Friday, July 31, 2015

Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? History or Propaganda? Joseph Smith as a Case Study

Introduction: In 2000, I wrote a paper analyzing a single eight-page chapter in one of the most famous anti-Mormon books of the Twentieth Century. The paper was delivered at a FAIR conference in Salt Lake City on my behalf by my friend Alma Allred. Since that time a copy has been available on the FAIR website. I include it here with the intent of giving it a bit more audience. Your comments are welcome.

Mormonism–Shadow or Reality?
History or Propaganda?
Joseph Smith as a Case Study© 

Mormonism–Shadow or Reality?, the magnum opus of Jerald and Sandra Tanner, has periodically received uncritical acclaim. In the May 1973 issue of their newsletter The Salt Lake City Messenger, the Tanners promoted their then newly revised and enlarged edition of Shadow or Reality? with the praise of Dr. Jennings G. Olson, then on the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at Weber State College in Ogden. Olson observed “it is tightly packed with serious, responsible research which no one can deny is the most comprehensive and thorough analysis and evaluation of Mormonism ever produced in the history of the Church.”(1) A decade ago John Ankerberg and John Weldon noted, “In the last two decades [the Tanners] have produced a small library of careful historical research which casts grave doubt upon almost all the major claims of the Mormon Church.”(2)They go on to say that fellow anti-Mormon, Dr. Gordon Fraser, accurately describes Shadow or Reality? as “an encyclopedia of Mormonism’s lack of credibility.”(3) More recently in the Messenger a person named William challenged “anyone to dispute the book Mormonism–Shadow or Reality? When I was a Mormon I tried my best to prove it wrong and to show that it was bunk… So,” he continues, “I looked up each and every one of their quotes and found that they are NOT taken out of context.”(4) The statements of all these advocates converge in praising the quality of the research and accuracy in Shadow or Reality? If one interacts with critics frequently, these statements are oft repeated.

This paper will test these assertions by examining Chapter 19 of Shadow or Reality?, which is devoted to the subject of Joseph Smith. It is brief–only eight pages in length–but it contains 102 quotations, thus providing ample opportunity and evidence with which to assess the claims of the Tanners and their supporters. Here we may see how they handle historical documents relative to Joseph Smith insofar as context, accuracy, comprehensiveness and thoroughness are concerned.

Over the past year I have spent many, many hours finding the original sources for these quotations. Many more hours were spent typing them in parallel columns with the Tanner version. Once I located, typed and proofread the quotations to determine the basic accuracy of both versions, it then required a great deal of additional time to study the context from which the quotations were taken and how the Tanners used or misused them, as the case may be. That process continues to this day; I have not, even now, finished checking a few of the 102 quotations.(5)

Though the project is incomplete, enough data has been collected to arrive at a considerably different conclusion than those giving testimonials of Shadow or Reality? The longer this process continues the more I doubt that William really looked up “each and every one” of the over 7,000 quotations in the book(6) in order to make the boast that they were not taken out of context, or that Jennings Olsen knows what constitutes “responsible research” and a “thorough analysis and evaluation” of Mormonism. And judging from the writings of Ankerberg and Weldon,(7) as well as their praise of the Tanners, it is doubtful they have a very exalted view of “careful historical research.” The remainder of this report is based on my findings thus far.

My negative results are consistent with earlier brief studies of the works of Jerald and Sandra Tanner by Matt Roper, Robert and Rosemary Brown and, the earliest of the lot, an anonymous writer thought to be Michael Quinn.(8) Numerous illustrations show that Chapter 19 is not written by seasoned historians, biographers or even polemicists. Although it resembles the latter, in actuality it is propaganda. The Tanners make no pretensions of objectivity, balance or fairness. They do not state a clear thesis in Chapter 19; it simply begins with an assertion that Joseph Smith’s importance “in Mormon theology cannot be overemphasized.” But one is not left in doubt about how they really feel about the man. By observing the Tanners’ careful selection of information combined with a propagandistic style and technique, their objective becomes clear.

Shadow or Reality? leaves much to be desired as a study of Mormonism and its founder. It abounds with problems. Amateurish overuse of polemical editorial techniques abounds in the work. Extensive use of underlining, all capitals and bold–all for emphasis–are frequently noticed hallmarks of their work.(9) In this brief chapter I found 193 instances of underlining.(10) At least 365 words are in all capitals. These are not only matters of style and tone, nor are they simply devices which betray a distrust of their ability to make themselves understood and their doubt about the comprehension level of their readers. Rather they are tools intended to guide their students to certain conclusions that were either previously stated or, more frequently, purposely left unstated, but implied by the emphasis. One critic of the Tanners suggests more sinister reasons why they may have employed these devices:
This extensive use of emphasis in the closely spaced text of 587-page Shadow-Reality actually discourages reading each word or even every sentence and paragraph, but instead encourages the reader’s eye to skip from emphasized words to emphasized words that are in close proximity, and to pay little attention to the tightly spaced words in between. This editorial practice enables the Tanners to quote lengthy documents ‘in context’ with the assurance that the reader will assimilate only the sensationalistic headlines and emphasis.(11)
I seriously question whether the Tanners were sophisticated enough at the time they produced Shadow or Reality? to have done this intentionally. Nevertheless, it may indeed be one of the results of these editorial devices and the format of the book. Whatever else one may say about this practice, it does not reflect the work or seriousness of professional historians or biographers. But in this sense I am speaking historically, particularly about Shadow or Reality? because the Tanners have learned as they have gone along and are trying to do better. A survey of their newsletter shows that over the years they have gradually reduced their reliance on these devices. At present they do not use all capitals or underlining and have curtailed but not eliminated using bold for emphasis.(12) It is interesting against this background that the fifth edition of Shadow or Reality?, which came out in 1987, retains a heavy use of all forms of emphasis. I suspect the time, effort and cost required to reset the plates for this edition may have played a large role in the decision to leave it as it was.(13)

The Tanners use other less frequently discussed rhetorical devices in Chapter 19. One tool generally relied upon by LDS critics (including the Tanners), is the frequent use of variants of highly loaded words.(14) For example, Mormons of one variety or another are frequently described as “claiming,” “admitting,” “confessing,” or “alleging” something. Other people, however, “affirm,” “acknowledge,” “say,” and “testify.” A word search on the text of The Changing World Of Mormonism, the 1981 Moody publication of Shadow or Reality?, found the word “admit” used 153 times, almost exclusively in reference to Mormons. An example from Chapter 19 is mentioned later in this paper.

In about a dozen cases when the Tanners cite authors, whether an active, inactive, marginal or in some cases former Latter-day Saint, they make it a point to identify them as a Mormon in language such as: “Brigham Young, the second President of the Mormon Church,” or “The Mormon historian B.H. Roberts,” or “The Mormon writer Hyrum L. Andrus.”(15) On the other hand, at least sixteen authors that may be considered anywhere on the spectrum from critical to hostile are introduced without any similar identification. The list includes John D. Lee, Calvin Stoddard, Fawn Brodie, Charlotte Haven, Edward Bonney, Sarah Scott, Harold Schindler and several newspapers. Only two hostile sources were identified as such when introduced: “The anti-Mormon paper, The Warsaw Signal,” and “Charles A. Foster, one of the publishers of the Expositor.”(16) Thus, there is an obvious and concerted effort by the Tanners to downplay the position of critics whom they quote.

Of course their most important grammatical device is the ellipses; the 102 quotations found in the eight pages of Chapter 19 employ 111 sets of ellipses. Our critics are well aware of the power of the ellipses, but they also realize that inappropriate use of them leaves the critic himself open to criticism. In one of the most recent anti-Mormon publications, Mormonism 101, authors Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson remark, “there is always a danger of taking quotes out of context, especially when ellipses appear.”(17) Like the Tanners and their supporters, McKeever and Johnson, apparently hoping to ameliorate potential criticism, say: “we have purposely made an effort to not alter the meaning of any quote. We invite readers who would like to study further the issues in this book to look up the quotes in their complete context.” Later in this paper I will have more detail on how the Tanners use ellipses.

Other problems in Chapter 19 include, 1) a few errors in reproducing the quotations themselves; 2) use of irrelevant material in some subsections; 3) technically incorrect use of ellipses; 4) inadequate updating and editing of the fifth edition; 5) bias against Mormons without giving them credit where credit is due; 6) citing quotations primarily for their negative rather than substantive value; 7) contrasting quotations by authors, usually LDS, for critical rather than substantive reasons; 8) linking together strings of negative quotations without context or balance in order to produce a negative impact; 9) leaving out significant context, often by the use of ellipses, thereby changing the meaning or intent of the quotation; and finally 10) suppressing potentially case-damaging, contrary or exculpatory evidence, often by the use of ellipses. Space and time limitations force me to illustrate the Tanners’ mishandling of documentary evidence with only a few obvious and egregious examples. In all instances the examples could be multiplied.

Stringing Together Negative Quotations

A standard operating procedure in Shadow or Reality?, not unique to Chapter 19, is to string together a series of quotations that are either by themselves largely negative or are presented in a manner to create a negative impact. Chapter 19, however, is a good case study in how the Tanners typically use this technique. Although this eight-page chapter is in a double-column, singled-space, small-font format, it is difficult to imagine that they could cram more quotations into it. Squeezing in 102 of them left little space for introduction or commentary. The Tanners are generally content to let the strings of quotations speak for them, to set the tone, incite questions, generate doubt and in general cast Joseph Smith and Mormonism in the most unfavorable light possible. In introducing the chapter, for example, after being told of the importance of Joseph Smith in Mormon theology, a series of thirteen quotations appear in succession: seven from Brigham Young, one each from Heber C. Kimball, B.H. Roberts, Levi Edgar Young, John J. Stewart and Joseph Smith, followed by Joel Tiffany’s charge that there are two Josephs–one with a public image and a more unsavory private person.

They lead out with Brigham speaking of Joseph’s incomparable character, saying that no better man lived on the earth. This is followed with Brigham’s acknowledging his submission to Joseph as his “head,” and an explanation that we would need Joseph’s permission to get into the Celestial Kingdom and that Joseph “was a God to us,” and finally that he (Brigham) was an apostle of Joseph Smith and all who rejected his testimony would go to hell. Heber then predicts that one day all would look upon Joseph as a god. Next the Tanners contrast Brigham’s last words, “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph,” with those of Stephen, who when stoned, died with the name of Jesus on his lips. Following Levi Edgar Young’s statement that the grandeur of Joseph’s life must be known, the Tanners interject a bit of commentary: “Mormons tend to elevate Joseph Smith almost to the same level as Jesus Christ.” John Stewart is next pressed into service saying that Joseph was “perhaps the most Christ-like man to live upon the earth since Jesus.” This is juxtaposed against Joseph’s declaration: “I am not so much a ‘Christian’ as many suppose I am.” Finally, Joel Tiffany speaks for the Tanners and sets the agenda for the rest of the chapter with the following:
People sometimes wonder that the Mormon can revere Joseph Smith. That they can by any means make a Saint of him. But they must remember, that the Joseph Smith preached in England, and the one shot at Carthage, Ill., are not the same person. To one, ignorant of his character, he may be idealized and be made the impersonation of every virtue. He may be associated in the mind with all that is pure, true, lovely and divine. Art may make him, indeed, an object of religious veneration. But remember, the Joseph Smith thus venerated, is not the real, actual Joseph Smith…but one that art has created.(18)
And of course, the previous quotations from LDS leaders show just such veneration and image-making. Here the Tanners are propagandists in contrast to the best historians or biographers who would assess Tiffany’s qualifications to make such a judgment. Had Tiffany ever met Joseph, let alone know him personally or intimately? Once that is settled they would then turn to his biases and motives. Is Tiffany hostile to Joseph Smith? Does Tiffany’s Monthly have an editorial bias in reference to Mormons as exhibited in other articles? Nor do the Tanners inquire as to whether it was likely that Brigham and Heber were in a better position than Tiffany to comment on Joseph’s character. But such questions appear unimportant to Jerald and Sandra Tanner.

In fact, Tiffany was hostile to Mormonism. After several pages explaining the origin of Mormonism, he ended with this judgment. 
The conclusion to which we have arrived are [sic.], that the Book of Mormon is to a very great extent, a spiritual romance, originating in the spirit world. That Joseph Smith, junr., was the medium, or the principal one, through whom it was given. That there was a mixture of sincerity and fraud, both with the spirits and their agents here, in bringing it forth. That morally and religiously it had a very low origin, and that its influence can only tend to evil.(19)
It will be no surprise, then, that the eight pages devoted to Joseph Smith in Shadow or Reality? strive to expose his hypocritical nature and the false foundations of Mormonism. The six chapter subheadings–“A Fighting Prophet,” “General Smith,” “‘The Great Egotist,'” “Mixing Politics And Revelation,” “Destruction Of Expositor,” and “Like A Lamb?”–fall neatly into this schema.

B.H. Roberts left us a marvelous analogy about this approach to truth. Speaking of an anti-Mormon of his day, Roberts said:
Mr. Wilson is as one who walks through some splendid orchard and gathers here and there the worm-eaten, frost-bitten, wind-blasted, growth-stunted and rotten fruit, which in spite of the best of care is to be found in every orchard; bringing this to us he says: “This is the fruit of yonder orchard; you see how worthless it is; an orchard growing such fruit is ready for the burning.” Whereas, the fact may be that there are tons and tons of beautiful, luscious fruit, as pleasing to the eye as it would be agreeable to the palate, remaining in the orchard to which he does not call our attention at all. Would not such a representation of the orchard be an untruth, notwithstanding his blighted specimens were gathered from its trees? If he presents to us the blighted specimens of fruit from the orchard, is he not in truth and in honor bound also to call our attention to the rich harvest of splendid fruit that still remains ungathered before he asks us to pass judgment on the orchard? I am not so blind in my admiration of the Mormon people, or so bigoted in my devotion to the Mormon faith as to think that there are no individuals in that Church chargeable with fanaticism, folly, intemperate speech and wickedness; nor am I blind to the fact that some in their over-zeal have lacked judgment; and that in times of excitement, under stress of special provocation, even Mormon leaders have given utterance to ideas that are indefensible. But I have yet to learn that it is just in a writer of history or of ‘purpose fiction,’ that ‘must speak truly,’ to make a collection of these things and represent them as of the essence of that faith against which said writer draws an indictment.(20)

Leaving out significant context, thereby changing the meaning or intent of the quotation

In the previous section I mentioned the string of quotations the Tanners gave from Brigham Young about Joseph Smith. The fourth one is particularly interesting. It is a statement of less than forty-five words from an 1861 sermon and is punctuated by one set of ellipses that leave out seventeen words–a fourth of the statement. The Tanners report Brigham as saying, “He [Joseph Smith] is the man through whom God has spoken…yet I would not like to call him a saviour, though in a certain capacity HE WAS A GOD TO US, and is to the nations of the earth, and will continue to be.”(21)

The excerpt has been taken out of its context in Brigham’s speech. To begin with he is talking about Joseph’s role as prophet in foreseeing the Civil War and offering to save the nation from it. The sentence immediately following the Tanner excerpt shows that Brigham did not view Joseph Smith as a savior or God in the sense that Christ was, for he said, “He [Joseph Smith] was not the only-Begotten of the Father, who died for the sins of the world; but he was the Prophet of the Lord, through whom God spoke to the nations.” Brigham is here speaking in exactly the same sense as found in Exodus 4:16 where the Lord tells Moses that Aaron would be Moses’ spokesman to the people and Moses would be to Aaron “instead of God.” The readers of Shadow or Reality? know nothing of this. By divorcing these statements from their context, the meaning is changed subtly to suggest something that Brigham did not intend and which he specifically tried to interdict in his remarks.

The next quotation from Brigham concerns the importance of his testimony of Joseph Smith. “What an uproar it would make in the Christian world to say, I am an Apostle of Joseph,” the Tanners quote. “Write it down, and write it back to your friends in the east, that I am an Apostle of Joseph Smith.” Then a set of ellipses eliminates 155 words, before Brigham says, “all who reject my testimony will go to hell, so sure as there is one, no matter whether it be hot or cold.” The 155 missing words are crucial to understand Brigham’s point, but the reader of Shadow or Reality? has no idea how many words were left out or what their relevance might be to what Brigham is saying.(22) In the space represented by the ellipses, Brigham bears a simple but direct testimony of Joseph Smith. He said,
He was a man of God and had the revelations of Jesus Christ, and the words of Jesus Christ to the people. He did build and establish the kingdom of God on earth, and through him the Lord Almighty again restored the Priesthood to the children of men
Brethren, I am a witness of that; not by my laying hands on the sick and they being healed, nor by the revelations which are given of him in the Bible, but by receiving the same Spirit and witness which the ancients received; by the visions of the heavens being opened to my mind; by my understanding that which is revealed in the Book of Mormon, and that which Joseph revealed as comprised in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.
I am a witness that those are the revelations of the Lord through Joseph Smith, in this the last dispensation for the gathering of the people…(23)
One can see why the Tanners didn’t want to reproduce this for their readers. But it puts Brigham’s final statement about the perils of rejecting his testimony in a context that significantly reduces the “in-your-face” brashness and the judgmental harshness that the Tanners’ version produces. The omission subtly changes the meaning of the words, but with it we know what Brigham meant when he said he was an Apostle of Joseph Smith–his testimony was to be understood as authoritative and binding upon the people.(24)

One more example illustrates how the lack of context changes the meaning of a passage; in this case it turns out to be almost directly opposite the one intended by the speaker. Here the Tanners cite Joseph as saying (with underlining and all caps), I am NOT so much a ‘Christian’ as many suppose I am. When a man undertakes to ride me for a horse, I feel disposed to kick up and throw him off, and ride him.”

This quotation is not given its proper context, either of the paragraph from which it is extracted or from the portion of the sermon in which it appears. Moreover, its new context in Shadow or Reality? adds mischief to the injury. In the remaining sentences of the paragraph Joseph Smith justified his feelings on the basis of the conduct of David and Joshua. The implication is that he was not a great deal different from those great prophets who also sometimes felt misused.

But there are some very interesting things in this portion of Joseph’s speech that should be factored into an evaluation of how the Tanners deal with Joseph’s statement. Prior to this remark Joseph described how J.G. Remick swindled about $1,100 in cash and goods from him and why he was successful in doing so:
I did not like the looks of the man; but thought I, he is a stranger. I then reflected upon the situation that I had been frequently placed in, and that I had often been a stranger in a strange land, and whenever I had asked for assistance I had obtained it; and it may be that he is an honest man; and if I turn him away, I shall be guilty of the sin of ingratitude. I therefore concluded to loan him $200 in good faith sooner than be guilty of ingratitude. He gave me his note for the same, and said, ‘whenever you call on me, you shall have the money.’ Soon after, when I was taken with Carlin’s writ, I asked him for the money; but he answered, ‘I have not got it from St. Louis, but shall have it in a few days.’(25)
In other words, it was precisely because Joseph Smith struggled against the natural inclination toward selfishness and suspicion and tried to act like a Christian that he gave Remick the money in the first place. Later he discovered that Remick did not intend to repay him, but swindled him further. He was also concerned that Remick would swindle the Saints in Keokuk. This is the context of the quotation that the Tanners cite above. They not only violated the context of the quotation, but by altering its meaning in the new context they thereby gravely misrepresent Joseph’s character. In so doing, the Tanners show themselves to be better propagandists than historians.

Suppression of contrary or exculpatory evidence, through the use of selectivity and ellipses

Despite the claims of their defenders, as we have just seen, the Tanners frequently take quotations out of context. But, these examples also show that they engage in the equally serious matter of suppressing evidence that is contrary to their particular point or which may be exculpatory in nature. This is an exceedingly interesting phenomenon because for thirty-five years the Tanners have continually and persistently accused the Church, its leaders, its missionaries and its people of suppressing, withholding and concealing anything considered inimical to Mormonism. One example of the scores that could be cited, comes from the March 1982 Messenger wherein the Tanners promote the 1982 edition of Shadow or Reality?:
In the new edition…we deal with the serious problems Mormon historians are having with the leaders of the Church. We show that some of the top Mormon leaders are trying desperately to hide the truth about the origin of the church from their own people. Since many of the Mormon historians want to ‘tell it like it is,’ this has caused a real rift between the Apostles and the historians.(26)
Indeed, this type of accusation has largely been the basis upon which their publishing business has been built. And in part because of the high reputation their work holds among critics of the Church, the charges of deception, fraud and suppression of evidence are one of the standard allegations in the anti-Mormon arsenal. It is so pervasive among anti-Mormons and in anti-Mormon literature that it has become an unexamined axiom for critics. On this basis Mormonism is frequently compared to contemporary political cover-ups such as Watergate and Mr. Clinton’s hijinks.(27) So, as I say, this is all very ironic, because a growing body of evidence suggests that the Tanners themselves frequently and egregiously withhold vital information from their readers.

A particularly serious illustration of this phenomenon is found under the subheading “A Fighting Prophet.” The Tanners write: “Joseph Smith sometimes lost his temper and resorted to physical violence.” Several examples are then presented by way of quotations, one of which is from Calvin Stoddard, a brother-in-law of Joseph Smith. Max Parkin introduced this incident in his Master’s thesis with the following background:
In April, 1835, the [Painesville] Telegraph announced that the Prophet had been summoned to the Court of Common Pleas in Painesville for an assault and battery charge committed against his brother-in-law, Calvin Stoddard. Stoddard earlier had a falling out in the Church and lost his license to preach in December, 1832. The Telegraph failed to record the disposition of the case, so the Mormon Prophet desiring to set the public mind straight on the matter, wrote to the editor to inform him that he had been properly acquitted from the charge, and requested it to be so stated. The editor of the paper responded to Smith’s request by recounting the lurid details of the court record of the trial. The apparent reason for doing so was to publicly embarrass the Mormon Prophet with its recital. Although it was true that Smith was released on the grounds of self-defense, the grim fact that he knocked Stoddard down with a blow to the forehead would tend to further prejudice the public against him.(28)
The Tanners oblige Parkin by fulfilling his prediction that the incident would be used to prejudice the public against the prophet. To illustrate Joseph’s temper and unchristian violence the Tanners quote Stoddard’s testimony from the 26 June 1835 Painesville Telegraph as cited in Parkin’s thesis. Stoddard testified: “Smith then came up and knocked him in the forehead with his flat hand–the blow knocked him down, when Smith repeated the blow four or five times, very hard–made him blind–that Smith afterwards came to him and asked his forgiveness.”(29)For comparative purposes I have set the Tanner excerpt side-by-side with the Telegraph’s story as reproduced in Parkin.

Tanner Version                      
Smith then came up and knocked him in the forehead with his flat hand-the blow knocked him down, when Smith repeated the blow four or five times, very hard-made him blind-that Smith afterwards came to him and asked his forgiveness… [Parkin, Conflict at Kirtland, p. 132.]

Original Quotation
Saturday, June 20, [1835] 
Joseph Smith, Jr., was put upon his trial on a charge of Assault and Battery commited [sic] upon the person of a Mr. [Calvin] Stoddard. By consent of the parties, the case was submitted to the Court without Jury.
Stoddard examined–States that Smith had irritated him in a controversy about water–he had affirmed that there was water in a certain lot, which Smith denied–as Smith passed towards his house, he [Stoddard] followed him, and said, “[I] don’t fear you, or no other man”–Smith then came up and struck him in the forehead with his flat hand–the blow knocked him down, when Smith repeated the blow four or five times, very hard–made him blind–that Smith afterwards came to him and asked his forgiveness–was satisfied–had forgiven him–would forgive any man who would injure him and ask his forgiveness.
Cross ex.–Had a cane–did not attempt to strike him, or threaten.
William Smith examined–Saw Stoddard come along cursing and swearing–Joseph went out–Stoddard said he would whip him, and drew his cane upon Joseph–Joseph struck him once or twice.
Cross ex.–Joseph stopped in the yard–they were close together when he saw them–cautioned Joseph to stop, that he had done enough.
Mr. [sic] Smith, the Prophet’s mother–Saw some of the affrey [sic] –was upstairs–heard Stoddard talking loud–calling Joseph ‘a d–d false prophet, and a d–d one thing another’–saw Joseph slap him–did not hear Stoddard say he would flog him–did not see Stoddard attempt to strike him.
Burgess–Says Stoddard struck at Smith first, and raised his cane in a threatening attitude when down.
The Court, after summing up the testimony, said that as the injured party was satisfied, there would be no cause for further prosecution; that the assault might perhaps be justified on the principle of self-defense. The accused was then acquitted.  [Painesville Telegraph, New Series, I, No. 25 (June 26, 1835), n. p., cited in Max H. Parkin, Conflict At Kirtland, pp. 132-133.]
Immediately one notices the Tanners’ typical tactic: highlight the negative that heightens the tone of the original and obscure contradictory evidence. This quotation is not only taken out of context; the Tanners give it no context at all. They say nothing about the background details which Parkin provides, such as that Stoddard had a falling out with the Church in December of 1832, that there was a civil trial held, or that the newspaper did not report the result of the trial until Joseph requested that they do so because he was acquitted.

There are even more important omissions from the Telegraph’s story. First, the Tanners do not tell their readers that they are quoting a newspaper summary of Stoddard’s testimony at a court hearing about the incident or that the account includes contradictory testimony from other witnesses. Second, some testimony contradicts Stoddard’s denial that he struck first, saying that he followed Joseph down the street, cursing, harassing and threatening him with a cane. Burgess even says he struck first. Third, Joseph was acquitted because Stoddard was satisfied with his apology and apparently because there was some basis for an argument of self-defense by Joseph. Finally, though the Tanners quote the part about Joseph apologizing and asking for forgiveness, they make no effort to point out that Joseph did what a Christian is supposed to do when he has trespassed against his brother. In that regard the story is more a vindication of his commitment to Christianity than that he is unworthy to be a prophet. But the readers of Shadow or Reality? are told none of this.

These items are certainly necessary to give this story perspective and balance, something the Tanners show little interest in doing in assessing the character of Joseph Smith. While they are technically correct in saying that “Joseph Smith sometimes lost his temper and resorted to physical violence,” in this instance at least, they have not been forthright in their portrayal of the incident they used to demonstrate their point. By passing over information that may vindicate the Prophet, they have demonstrated an unprofessional lack of thoroughness and fairness.

In another example under the subsection “The Greatest Egotist,” the Tanners say, “Toward the end of his life Joseph seems to have become obsessed with the desire for power and fame. As we will later show, Joseph Smith ran as a candidate for President of the United States and was secretly ordained A KING. Joseph Smith’s own History of the Church contains some statements which show that he felt he was almost equal with God.”(30)Then follows this excerpt from a letter Joseph Smith wrote to James Arlington Bennett in November of 1843: “I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the gordian knot of powers, and I solve mathematical problems of universities, with truth-diamond truth; and God is my “right hand man.”(31)

It is interesting that the Tanners use this particular quotation to demonstrate that Joseph “felt he was almost equal with God.” B.H. Roberts, who edited the History of the Church, placed a note at this point in the text and pointed out that Woodbridge Riley used this same argument early in the Twentieth century in his biography, Founder of Mormonism. Roberts went on to say that God was Joseph’s right-hand man, “Not in the blasphemous sense attributed to him by some anti-Mormon writers…but in the sense of the passage near the close of his address to ‘The Green Mountain Boys,'” where he said reverently, “And Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my Great Counselor.”(32) It is in this same sense that many Evangelical Christians today sport bumper stickers on their cars that say “God is my copilot,” yet few would consider the driver as making himself (or herself) equal with God.(33)

This example shows the Tanners’ argument to be derivative. Indeed, they are dependent on previous anti-Mormon literature in much the same way as are those whose arguments emanate from them. There is little that is new under the sun as far as anti-Mormon arguments are concerned. Where the Tanners excel is as propagandists who have diligently and eclectically gathered the arguments of the past. What is disconcerting here is not the lack of imagination or creative polemic, but their mendacious use of the statement. They neither acknowledge Roberts’ interdiction nor answer it; they simply act as if it did not exist. Again, we see them promoting an agenda inimical to Joseph Smith with whatever they can press into service, even by wresting it if necessary.

Later, in the section on “Mixing Politics and Revelation,” the Tanners write, “Joseph Smith admitted that the Mormons were united in their politics, but claimed,” and here they quote Joseph Smith, “they were driven to union in their elections by persecution.” They go on to say, “Although it is true that the Mormons were persecuted, evidence shows that much of this persecution was the result of Joseph Smith’s intemperate speech and actions. Mormon historians have attempted to cover up this fact.”(34)

As mentioned earlier, the use of the word “admitted” in the introduction to this quotation is one of the Tanners’ standard rhetorical tools, used to suggest an inadvertent exposure of something he otherwise tried to conceal. But, did Joseph really admit anything? Was he correct when he said the Saints were unified by persecution? Do the Tanners have no sympathy for this position? When Joseph says something they agree with, he is then “admitting” or “confessing,” but when he contradicts their thesis or says that which they dislike, he is lying, dissembling, being deceitful or hypocritical in some way. With them it is black and white. He is not a mixture of strength and weakness, good and bad, as with all mortals. There is no middle ground, no gray area, no ambiguity, no complexity of personality. Inconsistency is only attributable to his evil motives and machinations. Joseph is not a three-dimensional personality to the Tanners. To them he is only evil. Joseph is a base fraud and that is that.

Their rationale is that the persecution was self-induced, a fact which they assert that Mormons historians hide. It is typical for Jerald and Sandra to make such sweeping indictments of groups such as “Mormon historians” because they see the Church engaged in a vast conspiracy to hide the truth from its members and the world. Mormon academics are somehow enlisted in this conspiracy and have compromised, indeed, forsaken any sense of intellectual or personal integrity. Proving this allegation is another matter altogether and in this instance, as with so many others, the Tanners use the slimmest of evidence as proof. Thus changing the subject to a Mormon cover-up, we are left with the implication that if self-induced, persecution does not justify Mormon block voting. This is superficial thinking and argument by assertion, not by evidence. It certainly has little to do with Joseph Smith mixing politics and revelation.

But the quotation is also torn from the context in which Joseph Smith explicitly says that Mormon union in elections did not come about by his influence. Here is the paragraph from which the Tanners take their excerpt:
I took the certified copies of the doings of the court, and waited on Governor Ford for his certificate thereto, after which he offered me a little advice, which was, that I “should refrain from all political electioneering.” I told him that I had always acted upon that principle, and proved it by General Law and Dr. Richards: and that the “Mormons” were driven to union in their elections by persecution, and not by my influence: and that the “Mormons” acted on the most perfect principle of liberty in all their movements.(35)
By ignoring this statement, in effect, the Tanners make Joseph Smith “admit” to Mormon unity in elections. It is interesting, however, that they do not have him “confessing” he did not encourage it. It is ironical, under these circumstances that the Tanners can with a straight face accuse Mormon historians of covering things up. The glaring double standard here is noteworthy.

To give the account balance the Tanners could have, but did not, quote any one of nearly a dozen statements in which Joseph made it clear the Latter-day Saints were not only free to exercise their own conscience in political matters, but were encouraged to do so. Indeed, the concept is part of Mormon canonical doctrine. Furthermore, Joseph made his own revulsion to politics clear. In an 1840 General Conference he said, “That he did not wish to have any political influence, but wished the Saints to use their political franchise to the best of their knowledge.”(36) Further, the minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society record: “President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolve upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy.”(37) In January 1843 he wrote the following note to the editor of the Mormon-owned newspaper The Wasp:
“DEAR SIR:–I have of late had repeated solicitations to have something to do in relation to the political farce about dividing the country; but as my feelings revolt at the idea of having anything to do with politics, I have declined, in every instance, having anything to do with on the subject. I think it would be well for politicians to regulate their own affairs. I wish to be let alone, that I may attend strictly to the spiritual welfare of the Church.”(38)
The next month he said, “In relation to politics, I will speak as a man; but in relation to religion I will speak in authority.”(39)That August he returned again to the theme and declared, “I am not come to tell you to vote this way, that way or the other. In relation to national matters, I want it to go abroad unto the whole world that every man should stand on his own merits. The Lord has not given me a revelation concerning politics. I have not asked Him for one.”(40)

Far from mixing politics and revelation, Joseph himself said he was not speaking by revelation, indeed had not asked for one on the subject, but do the Tanners tell their readers this? At this point it is fair to ask which historians are keeping what from whom?


These are just a few of the propagandistic techniques and instances of egregious misuse of documentary evidence that I found in reviewing Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s chapter on Joseph Smith. If we were to do an exhaustive study of the thousands of quotations in Shadow or Reality? we would find hundreds if not thousands of similar misuses of the documents.

I have demonstrated that “William,” a would-be-promoter of Shadow or Reality?, is in error when he says the Tanners do not take their quotations out of context. He simply did not do the work he claimed he did or if he did he made a poor job of it. Professor Jennings Olson, boldly challenged “But if Dr. Nibley or anyone else decides to ‘answer’ the Tanner’s [sic] book point for point I certainly promise to study that book carefully and review it in public.” I invite Professor Olson or anyone else who has placed their confidence and trust in the work of Jerald and Sandra Tanner, especially Mormonism–Shadow or Reality?, to come and take a new look. It cannot withstand the rigorous scrutiny its authors and supporters demand it be given. To paraphrase others who have looked closely at their work, the Tanner opus turns out to be more “shadow” than “reality” in that it is more propaganda than history or biography

Let's think together again, soon.


1.  Jennings G. Olson, “The Uniqueness of Mormonism: An Evaluation,” 22-23, as cited in The Salt Lake City Messenger, 35 (May 1973): 6.

2.  John Ankerberg and John Weldon, The Facts on the Mormon Church: A Handy Guide to Understanding the Claims of Mormonism (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1991), 35-36. The authors spend quite a bit of time praising the work of the Tanners and criticizing the Church for failing to answer their charges.

3.  Ibid.

4.  Salt Lake City Messenger 94 (August 1998): 15.

5.  Though I have an extensive library on Mormonism and have access to a very good library at the LDS Institute in Logan and the even more extensive special collection at the Merrill Library at Utah State University, there are a number of quotations I have yet to track down.

6.  This figure is derived from taking my chapter as typical. There are 102 quotations in eight pages of text. Shadow or Reality? has 576 pages, which when the math is done yields over 7,000 quotations in the entire book.

7.  Daniel C. Peterson his written two devastating reviews of Ankerberg and Weldon’s book Everything You ever wanted to know about Mormonism, and its reprint under the title Behind The Mask of Mormonism. See Daniel C. Peterson, “Chattanooga Cheapshot, Or The Gall of Bitterness,” Review of Books on The Book of Mormon 5 (1993): 1-86; and Daniel C. Peterson “Constancy Amid Change,” FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 60-89.

8.  Anonymous, Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Distorted View of Mormonism: A Response to Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City, 1977); Matthew Roper, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 4 (1992): 169-215; “Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response To Jerald and Sandra Tanner,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 2/2 (Fall 1993): 164-193; Robert L. and Rosemary Brown, They Lie In Wait to Deceive, Volume IV (Mesa, Arizona: Brownsworth Publishing, 1995), 149-166. Several other Tanner publications have received similarly negative reviews in recent years.

9.  Moody had them remove most of this when Shadow or Reality? was published by the Chicago firm under the title of The Changing World of Mormonism.

10.  I included as separate instances where underlining was used immediately before and after an ellipses. When it bridged the ellipses it further diluted the importance of what was left out while inordinately strengthening the relationship of the disparate parts of the quotation.

11.  Anonymous, Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Distorted View of Mormonism: A Response to Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City, 1977), 28.

12.  The following are the results of a review of my collection of The Salt Lake City Messenger. In May 1974 the Tanners greatly curtailed the use of all capitals and reduced the amount of underlining. In December 1979 they began using bold with occasional capitals and in March 1983 with a change in typeface they cut back the use of bold. In November 1983 they returned to selective use of capitals. In March of the following year bold was primarily used in place of italics for publication titles. Two years later they switched to italics for publication titles and in March of 1987 began using bold italics for emphasis though on a much smaller scale than in the earlier years. Since January 1988 they have been pretty consistent in using italics for publication titles and bold italics for emphasis. The frequency of the latter has remained somewhat constant, and I would describe it as light to medium compared to their earlier writings, but heavy compared to seasoned historians and biographers.

13.  This is reinforced by the fact that most of the changes in the fifth edition were in the form of additions at the end of the chapters. I do not believe alterations were woven into the text, though I have not checked this specifically.

14.  For similar observations about the use of the word “confess” in anti-Mormon rhetoric see, Daniel C. Peterson, “Chattanooga Cheapshot, or The Gall of Bitterness,” FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 (1993): 15, n. 25.

15.  This phrase is also used to introduce Gary Dean Guthrie, Kenneth W. Godfrey and William E. Berrett.

16.  Another case in point concerns Professor Olson’s praise of the Tanners’ book. The Tanners identify him as positively as possible. Readers were told he was a Ph.D. in the Philosophy Department of Weber State College. They didn’t tell their readers that he had left the Church and become a Unitarian minister, was part of a group of ultra-liberal marginal Mormons known as the “swearing elders” and a consistent critic of Mormonism.

17.  Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints, (Minneapolis: Bethany Publishing House, 2000), 12, emphasis added.

18.  Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? 5th ed., (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987), 252.

19.  Joel Tiffany, “Mormonism-No. II,” Tiffany’s Monthly (1859): 121.

20.  B.H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1907), 75-76.

21.  Shadow or Reality?, 252.

22.  Those 155 words constitute the remainder of the first paragraph-about 40 percent of it-the next full paragraph and about half of the final paragraph.

23.  Brigham Young, “Eternal Increase of Knowledge, Etc.,” Journal of Discourses, reported by G.D. Watt 17 February 1856, Vol. 3 (London: Latter-Day Saint’s Book Depot, 1856), 212.

24.  Brigham here speaks, knowing the importance of testimony both in the development of faith and in its binding effect upon the hearer. See Romans 10:13-17; Acts 10:34-43; Moroni 7:30-33, 2 Nephi 33:1; D&C 100:7-8; Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 148; Hebrews 9:16-17; and D&C 135:5.

25.  Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 5 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), 334-335.

26.  “MORMONISM-Shadow or Reality? 37,000 Copies Sold and now a New Enlarged Edition,” The Salt Lake City Messenger 47 (March 1982): 1.

27.  One need only read any of the more “popular” anti-Mormon works that come from publishers such as Harvest House Publishers or visit one of the numerous anti-Mormon Web sites, or engage in extended discussion or correspondence with the many critics and/or enemies of the Church to encounter this bromide.

28.  Max H. Parkin, Conflict at Kirtland (Salt Lake City: Max H. Parkin, 1966), 131-132. This is a privately published version of his Master’s thesis.

29.  Shadow or Reality?, 253.

30.  Ibid., 255.

31.  History of the Church, 6:79.

32.  Ibid., footnote on page 78. The statement to the Green Mountain Boys is on page 93.

33.  I’m grateful to Allen Wyatt for this modern example of such phrasing.

34.  Shadow or Reality?, 256. One wonders if these are the same Mormon historians mentioned in the quotation at footnote 22 who wanted to “tell it like it is,” or some other set. One gets the impression that when it is convenient to do so, the Tanners group LDS historians into whichever camp best serves their purpose.

35.  Ibid., 5:232.

36.  Ibid., 4:109.

37.  Ibid., 5:19, emphasis added.

38.  Ibid., 5:259.

39.  Ibid., 5:286.

40.  Ibid., 5:526. For yet more statements of this type also see 6:73, 77-78, 210-211, and 243.

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