Moroni’s Liberty Pole

June 28, 2013

Readers of the Book of Mormon are likely familiar with the story of Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty (also referred to as the Standard of Liberty).

After a period of relative peace, the Nephites were again beset by dissensions, led by one Amalickiah, who “was desirous to be king” (Alma 46:4):

10 Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake.

11 And now it came to pass that when Moroni, who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites, had heard of these dissensions, he was angry with Amalickiah.

12 And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.

13 And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land—

After praying for God’s blessings on his efforts, Moroni used the Title of Liberty to gather forces to combat the dissenters:

19 And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, and crying with a loud voice, saying:

20 Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.

21 And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.

28 And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words he went forth, and also sent forth in all the parts of the land where there were dissensions, and gathered together all the people who were desirous to maintain their liberty, to stand against Amalickiah and those who had dissented, who were called Amalickiahites.

36 And it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites.

For the Nephites, then, the Title of Liberty was a powerful symbol of their desire to be free and was an effective flag around which the righteous could rally. This imagery has resonated with Mormon audiences, such that it remains a symbol of freedom. For example, a conservative blogger uses it here.

But where did this symbol originate? Tom Donofrio mentions a “liberty pole” in passing in his “Book of Mormon Tories” article about the influence of the American Revolution on the writing of the Book of Mormon:

Consider the life and times of George Washington and his counterpart, General Moroni. Both Washington and Moroni receive their commissions as young men in their twenties. Both are considered robust in stature and faithful Christians, relying on prayer and God, riding horses, brandishing swords, and wearing cloaks. When Moroni creates his “title of liberty” he places it on “a pole” and causes it to be flown throughout the land. One of Washington’s roving headquarters was the Liberty Pole Tavern. Liberty poles were popular among the colonists and an irritant to British troops.

But what was a liberty pole in the American Revolution, and what was it used for?

The liberty pole has its origins in ancient Rome, when freed slaves wore a Phrygian cap (usually red) as a symbol of their freedom.

Gradually, the cap became a more generalized emblem of freedom from tyranny. When Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, the conspirators raised a Phrygian cap on the end of a pole to show citizens that they were now free from Caesar’s tyranny.

Before and during the American Revolution, supporters of the Sons of Liberty in many American towns and cities erected “liberty poles,” which were large poles, each having a Phrygian cap on the top. These poles were used to express defiance of the British and also to call citizens together for news, planning, or armed resistance. As Donofrio mentions, these poles were “popular among the colonists and an irritant to British troops,” such that the British regularly cut down and destroyed the poles, which the colonists quickly replaced. Some cities and towns used trees as liberty poles, as described by George Henry Preble in his History of the American Flag (1872):

The old liberty tree in Boston was the largest of a grove of beautiful elms that stood in Hanover square at the corner of Orange . . . and Essex streets . . . It received the name of liberty tree, from the association called the Sons of Liberty holding their meetings under it during the summer of 1765. The ground under it was called Liberty Hall. A pole fastened to its trunk rose far above its branching top, and when a red flag was thrown to the breeze the signal was understood by the people. Here the Sons of Liberty held many notable meetings, and placards and banners were often suspended from the limbs or affixed to the tree (135).

By the end of the war, the hats were either accompanied or replaced by banners with patriotic slogans, with “Liberty” being the most common (hence the term “liberty pole”). The illustration below shows a liberty pole being raised in New York City in 1770.

Like Moroni, the American revolutionaries incorporated religious language into their slogans, believing as they did that God was on their side. An American soldier wrote in his diary in 1775, “Our standard was presented in the midst of the regiments with this inscription upon it, ‘Appeal to Heaven.'” He is referring to this flag:

The liberty pole has made its way into American culture and patriotism. Notably, several American coins until 1947 featured Liberty holding a liberty pole. To this day, the US Army’s War Office Seal depicts a Phrygian cap atop a sword.

Some cities and towns still have liberty poles or re-enact the raising of their poles each year as a reminder that liberty does not come without a cost.

Is this the origin or model for Captain Moroni’s Title of Liberty? The similarities are there, but it’s impossible to show that one symbol spawned the other. And, obviously, Moroni used torn clothing instead of a hat. But for me, this episode makes more sense now that I know its context.

Insights into the Murder of Joseph Smith

June 21, 2013

I don’t have much to add to this, but this analysis by Chris Smith is first-rate. History is not usually as simple as we like to think, and this is a good case in point.

Joseph Smith’s Personal Feud with a Probable Ringleader of the Carthage Mob

Another Book Review

June 18, 2013

A friend pointed me to this review on, of all places, a message board I was banned from a few years ago.

Book Review: “Heaven Up Here”

My book will never be a bestseller, but I’m so pleased that readers have enjoyed it and taken something positive from it.

Preaching Grace in Utah

June 18, 2013

Looks like Utah is being invaded again by religious people going door to door preaching their message.

Christian missionaries going door to door in Mormon capital

I thought this part of their brochure was interesting:

“You have recently been told at [LDS] General Conference that if you love God, trust him, believe him and follow him, that you will feel his love and approval,” it says in the brochure. “But what if you are doing all that and still don’t feel God’s love or approval?”

Whoever these people are, they are clearly familiar with Mormon teachings and culture, and frankly, I think this is an effective message. Many people in the LDS church feel unworthy and inadequate, and “don’t feel God’s love or approval.”

The LDS church teaches the concept of worthiness. If you are keeping the commandments, you are worthy to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and receive blessings (which are predicated on obedience). But if you’re like me, you never felt worthy because there was always something else you could be doing but weren’t.

Mainstream Christians talk about worthiness but in a different way. You aren’t “worthy” because you earned it, but because God forgives you. (Jeez, I sound like a commercial for mainstream Christianity.)

I would imagine at least some Mormons out there would find that message appealing because they carry around that burden of unworthiness and guilt. I know I did.

Guest Post: Terryl Givens Misrepresents B.H. Roberts

June 17, 2013

I read this from a friend of mine, who goes by the moniker Rollo Tomasi, and it was so well done, I thought I’d share it. As some of you may know, Terryl and Fiona Givens recently completed a tour of the UK wherein they gave presentations entitled “The Crucible of Doubt.” Reportedly, the reason for this tour was the increase in British Mormons leaving the church over doctrinal or historical issues. Previously, my only exposure to Dr. Givens was his participation in the PBS documentary “The Mormons,” and all I remembered from that was his suggestion that dancing had some sort of major theological significance in the LDS church. So, I listened to the “Crucible” presentation, taking some notes, and I planned on responding. My friend has responded to the opening portion of the presentation so well that I will let him speak for himself, and I’ll respond to the rest when I have a minute.

Terryl Givens (with his wife, Fiona) was recently in the U.K. giving several LDS firesides, during which he offered a lecture entitled “Crucible of Doubt.” I listened to an audiotape of one of the firesides, and I was particularly interested when Givens brought up B.H. Roberts’s 1921-22 studies of certain difficulties in the Book of Mormon, which studies stemmed from an LDS member’s letter (originally to Apostle James Talmage, but later passed on to Roberts) asking five questions about the Book of Mormon. Givens focused on one question concerning modern Native American languages being so numerous and without any connection to Hebrew (or Reformed Egyptian).

Givens pointed out, correctly, that Roberts had a very difficult time with this question, never reaching a satisfactory answer. Givens then pooh-poohed away Roberts’s concerns about the language problem by claiming that Roberts’s analysis was based on a “bad assumption” – i.e., the “assumption” that Book of Mormon peoples inhabited the entirety of the American hemisphere. Givens then referred to John Sorenson’s limited geography theory (“LGT”) as the answer Roberts could never find, specifically, thatthere were “others” on the American continents with whom the Lehites, et al., later mingled, which caused the Lehites’ Hebrew-type language to disappear over time. According to Givens, Roberts’s misplaced assumption on a hemispheric model led to Roberts having unnecessaryconcerns about the Book of Mormon languages issue.

After listening to this audiotape, I was pointed to a recent essay by Givens entitled “Letter to a Doubter,” which contained arguments similar to those he expressed at his U.K. firesides. I found this “letter” to express even greater disrespect toward B.H. Roberts and his Book of Mormon studies. In reference to Roberts’s difficulties with Book of Mormon languages, Givens wrote:

But here is the lesson we should learn from [Roberts’s] story. Roberts’s whole dilemma was born of a faulty assumption he imbibed wholesale, never questioning, never critically analyzing it – that Lehi arrived on an empty continent, and that his descendants alone eventually overran the hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to the Straits of Magellan. (See “Letter to a Doubter”) (emphasis added).

Later in his essay, Givens summed up Roberts in this way:

You see, even brilliant individuals and ordained Seventies [i.e., B.H. Roberts] can buy into careless assumptions that lead them astray. (See“Letter to a Doubter”) (emphasis added).

I have always been an admirer of B.H. Roberts and his intellect. Thus, I was offended by Givens’s spoken word and writings about him. In fact, I am convinced that Terryl Givens, both during his fireside lecture and in his “Letter to aDoubter” essay, blatantly misrepresented B.H. Roberts on this issue. The information below comes from Studies of the Book of Mormon (2nd ed. 1992) (hereinafter, “Studies”), which was edited by Brigham D. Madsen and published by Signature Books. It contains many letters by Roberts on the subject, as well as Roberts’s (previously unpublished) studies and analyses of Book of Mormon problems.

First, let me begin with the original question that stirred Roberts’s quest. It was in a letter
dated August 22, 1921, from LDS member William E. Riter to James E. Talmage, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Riter explained to Talmage that the reason for the letter was that a non-member named “Mr. Couch” had asked five questions about the Book of Mormon that Riter could not answer. Thus, the letter asked for help in answering the questions. The first question in the letter (not the fifth, as Givens claimed in his fireside lecture) was as follows:

The “Mormon” tradition states that the American Indians were the descendants of the Lamanites. The time allowed from the first landing of Lehi and his followers in America to the present is about 2,700 years. Philologic studies have divided the Indian languages into five distinct linguistic stocks which show very little relationship. It does not appear that this diversity in the nature and grammatical constructions of Indian tongues could obtain if the Indians were the descendants of a people who possessed as highly developed a language as the ancient Hebrew, but indicates that the division of the Indians into separate stocks occurred long before their language was developed beyond the most primitive kind of articulations. Again the time allowed from the landing of Lehi is much too short to account for the observe diversity. (Studies at p. 36).

Givens argued in his lecture that this question is easily answered by Sorenson’s LGT, and that Roberts blew it by trying to answer the question from a hemispheric perspective. This is simply not true. In answering Riter’s question, Roberts offered several theories (including a limited geography one), each of which, in his mind, had problems. Although Roberts offered a limited geography theory as possibly resolving the question, he also conceded the primary problem with the LGT that many of us have to this day: there is no evidence in the Book of Mormon of “others.” In addition, many prophets, seers and revelators (including Joseph Smith, who was tutored by the Angel Moroni about Nephite people, culture, cities, etc., before Joseph even obtained the Gold Plates) have taught the hemispheric model. For Givens to ignore this evidence in order to denigrate Roberts’s “studies” is the height of intellectual dishonesty.

B.H. Roberts wrote about a limited geography model to explain the language problems with the Book of Mormon, in at least three places. The first was Roberts’s letter dated February 6, 1922, to William Riter, trying to answer the five questions in Riter’s 1921 letter to Talmage. Roberts takes up much of the letter to address the language issue, and he cites various authorities to show how quickly languages can change and be lost, etc. Roberts seems to argue that possibly enough time did pass during the 1,000 year period of the Book of Mormon, to allow for language to change – but Roberts reaches no final answer.

Roberts then goes on to offer other theories that might explain why the Lehite language can no longer be found among Native Americans. One theory concerns the 1,000 year period between the end of the Nephites (i.e., 420 A.D.) and the discovery of America by Columbus (i.e., 1492 A.D.). Here is how Roberts presents it:

In addition to this evidence for the rapidity with which language may change, there is a thousand years from the close of what may be called the Book of Mormon period to the coming of Columbus, in which period there may have been immigrations to the American continents of other peoples from Europe or Africa, or from Asia or the Polynesian Island; and it will not be necessary to remind Mr. Couch that the literature of American race origins abounds with the urgency of such infusions; and I may assure him that there is nothing in the Book of Mormon that pronounces against the possibility of infusions of such peoples, and the consequent modifications of native American languages, or even the creation of language stocks and dialects in the New World, by reason of such immigrations. (Studies at p. 53) (emphasis added).

In his letter to Riter, Roberts next brings up the possibility of the Lehites’ limited

Moreover, there is also the possibility that other peoples may have inhabited parts of the great continents of America, contemporaneously with the peoples spoken of by the Book of Mormon, though candor compels me to say that nothing to that effect appears in the Book of Mormon. A number of our Book of Mormon students, however, are inclined to believe that the Book of Mormon peoples were restricted to much narrower limits in their habitat on the American continents, than have generally been allowed; and that they were not in South America at all.

If this be true, it might allow of other great stretches of the continents to be inhabited by other peoples, with other cultures and languages, which would still further tend to solve the difficulties of the Book of Mormon in regard to the existence of the great diversity of language stocks among the American race. (Studies at pp. 53-54) (emphasis added).

I find this statement remarkable. Roberts clearly liked this possibility because it might solve many of the difficulties with the Book of Mormon. But, unlike Givens and Sorenson, Roberts is willing to concede a major weakness with this theory: the Book of Mormon (covering one thousand years of recorded history) makes NO mention of “others” being in America (well, other than Lehites, Mulekites, and Jaredites). This is the samebasis why so many reject Sorenson’s LGT today. The reason Roberts did not “assume” a limited geography, as Givens clearly did in his lecture and essay, wasbecause Roberts knew there was no supporting evidence in the Book of Mormon text. Roberts was a scholar; he would not embrace a theory to explain away a problem that he knew wasnot supported by the evidence.

In a later presentation to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve concerning Book of Mormon difficulties, Roberts addressed thisissue in greater detail (Roberts’s entire linguistics analysis can be read in Studies of the Book of Mormonat pp. 63-94). It’s too much to discuss and summarize here, but the following are Roberts’s observations concerning a limited geography theory:

Can we answer that the Nephites and the people of Mulek – really constituting one people – occupied a very much more restricted area of the American continents than has heretofore been supposed, and that this fact (assumed here for the argument) would leave the rest of the continents – by far the greater part of them say – to be inhabited by other races, speaking other tongues, developing other cultures, and making, though absolutely unknown to Book of Mormon people, other histories? This might account for the diversity of tongues found in the New World, and give a reason for the lack of linguistic unity among them.

To this answer there would be the objection that if such other races or tribes existed then the Book of Mormon is silent about them. Neither the people of Mulek nor the people of Lehi or after they were combined, nor any of their descendants ever came in contact with any such people, so far as any Book of Mormon account of it is concerned. As for the Jaredites they are out of the reckoning in this matter, as we have already seen, since their language and their culture, as active factors, perished with their extinction. Any beyond them, so far as a more ancient possession of the American continents is concerned, by previous inhabitants, we are barred probably by the Book of Ether statement that the people of Jared were to go “into the quarter where there had never man been,” and nowhere is there any statement or intimation in the Book of Mormon that the people of Jared ever came in contact with any other people upon the land of America, save for the contact of the last survivor of the race with the people of Mulek, which does not affect at all the matters here under discussion.

Then could the people of Mulek and of Lehi, being such a people as they are represented to be in the Book of Mormon– part of the time numbering millions and occupying the land at least from
Yucatan to Cumorah, and this during a period of at least a thousand years – could such a people, I repeat, live and move and have their being in the land of America and not come in
contact with other races and tribes of men, if such existed in the New World within Book of Mormon times
? To makes this seem possible the area occupied by the Nephites and Lamanites would have to be extremely limited, much more limited, I fear, than the Book of Mormon would admit of our assuming. (Studies at pp. 92-93) (emphasis added).

Later in his presentation, Roberts discussed the facts supporting the assumption that no “others” were in America at the time of the Lehites:

The Nephite occupancy of the continents in succession to the Jaredites also assumes the presence of no other people upon the land except the Jaredites, and the second colony – Mulek’s – which left Jerusalem shortly after Lehi’s departure. It was Mulek’s colony which met the last and only survivor of the Jaredites.

These are the only peoples that occupied the American continents, up to 420 A.D., according to the Book of Mormon; they speak of no other with whom they came in contact, or who immigrated into the land during their occupancy of it. If there was any infusion of other peoples into the American continents, such infusion, so far as the Book of Mormon is concerned, must have been subsequent to 420 A.D. Moreover, Lehi, in his day, declared it to be wisdom that the land to which he had been brought should be kept “as yet from the knowledge of other nations, for many nations would over run the land,”that there would be no place for an inheritance and therefore Lehi obtained a promise that only those whom the Lord should bring should come to the land, and that they “should be kept from all other nations that they may possess this land unto themselves.” (Studies at 119; quoting 2nd Nephi 1:8, 9) (emphasis added).

During the Q&A session following his “Crucible of Doubt” fireside lecture, Terryl Givens was asked about the language in 2nd Nephi 1:8 (also cited above by Roberts) which states “the land” inherited by Lehi was to be kept from “the knowledge of other nations.” Givens responded that the word “land,” as used in this verse, only referred to the small area in Central America where Lehi’s colony resided under Sorenson’s LGT (and not the “American continents,” as argued by Roberts above). Such an argument is fraught with problems (such as Zelph and Cumorah, to name just two), but I will mention one here that, for me, reveals the utter fallacy of Givens’s beloved LGT.

According to Givens’s application of Sorenson’s LGT, the 1,000-year period of recorded Lehite history in the Book of Mormon requires that the Lehites lived that entire period within a small geographic area of CentralAmerica. If this were true, then why would Nephi have a vision of the future North America, particularly, the Gentile nation that would later become the United States of America? Givens’s Lehite colony in a small area of Central America would never even become part of the U.S., so why would Lehites down there care one whit about anything happening in eastern North America and the later nation that would inhabit North America? Specifically, I’m referring to Nephi’s vision in 1st Nephi 13. For example, Nephi saw Columbus discover America (actually, in the Bahamas) and “the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.” (1st Nephi 13: 12). Obviously, the Bahamas is included as part of the “promised land,” which is a helluva a lot closer to eastern North America than to the Lehites’ far-away home in a small pocket of Central America.

Then, in verses 13-15, Nephi sees the Pilgrims and other Puritans coming to eastern North America. And, of course, we have Nephi seeing the American Revolution in vision (verses 16-18), which occurred on the eastern seaboard of North America. Throughout the vision, Nephi describes “land” as the same “land” promised to Lehi’s descendants here in America. Clearly, then, the “land” mentioned in 2nd Nephi 1:8 (which Givens claims refers to a small area in Central America only) must be the “promised land” spoken of throughout the Book of Mormon, including, per Nephi’s vision, the area encompassing the eastern seaboard of North America. Otherwise, Nephi’s vision would make no sense and would have been entirely irrelevant to the Lehites.

In sum, Terryl Givens has wrongly misrepresented B.H. Roberts concerning the latter’s Book of Mormon studies. As shown above, Roberts did seriously consider a limited geography possibility (and would have loved to embrace it because it would take care of so many problems), but, in the end, he could not accept it because the Book of Mormon text did not allow for such an assumption.

In his presentation and in his “letter,” Givens describes Roberts as lazily ignoring the LGT, and, instead, relying on “bad assumptions.” Icannot explain Givens’s ignorance of the truth – in his “letter,” Givens cited to Roberts’s Studies of the Book of Mormon, so Givens must have read it, right? — I cannot understand how Givens got Roberts so wrong. If Givens really wants to be a “serious” apologist (if that’s even possible), then he needs to avoid misrepresentations like this. It not only continues to lead members astray (as Mormon apologists have been doing for a long time), but it denigrates the reputation of a great LDS scholar.

Stop being lazy, Terryl, and do your homework before going out on another tour or write
another book.

How Not to Talk to Mormons

June 5, 2013

It’s been a while, and for that I apologize. I was laid off from my job in February, and when I landed a job, it was in Northern Virginia. Needless to say, it’s hard to find time to write when you’re moving a household 2000 miles east. Just before we moved, my father had triple-bypass surgery, so I took a week off from packing and went to California to help my parents after the surgery.

I feel like I’m settling in well, so maybe it’s time to write again. I’ve told myself I don’t want to stay focused on Mormonism, so naturally my first post-move piece will be about Mormonism–well, not Mormonism so much, but how people interact with Mormons.

A friend pointed out a piece on (I am not a regular reader there) that was ostensibly an apology by the author, Mike Adams, for asserting in a previous piece that Mormons are “non-Christian.” Here’s the original quote in context:

People often try to call something a marriage when it isn’t. Calling a union between two men or between two women a marriage doesn’t make it one. It’s like embedding the name “Jesus Christ” in the official title of the LDS church and thinking that makes Mormonism somehow Christian. Call a square a triangle if you like but it’s still a square. Your hardheadedness won’t make it become a triangle. It will only make you appear obtuse.

You can guess from the tone of this statement that the apology was anything but an apology.

A little background: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) had always been a fringe movement based in America. After the church abandoned polygamy in 1890 and particularly after the 1903-07 Smoot hearings, Mormonism became much more “mainstream” in its image. Still, it was a relatively small religion until, in the 1960s and 1970s, the church greatly expanded their missionary efforts. The church experienced rapid growth, particularly in developing countries, but also in the United States and Europe. Church membership reached 1 million in 1947 (117 years after the church’s founding) but reached 2 million only 16 years later in 1963. The next million took only 8 years (1971).

The rapid growth seems to have provoked other religious groups to realize that they had some competition. Some of these groups, particularly Evangelical Christians, made a concerted effort to cast the LDS church as a dangerous cult, and polemical anti-Mormon books and films began to appear, such as Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s “Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?” (1963) and Walter Martin’s “Kingdom of the Cults” (1965). Perhaps the most effective attack was the assertion that Mormons were not Christians. By this the anti-Mormons generally meant that Mormons didn’t believe in orthodox, creedal Christianity, which is true, but the intention, as far as I can tell, was to suggest that Mormons rejected Christ entirely. This was an effective strategy, as the accusation stuck. Many times when I was a believing Mormon, people expressed shock that I believed that Jesus was my Savior. The LDS church responded by changing the missionary discussions so that our beliefs about Jesus came at the beginning of the first discussion (previously it had been in the third); a few years later, the church changed its official logo, putting JESUS CHRIST in the center in a larger font than the rest of the logo.

I know, that was more than a little background, but the “non-Christian” accusation is a sensitive subject with Mormons because they believe in Jesus and have faith that He suffered and died to save them from sin. So Mike Adams offended a lot of Mormon readers when he excluded them from the ranks of Christian believers. While I understand his point of view, his “apology” is, well, arrogant and counterproductive.

As I read through his two-page, sarcastic littany of what he considers stupid and evil Mormon beliefs and practices, I wondered why I was so put off by the essay. After all, pretty much everything he listed was more or less true, though presented polemically and without any context. He is right that DNA and archaeological evidence do not square with Mormon claims–I’d say his assertion that such claims have been “refuted” is a bit of an overstatement. The Book of Mormon is clearly textually dependent on the 1769 King James Bible (he uses the word “plagiarism”). He spends a lot of time on Joseph Smith’s plural wives, and he’s right that Smith’s actions were coercive, deceptive, and appalling.

But what does any of this have to do with whether Mormonism is a Christian religion? The list makes it clear that Mike Adams believes Mormonism has been shown to be false. I hate to break it to him, but who is a Christian is not defined by what Mike Adams believes is true or false.

Not until the last four paragraphs does Adams present anything that approaches defining Mormonism as non-Christian. He presents a quote from the King Follett Discourse to show that Joseph believed he would take God’s exalted place. This is either lazy or dishonest because Smith was actually talking about Jesus in that passage to explain what Jesus meant by “glorifying” the Father:

What did Jesus do? Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out His kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to My Father, so that He may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt Him in glory.

From this quote, Adams condemns Mormonism as polytheistic:

I am sorry that Smith’s polytheism is not consistent with John 14:6. I am also sorry that since these are the words of Christ, polytheism cannot be Christian. Moreover, I am sorry, my Mormon friends, but the the words of Christ trump the words of Joseph Smith who will never be God.

Next he says

I am sorry that Mormonism teaches that Christ was not there in the beginning, that god was just a man who became God by following a moral code he did not create, and that we may all become gods by following the same moral code that predates the existence of Jesus. I am sorry that the theological mess caused by Joseph Smith is irreconcilable with the teachings of the Holy Bible.

The problem here is that Mormonism does indeed teach that Christ was “there in the beginning,” so I’m not sure where that’s coming from. The second part of that sentence is more or less true: Mormonism teaches that there are certain “laws” in the universe, and God adheres to them; strictly speaking, it offers no opinion as to whether God created those laws and “moral code” or how God came to be in the first place. So, in his haste to damn Mormonism, Adams is the one causing the “theological mess.”

But I don’t really have any interest in arguing whether Mormons are Christians or not. For the record, I believe that whoever affirms belief in Jesus as the Son of God who died for the sins of humankind is a Christian. Last I checked, Christians believe that people are saved through the atoning blood of Christ, yet folks like Mr. Adams seem to think that there’s also a written exam, and if you don’t check the right doctrines off, you’re on your way south. In short, this grousing about who is a true Christian is about as productive as defining a true Scotsman.

As I thought about it, what was so off-putting was the bare contempt Adams has for Mormonism and for Mormons. I know a lot of conservative Mormons who have hitched their political wagons to the conservative Evangelical movement, considering them to be allies in the fight for freedom and right. But as Adams shows, these “allies” despise Mormons and Mormonism as much as, perhaps even more than they do liberals and atheists. Adams is probably congratulating himself on his bluntness in standing up for truth, but all he has accomplished is promoted rigid dogmatism and alienated people who should be on his side. He reminds me of Joseph Fielding Smith, the LDS apostle who for many years dispensed his opinions as dogmatic “answers to gospel questions”; when I was younger, I thought how marvelous it was that he was so unafraid to speak the truth. But as I got older I realized that there was nothing brave or righteous about spouting opinions as facts.

So, Mike Adams wasted an opportunity and instead sowed division in his own ranks. Hell, even South Park did a better job of building bridges with Mormons than he did. The best way to destroy a political movement is to encourage infighting and litmus tests. Pretty soon you’re left with a few Mike Adamses and no one else.

And for my LDS readers: Rather than get huffy about Adams (that’s my job), maybe you could treat this as a chance to increase understanding and build on common ground. Just a suggestion.