THE MORMONS

One of the world's fastest growing religious groups is the "Mormon Church" or "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." Founded in 1830, the Mormons have become a major world religion. In 1850, there were approximately 25,000 Mormons, nearly all of whom lived in Utah. In 1880, there were 125,000 Mormons, 112,000 of them living in Utah. By 1975, less than a century later, they numbered 3.5 million world-wide. Today (2007), The Mormons are the sixth largest religious group with about 12 million adherents, only 12% of whom live in Utah and half of them in America. In America they are the fourth largest religious body.

JOSEPH SMITH

The founder of the Mormons, Joseph Smith, was the fifth of eleven children (two died in childhood) born to Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith December 23, 1805 in Vermont. Although the Mormons are famous for their dedication to genealogy, it is difficult to find information on Smith’s own genealogy. I could find nothing on the Internet other than the name of his maternal grandfather, Solomon Mack.

Joseph’s mother was given to mysticism and frequently read to her children from the autobiography of her father, Solomon Mack, who wrote about his many accidents, sicknesses and deliverances from the same. Smith also seems to have been influenced by his uncle, Jason Mack. Jason was the self-acclaimed patriarch of a religious commune of about thirty families.

When Joseph was at the impressionable age of ten, the Smith family moved from Vermont to Palmyra, and four years later to Manchester. Palmyra and Manchester were located in the region which "Camp Meeting" revivalist, Charles Finney dubbed the "burned over area" of New York State. This region, nestled between the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains, was known for all kinds of religious experiments. The well-known "Oneida Community", which espoused common sexuality along with the belief in sinless perfection, also thrived here.

When Smith was born, the American West was largely unsettled; the Lewis and Clark expedition yet to be completed. It was a period of phenomenal growth in the colonies. New York City had attained a population of 60,000 by 1800, rivaling the city of Philadelphia, which boasted 70,000 inhabitants. America grew from 5.5 million people and 17 states at the time of Smith's birth, to around 14 million people and 24 states by the time he founded his church in 1830.

Pioneers of the early American frontier were so taken up with eking out a living in the wild and unsettled frontiers that there was little time or money for procuring an education. The 19th century, however, brought an abrupt change to this situation. Smith grew up when reading was becoming popular. There were 350 newspapers in America, and anyone who published a book was highly respected. James Fennimore Cooper, Noah Webster, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman and Samuel Clemens were achieving fame and wealth from their prolific writings.

Smith became known by the nickname, "Treasure Seeker." He found a stone while helping to dig a well, which he claimed would help to find hidden treasure. In 1825, a visitor from eastern New York, who believed the Spaniards had left buried treasure on his property, hired father and son Smith to locate the buried treasure for three dollars a day. Smith Sr. returned home to Palmyra, but Smith stayed behind to tell a party of investors where to dig. The supposed spot was just over the state line near Damascus, in New York. Unfortunately, no treasure was ever found. When Smith suggested that the treasure had sunk deeper due to "enchantment," his employers lost faith in Smith's gifts and stopped the cash flow.

Meanwhile, Joseph had fallen in love with the daughter of one of the diggers. Emma Hale was a schoolteacher and initially aloof to his advances, but Smith was persistent. Smith stayed, working as a farmhand until Emma finally warmed to him. Smith’s advances met a formidable obstacle in the person of her father, Isaac. He felt fooled by Smith and refused to allow his daughter to marry him.

In 1826, formal charges were filed against Joseph Smith, accusing him of fraud. Isaac Hale was among the witnesses who testified against him. Smith was tried and found guilty in Bainbridge, New York on March 20, 1826. In spite of this, Emma remained interested in Smith, and the couple eloped to New York in 1827. The newlyweds went to live with Smith's parents in Palmyra for a time, but Smith later obtained forgiveness from Isaac Hale. The couple was even allowed to live in a small house on his property.

Smith's father lost his farm and the substantial dowry of his wife, speculating on ginseng imports from China.

VISIONS AND THE "GOLDEN BIBLE"

According to Joseph Smith, he was about 14 years of age (1820) when evangelists held "revival meetings" in the area where he lived. Camp Meetings were very popular and Smith was apparently quite impressed by what he saw and heard. Joseph's mother and several of his brothers and sisters joined the Presbyterian Church at this time, but Joseph held back, uncertain as to which church was the right one to join. He went into the woods to pray about the matter and an angel appeared to inform him that all religious confessions were in error and their teachers corrupt. He was not to join any existing church.

Smith claimed to receive a second vision in September, 1823. An angel named Moroni reportedly told Smith that God had selected him for the special task of restoring the church. He was also shown a secret hiding place, where golden plates engraved with Egyptian hieroglyphics were hidden. When questioned as to why they were not in Hebrew or Greek, Smith explained that Hebrew would have taken up too much space. Along with the plates, were the "Urim and Thummim," transparent stones set in silver, which when worn by Smith, enabled him to translate ancient Egyptian into English. Smith was allowed to see the plates in 1826 and was finally able to retrieve them on September 22, 1827 (after their marriage). He didn’t begin translation, however, until April 7, 1929. According to Smith’s own description of the plates, they would have weighed about 200 pounds.

Skeptics argue that historians have found no evidence of religious revivals or unusual membership changes in the Palmyra area in 1820. The religious awakening described by Smith can with near certainty be ascribed to the year 1824. There are at least six different versions of Smith's "First Vision" in existence; his own report, published in 1838, seems the least plausible.

According to some sources, Smith sat behind a curtain and dictated his "translation" to an ex-school teacher named Oliver Cowdry. A farmer, Martin Harris, loaned Smith money for printing the first 5,000 copies of the "Golden Bible." The story of how he found and translated the "ancient manuscripts" was probably easier for many to swallow than to believe that Joseph had written a book. Early records of Joseph Smith's life reveal that his scholastic achievements left much to be desired.

A MORE LOGICAL EXPLANATION

The "Golden Bible" (later called "Book of Mormon") contained a history of the American Indians which has never been verified by serious historians. The origin of Indians was a matter of great speculation in Smith's day. James Fennimore Cooper’s "The Last of the Mohicans" (published 1826) was already a best seller when the "Book of Mormon" appeared. Cooper's "Leather Stocking Tales" were based upon historical facts, but the ideas espoused in the "Book of Mormon" are reflections of a then popular fable which claimed that the American Indians were descended from the Jews. In 1816, Elias Boudinot wrote a book titled "A Humble Attempt to Discover the Long Lost Tribes of Israel," in which he attempted to identify the American Indians with the lost tribes. Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph) wrote "A View of the Hebrews" in 1823. The Mormon historian, B. H. Roberts, was so intrigued by the numerous parallels to the "Book of Mormon", that he wrote a 291-page manuscript about the similarities. His paper, however, was suppressed by church leaders.

A number of passages in the "Book of Mormon" are strikingly similar to articles published in local Palmyra newspapers. According to an account in the Mormon book, "History of Joseph Smith by His Mother," the young Joseph delighted in entertaining his brothers and sisters by telling Indian tales.

Solomon Spaulding also wrote a fictitious novel about the origin of the American Indians. Spaulding studied in Dartmouth College, New Hampshire and served for a time as Presbyterian minister. Spaulding gave his manuscripts to a Pittsburgh printer named Patterson in 1812, but apparently couldn’t come up with the needed money to pay for its printing. Spaulding died in Amity, New York (1816). I will return to the subject of Spaulding’s manuscript in the next section.

THE RIGDON CONNECTION

Sidney Rigdon, from near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was licensed to preach by the Regular Baptist Church in March, 1819 and served churches in Trumbull County, Ohio together with Adamson Bentley until February, 1822. He married Bentley’s sister, Phoebe in 1820.

In 1821, Bentley and Rigdon met with Alexander Campbell, a key player of the so-called "Restoration Movement" after which they became associated with the Campbellites. In 1822, Rigdon was called to pastor the First Baptist Church in Pittsburgh. A gifted orator, Rigdon, soon had a large following in Pittsburgh, but not all were happy with his Cambellite teachings and there were enough disaffected members to force his resignation in 1824. For the next two years Rigdon worked to support his family, while preaching Campbell's Restorationism on Sundays in the Pittsburgh courthouse. In 1826 he was invited to become the pastor of a Baptist church in Mentor, Ohio.

Rigdon made the acquaintance of Joseph Smith in 1827 and soon became aligned with him. It is apparent that Rigdon was more than marginally involved in the development of Smith’s teachings. Smith named Rigdon a prophet equal to himself in 1830, the same year in which 5000 copies of the "Golden Bible" were printed.

Although Smith had found enough converts to start a church on June 1, 1830, his reputation as a fortune hunter, limited education and lack of eloquence proved to be detriments to rapid growth. Sidney Rigdon was 12 years older than Smith, an experienced pastor and already a recognized personality. A gifted orator, Rigdon soon became spokesman for the young Mormon church and the two men worked closely together. Rigdon became more influential than Oliver Cowdery, the original "Second Elder" of the church. He served as Smith’s scribe and helped him with the re-translation of the Bible. Many of the doctrines Rigdon taught, including communal living, found expression in the young movement. When Smith organized the First Presidency in 1832, he named Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon as his counselors. Several influential leaders of the early Mormon church, including Parley P. Pratt, Isaac Morley and Edward Partridge were members of Rigdon's congregations. Soon after the Golden Bible was printed, allegations began circulating that much of the Golden Bible had been borrowed from Spalding’s manuscripts, mentioned above. After Sidney Rigdon was excommunicated in 1844, he reportedly claimed that he had copied the Spaulding manuscripts and given them to Smith.

So many people challenged Smith's story of the golden plates, in fact, that he felt compelled to name three witnesses, who vouched for their existence. All three were later excommunicated. At a later date, eight other witnesses were named, all of whom were related to Smith.

KIRTLAND

In December of 1830, Smith received a revelation instructing members of the church in New York to travel to Kirtland, Ohio and merge with Rigdon's congregations. In Kirtland, the church grew to around 1,200 members and Rigdon soon advocated the construction of the Kirtland Temple. He and Smith also founded a banking institution. Rigdon began writing the "Doctrines and Covenants", and Parly P. Pratt, edited the periodical, Voice of Warning to all Nations. Smith named twelve apostles and gave the church a more respectable sounding name, "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints."

Differences soon became apparent between Smith and Rigdon. In March, 1833, Smith had a vision, in which he "received forgiveness" for the sin of making Rigdon a prophet equal to himself! It is also possible that Smith was concerned about the growing influence of one of the twelve Apostles, Brigham Young. Smith received another vision, in which he was instructed to found a new Mormon colony in Independence, Missouri. Brigham Young was sent to Missouri and Smith continued to rule over the church in Kirtland.

MISSOURI

In 1832, the Missouri Mormons began printing a newspaper called The Evening and Morning Star, edited by W. W. Phelps. Several articles in this paper angered Missouri residents. For one, the Mormons began to proclaim that the entire country would soon belong to them. On July 20, 1833, a public assembly voted to drive the Mormons out of the township. Smith appealed to the governor, who refused to come to the Mormon's aid. In November, 1833, residents armed themselves and drove the Mormons across the Missouri River. The colony settled in Clay County, Missouri, where they won more converts and prospered four more years.

Smith and Rigdon’s banking venture failed in 1837 and the entire community of Kirtland was thrown into economic chaos. Smith, Rigdon and their followers were forced to flee from enraged investors. About half of the Ohio Mormons left the church and on a cold January day in 1838, the remaining faithful set out for Clay County, Missouri.

The residents of Clay were not at all happy about this sudden increase in the Mormon population; hence local citizens took up arms to drive them out. Smith responded by declaring a "holy war of the saints against the heathen." The governor called in the state militia, and the Mormons were soon overpowered. Smith was arrested and the Mormons agreed to leave the state.

NAUVOO

The Mormons wandered from place to place until they reached the state of Illinois. Smith was able to escape his confinement in Missouri in 1839, and there was great rejoicing among his followers when they were reunited. The governor of Illinois showed sympathy for the Mormons and gave Smith permission to settle in Commerce, Illinois, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Smith became mayor of the city which was renamed Nauvoo. He also formed his own militia. The colony began to grow rapidly and construction was started on a magnificent new temple in 1840, but it was not completed until 1846.

Brigham Young traveled to England (1840-1841) on the so-called "England Mission," which enabled many Europeans to immigrate to Nauvoo. More than 10,000 such immigrants were reportedly baptized into the Mormon faith in just one year! Nauvoo soon became the largest city in the state, even larger than Chicago! In 1842, Joseph Smith joined the Free Masons and was soon elevated to Master Mason.

SLAVERY

The hottest discussion topic when Joseph was growing up, was the slavery issue. Land could be obtained through government land grants, but the recipient had to settle and maintain the land before he was eligible to receive additional grants. Southern plantation owners were amassing great wealth largely due to slave labor. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, there were more than 3.5 million slaves in the South! The northern states, where Smith grew up, were basically opposed to slavery and when Joseph Smith was three, Congress outlawed importation of slaves. Keeping and selling slaves (including children born to slaves) was still allowed, however, and at least 250,000 slaves were imported illegally after the law was passed.

POLYGAMY - ALTERNATIVE TO SLAVERY?

Smith lived in the North, and most people were opposed to slavery. Polygamy was not an issue, but the Mormons changed positions on both of these issues. The Mormon teaching of "continuous revelation" allows for such changes. In July, 1843, Smith had a revelation which allowed him, and anyone to whom he granted the privilege, to have more than one wife. As the practice became known in surrounding towns and cities, there were violent reactions among the "heathen" (Mormon term for non-Mormons). Smith married a reported total of 34 wives before his tragic death in 1844.

Smith’s two Counselors, Sidney Rigdon and William Law, both opposed polygamy and Law became very adamant about permitting this practice. Brigham Young, however, soon recognized the advantages of polygamy for the entire church. By having more wives, there would be more children, more workers and thus more wealth!

During the presidential race of 1844, the "Torries" were represented by James Polk, who held slaves himself and considered keeping them “a necessary evil.” The "Whig Party" supported Henry Clay, whose campaign manager was none other than Abraham Lincoln! Lincoln had been elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1834, prior to the founding of Nauvoo. There was public outrage when Joseph Smith announced his candidacy for the office of United States President with Sidney Rigdon as his running mate!

It was during these turbulent times, that William Law was excommunicated as Counselor, leaving only Rigdon in that position. Law was furious and although he still claimed to be a Mormon believer, he was convinced that Smith had ceased to be a prophet. Law, together with other dissenters including a Dr. Foster, founded a newspaper called Nauvoo Expositor. One of the aims of the paper was to expose the errant religious teachings and immoral practices of the Mormons, of Joseph Smith in particular. Smith was infuriated! He and his brothers instigated a riot, and the office of the Nauvoo Expositor was destroyed. Joseph and his brother Hyrum were arrested by the state militia and locked up in the Carthage jail. On June 27, 1844, an angry mob attacked the jail and murdered the brothers, giving the church its first martyrs.

A NEW PROPHET

There was a power struggle for leadership after Smith's death, resulting in several divisions. The prime contender for leadership was Sidney Rigdon as sole Counselor, but his claim to the throne was not the only one and did not remain uncontested. On August 8, 1844, Brigham Young was able to convince voting members that the church would be better off in the hands of Twelve Apostles than under the leadership of a single person. The decision was far from unanimous and led to a major exodus. Sidney Rigdon led his followers to Greensburg, Pennsylvania where they called themselves the "Church of Jesus Christ". William Smith, Joseph's brother, led another group of dissidents. In all, there were 25 different groups, six of which still claim to follow Smith's true teachings. The largest group followed the Twelve Apostles which were controlled by Brigham Young.

The Mormons continued to multiply after Smith's death and opposition increased. The practice of polygamy was one reason for this, but citizens of Illinois were convinced that everything the Mormons did, was to achieve their declared goal of taking control of the state and the nation.

THE MORMON "EXODUS"

Many Mormons who faithfully followed Young and the Apostles were leaving Nauvoo to escape persecution. Brigham Young soon realized, that there was no future in Nauvoo and the only possibility for practicing polygamy without inciting the antagonism of non-Mormons, would be to relocate the church in some remote and isolated area of America's frontier.

Early in 1846, Young sent out 1,500 scouts, to find a place where the Mormons would be free from "Gentile" control and opposition. Brigham Young began to organize a massive exodus of his people to "the Lord's promised land." The inhabitants of Illinois breathed a sigh of relief over this development and opposition subsided.

The Mormon scouts made little progress in their search for the "Promised Land." About one third of them joined a military regiment of the United States, which was engaged in conflict over the still Mexican territory of California. Some of these were reportedly among the workers who discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in 1849.

In May, 1846, the Mormons dedicated their Nauvoo Temple with great pomp and ceremony, causing Illinois citizens to conclude that the Mormons had no intention of leaving their state. They staged a surprise attack upon the city of Nauvoo in September, overpowering the Mormon militia. With little time to gather supplies and possessions, the Mormons were forcefully driven from Illinois. After spending a harsh winter on the prairies, the first Mormons reached the Great Salt Lake Basin at the foot of the Rocky Mountains early in 1847.

Mormons delight in dwelling upon this subject, which has captured the imagination and sympathy of many non-Mormons. The resettlement took about three years, from 1846 to 1848. Young then set about the gigantic task of building "the Kingdom of God upon earth" in the Great Salt Lake basin. He declared an area half the size of Europe as his empire, and selected a "Provincial Independent Government" for the "State of Deseret." The United States government did not accept this of course, and on September 9, 1850, Congress organized its own territorial government. As a conciliatory gesture, President Fillmore appointed Young as governor and the "District of Deseret" was made an official part of Utah Territory on April 5, 1853.

Now that the Mormons were isolated from outside influences, Brigham Young began to preach the doctrine of polygamy as though it were the most important dogma of the church.

The discovery of gold in California had brought about the famous "gold rush" of the "Forty Niners." During the ensuing years, numerous western-bound wagon trains stopped in Salt Lake City to make repairs, purchase supplies or simply to rest. The Mormons profited from this trade and were also relatively successful in farming their new lands.

MORMONISM - "A NATIONAL DISGRACE!"

Between 1853 and 1857, tensions between the Mormons and the United States government increased. The Mormon leaders were now openly preaching polygamy as a God-given revelation. Their literature also contained vicious attacks against national public officials and the "Gentiles" (all other religious groups). The "Philadelphia Evening Bulletin" of November 13, 1855 reported the following:
"The Mormon settlement in the Utah, is a standing monument of infamy to the United States of America -a disgrace to the country, and all the more so, because it appears to be regarded with almost incomprehensible apathy. Were we a godless race without a church or a Bible, Mormonism, from its very social features, would still be a burning disgrace to us - as it is, it is monstrous."

Young demanded absolute obedience to his every whim. Many Mormons became discontent and Brigham Young found it expedient to announce the "Doctrine of Blood Atonement," proclaiming that guilt before God, especially apostasy from Mormonism, could be atoned for by the sword.

The Mormons were also brutal in fighting the Utah Indians (Mormons called them "savages"), many of whom became their slaves. In 1857, a Mormon Bishop named Lee led a group of Mormons and Indians in an attack against a group of westward-bound settlers. Approximately 120 men, women and children were massacred and their possessions robbed. How many similar incidents went undiscovered or unproven, no one knows, but the "Mountain Meadow Massacre" made headlines across the country. Lee was sentenced to death for this atrocity twenty years later.

President James Buchanan sent troops into Utah in the spring of 1857, with an order to enforce the United States laws upon the Mormons. Brigham Young prepared his army for war and on July 24, 1857, issued a "Declaration of Independence for the Nation of Deseret." General Thomas L. Kane, brother of the famous Arctic explorer, was able to convince Young to succumb. The Mormons made peace with the U.S. Government in Washington on April 12, 1858. A "Gentile" governor was appointed, and a fort built to insure that national laws would be respected.

CONTINUED GROWTH

Mormons continued to increase in number. The phenomenal growth was attained not only through the practice of polygamy and missionary zeal, but also through the arrival of thousands of desperate or adventuresome immigrants, whose one-way passage from Europe was financed by the Mormon "Immigration Fund." The Mormons claimed approximately 125,000 adherents in 1880; of the 112,000 Mormons who lived in Utah, about one third were from England.

In order to attain statehood, the Mormons officially abolished polygamy in 1890, but it was not until 1904, that members were actually forbidden to enter into new polygamous relationships. Young reportedly accumulated around seventy wives! There are still an estimated 50,000 Mormons who practice polygamy (not including “sealings” or "celestial marriages"). Of course, these marriages are not officially recognized by the government.

Today, Mormon growth can be attributed mainly to intensive missionary efforts in all parts of the world. Few church officials receive salaries, and Mormon missionaries are self-supporting - from personal savings or sponsored by family members. Male Mormons are expected to serve three years as missionaries. Approximately 350 missionaries per week or 18,000 per year, are commissioned in Salt Lake City. There are thousands of Mormon missionaries presently serving in Western, Central and Eastern Europe. Every week, a dozen new churches are dedicated.

BUSINESS AND POLITICS

A large portion of church income (Mormons are expected to give a tithe of 10%) is invested in business, publishing and politically-attractive ventures. An unusually high percentage of officials in the national government are Mormons; Mormons have been successful in getting into the FBI, CIA, foreign embassies and other important posts. This is extremely beneficial in expediting Mormon missionary work abroad.

Because churches in America enjoy tax exemption, it is difficult to gain accurate information on the many business ventures of the Mormon Church. The Mormons, like many other religious groups, practice what might be termed "money laundering in reverse." Church income from legitimate sources (the membership's tithes) is invested in lucrative businesses. I am safe in saying that the "Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints," like the Roman Catholic Church and many other religious organizations, cannot claim with the Apostle Peter, "Silver and gold have I none" (Acts 3:6).

Another effective missionary tool of the Mormons is providing scholarships to foreign students; Brigham Young University boasts the largest number of foreign students in America. These students are not just trained to be missionaries, but also to gain influential positions in the governments and big businesses of their homelands.

In Austria, a high ranking officer of the U.S. Army during the Allied occupation is credited with gaining government recognition for the Mormon Church. A former U.S. ambassador to Poland (Mormon) helped to gain state recognition for the church in that country. According to a missionary in Albania, 60% of all new recruits to the Albanian division of the U.S. State Department are Mormons. A Mormon temple was built in Eastern Germany while that country was still under Communist control. Another temple is soon to be built in Soviet Armenia, near Mount Ararat.

IS MORMONISM CHRISTIAN?

Mormons frequently point critical fingers at the many divisions in Christianity, yet claim to be Christian themselves! If Mormons are Christians, then they are just one more division of Christianity!

A description of Mormonism reads like a recipe for some sort of exotic dish. It has ingredients from many religions: Old Testament legalism, a Roman Catholic type hierarchy and Muslim-style moral codex are blended together with Hindu incarnation teachings. This concoction is spiced with a sprinkling of Campbellite "Restoration Theology" and American Indian fiction. The dish is brought to a boil over the fires of martyrdom and served on golden plates in Free-Masonry style. About the only ingredient missing in Mormon teaching is orthodox Christian theology.

Mormonism's main postulate, is a sort of "evolution of gods." The basic premise of Mormon teaching has been described as follows:
"As man is now, God once was; and as God now is, man shall someday become." Upon closer examination, this teaching degrades God, giving him human attributes, while elevating man to the position of a "junior-god." The teaching that man can become as God is nothing new; it was first preached by Satan in the garden of Eden! This, however, should not surprise anyone who is familiar with Mormon teachings. Mormons teach that Adam is the "God of this world" and father of both Jesus and Lucifer! Smith also claimed that Jesus married the sisters, Mary and Martha, as well as Mary Magdalene. He even claimed to be a direct descendant of Jesus!

According to the Mormons, Jesus atoned only for "original sin." Forgiveness of the same can be received only through baptism into the Mormon faith. Personal sin must be atoned for through good works. Mormons also practice baptism for the dead.

MORMON VIEW OF THE BIBLE

Nearly every Mormon is quick to claim that he believes the Bible to be God's Word, and they have ready explanations for obvious contradictions between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. According to them, the Bible was corrupted by the Roman Catholics and "unauthorized Jews." Orson Pratt presented the New Testament as being unreliable, saying that scarcely a verse has remained unadulterated.

On the other hand, Mormons claim infallibility for Mormon revelations and writings, in spite of the fact that the "Book of Mormon" has been changed in 3,000 places since 1830. It is difficult to explain how 10% of the text in the "Book of Mormon" is made up of quotes from the 1611 "King James Bible." In II Nephi 29, the reader is instructed that the Bible does not contain all of God's Word. The Book of Mormon was supposedly written in 570 B.C., before the Bible existed!

"PROGRESSIVE REVELATION"

Even the most important teachings of the Mormon Church have undergone drastic changes, made possible by the doctrine of "progressive revelation." According to Mormons, revelation is never complete and can be updated by church officials at any time.

As with the evolution of gods, Mormon teachings may also go through an evolutionary process. Many doctrinal changes in Mormonism are simply adaptations to the changing moods of a secular society. Early teachings, for example, presented Indians and blacks as belonging to inferior races. Keeping members of these races as slaves was thus considered a proper right of the Mormons. Anyone having just a "drop of negro blood" was excluded from the priesthood, and the penalty for any Mormon who "mixed his blood with the seed of Cain" was instant death! These teachings have of course been changed, so as not to offend members of modern society. The "Book of Mormon" still promises hope for dark-skinned races, who may become "white and delightsome" in future generations (II Nephi 30:6).

Smith propagated three differing versions of his first angelic vision. The Mormon Apostle, Orson Pratt, published an account in 1840, which gave still another account of Smith's first encounter with God. The first Book of Mormon taught a trinitarian Godhead, which was replaced by a "dual godhead" five years later ("Doctrines and Covenants"). Finally, the doctrine of many gods became the main dogma of Mormonism.

THE "BOOK OF ABRAHAM"

Probably the most embarrassing incident for Mormons was the discovery of the Egyptian papyrus manuscript from which Joseph Smith claimed to have translated "The Book of Abraham" (1835). The latter is part of the Mormon book, The Pearl of Great Price, one of the "four pillars of Mormonism." It was supposedly written by Abraham himself, and Mormons claimed that it was older than the book of Genesis. The Mormons believed that the original manuscript was lost in the Chicago fire. In 1967, the Metropolitan Museum of Art discovered the missing papyrus document and returned it to the Mormon Church. One would expect great rejoicing over this discovery, but instead there is an embarrassing silence. There can be no doubt about this being the same manuscript which Smith claimed to have translated. The manuscript does not mention Abraham nor does it bear any resemblance to the so-called "Book of Abraham;" it is, rather, a description of heathen burial rites!

CHURCH STRUCTURE

Generally, one could conclude that the Mormon Church is more of a social institution than a religion. It is generally known that Mormons must abstain from the use of alcohol, tobacco and coffee. But just about every aspect of Mormon life (work, play, personal appearance, the press, family, business, politics and public involvement) is controlled or strongly influenced by the church. Mormons place much emphasis upon culture, the fine arts and health. They are careful to avoid even being tempted to question the teachings of their church. Special oaths are taken during the temple ceremonies to this end, and as a precautionary measure, Mormon missionaries are not permitted to make visits alone. Even reading this paper would be considered a sin deserving of punishment.

The Church President is the highest authority, similar in power to the Roman Catholic Pope. There are also twelve Apostles, who at least theoretically wield much influence in the church. Because apostolic decisions must be unanimous, however, their power is far inferior to that of the President.

About one fourth of all Mormons hold some type of office or position in the church. Most Mormons spend fifteen to twenty hours each week in church services and activities.

COMMON DISCUSSION TOPICS OF THE MORMONS

One favorite topic of discussion is the division of Christianity into many denominations; it was this very matter which led Smith to found his church. One could hardly imagine a lesser suited argument for the defense of Mormonism! If longevity proves anything, it would favor the Roman Catholic Church, which Mormons consider to be apostate! The Mormons have only been around for a little more than 160 years, yet there have been numerous splits. At least six different groups claim to be the only true successors of Joseph Smith.

Christianity, on the other hand, has been around for nearly 2,000 years. Although there are many denominations in Christianity, only a few of them refuse to fellowship with any other group, and nearly all Christian denominations recognize that they are not the sole representatives of the Christian faith. At the very heart of the Christian faith is an inner longing for fellowship with God and other Christians. The Spirit of Christ calls for unity in fellowship, yet purity in doctrine. The struggle to keep this delicate balance is the very life-blood, the heartbeat of Christianity. For this reason, it is often the most closely associated or related Christian groups, which are frequently engaged in strife, usually over trivial matters. One example would be the different Amish groups in Pennsylvania, who differ over dress codes or the color of their horse-drawn buggies! Other Christian groups differ on certain Bible interpretations or the mode of baptism, but nearly all accept the Bible as God's Word and teach that one must have a personal faith in Jesus Christ.

The canonization is another favorite discussion topic of Mormons. They ask, "What kind of a God is that, who would limit himself to only 66 books?" Once again, their argument only displays a blind faith in Mormonism and ignorance of well-known facts.

The canonization of Scripture is not the direct work of God, but of godly men. The scribes of the Old Testament watched carefully over those writings, which they held to be God's Word. Devout men throughout the centuries have taken great care when copying and translating the Scriptures, carefully examining these for possible error. Not only the Catholic Church, but most Christian denominations and millions of individual Christians accept the collection of sixty-six books, which we call the "Holy Bible" as God's revealed truth. Only a few of the words and deeds of Jesus Christ could be contained in the Gospels. John supposed that "the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" if His deeds should all be recorded (John 21:25)! On one occasion, Jesus wrote with his finger in the dust of the earth; we do not know what He wrote. God alone knows all that is recorded in the "Lamb's Book of Life." He has spoken to many men and women in numerous places for centuries, but little of this is recorded for us.

Millions of Christians have held the Bible to be God's Word for many centuries. They have been willing to live and die for this collection of sixty-six books. Thousands of devout and intelligent men have spent their lives studying the Bible, even comparing ancient manuscripts for various readings. It would be foolish for anyone to deny the truth of Scriptures without first spending a lifetime studying them.

The writers of Scripture themselves repeatedly admonish us to test or prove Bible teachings. The Apostle Paul praised the Bereans for doing exactly this. Today, countless scholars spend their lives studying ancient manuscripts, such as the "Dead Sea Scrolls," comparing them with our Bible. Such activity has only served to strengthen the argument for the authenticity and verity of the Bible.

This is certainly a far cry from Mormon teaching! The official writings of the church are to be accepted as inerrant truth and without question. Although more than 3,000 changes have been made in the "Book of Mormon" since 1830, a comparison with the original manuscripts which Smith translated is not possible -- let alone the Egyptian hieroglyphics on the purported golden plates.

Fortunately, most of us live in countries which guarantee freedom of the press, speech and religion. Anyone may teach, write books or believe anything he or she desires concerning God and religion. We may accept or reject as truth whatever we choose. God Himself will hold each of us personally accountable for what we believe.

I have devoted three and a half decades to the study of Scripture. Not only this, but I have dedicated my entire life to serving it's heavenly Author and His Son, Jesus Christ. I can join with Joshua in saying: "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

Ralph V. Harvey
(Original text in German, 1974. Translated in 2007)