Sunday, September 12, 2010


September 12, 2010 By Stephen Ellis

Continuing my columns on the world’s great religions, it is very important that we review the history (and mystery) of the Mormons.

No church has ever approached the wealth and power of the Catholics (or Papacy)…except for the Mormons. They have grown in numbers and in wealth far faster than any organized religion since the Christians were handed the Roman Empire on a silver platter by the Emperor Constantine.

There appears to be a greater mystery…or misunderstanding…about what the Mormons preach and believe: Actually, Mormons are members of the Christian Church community: their full, proper, name is “The Church of Jesus Christ – Latter Day Saints”. They often refer to themselves by the initials “LDS” standing for “Latter Day Saints”.

The Mormon belief is that Joseph Smith, a young man from western New York State, was inspired by a Christian revival, where he lived in 1820, to pray to God for guidance as to which church was the true church of God. In answer to his prayers he says he was visited by God and his son, Jesus, who told him not to join any church because all the churches at that time were false, and that he, Joseph Smith, would bring forth the true church. This event is called "The First Vision."

In 1823 Joseph claims to have had another heavenly visitation, in which an Angel named Moroni told him of a sacred history written by ancient Hebrews and other inhabitants of North and South America that were recorded on gold tablets. Moroni told Smith that the tablets were conveniently buried in a nearby hill. With Moroni’s help, Smith found the tablets and unearthed them. They were inscribed in a script that no one could interpret. (Now, Mormon Elders allege the tablets were actually inscribed in ancient Egyptian). Angels came to help Joseph Smith interpret the inscriptions. These Angels became known as the Latter Day Saints (to be differentiated from the Saints and Angels in the New and Old Testaments). With LDS help, Smith claimed to interpret the inscriptions on those tablets and from those inscriptions wrote The Book of Mormon. Allegedly, there were eleven witnesses to the existence and interpretation of these tablets by Smith. No one knows “if” or “where” the tablets were re-buried or where they are now.

It is a beautiful story and has captivated the hearts and minds of millions. Unfortunately, it does not jibe with historical records:

Smith, apparently, never told anyone about the "First Vision" until 1838; 18 years after its alleged occurrence and almost 10 years after Smith had begun his missionary efforts. It makes no sense that, if true, this “First Vision” would be concealed by a man trying to establish a new church.

In 1828, eight years after he says he had been told by God himself to join no church, Smith applied for membership in a local Methodist church. Other members of Smith’s family had joined the Presbyterian Church.

The eleven persons who claimed to have actually seen the gold tablets were all very close friends of Smith (many of them related to each other). Their testimonies are printed in the front of every copy of the Book of Mormon. Not one disinterested third party was ever allowed to examine or even view the gold tablets. Eight of those eleven witnesses subsequently abandoned Smith and left his church claiming that the so-called gold tablets never existed. Smith called them all "liars."

Contemporaries of Smith described him as something of a “confidence man”, whose chief source of income was hiring out to local farmers to help them find buried treasure (usually gold) on their farms via the use of folk magic and "seer stones”…the same magic and seer stones he later alleged enabled him to discover where the gold tablets were buried. Smith was actually arrested and tried in 1826 on a charge of “money digging”.

Joseph Smith stood firmly behind his statement that God had personally pronounced to him that the completed translation of the plates as published in 1830 were "correct". Yet, many changes have been made in later editions. There were thousands of corrections of poor grammar and awkward wording contained in the 1830 edition. There have been numerous other changes to reflect subsequent revisions of “God’s Word”, and in some of the fundamental doctrines of the church, including without limitation, a recent change to allow Black people to join the church.

Suffice it to say that the historical holes in the Mormon story are large enough to drive an eighteen-wheeler through.

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