Dear 100 Hour Board-
I recently stumbled across this website: [Link Removed]. It presents a lot of disturbing facts about Joseph Smith and Church history that if true, would make it almost impossible for me to believe in the Church. Is there any truth to the claims on this website? Please help. I feel like my entire world is crumbling and I don't know what to believe anymore.
Yes, there is a lot of truth on the site, but that doesn't mean you should leave the Church. I think you could really benefit from reading Richard Bushman's book Rough Stone Rolling, which is a very detailed account of Joseph Smith's life (including both the good and the bad). Bushman is an active and respected member of the Church and presents a compelling case that, though flawed, Joseph was God's tool to restore the Church. If nothing else, I highly suggest listening to all five segments of the Richard Bushman interview on the Mormon Stories podcast. I also think the most recent Mormon Stories podcast, which is the interview of Bishop Bill Reel, might help you gain perspective on how to approach the issues you are dealing with.
Take your time. Whether you decide to stay in the Church or not, I think the decision deserves a good deal of pondering and discussion and prayer. Yes, prayer. Even if you are to the point where you don't believe in prayer, I think you can gain a lot by finding a quiet time to talk out loud about the issues most important to your soul. Talk to people you trust. Tell them you don't necessarily want them to try to convince you to stay or to go, but that you need help talking about ideas you had never considered before. The simple act of vocalizing your issues will help you realize how much they actually impact you, and talking about them can be very helpful and therapeutic.
You can make it through this crisis of faith and come out happy. You can even come out faithful and stronger in the Church than what you were before. Just remember: take your time. Let me say it one more time: take your time. I'd be happy to help you in any way I can, whether it's as a listening ear or whether you need help verifying claims on that site or whether you need help finding happiness during this crisis. Click on my alias to see my email.
Good luck and God bless,
- Eliot Rosewater
Looking around that site, I honestly didn't see anything that worried me. It basically just addresses the run-of-the-mill set of potential objections to the Church. I am one of the thousands of church history geeks who are aware of these standard issues and still have testimonies. So first off, take a few deep breaths; this site is nothing new, nor is it that big of a deal. E.R.'s advice to take this slow really is a good idea.
It's easy to find awkward facts or accusations about a philosophy, religion, or public figure you dislike. Think about Joseph Smith as if he were a modern political figure, for example. Let's say Obama, though all of this applies just as well to Romney, or almost anyone else. There are some people on the internet who support Obama to a ridiculous extent and think he can do no wrong. There are others who seem to think he's evil incarnate. Clearly neither of these things are likely to be true. In order to find the truth, homework is required. The more you read about what Obama (or Romney or anyone) has said and done, the more you can understand him. This takes time and effort. And we aren't trying to decide whether he's perfect - we're trying to decide whether he's basically trustworthy and whether we can support him.
The same goes for Joseph Smith. He obviously wasn't perfect, but he may be worthy of our confidence. To decide, you need to slowly, deliberately do your research and study Church history. Plenty of books and documents are available. Focus on scholarly materials whose writers are not obviously biased. I second E.R.'s recommendation of Rough Stone Rolling. The work Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844 is a good place to start reading the original documents; it includes the full original text of every contemporary account of the First Vision, documents both affirming and denying how the Book of Mormon was translated, etc. If there's any specific issue that's bothering you, you can get typically find a summary of the pro-Church position on the matter, along with links for further reading, from the FAIR Wiki. Again, all of this study has to be taken slowly and seriously, and in the meantime you shouldn't do anything you could regret. It's much easier to stay in the Church than it is to return to it.
Joseph Smith was a kid from a farm. He had flaws. Sometimes they're whitewashed; sometimes they are exaggerated. Some of the complaints about him aren't true; plenty are. If you make a list of every potentially objectionable thing he ever did and write elaborate, exaggerated commentary about each item, it will surely be quite a list. Imagine what your list would look like. I know mine could be pretty interesting, and neither of our lists would be anything compared to some of the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs. But that isn't the point. The question is whether or not Joseph, despite his flaws, really saw God, received authority from Him, and translated the Book of Mormon. That's a question that only God can answer, and it will be answered as you search, ponder, and pray over weeks, months, and years.
I'm a member of the Church because I feel deeply that the Church, using the Book of Mormon, correctly outlines the fundamental doctrine of Christ and the path to happiness. It's brought me lasting peace and happiness, and I feel like it answers the deepest and most important questions of my life. Joseph Smith's quirks don't affect that.
Now that you've lost some illusions, you have a great opportunity to re-establish your testimony on the things that are really important. Take advantage of it.
Finally, I'd be interested in hearing more about your situation and doing anything I can to help - I'd be delighted if you shot me an email.
Before the link was removed from your question, I had a good long look at the site you got your disturbing information from. I just have this to say: What an unpleasant, disingenuous little website. Blech. I will read serious scholarship that challenges my beliefs all day long, but this is not that. Not by a long shot. Their claim is that they only want a rational discussion, but their approach is contentious, demanding and nitpicking. Much like telling Jesus that you'll only believe him to be the divine Savior if he comes down off of his cross. Straining at gnats and swallowing camels and whatnot. I've visited the website three times now (Updated: Four times! It's still bad!) and I haven't yet found something that I thought could even remotely be called objective, academic scholarship. So, I'm sorry to any readers who are now dying of curiosity about what website I'm referring to, but I don't mind in the least that they're not getting any cross-traffic from the Board.
In-depth analysis of LDS beliefs, history, claims and doctrines, seem to come in a spectrum of flavors: people who are anxious to prove them correct, people who are anxious to prove them wrong, and people who are just curious about them, or people who fit one or more of those categories. Possibly there are objective scholars (as far as anyone is completely objective) in all three groups. But it sure makes it hard for me to believe that a group is entirely objective when their first and last talking points go to the critics or when they claim that since we don't actively discuss dirty laundry in Sunday School means that there is clear suppression of information in order to protect Church interests.
I realize I've written an answer directly to you, the submitter of the question, and to really no one else, since it's all an angry spew about where you got your information and not even about the information itself. But look: the website where you got your information, while it could have been a lot worse in terms of aggressively trying to undermine people's faith or attack the Church, mostly was just a big waste of time. I'm very sorry it's causing you so much grief. I don't often refer to spiritual impressions or experiences in my Board answers, but I will say that my experiences digging into this website, and what I felt during it, definitely left with me with a impression of a thing that did not inspire to believe in Christ or to serve God (Moroni 7:16). Read the suggested articles mentioned above, ones done by serious scholars. And take heart from my own belief that, regardless of how the Church arrived to this day and age, the truths it teaches, the gospel it inspires its people to live, and the way it has changed my own life, are much stronger evidence that it is of God than things that occurred almost two full centuries ago. Look for the good in the Church, in your life, and in the world around you and remember that (staying in Moroni 7) "in Christ there should come every good thing."
- Rating Pending (who will now, gladly, relegate the website in question to the dreary, empty nether regions of his mind)