"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 18, 2013
A Tough Time to Be a Mormon?
by Jeff Lindsay

Is this an unusually difficult time to be a faithful member of the Church? Is the case against our faith so strong that the Church faces a crisis? Are members really leaving in droves because the Church cannot withstand intellectual examination? This is an issue Stephen Smoot addresses in a recent post at the FAIRLDS.org blog, “Reports of the Death of the Church are Greatly Exaggerated.” Smoot addresses some misinformation spread by others regarding a statement made by Elder Marlin K. Jensen to a concerned member of the Church.

There are legitimate concerns that we as members of the Church can have regarding those who leave. Too many leave, and too many never join in the first place because of confusion and distrust created by the attacks on the Church. There are many good reasons to leave, if one wishes to—meaning that there are many issues that can appear to be reasonable grounds for rejecting the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham or modern prophets or even for rejecting basic belief in God and Christ. None of these reasons are sufficient, in my opinion, but we must also grant that those who accept them and act upon them may be seeking truth and may be acting intelligently upon the information they have, based on the assumptions and expectations that they apply. We must not trivialize the concerns that others have nor assume that their objections are merely excuses for serious worthiness problems. Good people, trying to serve God or find Him, can feel it necessary or wise to leave the Church. We may disagree, but we need not shun or disrespect them. They have their reasons and they may be intelligently formed and even crafted in good faith.

The landslides of information that can be delivered on the Internet can create the impression of overwhelming forces against the Church. Indeed, there are many hostile sites and vast numbers of arguments that can be waged, and unprepared members can be overwhelmed and discouraged when they encounter hostile information.

But this is not a dark time for the Church. We are not retreating into knowledge-free catacombs or sealing ourselves inside intellectual bomb shelters as the Old Order crumbles. While we mourn that some are snagged and that some spiritual and intellectual needs were not adequately met, we actually have a luxury of intellectual and spiritual treasures being discovered and revealed in our day. Regarding the Book of Mormon, for example, we have the luxury today of field work in the Arabian Peninsula showing that the account in First Nephi 16 and 17 is not merely plausible, but so accurate and “interesting” that it is hard to conjure up any other explanation for those chapters apart from being written by someone who actually walked across the Arabian Peninsula. Part of what makes them so interesting is, for example, archaeological confirmation that an ancient burial place with a name related to “Nahom” existed in the place required by the text, and confirmation for the plausibility of other specific places such as Bountiful. These are remarkable finds that are becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss as lucky guesses, a point I try to make on my Book of Mormon Evidence page.

Recent scholarship into the original manuscripts helps us to understand the text more profoundly than before, and to recognize how strong the evidence is that this text was indeed the fruit of oral dictation from Joseph to his scribes. We see that the original text of the Book of Mormon is highly Semitic, and that it is actually “smarter” than Joseph Smith, as illustrated in the surprising details about the mysterious Amalekites in the Book of Mormon who turn out to probably be the Amlicites, transformed by a scribal error that Joseph Smith didn’t notice. Restoring the correct original word ties up several loose ends and makes sense of Mormon’s foreshadowing when the Amlicites are introduced and then, seemingly, vanish from the text. See Christopher Conkling, "Alma's Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (vol. 14, no.1, 2005).

There are many other topics for reflection such as the discovery of ancient Semitic poetical structures like deliberate, carefully crafted chiasmus within the text. See John W. Welch, "A Masterpiece: Alma 36," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. J.L. Sorenson and M.J. Thorne, Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1991.

We also have a treasury of historical research into the lives and statements of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, thanks to a lifetime of work by Richard L. Anderson and other scholars. This is scholarship not to be dismissed lightly.

In my personal journey of faith, it was reading modern scholarship about the ancient temple concept and specifically the ancient Jewish temple that helped me appreciate how majestic the LDS Temple concept is. The complete six elements of the ancient covenant formulary, a pattern of ancient Middle Eastern covenant making not recognized by scholars until the 20th century, is beautifully illustrated in the Temple, and in the Book of Mormon. I learned about that formula by reading the work of a leading Jewish scholar, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985) by Jon D. Levenson of Harvard. The framework his book provided helped me move forward with my appreciation of the LDS Temple as a restoration of something ancient and beautiful, though poured into a modern frame (a topic I address on my page about the LDS Temple and Masonry). There are many discoveries of this nature which can amplify our respect for the things of the Restoration.

Areas that once seemed like fatal weaknesses, such as the plausibility of the Book of Abraham, can become pillars of strength for those looking at the abundance of evidence coming forth showing that something far more interesting than guesswork and fraud is behind the text. See, for example, the new DVD, A Most Remarkable Book: Evidence for the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Abraham, from FAIRLDS.org or view some of the other evidences for plausibility. We have riches of evidences, strong answers to old puzzles, and an abundance of blessings to ponder and rejoice over. There are difficult questions for which answers may not yet be easy or satisfactory, and many issues that will challenge old sloppy assumptions, weak readings of sacred texts, or unreasonable expectations of human leaders in a Church inseparable from the fallible mortals within it. But this is not a time for retreat and “leaving the Church in droves.” It’s a time to take the Gospel more seriously than ever, to dig into the Book of Mormon and our scriptures more thoroughly than ever, and to welcome the rise of scholarship and information more gratefully than ever, while remaining grounded on the foundation of revelation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that we might not be swept away by landslides of slippery data.

This is a great time to be a Mormon. Perhaps the best ever.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.

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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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