CES Reply: Leaving in Droves?

This is a serialization of “A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter from a Former CES Employee.”  You can download the whole PDF here, and you can also participate in the Latter-day Saint Survey Project by joining or creating one of the Canonizer camps in the links at the bottom of this post.

This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’s October 2017 iteration of the CES Letter. Jeremy’s original text appears in green, the color of life. My response text appears in black, the color of darkness.

With that inspirational background out of the way, let us begin.

[Name of CES Director Removed],

Thank you for responding to my grandfather’s request to answer my concerns and questions and for offering your time with me. I appreciate it.

Well, as is probably clear by this point, I’ve never met you or your grandfather, and I’m not the CES Director who’s name you’ve had removed. (After all these years, we still don’t know who that guy is. Has he come forward? Is he in some kind of witness protection program? Is he hiding in the John Taylor bunker in the Logan Temple?)

I recognize I’m quite presumptuous of me to step into a conversation to which I was not invited, but that’s the kind of guy I am. I thank you for your kind words which I’m pretending are intended for me.

I’m interested in your thoughts and answers as I have been unable to find official answers from the Church for most of these issues. It is my hope that you’re going to have better answers than many of those given by unofficial apologists such as FairMormon and the Neal A . Maxwell Institute (formerly FARMS).

And right here, I want to stop you and challenge some questionable assumptions right at the outset. You label both FAIR and the Maxwell Institute as “unofficial apologists.” This is a charge you repeat several times on your website and in your initial letter. The designation seems appropriate for FAIR, which is an independent organization with no official connection to the Church other than the membership of its researchers, but the Maxwell Institute is funded by BYU, a Church-owned school. Doesn’t that give them any cache of officialdom?

Surely if the official church thought what the Maxwell Institute were saying were nonsense, they’d pull the plug. Are there only 15 “official apologists” whose office gives them the necessary credibility to respond to your questions? Do the Seventies count?

The basic problem here is a fallacious appeal to authority in an attempt to poison the well of anything that FAIR or FARMS may say because it lacks some kind of Church Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Their arguments, like your arguments, ought to be evaluated solely on their merits rather on the credentials of those making them. Remember, they may be unofficial apologists, but you’re an unofficial critic, too. (If you are official, I’m going to need to see some paperwork and two forms of ID.)

I’m just going to be straightforward in sharing my concerns. Obviously, I’m a disaffected member…

No, as of this point, obviously, you’re a former member who resigned from the Church. If you’re going to make a lucrative living out of your letter, you can no longer disingenuously pretend that you’re a neophyte who is just asking questions. You’re an industry now, and your product is the wholesale destruction of individual faith. That’s not quite as charming as how you present yourself, but it’s a far more accurate rendition of your job description. 

… who lost his testimony so it’s no secret which side I’m on at the moment. All this information is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history.

Fine by me. I’ve had my shots.

With this said, I’d be pretty arrogant and ignorant to say that I have all the information and that you don’t have answers. Like you, I put my pants on one leg at a time and I see through a glass darkly.

Well, that’s nice to know. Pants are good. But if you want to publish the CES Letter in the UK, perhaps you should say “trousers” instead.

You may have new information and/or a new perspective that I may not have heard or considered before. This is why I’m genuinely interested in what your answers and thoughts are to these issues.

I recognize I don’t have any new information or/nor a new perspective, which means that you’ve heard a number of things you’ve both heard and considered before, many of which come from those unofficial, disqualified sources you previously mentioned. But by the same token, having already read ahead, nothing you’ve written is anything I hadn’t heard or considered before. Yet somehow, the same information that drove you ought of the Church has not damaged, and in many cases has even strengthened, my own personal faith.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to either of us. In the age if the Internet, it’s rather foolish to presume that the Church has any capacity to hide any aspect of its practices or history from the world at large, so it always amazes me when people who are disaffected with the Church, as they fixate on something that church does or did that they don’t like, act like they’ve uncovered something nobody else has ever discovered.

This was the case when I had a telephone conversation with a man named Mike Norton, the guy who helped you deceive your stake president and surreptitiously film your disciplinary council. Mike, by his own admission, has twelve fake temple recommends that he uses to sneak in to temples to film the endowment ceremony and post it on YouTube. He was very friendly at the outset of our conversation, and he remained friendly even as he launched into a 45-minute diatribe against the church, all of which was stuff that I’d heard before and have talked about on my blog beyond the point of endurance.

Did I know all about the seedy elements of Joseph Smith’s polygamy? Well, yes. What about the Kinderhook Plates? Yeah, haven’t written about them, but they’re no big deal. What about the lack of external evidence for the Book of Mormon? Well, I think there’s quite a bit more evidence, both internal and external, than enemies of the church will admit. Didn’t get a chance to say any of that, though – he tore through his spiel under the assumption that I’d never heard such things, and I just listened as he recited them as he has likely done dozens, if not hundreds, of times before.

The oddest complaint he had, the only one which I have not, in fact, heard from anyone else, was that Gordon B. Hinckley wasn’t a prophet because he didn’t act like Moses coming down from Sinai when he went on Larry King’s CNN show. I had seen that interview, and I found him pleasant and inspiring, but maybe he should have parted some large body of water or something.

So, to sum up, nothing here is going to be particularly new to either of us. But perhaps it might be helpful to someone else.

I’ve decided to put down in writing just about all the major concerns that I have. I went through my notes from my past year of research and compiled them together. It doesn’t make sense for me to just lay down 5 concerns while also having 20 other concerns that legitimately challenge the truth claims of the LDS Church.

And you have well exceeded 20, although you repeated yourself a number of times. One of the problems with your letter is that you often reframe an accusation against the Church as if it’s a new accusation, seemingly in the hopes that the sheer volume of your complaints will bring someone’s “shelf” come crashing down. How many times, for instance, do you repeatedly quote a single hearsay source to discredit the Three Witnesses while ignoring 60+ more that support the claims of the Church? (Spoiler alert: More than seven.)

This is also a somewhat disingenuous statement, in that your letter was largely crowdsourced via the exMormon Forum on Reddit. This isn’t a compilation of personal notes; it’s a large-scale team effort in the Faith Destruction Industry.

A quick description of my background might help you understand where I’m coming from. I was a very active and fully believing member my entire life up until around the summer of 2012. My grandpa already outlined my life events to you in his email so I think you get the idea that I accepted and embraced Mormonism.

Again, I don’t know your grandpa, but I take you at your word. I’ll even assume you always had 100% home teaching and that you paid tithing on your gross income and not your net.

In February of 2012, I was reading the news online when I came across the following news article: Mormonism Besieged by the Modern Age 1. In the article was information about a Q&A meeting at Utah State University that LDS Church Historian and General Authority, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, gave in late 2011. He was asked his thoughts regarding the effects of Google on membership and people who are “leaving in droves” over Church history.

That quote from Elder Jensen has infamously made him the most quoted General Authority on anti-Mormon sites and has been the source of much mischief, especially since it’s usually cited by people who claim that Elder Jensen himself made the claim that people were “leaving in droves.” To cite one example, John Dehlin’s website StayLDS.org links to the article with the following description of Elder Jensen’s remarks:

This year, Elder Marlin Jensen, the Mormon Church‘s outgoing official historian, acknowledged that members are defecting from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “in droves” and that the pace is increasing.

The problem is that Elder Jensen said no such thing. The “leaving in droves” premise came from the questioner, not Elder Jensen. Perhaps Elder Jensen should have corrected the questioner in his answer – i.e. “I don’t think it’s accurate to say people are ‘leaving in droves,’ buddy. And just how much is a ‘drove,’ anyway?” –  but I’m betting he didn’t realize that he would be attributed with the designation of droves from then to forevermore.

It’s also dishonest to say, as Dehlin’s site does, that Jensen claimed “the pace [of drove leavers] is increasing.” He said no such thing. He’s later clarified his statement by saying “To say we are experiencing some Titanic-like wave of apostasy is inaccurate.” That statement would appear to contradict both the droves and the increasing pace, but it’s a statement that’s generally given short shrift when critics cite Jensen as proof of the Church’s implosion. To your credit, you make the proper attribution of droves to the questioner and not to the General Authority, but since so many others do not, I thought this issue bears mentioning here.

It’s also worth reading all of Elder Jensen’s answer, which, in context, described the great lengths to which the church is now going in order to provide greater access to historical information. You can read the full answer here at this unofficial apologetic website.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen’s response:

“Maybe since Kirtland, we’ve never had a period of – I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having now; largely over these issues…”

This truly shocked me. I didn’t understand what was going on or why people would leave “over history.”

Why is “over history” in quotes? Who are you quoting?

I started doing research and reading books like LDS historian and scholar Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling 2 and many others to try to better understand what was happening.

And good for you! I adore Rough Stone Rolling and heartily recommend it to all readers, both LDS and not. A terrific read, thoroughly researched, and one that vastly increased my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It’s bizarre how, in this version of your letter, you continually quote the book’s author, Richard Bushman, to try to lend credibility to conclusions with which Bushman emphatically disagrees.

The following issues are among my main concerns.

All right, here we go – starting tomorrow, incoming droves of stuff on the horizon:

PICTURED: My daughter Eliza jumping off a bridge in Africa while wearing a bungee cord. Not sure what this has to do with droves, but it’s a fun picture.

In the meantime, be sure to join a Canonizer camp on the subject – or create one of your own.