Criticism of the Latter Day Saint movement encompasses criticism of the doctrines, practices, and histories of the denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement, including the largest denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
The movement has been the subject of criticism since its early years due to the doctrines taught by Joseph Smith, Jr., the movement's founder. Early criticism culminated in the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. After Mormons were forced to leave Missouri due to the Mormon extermination order issued by Governor Boggs, they relocated to Illinois where a mob, fearing a Mormon takeover, murdered Joseph Smith in 1844. After Smith's death, the Succession Crisis ensued, and various movement denominations struggled for leadership levying criticisms against each prospective leader primarily regarding authority or doctrine. In the late 1800s, critics disapproved of the LDS Church's practice of polygamy. Federal legislators actively began passing laws designed to weaken the church.
Throughout the history of the movement, critics have questioned the legitimacy of Smith as a prophet and the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. In modern times, criticism focuses on claims of historical revisionism, homophobia, racism, sexist policies, and inadequate financial disclosure.
Notable 20th century critics include Jerald and Sandra Tanner, who published The Changing World of Mormonism, and Fawn Brodie, who published the first comprehensive biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History. In recent years, the internet has provided a new forum for critics, including sites such as Exmormon.org.
Notable apologists include Hugh Nibley, B.H. Roberts, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), and the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR).
The Book of Mormon contains an account of peoples who, in succeeding groups between 2500 BC and 600 BC, traveled from the Middle East and settled in the Americas. Evangelical lecturer and journalist Richard Abanes and author David Persuitte argue that aspects of the Book of Mormon narrative (such as the existence of horses, steel, and chariots in pre-Columbian America) are not supported by mainstream archaeology. Apologist Michael R. Ash, of FAIR, counters that obtaining archaeological evidence to prove or disprove specific ancient events is difficult. Dr. Joseph Allen along with other LDS scholars have found sites in Meso-America that they believe may represent ancient Book of Mormon cities. John L. Sorenson does not dispute that other peoples may have been present in the Americas concurrent with Book of Mormon peoples (see Limited geography model).
A traditional Mormon hypothesis of the origin of Native Americans is that they are descended soley from Hebrews in Jerusalem. Scientist Yaakov Kleiman, Mormon anthropologist Thomas W. Murphy, and ex-Mormon molecular biologist Simon G. Southerton argue that this hypothesis is inconsistent with recent genetic findings, which show the genetic origins of Native Americans to be in Asia, possibly near the Altay Mountains. FARMS counters that testing and drawing generalizations from this hypothesis alone is an overly simplistic approach, and that the resulting conclusions would not stand up under peer review. In addition, the traditional Mormon hypothesis under test may itself be based on assumptions unsupported by the Book of Mormon narrative (see Limited geography model).
In an in depth review, David A. McClellan concludes it is not probable that "the genetic signature of a small migrating family from 2,600 years ago" can be recovered.
Critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner and Marvin W. Cowan contend that the Book of Mormon's use of certain linguistic anachronisms (such as the Americanized name "Sam and the French word "adieu) provide evidence that the book was fabricated by Joseph Smith, rather than divinely inspired. In addition, Richard Abanes argues that because the first edition of the Book of Mormon contained hundreds of grammatical errors (removed in later editions), the book was therefore fabricated by J. Smith and not divinely inspired.
Apologists note that the witnesses in most cases affirmed their witness until their death, and claim that the aforementioned affidavits and letters are either fraudulent, or otherwise not reliable. In 1881 Whitmer, the one witness who never returned to the church, issued an affidavit reaffirming his testimony of the experience.
The Institute for Religious Research and the Tanners claim that Joseph Smith fraudulently represented the Book of Abraham, part of the church's scriptural canon, as a divine document. Richard and Joan Ostling note that non-LDS scholars have concluded that translations of surviving papyri which they believe are portions of the source of the Book of Abraham are unrelated to the content of the book's text. Joseph Smith states he came into the possession of several Egyptian papyri, from which he claimed to translate the Book of Abraham, part of the modern Pearl of Great Price. The papyri were lost for many years, but in the late 1960s, portions of the papyri were discovered. The extant papyri, as well as the facsimiles preserved by Smith in the Pearl of Great Price, have been translated by modern Egyptologists, and have been conclusively shown to be common Egyptian funerary documents unrelated to the content of the Book of Abraham. Mormon scholars Michael D. Rhodes and John Gee came to the same conclusion, but argue that Smith may have been using the papyri as inspiration.
Alas, none but the seduced join the seducer [Dr. Bennett]; those only who have been arraigned before a just tribunal for the same unhallowed conduct can be found to give countenance to any of his black hearted lies, and they, too, detest him for his seduction, these are the ladies to whom he refers his hearers to substantiate his assertions. Mrs. White, Mrs. Pratt, Niemans, Miller, Brotherton, and others.Pratt later claimed that Zeruiah Goddard told her these testimonies were made under threat from Joseph's brother Hyrum Smith:
It is not my fault; Hyrum Smith [Joseph's brother] came to our house, with the affidavits all written out, and forced us to sign them. Joseph and the Church must be saved, said he. We saw that resistance was useless, they would have ruined us; so we signed the papers.The author Richard S. Van Wagoner concluded that the adultery charges against Sarah Pratt are "highly improbable" and could "be dismissed as slander." In addition to Sarah Pratt, Van Wagoner states that Nancy Rigdon and Martha Brotherton, "also suffered slanderous attacks because they exposed the Church's private polygamy posture. Orson Pratt stood by his wife Sarah in preference to the denials of Smith, who told his disciple Orson that "If [Orson] did believe his wife and follow her suggestions he would go to hell". Wilford Woodruff stated that "Dr. John Cook Bennett was the ruin of Orson Pratt". Van Wagoner and Walker note that, on August 20, 1842, "after four days of fruitless efforts at reconciliation, the Twelve excommunicated Pratt for 'insubordination' and Sarah for 'adultery'".
It is a fact so well known that the Twelve and their adherents have endeavored to carry on this spiritual wife business … and have gone to the most shameful and desperate lengths to keep from the public. First, insulting innocent females, and when they resented the insult, these monsters in human shape would assail their characters by lying, and perjuries, with a multitude of desperate men to help them effect the ruin of those whom they insulted, and all this to enable them to keep these corrupt practices from the world.
J.C. Bennett has published lies concerning myself & family & the people with which I am connected....His book I have read with the greatest disgust. No candid honest man can or will believe it. He has disgraced himself in eyes of all civilized society who will despise his very name,whereas Sarah Pratt herself said, "[I] know that the principle statements in John C. Bennett's book on Mormonism are true,
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism asserts that treasure hunting and divining practices associated with it were common during the life of Joseph Smith; and that it was a necessary part of his development in discerning good from evil. Additionally, apologist Jeff Lindsay claims that the account of the arrest and conviction was either fabricated or mischaracterized in order to defame Smith.
Critics, including Fawn Brodie, the Tanners, and the Institute for Religious Research call Smith's ability to translate into question by pointing to a hoax involving the Kinderhook plates, artifacts planted in 1843 in an Indian mound near Kinderhook, Illinois. Designed to appear ancient, the plates were a forgery created by certain men from Kinderhook who were hoping to trick their Mormon neighbors in Nauvoo. These critics cite the following statement to demonstrate that Smith attempted to translate the plates: page 372 of the History of the Church (DHC) reads: "I [Joseph Smith] have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth".
Diane Wirth argues that the relevant portion of the History of the Church may have been ghost-written by William Clayton, Smith's scribe, despite being in Smith's voice, and cannot be fully attributed to Smith.
Kim Siever with FAIR argues that critics use subjective definitions of the term "cult" and that "many, if not all objective cult definitions" could be applied to Christianity as a whole, not just Mormonism, depending on how one approached the subject. Gene Sessions with FAIR acknowledges that the Mountain Meadows Massacre was "cold-blooded murder of innocent people" with "no justification" but argues that it does not reflect on the church as a whole but instead "was a bad decision made by local leaders. One recent Pew Research poll shows 52 percent of Americans say Mormonism is a Christian religion. Among non-Mormon Christians polled, only 57 respondents out of 1,461, or 3.9%, associated Mormonism with the word "cult.
See Degrees of glory.
The Tanners claim that the church's 1978 policy allowing all worthy male members, which included blacks, to hold the priesthood was not divinely inspired as the church claimed, but simply a matter of political convenience. Richard and Joan Ostling point out that this reversal of policy occurred as the LDS church began to expand outside the United States into countries such as Brazil that have large, ethnically mixed populations and as the church prepared to open a new temple in São Paulo, Brazil.
The Tanners argue that the church's 1890 reversal of its policy on polygamy was done for political, not divine, reasons, citing the fact that it happened in the midst of a lengthy battle with the federal government over property seizures and statehood. The Ostlings further point to the fact that soon after the church received the revelation that polygamy was prohibited, Utah again applied for statehood, and this time the federal government did not object to starting the statehood process. Six years later, the process completed and Utah became a state in 1896. The Ostlings also point out that soon after the church renounced polygamy, the federal government reduced its legal efforts to seize church property.
Mormons Ron Wood and Linda Thatcher do not dispute that the change was a direct result of federal intervention and respond that the church was left with no choice. The 1887 Edmunds–Tucker Act was crippling the church and "something dramatic had to be done to reverse [the] trend. After the church appealed its case to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost, church president Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto. Woodruff noted in his journal that he was "acting for the temporal salvation of the Church".
[polygamy] completely demoralizes good men and makes bad men correspondingly worse. As for the women—well, God help them! First wives it renders desperate, or else heart-broken, mean-spirited creatures.Pratt ended her marriage to husband Orson Pratt in 1868 because his "obsession with marrying younger women"; at age 57, Orson Pratt married a sixteen year old girl, his tenth wife, younger than his daughter Celestia, and lashed out at Orson in an 1877 interview,
Here was my husband, gray headed, taking to his bed young girls in mockery of marriage. Of course there could be no joy for him in such an intercourse except for the indulgence of his fanaticism and of something else, perhaps, which I hesitate to mention.
The Tanners argue that early church leaders established the practice of polygamy in order to justify behavior that would otherwise be regarded as immoral. The Ostlings criticize Joseph Smith for marrying at least 32 women during his lifetime, including several under the age of 16, a fact acknowledged by Mormon historian Todd Compton. Compton also acknowledge that Smith entered into polyandrous marriages (that is, he married women who were already married to other men) and that he warned some potential spouses of eternal damnation if they did not consent to be his wife, and furthermore that, in at least two cases, he married orphan girls that had come to live at his home.
However, Bushman notes that evidence of sexual relations in Smith's plural marriages is sparse or unreliable, and Compton argues that some were likely dynastic in nature. Compton also points out that Protestant denominations contemporary with early Mormonism also practiced polygamy, for example the early Anabaptists, and that Martin Luther himself sanctioned the practice.
Joseph F. Smith acknowledged reports that church leaders didn't fully adhere to the 1890 prohibition. After the Second Manifesto in 1904, anyone entering into a new plural marriage was excommunicated.
The Ostlings criticize Brigham Young's teachings that God and Adam are the same being. One apostle, Franklin D. Richards, also accepted the doctrine as taught by Young, stating in a Conference held in June 1854 that "the Prophet and Apostle Brigham has declared it, and that it is the word of the Lord" (emphasis in original). However, at the time of its first introduction, several leaders disagreed with the doctrine, including Apostle Orson Pratt, who expressed that disagreement publicly. The church never formally adopted the doctrine, and has since officially repudiated it.
The church teaches that a living person, acting as proxy, can be baptized by immersion on behalf of a deceased person, citing 1 Corinthians 15:29; Malachi 4:5–6; John 5:25; and 1 Peter 4:6 for doctrinal support. These baptisms for the dead are performed in temples. Critics challenge this doctrine and the manner in which the church puts it into practice.
Holocaust survivors and other Jewish groups criticized the LDS church in 1995, after discovering that the church had baptized more than 300,000 Jewish holocaust victims. After that criticism, church leaders put a policy in place to stop the practice, with an exception for baptisms specifically requested or approved by victims' relatives. Jewish organizations again criticized the church in 2002 and 2004, claiming that the church failed to honor the 1995 agreement.
The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research acknowledges changes to the endowment ceremony and points out that (according to Joseph Fielding Smith) Joseph Smith told Brigham Young the ceremony was "not arranged perfectly", and challenged him to organize and systemize it, which Young continued to do throughout his presidency.
The church does disclose financials in the United Kingdom, where it is required to by law. In addition, the church employs an internal audit department that provides its certification at each annual general conference that church contributions are collected and spent in accordance with church policy. Moreover, the church engages a public accounting firm (currently Deloitte & Touche in the United States; PricewaterhouseCoopers in the United Kingdom) to perform annual audits of its not-for-profit, for-profit, and educational entities.
The American Association of University Professors, since 1998, has put LDS-owned Brigham Young University on its list of universities that do not allow tenured professors sufficient freedom in teaching and research. Richard Abanes lists the following as church members excommunicated or censured for views unnaccepable to the church hierarchy:
D. Michael Quinn responded to these charges by pointing out that methods by B. H. Roberts used in creating History of the Church—while flawed by today's standards—were not uncommon practices in the nineteenth century, even by reputable historians. (See article History of the Church.)
Jerald and Sandra Tanner cite the selective use of Brigham Young's statements, presented in a manner to give the illusion that he was in favor of blacks joining the priesthood. The Tanners also claim that the church attempted to discredit evidence that Joseph Smith was arrested, tried, and found guilty by a justice of the peace in Bainbridge, New York, in 1826. They highlight changes such as the title page of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon that described Joseph Smith as "Author and Proprietor" of the book, which was revised in subsequent editions to be "Translator", and the description of Oliver Cowdery's skill at using the divining rod found in the 1829 edition of the Book of Commandments, which does not appear in the corresponding section of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Ostlings consider other omissions to be distortion, noting that the widely distributed church manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, omits any mention of Young's polygamy, and that the book's chronological summary of Young's life includes the date of his first marriage, the date of the first wife's death, and the date of the second legal marriage, but omits mention of Young's dozens of other marriages.
In 1842 Willard Richards compiled a number of records in order to produce a history of the church. Among the records examined were the various accounts related to Zelph. In the process of combining the accounts, Richards crossed out Woodruff's references to "hill Cumorah," and Heber C. Kimball's reference to the "last" great struggle with the Lamanites casting him as a generic Lamanite, rather than one who was involved in the final battle at the Hill Cumorah, which is in line with Joseph Smith's statements.
LDS historian D. Michael Quinn accuses LDS leaders of urging historians to hide "controversies and difficulties of the Mormon past". Mormon scholar Allen Robers says LDS leaders "attempt to control depictions of the Mormon past". Non-LDS professor John Hallwas of Western Illinois University says of LDS historians: "[they] do not mention Mormon intimidation, deception, repression, theft, and violence, or any other matters that might call into question the sacred nature of the Mormon experience.
Columbia University professor Richard Bushman, a member of The Joseph Smith Papers advisory board, responds to critics that those on the project "work on the assumption that the closer you get to Joseph Smith in the sources, the stronger he will appear, rather than the reverse, as is so often assumed by critics.
In 1969, the Western History Association published Jewish historian Moses Rischin's observation of a new trend among Mormons historians to report objectively. Quinn cites this as the origin of the term "New Mormon History", while citing previous efforts towards objectivity such as Juanita Brooks’ 1950 publication of "The Mountain Meadows Massacre" by Stanford University Press.
FARMS supports and sponsors what it considers to be 'faithful scholarship', which includes academic study and research in support of Christianity and Mormonism, and in particular, where possible, the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Critic and ex-Mormon Steve Benson (grandson of Ezra Taft Benson) quoted church apostle Neal A. Maxwell as telling him that "one of the purposes of F.A.R.M.S. was to prevent the General Authorities from being outflanked by the Church's critics.
In the independent journal Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, one scholar, Douglas F. Salmon, alleged that Mormon scholarship in drawing parallels between the Book of Mormon and other sources fits this classification. Salmon notes:
There has been an exegetical trend during the last several decades to draw endless parallels to text from the ancient Near East and beyond in an attempt to validate the writings in the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price. The pioneer and leader in this effort has been the great LDS scholar Hugh Nibley. In recent years the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) has continued this legacy. The number of parallels that Nibley has been able to uncover from amazingly disparate and arcane sources is truly staggering. Unfortunately, there seems to be a neglect of any methodological reflection or articulation in this endeavor.
In January 1982 the church presidency issued a letter to local leaders saying "The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice." The letter was not distributed to the general membership. This letter also instructed local leaders not to inquire into the specifics of married members' sex lives. However, this portion of the letter was often ignored, and in response to letters of protest from members, another letter was issued to local leaders in October reiterating the prohibition on inquiring into specific sexual practices.
Scott Thumma and Affirmation.org contend that the LDS church is homophobic. Affirmation.org cites a faithful, celibate, gay Latter-day Saint who shortly before his suicide wrote: "Straight members have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up gay in this church. It is a life of constant torment, self-hatred and internalized homophobia. Church leaders have agreed to meet with Affirmation to discuss these concerns.
God Loveth His Children, a pamphlet produced by the LDS Church, acknowledges that many gays "have felt rejected because members of the Church did not always show love." It criticizes those members, and challenges gays to show love and kindness so the members can "change their attitudes and follow Christ more fully.
Olin Thomas, Executive Director of Affirmation, criticized the church's opposition to gay marriage, saying "We are deeply dismayed that the Church ignored our request that they not meddle in California politics. This initiative will hurt so many people. Without marriage, a couple who have been together 30 years could be torn apart at the doorway to the emergency room. However, the purposed initiative will not affect domestic partnership in California, which already affords all the same rights, protections, and benefits as marriage. The church claims hospitalization rights are included in the phrase "all the same rights" and has stated they do not oppose hospitalization rights of same-sex couples.
Gay historian D. Michael Quinn has hypothesized that early church leaders had a more tolerant view of homosexuality, and that several early church leaders and prominent members, including Louise B. Felt, May Anderson, Evan Stephens, and Joseph Fielding Smith (1899-1964), may have either had homosexual tendencies or were involved in homosexual relationships. George Mitton and Rhett James do not dispute that some early members may have had homosexual tendencies, but they call Quinn's claim of tolerance a distortion of church history and it has little support from other historians. They deny any acceptance from previous leaders of homosexual behavior, and state the current leadership of the church “is entirely consistent with the teachings of past leaders and with the scriptures.”
In the early 1970s, Ford McBride did research in electro-shock therapy while a student at Brigham Young University on volunteer homosexual students to help cure them of ego-dystonic homosexuality. This was a standard type of aversion therapy used to treat homosexuality, which was considered a mental illness at the time. Brigham Young University is owned by the church, but conducts research independently of the church. Church critics Affirmation and The Salamander Society claim that the church was involved in these research initiatives.
Although the current LDS church policy now admits blacks to the priesthood, the church has not issued a written repudiation of racist doctrines, although Bruce R. McConkie told members "Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said [about Blacks and the priesthood]... We spoke with a limited understanding. Some black members have made formal requests to the church to issue a statement, while other black members have argued against that effort. One critical black church member contends that the church "refuses to acknowledge and undo its racist past, and until it does that, members continue to suffer psychological damage from it" and that "the church has not done enough to rectify its racist past". However, the large majority of black Mormons say they are willing to look beyond the racist teachings and cleave to the church. Gordon B. Hinckley has sermonized against racism. He has taught that no one who utters denigrating remarks can consider himself a true disciple of Christ, and noted the irony of racial claims to the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Richard Abanes contends that the church tries to hide past racial practices, citing the 1981 change in the wording of the Book of Mormon from "white and delightsome" to "pure and delightsome" (2 Nephi 30:6).
Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright state that these leaders were a product of their time and locale and that many leaders, including Joseph Smith, David O. McKay, and even initially Brigham Young, were not opposed to blacks receiving the priesthood. They further state that the policy was a practice supported by scriptural arguments, not a doctrine, and despite several church leaders throughout the 1950s and 1960s supporting its reversal, the policy was kept in place through 1978 because the Quorum of the Twelve felt a revelation was needed to change it.
Richard and Joan Ostling argue that the LDS Church treats women as inferior to men. Claudia L. Bushman cites the absence of women in leadership roles, sexual abuse, lack of career opportunities, and poor family planning policies as evidence of sexism. She further claims that, rather than increasing the responsibilities of women, the LDS church has recently decreased the autonomy that Mormon women had in areas such as welfare, leadership, training, publishing, and policy setting. The Cult Awareness and Information Centre also point to comments such as those made by LDS leader Bruce R. McConkie, who wrote that a "woman's primary place is in the home, where she is to rear children and abide by the righteous counsel of her husband". The First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles espouse a complementarian view of gender roles.
Jerald and Sandra Tanner point to comments by certain church leaders as evidence that women are subject to different rules regarding entry into heaven. They claim that 19th-century leader Erastus Snow preached: "No woman will get into the celestial kingdom, except her husband receives her, if she is worthy to have a husband; and if not, somebody will receive her as a servant".
The position that LDS Church takes towards women, i.e. not ordaining them to the priesthood and believing their primary role is to be a mother and wife, is also reflected by the majority of Christianity; specifically the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, and Protestant churches such as the Southern Baptists.
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