The reason that I bring this up at this point is because I am about to begin explaining my journey learning difficult information about church history and doctrine. While in my next post I will not discuss specifics about what I learned, I will describe where I found this information. So, it is important to discuss the legitimacy of the sources of this information, especially for members of the church that have been primed with the belief that anti-Mormon literature is everywhere, waiting to deceive. In the church, we are taught to stay far away from any information that suggests the church isn’t true and it is all labelled anti-Mormon. If said information does not support that the church is true, we are told it is simply not true. Defenders of the church often throw around this term in an effort to de-legitimize the information or person sharing the information. Anti-Mormon is used like the boogeyman to scare members into immediately discounting anything heard. I don’t want to say that there is no such thing as anti-Mormon literature; I believe that there is, but not everything that is not in agreement with the church can justly be labelled anti-Mormon.
Similar terms are used in several different religions. The Jehovah’s Witnesses use the label “Apostate Literature.” Scientologists use the term “Suppressive Persons” or “Potential Trouble Sources.” Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use the term “Anti-Mormon.” I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list of religions that use similar terms to discourage their members from researching information. So, let’s take a journey together to discover if we can determine a definition that actually fits the term anti-Mormon.
Before I begin an attempt to define what anti-Mormon means, it may be interesting and helpful to discuss a very brief history of its use. The first time it is used is in the Louisville (Kentucky) Daily Herald in 1833, three years after the organization of the church. The article was titled “The Mormons and the Anti-Mormons.” A political party called the “Anti-Mormon Party” was created in the early 1840s in Illinois. This was in response to Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS church, holding complete political power over the region due to the large number of Mormon immigrants to the area. The party was short lived and disbanded after the death of Joseph Smith and after the members of the church left Illinois.
In the past and continuing to the present day, the term anti-Mormon has been used whenever there has been opposition or push back against the beliefs or practices of the LDS church. I will fully admit, the early members of the church often had terrible things happen to them. And some of these events have no justification whatsoever for the pain that was caused to these people. But the reasons behind why these things were done are not often discussed, or are explained away as having no reason other than people hated the Mormons. Members of the church identify as a persecuted people, seeing it as a sign of being God’s chosen. But whether we are speaking about the loss of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, the US government putting saints in jail for polygamy, or Joseph Smith destroying a so-called anti-Mormon printing press, there are often reasons behind these actions that the church does not acknowledge. Rather than calling the people that did things anti-Mormon in an effort to make Joseph Smith or the church itself seem beyond reproach, perhaps we should discuss background information as to why certain events took place.
Now on to defining what anti-Mormon actually means. The LDS apologist website, Fair Mormon, defines people that are anti-Mormon in this way: “that they oppose, dispute, or are against the well-established beliefs of the Saints.” So essentially, the term anti-Mormon means anyone that disputes the beliefs of members of the church. Which is easily applied to anyone that does not believe the truth claims of the church. Which is 99.8 percent of the population of the earth. It is even more if we factor in the approximate 30% activity rate of the church (60-70% of names that are on the rolls of the church are not regularly attending meetings). By creating such a broad definition, the term anti-Mormon can be used with impunity towards people or information. But is a broad use of the word accurate and fair?
So, how should we define what it means to be anti-Mormon? I will offer several definitions, beginning with definitions that I think fit the term well. Then I’ll include definitions that are common but may not accurately portray the meaning behind its use. I’ll follow this up with several definitions that I do not believe are accurate and fair uses of anti-Mormon.
1. A person that promotes that violence be used against members of the church.
This is how the term anti-Mormon was used most often in the past. Mobs would force early Saints from their homes. Church members were beaten or worse. Regardless of the reasons behind such behaviour, every time that violence is used against any member of the church BECAUSE they are a Mormon, this can be considered anti-Mormon.
2. Information that is false and is negative towards the church.
A fitting use of anti-Mormon would be attaching it to information about the church that is not true for the purpose of vilifying the church. An example of this is to say “Mormons aren’t Christian.” They are, they believe in Christ just as much as any other Christian church. They may not believe the exact same things about Jesus Christ, but they do believe many of the same basic teachings as other Christian religions.
Another example would be to say that the founder of the church, Joseph Smith, was a pedophile. He has been accused of this because Joseph married girls as young as 14 years old. For members of the church that may not believe me, as this is information that is not well known, please research the Gospel Topics Essays on lds.org, the official church website. Now while Joseph did marry at least one, possibly two 14-year-old girls and numerous other teenagers, this does not make him a pedophile. The definition of a pedophile is an ongoing sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children, generally considered age 13 years or younger. So, considering this, Joseph Smith does not fit the definition of a pedophile. False information or people that propagate false information for the purpose of making the church look bad could correctly be called anti-Mormon, as long as they are aware the information is false. They could simply be ill-informed of the facts, so would then be ignorant rather than anti-Mormon. I would say that to constitute a label of anti-Mormon, a person must be engaging in an ongoing pattern of knowingly sharing lies about the church.
3. Information that is presented in a negative, sarcastic or unduly critical way.
This one is a bit iffy for me. The question I present to you is this: Does the tone of the presenter of information make said information, or that individual, anti-Mormon? What if the information is true? I would argue (and I will in a subsequent point) that true, correct, and accurate information cannot itself be anti-Mormon. Information is either true or false. If it is false, it may be called anti-Mormon. But if it is true, it is just that: true. So, if a person is sharing accurate information in a negative or sarcastic way, does that make the person anti-Mormon? I don’t think this is necessarily so. For example, if I were to say, “I think it’s so disgusting how the Catholic church has covered up all those child abuse cases,” does that make me anti-Catholic? I would say no. The information is true and I am allowed to be disgusted by these types of situations. This one is a gray area for me as some people that have never been members of this church or people that were previously active members may have been hurt by the church in the past. They may be frustrated with what they perceive to be harmful beliefs or practices. But does this make them opposed to all members of the church or the church itself? Maybe. Maybe not. So even if truthful information is presented in a negative way, it may not be fair to label that person anti-Mormon.
4. Holding the church to a higher standard than it holds itself to.
This is a tricky one as well. I don’t want to be negative or overly critical of the church as I respect the vast majority of members of the church. They are amazing people and I do not have a problem with “chapel Mormons” on the whole. But I have also been open about no longer believing the truth claims of the church. So, where I see the church falling short of its duty to lift people up and strengthen them, I believe I am allowed to be critical. So, this begs the question, can I be considered anti-Mormon for expecting more from the church?
One example of many that I could give, is that I expect the church to do better in screening it’s lay leadership. I expect the church to require police record and vulnerable sector checks of any member in a calling dealing with children, especially bishops. Within the church there is a belief that when you are extended a calling (a voluntary job), it is God that is really the one calling that person through inspiration of the Spirit. The power of discernment would tell the bishop or stake president if they should not extend a calling to a specific person. Except we know from experience that members of the church in leadership callings can do terrible things. Several weeks ago, a bishop in Utah was arrested for running a prostitution ring. He had been convicted of a sex crime in the past, before he was called as a bishop. The church has to do better to screen its leadership. And saying so does not make me anti-Mormon.
5. Not agreeing with everything the leaders of the church teach.
The head of the LDS church is considered the “president” of the church as well as a “prophet, seer, and revelator.” It is believed that he is the only one on the earth that can receive revelation from God for the world. From childhood, the children of the church are taught a song called “Follow the Prophet.” Essentially, the children are told to follow the prophet or else they will go astray. Follow the prophet, he knows the way. Members of the church are taught that it is not possible for the prophet to lead us astray as God would take that man out of the position if he tried.
But we know that prophets can lead us astray, as it has happened in the past. Brigham Young, the second president and prophet of the church, taught that black people were not valiant in the war in heaven before we came to earth. While they were permitted to come to earth for a body, they were “cursed” with black skin. They were not allowed to receive the priesthood or attend the temple to seal their families together for eternity. It wasn’t until 1978 that the church proclaimed that people of African descent could now have these privileges. In a recent Gospel Topics Essay, published on the church’s official website, the church stated that it disavows these racist theories of the past. The unfortunate truth is that as late as 1949, the First Presidency of the Church, consisting of the prophet and his two counsellors, stated that the priesthood ban was not a matter of policy but of doctrine. So, for nearly 150 years, and up until quite recently, the church and prophets taught something that was not only incorrect but was harmful for an entire group of people. It was harmful for African people within and outside of the church by perpetuating the idea that they were somehow less than everyone else. And this was not the only time the church and prophets have changed teachings/doctrine, nor has it been the last. So, is it fair to call someone an anti-Mormon for not believing everything the leaders of the church teach? No, it’s not, as prophets can and have been wrong in the past.
6. Things that don’t feel good yet are true.
Many people believe that vaccines cause autism. Some believe that the earth is flat or that astronauts never landed on the moon. They believe these things based on either their feelings or incomplete or inaccurate information. But how good is their evidence? In the church, a lot of stock is placed on feelings. We are taught that if you want to get an answer to a question, pray about it and the Holy Ghost will tell you the truth of all things. The way this occurs is by a warm or peaceful feeling. If you get a confused or negative feeling, you can know that the thing you prayed about is not good or not true. But are feelings an accurate indicator of objective truth? I don’t want to take away from an individual’s spiritual experiences, as I realize these can be quite powerful. After all, I have had them myself. But can feelings tell us what is either true or false? I would emphatically say no. Many people from many different belief systems believe they receive answers to their prayers that their church is true. That God wants them to continue within their religion. How can these all be correct when different answers are received? How can someone say that their spiritual experience is valid while all others are incorrect?
Another example of something not feeling good but is true is The Nauvoo Expositor. This was a newspaper that printed only once before it was destroyed by Joseph Smith and members of the early LDS church. This event led to the imprisonment and killing of Joseph. We are taught that the Nauvoo Expositor was printing slander and lies about the prophet Joseph Smith. But has anyone reading this blog actually read what was printed? I have. It’s fascinating! The paper was printed by William Law, who had been a member of the First Presidency with Joseph Smith. William became disaffected with the church and was excommunicated. But does anyone know why? The church says he was anti-Mormon, essentially silencing all questioning about the reasons why. William Law was unhappy with Joseph Smith because Joseph made several unwelcomed proposals of polygamous marriage towards William’s wife, Jane. Not many members know that Joseph Smith married numerous women who were already married to active members of the church. This is also acknowledged on the official church website, lds.org, in the Gospel Topics Essays. So, William was justly upset. What William Law published in the Nauvoo Expositor was the truth about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry at a time when Joseph was still offering “carefully worded denials,” which means he was lying about it. Joseph was practicing polygamy but was not doing so openly at the time, so when William printed this information, Joseph was angry, and as the mayor of the town, ordered the printing press to be destroyed.
Now, members of the church are taught only that the Nauvoo Expositor was printing slanderous lies about the prophet. This was not the case. As discussed before, just because the tone of the information was negative (William was upset that Joseph proposed marriage to his wife!) does not make it anti-Mormon. The information was also the truth, which does not make it anti-Mormon. So just because information doesn’t feel good, yet it is true, does not make that information anti-Mormon.
7. Anything that is not faith promoting or doesn’t paint the church in a positive light.
On November 19th, 2003, the irreverent cartoon South Park aired an episode titled “All About Mormons.” I did not watch South Park as I found it a bit crude for my personal tastes, so I did not see this episode at the time. But I heard about it. And members of the church were not happy. The episode centres on an LDS family that moves to the town of South Park. While the main characters do say that they are the nicest family ever, the bulk of the episode is about the founding of the church and the Book of Mormon. The tone is satirical and sarcastic. Not all of the information is completely accurate but it is quite close. Particularly the part where it discusses how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon using a seer-stone in a hat. Again, this information is on the lds.org website in it’s Gospel Topics Essays. This episode was considered anti-Mormon for its tone as well as spreading the “lie” that Joseph used a rock in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. Except, the church now acknowledges that this is exactly how Joseph did it.
I was taught that Joseph used the “Urim and Thummim,” which were two clear stones set in something like the frames of glasses. Urim and Thummim are terms you can find in the bible. But the idea was that he looked through these divine instruments to translate, with the gold plates sitting in front of him as a reference. But the truth is, after the loss of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, Joseph never again used the plates, or the Urim and Thummim to translate. He would put his seer-stone in his hat, place his face in his hat to block out extraneous light, and the translation would appear in the stone. And this was the same stone that Joseph used when he charged people money to find buried treasure (which he never did find). This is not what I was taught as a teen before leaving on my mission. This was not acknowledged until years later.
So, was South Park anti-Mormon for bringing this true information to light before the church was ready to? There is definitely as case for this, due to the tone of the episode. And for some reason, the creators of South Park seem to be preoccupied with the Mormons, after all, they created the hit Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon.” Which from my understanding is not exactly reverent towards the church. But the specific information about Joseph using the same rock in a hat that he used while treasure digging was not anti-Mormon. It was the truth.
8. Things that the church used to call anti-Mormon but are now acknowledged as accurate.
This brings me to my last point. The church has recently began publishing Gospel Topics Essays on its official website. These are difficult to find unless you specifically search the term but they are there. These began to be published in 2015 and new articles have been uploaded as recently as a few months ago. Many of the topics of these essays have been called anti-Mormon lies in the past. There are many of these articles which the church obviously tries to explain in a faith preserving way, but the fact is that the church now acknowledges that many of these things were true and accurate. I will not include many specifics in this post, I plan on writing a post about these Essays in a few weeks. But suffice it to say that the church has changed its position on several aspects of its history and past teachings.
One specific example of past information that used to be considered anti-Mormon which later was acknowledged as the truth is the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Juanita Brooks wrote and published a book detailing how church members, and possibly to some degree Brigham Young (the president of the church at the time), were involved in the slaughter of a wagon train travelling through Utah in 1857. The church originally taught that it was Native Americans that killed these emigrants. Evidence shows that it was predominantly members of the church at the time, including high ranking local leaders, that murdered these innocent people. Without going into too much detail (this post is already longer than I wanted it to be), the book was labelled anti-Mormon. Juanita was asked to not make any comments while at church (essentially being disfellowshipped) and even her husband was asked to never pray at church. Currently, her book is carried by Deseret Books, a well-known publisher associated with the church, and is considered accurate. Yesterdays anti-Mormon lies seem to become today’s truth.
So in the end, what is anti-Mormon? I believe that information can be anti-Mormon only if it is false. How do you determine if it is false? You have to research it yourself. You look at the sources and interpret them in a way that makes the most sense to you. A person can be anti-Mormon if they use or propose others use violence against Mormons BECAUSE they are Mormon; if they are unnecessarily critical, mocking, or sarcastic; or if they knowingly share lies about the church to try to discredit it. These would be the only situations that I see the term "anti-Mormon" being appropriate.
I will close this post with a pointed and vulnerable question: Am I considered an anti-Mormon for writing this blog? Some members of the church would say yes. Some would say not yet, but that I may become one depending on the direction of future articles. While it is lessening recently, I do worry about what members of the church think of me. But I would say that I am definitely not anti-Mormon. Almost all of the people that are closest to me in this world are members of this church. I love and appreciate members for the good and hard-working people they predominantly are. I recognize that the church teaches many good and positive things. I am not bitter towards church members and I do not want to destroy the church itself.
The vast majority of people like me, those that are trying to shed a light on certain factual aspects of the church, are not trying to destroy the church. We don’t hate all aspects of the church. We want it to be better. We want the church to be honest and to stop engaging in certain harmful practices. We want leaders to accept advice from professionals, backed by research rather than expecting complete obedience. I would love nothing more than to have my community back. But before that can occur, I hope to see change.
In my next post, I go back to telling my story. I will discuss the actual process of my faith crisis, including the point at which I began to have serious doubts, when cracks began to form in my shelf. I will describe my shift in perspective away from “I already know it’s true, how do I make this information fit that conclusion” to “I will follow the evidence to whatever conclusion is supported.” I will discuss generally where I looked for answers but will not include too much actual information about the things I learned. That post will be more about what happened and what it was like for me. In the end, I will discuss what it was like coming to my personal conclusion that the church was not true.