FARMS Review

Jerald and Sandra Tanner

Jerald D. Tanner (June 1, 1938October 1, 2006) was an American writer and researcher who, with his wife Sandra McGee Tanner (born January 14, 1941) spent nearly fifty years annotating and publishing archival and evidentiary materials which negatively reflect on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The Tanners founded, and Sandra Tanner has continued to operate, the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, whose stated mission is "to document problems with the claims of Mormonism and compare LDS doctrines with Christianity". Among the Tanners' reprints were original versions of early Mormon writings and scripture in which they highlighted doctrinal changes, such as the rejection of Brigham Young's "Adam-God theory". They jointly published over forty books dealing with all aspects of the Church, but primarily its history.

Biographical details

A native of Provo, Utah, Jerald Tanner studied at the University of Utah and received a degree from Salt Lake Trade Technical Institute. As teenagers, before they met, Jerald and Sandra each began to examine the origins of Mormonism. Soon after their introduction, they jointly began researching the subject. As a result of these investigations, they (in their own words) "left the LDS church and became Christians" (The Tanners, among others, believe Mormons are not Christian—see Mormonism and Christianity).

Jerald and Sandra Tanner were married in Mission Hills, California on June 14, 1959. In addition to the fact that each was raised in the LDS faith, both of their families had longstanding ties to the Mormon community. Sandra is a great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second president of the LDS church. After 47 years of marriage, which produced two daughters and a son, Jerald Tanner, aged 68, died at the CareSource Hospice in Salt Lake City as a result of complications arising from Alzheimer's disease.

Sandra Tanner announced Jerald's death in an email which stated:

"Dear friends, Jerald entered heaven's gates today (10/01/06) at 7:20 pm.... He went into a coma last night and didn't give any sign of knowing we were with him today. A memorial service is being planned for Sat. but not sure where--mainly because we aren't sure what size facility we need. Pray for us as we grieve. In Christian Friendship, Sandra Tanner"

An "In Memoriam" tribute to Jerald Tanner was posted on the Tanners' website.


Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers

The Tanners have specialized in reproducing out-of-print documents that would otherwise be inaccessible to the general public. For example, in 1966, they were the first to publish Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, which today is usually called the "Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers". Prior to the publication, few LDS followers were aware of the existence of these documents, but their distribution by the Tanners, along with the Church's retrieval of the Joseph Smith Papyri a year later, has prompted discussions and debates that have extended over the following decades.

Other documents and books

Other valuable photomechanical reproductions include complete sets of early-LDS periodicals, including Messenger and Advocate, Times and Seasons, and the Millennial Star. Also notable is the reproduction of the 1825 edition of Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, complete with the margin notes made by Elder B. H. Roberts in preparation for his posthumously published treatises A Book of Mormon Study (a/k/a Studies of the Book of Mormon) and A Parallel.

The Tanners have also compiled lists of changes to the text of the Book of Mormon and other texts used by the LDS church, arguing that the alterations are substantial and that the inconsistences in the texts are evidence against LDS claims of their being divinely inspired.

The Tanners' best-known publication is Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?. Originally published in 1963 as Mormonism: A Study of Mormon History and Doctrine, and reprinted five times since, it has been described by Dean Helland of Oral Roberts University as "the heavyweight of all books on Mormonism". In it, the Tanners question the character of the Book of Mormon witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and discuss the different accounts Joseph Smith gave of the First Vision. It includes copies of original LDS documents.

Legal challenges

In 1999 the LDS church sued the Tanners for Internet linking, from their website to a third party, the copyrighted Church Handbook of Instructions, and received a favorable injunction from a judge in Utah. The lawsuit was settled out of court before an appeals court could rule on what observers described as a potentially landmark case concerning internet linking.

Criticism of the Tanners

Lawrence Foster, a non-Mormon historian who has researched and written about the church, has stated that until the Tanners "are prepared to abide by accepted standards of scholarly behavior and common courtesy, they can expect little sympathy from serious historians". He has also accused them of assuming "a holier-than-thou stance, refusing to be fair in applying the same debate standard of absolute rectitude which they demand of Mormonism to their own actions, writings, and beliefs. ... The Tanners seem to be playing a skilful shell game in which the premises for judgment are conveniently shifted so that the conclusion is always the same—negative."

Despite these criticisms, Foster also says that some of the Tanners' "research and analysis ... would do credit to any professional historian" and credits them for being "more than simply gadflies; in curious and often indirect ways, their work has also been a factor helping to stimulate serious Mormon historical writing".

Foster has also praised Jerald Tanner for his "fierce opposition to Mormon racism" and notes:

Some scholars have also, at least in private, been very pleased that the Tanners have made available hard-to-find printed works from early LDS history... even those scholars who are most critical of the Tanners and their methods have profited, at least indirectly, because the Tanners' allegations have spurred them to begin their own investigations into vital and still incompletely understood topics.... Jerald and Sandra Tanner have functioned with regard to Mormonism in much the same way that Ralph Nader has functioned with regard to American business.... The Tanners have prodded the church to begin, however haltingly and imperfectly, to develop a more realistic sense of itself. I would imagine, for example, that much of the flowering of Mormon historical studies in the 1970s, which has helped to give at least some Mormons a richer and more vital knowledge of their own heritage, has been more than tangentially related to the desire of Latter-day Saint historians to prove the Tanners wrong by showing that a full and honest history of the Latter-day Saints can indeed be written. Much like the irritating grain of sand in the oyster, the result has been a pearl."

Michael Quinn, a historian and former member of the Mormon Church, also takes issue with the Tanners' work. He noted that, "although the most conscientious and honest researcher can overlook pertinent sources of information, the repeated omissions of evidence by the Tanners suggest an intentional avoidance of sources that modify or refute their caustic interpretation of Mormon history."

Tanners challenge extreme anti-Mormonism

On occasion, the Tanners have publicly challenged irresponsible critics of Mormonism. They were among the first public critics of forger (and later, murderer) Mark Hofmann. Though Hofmann's "discoveries" of important Mormon documents often appeared to bolster the Tanners' own arguments, Jerald Tanner had, by early 1984, concluded there was significant doubt as to the Salamander Letter's authenticity, and "to the astonishment of a community of scholars, historians and students, published an attack on the so-called Salamander Letter". By late 1984, Jerald Tanner questioned the authenticity of most if not all of Hofmann's "discoveries" based in large part on their unproved provenance. (The Tanners concur with Hofmann, however, in contending that the LDS church's apparent inability to discern the forged documents is evidence against church leadership being divinely inspired.) The Tanners have also debunked false claims circulated by Christian evangelist Ed Decker in his support of the misrepresentations of the LDS Church found in films such as The God Makers.

Selected publications authored by the Tanners

  • Mormonism: Shadow or Reality, a long, densely-written work full of reproductions of early Mormon documents accompanied by commentary. This has subsequently been revised and is the basis for their more readable later book, The Changing World of Mormonism In the ex-Mormon community, this is considered to be the most important book the Tanners have written.
  • The Case Against Mormonism, Vols. 1-3.
  • The Mormon Kingdom, Vols. 1-2, is considered an excellent treatise by many Exmormons for documenting Joseph Smith's and Brigham Young's dictatorial behavior.
  • Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony: 1842-1990, includes the complete text of the 1990 changes to the temple ceremony and examines many other changes made to the ceremony throughout the years. Because the temple ceremonies are considered sacred by Latter-day Saints and are not generally discussed with non-members, this book's treatment of the temple and the ceremonies inside is considered to be offensive by many faithful Latter-day Saints.

See also


External links

Commentary on the Tanners

Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR).

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