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The purpose of this site is to generate discussion about little-known topics of church history to those interested in increasing their knowledge about these kinds of interesting, historical Mormon issues. We encourage people to think objectively about issues involving the doctrine, practices and history of the LDS church. Many Latter-day Saints are completely unaware of some or all of the issues discussed here, or have an incomplete, one-sided view of them. We present arguments and responses from both critics of the church and true-believing members and add some opinions of those who helped compile the data.
In our opinion, nothing on this site 100% proves or disproves whether or not the LDS church is God's one, true church. We merely present some of the strongest arguments used against the church and then find the strongest defenses we can find against those arguments.
There are many legitimate issues that LDS members are concerned about, and many Latter-day Saints have left the church over them. Our hope is that the church will start discussing these issues openly so members can know the facts from all sides, allowing each person to decide for themselves how important they think these issues are. If the church openly discusses these issues, and perhaps provide some official responses, fewer people will leave the church over them. Additionally, those in the church who already know about these issues, will feel more comfortable remaining in the church if they can openly discuss them.
Also, we are very concerned about the damage done to families when one spouse finds out about certain troubling issues of the church's history which causes them to believe one thing while their spouse believes something else. Far too much pain, family strife and divorce is unnecessarily caused by concealment of troubling issues in Church history. We hope our efforts will bring the issues into the open and inspire the Church to officially respond to the issues that are currently troubling so many Latter-day Saints.
Some critics of the LDS church will generally not even consider the possibility that the church may be true. People who were never members of the LDS church or members who left under bad circumstances can be very biased in their critique of the church. Critics who adhere to some other religious system will often not be willing to subject their own religion to the same scrutiny they impose on Mormonism. The scientifically-inclined critics will not accept any faith-based evidence.
On the other hand, true LDS believers and especially LDS apologists will generally never consider that the church is not what it claims to be. They have already concluded that the church is true and any contradictory evidence must be wrong, and they try to "back into" an explanation (any explanation) so as not to upset their faith. Many LDS believers, upon hearing of some adverse claim against Mormonism, will say it is a lie when in fact it may not really be. Or they will simply ignore it, believing that there must be some other explanation - one that will support their faith.
With both sides of the LDS faith issue being labeled as biased, why should you trust us? The people contributing to this web site are in a unique position. Most of us are members of the LDS church, yet we are fully aware that some of the history taught in the church is radically different from the actual historical record. We value truth above all else whether or not it supports what we have always believed.
Since many of us are still active in the church, we do not wish to make it look bad and make ourselves look foolish for being members of a church that may not be entirely true. But we believe in total honesty, so we will not sugarcoat anything just to spread the gospel. We think that only the truth is good enough for the members.
We feel that in order to really make an informed decision, that honest truthseekers should look at all sides of the issues. To that end we generously link to many critics and many true-believer websites in each section so they can really explore all viewpoints in their own words. Currently we have over 300 pro-LDS website links and book references. We are continuously updating our references as we find stronger arguments supporting each side.
Who are we?
There are dozens of contributors to the MormonThink web site, many of us live in Utah. All of us have been active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have held positions ranging from Gospel Doctrine teachers, YW Presidents, Bishops, CES instructors and even a Stake President. Some of us have written faith-promoting articles that have been published in the Ensign and other church publications. Most of us have served missions and almost all of us have been married in the temple. We're just average everyday members that have a real interest in learning about church history without all the sugarcoating. Many of us still attend church regularly, do our home-teaching every month, and perform callings and service. Others have found the issues identified on this web site to be too troubling to allow us to remain active in the church and some have since resigned but they were active members when they wrote their works for MT.
A former Bishop and LDS Church Education System (CES) teacher has also joined our group and has been very helpful in using his decades of teaching LDS history to help ensure historical accuracy and doctrinal correctness of numerous LDS issues we've identified. Since then, we've had many very knowledgeable former bishops, a former stake president, CES teachers, authors, scientists, apologists and historians contribute to MT.
Sunstone magazine published an article on one of the founders of the site. The thoughts relayed in the article represent the embodiment of many of the current members of the MormonThink movement. It's in the 150th Anniversary issue of the magazine released in August 2008. Link to article: http://www.mormonthink.com/files/sunstone.pdf
For more information on the contributors to MormonThink, see Frequently Asked Questions.
Most faithful LDS acknowledge that not everything taught in the church is historically accurate. Every group writes its own history in order to make itself appear in the best light, and often minor embellishments or mistakes occur.
Maybe Joseph Smith did not win every wrestling match or stick-pulling contest, maybe not everything that the prophets have said was 100% accurate, maybe the members of the early church were to blame for some of the church's problems, maybe there are some apparent conflicts between science and religion, but what does this mean? Does the church have to be error-free in order to be true?
On this site we evaluate several significant problems asserted by the critics of the LDS church. We present a summary of the relevant points from both sides of each issue and give our own opinion as to how significant we think each item is. Are these things, when taken as a whole, enough to invalidate the church's foundational truth claims or are they, as Gordon B. Hinckley has said, just 'flecks in history'?
We ask you to look at all of the arguments and then ask yourself honestly what makes the most sense. We ask that you evaluate the research that has been done by both sides and decide for yourself.
You can become a better missionary by understanding the viewpoints of critics. You can really understand where they are coming from and why they believe something different than you do. You can be more knowledgeable about controversial and historical events.
There are times when you may meet up with someone who knows more about a particular subject than you do, and that person will never join the church if you present false information and he knows it. For example, many LDS believe that Brigham Young started polygamy. If you say that to an investigator or critic of the church who knows that Joseph Smith started polygamy, you will look foolish and naive about your own religion in his eyes.
There is also the possibility that you may alter some of your beliefs, which may affect how you view some historical aspects of the LDS church. Some have been grateful for this information; others have been very troubled by it. At any rate, you will be in a position to make an informed decision on the matter of religion.
Many of these issues came to light when LDS historians started doing an in-depth study of LDS historical documents over the last 60 years or so. These included such things as diaries, letters, and early official church documents that were either unknown or safeguarded in the church's vaults. Many of these historians wrote books on the things they uncovered. As a result, the LDS public that read these books now had some knowledge of what kinds of documents are in the vaults of the church. Some church historians were excommunicated for writing books about what they had uncovered because they were allegedly damaging members' testimonies.
For example, six Church historians and activists were excommunicated in September 1993. The Church officials did not dispute the accuracy of what the historians wrote in their books, just that it was causing people to leave the church. Much of this information would never have even come to light had it not been for inside LDS members leaking this information to the outside. These historians did not seek to damage the church when they started investigating its history, but they could not remain silent after what they discovered.
One of the first researchers was Fawn Brodie, the niece of President David O. McKay. She had access to documents that other researchers did not and wrote a book that revealed many startling things about the early days of the church. The following is from an interview with Ms. Brodie that was conducted on Nov. 30, 1975 that reveals the then-current status of the LDS historical archives:
Also, the second largest Book of Mormon-based church, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS), now called Community of Christ recently started questioning the historical nature of the Book of Mormon. For over 150 years the RLDS church supported the Book of Mormon as a historical record just as the LDS still do today. A recent RLDS prophet, however, implied that the BOM might not be historical, e.g. there may never have been a civilization of Nephites, Lamanites, Jaredites, etc, in the Americas thousands of years ago.
This declaration caused quite a stir in the RLDS church and many thousands of members split from the main body and formed other groups. The RLDS church now makes it optional to believe in the BOM as a literal history. Some people in the RLDS church still believe in the BOM as a historical as well as a religious document, but many others believe it to simply be an "inspired work" that has religious value but is not literal history.
Some people believe the LDS church may someday eventually move in the same direction as the RLDS church, citing the changes in the temple ceremony, for example. True believers say that is nonsense and the church will never recant the Book of Mormon as anything other than a true account of actual peoples in the Americas.
LDS Historian Michael Quinn
The tragic reality is that there have been occasions when Church leaders, teachers, and writers have not told the truth they knew about difficulties of the Mormon past, but have offered to the Saints instead a mixture of platitudes, half-truths, omissions, and plausible denials. Elder Packer and others would justify this because we are at war with the adversary and must also protect any Latter-day Saint whose "testimony [is] in seedling stage." But such a public-relations defense of the Church is actually a Maginot Line of sandy fortifications which "the enemy" can easily breach and which has been built up by digging lethal pits into which the Saints will stumble. A so-called "faith-promoting" Church history which conceals controversies and difficulties of the Mormon past actually undermines the faith of Latter- day Saints who eventually learn about the problems from other sources.
Here's an interesting article from the Boston Globe on Mormon historians talking about Mormon history:
Thousands of Mormons are getting together and talking about these issues informally in wards and branches all over the world. We have talked to many of them. They gather in small groups at members' homes and discuss these perceived historical problems with the LDS church. Due to the nature of conformity that our church requires, these discussions are without local leaders' knowledge.
These discussions are more prevalent now than in the past because of the Internet. A decade or two ago, one had to go to some obscure bookstore in Utah to find any controversial books to learn about some of this information. But now, the same information, along with many recent discoveries, is becoming readily available thanks to the Internet. It shouldn't surprise anybody that the entire temple ceremony is available word-for-word with just a click of the mouse.
With this kind of information, chat rooms and discussion websites have sprung up that allow members to openly and anonymously discuss these issues. Some websites take a strong stance defending the church; others adamantly seek to refute the Church. The Church's official web site is unfortunately silent on most issues.
Some people call the people involved in this phenomenon "New Order Mormons" or "New History Mormons." Whatever you wish to call them, one thing is clear: this movement is only getting bigger and much more widespread. We think it's better to know about this information as it gets more commonly known rather than shy away from it and pretend it doesn't exist.
Some Mormons come across these sites while researching information for a sacrament talk or Sunday School lesson. At first, many faithful members can't believe what they are reading and question the accuracy of the information; but upon further review of the evidence, they discover that, for the most part, the newly acquired information is true. Their next step is to try to understand what this new information really means to them.
For some, their main source of concern is not so much the disturbing nature of the information, but why they didn't know about it before. People wonder why they never heard about this information in church or perhaps even when they were investigating the church.
Many people leave the church over the new information they discover. We would suggest that you not jump to any conclusions when you first examine the information, and instead carefully study all the relevant issues from all sides and then make an informed decision on what this all means.
We listened to a call-in radio program that featured Grant Palmer, LDS author of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins. An active LDS sister from California called in and said that she was plainly taught many of these controversial issues by her family when she was growing up. As a consequence, she says that because of her complete knowledge of the historical problems of the LDS church, if any new disturbing information comes to light, it doesn't affect her testimony.
We think this is the approach we should take in the church - absolute total honesty, no sugarcoating. This way, we don't worry that some investigator is going to find out about polygamy or blacks being denied the priesthood. Don't act like we have something to hide by simply not hiding anything. We just freely teach everything we know up front, and if they can't accept it, so be it. We think what we were taught as little children still applies - lying is wrong.
First, we tried to ascertain what most active Latter-day Saints believe about particular church-related topics. The contributors to this website have lived in numerous wards throughout the world and we've been LDS for most of our lives, so we know what most people believe and we used that as our initial basis.
Next, we brought out the critics' issues that we believe have the most merit. For the most part, we avoided truly religious faith issues like "men can become gods" or "did God have sex with Mary to create Jesus," etc. because frankly no one can prove them right or wrong. We are only interested in examining historical issues about which there is some evidence to examine.
We tried to avoid the extremes. On the critics' side, we did not use people like Ed Decker, the creator of the movie and book The Godmakers. Although much of what he says is likely true, he does, in our opinion, over-sensationalize church practices and links the LDS church to Satanism, which is not really fair. He also has a "born again" evangelical attitude that focuses too much on doctrine and beliefs and not on historical issues. The critics do not want to be lumped in the same category as Ed Decker.
We wanted to use all official LDS church responses to these issues, but frankly we could find very few official responses. For the most part, we first looked at responses that various believing Latter-day Saints have given to the critics' charges.
Next, we looked at information from people that many Mormons respect as near doctrinal responses, such as General Authority talks, Ensign articles and other church magazine articles and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship formerly known as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), which is an organization funded by the LDS church and is located on BYU's campus. The FARMS researchers are not General Authorities of the church and are only giving their personal opinions based on their knowledge and unique scholarly approach, as they are both members of the church and generally hold academic credentials.
We tried to use references with whom faithful Mormons might be familiar (such as Hugh Nibley or General Authorities). We also tried to avoid the extremes on the LDS side and avoid referencing certain Mormon apologists who, by their own admission, have absolutely no authority to speak for the church and are merely giving their opinions, which mean nothing more than any other member's opinions. Also, many Mormons are not comfortable with what many of the LDS apologists have said and regard them as somewhat "out there" regarding their interpretations of church issues. Also apologists often disagree among themselves as to how to answer certain critic's questions like the current debate over the limited geography theory of the Book of Mormon. Rodney Meldrum is gaining a following promoting the belief commonly taught in the church that the BOM took place in North America, even though most other LDS apologists currently disagree with him. However, when no one else can give an adequate response, we will cite responses from LDS apologists. We try to use mostly the FARMS and FAIR apologists as they seem to carry the most weight among believing members.
After spending so much time compiling this information, the editors of each section usually give their comments at the end. It also avoids having the reader wonder what the compilers of each section believe as this was the most common question emailed to us before it was added.
Sunstone Magazine has undertaken the Herculean task of mapping debates on Mormon issues such as whether or not the Book of Mormon is historical. Sunstone is perhaps unique in that they are perhaps considered the most objective source for Mormon information. The project will take years to complete but we like what we've seen so far as it was well-done and very even-handed. Although they don't delve into many intricate details, they do provide a good summary of the debates by both critics and defenders of the church. They also provide many references for further study. We at MormonThink fully support their efforts and proudly link to them.
We've done our best to be error-free and we continually update the site to improve it as we have time and resources available.
If you wish to contribute a comment or essay to this site (from any viewpoint), correct a mistake, have a question or wish to strengthen an argument for either side, please email email@example.com and someone will respond to you.
We do not vouch for the information relayed on any other web site to which MormonThink may link. Links from other sites change daily and may not support our views.
Every day, thousands of LDS missionaries and well-meaning Latter-day Saints try to convince friends and total strangers that their religions are not entirely true and that many of the beliefs that these people have had all their lives are wrong. The missionaries offer to provide evidence in the form of books, testimonies and historical events that the non-members may not be aware of. Mormons think nothing about doing this. If the person responds "my pastor says the Mormon Church is full of lies" or "I know I'm right" or "any church that used to practice polygamy can't be true" or "I've seen this all before" we say to them "you've only heard one side of the story, let us tell you our side and you can decide for yourself if what we say is true or not," or "be open-minded and just look at our information before you dismiss it." If the person is unwilling to even listen to the missionary present his evidence, he is labeled 'close-minded' or unreceptive to the truth.
Yet if someone that doesn't believe in the LDS church offers to show a LDS member that the LDS faith may be in error and wishes to provide evidence in the form of books, testimony and historical events that the member may not be aware of, he or she is met with a resounding "not interested" and we dismiss the evidence as false without ever examining it. We say the same thing we accuse the "close-minded" nonmembers of, saying "I know I'm right" and "I've seen this all before."
We would ask that in this same manner of open-mindedness, we as Latter-day Saints provide others with the same courtesy of listening to what they have to say and truly examine their evidence just as we would want an investigator to give us a chance to present arguments and really consider the information before dismissing it.
"Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16)