A Close Look At Mitt’s Mormonism

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - December 19, 2007
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Smith with the gold plates and with 'seer stones' in his hat
Smith with the gold plates and with ‘seer stones’ in his hat

There’s probably few things dumber a columnist can do than write about somebody’s religion. It’s absolutely no-win. It’s guaranteed to make plenty of readers angry, either because they are of that religion or because they don’t want to read about somebody else’s religion being analyzed.

Yet here I go, writing about Mitt Romney’s religion, which also happens to be one of the large, powerful religions of Hawaii. It’s become an issue in Romney’s presidential campaign.

The difficulty the Latter-day Saints, or Mormon, religion encounters with its Jesus-based counterpart, Christianity, is the historical setting. Christianity is comparatively ancient. It’s virtually impossible to check all its foundation precepts for accuracy. The old and new Testaments have to be taken on faith.

Mormonism is of 19th century roots, its foundation has plenty of written records, and until late into the 1800s there were living witnesses to the visions of Joseph Smith, from what he said were inscribed gold plates which an angel named Moroni showed him to be buried on a U.S. hillside.

There also are writings still with us that give different versions of Smith’s method of translation of those plates, and others that lay claim of a conspiracy by Smith and friends to say a tribe from Israel came to the American continent to start a new religion. Still others claim Smith lifted much of his vision from a fanciful manuscript by one Solomon Spaulding, a disillusioned Calvinist clergyman from New Salem, Ohio.

I’m not denigrating the LDS church or its members here. My consistent position has been to respect any religion that is tolerant of others. The LDS church certainly is that - and good caretakers of its adherents to boot.

Smith with the gold plates and with 'seer stones' in his hat
Smith with the gold plates and with ‘seer stones’ in his hat

But all religions’ root claims have to hold up to scrutiny by history scholars. There are plenty of tenets in Judaism, Islam and Christianity that scholars consider to be insupportable. The problem there, of course, is that most material evidence is lost. Not so with the Mormon faith. That only goes back to 1830 near Palmyra, N.Y., Smith’s home. The Mormon evidence is voluminous, albeit still inconclusive.

There were living witnesses to a couple of versions of how things progressed from the angel to the gold plates to the translation that became the Book of Mormon (Mormon is believed to have been a 4th century prophet.)

It’s generally written that Joseph Smith used some special “seer” stones which he placed in his hat, buried his face in the hat, and began dictating to friend Oliver Cowdery what the gold plates had revealed to him. Smith was only semi-literate.

The other version is in a recent book based on letters and tells the story this way: Smith set up a sheet on a line in his house to separate him and his first scribe, his wife Emma’s brother, Reuben Hale. Neither Emma nor Reuben ever claimed to have seen the gold plates on the far side of the sheet.

The transcriptions from Smith’s dictation contain lots of strange names and terms and stream of consciousness. You almost get the feeling that Smith was having a hallucination as he sat with his head in his hat. But some of his story about the Israel tribe or prophets living in America from 600 B.C. to 421 A.D. matches the above-mentioned 1812 Spaulding manuscript that was found in Honolulu in the office of L.L. Rice. (It, alas, didn’t stay here. Rice sent it to the Oberlin College library in Ohio.)

Had Smith heard of that earlier manuscript? Or, as is claimed in some research papers, was there some conspiracy among Smith and Hale and Cowdery to found a new community under their leadership, using the Spaulding manuscript as the foundation?

That’s what so many scholars debate.

Nobody questions the sincerity of belief of today’s LDS members, and it’s a serious blotch on American history that early Mormons were killed, shunned and hounded until they finally resettled in Utah.

The problem for Romney is simply that the roots of the Mormon tree planted by Smith seem to be shaky and shallow. They are increasingly being unearthed and examined by skeptical scholars. There’s almost a new book a year.

If Mormonism were as old as Judaism, Islam or Christianity, then we’d all simply say “who knows the truth?”

Instead, we are knowing more and more as 1800s documents and letters surface here and there.

The worst fear of Romney and other LDS members surely must be that something would eventually turn up suggesting that Joseph Smith made up the whole thing.


three star

MidWeek columnist Rick Hamada was right on with his slam at the rutted condition of Oahu roads. And we moped riders are especially at risk.

When you’re riding at traffic speed behind a car or truck and don’t see a huge pothole until too late to swerve, you can be tossed right over the handle bars.

Also, moped parking is getting tricky in Honolulu. Mopeds are licensed as bicycles. But little-publicized Ordinance 15-14-1(a) forbids most parking at city bike racks (although there’s no signage.) Kahala Mall allows mopeds at its bike racks. Regal Theatres does not and cites them.


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