First and foremost, I would like to wish my wife a happy birthday! She turns 22 today, and I feel so blessed and so lucky to have her in my life! She means everything to me!
With that said, I would like to reflect on an experience I had on mission. When I was in my last area, my companion and I went to visit a less-active. My companion had set up the appointment, and said that the brother was very excited to see us. Something about it all just didn’t seem quite right, so just before going in I reminded my young companion about the feelings of the Spirit and how to distinguish them apart from other influences.
When we went in, we were invited to sit down in the living room, where this brother, his wife and his two kids were all there waiting. He gave us some materials he had printed off of the internet and proceeded to give us an anti-Mormon spiel. He informed us that he had a video he wanted us to watch, we politely obliged after which he turn on the film The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon, a “documentary” produced by Living Hope Ministries. The premise of the film was to compare the archeological “evidence” for the Bible with that of the Book of Mormon. Although professing to be balanced, it was clearly slanted, with the agenda of discrediting the Book of Mormon. After watching for probably 20 minutes or so, we informed our host that we had other appointments we needed to get to. He gave us the DVD, we briefly exchanged some words about the presentation, and then left.
This was not the first time I had been shown (and subsequently given) an anti-Mormon film on my mission. I was a little worried this time, however, because I had very young companion, and I was not sure how he would handle it. I can’t remember talking about it much afterwards, but I’m sure we did. When we reported the visit to the Bishop (as is custom to do when missionaries visit less-actives), he said he would talk to him and direct him to some materials on Book of Mormon evidence if he was interested (I can only assume that he had something from FARMS or FAIR in mind, but I do not know).
This was an important experience for me. This experience and many others like it are what piqued my interest in apologetics. After that experience, I had determined that when I got home, I was going to find responses to the things I had been exposed to.
I have since read a lot of LDS scholarly and apologetic material. Sometimes when I look back on this experience, I think to myself, “If only I knew then the things that I know now!” For example, I wish I had known some of the basic methodological problems that arise in comparing Old World and New World archeology. I wish I had known about hieratic, demotic and other types of “reformed” Egyptian writing systems. I also wish I had known about the fascinating discoveries along the Arabian Peninsula pertaining to Lehi’s trail and the locations of the Valley of Lemuel, Nahom, and Bountiful. While I doubt any of that information would have been persuasive to this less-active/anti-Mormon that I encountered, it would have been useful so that I could have provided real, informed, dialogue on the issues presented in The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon, as well as being able to adequately defend the beliefs, which I deem of great value, against the blatant attack which we were subjected to.
Among the materials in apologetic research I have come across the following direct responses to the film The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon:
Brant Gardner, “Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion,” FARMS Review, Vol. 17, Iss. 2 (2005), pg. 145-195
David Bokovoy, “The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon: Still Losing the Battle,” FARMS Review, Vol. 18, Iss. 1 (2006), pg. 3-19
The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon: A Closer Examination, DVD (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research [FAIR], 2009)
I personally have found each of these reviews to be helpful, insightful, and interesting. Each one takes a different approach, and I think each is successful in its objectives to bring another side of the story to the table.
Reflecting back on this has helped me realize just how silly it is to leave the LDS Church, or lose your testimony over some piece of archeological, geographical, or any other “scientific” evidence (of lack thereof). To do so presumes that one knows all there is know on the subject (or at least that they know all relevant information), but what happens when subsequent research or discovery makes that previous information (which drove them out of the church) irrelevant? Is the dissident likely to then return to the fold? No. Once the lens of skepticism has replaced the lens of faith, there will always to be reasons to doubt.
I could have walked away from that encounter with a fractured, or even shattered, testimony; and I would likely have never discovered that the whole premise of the film is based on a straw man. However, I realized that I frankly did not know everything. I knew my knowledge in archeology and anthropology was virtually non-existent, and I also knew that my knowledge of the scriptures was limited, at best (no matter how well anyone ever knows the scriptures, that knowledge will always have limitations). So rather than assume that, because bits of information that I had did not seem to add up, the Book of Mormon must not be true; I decided, in faith, that more research needed to be done.
You know how this story ends. I got home, I did some more research, and I found the reviews listed above, along with a whole host of additional information which sheds greater light on the issues mention in that film, and many other critical and anti-Mormon sources which I have come across both before and after this experience.
It has been said that patience is a virtue, and in this case I would have to agree. Realizing that our knowledge (both our personal knowledge, and the knowledge possessed by mankind in general) is forever limited, it seems to me wise to be patient in dealing with “evidence” for the Book of Mormon, or any other aspect of faith. It also seems wise that we understand some things will never be proven – and some things are not meant to be. After all, faith cannot exist without there also being a measure of doubt.
1. 1. I’m sure this gentleman, along with the others who threw anti-Mormon propaganda at me, would be sorely disappointed to find out that, rather than damage my testimony and cause me to lose the faith, their actions made an apologist out of me! No doubt the last thing they want is another Mormon apologist!
2. 2. William J. Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 2, Iss. 1 (1993), pg. 161-197
4. 4. See articles in the special issue, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 15, Iss. 2 (2006): Lehi and Sariah’s Wilderness Trek: Illuminating the Real-World Setting for an overview of the research on Lehi’s trail and these locations done by various LDS researchers.
5.As can recall, all I had in way of rebuttal was a garbled and distant memory of my ninth-grade seminary teacher reading us some clip from some article about a discovery regarding the “place which was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34), to which this individual simply responded, “That’s not very impressive.”
6. Kevin Christensen makes a similar point in his recent review of William D. Russell’s critique of the Book of Mormon published in Sunstone nearly thirty years ago. Christensen observes that many of the arguments Russell uses in his call to abandon the Book of Mormon have since turned out to be wrong. See Christensen, “Hindsight on a Book of Mormon Historicity Critique,” FARMS Review, Vol. 22, Iss. 2 (2010), pg. 155-194