Mormon author's doubts cause stir

Associated Press/December 12, 2004
By Travis Reed

Sandy, Utah -- Grant Palmer was raised in the Mormon Church and has spent most of his 64 years in its service.

It's a church he loves and has no intention of abandoning -- even though he doubts its historical truthfulness, and even though he could be punished for that doubt.

Palmer goes before church leaders today for failing to obey the gospel by publishing a book that questions whether founder Joseph Smith misrepresented his authority as a prophet and revised church scripture to his advantage.

The ultimate punishment would be excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, meaning Palmer could no longer take sacrament, visit other members in an official capacity, teach or preach in church, or go into temples.

Palmer's transformation from parishioner to pariah began in the mid-1980s with his first misgivings about the way Mormon scripture characterizes the church's early history. Two years ago, he finally rolled those misgivings together and wrote a book he titled "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins."

In it, Palmer suggests Smith did not translate the Book of Mormon, as the church's faithful believe, "by the gift and power of God" from an ancient set of golden plates.

Smith -- Palmer believes -- penned it himself, leaning heavily on the King James Bible, emotional Methodist tent revivals, Masonry and other personal experiences in a highly superstitious era of American history.

Palmer suggests Smith rewrote the story of how he was ordered by heavenly spirits to found the church to make himself seem more legitimate when Mormons faced credibility problems or were losing key leaders.

"I, along with colleagues . . . find the evidence employed to support many traditional claims about the church to be either nonexistent or problematic," Palmer writes. "In other words, it didn't all happen the way we've been told."

Latter-day Saints believe the Book of Mormon -- one of four key spiritual texts -- is a literal record of Jesus Christ's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.

Palmer culled material for the book from documents in the church archives, which contain a vast collection of letters, diaries, and papers from church presidential administrations.

Many of the ideas have previously surfaced in academic papers and books -- some as ammunition for the church's fervent critics. Palmer, who has served the church as a director and educator, said he wrote the book because most of the church's lay population doesn't read those academic papers and deserves to know about the problems. "I think only the truth is good enough for the members of the LDS church," he said.

The work has kindled a firestorm in Mormon academia, including five scathing reviews published by FARMS, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies housed at Brigham Young University.

"They don't feel he takes a balanced look at the evidence," said Daniel Peterson, a BYU professor and FARMS review editor.

Peterson said the book is damaging for the church because Palmer has written it for a lay audience, and his long history as a church member and educator assign it particular credibility.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.