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There’s a controversy a br ...

Posted Nov 18 2008 12:12am

There’s a controversy a brewin’ among the Mormon intelligentsia. A former Church Education System employee named Grant Palmer is facing an internal church disciplinary proceeding, evidently because he wrote an opus titled “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.” I’ve not read the book, but I’ve heard it essentially discusses many of the historical controversies of early Mormonism and posits that the LDS Church has chosen to ignore inconvenient facts or to sugar-coat and spin the negative. Additionally, Palmer claims that the Book of Mormon is not an actual work of history. None of this is exactly shocking to anybody who follows Mormon history; indeed, these various controversies have been around for years and have been discussed ad nauseum.

Various Internet fora have taken up Palmer’s banner, and even a number of former Mormons are outraged that Palmer may be excommunicated due to his book. I, on the other hand, have suggested that he be burned at the stake in downtown Salt Lake City, but then I love a spectacle. Actually, I can’t imagine that Palmer thought the Brethren in the Church Office Building would be down with a book containing that word “insider” in its title that debunks the official, “faithful” history of the LDS Church. Heck, Palmer may even have been present when Apostle Boyd K. Packer delivered his Orwellian address about the writing of Mormon history back in 1981. Packer decried historians who believe that everything that is factually true must be told, and declared that “not everything that is true is useful.” He went so far as to say that historians who write “advanced history” that, although factually correct, causes less sophisticated Mormons to lose their faith, are at risk of eternal damnation. Shortly after Packer’s speech, the LDS Church History Department was trashcanned.

Palmer’s book certainly could cause less sophisticated Mormons to lose some, or all, of their testimony of the LDS gospel. It’s no wonder that Salt Lake evidently wants his head on a plate. Palmer does not want to be excommunicated for his book, but I don’t see how he could have expected any other result. Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for anybody who writes honest history, whatever conclusions they might draw, and I have sympathy for the plight of LDS scholars who must always color inside the lines drawn by the ecclesiastical authorities. It just seems to me that you can't claim to be an "insider" and call into question some the fundamental claims of the faith without risking being made an "outsider" forthwith.

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