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Q&A with Richard G. Moore, editor of The Writings of Oliver H. Olney April 1842 to February 1843 — Nauvoo, Illinois May 11 2020

Book Description: Oliver H. Olney, an early convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, fled to Nauvoo, Illinois, following persecution in Missouri. In Nauvoo, Olney became disgruntled with church leadership and viewed Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet. His writings, consisting of journal entries, letters, and booklets, express his concerns about what he viewed as serious iniquity within the Church. Despite his opposition to church leadership resulting in his excommunication, Olney remained in Nauvoo and wrote about the things he witnessed.

The handwritten papers of Oliver Olney are housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and are made available in published form for the first time. They offer historical researchers and interested readers of the early Latter-day Saint movement a unique glimpse from the margins of religious society in Nauvoo. Olney’s writings add light to key events in early Mormonism such as rumors of polygamy, the influence of Free Masonry in Nauvoo, plans to migrate westward to the Rocky Mountains, as well as growing tensions with disaffected church members and rising conflict with Nauvoo’s non-Mormon neighbors.
 

 


Q: How did you discover Oliver Olney and what made you decide to transcribe his writings?

A: Some years ago, I was looking for a topic for a paper to present at the John Whitmer Historical Association Conference. The theme that year had to do with the divergent paths of belief that some early converts to the Restoration took. I remembered reading a Times and Seasons editorial called “Try the Spirits” that mentioned a number of people who had left the church founded by Joseph Smith after receiving their own revelations. Returning to that article, I found the name of Oliver Olney. I didn’t know if there was enough information about him to write a paper but was surprised to discover that there were over four hundred-fifty pages handwritten by Olney housed at Yale. I obtained a copy of his writings, transcribed much of what he had written, and was able to present a paper at the conference. After my presentation, Greg Kofford approached me and said that he would like to publish all of Olney’s writings. I began the work of transcribing everything that I could find written by Oliver Olney.

Q: Can you describe Oliver Olney? Who was he and why is he a significant source for the Nauvoo era?

A: Oliver Olney joined the Latter-day Saint movement in 1831 while living in Ohio. He and his wife moved to Kirtland where he became president of the Teachers Quorum. His wife was the daughter of John Johnson and the sister of Luke and Lyman Johnson, two of the Restoration’s first apostles. He and his wife later moved to Missouri and experienced the anti-Mormon violence there. They eventually moved to Nauvoo. Oliver was on a mission to the Eastern States when his wife, who had remained in Nauvoo, passed away. Returning from his mission, he became disaffected with the Church and its leaders. However, after being excommunicated, he remained in Nauvoo and wrote down what he observed taking place there. His writings are first-hand accounts, albeit biased, of a person living in Nauvoo during the early 1840s.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of how this documentary history is organized?

A: Olney wrote something of a dated journal for several years. However, he often wrote more than one version for a particular date. His papers were in numbered folders at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Unsure which version Olney wrote in what order, the book is arranged by date, in order of the folder in which they appear. In other words, if he wrote three entries for June 3, they would be arranged like this: June 3 [folder 2], June 3 [folder 5], June 3 [folder 7]. Also included in the book are two complete booklets that Olney had published.

Q: What are a few big takeaways that we get from Oliver’s writings?

A: Olney had heard rumors spreading around Nauvoo about polygamy among Church leaders and he wrote about what he had heard. He also noted the establishment of a Masonic chapter in Nauvoo. He said that he was unsure about the virtue of Masonry and claimed that the Mormon version of Masonry being practiced in Nauvoo was an immoral thing—even connecting the Danites to what he referred to as “new-fangled” Masonry. Olney also viewed the formation of the Relief Society as Masonry for women. In 1842 he stated that the Mormons were already making plans to move to the Rocky Mountains and establish a kingdom there.

Q: Can you share a few issues Olney had with church leadership? Why do you think he remained in Nauvoo after his excommunication?

A: Some of the biggest issues that Olney had with church leadership were financial. At the time he was writing, he viewed himself and others in Nauvoo as being poverty stricken while church leaders lived in luxury. He viewed tithing and the law of consecration as gouging the Saints for the benefit of church leaders. He was also troubled by rumors of plural marriage being practiced by church leaders. He felt that the Restoration had gone off the track. Olney did stay in Nauvoo for several years after his excommunication, even though he said in a few of his writings that he believed his life to be in jeopardy. I believe he stayed at first because he thought a reformation could take place within the Church and he saw himself as the person who could help that reform take place. After coming to believe that there was no hope for church leaders to repent, I believe he stayed to get more dirt or ammunition for his attack on Mormonism.

Q: Can you give us a little insight into Olney's claimed visions and heavenly visitations?

A: Olney recorded visits of heavenly messengers, giving him instructions for building God’s kingdom on the earth in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Prominent in these visits were the Ancient of Days, twelve prophets from Old Testament times that would meet with him quite often. Olney claimed that these twelve, who lived on the North Star, called him to choose a new Quorum of the Twelve. He was ordained to a special priesthood by them and was told where to find a buried Nephite treasure to fund the building of the kingdom. He also said that he was visited several times by the deceased apostle, David W. Patten.

Q: Do we know what became of Oliver Olney after Nauvoo?

A: Prior to leaving Nauvoo, Olney remarried a Mormon woman, a believer who was assistant secretary in the first Relief Society. Very little is known about him after he left Nauvoo. He returned to Nauvoo after the death of Joseph Smith and, according to his own writing, hoped to be able to receive his endowment in the Nauvoo Temple. I was unable to find anything about him after that except the assumption that he died in Illinois sometime in 1847 or 1848.

Richard G. Moore
May 2020


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Q&A with Don Bradley, author of The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon's Missing Stories December 09 2019

 

 

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For readers less familiar with the "lost 116 pages" can you provide a brief synopsis of what they were and how they became lost?

After Joseph Smith dictated to scribes the first four and half centuries of the Book of Mormon’s chronicle of ancient Jewish settlers in the New World (the Nephites), the manuscript of this account was borrowed by the last of those scribes, Martin Harris. The manuscript later disappeared from Harris’s locked drawer and has been lost to history ever since. The current Book of Mormon text is therefore incomplete, substituting a shorter account for this lengthy missing narrative.

Can you piece together what most likely happened to this lost early manuscript? Does the standard narrative that Lucy Harris likely destroyed them hold up? If not, why and what other possibilities should we consider?

When the manuscript disappeared, Martin Harris initially suspected his wife of the theft. Lucy Harris had been skeptical of her husband’s investment in the book and would have had motive to interfere. Lucy Harris has been regarded as the prime suspect in the theft since the late 1800s, and it has been widely presumed that she burned the manuscript. However, the explanation that Lucy Harris burned the manuscript was first proposed as only a speculative possibility a quarter-century after the fact, but the dramatic image of the disgruntled wife throwing the pages into the flames quickly caught fire and became increasingly popular with time. The further the historical sources get from the actual theft, the more likely they are to tell this story, indicating that it was the story’s sensationalism, rather than its accuracy, that led to its popularity. The first person to have suspected Lucy Harris of the theft, her husband Martin, abandoned this theory when he learned that his estranged but devout Quaker wife had denied on her deathbed knowing what happened to the pages.

The presumption that Lucy Harris stole the pages, acted alone in doing so, and burned them has prevented investigators from looking closely at other suspects, including a number of people who had previously attempted to steal other documents and relics associated with the Book of Mormon. Former treasure digging associates of Joseph Smith had attempted several times to steal the original Book of Mormon—the golden plates. And Martin and Lucy Harris had a son-in-law, a known swindler, who once stole the “Anthon transcript” of characters copied from the plates. Fixating on Lucy Harris as the only possible thief has blinded inquirers to noticing these obvious suspects.

Despite the widespread presumption that Lucy Harris was guilty of taking and burning the manuscript, the manuscript’s ultimate fate is an open question.

You assert that the lost early manuscript might have been longer than 116 pages. Can you provide some reasoning for this? Can you also speculate on how long they may have been?

The number given for the length of the lost manuscript—116 pages—exactly matches the length of the “small plates” text that replaced that manuscript. This coincidence has led several scholars, beginning with Robert F. Smith, to propose that the length of the lost manuscript was actually unknown and the 116 pages figure was just an estimate based on the length of its replacement.

While we can’t know for sure the length of the lost manuscript, unless it turns up, we can do better than just guessing at its actual length, because we have several lines of evidence for this, all of which converge on a probable manuscript size. Joseph Smith reported that Martin scribed on the lost manuscript over a period of 64 days, which, given Joseph’s known translation rate would have produced a manuscript far larger than 116 pages. In line with this, Emer Harris, ancestor to a living Latter-day Saint apostle and brother to Martin Harris, reported at a church conference that Martin had scribed for “near 200 pages” of the manuscript before it was lost. A later interviewer recounted Martin himself reporting a similar scribal output when stating what proportion of the total Book of Mormon text he recorded. Since Martin was not the only scribe to work on the now-lost manuscript but, rather, the fifth such scribe, the manuscript as a whole would have been well in excess of the nearly 200 pages produced by Martin, likely closer to 300 pages. Other lines of evidence within the existing Book of Mormon text point to a similar length for the lost portion.

What sources are used in this book to identify what was in the Book of Mormon's lost 116 pages?

To reconstruct the Book of Mormon’s lost stories this book makes use of both internal sources from within the current Book of Mormon text and external sources beyond that text. Internal sources from the Book of Mormon include, first, accounts from the narrators of the small plates of Nephi, which cover the same time period as the lost portion of Mormon’s abridgment, and, second, narrative callbacks in the surviving remnants of Mormon’s abridgment that refer to the lost stories. External sources used in the reconstruction include statements in the earliest manuscripts of Joseph Smith's revelations describing and echoing the lost pages, statements by Joseph Smith reported by apostles Franklin D. Richards and Erastus Snow, an 1830 interview granted by Joseph Smith, Sr., a conference sermon by Martin Harris’s brother Emer Harris, and reports by several other early Latter-day Saints and friends of Martin Harris.

Can you provide a few examples of how your research into the lost early manuscript has increased your awareness of a Jewish core in the Book of Mormon text?

The research that went into this book has disclosed to me a Jewishness to the Book of Mormon that I could never have imagined. Through the lens of the sources on the lost manuscript, we can see the Jewishness in the Book of Mormon from the very start: according to Joseph Smith, Sr., the lost pages identified the Book of Mormon as beginning with a Jewish festival, namely, Passover. This Jewishness is particularly striking in the sources on the lost manuscript’s narrative of the book’s founding prophets Lehi and Nephi. Their narrative begins in that of the Hebrew Bible, at the start of the Jewish Exile. The recoverable lost-manuscript narratives of Lehi and Nephi show them seeking to build a new Jewish kingdom in the New World systematically parallel to the pre-Exile Jewish kingdom in the Old World. Having lost the biblical Promised Land, sacred city, dynasty, temple, and Ark of the Covenant, they set about re-creating these by proxy.

This Jewishness in the Book of Mormon is paralleled by a distinct Jewishness of the Book of Mormon’s coming forth. Reconstructing a chronology of the several earliest events in the Book of Mormon’s emergence shows every one of these events to have been keyed to the dates of Jewish festivals. In ways not previously appreciated, the Book of Mormon is a richly and profoundly Judaic book.

In your book, you discuss temple worship among the Nephites. Can you summarize some of your findings?

Temple worship stands at the center of Nephite life and of the Book of Mormon’s narrative. The early events of Nephite history, as chronicled in the present Book of Mormon text and fleshed out further in the sources on the book’s lost manuscript, all build toward the ultimate goal of re-establishing Jewish temple worship in a new promised land. Re-establishing such worship required constructing a system closely parallel to that of Solomon’s temple. To meet the requirements of the Mosaic Law, the Nephites would have needed substitutes for the biblical high priest and Ark of the Covenant, with their associated sacred relics. Accordingly, the Nephite sacred relics—the plates, interpreters, breastplate, sword of Laban, and Liahona—systematically parallel the relics of the biblical Ark and high priest, showing how closely temple worship in the Book of Mormon was modeled on temple worship in the Bible.

In what ways are the doctrines in the early lost Book of Mormon manuscript reflected in the doctrines of early Mormonism?

Earliest Mormonism has sometimes been understood as primarily a form of Christian primitivism, the New Testament-focused nineteenth-century movement to restore original Christianity. Yet already when we explore the earliest Mormon text, the lost portion of the Book of Mormon, we find a whole-Bible religion, one weaving Christian primitivist, Judaic, and esoteric strands into a distinctively Mormon restorationist tapestry of faith.

The Book of Mormon’s focus on the temple is also very Mormon. Temple worship among the Nephites not only echoes ancient Jewish temple worship, but it also anticipates temple worship among the Latter-day Saints. The recoverable narratives of the Book of Mormon’s lost pages portray the Nephite temple as not only a place in which sacrifices are performed but also one in which higher truths are taught in symbolic form, human beings learn to speak with the Lord through the veil, and people can begin to take on divine attributes.

What are you hoping readers will gain from your book?

This book’s earliest seed was my childhood curiosity about the Book of Mormon’s lost pages. That seed grew in adulthood when I realized how knowing more about the Book of Mormon’s lost pages could illuminate its present pages. On one level, this new book is a book about the Book of Mormon’s lost text, pursuing the mystery of what was in the lost first half of Mormon’s abridgment. On another level, this is a book about understanding more deeply the Book of Mormon text we do have, since the last half of any narrator’s story is best understood in light of the first half. Researching what can be known about the lost manuscript has helped me to more fully recognize the Book of Mormon’s richness, understand its messages and meanings, and grasp its power as a sacred text. My hope is that recapturing some of the long-missing contexts behind our Book of Mormon will also expand others’ understanding of and appreciation for this remarkable foundational scripture of Latter-day Saint faith and inspire readers to delve deeper into the Book of Mormon.

Don Bradley
December 2019


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Q&A with Bradley Kramer, author of Gathered in One: How the Book of Mormon Counters Anti-Semitism in the New Testament September 16 2019

 

 

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Q: For some, hearing that the New Testament contains anti-Semitic language can be challenging. Can you provide a few examples of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the New Testament?

A: Yes. However, first I would like to clarify that I do not think that the New Testament as a whole is anti-Semitic. I do think that the New Testament contains many anti-Semitic statements, anti-Semitic portrayals, anti-Semitic settings, and anti-Semitic structuring elements that together form a kind of literary tide that pulls its readers towards an anti-Semitic point of view, but that is not the same as saying the entire New Testament is anti-Semitic or that anti-Semitism is its major theme.

The Gospel of John, for instance, not only contains a statement where “the Jews” are told that their father is the devil (John 8:44), but they are portrayed explicitly as questioning Jesus (2:18), as accusing him of being in league with the devil (8:48), and as instilling fear in his followers (7:13; 19:38; 20:19). In this Gospel, “the Jews” function as a foil to everything Jesus stands for and teaches. They are from beneath while Jesus is from above; they are of this world while Jesus is not (8:22-23), and they, unlike the enlightened Jesus, love “darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil” (3:19).

The Gospel of Matthew reinforces this view of Jews through its portrayal of Pharisees. In this Gospel, Pharisees are hypocritical (Matt. 16:3), judgmental (9:11), rule-bound (12:2), scheming (v.14), stupid (v. 24), sign-seeking (v. 38), superficial (15:1), easily offended (v.12), spiritually blind (v. 14), corrupt (12:33), petty (23:23), tricky (22:15), prideful (16:6), and murderous (12:14). True, the Pharisees are only a subgroup of Jews, but without many examples of other subgroups acting differently, they seem to represent Jews as a totality.

In addition, the Gospel of Matthew uses settings to undermine the viability and validity of Jewish practices. The Last Supper, for instance, is set as a Passover Seder and shows Jesus commenting on two of its most important elements: the bread and the wine. However, in this Gospel, the Mosaic meanings of these elements are not mentioned or discussed as stipulated by the Law of Moses (Ex. 12:25–27). Instead, they are presented simply as food items that have lost their Mosaic meaning and can, therefore, be easily repurposed as memorials of Jesus’s soon to-be-dead body and spilt blood. In this way, the Gospel of Matthew presents Passover, much like the Jews themselves, as something devoid of true spirituality and in need of replacement. 

Q: Is there scholarly consensus regarding anti-Semitism in the New Testament? Can you provide examples of scholarly debate on the topic?

A:I think so, yes. Many scholars, however, prefer to use the term “anti-Judaic,” feeling that the New Testament attacks Jews more as members of a certain faith, which can change, than as members of an ethnic or genetic group, which cannot. I have elected to use “anti-Semitic” in my book because 1) most of my sources use that term, 2) “anti-Semitic” is the more common, inclusive term, and 3) in practice the distinction between these two approaches is not always clear—even in the New Testament. Jesus in the Gospel of John, for instance, does not tell “the Jews” that the devil is their spiritual leader; he says that the devil is their “father” (John 8: 44). Similarly, in Matthew the Jewish multitude cries out for his blood to be upon their “children, not upon their religious descendants (Matt. 27:25).

Scholars, as well as many devoted Christian ministers, are disturbed by this scene in the Gospel of Matthew. It seems to brand all Jews throughout time as “Christkillers” and has been used to justify numerous anti-Jewish atrocities. As a result, many of these scholars, ministers, and laypeople deny that it ever happened. They point out that there is no record of any Roman governor ever releasing prisoners on Passover and question the logic of such a custom. After all, why would a Roman official charged with keeping the peace run the risk of releasing his most dangerous enemies back into society? It makes no sense.

These scholars and ministers similarly dispute the Gospels’ portrayal of Pilate as a spiritually ambivalent government official who could be swayed by the voice of a Jewish multitude. According to Roman records, not only did Pilate place Roman images inside the Temple precincts in direct opposition of the will of his subjects, but he also confiscated Temple funds when they refused to pay their taxes. Furthermore, when people gathered before him to protest, he had his soldiers disguise themselves, infiltrate the crowd, and slaughter them all.

The majority of scholars and ministers see Pilate as a merciless ruler who would have had no qualms whatsoever about crucifying Jesus. However, by doing so, Pilate presented early Christians with a problem. After all, they had to live and work and worship within the Roman Empire. It would not be wise to paint a Roman official as a murderer, particularly as the murderer of the Son of God. Many scholars and ministers, therefore, see this scene as a fictional embellishment designed to shift the blame for Jesus’s death from the Romans to the already despised Jews.

Q: Can you provide an example or two of how the Book of Mormon counters anti-Semitism in the New Testament?

A: I can think of no more powerful condemnations of anti-Semitic behavior than these:

O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people. (1 Ne. 29:5)

Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn. (3 Ne. 29:8)

Furthermore, these are not simply official declarations issued by a church or statements from an ecclesiastical leader. In the former, it is God who chastises non-Jews (probably Christians) for persecuting Jews; and in the latter, it is Mormon, a prophet of God, who commands these same Christians to cease oppressing the Jews.

Also, notice that these condemnations do not comment upon any particular passage in the New Testament, nor do they challenge the veracity of any specific New Testament event. However, given their clarity of expression, they make it very difficult for Christians to interpret the New Testament anti-Semitically.

In this way, the Book of Mormon does not change the New Testament’s words or call into question their ability to convey divine messages to their readers directly. However, for believers, it alters how the New Testament’s words are understood. When joined with the New Testament in the Christian canon, the Book of Mormon overwhelms the anti-Semitic statements, portrayals, settings, and structural elements with more numerous and more sweeping pro-Jewish statements, portrayals, settings, and structural elements of its own. In this way, the Book of Mormon turns the literary tide in the New Testament and causes it to flow in the opposite direction.

Q: How does the Book of Mormon limit Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death?

A: For the most part, the prophets in the Book of Mormon seems more interested in what Jesus’s death accomplished than in who killed him. Nephi, for instance, recounts his vision of Jesus’s death saying only that Jesus “was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” without specifying who did the lifting (1 Ne. 11:33), and Abinadi similarly prophecies that Jesus will be “led, crucified, and slain” again without mentioning who will do the leading, crucifying, and slaying (Mosiah 15:7). The same is true for Samuel the Lamanite (Hel. 13:6) and even Jesus (3 Ne. 11:14).

Furthermore, when these prophets do attempt to identify Jesus’s killers, they use vague terms such as “the world” or “wicked men” (1 Ne. 19:7–10), or they employ phrases that, while they may appear at first to indict all Jews everywhere, actually absolve the majority of Jews of any involvement whatsoever in Jesus’s death. Jacob’s “they at Jerusalem” (2 Ne. 10:5), for example, may seem to some readers to indicate that all Jews participate somehow in Jesus’s crucifixion. These readers link this phrase with “the Jews” in verse 3 and see it as affirming universal Jewish culpability regarding Jesus’s death. However, during Jesus’s lifetime, only a small percentage of the world’s Jews lived in Jerusalem. During that time, most Jews were still residing in Babylon or were scattered throughout the eastern Mediterranean and beyond—as Jacob, who as one of the most far-flung of these Jews, knew very well.

In other words, instead of serving as a synonym of “the Jews,” “they at Jerusalem” functions as the last element in a grammatical sequence that shrinks the number of Jews connected to Jesus’s death from all Jews everywhere to “those who are the more wicked part of the world” to just those Jews living in Jerusalem during the early first century. In a similar way, 2 Nephi 10 also softens “they shall crucify him” of verse 3 to “they . . . will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified” and complicates their complicity by stating in verse 5 that they do so not because of some deep-seated personal conviction but “because of priestcrafts and iniquities.”

Q: What is supersessionism and how does the Book of Mormon refute it?

A: Supersessionism is the traditional Christian doctrine that the Jews have been disobedient for so long, failing to follow their own law as well as murdering its originator (Jesus), that their covenantal connection to God has been revoked and they have been replaced by Christian Gentiles. Statements in the Book of Mormon clearly refute this notion by confirming that the Jews remain God’s “covenant people” (2 Ne. 29:4–5) even after Jesus’s death (Morm. 3:21), and by affirming that despite being scattered “upon all the face of the earth,” the Jews will one day be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Ne. 14:14), that they will be delivered from their enemies (2 Ne. 6:17), and that pure people everywhere will seek “the welfare of the ancient and long dispersed covenant people of the Lord” (Morm. 8:15).

In addition to these statements, the portrayal of the Nephites and Lamanites further reinforces the Jews’ ongoing covenantal connection to God. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jews, as Pharisees, are portrayed as so hypocritical and murderous (at least towards Jesus) that it is hard to see them as continuing in God’s covenant. In the Book of Mormon, Nephites also struggle with hypocrisy as do the Lamanites with murder, and yet never are these New World Jews removed from God’s covenant or detached from God’s care. Missionaries go to them, and often they repent, but even when they do not and their civilization disintegrates into self-destructive chaos, God continues to seek after their descendants and sees them always as heirs to the covenantal promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  

Q: How should Latter-day Saints relate to Jews?

A: With charity, just like Nephi (2 Ne. 33:8), and not as potential converts. It is significant that the Book of Mormon never uses the words “convert” or “conversion” in connection with Jews. Instead, it employs “persuade” and “convince,” and presents Jesus as the only person authorized to do this persuading and convincing. As he tells the Nephites:

And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel. . . . And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. (3 Ne. 16:5, 11)

This repetition of the pronoun “I” in this passage and in 3 Ne. 21:1 indicates to me that Christians should not press Jews to accept Jesus. They should instead have enough faith in their Master to let him do what he has covenanted to do without any help or interference from them.

Christians should embrace Jews as brothers and sisters in God’s covenant, as true friends with whom they can talk, play, work, worship, hang out, enjoy, and learn from, especially in regards to the Scriptures. As Nephi reminds his readers:

I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews. (2 Ne. 25:5)

Q: What are you hoping readers will gain through this book?

A: I hope my readers will see more clearly just how the Book of Mormon can augment and enhance the Bible without undermining its scriptural authority or reliability. I hope they will also feel a closer, more informed, more appreciative connection with Jews. I think many Christians are fairly ignorant about Jews and are somewhat split in their opinion of them. Through movies such as “Schindler’s List,” “Denial,” and “The Pianist,” they may feel sympathetic towards Jews because of persecutions they have suffered and the pains they have endured. However, because of the New Testament, they may also be inclined to see Jews as chronic nitpickers who hypocritically follow superficial religious practices.  

With this book, I hope to resolve this difference by showing my readers that there is more to the Jews than is offered in the New Testament, that Mosaic practices remain relevant today, that the Law of Moses has been observed admirably by an admirable people; and that Jews have much to teach Christians religiously, ethically, and scripturally. They certainly have taught me much.

Bradley J. Kramer
September 2019


Q&A with David B. Ostler for Bridges: Ministering to Thos Who Question July 23 2019

 

 

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Q: Give us a brief background into who you are and why you decided to write this book.

A: I’m a retired father and husband, with six children and five, almost six, grandchildren. My children are wonderful and some no longer believe in basic principles and doctrines of the Church. I’ve been a leader in the Church and with my wife, served two full time and two church service missions. Our last mission was in our stake, working with leaders to better understand why people disaffiliate from the Church.

As we worked with our stake leaders, we research and studied the frequency and causes why people, particularly previously faithful adults, choose to disaffiliate. We found that Church-wide most leaders see disaffiliation as a very important concern in their ward, stake and particularly in their family. We also found that many leaders were not fully aware of the underlying reasons and didn’t feel they fully understood how to help. They probably feel the same in their homes.

So, after completing that calling, I decided that I could take what we learned and create a resource for members to better understand why people leave so that we could find common ground, build understanding and truly minister to those who no longer worship with us. I conducted some original research, interviewed leaders and disaffiliated members, and studied the words of our Church leaders as well as experts in the field. In this research, I learned that the pain of disaffiliation isn’t just felt by that person’s family or leaders, but also by the disaffiliating member. They often feel isolation, fear, anger and other hurtful emotions; often unintentionally caused by their family, friends, and leaders.

I hope this book can bridge that misunderstanding and give us a better understanding to build trusting and meaningful relationships with those who no longer believe as we do.

Q: Who is your intended audience for the book and how do you hope it will be used?

A: I think there will be two readers for the book. I wrote the book for fully believing members so that they can better understand their friends, ward member, or family member who no longer believes in the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hope it gives each reader understanding on how to build a trusted relationship with that person. With that understanding, I hope that some of the pain, fear, and hurt that is felt on both sides can be turned into love and acceptance. Perhaps in some cases, that understanding will create an opportunity for someone to “come back” or to have someone “stay.” For believing members, I hope that reading this book will help build a bridge with a better understanding as they minister to those who doubt.

I also realize readers will include some who no longer believe. I hope that this book will give them hope that we are trying to be more understanding and that their relationship with their families, friends and Church members can be strong and rich, even with differences in belief.

This isn’t a leadership book. But knowing that each leader is also a member and that we rotate in and out of ward and stake callings, I include some ideas that leaders can use with their callings. The principles are the same and can be applied in families, with friends, as church members, and when we serve in church callings.

Q: We hear numerous reports of religious disaffiliation in our modern age, particularly in Western society. How are these trends reflected in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

A: All churches and denominations are experiencing a drop in membership and participation. Younger Americans, particularly Millennials and Gen-Z, see little need to participate in organized religion. In fact, the fastest-growing group of religious identification is “spiritual, but non-religious.” As Latter-day Saints, we are experiencing these same trends. The underlying reasons include society’s broad acceptance of those who are non-religious, people being comfortable going it alone, less trust of institutions in general and of religions specifically, more opportunities to find friends and like-minded people through social media and other settings, and more. The reasons are many.

For the Church in the United States, data from social scientists show that disaffiliation for those born after 1970 is about 39% and, although the sample size is low, that 55% of millennials have disaffiliated. Most of those who disaffiliate remain on the rolls of the Church, but no longer think of themselves of Latter-day Saints. And they disaffiliate younger than previous generations. The average age of millennial disaffiliation is 18.4 years while for boomers it was 23.7 years.

Q: What are a few root causes for religious disaffiliation among Latter-day Saints?

A: Latter-day Saints experience all the same issues as other religions, but there are unique issues which we face. Some leave because they become aware of issues in our history which are controversial or seem inconsistent with our values. They may have concerns about particular Church policies, like our teachings about LGBTQ issues. They may disagree with the way in which women and men serve and experience the Church. Church culture and what they experience in their wards and classes may feel judgmental and perfectionistic. They may be different in some way, like being childless, or being single, experiencing mental illness, being politically liberal. Others just don’t feel the Church addresses the areas which are meaningful to them, including issues of social justice, poverty, racism, sexism or violence.

Q: What are a few typical responses among families and congregations towards those who disaffiliate or become disaffected with the Church’s teachings?

A: As I interviewed members and read their comments and experiences in my surveys, I was frankly surprised by the disconnect between fully believing members and local leaders and those who doubt, question, or have left the Church. Many believing members feel the primary reasons why people leave is because they are offended, have sinned, or are lazy. They sometimes blame the disaffiliating member for having not studied scriptures, prayed, or attended the temple often enough. Those members who are struggling with their faith often have serious doctrinal, historical, or cultural concerns about the Church. When members or local leaders don’t have a true understanding of why these people leave or struggle to stay, their efforts are often ineffective, or worse, hurtful, and push members further away.

Sometimes it is because they don’t understand, but also, it causes fear when a family member learns their child, sibling, or spouse is struggling with belief. It threatens their hope for an eternal family as they worry about their spiritual welfare.

Without thinking about it, we make a snap judgment as to why they have left and assume that it is because they have been offended or because of secret sin. We may be afraid to ask them because we don’t want to offend them. We might keep them at arm’s length and be afraid that they will infect us with doubt. Some disaffiliated members feel that they are labeled as “anti-Mormon” or “apostates” and don’t feel that they are welcome. We may exclude them from our social life because we are uncomfortable with them or with having our children associate with them. Leaders may release them from their callings even though they are willing to serve.

Sometimes in our interactions with disaffiliated members, we seek to testify or explain away their concerns when they just want to keep their close relationship, friendship, or continue to worship even with their doubts.

Q: What are a few ways we can minister to disaffiliated and disaffected members, both individually and as congregations?

First and most important, we need to learn to listen to them individually and collectively. We really don’t know their concerns unless we take the time to listen. Listening is hard—it means that we suspend trying to explain their decision and instead really let them share with us what they are feeling and why. Our minds will naturally try and explain it away and find the fault in their logic or life that lead them to their new beliefs. As they are talking, our minds might be filled with how we can counter their concerns. We might be tempted to encourage them to read more scripture, pray harder, or go to the temple. But first, we need to just listen to understand their concern and why it is important to them. Giving unsolicited advice rarely works.

While listening, we need to take their concerns seriously. These issues are very real to them and we should never try and minimize their concerns. We need to validate, even if we disagree. Later, after they know that we really care about their concerns and how it impacts them, perhaps we can discuss ways to think about the issue or even more forward without a clear resolution.

Q: What brief message can you offer to family members or friends of individuals who have become disaffected with the Church’s teachings or who have chosen to disaffiliate?

A: As we listen and validate, we can answer some questions; and when we can’t, we can mourn and comfort our family or friend who has become disaffected. We can find common ground, even if we aren’t 100% united in the values we live and in our spiritual beliefs. Our relationships can be meaningful, close, and full of love, even with these differences.

If they come back, that’s wonderful. If they don’t, we can trust the Lord and enjoy every moment, even within our differences. I take great comfort from Elder Orson F. Whitney, who said, “Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable than even the best of his servants, and the everlasting gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.” Our Heavenly Parents love our family member or friend far more than we can comprehend. They want their happiness too, today and forever.

David B. Ostler
July 2019

 


Free ebook offer: Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives May 16 2019

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Book description:

This collection of essays by renowned historian Davis Bitton traces how Joseph Smith has appeared from different points of view throughout history. Bitton wrote: "People like Joseph Smith are rich and complex. . . . Different people saw him differently or focused on a different facet of his personality at different times. Inescapably, what they observed or found out about him was refracted through the lens of their own experience. Some of the different, flickering, not always compatible views are the subject of this book.”

“A thoughtful and thought-provoking introductory text for someone wanting an overview of Joseph Smith.” — Improvement Era


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Free ebook offer: The End of the World, Plan B: A Guide for the Future November 08 2018

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Environmental decline, political gridlock, war and rumors of war, decadence, and immorality. The End of the World, Plan B traces the idea of the end, or destruction, of the world through a number of spiritual traditions. It shows that our present understanding of the “end game” has been distorted by a modern emphasis and demand on justice as the ultimate good. As an alternative to this self-destructive approach, Charles Shirō Inouye shows that in these traditions, justice is not the isolated end in itself that we ought strive for; rather it is taught in tandem with its balancing companion: compassion. Plan B is a hopeful alternative to our fears about how things are going.

“Inouye reminds us that justice is not enough and that obedience is not the currency of salvation. He urges us to recognize the limits of the law, to see that, severed from a willingness to compassionately suffer with the world’s imperfection and evanescence, our righteous hunger for balancing life's books will destroy us all.” — Adam S. Miller 


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Who is Lot Smith? Forgotten Folk Hero of the American West November 06 2018

 


WHO IS LOT SMITH?

LOT SMITH is a legendary folk hero of the American West whose adventurous life has been all but lost to the annals of time. Lot arrived in the West with the Mormon Batallion during the Mexican-American War. He remained in California during much the Gold Rush, and was later a participant in many significant Utah events, including the Utah-Mormon War, the Walker War, the rescue of the Willie & Martin Handcart Companies, and even joined the Union Army during the US Civil War. Significantly, Lot Smith was one of the early settlers of the Arizona territory and led the United Order efforts in the Little Colorado River settlements. What follows is a brief sketch of Lot's service in the Mormon Batallion and the experiences that shaped him.

Lot was reared by a hard-working Yankee father and a devoutly religious mother. His mother passed when he was fourteen. At the impressionable age of sixteen, Lot joined the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican-American War as one of its youngest members. His father passed before he returned to his family. Consequently, his experiences in the Mormon Battalion shaped his life significantly. The struggles of this heroic infantry march of two-thousand miles across the country embedded within him several valuable characteristics.

During most of the journey, his company marched with very scanty rations. Despite his teenage-boy-appetite, he learned that he could survive on almost nothing. At one point during the march, Smith and others were so hungry that they ate the bark from a pepper tree. It did not agree with Smith. Ever after, he never allowed pepper at his dining table. In later life, when he and the soldiers under his command suffered intense hunger during the Utah and Civil Wars, he knew how they felt and empathized. When neighboring Arizona colonists faced famine, he quickly came to their aid. When his own colonists had food shortages, he did not ration the provisions. He knew what near starvation felt like.

Lot Smith came to value the comfort of clothing and shoes in the absence thereof. As the battalion march continued, his clothing and shoes wore out. He had only a ragged shirt and an Indian blanket wrapped around his torso for pants. At the death of one of the soldiers, he gratefully inherited the man’s pants. His feet were shod with rawhide cut from the hocks of an ox. Ever after, he never took shoes for granted. It appears that he may have developed an obsession for them. Soon after his arrival in Utah Territory, he was known to have bought himself a pair of shoes that was outlandishly too large. He said that he wanted to get his money’s worth! Years later, he bought thirty pairs of shoes at a gentile shoe shop. When he saw the astonishment of the shopkeeper, he said, “If these give good service, I’ll be back and buy shoes for the rest of my family!” He frequently carried an extra pair of shoes. In at least two recorded instances, he gave an extra pair of shoes to grateful men who were in desperate need. He knew how feet with no shoes felt—sore, bruised and cut.

Several times the battalion marched miles and even days with no water. One of the more fortunate times, the soldiers found rainwater in wallows mixed with buffalo urine and dung. Only a few sickened. Once after marching two days without water, they were promised water at the end of their march, only to find that there had been water, but the officers and their mounts had finished it off. The troops crowded around the moist hollow and dipped with spoons and sucked through quills for a mouthful of water. Another time after a more than two-day waterless march, Smith helped dig for water. He was then asked to carry a keg of water back to the soldiers, who had been too weak to continue, with strict orders to start with the farthest soldier. He passed the first few but could no longer pass his pleading thirsty comrades. Compassion became one of his strong characteristics. Yet he also learned obedience—strict obedience. For his disobedience, he was tied to the back of a wagon to walk in trying and humiliating circumstances. Throughout his life, he expected firm obedience of himself and from those he led in war, those he led in colonizing, and those within his family.

Smith developed endurance during the Mormon Battalion march. He carried a shoulder load of paraphernalia, walked as many as twenty-five miles or more each day—sometimes dragging mules through the heavy sand. There was no stopping—and absolutely no pampering. When the going got rough, he had to keep going. He suffered extreme heat and freezing nights on the deserts.  Through all of these challenges, he learned to laugh at the hardships and to maintain a happy optimistic view of life. He emerged from the Mormon Battalion as a young man who knew he could do hard things.

It is not known how skilled Smith became with a gun during his battalion march, but during his later years in Arizona, he was known to be an expert marksman who could shoot accurately even from the hip. Every morning he took a practice shot. Navajos and Hopis would come from miles around to challenge him. He gained a reputation of the most feared gunman in Arizona.

Smith faced many life-threatening ordeals throughout the rest of his life. Many different kinds of hardships would test his endurance. He faced them with courage, a trust in God, and an upbeat attitude. His example inspired those who followed him. As a significant and beloved military leader, he knew how to succor those under his command. One who served with him in the military said, “We loved him because he loved us first.”

Lot Smith learned many valuable life lessons on the Mormon Battalion march that served him well. Yes, he rid his table of hot pepper—and he should have done away with something else hot—his temper!


Talana S. Hooper is a native of Arizona’s Gila Valley. She attended both Eastern Arizona College and Arizona State University. She compiled and edited A Century in Central, 1883–1983 and has published numerous family histories. She and her husband Steve have six children and twenty-six grandchildren.

 


Lot Smith recounts the Mormon frontiersman’s adventures in the Mormon Battalion, the hazardous rescue of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, the Utah War, and the Mormon colonization of the Arizona Territory. True stories of tense relations with the Navajo and Hopi tribes, Mormon flight into Mexico during the US government's anti-polygamy crusades, narrow escapes from bandits and law enforcers, and even Western-style shoot-outs place Lot Smith: Mormon Pioneer and American Frontiersman into both Western Americana literature and Mormon biographical history.

Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook

Q&A with Talana S. Hooper for Lot Smith: Mormon Pioneer and American Frontiersman November 01 2018

 

 

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Q: Give us some background into this book. How did it come together?

A: My grandfather James M. "Jim" Smith was the youngest of Lot Smith's fifty-two children. Since Lot Smith was killed by a renegade Navajo six months before my grandfather's birth, my Grandpa James sought his entire life to learn all he could about the father he never knew. He soon discovered that his father had lived a life which generated myths and legends. He obtained many firsthand accounts which were most often tinged with admiration and love—yet not all were complimentary. Jim Smith's oldest son, my father Omer, recorded the stories and enlisted the help of my mother Carmen to more completely research Lot Smith's history in libraries around the country. When Omer unexpectedly passed, Carmen continued to research, interview, and compile for another thirty years. However, by her mid-nineties, her eyesight had failed enough so that even with her magnifying glass she could no longer see her computer screen well enough to continue. I knew that Lot Smith's life story was too compelling and valuable to be lost. With her blessing and help (while she was still able), I began working to bring the biography together for publication.

Q: For readers who are unfamiliar with Lot Smith, can you give us a basic background of who he was?

A: Lot Smith, a man with a fiery red beard and a temper to match it, experienced firsthand many of the significant events in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His life was one adventure after another. He joined the Mormon Battalion at the age of sixteen and participated in the California Gold Rush. The life lessons he learned during the Mormon Battalion prepared him for a life of service—many times grueling—for the Church and his fellowmen.

Smith continued his military career. His reputation of fearlessness became widely known as a member of the Minute Men Life Guards—the cavalry that defended the Latter-day Saints in the Rockies from Indians. He was a captain of the Life Guards who rescued the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies. Major Smith served a critical role in defending his fellow Saints from what seemed certain annihilation by the US Army by burning their supplies and wagons in the Utah War. For that act, he was hailed as a hero by the Saints, but indicted for treason in the US courts. After Smith fought in the Walker War, he was appointed as a captain in the US Army to guard telegraph lines and mail routes during the American Civil War. During that service, he and his men endured a harrowing, life-threatening chase after unknown Indians who had stolen two hundred horses. Readers will enjoy several interesting trips with Brigham Young when Smith served as an escort guard. Smith lastly served as Brigadier General in the Black Hawk War and then served a mission in the British Isles.

In 1876 Brigham Young called Smith to lead colonization in the Arizona Territory. Young charged Smith to establish the United Order and to befriend the Indian tribes. Both these directives brought more adventures as they struggled to secure a mere livelihood. Smith served as Arizona's first stake president, and his Sunset United Order provided a way station for others colonizing in New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. Smith also helped lead Church colonization in Mexico—another ordeal.

Smith was one of the most feared gunmen in Arizona. He several times drew his gun on men meaning harm but pulled the trigger only once. Besides defending his rights as a stockman, he vowed he would never be arrested for polygamy and narrowly escaped arrest many times. His untimely death came from a shot in the back by a renegade Navajo.

Q: Can you give us a scene from Lot Smith's life that you found particularly interesting?

A: It is difficult to choose just one scene from Lot Smith's life to share. I considered the incident when one of his men was accidentally shot during the Utah War or the rescue of the Martin Handcart Company. I remember the death-defying chase up the Snake River in the Civil War. And then I consider the time when he had a shootout with a man hired to kill him. All are incredible events! And yet, I choose simple episodes Smith shared with his sons.

While Smith lived in Arizona, the federal marshals increased their efforts to arrest any polygamists. Smith had four wives in Arizona, so he was a target. He was always on the alert and evaded arrest many times by riding a fast horse and carrying a fast gun. One time when Lot and his sons were shucking corn in the field, a marshal appeared some distance away. Smith told his boys to shock him up in the corn. When the officer rode up, the boys greeted him cordially. The officer never did figure out how Smith escaped the area!

On another occasion, Smith was traveling with his son Al in a wagon. Lot looked up the road to see a man on horseback and said to Al that it looked like a U.S. Marshal. Since Lot was convinced that no deceit could enter the Kingdom of God, he wanted all his posterity to be honest and truthful at all times—even in the face of danger. So when he saw the marshal, he told his son to stay in the wagon and not to lie, or he'd skin him alive. Lot took his gun and hid behind a bush. The officer approached and asked Al if he were Lot Smith's son. Al replied that he was. Then the officer asked where his father was. Al replied, "Right behind that bush beside you." The officer didn't look; he feared Smith's gun. He merely said, "Well, you tell him that I passed the time of day with him," and said good-bye.

Q: There are a lot of myths and legends that surround Lot Smith. Can you talk about a couple and set the record straight?

A: Several preposterous stories have been attributed to Lot Smith—probably because of his reputation as a rough character with a strong personality, and an expert gunman which caused people to fear him. One widespread myth was that he was involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. How could Smith, the hero of the Utah War, be in Wyoming and southern Utah at the same time? Yet the myth persisted, and newspapers printed at his death that he was involved in the massacre.

One of the most oft-repeated myths of Lot Smith was that he branded his wives. It was so widely believed that at the death of his wife Jane in 1912, people still speculated if she had been branded.

The myth followed Smith to Arizona. Children of his last wife, Diantha, were told that their mother had been branded. The real story of Smith "branding his wife" involved his second wife Jane after his first wife Lydia had left. While Lot and two of his friends were branding near his home in Farmington, Jane was preparing dinner for her husband and the guests. Jane needed eggs. She went out and spied some eggs in the manger where she couldn't reach without entering the corral. Jane knew that Lot's stallion chased and bit anyone but Lot, but the stallion seemed to be dozing in the far corner of the corral. She reasoned that she could sneak in unnoticed. However, the stallion was not as drowsy as she has assumed. He jerked up his head, shrieked, and charged Jane. Without dropping his branding iron, Lot jumped and ran between his wife and the stallion. When she ducked to go under the fence, he pushed her through with the branding iron. The men at the branding fire watched as Jane twisted to check her nice skirt that she wore for company. The branding iron had cooled enough that it didn't even scorch it. One of the men laughed and said, "That's one that won't get away from you; she's branded!"

Lot, who loved to entertain and enjoyed a sense of humor, was partially responsible for starting the myth. In church meetings after this incident, he arose to bear his sincere testimony. Along with recounting his blessings, he was heard to say on more than one occasion, "And anything I own, I brand—including my wife!"

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?

A: Most of all, I want readers of the Lot Smith biography to enjoy the incredible and fascinating life of Lot Smith. His life was one thrilling adventure after another! Since his life entwined significant events in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hope that readers get an up-close perspective of some of these events.

I hope readers learn through Lot's experiences that trials and hard circumstances can refine us. When Lot was in the Mormon Battalion, he experienced periods of no food, no water, no shoes, and scanty clothing. His compassion for others in similar situations was born. He was always generous to the poor and could never turn away anyone who was hungry even when food was scarce. It seems he often carried an extra pair of shoes to give away freely.

Lot's strong leadership in the colonization of the destitute Arizona Territory in the United Order was phenomenal. Through hard work and wise leadership, the colonists avoided starvation and established homes. I want readers to more fully realize and understand some of the sacrifices our forefathers made to settle the frontier land for future generations.

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Flash Sale: 40%-63% off Mormon theology titles! October 25 2018

Friday, Oct 26 through Monday, Oct 29. Theology titles by James McLachlan, Blake Ostler, Adam Miller, Joseph Spencer, James Faulconer, Jacob Baker, Blair Van Dyke, Loyd Ericson, Charles Inouye, Charles Harrell, Robert Millet, and more...

Book of Mormon Flash Sale: 40%-64% off! September 20 2018

Friday, Sep 21 through Monday, Sep 24
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