarring to believers. Take the "rock in the hat" episode. It's well-established that Joseph Smith used a stone he found in a well to pretend to find buried treasure, long before the Book of Mormon project began. And there is plenty of eyewitness testimony that he used the same stone to "translate" the Book of Mormon. But it's not part of the approved narrative, so people get horribly offended and assume you're just telling lies.

3. Why do my family and friends treat me like I'm an enemy?

The church has long taught that people who leave are apostates, and such people are evil. They are the kind of people who killed Joseph Smith. They have evil in their hearts and are motivated by hatred of truth and goodness. Heck, they've even had priesthood and Relief Society lessons about us rotten apostates. So, when you challenge their beliefs with new information, they assume that you are attacking them personally, that you are making things up, and that you are doing so in a dishonest attempt to make the church look bad.

4. How do I get through to them?

Unfortunately, the answer generally is that you won't and can't. But being confrontational just plays into the church's script: angry apostate can't just leave it alone but must attack God's true religion.

5. So, what should I do?

There's no right answer, but I'll tell you what works for me. If I am tempted to discuss my loss of belief with someone I care about, I ask myself two questions: 1) What do I hope to accomplish with this discussion? 2) What is the likely outcome of the discussion? If the answer to 1) is "I just want them to know the truth," that's not good enough. The second question comes into play: How likely is it that they are going to know and accept the truth because of your discussion? If it's unlikely, why bother? In my view, it's fine to share your feelings and knowledge with anyone you wish, but when it comes to loved ones, make sure you have a definite goal in mind and that your conversation is likely to achieve that goal.

6. How do I convince my family and friends that my unbelief is not a personal attack on them?

This one is simple. As I said in question 1 above, the church makes itself the center of your life, your relationships, your marriage. One day my wife said to me, "Our marriage has always been built on the church and the gospel, so now I wonder what's left?" I realized that both of us needed to recognize what our marriage was without the church at the center. We discovered that our relationship was about love, commitment, friendship, intimacy, passion, and so on. None of that depended on the church. Once we started focusing on building those non-church aspects, we started to heal as a couple.

You are going to have friends and family who insist on making the church the center of your relationship. If that's all there is to your relationship, you don't have a relationship with such people. There's no big loss here.

Let them be the nasty ones; let them be the ones who value loyalty to the church over love and truth. Don't let it be you.

7. Does this mean I have to just shut up and endure the crap from my Mormon friends and family?

No, not at all. But what it does mean is that we must choose our battles wisely. Have you ever known someone who can't talk about anything other than a specific topic, usually their religion or politics? I had an Aunt Helen who was a Scientologist, and when she visited (thank God she lived in Ohio, and we were in California) all she could talk about was her stupid cult. Pretty much everyone ignored her and avoided contact with her. My father incessantly talks about Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, so I judiciously change the subject because I've learned that arguing back is pointless. He's not changing his mind, and neither am I. I realize that I can't be the ex-Mormon version of my nutcase aunt because it does no good and just makes people want to avoid me.

Of course, someone inevitably brings up the subject of why I left the church. Again, what I share depends on who I'm with, what I hope to accomplish, and what I expect the outcome to be. My wife doesn't want to know anything, so if she asks a specific question, I answer succinctly and leave it at that. An old friend of mine was constantly harping on me about my apostasy, but he wouldn't listen to anything I said but would just argue and call me to repentance. Eventually, I sent him a link to and told him that I'd rather he educate himself on the issues before we got back into it. To my complete shock, reading that on his own without my interference led him to question everything he believed. If I had kept up the defensive arguments we'd been having, nothing would have changed for either of us.

8. My Mormon friends tell me I'm bitter for being angry. Is it wrong to feel so angry? How do I get past the anger and hurt?

I've been told by countless Mormons that it's wrong to feel angry and hurt, that it just means I'm "bitter." They say, "You can leave the church, but you can't leave it alone." Screw that. Losing your belief is a loss, and that involves grief. Ex-Mormons go through all the stages of grief (see, and anger is one of those stages. It's not healthy to suppress that anger. You'll make yourself crazy. Get it out, but get it out where it won't damage your important relationships. RfM is a great place for venting. One thing you'll notice is that most people post for a few months until the anger passes, and then they move on. There's no timetable, obviously, but the anger does subside. The time to talk to your family about your beliefs is not when you are angry and hurt.

So, what's happened since 2007? Well, for one thing I'm not depressed anymore (a good therapist and medication did wonders). My wife and I don't fight about religion anymore, and I find that I can appreciate the good she gets out of it without forgetting the bad. She understands that I'm sincere in my beliefs and not some evil apostate. My sister, who once thought I had lost my mind, respects my opinion about the church to ask me about things she feels she can't ask other believers. My parents don't agree with my reasons for leaving, but we have had good conversations about why I believe what I do.

Because I haven't been in my family's faces about my beliefs, my children have felt comfortable talking to me about their questions and doubts. Of my 6 kids, 3 were absolutely relieved to know that I don't believe because they didn't. One was married in the temple a year ago, though I would say she is very liberal in her understanding of church history and doctrine. The other two haven't quite decided where they fit.

So, in short:
  1. Find non-destructive ways to vent your emotions.
  2. Recognize that what you see as truth will likely be seen as an attack by your Mormon friends and family.
  3. Choose your battles wisely. Don't be Aunt Helen.
  4. Have a purpose for the information you share.
  5. Focus on strengthening the non-church parts of your relationships. Don't make the church the 800-lb. gorilla in the room.
One last thing: I'll bet you're saying to yourself, "That's not fair! Mormons get to treat me like crap, and I have to be all nice and forgiving." No, it isn't fair. Someone posted yesterday how sad it was that we are grateful for people being less nasty to us. If you need to be nasty to Mormons, join a message board and argue away with believers. But don't return the nastiness from people who are important in your lives. I often have to remind myself that they are behaving that way because the church taught them to behave that way. That stuff has been pounded into their heads all their lives, and we can't hold them entirely responsible. To steal a line from the church, "Hate the Mormonism, but love the Mormon."

And by no means am I saying you shouldn't stand up for yourself. When you are attacked and maligned, you have every right to defend yourself and your beliefs. But be smart about it.

I hope this helps. Like I said, I believe these things work because doing the opposite didn't work for me and changing my approach has really helped. There are no guarantees, and there are no right answers. Do what you must do, but I hope what I have said helps in some small way.
Struggling With Same-Sex Attraction
Tuesday, Aug 27, 2013, at 07:40 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
My TBM sister just sent me a link to some LDS guy's "therapy" site for same-sex attraction. She said she had two friends in her ward whose sons had come out, and she wanted to know what I thought. She said she wants to help but wasn't sure how (she's the RS president).

Here's the article she wanted me to read:

It's a bit long, but I read the whole thing, and I'm kind of glad I did. At first it made me angry, but it forced me to think things through and try to put them clearly and as unemotionally as I could. Here's what I wrote:

I just finished reading the article. I'll try to be as clear as I can. A few years ago when I was seeing a therapist, I talked to her about my own unwanted sexual desires and interests, and she said something that has helped me immensely: it doesn't really matter where it comes from; when something becomes eroticized in adolescence, it isn't going to go away. It just is part of you.

To me, it's irrelevant to try to find the "cause" of homosexuality. It is just who you are. I'm sure this Brother Robinson means well, but if you notice, the outcome he's recommending isn't a happy, heterosexual life; it's a life where young men have simply walked away from their sexual desires. The cold, hard truth for Latter-day Saints is that you have to make a choice: you commit to the gospel and sacrifice your sexuality (which generally means a lifetime of celibacy and an absence of all same-sex companionship and intimacy), or you walk away from the church in favor of your sexuality.

In short, the best you can hope for is to control your sex drive. Your sexual attraction isn't going to be transferred to women, and it isn't going to go away. In study after study, no therapeutic course has had even a small degree of success. Evergreen, which is the most well-known LDS program, has an 8% "success" rate, but all that means is that 8% of their subjects reported being able to control their same-sex attraction, at least in the short term (6-9 months). In the long-term, the "success" rate is near zero. I'm sure you're aware of the electrical-shock aversion therapy that went on until the mid-90s at BYU. All that accomplished was to scar men (literally) and make a lot of people really despise the church.

But suppose that a young man completes this program and manages to kill off his same-sex attraction. He's going to feel pressure to marry in the temple and have kids, and then it will be his wife who will get to live with a man who isn't attracted to her and doesn't find fulfillment in intimacy with her. I have a friend from my undergrad days who spent 20 years wondering why her husband didn't want her, why he didn't love her. He was everything she was taught to want in a marriage: a strong priesthood leader, a good father, a good provider. But he finally told her he's gay. He's never been attracted to her. She said that it was almost a relief to know, and he said he felt like he didn't have to pretend anymore. So, some 6 years later she's married to someone who isn't interested in intimacy at all, and she's miserable. One of my mission companions is literally drinking himself to death because he's in an unhappy marriage. His wife loathes him because he's gay, and he loathes himself probably more.

The other thing to consider is how the family deals with their gay children. When families are rigid and unsupportive, gay young men are 8 times more likely to commit suicide than those whose families treat them with kindness, love, and respect. Too many people see their gay kids as defective in some way. There literally is no place for homosexuality in the Plan of Salvation, so either there is something wrong with them, or Satan has got hold of them. Give this religious context, it's not surprising that most LDS families react rather badly when their children come out to them. Consequently, a huge percentage of adolescent male suicides in Utah are among gay young men. Whether we want to or not, the message we often give is that we'd rather our kids be dead than be gay.

Obviously, I'm coming at this from a different perspective, as one who gave up hope a long time ago that the church was true. I've gotten past the hurt and the anger, thankfully, but I see some things more clearly. One thing that has become very clear is that the church needlessly sexualizes a lot in members' lives. Ironically, the major focus on modesty and chastity has made us even more fixated on sexuality than we would normally be. I recently read an article in the Friend about a 4 year old girl choosing to be "modest" and not wear a tank top, which just floored me. Sexual development is hard enough without this unrelenting focus. It's doubly ironic because Joseph Smith was certainly much freer with his sexuality than church members are today.

Sorry, didn't mean to get off topic. The bottom line is this: do we as parents want our children to live their lives without real, loving relationships? Even if a gay member lives the letter of the law of chastity, he or she still cannot be affectionate with a member of the same sex, kiss, hold hands, and so on. And if our children don't choose that life of celibacy, will we still accept them and love them? I know it's become fashionable to say that God's love is conditional, but that's not what the scriptures say. You know as well as I do that we don't always agree with our kids' decisions, but we still love them.

I knew a BYU professor who was a stake president, and he counseled young men who were gay to accept who they are, and just try and find a committed, stable relationship. That wouldn't have gone over too well with the Brethren, but if one of my kids came to me and said they were gay, that's what I would tell them. Heavenly Father wants us to be happy. He doesn't want us to spend the rest of our lives in lonely celibacy.

I know, this probably isn't what you were hoping to hear, but these young men need to understand what the choice is: it isn't between having hundreds of sex partners and living a happy, married LDS life. It's between having real intimacy in your life and sacrificing it for the church. For some people the sacrifice is worth it. Even if I thought the church was what it says it is, I would still think the sacrifice is too much to ask for most people. I would instead teach young men about love and commitment, and try to help them become well-adjusted adults.

I've rambled long enough. I hope this helps, though I don't know how these boys' parents would react to what I've said. At the very least, please tell them that their kids are still the same kids they've always been, and they need the love and support of their families. Don't destroy your relationships with your kids because they aren't who you hoped they were.

I'm glad you sent this to me, as it has helped me think through my feelings and thoughts. I'm glad your ward has someone as thoughtful and loving as you to support people who are likely in a lot of pain right now.
Upcoming Book Titles From Deseret Book
Monday, Sep 9, 2013, at 07:53 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
After the smashing success of "The Not Even Once Club," Deseret Book has announced the following new books set for release just before conference:

10. Atonement? We Don't Need No Stinking Atonement! by Wendy Watson

9. Modesty for Toddlers

8. Standing for Something, by Gordon B. Hinckley Richard and Linda Eyre

7. Salvation Isn't Cheap, and Neither Is My Book, by Jeffrey R. Holland (includes bonus DVD containing 3 hours of extemporaneous weeping)

6. Building a Zion People, One Mall at a Time, by Thomas S. Monson

5. A Child's Pop-Up Book of Deadly Heresies, by Bruce R. McConkie

4. Keeping the Law of Chastity: It's Not Sex if You Don't Live Together, by bcspace (Jr Mopologist)

3. Let It Alone: Lessons from Church History, by Boyd K. Packer

2. The Rescue: When There Aren't Any Answers

1. No More Prozac: Finding Happiness in Conformity
Hebrew Lessons From Joseph Smith
Tuesday, Jan 21, 2014, at 07:45 AM
Original Author(s): Runtu
Topic: RUNTU'S RINCON   -Link To MC Article-
Most people at all familiar with Mormon history know that Joseph Smith, a young farm boy, claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon into English from the original "reformed Egyptian" written on gold plates. The book tells the story of ancient Hebrews who crossed the ocean around 600 BC and settled the American content.

Outside members of the LDS (Mormon) church, few people know that Joseph Smith also claimed to have translated real Egyptian, not the just the reformed kind. Specifically, in July 1835, Joseph Smith bought two Egyptian mummies and some papyrus scrolls accompanying them for $2,400 (some $53,000 in 2012). From the scrolls, he produced "A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into [his] hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus." The English translation was apparently begun in or after July 1835, though the timeline is in dispute. After making a few revisions in March 1842, Smith published the Book of Abraham serially in the church's Times and Seasons newspaper in 1842.

It's important to remember that, for most of the world in 1835, Egyptian was a "dead" language in that no one spoke it, and no one knew who to read or write the different forms of written Egyptian. The discovery of the Rosetta stone in 1799 began the process of understanding ancient Egyptian language. This stone provided Greek text along with its equivalent in Egyptian hieroglyphics and demotic text, and phonetic characters that spelled foreign and Egyptian words. Scholars--specifically Jean-Francois Champollion--took some 23 years to transliterate the Egyptian and become confident in their ability to decipher ancient Egyptian. During Joseph Smith's lifetime, Champollion's achievements had been reported in the press in North America, but the specifics were unknown in frontier Ohio, being limited to a few scholarly works published in Europe--and most of those in French. As non-Mormon press noted in 1844, there was "no Champollion, or Denon among the Mormons of Nauvoo" to validate Joseph Smith's translation.

I've discussed the content and themes of the Book of Abraham elsewhere, but here I want to look at the two types of transliterations of Egyptian words that Joseph provides in the Book of Abraham:

1. "Egyptian" words, such as "Oliblish" and "Enish-go-on-dosh."

2. Hebrew words, such as "Shaumahyeem" and "Kokaubeam."

The former, of course, are not actually Egyptian words but appear to have been invented by Joseph Smith. The latter are best understood when you know that during the translation of the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith began studying Hebrew, first with a few books, and then with a teacher, Joshua Seixas. It's not surprising that the transliterations above and others come from the first few chapters of the Bible and follow Seixas' transliterations exactly (see Louis Zucker's essay on Joseph Smith's use of Hebrew for more information:

The difference, then is obvious: where Joseph Smith had some familiarity with the language (Hebrew), the words are more or less correct; where he didn't know the language, the words are, well, nonsensical. Of course, some Mormon apologists respond that we don't necessarily what the real Egyptian words were and what they meant. For example, Kerry Muhlestein has argued that the validity of Joseph Smith's translation and transliteration of Egyptian depends on whose translation skills you trust: Joseph's, or Egyptologists'. Not surprisingly, most scholars side with the Egyptologists.

But what if we had an example of a known language that Joseph Smith didn't know and yet he attempted to translate it? Suppose, for example, that Joseph Smith had told us that "sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble" is French for "I'm friends with the monster that's under my bed." Imagine, further, that Joseph Smith then translated the English into another language he didn't know, so using our example, he tells us the Spanish translation of the above reads, "Wingardium leviosa."

Amazingly, that's exactly what Joseph Smith did. In December 1835, just when he was beginning to read about Hebrew, but before Joshua Seixas arrived, Joseph attempted a "translation" of the Reformed Egyptian characters from the gold plates first into English and then into Hebrew (the text is clearly from Jacob's allegory of the olive tree). See Ed Ashment's essay for more information ( Here are some of the results, with Ed Ashment's modern transliteration of the Hebrew in brackets:

English: For it grieveth me that I should lose this tree and the fruit thereof Hebrew: ofin Zimim ezmon E, Zu onis i f s veris etzer ensvonis vineris [Modern transliteration: ki car li ki yo'bad li ha'ec hazzeh upiryo]

English: Brethren I bid you adieu

Hebrew: i f s E Zamtri

[Modern transliteration: 'aHay 'omar lakem shalom]

Needless to say, the "Hebrew" appearing here exists only in the mind of Joseph Smith. As Ashment notes, "Fresh out of Palestine, the Hebrew known to Jacob should have been biblical Hebrew. But as Figure 1 illustrates, it bears no resemblance to Hebrew at all."

I'm surprised this episode doesn't generate much interest among critics of the LDS church. I understand why apologists wouldn't want to touch it, but it's pretty clear confirmation that Joseph Smith had no ability as a translator but rather had a pretty vivid imagination.

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Upcoming Book Titles From Deseret Book
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