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AP Dec 7 2004
Home Up

 

 

Associated Press.  Travis Reed.

SANDY, Utah -- Grant Palmer was raised in the Mormon Church and has spent most of his 64 years in its service.

It's a church he loves and has no intention of abandoning - even though he doubts its historical truthfulness, even though he could be punished for that doubt.

Palmer goes before church leaders Sunday for failing to obey the gospel by publishing a book that questions whether founder Joseph Smith misrepresented his authority as a prophet and revised church scripture to his advantage.

The ultimate punishment would be excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, meaning Palmer could no longer take sacrament, visit other members in an official capacity, teach or preach in church or go into temples.

Palmer's transformation from parishioner to pariah began in the mid-1980s with his first misgivings about the way Mormon scripture characterizes the church's early history. Two years ago, he finally rolled those misgivings together and wrote a book he titled "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins."

In it, Palmer suggests Smith didn't translate the Book of Mormon, as LDS faithful believe, "by the gift and power of God" from an ancient set of golden plates. Smith - Palmer believes - penned it himself, leaning heavily on the King James Bible, emotional Methodist tent revivals, Masonry and other personal experiences in a highly superstitious era of American history.

Palmer suggests Smith rewrote the story of how he was ordered by heavenly spirits to found the church to make himself seem more legitimate when Mormons faced credibility problems or were losing key leaders.

"I, along with colleagues ... find the evidence employed to support many traditional claims about the church to be either nonexistent or problematic," Palmer writes. "In other words, it didn't all happen the way we've been told."

Latter-day Saints believe the Book of Mormon - one of four key spiritual texts - is a literal record of Jesus Christ's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.

Palmer culled material for the book from documents in the church archives, which contain a vast collection of letters, diaries, and papers from church presidential administrations.

Many of the ideas have previously surfaced in academic papers and books - some as ammunition for the church's fervent critics. Palmer, who has served as an LDS director and educator, said he wrote the book because most of the church's lay population doesn't read those academic papers and deserves to know about the problems.

"I think only the truth is good enough for the members of the LDS church," he said.

The work has kindled a firestorm in Mormon academia, including five scathing reviews published by FARMS, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies housed at Brigham Young University.

"They don't feel he takes a balanced look at the evidence," said Daniel Peterson, a BYU professor and FARMS review editor. "He argues against certain books that I see as fundamental to Mormonism, and I don't think he does so particularly well."

Peterson said the book is damaging for the church because Palmer has written it for a lay audience, and his long history as a church member and educator assign it particular credibility.

"It's neatly laid out, it's not screeching, it's not hostile," he said. "It's in kind of a mild tone, which makes the book in that sense more effective - and, from a Latter-day Saints point of view, more dangerous."

Palmer counters that he never intended the book to turn people away from Mormonism - only to finally let them know not everything they've been taught to believe is true.

Though literary criticism has been widespread, Palmer sais he's gotten mostly positive feedback from readers.

Five former presidents of the Mormon History Association signed a statement supporting the book as an "accurate summary of some of the controversies and 'puzzles' surrounding Joseph Smith."

LDS church spokesman Dale Bills declined to comment on the matter, saying personnel matters are confidential.

Peterson said he wouldn't specify what punishment, if any, he thought Palmer deserved, but said, "You can't publicly oppose and criticize central beliefs of the church. That's what he's done.

"If someone has a private problem, we try to work with them and help them. But if they're predatory, if they're using their church membership as a cover that makes it easier for them to hurt other people, then there's a duty to separate them from the flock," he said.

Palmer said the decision to publish the book wasn't easy, but he thought ultimately it could help others struggling with the same issues.

He said he still believes in the church because he has refocused his faith on Jesus Christ instead of Mormon pioneers - and he suggests the rest of the church does the same.

"I value my membership in the church very much," he said. "That, to me, is about the saddest part of this."

"In a strange way, to me, (excommunication) would be saying - since I would be forbidden to take the sacrament - that somehow Jesus Christ is subordinate to Joseph Smith."

 

 

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