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John Weldon's Response To Mosser/Owen and FARMS

Note: This is an initial response to the paper "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" by Carl Mosser and Paul Owen. This response may be modified or expanded within the near future.


In the Ankerberg Theological Research Journal, we responded in specific detail to FARMS' review of our own book on Mormonism, Behind the Mask of Mormonism, and we will make additional comments below. Here we would also like to add some comments that illustrate our concerns over the current attempts at Mormon-Christian dialogue and the methods used. So, before we cite specific examples of FARMS reviews, we will make some introductory observations.

First, once you assume Mormonism is true by definition, no evidence can ever be found that refutes it because contrary evidence is false by definition. Therefore, the real issues cannot be dealt with and what are legitimate arguments against Mormonism must be ignored, dismissed by false arguments, or made to look silly. FARMS excels at this. It's not just that some of their reviews are juvenile, it is that they are often mean-spirited, condescending, or meticulously biased.

While many reviews at the FARMS website also seem to be generally civil -- those of Peterson, Norwood and Hamblin are among the exceptions -- the reviews are so biased in favor of Mormonism and the reviewer's so unwilling to look fairly at critical evidence, that the reviews have little credibility. (There was one exception we will discuss later.)

The point is not that responsible Christian writers make such glaring errors concerning Mormonism (in the eyes of LDS/FARMS), it's that fundamentalist, conservative Mormons scholars are so unwilling to deal fairly with their own history. Obviously, if Mormons ignore the authoritative doctrinal teachings and pronouncements of early Mormon church leaders that contradict modern Mormon doctrine, then those who point such things out can be labeled as "ignorant" concerning Mormonism or even as "hostile" to Mormonism--because Mormonism has now been conveniently redefined by modern Mormons.

The real issue is whether early and modern Mormonism are in such serious conflict doctrinally that contemporary Mormonism, thoroughly embarassed by the revelations, has been forced to resort to suppression and cover-ups.

Second, the truth is that those who have brought to light the problems and overall doctrines of Mormonism are the ones who are dealing fairly with Mormonism--even if it discredits Mormonism--not those who look at only part of the evidence to justify their own biases as to what they think Mormonism is or should be.

In the case of those who would reinvent Mormonism, their argument should be with the early Mormon prophets and presidents and the response of the contemporary church, not with Christians or Mormon "liberals" who cite them. If early Mormonism damns modern Mormonism, that is hardly the fault of Christian researchers or more open-minded Mormon scholars who are attempting to show Christians and Mormons what the Mormon religion is really all about. If FARMS/LDS scholars change the rules of the game midstream, the consequences are no one's fault but their own.

Third, FARMS reviewers make mountains of reviews out of molehills of errors and supposed errors. And as noted, they are often not civil, despite what Dr. Peterson's claims in the Introduction to the first volume of Review of Books on the Book of Mormon (1989) would lead one to expect:

"As Latter-day Saints, we belong to a culture which values kindness and the accentuation of the positive. This is quite proper, and entirely Christian. Criticism in the commonly used sense of the term--and the reviewing of books written by fallible mortal authors will always entail a certain amount of such criticism--is something that our culture is wary of, and with some justification. Too often, it can be unhelpful, unfair, cruel, and self-aggrandizing. Of Babylon, and not of Zion. I hope that we have successfully avoided that tendency in our first attempt."

Fourth, with FARMS, no one can ever win an argument against Mormonism, no matter how good. (Illustrating this is the purpose of this appendix.)

Before we proceed to FARMS responses to other critical works, we wish to make a few comments concerning their response to our own work. For those who are familiar with our other books, our book on Mormonism was written no differently as to style or approach, nor is it different in these respects to what is written here.

In his review of our first and second printings, Dr. Peterson referred to our book in the following terms: "unrelentingly negative, unremittingly hostile, ...bigoted, intolerant, ugly, incompetent, and dishonest. It is an unexcelled illustration of the old maxim that bigotry consists in being certain of something one knows nothing about.... a wretched specimen of fundamentalist Protestant hate literature...[it] misleads its readers with palpable falsehoods, including assertions that "Mormon teaching [denies] God, Christ, the Bible, salvation, etc.".... it continues to...ignore Mormon scholarship" and constitutes "an informed and poisonous bigotry." He thinks we must have spent "only the better part of a week" producing our book.

(We can sympathize with Peterson, as he appears a bit stressed. In a 1997 review of Rudger Hauth's Die Mormonen, he confesses his reviewing of anti-Mormon works is "an increasingly wearisome chore" as he surveys "the dreary precincts of the fundamentalist anti-Mormon demimonde." He even likens his task to being in an "anti-Mormon zombie hell" and finds it "truly difficult" considering all the anti-Mormon literature, "not to think of those black-and-white Grade B monster movies, with their advancing hordes of mindless zombies whom no number of direct hits could ever stop." As we said, we can emphasize with Dr. Peterson. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism ("Anti-Mormon Publications") asserts there are over 2,000 anti-Mormon works since 1830, half published since 1960, one-third since 1970. It seems the good doctor will be busy for some time to come.)

Nevertheless, the "palpable falsehoods" he mentions are sober truths. As we documented in detail in our book, Mormonism does deny God, Christ, the Bible, salvation, etc. One can also find such denials at the FARMS website. For example, in "The True Points of My Doctrine" by Noel B. Reynolds Journal of Book of Mormon Studies Volume 5, number 2, 1996 we read:

"Abstract: In a 1991 BYU Studies article, I identified and analyzed three core Book of Mormon passages in which the gospel or doctrine of Jesus Christ is defined. Each of these passages presents the gospel as a six-point formula or message about what men must do if they will be saved…. The Book of Mormon prophets clearly believed that while being born of God is necessary for salvation, it is not sufficient ... . Alma describes this [particular] requirement quite simply-those who are baptized are to keep 'the commandments of God from thenceforth,' which, if they do, they will 'have eternal life' (Alma 7:16)."


In "Cry Redemption:The Plan of Redemption as Taught in the Book of Mormon" by Corbin T. Volluz, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Spring 1994, we read:

"And yet the Book of Mormon is equally clear that God requires perfect obedience to his will of those who would enter his kingdom. How then can anyone be saved? The good news of the gospel, as proclaimed in the Book of Mormon, is that God has provided a way through his Son whereby men may be redeemed from their lost and fallen state to a state of righteousness; to a spiritual state as opposed to a carnal, natural state; to a state wherein they are able to keep the commandments of God; ... "

Both FARMS (and Mosser/Owen) were critical of us for not citing FARMS research in our book, implying we were thereby uninformed, unscholarly, etc. It's not that we did not know about FARMS; it's just that based on what we did know about Mormonism we were convinced that anything FARMS contributed to the issue would be irrelevant. And, after having read more about and by FARMS, we continue to feel this way.

Nevertheless, apparently taking their cue from Dr. Peterson, our evangelical brothers Carl Mosser and Paul Owen referred to our book as "among the ugliest, most unchristian, and misleading polemics in print." (p.23) One can only wonder why Peterson, Mosser and Owen are so sensitive to serious criticism of Mormonism? Does the increasing acceptance of 'tolerance' in the church mean that we must go out of our way to not offend religions that attack Christianity as damnable and apostate?

Where is the evidence for the charges? Where and how is our book so extremely unchristian, misleading polemically and ugly? Is our book 'ugly' because we declared Mormonism is a false religion and a deception? That is exactly the conclusion one arrives at.

Or, is it 'unchristian' because we provided solid evidence that Joseph Smith was an occultist and that Mormonism could properly be called an occult religion? Sorry, but that's the truth, as a half dozen well-researched volumes prove. Besides those mentioned earlier by Quinn and Brooke, there is the Tanners Mormonism, Magic and Masonry and Satanic Ritual Abuse and Mormonism. Even the Mormon Historical Association gave Lance S. Owens 80-page Dialogue article, "Joseph Smith and the Kabbalah: The Occult Connection" its "Best Article Award for 1995." Or perhaps our book was considered unchristian because we were sarcastic at places? But doesn't even God himself use sarcasm in the Bible?

Perhaps it was 'misleading polemically' because we documented the embarrassing teachings of Mormonism historically and today—blood atonement, racism, abuse of women through polygamy, the false prophecies of Joseph Smith, changes in scripture and doctrine (and the cover-ups), the crude sexual polytheism, and other matters? That's nobody's fault but that of Mormonism.

It seems that, with the Apostle Paul, we have become someone's enemies because we told them the truth (Gal. 4:16).

If one is in gross error, of course the truth will hurt. But better now than later. It's far better to accept the truth when tough than to neglect it for the consequences. If we can understand this clearly in seeing the results of the criminal justice system, why cannot we see it in the highest Court of all? And even if we had gone out of our way to be exceptionally nice, kind and courteous, as James White did in his books, we still would have received the same unconscionable treatment he did. The real issue is that Mormon reviewers and two evangelicals, for their own reasons, didn't like our book. That's fine, but we would hardly change our conclusions.

Unfortunately however, distortions and vilification can develop a life of their own, as is true with the average Mormons negative view of the late Dr. Walter Martin. As a result of Mormon writers' attacks upon his character, especially those of Robert and Rosemary Brown in They Lie in Wait to Deceive, the average Mormon has demonized Martin, conveniently ignoring his arguments. Similarly, Mosser and Owen's quote on us was picked up and spread far and wide on the internet, is still found at the largest internet bookstore in the world, Amazon.com., and has been used repeatedly by Mormons to "prove" that even Evangelicals think our book is reprehensible. For example, the first review of our book at Amazon.com cites Mosser and Owen above, verbatim, and then uses the comment to declare our book is "denounced" and "condemned" even by evangelicals, concluding, "If both Mormons AND evangelical Christians are criticizing this book so strongly, how good can it really be?"

Poisoning the Well With Illustrations

But this seems to be the purpose of FARMS Review of Books -- to poison the well beforehand so Mormons cannot drink widely, if at all. If they write their reviews of Christian books to make them look as bad as possible, the average Mormon will logically conclude these books are not worth reading.

But it is not just Christians who can't win and are ridiculed; it is anyone critical of Mormonism, including e.g., secular scholars, Catholics and even other Mormon scholars. No one in the world can win but FARMS because only FARMS can be trusted to tell us the real truth about Mormonism.

FARMS is, as we know, an acronym for the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. Unfortunately, after reading their reviews, etc., and examining their methods, an acronym equally suited for FARMS would often be: frequent artless ridicule made simple. This is particularly so in light of the "Metcalf is Butthead" acronym fiasco, and similar matters. We mean no disrespect toward the more balanced FARMS writers, but FARMS style and antics are often less than scholarly.

Let us illustrate by citing various reviewers' comments on critical books from the FARMS website. These are exerpted from the first 10 years of Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, now FARMS Review of Books. All the books below are good to excellent, but it hardly matters. (To find the original review, use the FARMS search engine)

L. Ara Norwood's review of Dr. James White's Letters to a Mormon Elder referred to this fine Christian gentlemen and scholar as "a desperado," "a mere puppet," and "a buffoon," who was engaging in "bigotry and shallowness" and "sophomoric analysis" and as one who had reached "new levels of ineptitude." In his review of our Behind the Mask of Mormonism, Dr. Peterson refers to Dr. White's "A Study in FARMS Behavior" as "an egregiously ad hominen antiFARMS polemic," -- something patently false. For Louis C. Midgley, White is "one of the nastier anti-Mormons that it has been my displeasure to encounter."

L. Ara Norwood's review of the Tanners' Covering up the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon commented "they remain to Mormon literature what the tabloids are to journalism" while Tom Nibley called it "[a] miserable morass of misinformation.... I find them naive and credulous...totally incapable of dealing with evidence contrary to their beliefs, which evidence they cheerfully ignore, misquote, quote out of context, or bury." William J. Hamblin declared, "they simply refuse to deal with recent serious Latter-day Saint arguments...a perfect picture of the Tanners at the height of their ineptitude...completely fails to deal with [current LDS scholarly] interpretation of the Book of Mormon geography and archaeology...incapable of seriously dealing with academic studies and issues surrounding questions of archaeology and geography of either the New or old World....[they should] stick to their...facile, ad nauseum demonstrations that Latter-day Saint doctrine bears little relationship to fundamentalist Protestant doctrine."

Daniel Peterson dismissed Catholic Peter Bartley's Mormonism, the Prophet, the Book and the Cult as "rather worthless."

William J. Hamblin was unimpressed with Paul Toscano's The Sanctity of Dissent (Signature Books) because it "exhibits a remarkable indifference to careful contextual reading of both scriptural and historical texts."

In a review of the Tanners Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? Matthew Roper paraphrased John Sorensen's comments about the Smithsonian Institutions declaration rejecting Book of Mormon authenticity in the following words: the Smithsonian Institution "lack[s] people competent to evaluate the book Mormon properly in its ancient context."!

Francis J. Beckwith and Stephen E. Parish authored The Mormon Concept of God: a Philosophical Analysis. But as far as the FARMS reviewer was concerned it "suffers from vagueness.... their arguments...are seriously flawed.... they have not been careful when dealing with the canons and criteria of sound philosophical argumentation. They play fast and loose with biblical views. Indeed, their myopic scriptural fundamentalism leads them to serious errors in scriptural exegesis....Beckwith and Parish's book will merely further confuse the issues...."

Daniel C. Peterson, William J. Hamblin and George L. Mitton have the following to say about John L. Brooke's analysis of the occult origins of Mormonism, The Refiners Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology,1644-1844. If their review is accurate, matters have deteriorated precipitously at Cambridge University Press for publishing such a trashy book: "Professor Brooke's command of the data on Mormonism... is far too weak to compensate for this books interpretive errors." It "relies on late secondhand anti-Mormon accounts..." and "Brooks presentation of early Mormon history is likewise plagued by repeated blunders." "Over and over again, Professor Brooke misreads Latter-day Saint doctrine..."; "Brooke's understanding of contemporary Mormonism fares no better." He "shows little awareness of faithful [LDS] scholarship" and "his presentation consistently misrepresents LDS scripture, doctrine and history..." His book has only a "feeble grasp of the primary texts." Peterson concludes his book should be a candidate for the Mormon History Association's "worst book of the year" award. In his

Editor's Introduction to FARMS Review of Books Vol. 9 no. 1 he declared it "irredeemably flawed." (Footnote 11)

Lance S. Owen's "Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection" published in Dialogue volume 27 No. 3, 1994, was, again, given the "Best Article Award for 1995" by the Mormon History Association. But it hardly matters, because it receives the same negative conclusion of virtually all critical Mormon works. According to William Hamblin, "because of numerous problems with evidence and analysis, none of Owens's major propositions have been substantiated" and, "In summary, Owens's thesis cannot bear the weight of critical scrutiny ... . My friend Matt Moore aptly described Owens's theory as another attempt in the grand tradition of Quinn and Brooke at historia ex nihilo--the creation of history out of nothing. His efforts to pull a magic rabbit out of his hat to bolster environmental explanations of Joseph Smith's revelations are simply smoke and mirrors."

Kurt Van Gorden's Mormonism is "yet another stale anti-Mormon tract" according to one reviewer, while Norwood comments in his review of the same book that most anti-Mormons are "deeply insecure" and that anti-Mormons "fail in their assessments of Mormonism because they invariably use a flawed method...[they] examine Mormonism by holding it up to the rubric of [their current understanding of] Protestant Christianity...[they "do not attempt to understand the differences" between Mormonism and evangelical Protestantism but have] an unhealthy arrogance that all spiritual truth known to man is housed in their heads. This prevents honest inquiry, but it also causes carelessness and sloppy, slipshod analysis."

Mormon scholar and historian D. Michael Quinn is one of Mormonism's leading scholars. He was excommunicated from the church because his research into Mormonism led him to discover and write on many things LDS leadership did not like. He is a former professor of history at BrighamYoung University. His accolades include the Samuel F. Bemis, the George W. Egleston, and the Frederick W. Beinecke prizes; Best Book and Best Article awards from the Mormon History Association; "Outstanding Teacher" by vote of graduating BYU seniors; and invitations to lecture at the University of Paris's Fondation de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme and other similar venues. He is the author of J. Reuben Clark: The Church Years; Early Mormonism and the Magic World View; The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power; The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power; and Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example. He is the editor of The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past and a contributing author to American National Biography; Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History; Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education; Reader's Encyclopedia of the American West; Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America's Western Past; and Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism. His research honorariums include grants from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, Yale University, and others.

Quinn's book on Mormon origins, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, as the publisher says, "examines the contradictions and confusion of the first two tumultuous decades of Latter-day Saint history. He demonstrates how events and doctrines were silently, retroactively inserted into the published form of scriptures and official records to smooth out an often stormy and haphazard development." Quinn's sequel, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power runs over 900 pages with 2,500 footnotes. It has received rave reviews as a landmark work. Not unexpectedly, FARMS concludes: "In too many ways the book both misleads and distorts...[it is] a betrayal of the readers trust...[and] an embarrassment."

But the embarrassment is due FARMS. As one Internet reviewer noted at the Honest Intellectual Inquiry website:

"The FARMS review [of Quinn] paints a better picture of FARMS itself when it says that Quinn is guilty of "(a) blatant misquoting, (b) altering the tone of original reports, (c) making claims (some of them provocative) without documentation, (d) stretching interpretations of incidents to support claims, (e) ignoring obvious explanations for supposed "problems," (f) reaching false conclusions due to insufficient research, (g) omitting evidence contrary to claims, (h) fabricating supposed "contradictions," (i) clinging to apparent contradictions that are resolved by even the slightest serious thinking, (j) drawing conclusions contradicted by the book's own evidence, and (k) actually distorting the record to support a thesis".
(Emphasis added, see p. 40)

Consider a few other reviews by FARMS. The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Conventions' The Mormon Puzzle: Understanding and Witnessing to Latter-day Saints "distort[s] and misrepresent[s] the restored gospel [Mormonism]" and offers "misleading and antagonistic propaganda."

William J. Hamblin writes condescendingly concerning LDS scholar Brent Lee Metcalf's "Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity" Published in Dialogue Fall 1993 that it is: "...a distorted and confused presentation" that "betrays an academic immaturity which could benefit from a healthy dose of disciplined tutelage in a good undergraduate program.... his entire article exhibits such a consistent pattern of misrepresentation of both primary sources and the arguments of his intellectual rivals, that it raises serious questions as to whether any of Metcalf's work should be taken seriously." Dialogue editors are reprimanded for even publishing "such a shoddy article."

John R. Farkas and David A. Reed's Mormonism: Changes, Contradictions and Errors is "unapologetically biased, simplistic and unprofessional...pseudo-academic" and "the authors have failed [their stated goal] ...Indeed they have even failed to produce an interesting anti-Mormon work."

The Tanners are "apostates and scandal-mongers and professional enemies" of LDS who are hardly beyond being misrepresented by FARMS. In Peterson's review of Rudger Hauth's Die Mormonen, he completely misrepresents Sandra Tanners position, then calls it "loony" and asks "Is a person who can utter such nonsense... to be taken seriously?"

Melodie Moench Charles "Book of Mormon Christology." in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon is described as follows by Ross David Baron: "Her stated thesis is that Book of Mormon christological concepts or doctrines concerning Christ differ from the christology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since at least the 1840s" (p. 82) ... . Her footnotes are described by John A. Tvedtnes as "impressive," and are truly that. The problem is that many are inaccurate ... . Charles has shown a propensity to look the other way when scriptures, scholars, history, and official pronouncements of the Church disagree with her notions about the Book of Mormon and the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

As noted, with FARMS, no one ever wins. But like an oasis in a desert, there was one positive review (somewhat), of H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walter's Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (1994). The reviewer noted this was "a most convincing case" and that "exacting care [was] taken to establish even minuscule points." The book is "exceptionally well-documented and meticulously programmed as an expose of Joseph Smith and certain cardinal claims of the Restoration [Mormonism]" and it "will demand the very best verifiable responses available."

Finally, after 10 years of book reviews, one Christian work is fairly acknowledged, --but even this book actually does not prove its case because "at times what appear to be provable facts are impaired because only partial evidence remains," --etc.

As we said, only FARMS ever wins--the rest of the world--no matter how qualified academically, no matter how cogent their argumentation, no matter how solid their historical or other evidence--never gains ground because FARMS operates under the assumption that Mormonism alone is true (worse, their interpretation of Mormonism).

The FARMS view of virtually all evangelical scholarship is summed up in the words of K. Codell Carter and Christopher B. Isaac in the Vol. 6 no.2 issue of Review of Books on the Book of Mormon who collectively describe it as, "a singularly worthless genre."