On June 13th, Apos­tle Oaks and His­to­ri­an Tur­ley gave a fire­side at my stake in Ida­ho “to answer some faith­ful ques­tions and to min­is­ter to some dis­abling doubts.”

In this fire­side, the cou­ple respond­ed to sev­er­al ques­tions that are most rel­e­vant to those that agree with Den­ver Snuffer and Rock Water­man. In my view, that is that today’s church has strayed from many of the key con­cepts taught by Joseph Smith. Appar­ent­ly there is a decent group in the Boise/Meridian/Eagle/Star area that ascribe to that view, and this fire­side seems to be an attempt to pro­tect the active mem­bers from those ideas.

I was very under­whelmed by the respons­es giv­en by Oaks and Tur­ley — below I’m includ­ing some of their state­ments and my thoughts on their words. For the full audio, go lis­ten to the Mor­mon Sto­ries bonus episode, or read the tran­script.

Oaks starts the fire­side explain­ing how to know if some­one is “on the Lord’s side:”

In deter­min­ing on who’s on the Lord’s side on these lat­ter-days, there are two major ques­tions. First, for most non-Mor­mons, and for some Mor­mons, the key ques­tion is how they feel about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mor­mon. For most Mor­mons, the key ques­tion on who’s on the Lord’s side is how they feel about the church’s cur­rent prophet­ic lead­er­ship. If those feel­ings are suf­fi­cient­ly neg­a­tive, they take mem­bers into what we call apostasy.”

I don’t believe that many active mem­bers base their tes­ti­mo­ny on “how they feel about the church’s cur­rent prophet­ic lead­er­ship.” The cur­rent lead­ers are not what bring in the con­verts. In fact, I remem­ber of at least one inves­ti­ga­tor dur­ing my mis­sion that loved every­thing we taught until we pro­vid­ed him with a video of the church lead­ers bear­ing their tes­ti­monies. He said it was not at all what he expect­ed from prophets and apos­tles, it was very dis­ap­point­ing, and he did­n’t want to con­tin­ue toward baptism.

Still, I com­plete­ly under­stand Oak­s’s state­ment, and it is accu­rate. There have been and there are many oth­er sects of Mor­monism that also accept Joseph Smith, Jr. as the restor­ing prophet and accept the Book of Mor­mon. What makes the LDS church unique from the oth­ers is the set of peo­ple lead­ing since Brigham Young to today. If you accept them and their teach­ings, then you are bound to the author­i­ty depen­den­cy that the LDS church requires. The church clear­ly places the ordi­nances and priest­hood author­i­ty between the mem­bers and Christ, in that Christ is unable to save mem­bers unless you have tak­en all the right steps in “His” church.

Here are my top 10 prob­lem­at­ic state­ments of Oaks and Tur­ley from this fireside:

  1. Tur­ley: “I have a doc­tor­ate lev­el of edu­ca­tion, and I write books. I have com­put­ers to help me, I have a staff to assist me, and, with all of that, it still takes numer­ous drafts and often sev­er­al years for me to write a sig­nif­i­cant book. Now real­ize this: The Book of Mor­mon, essen­tial­ly as we have it today, was dic­tat­ed by the prophet Joseph Smith, a man with per­haps one year of for­mal edu­ca­tion, in just a sin­gle draft over a peri­od of less than 90 days. Broth­ers and Sis­ters, I don’t care how smart you are, I don’t care how much edu­ca­tion you have or how good you are as a writer. I defy any­one to sit down and, in just one draft, dic­tate in a peri­od of nine­ty days or less, a book of the pow­er and com­plex­i­ty of the Book of Mormon.”

    –I wavered on includ­ing this — it is such an old argu­ment that has been argued ad nau­se­am. Say­ing he had 90 days is absurd. He had much more like 5 years to devel­op the sto­ry. See Mor­mon­Think’s expla­na­tion of this. Also see #4 below.
  2. Oaks: “[T]he idea that the estab­lished Prophet has strayed and needs to be replaced is an idea Satan has plant­ed in the minds of apos­tates from the very begin­ning. For exam­ple, at the time of Christ, the Sav­ior was chal­lenged by those who claimed alle­giance to Abra­ham and Moses using the teach­ings of prophets past to crit­i­cize the Lord himself.”

    –Oaks is argu­ing that a new­er prophet has no need to be con­sis­tent with the teach­ings of any pri­or prophets. For exam­ple, Brigham Young taught “Blood Atone­ment” as offi­cial doc­trine and or course that polygamy was required to become a god — there are many oth­er exam­ples of con­flict­ing teach­ings between prophets. Hav­ing chang­ing doc­trines and a teach­ing that the cur­rent Prophet “can­not lead us astray” are not com­pat­i­ble. One of the prophets must be wrong, oth­er­wise God’s laws are not unchanging.
  3. Oaks: “The so-called ‘new prophet’ may pur­sue his or her cor­rect­ing mis­sion by a vari­ety of means; orga­niz­ing a new church, advo­cat­ing a change of doc­trine, or oppos­ing some church pol­i­cy. We have seen all of these tac­tics and many more in our life­time. The con­tent of the new mes­sage may be more than what is true and cor­rect, or it may be less. But it is always: ‘I have a bet­ter way than the Lord’s cur­rent leaders.’” 

    –These ref­er­ences are describ­ing Den­ver Snuffer, Kate Kel­ly, and John Dehlin. Each is ele­vat­ed, beyond what they claim to be, to being a “false prophet” by Oaks. I am cer­tain at least that Kate and John do not claim any sort of prophe­cy. Oaks is unfair­ly paint­ing them as usurpers rather than what their actions por­trayed: express­ing dis­con­tent from with­in the pre­scribed order and lines of author­i­ty (until excommunicated).
  4. Oaks: “Such ques­tions, ques­tions we call them, are asked with the real intent of bet­ter under­stand­ing and more ful­ly obey­ing the will of the Lord.” Tur­ley: “One dif­fer­ence between ques­tions asked in faith and doubts is that ques­tions lead to faith and to rev­e­la­tion where­as doubts lead to dis­obe­di­ence, which in turn ren­ders peo­ple less able to receive rev­e­la­tion, or in oth­er words, doubt is dark­ness. Ques­tions asked in faith lead to light.” 

    –This is so arbi­trary and just wrong. I per­son­al­ly set out inves­ti­gat­ing issues in order to “save” a friend of mine who had apo­s­ta­tized. My ques­tions were com­plete­ly in order to obtain a “bet­ter under­stand­ing” and “more ful­ly obey the will of the Lord.” Yet, as I dili­gent­ly sought answers, I began to doubt. It was not because of any dis­obe­di­ence — it was because there are seri­ous issues. I under­stand why Oaks and Tur­ley state “doubts lead to dis­obe­di­ence” and “doubt is dark­ness.” It cat­e­go­rizes those who doubt as unwor­thy and as the “oth­ers” that can­not be trust­ed. It makes those that feel such feel­ings as doubt and uncer­tain­ty to define such feel­ings as evil and avoid them at all cost.
  5. Tur­ley: “The pre­vi­ous year, when the 116 pages dis­ap­peared, Joseph learned the les­son that all of us with com­put­ers learn, which is back-up, back-up, back-up.”

    While this was one of Tur­ley’s more amus­ing quips, it high­lights the just how ludi­crous the LDS nar­ra­tive is regard­ing the lost pages (see the South Park “reen­act­ment”). Joseph, of course, claimed to have the “back-up” of the 116 lost pages in the gold­en plates. The idea of a con­spir­a­cy is non­sense — being able to re-dic­tate the 116 pages would have rein­forced Joseph’s posi­tion as trans­la­tor, not weak­ened it.
  6. Oaks: “The first answer to this claim is that mod­ern apos­tles are called to be wit­ness­es of the name of Christ in all the world, Doc­trine and Covenants 107:23. This is not to wit­ness of a per­son­al man­i­fes­ta­tion. To wit­ness of the name is to wit­ness of the plan, the work, or mis­sion such as the atone­ment and the author­i­ty or priest­hood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which an apos­tle who holds the keys is unique­ly respon­si­ble to do.” 

    –I found this to be quite the state­ment to make… Oaks has essen­tial­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed “mod­ern” from “ancient” apos­tles, which is in con­trary to Arti­cle of Faith 6. Still, this dis­tinc­tion of “name of Christ” rather than of “Christ” is also very inter­est­ing. There are many opin­ions con­trary to Oak­s’s, even on LDS​.org in the Bible Dic­tio­nary and the Apos­tle Tes­ti­monies, that apos­tles are, by def­i­n­i­tion “Spe­cial Wit­ness­es of Christ,” and must see Christ’s body, res­ur­rect­ed. With­out this spe­cial wit­ness, apos­tles have no stronger tes­ti­mo­ny than any mem­ber, which is exact­ly what Oaks goes on to say after this quote — with­out the spe­cial wit­ness, there is no pur­pose to the apos­tolic calling.
  7. Tur­ley: “Joseph Smith’s fam­i­ly was lit­er­ate, but it was large­ly a fam­i­ly of oral tra­di­tion. […] This awk­ward first jour­nal entry of Joseph Smith was writ­ten three and a half years after Joseph com­plet­ed the trans­la­tion of the Book of Mor­mon. Con­trast Joseph the man, writ­ing this jour­nal entry, to Joseph the seer, dic­tat­ing the Book of Mor­mon. With the 1832 jour­nal entry, Joseph strug­gled to write a sin­gle page of text. But with the 1829 Book of Mor­mon man­u­script, Joseph rapid­ly dic­tat­ed what became a 588 page print­ed book in a sin­gle draft over a peri­od of less than 90 days. The only way that was pos­si­ble, Broth­ers and Sis­ters, is in the way he said he did it, which is by the gift and pow­er of God.

    –This is so high on my list because Tur­ley is point­ing out the key dif­fer­ence — the Smith’s were a fam­i­ly of “oral tra­di­tion.” Of course Joseph would be able to dic­tate a sto­ry with immense­ly more ease than writ­ing it him­self. His com­par­i­son is ridicu­lous. That Tur­ley does not see this obvi­ous point and even uses it as evi­dence in favor of the LDS nar­ra­tive shows him to either be deceit­ful or will­ful­ly ignorant.
  8. Tur­ley: “We read in the Book of Mor­mon that plain and pre­cious truths would be removed from the Bible. Here [Luke 22:43–44, regard­ing Christ sweat­ing blood] is an instance in which some of the ear­ly man­u­scripts don’t have those vers­es in them. Now some schol­ars will look at the var­i­ous man­u­scripts and say, ‘well, if some man­u­scripts have these vers­es in them and some do not, these vers­es must be ques­tion­able.’ And so they read these vers­es as a C‑level pas­sage rather than as an A‑level pas­sage. In oth­er words, they cast doubt on them. But we, Broth­ers and Sis­ters, have anoth­er tes­ta­ment of Jesus Christ. […] The Book of Mor­mon con­firms the authen­tic­i­ty of impor­tant New Tes­ta­ment details about the atone­ment of Jesus Christ, the key event in all of human his­to­ry. This pas­sage and a sim­i­lar one in sec­tion 19 of the Doc­trine and Covenants serve as sec­ond and third wit­ness­es to the atone­ment of Jesus Christ that we covenant each week to remem­ber as we par­tic­i­pate in the ordi­nance of the sacrament.” 

    –Once again, Tur­ley is pre­sent­ing evi­dence against the Book of Mor­mon and the Church as if it were evi­dence in favor of the Church. Christ sweat­ing as it were blood was not removed from the Bible, it was added many years after the fact. See wikipedi­a’s arti­cle on it, Here’s one of the var­i­ous quotes on it from there: Bruce M. Met­zger (2005): “These vers­es are absent from some of the old­est and best wit­ness­es, includ­ing the major­i­ty of the Alexan­dri­an man­u­scripts. It is strik­ing to note that the ear­li­est wit­ness­es attest­ing the vers­es are three Church fathers – Justin, Ire­naeus, and Hip­poly­tus – each of whom uses the vers­es in order to counter Chris­to­log­i­cal views that main­tained that Jesus was not a full human who expe­ri­enced the full range of human suf­fer­ings. It may well be that the vers­es were added to the text for just this rea­son, in oppo­si­tion to those who held to a docetic Chris­tol­ogy”. Tur­ley’s point is strong evi­dence that the Book of Mor­mon is com­plete­ly depen­dent on the King James bible — and is not from an ancient, unadul­ter­at­ed document.
  9. Tur­ley: “One claim that we some­times hear is that the church is no longer the church that was restored to the earth by Prophet Joseph. That it fell into apos­ta­sy and that the priest­hood keys were not passed to Brigham Young.” Oaks: “Answer– then who held them? If there are no priest­hood keys then the author­i­ty of the priest­hood can­not be used upon the earth.” 

    –Oaks has to make make fun of this point, because he does­n’t have real­ly any oth­er angle. The idea that the twelve apos­tles had all the keys of the restora­tion was a post hoc devel­op­ment. See wikipedi­a’s “Suc­ces­sion cri­sis.” When Brigham Young heard about Smith’s death while serv­ing a mis­sion in Boston, his first reac­tion was to ask him­self “whether Joseph had tak­en the keys of the king­dom with him from the earth.” Even assum­ing the keys were real and passed on, who were they passed on to? D&C 43:3–7 states that Joseph Smith, Jr. need­ed to appoint his suc­ces­sor. This was an impor­tant issue to the ear­ly Saints, and it was wide­ly accept­ed that Joseph Smith appoint­ed one of his sons to suc­ceed him. Brigham Young was in agree­ment with it, that he and the twelve were essen­tial­ly just guardians of the church under the premise “that young Joseph would even­tu­al­ly take his father’s place.” Lat­er, with the Saints estab­lished in Utah, Brigham decid­ed he should be the leader instead of the right­ful­ly appointed.
  10. Oaks: “[W]hile some ear­ly apos­tles and oth­er mem­bers of the church have had the sub­lime spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence of see­ing the Sav­ior and some have made a pub­lic record of this, in the cir­cum­stances of today we are coun­seled not to speak of our most sacred spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences, oth­er­wise with mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy that can broad­cast some­thing all over the world, a remark made in a sacred and a pri­vate set­ting can be said abroad in vio­la­tion of the Sav­ior’s com­mand­ment not to cast our pearls before swine.”

    –I’ve list­ed this as my #1, not because it is any­thing new — we have heard them say such things before. It is because of the sheer brazen­ness of the state­ment. Sim­i­lar to what we dis­cussed with #5, the point of apos­tles is to be wit­ness­es, to go and tell every­one that will lis­ten their spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences that are unique to them as the liv­ing apos­tles on the earth. Mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy makes that job much more effi­cient, and should be har­nessed to spread their spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences in order to reach the great­est num­ber pos­si­ble. The point of the New Tes­ta­ment is to share the sacred expe­ri­ences of the apos­tles to all the world. Hav­ing liv­ing apos­tles that do not share their spe­cial wit­ness is non­sen­si­cal. This is a weak excuse to cov­er up the fact that they do not have the same type of spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences of the lead­ers of the past. By abid­ing by this advice, they can con­tin­ue to insin­u­ate of such expe­ri­ences with­out out­right lying. It is still dis­hon­est and not Christ­like. They get to cov­er their rear, while also call­ing all the rest of the world swine, so I sup­pose that’s a win-win in their book.

Do you agree with my rank­ing? Let me know in the comments!

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September 13, 2015 11:41 am

[…] But to be fair, there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty that they have indeed seen Jesus Christ. The prob­lem is that if they have, we would nev­er know it. An expe­ri­ence like that would fall under what Church lead­ers have decid­ed is too sacred of an expe­ri­ence to share. This is odd con­sid­er­ing that these men are, accord­ing to the Doc­trine and Covenants, “spe­cial wit­ness­es”. But because these implied expe­ri­ences are sacred, not secret, we will nev­er know if these men are actu­al­ly apos­tles. Which is a bit iron­ic, con­sid­er­ing what made the orig­i­nal apos­tles apos­tles was their being wit­ness­es to Jesus Christ. So, as Mor­monism so often does, it rede­fines words and redraws the lines. When Elder Bal­lard said at a region­al con­fer­ence today that he is an apos­tle and bears a wit­ness like Paul that Jesus Christ is res­ur­rect­ed, what he is actu­al­ly say­ing is that he, like Paul, has the title… Read more »

July 14, 2015 12:49 pm

What Mor­mon teach about the birth of a hand­i­capped Child and minori­ties espe­cial­ly in third world countries “This priv­i­lege of obtain­ing a mor­tal body on this earth is seem­ing­ly so price­less that those in the spir­it world, even though unfaith­ful or not valient, were undoubt­ed­ly per­mit­ted to take mor­tal bod­ies although under penal­ty of racial or phys­i­cal or nation­al­is­tic lim­i­ta­tions.…” (Deci­sions for Suc­cess­ful Liv­ing pp 164–165) TLDP: 497 “There is no truth more plain­ly taught in the Gospel than that our con­di­tion in the next world will depend upon the kind of lives we live here. …Is it not just as rea­son­able to sup­pose that the con­di­tions in which we now live have been deter­mined by the kind of lives we lived in the pre-exis­tent world of spir­its? That the apos­tles under­stood this prin­ci­ple is indi­cat­ed by their ques­tion to the Mas­ter when the man who was blind from his birth… Read more »

July 14, 2015 9:15 am

Great list! One edi­to­r­i­al note, fol­low­ing the #10 quote, the expres­sion should be “ad nau­se­am.” Thanks for con­dens­ing an oth­er­wise bor­ing and way too long fireside.

Jen Kugler Hansen
July 13, 2015 4:58 pm

I like how you put this togeth­er as it gave me more insight and per­spec­tive into what seems like one giant mess! I espe­cial­ly liked your #1. So spot on! “Hav­ing liv­ing apos­tles that do not share their spe­cial wit­ness is nonsensical. …”