Recently a statement, written by the historian and author Grant Palmer, has been making its rounds in the ex-Mormon communities. In this statement, which has been posted to MormonThink, Palmer describes several interviews with two anonymous higher-up leaders within the Mormon Church. These individuals claim that the Mormon leaders know the foundational claim of the Mormon Church is false but continue anyway because they believe the people need the church in their lives.
Now, this is a statement that describes anonymous interviews that make a lot of unfounded claims. For this reason, although I do respect Grant Palmer’s writings, I am going to take all of this with a huge pinch of salt. For an excellent overview of the credibility of this controversy, I would suggest reading David Twede’s post “Rumor, Rumor, Every Where, Nor Any Fact To Think?”
As murky as this controversy is, I do think it raises an important issue: facts or faith?
The Mormon Church is in a bit of a tight fix; its legitimacy rests on the shoulders of its founder, Joseph Smith, who lived in a recent enough era that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he was not the man he claimed to be. The most notable example is the discrepancies between the numerous First Vision accounts. The official version states that Joseph Smith, as a fourteen year old boy, entered the woods to pray and was visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus, who told him that none of the churches were true and that he was destined to restore the one true gospel to the earth. This is the official version, which was written towards the end of Smith’s life. However, there are multiple versions, written by Smith, that vary in details such as his age at the time of his vision, who appeared to him in the vision, and what the message was. For such a keystone event – and an event that I would assume is unforgettable – Smith seems quite uncertain on the details.
Most of the Mormons I have met who know the full version of Mormon history justify their belief on faith. Some point to the church as being a good institution. Others have the faith that all will be made clear in time. In contrast, ex-Mormons tend to point towards the facts: the inconsistencies in the origins of Mormonism and the lack of archaeological and genetic evidence for the Book of Mormon. These two mindsets go a long way in explaining why Mormon/ex-Mormon arguments are never very fruitful – people have different values.
Personally, I am curious as to how all of this will pan out. Perhaps people will come forward and verify the allegations. Perhaps the controversy will die down. As it stands, right now this is a situation where people are trying to decide between the facts of the situation and their faith in Grant Palmer.