This is part 2 of recent updates with Chris Ralph’s Journey out of Mormonism. Chris is a fascinating guy who has a very fair perspective on Mormonism despite the many historical issues he is facing which is ultimately leading him out of the Church. Part 1 can be found here.
Also just below. is the audio from a recent interview Chris did on BBC Radio Bristol, Trevor Fry’s “Sunday Starts”. Looking at the history of the Mormon church in Bristol, very interesting discussion.
Chris Ralph BBC Radio Bristol, Trevor Fry’s “Sunday Starts”
A CONTINUING JOURNEY OF LOYAL DISSENT (Part 2):
It is no secret that my testimony has been challenged enormously in recent years by information which is increasingly available on the internet and elsewhere. Some of the principle building blocks of that testimony have been found, upon close examination, to lack substance, and to be unfit for the intended purpose. That isn’t my fault, although I know some may choose to attack me for it, for I am merely the quality controller, not the manufacturer. Never again, for example, will I be able to view Joseph Smith as God’s ordained prophet now that I have seen for myself that his translation of the Book of Abraham from an Egyptian papyrus was ludicrously at variance with its authentic meaning. I do not see how one Egyptian glyph which we know translates as “water” can be mistakenly translated by God’s true messenger as: “It was made after the form of a bedstead, such as was had among the Chaldeans, and it stood before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and also a god like unto that of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos”?
It just isn’t tenable, no matter how much I might wish to believe it is. Now, whether Joseph Smith knew in 1835 when he supposedly translated the Book of Abraham that he was foisting upon the world an out and out deception, or whether he was completely swept up in the mesmerism of his own charisma, (which I personally suspect he was), hardly matters in the end; the fact is inescapable that his “translation” has misled millions in the name of divinity, and that cannot be dismissed as a trivial matter. (Yes, I have read the apologists’ explanations in my vain attempt to salvage something from the wreckage, but their spiritual contortionism is unconvincing and only saps confidence further). The conclusion that Joseph Smith was not the prophet I wanted him to be was not mere speculation on my part on a bad day, but was soundly supported by a higher quality of evidence than that required by criminal courts of law to condemn men to gaol. It is widely available evidence, obtained from multiple sources, which takes us far beyond all reasonable doubt. When I first confronted that evidence, and realized what it meant, my stomach turned. I felt physically sick. I so wanted Joseph Smith to be the prophet I had believed him to be for over 35 years. But pretense is not my forté.
The CJCLDS, (which, supposedly through divine revelation, canonized the Book of Abraham in the 1880s), has for over forty years possessed primary evidence of this deception in its vaults, but has done little or nothing about informing its tithe-paying membership of the historical realities of the matter. That non-response is for me the much greater concern, because, if institutional integrity means anything to God, that silence is surely indefensible. Why is this not by now headline news in every ward and branch of the CJCLDS throughout the world? Why is there not a frank and open discussion of these matters in General Conference? If there has been a major error of judgment, then the only right thing to do is to confess the error and seek forgiveness for it. Or are the Brethren not bound by the same laws which are incumbent upon rank and file members?
You see, had I, as an individual, knowingly misrepresented crucial facts about my credentials for the purpose of obtaining significant financial gain, (the CJCLDS apparently receives billions of dollars in tithing each year, much of it donated trustingly by the poor and needy), and had I done so over the course of forty years, it would rightly become a matter which would bar me for the time being from holding a temple recommend; it might even lead, with full justification, to action being taken against me because of my un-Christian conduct, and the possible loss of my membership. One might ask therefore why the institutional church, and those directing it, are not subject to the same spiritual and moral laws as ordinary members. Is the silence due to lack of courage, or lack of conscience?
The uneasy question also arises, if Joseph Smith couldn’t translate regular Egyptian in creating the Book of Abraham in 1835, how well qualified was he to translate so-called Reformed Egyptian six years earlier, when he produced the Book of Mormon, the keystone of the Mormon religion? It too, has been scrutinized of course, (not that the average member would know it), and with what results? So far academic research into native American linguistics, anthropology and archaeology, stylometric analysis of the text, and molecular DNA analysis, offers nothing of substance which supports the proposal that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record, despite the best efforts of Mormon apologists to suggest it does.
Put simply, the pieces just don’t fit. I have done enough research in my time, albeit into local and family history, to know that when enough pieces of the puzzle don’t fit, the hypothesis is flawed, even though our most heartfelt wishes and personal loyalties may be invested in it. In the real world, which is where, by divine decree we find ourselves, facts must inform feelings, and not vice versa. Anyone who doggedly insists that feelings may override facts, has already surrendered the argument, and also their ability to think critically. Sadly, there are many good but frightened LDS members caught in the jaws of this cruel dilemma, and I can only see those numbers escalating in the years to come. Historians may, I suspect, look back upon this decade as the era of the great Mormon meltdown in the British Isles. We can only hope and pray that growing disillusionment will not turn to utter despair. I am learning daily that God is far bigger than I previously ever understood, and there is everything still to hope for.
So, in summary, investigation reveals that some of the building blocks acquired during my long years of LDS membership, consist of a very fragile substance which crumbles under scrutiny. I wish it were not so, (I really do), but it is, and honesty must be valued above loyalty. That doesn’t take anything away, however, from the many good people I have been privileged to know within Mormonism, or from my own gains in having lived within that circle for so long, and it certainly doesn’t erase my sense of shared identity with Mormon friends. I so hope those friendships and associations will continue, for they are part of me. The apostle Paul was as committed a Christian as any, but he was also a Jew and a Roman citizen. His Jewish and Roman identities did not cause him to align himself personally with the judgments of Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate. Likewise I wish to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ for the rest of my earthly life, but my acquired identity is undeniably with the Mormon people, and I still count myself a fellow citizen with them for family and cultural reasons, even though the evidence in my view invalidates LDS theology. The theology won’t matter much with the passage of time. It is only certain that it will change as it has done in the past; it is going to have to in order to accommodate the 21st century blizzard of information which challenges many of its past assumptions.
It’s going to be a very rough ride in years to come, and many LDS will seek shelter from the storm as they stumble over the shocking truths for themselves. I think of my own children and grandchildren for example, and hope that they will find a safe haven. It’s a journey I am ready to make with them, but this journey can only be a journey of loyal dissent. Whether it is a journey I will be permitted to continue unimpeded has yet to be decided by those appointed to judge such things for the good of the membership. I will only say I feel encouraged though. If my Stake President is in any way representative of the main body of believers, then some ears will be ready to listen, and some sensitive, caring hearts and minds will be ready to consider the sincere newly found narratives and experiences of bruised and battered truth seekers like me. Perhaps Christian inclusiveness and unquestionable openness will yet come to characterize modern Mormonism.
The door, I sense, is presently open ajar, and, as long as those in higher places have the wisdom and humility not to slam it shut, there is, I think, yet real cause to hope that two-way fellowship and constructive dialogue will have important parts to play. Perhaps it will be finally accepted that people like me, who care deeply, are going to be of greater value commenting within the necessary processes of change, than would be the case if they were excluded or shunned. It should amount to this really: what would Jesus do? The name “Jesus Christ” may appear large in the title of the LDS church, but who will honestly dare to suggest that Jesus would approve of institutional cover-ups? Surely his message would always be that error should be confronted, acknowledged, rooted out, and repented of, and rebirth sought in line with truth.
Therein, I think, is found the Way, the Truth, and the Life which is genuinely worth following. The Lord has never needed anyone to lie for Him.