My dear friend Chris Ralph is determined to open a dialogue on our behalf with the European Area Leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
His first Open Letter to The Europe Area Presidency received an estimated 15,000 views in just over a month. Up to this point he has not received a response. They either cannot reply through lack of knowledge concerning our questions or they wish to maintain the deception of the members who remain mostly ignorant of these issues.
When I was interviewed by my Stake President in April 2011, just after resigning as Bishop of Helston Ward, Plymouth England Stake, I warned the Stake President that either the Church talked openly about these issues or the members would find out for themselves and would then blame the Church for hiding the truth and deceiving them.
We are hereby giving the Church an opportunity to become transparent and practice the honesty it demands of its membership.
4th October 2012
Dear Area Presidency,
A little over five weeks ago I addressed an online open letter to you, posing some important questions relating to the founding claims of the Church. These questions, I suggested, required clear public answers if the growing tide of disaffected members was to be stemmed. I also invited you to open up a dialogue with me and others to consider these important issues. My intentions in doing so were honourable, for I am weary, (as I am sure many others also are), of feeling isolated from my local LDS community because I value historical truth. I am confident this letter must by now have been brought to your attention, as it is estimated that it has been viewed more than 15,000 times. However, in case you had by some misfortune not seen it, I also took the precaution of posting you a hard copy, explaining that my reason for going public was that there seems to be no other way of making ordinary voices such as mine audible to you.
In the last five weeks I have received many comments, mostly very supportive of my initiative. Some have been as hopeful as I, that my proposal to discuss these matters openly and honestly, would herald a new dawn for the LDS Church in Europe. However, others expressed cynicism over whether I would be taken at all seriously. One person wrote, for example: “The (LDS) corporation is run by businessmen and lawyers in love with Mammon and will do all they can to have the richest church in Babylon! Because of this they love good PR more than the truth! They will ignore the big issues of historical truth…” I sincerely hope that such views will be shown to be incorrect, but to date, as I have yet to receive any kind of response or acknowledgment from you, I admit to feeling growing concern.
Another observer warned me that I would probably be “jumped on” for asking searching questions publicly. However, my belief was that you would welcome an opportunity to set the record straight on the troublesome items which are currently causing disaffections. A recent statement on the official LDS newsroom blog, given in response to the David Twede issue, was reassuring, (see: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-news-getting-it-right-september-25), as it made it clear that having, (and presumably therefore asking), questions is by no means considered anathema. The official statement announced: “It is patently false for someone to suggest they face Church discipline for having questions or for expressing a political view.”
That is exactly as it should be of course, and I trust the rest of the world will duly take note that asking questions is definitely allowed within the LDS Church community. This is indeed positive, as it infers that when questions are asked, answers will follow, thereby making the process of questioning a genuinely meaningful one. I do trust you will answer me therefore, as it would surely be preferable that a constructive open dialogue be seen to take place, than for my request to become as a voice in the wilderness, heard by many but answered by none.
In the spirit of the above-mentioned official statement, I will therefore adopt what I understand to be an acceptable formula of asking a series of questions by way of reviewing the key matters which arose in my first letter. I petition you with respect, apologizing in advance if some of the questions unavoidably appear to be accusatory, and trsut that it will be possible to move the situation forward positively by this means:
- Is it true that those who actually witnessed Joseph Smith at work in the production of the Book of Mormon, stated that he recited the text while placing his face into a hat, in which was located a peep- or seer-stone, and that the gold plates were typically absent during that process?
- Are the missionaries trained today to teach prospective members an accurate account of this important historical event, or do they, and present-day LDS church publications, still indicate that translation was effected in another way directly from the gold plates?
- If there is a major disparity of this kind between historical reality and what is being taught to the youth and non-members, why does the Church continue to support and encourage it?
- Can it be credibly denied that Joseph Smith took other men’s wives as his own in polyandrous marriage unions, apparently without Emma’s knowledge?
- Is it true, commencing with Fanny Alger in c1833, that Joseph had approximately thirty plural wives, the youngest, Helen Mar Kimball, being just 14 when they married?
- Are we to accept as accurate the multiple sources used by respected historians, which indicate that some at least of those plural marriages were secured on the basis of Joseph representing that his life would be taken by an angel if the prospective wife refused him?
- Have we any reason to disbelieve that Helen Mar Kimball was promised by Joseph that her whole family would receive exaltation in return for her accepting his marriage proposal?
- Are stories of Joseph’s extra-monogamous activities, (some of the accounts resulting from a church-sponsored affidavit-gathering exercise later conducted by his nephew Joseph F. Smith), insufficient reason to consider that Joseph fell from grace?
- Alternatively, would we be on firm ground as far as the present LDS Church leadership is concerned, simply denying the veracity of any of those stories, (as some members of the Community of Christ attempt to do), or should we perhaps admit that such behaviour did occur, but was acceptable to God because Joseph was his chosen prophet?
- How are we to respond intelligently to the charge that the Book of Abraham is dead, embalmed and in its canopic jars?
- Are we to adopt and run with the dissembling arguments of LDS apologists?
- Or are we to make up our own answers, or perhaps try to avoid the subject altogether?
- Do we have to rely on obfuscating arguments which are diversionary, embarrassingly weak and often inappropriate?
- Why are the apologists permitted, and seemingly encouraged to stand in the front line on such important issues as the Book of Abraham?
- Do the Brethren not possess between them an authoritative voice capable of providing proper answers for those they routinely implore to support the LDS cause?
- Is it not long overdue that the leaders, if they be the living oracles of revealed truth, provide the membership with clear, honest, inspired directions on addressing critical questions relating to LDS founding claims, and the provenance of the LDS canon?
- Does Elder Kearon, (who I understand is now a member of your presidency), remember me with even a small degree of the fondness with which I remember him, and does he perhaps recollect from times when we served together that I am a fervent supporter of the cause of truth, and will try to follow wherever it will lead us, because I believe that truth is freedom?
- Does he sense as I do that certain of our shared past experiences foreshadowed this more important all-encompassing one?
- Does he recall the very sad example of one brother, (he will know to whom I refer), who, driven by his fears, repeatedly refused to confront truth, until it proved disastrously late?
- Does he appreciate the parallel I am compelled to draw now between that brother’s misfortune and the current dilemma of the institutional LDS church?
- Do any of you believe that any of us can ever afford to be driven by our fears in the face of truth?
- Are there not moral concerns of the most serious kind to be carefully weighed and considered?
- Until all the questions have been answered openly and guilelessly, how may it be claimed that truth has prevailed?
- Until whole answers are given in response to every heartfelt question, how might an enquirer be able to judge the LDS message objectively and within an authentic context?
- Is honesty not more precious than loyalty in the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment?
- If honest answers would reflect the institutional LDS Church or the Brethren in a negative light, should lies ever be employed to conceal that reality?
- Supposing a woman bought a motor vehicle, which the salesman assured her had been delivered new and in pristine condition straight from the factory, and she subsequently discovered it had a history of several former owners, hidden high mileage, and painted over rust, would she not be in her rights to question the salesman who had seemingly misrepresented the facts to her for the purpose of obtaining her custom?
- After all, isn’t it deception to misrepresent, and isn’t that unacceptable?
- Wouldn’t she have cause to feel upset because the vehicle had been, in a very real sense mis-sold to her?
- Would she have even greater cause for upset if the salesman, instead of admitting his error, and seeking a way to obtain reconciliation, attempted to maintain the original deception, and further compounded his error by casting aspersions upon the woman’s character?
- Are there not obvious disturbing parallels with this scenario, and should those parallels not be noted, confessed and acted upon without delay?
- Is the LDS church not a parody of righteousness if it does not fully embrace the principle of truth?
- And if so, then would the negative consequences of failing to address these issues not extend far into the future to the shame of those who are presently able to make the necessary changes?
- What of those to come, who may be misled unless they are fairly warned in advance of the full nature of the brand they are being asked to commit to?
- Where, in all of these unresolved, unaddressed, unanswered issues, (and these are really only the small tip of a huge iceberg), may the half-truths generally to be found, of which you, as an Area Presidency, spoke in your April 2012 letter to local leaders?
- And who is ultimately responsible for promoting and sustaining those half-truths?
- Brethren, is it not time that we spoke further about all of these concerns?
- Do the declining numbers, and the fabricated statistics, not offer their own warning?
- Does making peace with historical truth have to be only “the final resort”?
- Can it not be done now rather than as part of a future post mortem which will be held upon European Mormonism?
- Is it not plain that there is a willingness today to address the painful realities which isolate the LDS church from the thinking world?
- Is it not also clear as each day passes in non-response that this present willingness will become an ever rarer and diminishing commodity?
- When will the nettle be grasped?
- When will the bullet be bitten?
- When will it finally be understood that entering into dialogue with those of us whose hearts are yet with the Mormon community, but whose understanding of history has outgrown a milk-only diet of myth and dogma, would lead to a more open, honest, robust and authentic organization, which courageously would embrace truth, without constantly needing to spin and deceive, while looking in fear over its shoulder?
Some in the church apparently flatter themselves into thinking they lead the many, not realising that God is still well capable of leading the one; and for some reason they don’t seem to understand that unless truth is embraced, fully, unrelentingly, “warts and all”, then in time those many ones will be led away.
In all candour Brethren, is that not already happening?
You clearly need the support of all those who understand and care. Please, therefore, let us reason together.
Chris’ reply to criticism of his Open Letters to the European Area Presidency by Jeff Walsh, which more fully explains his purpose & reasons for writing the Open Letters in the first place:
My response to Jeff Walsh on 7th October 2012 :
My apologies to you Jeff Walsh for not having commented earlier. As you will see, my username is journeyofloyaldissent, but I am Chris Ralph, the author of these two open letters. You have probably read my comments before without realizing it was me. However, I am not hiding, and that is why I signed the open letters in my own name. I keep my Stake President in the loop whenever I publish letters or other feature items here. I’m sure it would make his life easier if I didn’t post as I do, but he graciously acknowledges that I am an honest man seeking a resolution to my questions.
My “hidden agenda” is to facilitate openness concerning the history of the LDS church, and that is all. I lament the regrettable and potentially misleading remarks made by Elder Cook at the current General Conference, which do nothing to support this worthy aim. It is a concern I care about very much, because the LDS church was my life. My wife and I entrusted our five children to its teachings. We taught and I baptized my parents and my brother into it. We served and sacrificed to the best of our abilities for many years, and taught others the principles of the LDS gospel. We supported a son on a mission, and retained our faith through trials of health, loss, and other suffering. In short, our record in the church was positive, good enough at least for our family to be held up as an example in the New Era in April 1999.
I encountered the deeply conscience-troubling information about church history, not because I went looking for it in places which were considered “anti-Mormon”, as you apparently do Jeff, but because I was attempting to defend the church against its critics. However, incrementally I found, to my utter dismay, that the criticisms were more substantial than some of the LDS doctrinal teachings. It was painful, and eye-opening, and life-transforming, and because I am me I really had little choice other than to stand for truth and righteousness. A good friend eased my pain eventually by assuring me that it was not valid to defend the indefensible, even though truth might taste bitter. There are many who decide to pretend of course, but I cannot, for where is the joy in such pretense? Denial is not faith, although I do acknowledge that some dyed-in-the-wool LDS would have us believe that it is.
Even now, although I am prepared to stand up and be counted in this way, and if necessary be disciplined for asking questions about historical truth, I remain nominally LDS, having active family members in the church. I continue to admire many of the values and practices that the LDS church promotes. I genuinely wish that the official narrative were as true as I long believed it to be, when my “knowledge” of its founding was less well read and informed. It would make my life a whole lot easier if the LDS were all it claimed to be, but I am one who cannot find satisfaction in circular reasoning and make-believe. That is why I am asking these questions. I want there to be a coming of age for Mormonism in Europe, one which embraces diversity, positive spirituality, authentic history, and people who love truth more than they love mythology. And I very much want to be part of that coming of age.
I have some empathy with you Jeff. I can see that once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a far-away land, I might have reacted just a little bit as you now do. And I know I would have thought I was right, just as you believe yourself to be right now.
Have I studied the proper sources? I have tried my darnedest. As I have looked at the available source materials and commentators I have tried to appreciate that there are all shades of value in them, not just black and white. That comes down to my training as an historian I suppose. My Masters dissertation was a prosopography of early LDS converts in England. So, I know for example, from the Millennial Star, the LDS church’s own newspaper, that Brigham Young actually did teach the so-called Adam-God theory. The Star says so, but oddly, some of the Mormon apologists try to spin another story altogether. Why would they do that when the facts are incontrovertible, and already owned by the church at the time? Might it be because they think they can pull a flanker on the modern membership which in the main doesn’t have any knowledge of the historical sources? If so, then to me, that is utterly disingenuous, and shameful.
I have looked at real life consequences arising out of such revelations. I have lamented over the misfortune of those who innocently lived and died under the life-wrecking influence of such tyrannical false teachings as the Adam-God, Blood Atonement, and polygamy doctrines, embracing them as inspired words of God because a prophet spoke them, and I have been grateful that neither I nor my ancestors were cursed to be numbered among that generation of LDS.
My research has opened up the life stories of many who were misled in the early days of the church, and not just the famous ones like the first English convert George D. Watt, who, under the direction of Brigham Young, married and had children with his own half-sister. There are others whose names are all but forgotten now, but whose stories are equally dismal examples of the same spiritual abuse; people such as Alston Marsden, Mary Ann Dallan, Alice Hodgson, Job Salter, Sarah Sweetland, William Ould, Thomas Cartwright, and Julia Restell. These people lived lives immersed in real “history from below”, and represented the ultimate tragedy of false teachings. It is doubly tragic that their futile and fruitless experiences are masked by the twisted, half-baked, top-down histories so much loved by faithful LDS today. For every faith-promoting story you may produce of pioneer sacrifice in crossing the plains, there will be two or three of these other real life stories which cast shame upon LDS history, or would do, if that history were not so misrepresented and skewed. Indeed, a chapter might be written about each of the above, and, in order to set the record straight, I am currently working on such a volume.
And so you will see Jeff from the foregoing, I have no time for Mormon apologetics or “faithful history”, when self-styled apologists and historians discredit themselves in this way. Unless you are either an official spokesperson for the LDS church, or have a mind at least half open to the possibility that Joseph Smith made some horribly, dangerously, misleading errors in his teachings and translations, we really have nothing further to discuss. It appears you fall into neither category, and so I will not be entering a dialogue with you online or privately by email. I’m sorry, but my energies will be better spent elsewhere.
If my open letter offends you, then it’s very simple: don’t read it, and by all means advise everyone else not to read it. I would not wish anyone to be offended or “tainted” by my honest quest for truth. But you see, I have little option really. My High Priest Group Leader, a respected friend now retired from C.E.S., offered at first to help me with my questions. I waited and waited for him to make an appointment, and then heard on the grapevine that his wife had advised him against it. My bishop specifically requested that I not share any questions with him for fear that it might affect his testimony. My Stake President has shown kindness and understanding, but has decided he would not open a file I sent to him which detailed my concerns. I blame none of them for being afraid and intimidated. They all know I was a devout LDS until I encountered real history. They also all know, I hope, that I am an honest man. So how can I ask my questions of the upper hierarchy if my questions are not even known by those who stand between them and me? I cannot reach the Area Presidency other than by this means. It is unfair of anyone to suggest otherwise.
Although, as I have explained Jeff, there is no purpose in you and I having an ongoing dialogue over these matters, I do not want to prevent you from adding some value to the discussion, and so may I suggest that you apply yourself to answering one question which may demonstrate to the readers of this page, and also the church hierarchy, the potential value of your claimed expertise. The question I would like to pose is this: In Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham, there are various hieroglyphs in panels above the five persons represented. Please explain why Joseph Smith’s translations of these panels is completely at variance with translations made by modern Egyptologist. For example, between the first figure on the left and the seated figure, is a single panel, which Joseph Smith rendered as: “King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head”, whereas the accurate translation is “Isis the great, the god’s mother.” How come Joseph wrongly identified this Egyptian goddess as “King Pharaoh”? How come every single translation Joseph made from that facsimile is completely incorrect?
Well, I trust that I have answered you. If I have not, then I am sorry, I shall not be doing so after this time. However, I will just call into question, as a parting thought, whether it really is moral to suggest I should repent and return to the “faithful” fold, and continue as though nothing had occurred, without my questions being answered by those who supposedly represent “the living oracles”. Referring back to my analogy about the salesman and the customer, are you not actually suggesting by this advice that the salesman should keep selling the product despite having misgivings about it? If so then surely that is less than honest and moral advice for you to be giving. If I were that salesman, I would wish to have every doubt assuaged before embarking upon another single sale.
And so it is also with the LDS church and me. When I am satisfied that all is well at last, and that an authentic non-toxic message, (i.e. one which resonates with reality), is being sent out to benefit mankind, you will find me again in its active ranks… but not before.
And let the Lord judge between us.