One of the primary reasons millions of Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God is its historicity. The Bible speaks of real people and real events. Even though not every place named in the Bible has actually been located, enough sites have been discovered to give the Bible a considerable amount of trust.
On the other hand, Mormons must place an inordinate amount of trust in a book that has virtually no historical evidence to support its authenticity. No discoveries have been made in the New World to give credence to any of the places mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The LDS Church has yet to produce any clear evidence to support the notion that Nephites and Jaredites were real people groups that existed outside of Smith’s imagination. The idea that the Indian people are Semitic ancestors of the Book of Mormon “Lamanites” also has its share of problems, both historically and genetically.
This lack of evidence has caused many sincere Latter-day Saints to abandon their faith. Most who do find a place within one of two camps: 1) Either they maintain a belief in God and find solace in one of the mainstream Christian churches, or 2) Because of the betrayal they felt after trusting LDS leaders implicitly, they quietly become “inactive” or drift into agnosticism or even atheism.
However, there is still another group that stubbornly holds on to their Mormonism regardless of the lack of empirical evidence. Many of these are what we at MRM call Sunstone Mormons. Sunstone is a periodical published by Mormons who hold to a more liberal view of the LDS faith. Many of these will concede that Mormonism is fraught with numerous problems, but they do not see these problems as being major enough to completely abandon the faith they love.
For instance, the November 2001 issue of Sunstone carried an article entitled What Makes Scripture “Scripture”? by John-Charles Duffy of Salt Lake City. Mr. Duffy relates in the piece how he “went through his entire mission uncertain whether or not [he] believed that the Book of Mormon was a historical record” (p.16).
He writes, “Reading from the Book of Mormon thirty minutes every morning as a missionary, I took note of passages which lent credence to the thesis that the book was a nineteenth-century creation — and I took note of passages which suggested that the book really was the product of an ancient culture.”
His further study led him to finally conclude that it “makes more sense to me to believe the Book of Mormon is a nineteenth-century creation.”
Curiously, Mr. Duffy found a way to have both his faith and his “scripture.”
He explains, “I still look to the Book of Mormon for inspiration, comfort, and insight. I still accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God. Why? Because as I see it, what makes a text the word of God — what makes scripture scripture — is not its origin, but its use.”
He continues this thought by saying, “Traditionally, Jews and Christians and Muslims and Mormons have believed that certain texts are the word of God because God spoke them at some point in the past through prophets. By contrast, the reason I believe certain texts are the word of God is that when I read them, I feel God speaking to me in the moment.”
It is this type of post-modern thinking that makes the Sunstone crowd sometimes more difficult to convince. His truth is true even though it may not coincide with the “truth” held by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Mormons. Many would rightly conclude that this is not possible if truth is indeed, singular. While all of the above worldviews may be wrong, they cannot all be right.
Granted, most Mormons would not agree with Mr. Duffy’s position. They would argue that the Book of Mormon must be an actual historical record because that is what Joseph Smith said it was. If it can be demonstrated that the book is nothing more than a nineteenth-century novel, it would naturally undermine Smith’s claim to be a chosen vessel and thus prove that his call to “restore” God’s church was certainly unauthorized.
For this reason many Latter-day Saints will tenaciously argue that the book is an actual history even though the evidence does not support this conclusion. Some might say that neither position is a totally honest one. One thing for sure is that both sides depend entirely too much on subjective reasoning. Both positions place an enormous amount of faith in a feeling that, if wrong, will have devastating eternal consequences.