By Eric Johnson
A tape and transcript of a 2-hour-plus conversation between a group of Swedish believers and two LDS church representatives from Salt Lake City is making the rounds on the Internet. For the audio versions of the talk, click on part 1 and part 2 below:
The “Special Fireside for Disaffected Swedish LDS Saints”–the entire transcript is here–was held on November 28, 2010 and was later released by the website Mormon Stories on July 17, 2013. Marlin K. Jensen, who at the time was the LDS Church Historian, and Richard E. Turley, Jr., who is the Assistant Church Historian, addressed a group that had requested answers to their very serious questions.
It appears the meeting was set up as “damage control,” as the church apparently was hoping a visit from two historians could alleviate some of their concerns. Based on our reading of the transcript and listening to the audio portion of the meeting, it is apparent that Jensen and Turley did not appease their audience. The back and forth dialogue is, at times, testy, as it is obvious that those in attendance were certainly looking for more than just pat answers.
In the first half hour, Jensen said that he and Turley were sent by the church. In his opening comments, he said,
“And I want to say how grateful Brother Turley and I are to be invited here–to be sent here, actually. As you know, Seventies don’t hold keys, so we do what people who hold keys tell us to do.”
Jensen appears to poison the well when he talked about “another spirit” and referred to “spirit of the devil.” He quotes Moroni 7:17, which says,
“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth he devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves to him.”
Jensen seems to spend much time dancing around the very reason that he and Turley came, which was to deal with tough issues. Instead, he told unrelated stores out of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Bible. This tactic seemed to be a time-waster, as the pair acknowledged that they had limited time and were scheduled to fly to Los Angeles the next day; they said that they made a special out-of-the-way detour to be in Sweden. It was obvious that some in the audience were anxious for the Q&A to begin. At one point, Jensen—who seems to have a grandfather-like manner to him—was asked by Hans Mattsson, “Is it OK to ask questions now?” Jensen responded, “Yes. Can I just finish this?” He then spoke for another three minutes.
Before the questions were asked, Jensen stated that “most of us who have decided to believe are as aware of the questions that you have as you are and maybe even a lot more questions that you haven’t thought about yet.” Then, despite having access to this list of questions, Jensen asked the audience to provide “8 or 10 questions.” My guess is that these questions asked by the audience (how many were in attendance, we don’t know for sure) were not much different than the questions they already had been given in previous correspondence. They then proceeded to take the next half hour entertaining one question after the other.
Once the questions were all laid out and the meeting was half over, Turley began the answer portion of the program. He said,
“So recognizing the limitations of time, let’s kind of march through and give some very quick, concise answers for these. Recognizing that a thorough answer is going to take more time than we have. At some point we may go a little bit deeper just because it’s hard to make a concise answer.”
Yet deeper teaching and explanation is what these folks had requested. This apparent frustration came out a little later with the following dialogue:
Q: If you don’t give us, can you give us a reference like later, go in and check—?
Jensen: We’ve brought a handout for you. These are the five very best websites for authentic answers to those questions. Let me just say if you spend as much time on these five websites as you spent on other websites cause I have visited as has Brother Turley some of these anti-Mormon websites. And they’re very dark to me. And Brother Turley and I know many of the people who maintain these websites, and I can say to you they’re not the people whose teachings I’m going to follow.
Q: But if I go to those websites—
Jensen: You’ll get authentic—
Q: Accurate information.
Jensen: By and large and I’d like you to know that as a church history department we have at President Packer’s direction put together a committee to create answers to difficult gospel questions. We are working on these answers now and we’re also giving thought to how we will disseminate these answers to the world. We don’t want a website where people come to Mormon problems, obviously. But you’ll find, if you go to these websites, answers that you can rely on to almost all of your questions, including Adam-God. But we’ll give you our best answers. We wanted you to know tonight there are answers.
Q: Does 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—
Q: I tried to find the church own versions about these things.
Turley: They don’t exist.
Q: 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 catalog, so that . . . 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.
The mood in the room sounds tense. The point made by the questioner is that the LDS Church does not make it easy for its membership to get answers to critical issues. Even Turley admitted that the church does not have a web site dealing with controversial issues, which would seem to be an easy solution if there were answers to these questions. (The two claimed over and over again in the meeting that the church did have answers!) Rather, the church quite conveniently relies upon unofficial sites, including those sponsored by BYU and FAIR. This strategy leaves a convenient “out” for the church. After all, if the particular web site does a poor job answering the objection, the church leaders’ hands remain clean. Those who run the particular web site will then be blamed for any inaccuracies or errors.
I find it humorous that Turley says the church will provide more historical digital images online that inquirers can research on their own. The problem is, who has time to sort through all of this information? People are busy. As the questioner asked, why can’t the church just provide accurate answers to the tough questions? Obviously, the church leaders do not like to be pinned down, and the defensive mode of J&T is quite obvious.
Here are the questions that were asked (along with a synopsis of the answer given by Turley):
- Can the LDS Church leaders be trusted?
Answer: “We can trust them.”
Perhaps the most interesting dialogue on one topic took place after Turley’s answer (as listed in the paragraph above). This took more than five minutes to complete:
Q: But why does my spirit talks to me and screams wrong, wrong, wrong, even if it’s a prophet of God? Do I have the devil in me who’s talking to me and says I should understand this 14 and 16-year-old girls marrying? I can’t— my spirit doesn’t — I can’t get it through my mind. Is it the devil speaks to me? That I should accept that because Joseph Smith is a prophet? So he did that right, it was God told him to do that? Go behind Emma and take these wives.
Summarize it then, is it a principle we believe in that it should be, it could be practiced that way. Because we believe in polygamy, it’s a principle we believe in still, so is this a principle we believe in the church?
Turley: I’m not a prophet, so I can’t tell you about the future. I’ve said to people who have asked me this question, do you think this is going to come back, I say, I think I have a better chance of being hit by a meteorite from space than having this come back.
Q: But it’s not coming back. They’re still here now, isn’t it? The church says there is no polygamy, but it is. So what? Why do we talk different languages in the church? I have a friend, his wife died and he met another wife and he will have two wives in the next life, so we believe in polygamy.
Turley: We believe in the sealing of people for the afterlife. Of course the question that arises is in the world generally is what do you do if you live through life with more than one person? What do you do if your spouse dies and you remarry? What happens in heaven? And the answer that section 132 gives is that you’ll be together. Do we know a lot about how that works? We really don’t.
Q: But do we believe in it?
Turley: Do we believe in the 132nd section? Yes, we do.
Q: So we believe in polygamy.
Turley: We don’t practice polygamy on earth.
Q: Yes we do.
Turley: But you know what I mean.
Turley: One man, one wife at a time on earth.
Q: Yeah, but if it was legal today, would we have two wives? Could I take another one?
Turley: It would not change from the current position until the prophet said so. And as I said, I can’t predict the future.
Q: But you must answer, I think you can answer at least, do we believe in polygamy? We don’t practice it, but we believe in it because we are sealing more wives to one man.
Turley: We believe in the sealing of people. The reason I hesitate to say we believe in polygamy is if I say that then people will say, well then you have more than one wife, right? You don’t, right? Nobody else here does, either, I believe. That’s why I say it the way I say it, OK?
Q: Is that your technical way?
Turley: No, nobody’s telling me anything.
Q: Do we believe in polygamy?
Turley: We do believe in polygamy; we don’t practice polygamy. That’s what I’m trying to say.
Q: Can you please try to convince us how this can be Christ-like, like Joseph Smith? To take the wives or have sex with wives that are already married to other men? I really would like to understand. I mean, if you read the stories of these wives — and I have a whole book, there are a lot of books published about this — If you read the stories about this book, they will believe these women were happy. I like to say they were extremely unhappy because they were forced into a situation which they hated. And they were put into this situation by peer pressure . . . . And they didn’t do it because of love, they didn’t do it because of infatuation, just it was they were forced into situation. They — if we were to have this situation, let’s say, in Sweden in the 1400s, I would understand. But we have this situation with a person who calls himself the second next to Christ, you know? And the founder of this church. I just have a different mindset. I actually can accept polygamy. I can accept that. There are a lot of societies around the world today where it works very well. I mean, a lot of people from Sweden go to Thailand on vacation. Thailand is such a country, for instance. To take other women in a secret way, force them into some kind of marriage, I would like to call it mistresses, or forcing 14-year-old girls to marry him against her obvious will, I just don’t understand. Behind his own wife, even the counselors in the Relief Society, Lavina Smith, were his secret wives. The deeper you go on this the worse it becomes. This is true.
Turley: Let me just say, I f we had more time we could dissect this wife by wife, which is pretty much what you have to do to get to the answers on this matter. We don’t have that kind of time.
Q: Is it true in general? Or is it not true at all?
Turley: It’s true that Joseph Smith plural marriage in that he had wives who were not married to anybody else, it’s true that he practiced polyandry and he did have wives who were married to somebody else.
Q: 14 years old. 16 years old.
Turley: He had a wife who was 14 years old, but remember, on the frontier in America, women married young, often as young as 12 years of age because the life span of people in those days wasn’t what it is today. On the frontier, not as much in the rest of America, but on the frontier, if you look at population studies, if you look at censuses of people across the American frontier at the time, they often married quite young . So marrying a 14-year-old in those days was not the same — it was like marrying a 21-year-old today. My point is there was a different societal normalized age of marriage in those days. Let’s move on. This is a complicated one.
Q: You think that’s the most important question. Does the church recognize this practice as being OK? Does the church officially endorse this? Polyandry. Or do they recognize that it might actually have been an error? Do you have an opinion on that from the Church?
Turley: I’ve never seen a formal statement about that.
Q: The basic question here is of course then, was this a mistake done by Joseph Smith? And if it was, how could he continue to be a prophet? And if it was not a mistake, it must be endorsed by the church, I guess.
Turley: What the church does say on these questions about Joseph Smith in general is this: either Joseph was a prophet of God or he wasn’t. Correct? And the way in which you decide that, not just intellectually, but spiritually, is the way that elder Jensen talked about at the beginning. That’s the official church statement on the matter. I’ve never seen an official church statement that goes into the details.
- Book of Mormon translation: Why does the church not portray the translation of the Book of Mormon accurately? (Instead of showing Joseph Smith looking into his hat and using the seer stone, the church magazine and manual pictures portray Smith on the other side of the curtain and looking at the plates.)
Answer: Although it was the longest answer given in several parts, in essence, Turley explained how translation and revelation are very similar. “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. There was, as Section 9 in the Doctrine and Covenants points out, this effort associated with it. And we could go through that, but we’re running out of time.”
- Truth: Are there some things that the church ought to keep private? Are there some things that are true and yet not very useful?
Answer: “Watchmen on the tower. This is something, as you mentioned, President Packer talks about a lot. I think his concern is that providing information to people in a way that’s going to destroy their faith carries with it a responsibility. That’s all I’m going to say about that.”
- Polygamy/polyandry: “Does the church believe that it was a teaching from God that he [Joseph Smith] married women who had other men that were still alive, and even some apostles’ wives when they were away on missions? You know all the stories, probably. And I have a question, is that a teaching from the church or is that, you know, something he did that he did wrong?” A follow-up question asked why it appeared that Smith forced these women into marriages.
Answer: “Did Joseph Smith practice plural marriage? Yes. Many church members don’t know it but the answer is yes. Did Joseph Smith practice polyandry? The answer is yes. Joseph Smith did practice polyandry. How many wives did Joseph Smith have? We’re in the process, as you know, of preparing the papers of Joseph Smith for publication. We hope to include in the papers of Joseph Smith a list of Joseph Smith’s wives based on the best available evidence. So we’ll answer that question in the future. Why did Joseph Smith marry specific people? Which gets to your question about why did he marry the wives of people were already married? That actually boils down to a marriage by marriage statement. And it’s fairly complex but it’s an excellent question. We just don’t have time tonight to answer it, but there are answers.”
- The Book of Abraham: “And we also know through the Rosetta Stone that it actually is possible to translate it to English or any other language. And we know now that it has actually nothing to do with translation. This was something written 1500 years after Abraham, about 500 (years) before Christ, and (it) has no connection to Abraham whatsoever. And this is such a fundamental thing in church, I mean this is what we’re told in the temple, and this is what we have as a holy scripture. So, I’ve seen a number of explanations from the church of how this could be. I would like to hear what kind of version you have today.”
Answer: “Very quickly, let me just say a few things about it very simple. Number 1, again, it was received by revelation. Number 2, we don’t have all the papyrus. We have some fragments, but we don’t have all of them. Number 3, the so-called — we’ve seen a lot of studies on the so-called alphabet and grammar book. There’s some excellent research coming out of BYU in the next year that you need to read. That’s all I have time to say about that.” He added, “The church does believe that the book of Abraham is the word of God and if you read the book of Abraham, there are doctrines and principles you will understand that are important to you. That is the church’s position. Exactly how Joseph Smith did it? There are lots of scholarly debates going on about that. But there’s excellent work going on at BYU that should be out in the next year.”
- Lying for the Lord: “When I was on my mission in London in the seventies, we were taught a very important principle called lying for the Lord. I mean, we were taught that. And it’s supposed to have been coined, this phrase, by I think John Taylor, and I wonder do you think that there are circumstances where it’s OK to withhold or manipulate truths just to defend or uphold the reputation of the Church? Is lying for the Lord still alive?” [Jensen followed up with this question: “Who taught you this?” The questioner responded, “I can tell you afterwards. Because no one has ever asked before. Thank you.”]
Answer: “Are there circumstances where lying is justified? The church teaches the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments say, don’t bear false witness, right? The Book of Mormon says woe be unto the liars. . . . In all societies, there are clashes of moral imperatives, OK? The Ten Commandments say thou shalt not kill. But countries go to war and people kill. If somebody attacks you in your home, you can defend yourself, OK? There are these clashes where sometimes one moral imperative or ethical imperative becomes superior to another. If you’re protecting your children and I’m a killer and I come to you and say where are your children, are you going to tell me? Probably not. OK? When people bring up this topic, what they’re usually talking about is during plural marriage time periods when people were asked about plural marriage and, again, it’s a complicated subject but basically, people were trying to decide, do I say something, or do I not? Do I tell the truth or do I not? Do we teach as a church that you should lie? No, we don’t. I was brought up on the principle of strict honesty and that’s what I try to follow.”
- Mark Hoffman: Why did the church act as it did with the forged artifacts produced by Mark Hoffman?
Answer: “I’ll just recommend a book, and not because I wrote it, but I did write a book on this. It’s called Victims. It was published by the University of Illinois Press in 1992. Go to that book for answers on that one.”
- Blood atonement: Did the church practice blood atonement?
Answer: “My personal belief is that during Joseph Smith’s time period, based on statements in the Bible, Joseph Smith said that when men shed blood, their blood should be shed. He’s talking about scripture. And I think that when you got into the Brigham Young times, that scripture was taken literally for a time. Leaders taught that if people killed, then they deserved capital punishment. That Old Testament-style event. That sort of bounces around in the 1850s in particular when people are talking about, well how do you do this, you know? Is it literal? How do you shed a person’s blood in the process of capital punishment? And it gets to the late 1870s when they’re basically saying to people, hey look our belief on this is the same belief that other people have who believe in capital punishment. Now that’s my very rapid historical summary of it. From a church standpoint, blood atonement, meaning that it’s required for people to have their blood shed when they commit capital crimes, the church has gone on record saying that’s not necessary. So that’s the church position on it.”
- The First Vision:Joseph Smith claimed he was persecuted for having the First Vision, but few “found out about the first vision until it was written in 1838.” If he was being persecuted for his story as he said he was, then why was the account so late? A follow-up question was asked: “One thing that really bothers me is the lack of contemporary sources for the angelic visitations. I understand from both Michael Quinn and Bushman, they say, as I understand, there are sources from 1820-1830— affidavits, letters, minutes— but none of them ever mentions any angelic visitations or a priesthood, Quinn says, and Bushman records 1838. As a historian of the church you should be worrying about the credibility of the written sources. So I wonder, why are there not any contemporary testimonies. Or are there?”
Answer: “Why does Joseph Smith say he was persecuted for talking about the first vision? I believe he was. He immediately went and told his story to a religious leader in his community. That religious leader scoffed at what he had to say. And the result of that was what from his vantage point felt like persecution. From the vantage point of others it may not have seemed like a big deal, but to a young boy, it seemed like a big deal.”
- Sanitized version of church history: “Do the leaders of the church really believe that they are actually inspired by God to act in such a way? Just to tell a selected, nice version of the church—the history of the church—in order to get more converts? Do they believe they are inspired to do this?”
Answer: “In terms of church history, when people tell any kind of an account of history, it’s always selective. If I ask you a question, tell me about your years in high school, the story you tell me may be different than the story I get from your high school boyfriend or another student in your class. They’ll each tell a different story. And so, church history, as I said before, is written and rewritten by each subsequent generation according to the things they think are most important at the time. Watchmen on the tower. This is something, as you mentioned, President Packer talks about a lot. I think his concern is that providing information to people in a way that’s going to destroy their faith carries with it a responsibility. That’s all I’m going to say about that.”
- Blacks and the 1978 revelation: “Is this true that there were some apostles that went against the question to give the priesthood to the Blacks?”
Answer: “I don’t know.”
- The Book of Mormon people: “What kind of evidence can you show that (they) actually exist? Every single small Indian tribe in the whole of America we know about today because they all leave buildings and tombs and anything which we can prove that they are there, have been there. And as far as I know there is nothing (to) prove there have been Lamanites or Nephites in America. If we have time also could you comment on the American Indians and the DNA, and the connection to Lamanites, Nephites, and then back to the Jewish people?”
Answer: “DNA cannot tell us about all of our ancestors. . . . So what happens over time is that you lose DNA identity as you work your way down through time. It’s not always possible to be able to identify peoples who were there. But there’s a bigger problem. The bigger problem is this: in order to capture DNA, in order to make a comparison, you need two things. One, you need to know, what was the DNA of Lehi’s family? And then two, what is the DNA of ancient American peoples? We know some but not all the answers here. We’re continuing to learn over time. The body of types of DNA for these people is growing. With this one, we have no way of knowing the answer. We do not know what Lehi’s DNA was. The place where they were living at the time was a place that had immigration in and out. The kind of DNA they had is impossible to determine. So that’s the basic answer. You can’t tell because you don’t know both the DNA of Lehi’s family history.”
- Brigham Young’s teaching on Adam being God: “What is church opinion on Adam-God out there in Utah and why didn’t they clear it up. . . ?”
Answer:” Oh, Adam-God, Adam-God. Again, complicated question. . . . Bottom line, the Church position today is that while Michael was Adam, and as Adam was the father of the human race, and through the process of exaltation can become celestialized, Adam is not God our father.”
For a more detailed look at the questions and answers given during this meeting, I recommend that you go back to the website and read it for yourselves. From my perspective, the answers that were given by Jensen and Turley were not sufficient to answer a critical audience that wanted nothing more than to be provided evidence to alleviate their concerns. Perhaps the release of the tapes and transcripts will open the eyes of a number of sincere Latter-day Saints.
For podasts on this topic, go to:
- Hans Mattsson Part 1 Part 2 August 5-6, 2013
- Sweedish Fireside Rescue Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17 Part 18 Part 19 Part 20 Part 21 Part 22 Part 23 Part 24 Part 25 Part 26 Part 27 August 7-September 27, 2013