Letter to Bishop
20 November 1994
Champaign Second Ward
Champaign Illinois Stake
It is with some sadness that I must herewith put in writing my request to have my name removed from the records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and my membership terminated. This request pertains to myself only; [my wife and children], will remain members or members-of-record. I know this may seem a sudden and unexpected request. I will explain the circumstances briefly.
Several months ago I came across B. H. Roberts's private study of the Book of Mormon published in 1985 by the University of Illinois Press. I had never heard of it before, was curious, and read it. I learned that Roberts, toward the end of his life, had doubts about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and conducted a detailed study examining the possibility that it might have been authored by Joseph Smith, based on Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews. This was a quite shocking revelation to me. I knew anti-Mormons and apostates harbored such views. I had no idea general authorities could have such doubts. Since my own belief in Mormonism for many years has been based on a belief in the literal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon I had to read Roberts's work. As I did I grew quickly skeptical. I did my own re-reading of the Book of Mormon with a new outlook that I had never allowed before. I allowed myself to read with a doubting frame of mind and within an hour's reading I found myself wondering how I ever could have been so convinced of its truthfulness in the first place. I was astounded. I never thought I could come to feel that way, at least not without several months or years of extended church inactivity.
Since this new discovery came so quickly I felt I needed to take more time and study in as much depth as possible the origins of the Book of Mormon and the church as well as Joseph Smith's life. The more I studied the more I became convinced that for most of my life I had been wrong about something very important (and worse, I had used my influence as a missionary to persuade other people). I was astonished at the degree of my own ignorance about Mormon history. I had no idea that Joseph Smith had changed any of his revelations at all, let alone to such an extent and in such obviously suspicious ways. I had no idea that his Book of Abraham papyri had been re-discovered and found to be ordinary Egyptian funerary documents and that his Book of Abraham "translation" had been shown beyond any reasonable doubt to be a rather clumsy imposture (Hugh Nibley's attempts at rebuttal notwithstanding). Why had I never heard things like this discussed honestly and openly in church before? I always thought our church, as an organization, was genuinely interested in the truth. Sadly, I have learned how naive I was.
Of course there are many commendable aspects of the church. I continue to recognize its basic system of ethics and values, which are generally the ones held in common with civilized society. However, I hope for the day when church leaders (primarily general authorities) will not seek to hide from the past any more, will recognize the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's other works for what they really are, and will use their influence to help the church join the larger family of God-fearing people in society. If I thought I could hasten that day by staying in the church as a closet-doubter (I have learned there are quite a few) I might be tempted to do so. But I don't think it would help. Furthermore, I suppose the harm of such a course, particularly for my children, would outweigh any benefit.
I have come to believe that we can never fully discover truth if we consistently ignore evidence that contradicts our assumptions. Rather we must question both the evidence and our assumptions and continually seek to obtain better evidence and to refine our assumptions. I had never thought to question the assumption of Joseph Smith's truthfulness about the origin of the Book of Mormon--until I encountered Roberts's study. When I did, I quickly discovered that a testimony is indeed a fragile thing. In my experience, however, I must say that though a testimony may be a fragile thing, the truth is not. I believe, as I think you do, that truth ultimately prevails against error. I must conduct my life according to what I believe the truth to be. God knows what is in my heart. I think I am right, but I do not feel so certain as to say I "know" anything any more. If the day should come that I find I am wrong I hope I can correct my course. I still feel some emotional attachment to the church and hope to be able to visit occasionally with my family.
I have much admiration for you. I believe you are sincere in doing what you think is right. Thanks for your friendship and understanding on this difficult matter.
cc: church headquarters, membership