This story is Huge. Hans Mattsson is a Mormon who was at one time a member of the third quorum of the seventy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was the highest ranking official in Sweden and oversaw activities for the Mormon Church all over Europe. Because he was in a position of authority, members would come to him with questions about Mormonism that had come up during their study and preparation for teaching Sunday school lessons. These questions eventually led Mattsson to doubt the history and even some doctrines of Mormonism.
There are many other sources (New York Times, Mormon Stories Podcast, MormonThink) which cover the details of the story, so I will not go into them in depth here. What I want to do is discuss the questions that came to my mind as I was studying through this issue. The most eye opening resources regarding this issue comes from a fireside meeting in 2010 when two Mormon Church historians (Elder Marlin K. Jensen and Richard E. Turley Jr.) came to Stockholm in an attempt to answer some of the troubling questions. You can read the transcript of the meeting here. (The transcript is copied as is, including typos.) The other, and in my opinion most important, resource concerning this issue is the audio recording of this fireside meeting. This fireside meeting was two and a half hours long and is divided into two parts.
The recording is jaw dropping. As I read through the transcript I would listen to the recording. I was shocked to hear the tone of those asking the questions. The meeting was congenial, but the Swedish Mormons were not pulling any punches. They wanted answers and were not satisfied with the responses given by Jensen and Turley. I say “responses” because they were not answers. I honestly cannot imagine a thinking Mormon walking out of that meeting feeling that their testimony had been strengthened and their questions answered.
Read the New York Times article, then PLEASE take the time to listen to the audio recordings of the fireside. Reading through the transcript is one thing, but listening to the meeting puts the cherry on top of the sundae. The following are my thoughts while listening to the meeting.
Before they opened the meeting up for questions, Jensen stated, “It is a day of information, but with that comes the challenge of deciding what information is reliable, what information is true, what information is worthy of basing our life on it. And hopefully tonight we can at least offer some information in a reliable and loving way that will be responsive to some of the questions that you have.”
EM’s Take: If the LDS Church is led by prophets, seers and revelators who are in communion with God, then why would this be a challenge? Investigators are challenged to pray about receiving an answer from God as to whether or not Mormonism is true. Why can’t LDS leaders set the example and find these things out from God? Doesn’t He know what is reliable, true and worthy for us to base our lives on? Again, if the LDS Church is really led by prophets, why is this a problem in the first place?
Jensen: “How is it that someone ever becomes converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Well, after years of experience with this, brothers and sisters, it typically begins with a person who is a seeker.”
EM’s take: Since when are people supposed to be converted to a Church? God didn’t send a Church to die for our sins. He sent His Son. Jesus Himself said in John 5: 39-40, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” Conversion should be to Christ, NOT a Church. Jesus wants us to come to Him.
It is also interesting to note that before the audience was invited to ask their questions, Jensen warned them about the spirit of the devil. I found that very interesting. I could imagine being in that meeting, having sincere questions and then being warned that perhaps your questions could be inspired by the devil. Mormons are taught that their prophets are in communion with God so it only makes sense that if a Mormon has questions, they should be able to go to those in authority and get real answers. If these prophets are truly revealing facts, then the answers should be obvious. That was a hint that the “answers” which Jensen and Turley were going to provide, are not satisfactory. I think Jensen and Turley knew that before the meeting started and here is why.
Jensen: “So as we take your questions now and do our best to respond to the issues that you see in our history or in our doctrine, I just want to have you bear in mind that no matter how smart Brother Turley might be, no matter how good his answers might be, the only way that these answers can help any of us is if they’re spiritually discerned; If they’re given by the spirit and received by the spirit. If they somehow get deep into our hearts.”
EM’s Take: The question immediately came to mind, “Why in the world would I need the spirit to testify to me whether or not Joseph Smith really ‘translated’ the book of Mormon with his face in a hat? Exactly what about that fact needs to be discerned spiritually?” I can understand Jensen’s statement in the light of doctrine, but not history. Some doctrine is not easy to understand, I get that. But what I do not comprehend is why we would need the spirit to confirm historical facts. Either something happened or it didn’t. We should be able to look at the historical evidence, weigh it and come to a conclusion about what really happened. The fact of the matter is, Smith really did claim to “translate” the Book of Mormon with his face in a hat and Turley admits this. More on this later.
Once they got to asking the questions, the crowd did not hold back. The questions were very good and well informed. There were fifteen questions which were taken and addressed. Again, I cannot use the term, “answered.” One interesting thing of note was that Turley passed out a sheet of paper which contained five web sites which he stated, “are the five very best websites for authentic answers to those questions.” Some of the questions were questions like whether or not Brigham Young actually taught that Adam was God, archaeological evidence for the civilizations described in the Book of Mormon and the fact that DNA evidence does not support the idea that the peoples of the Americas are not of Jewish descendants and the Book of Mormon teaches.
Someone in the crowd asked if the LDS Church stands behind these web sites. The dialogue at this point was intense.
Question: Do the church stand behind these websites?
Jensen: Well they’re all church institutions. They’re either BYU or private institutions that are handled by very reliable and good Latter-day Saints.
Turley: So they’re not official church websites. We do have some official church things that are being developed for example—
Question: I tried to find the church own versions about these things.
Turley: They don’t exist.
Question: That’s my problem. I don’t care—what do the church say about this? Not what some —
Turley: Listen, we hope you’ll find more in the future to be helpful, one of the most helpful things I think you may find in time is that we’re taking our church history library catalog and we’re putting it on the Internet next year. And then we’re going to make digital images of many of the records and connect those to the catalogue, so that you can do— you don’t have to just listen to somebody’s summary, you can actually look at the original documents yourself and make your own conclusions.
EM’s Take: Exasperated in the word which comes to mind. Whoever this person was who asked the questions wanted official answers and none were given. Instead, Jensen and Turley point to sources which are not official in hopes of placating these troubled Swedish Mormons. The question which came to my mind as I heard this part of the discussion was, “Why did the LDS Church send two historians to ‘answer questions,’ when all they had to do was email them a short list of web sites which they neither officially endorse or deny?” Does that strike you as odd too? Why waste the time? Had I been a member of that audience who had serious questions about my faith, I would have been insulted at the idea that the best my church has to offer are web sites that aren’t even official. Either give me an official answer or admit that you don’t have an answer at all. Why do prophets, seers and revelators have to point you to unofficial sources to get unofficial answers? Do these men speak with authority or not?
Also, this fireside was in 2010. Here it is, 2013 now and the story is just now coming out. Why? Because these patient Swedish Latter-day Saints have waited three years for something which still does not exist. Turley promised answers “next year” which would address the concerns brought up during this meeting. Three years later, still nothing.
The whole affair reminded me of a video I once did about what is and is not official Mormon doctrine. Numerous Mormons have accused me of being “unChristlike” in this video. What they don’t understand is that the video accurately portrays how the LDS Church responds to serious questions.
Immediately after this part of the discussion Turley states, “these are issues that have been around for a very long time. They’re not new.”
EM’s Take: Is that supposed to comfort the audience, the idea that these are old questions and that other Mormons have asked them before? It wouldn’t comfort me in the least. If these are old questions, then why doesn’t the LDS Church have answers yet? New Questions? I can understand needing time to look into those issues, but old questions? Where are the old proven answers? I would not be surprised if that thought occurred in the minds of some Mormons in this meeting.
Regarding the fact that Joseph Smith “translated” the Book of Mormon with his face in a hat, the Swedish Mormons wanted to know why the LDS Church does not accurately explain this. The LDS Church portrays the story as Smith sitting on one side of a curtain with the plates in front of him. As he translates, he reads the words to a scribe who then writes them down. Yet LDS historians tell another story of Smith on one side of a curtain with his face in a hat reading illuminated words off of a seer stone. Sometimes the plates weren’t even in the same room.
When the question was first asked, the Swedish Mormon points out that in the Book of Mormon, there was great effort in securing the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Nephi had to Kill Laban to retrieve them, the plates were passed from father to son for 1,000 years, Moroni almost died trying to preserve them and then they were buried in a hill for hundreds of years. Once Smith finds the plates, sometimes he doesn’t even use them in his translation of the Book of Mormon. If you have plates, why use a hat to “translate” them? Turley’s answer was less than helpful.
Turley: “And why a hat? OK. We can take those three in order. First of all, why were the plates needed? The plates were needed because the plates were real and they were preserved and they were passed down from generation to generation. Once Joseph Smith got them, then the method of translation was up to the Lord and the Lord chose to use a method of translation that was far more efficient, far better, and far more accurate than anything Joseph Smith could have done letter by letter. Because it would have taken him — he didn’t know the language. How else was he going to translate it if God didn’t help him?
What were the other questions? Why the Urim and Thummim and why the hat? The Urim and Thummim — maybe I should answer the hat first. The hat was apparently to block light out so that Joseph so that Joseph could see what he was doing with the record. Sometimes the light, you know, affects your spirit. We don’t know exactly how it works, Joseph Smith said he wasn’t meant to know how it works.”
EM’s Take: The plates were needed because the plates were real. I don’t quite follow that answer and neither did one Swedish woman when she asked, “Can you see that we feel deceived? When you say translated, you had the record and you translated. Like with the papyrus, you know (unintelligible…) because he was translating them. But he wasn’t. It would be much better if you said he was sitting and praying and got the revelation. But it’s kind of deceiving to say it that way. Do you understand what I’m saying?
EM’s Take: Yes, Ma’am. I hear what you are saying. Official teaching manuals show Smith actually translating when what is taught historically is that Smith had a “revelation” and did not translate anything. These Swedish Mormons felt deceived when they had to find out the truth about Mormon origins through suspect sources. If I was a Mormon and had to find out about the truth of the LDS Church from sources I am warned about, I would wonder why those who are supposedly lying about the Mormon Church are telling more of the truth than the supposed “one true Church” officially says about itself.
In response to this woman’s statement, Turley says, “I think that’s a difference in perception rather than in reality. When Joseph used the term ‘translate,’ he meant revelation. OK. And revelation comes in various forms. You yourselves who have received revelation recognize that it comes to you in various ways. Sometimes it’s a feelings, sometimes and impression, sometimes maybe a thought. In Joseph’s Smith’s case, when he translated the Book of Mormon, it wasn’t just a matter of kneeling and praying and getting words.”
EM’s Take: I agree with Turley here. There is a difference between translation and a revelation. What the LDS Church presents in its official teaching manuals describes a translation, but what supposedly happened historically was a revelation. The Swedish Mormons want to know, why the false portrayal of a translation? I find it disingenuous for Turley to say that Smith meant “revelation” when he said the word “translation.” Any prophet who does not know the difference between a translation and a revelation is not worth his weight in seer stone and hats.
The question still stands, if Smith really did receive a revelation with his face in hat, then why doesn’t the Mormon Church describe this in an official capacity? Why the false representation? To my knowledge, there is no official Mormon Church teaching manual which describes Smith’s face in a hat, yet there are pictures on display in temple square which show him using the plates. Why is that?
My friend Bart Pascoal created this infographic which shows the contrast of what is officially taught and what the Church would teach if they told the truth about how Smith actually “translated” the plates.
This concludes part one of my thoughts about the Swedish Fireside meeting. Part two can be read here.