KUTV 2 News
Dec 9, 2004 12:03 pm US/Mountain
Grant Palmer was raised to believe in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, and has spent most of his life in its service.
He has gone on a mission, for years attended regular services and worked more
than three decades as a church-funded Mormon educator.
But about 20 years ago, he began to doubt the way Mormon scripture characterizes
certain parts of its early history.
After years of study, he finally rolled those doubts together and published a
Two years and 281 pages later, the gray-haired, balding and bespectacled
64-year-old man faces excommunication from a church he says he still loves. On
Sunday, he's scheduled to appear in an apostasy trial judged by church leaders
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.
Palmer's book, "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins," suggests that
Smith didn't actually translate the Book of Mormon, as LDS faithful believe,
"by the gift and power of God" from an ancient set of golden plates.
Instead, it suggests Smith 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 the plates themselves might never have physically existed, and
that 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
Palmer has a master's degree in history from Brigham Young University, and has
served as an LDS director or educator in New Zealand, Utah and California. He
says his extensive background in history and church service, and a growing
inability to reconcile glaring discrepancies between the two, drew him into the
Many of the ideas have previously surfaced in academic papers and books–some
as ammunition for church's fervent critics. Palmer 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."
On Sunday, Palmer is scheduled to go before local church leaders for a trial
over his publicized beliefs, which could end in excommunication.
More than the broad criticism in LDS journals, he says that's what bothers him
the most, because he still believes in the church.
"I believe the Book of Mormon isn't about a real, historical
civilization," he said. "But I believe the message is certainly true.
I support the Book of Mormon continuing to go around the world, and I suspect it
Palmer says he has no intention of abandoning Mormonism, because he still
ultimately believes Smith was touched by God to found it.
"I'm not going to call Joseph Smith a fraud," he said.
He also says 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 says he's gotten mostly
positive feedback from readers.
Five former presidents of the Mormon History Association signed on to a
statement supporting the book as an "accurate summary of some of the
controversies and 'puzzles' surrounding Joseph Smith."
Palmer's trial is reminiscent of a several highly publicized cases in 1993 in
which five high-profile scholars were excommunicated for their positions on
things like feminism and church history.
Excommunication for Palmer would mean he can't take sacrament, visit other
members in an official capacity, teach or preach in church or go into temples.
LDS church spokesman Dale Bills declined to comment on the matter, saying
personnel matters are confidential.
Keith Adams, president of Palmer's local church district and the man who issued
the trial summons, also said he couldn't comment because of confidentiality
Among other things, FARMS scholars accused Palmer of falsely claiming to be a
Mormon "insider" and said he was wrong to suggest the church was more
focused on its founding fathers than Jesus Christ.
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 says 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.
"The march of the evidence has not been kind to the church over the past 35
years," he said, referring also to recent DNA evidence purportedly
disproving other aspects of the Book of Mormon.
"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
Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press