There are 21 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Mormonism in The Mormonizing of America”.

  1. I just wanted to thank Craig Foster for writing a great review of this book that I can share with others to help them see that the book by Mr. Mansfield is not to be trusted as unbiased, scholarly, or historically accurate. Mr. Mansfield’s appeal to being friendly to the Church in the opening pages is a farce, which makes the entire book disingenuous and merely an excuse to drag the reader into every anti-Mormon argument that has ever been invented.

  2. Someone posting under the name “JSmith” indicates that he is impressed with the detail found in the book by Stephen Mansfield entitled The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics. “JSmith” assures us that his “my mind and heart are open to hearing/sensing God’s voice.” And also that he has “many questions, a deep yearning for truth and communion with the true Church.” And Mansfield’s book, which he is defending, contains considerable detail that calls into question the foundations of what Mansfield calls the “Mormon Religion.” “JSmith” also indicates that he is ‘still uncertain as to what to believe is truth – the Bible or the Book of Mormon.”

    But should not such a one who believes in such laudable things as “seeking truth, seeking an explanation to our existence and an understanding of the created order,” and so forth, not have noticed that one is not confronted with an either/or question when one opens the pages of the Book of Mormon, and especially when one’s mind and heart are presumably genuinely open to divine things rather than already having make a decision over whether to follow some sectarian interpretation of the Bible or the Book of Mormon. Why is this so? Latter-day Saints from the beginning believed that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are true. The Book of Mormon, from the perspective of a faithful Saint, necessarily assists the believer to sort many of the conflicting and even contradictory interpretations of the Bible that have made of Christianity a jumble of quarreling and even sometimes warring factions. And what divides Christians into sects and movement is not over relatively trivial matters such as modes of worship, architecture for houses of worship, of whether or not there are sign gifts, or dozens of other questions about which there have and still are debates and controversies.

    In addition, I wonder if “JSmith” has noticed and can provide an explanation for the title of Stephen Mansfield’s book. Has he demonstrated that there been a dangerous “Mormonizing of America”? Has the Church of Jesus Christ (or what Mansfield denigrates as the “Mormon Religion” really “become a dominant force in [American] politics”? Is this kind of language not the language of partisan propaganda, and hence unbecoming a Christian writing about the genuine faith of other Christians?

    • I don’t know if I would say I’m defending Mansfield’s book. I read it, I understand it, but I want to challenge it, I want to disagree with it – I want to find out that he is wrong. So I want to hear from those who can defend the LDS position on things he brings up.

      What if I told you that my Grandfather reported revelations that he received from God through an angel. The content of those revelations were written down. He began to share the message of these revelations to his friends and townsfolk. It was revealed to him that we (humans) have been getting it wrong – Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Pantheism, Evangelicalism, Jehovah’s Witnesses even the LDS Church – all of it. He was to establish a new order, a new experience of spirituality that actually brought us to the heart of God.

      I believe you’re genuine in your faith. I believe you seek truth and seek God. But, do you believe me? Why not?

      Also, I don’t really know why Mansfield titled his book as such.

  3. I recently read Mansfield’s book, The Mormonizing of America, and found it overwhelming with detail. I’d like to go through it again and reflect on his statements and facts on LDS history and doctrine. I can too, recognize the bias that Mansfield displays in the publication, which is what brings me here.

    I do believe in seeking truth, seeking an explanation to our existence and an understanding of the created order. Such an approach requires open-mindedness and an open heart. I recognize the importance of hearing from the ‘other side,’ as this book doesn’t give a voice to the believer on the claims this book makes. So, I appreciate people like Mr. Foster who offer a critique of the book.

    However, I feel that the review of the “embarrassing number of factual errors” discussed is nit-picky and petty. If someone is worshipping the wrong god, has another Christ (2 Cor 11:4), and has a different salvation, then whether he is right or wrong on minor details does not really matter. Mansfield brings up theological and historical statements that have significant implications on the validity of Joseph Smith, the LDS church and its origins. Focusing in on whether Christopher Columbus was actually an admiral when he discovered the Americas doesn’t and shouldn’t deviate our attention away from a “sacred narrative” of a people group with Hebraic origins that didn’t seem to exist. Whether Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered in 1842 or 1832 doesn’t negate the stunning parallels in both content and order between the View of the Hebrews written by Ethan Smith – Published in 1823, 7 years before the Book of Mormon (less than 100 miles from the Joseph Smith’s parents home). I fail to see the problem as to whether Fawn Brodie was or was not a professor at the time of her excommunication when she offers challenging evidence against the authenticity of Joseph Smith and the LDS faith (She presents the young Joseph Smith as a good-natured, lazy, extroverted, and unsuccessful treasure seeker, who, in an attempt to improve his family’s fortunes, first developed the notion of golden plates and then the concept of a religious novel, the Book of Mormon).

    I don’t mean to exhaust the overwhelming number of challenges put out in this book – we all can read – but there seems to be more significant issues to resolve. As presented in his book, it seems that the revelations of Joseph Smith “contains an embarrassing number of factual errors,” and should be explained.

    • I think the point of Foster’s review is to say if Mansfield can’t even get the simple stuff right, why should we trust him to get the tricky stuff right? The issues you raise are complex, and Mormon scholars have been addressing them for decades (literally). Mansfield shows little to no comprehension of the depth and complexity of these issues. His treatments are quick, glib, and leave much to be desired. (This ranges from his coverage of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, Mormon doctrine, plural marriage, early LDS history, Mormon culture, &c., &c.)

      I haven’t read the entire book, but I’ve read enough of it to agree with Foster’s overall negative assessment.

    • “As presented in the book” is the key. You are relying on the accuracy of a book that is proved to be inaccurate even on simple, straightforward fact questions about which there is no dispute.

      Based on the sample of serious issues that you cite, Mansfield appears to be rehashing the standard anti-Mormon tropes that have been addressed and rebutted numerous times. If you are interested in a considered Mormon response, you could try poking around fair-lds.org or some of the resources available on this website or still available at farms.byu.edu

      • thanks for the lead on fair-lds.org – good resource for sure!

        I appreciate the discussion – I have many questions, a deep yearning for truth and communion with the true Church. I’m still uncertain as to what to believe is truth – the Bible or the Book of Mormon.

        • “I’m still uncertain as to what to believe is truth – the Bible or the Book of Mormon.”

          I think this statement demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding, namely that the Book of Mormon stands in opposition to the Bible.

          The text of the Book of Mormon frequently makes reference explicitly to the “Record of the Jews” and that part of the books purpose is to re-enforce the Bible and
          “establish the truth of the first [books], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.(1 Nephi 13:40)” That the two books “shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions” ( 2 Nephi 3:12), and that the Book of Mormon “is written for the intent that [w]e may believe [The Bible].(Mormon 7:9)”
          According to the title page The Book of Mormon is for ” the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”

          Now if the question is “should either be believed”? study and sincere prayer is the only answer I know.

    • Surely you understand that the “stunning parallels” in between the Book of Mormon and the View of the Hebrews, and Fawn Brodies “good-natured, lazy” Joseph Smith have long been addressed by LDS scholars. What would be the point of Foster rehashing all that here?

      Sure, while some of this might be nit-picky, when factual errors permeate a book, it is an indication of sloppiness on the part of the author and publisher that likely reflects the quality of research and arguments. It is especially a read flag when those factual errors consistently favor the authors obvious biases or otherwise bolster their claims. (Like claiming Brodie is a professor when ex-communicated, making her seem so much more credible and making the event sound all the more scandalous.)

      A relatively brief book review cannot tackle every claim made in the book. What is can do is give readers a sense of the books general reliability, so they can approach the book appropriately, or even choose if they would like to read the book at all.

      • fair enough 🙂

        I don’t mean to offend, and know that my mind and heart are open to hearing/sensing God’s voice.

        I sense a responsibility to test prophets to see if they are from God (John 4:1). Jesus was very concerned of false prophets distorting truth (Matthew 7:15). The Apostle Paul put it this way in the epistle to the church in Rome in the 1st century (Romans 16:17-18), “I beseech you, brethren, mark them who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ but their own body, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the innocent.”

        I guess I am really intrigued with the testimony of Joseph Smith, but want to know if it’s true.

    • “Whether Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered in 1842 or 1832 doesn’t negate the stunning parallels…”

      Whether Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865 or 1855 doesn’t matter.

      Whether 9/11 occurred in 2001 or 1991 doesn’t matter.

      Whether I was born in 2000 or 2010 doesn’t matter.

      Really? That’s an entire decade of difference. A lot changes in 10 years.

      Sometimes, when examining historical figures, we treat them as objects, and not as people. Like him or not, Joseph Smith was, in fact, real. His house really was broken into that night. His tooth really was chipped. He really was beaten. His shirt really was torn, and his flesh really burned. His wife really was traumatized. And one of his adopted children really did die from exposure because of the event. Victims of this kind of abuse in our society today are often heavily medicated or seek continual counseling because of the trauma associated with this kind of experience.

      Saying that human suffering such as this does not matter because someone produced a book with striking parallels to another is like saying Christopher Paolini deserves to be tarred and feathered, publicly humiliated, and have one of his children die because his Eragon series borrowed heavily from Tolkien and George Lucas.

      I can’t even handle that remark. haha. Wow. The trivialization of human life and human suffering occurring here is astounding. Wow.

      I know you probably didn’t intend it that way. But still. Really? haha. Sheesh.

      • “The trivialization of human life and human suffering occurring here is astounding. Wow.
        I know you probably didn’t intend it that way. But still. Really? haha. Sheesh.”

        I’m sorry, I’m not following. I wasn’t trying to trivialize the torture of Joseph Smith. An incredibly horrendous event, I’m sure!

        What I am trying to highlight and discuss: are there problems with what Joseph Smith taught. I’ve spent many years reading and studying Old and New Testament Scriptures, and I am having difficulties reconciling the systematic theology of Joseph Smith and God’s revelation in the Bible. Am I willing to listen to a man claiming to be a prophet of God? Of course! But when I read the revelation of God in the Scriptures, I don’t come to a conclusion, for example, of Heavenly Father having a Father – and He having a Father, and He having a Father and so on. I get a glimpse of an eternal Creator who was, who is, and will always be – the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. When I study the Scriptures cover to cover, I don’t conclude that I, or anyone else, can become a god one day. There are more and more red flags that come up for me when I read the books he wrote – straight from the prophet’s mouth. I have a hard time accepting this revelation as the same as God’s truth revealed in the Bible.

        Now, Joseph Smith could be right, but the rest of Scripture does not coincide in truth claims. Does anyone else wrestle with that?

  4. I didn’t even bother reading this book when I read a few made up conversations between Mormons that would never be said with vocabulary that doesn’t exist in the culture he is trying to write about. The better book of this type is “How I Fell in Love with Joseph Smith,” that is much more honest about its purpose and biases. Its also much more accurate.

    • Thank you Skip for bringing to my attention the four to six times the phrase “progressive revelation” has actually shown up in a church publication. I stand corrected.

      Since the phrase continuing revelation has been used much more often, I had naturally thought of that. But I do appreciate knowing about those references, as well as the reference to the progressive movement of the early twentieth century and a number of other fun references that came up in the same search.

  5. Thanks for this illumination. However, you hit one of my hot buttons with, “That is predestination as taught by Calvinists and others in mainstream Christianity.”

    Jesus Christ is the main stream of Christianity. The Church and gospel that he gave in New Testament times and restored later through Joseph Smith are mainstream Christianity. How much a person or church varies from this is the measure of how far they are outside of mainstream Christianity.

    • You are right and I stand corrected. The gospel of Jesus Christ as restored by Joseph Smith is mainstream Christianity.

  6. My own observation is that one way of identifying the genre of anti-Mormon literature is that the author telegraphs to the readers what emotions he or she wants them to feel toward the “facts” they are being told.

    Another indicator is that, given their very negative assessment of the character and writings of Joseph Smith, they must either indict the Mormons for being ignorant, stupid, or moral failures, or else present the reality of Mormon achievement as families and individuals as a complete non sequitur, without explanation, a beautiful lotus blossom growing out of the mud of Mormonism’s allegedly dark origins.

    The inability to reconcile the observed reality of Mormon success in faithfulness, self-sacrifice and volunteer service, family religious unity, and personal achievement, and the alleged murky roots of their religion, is an even more acute problem than those authors appreciate. That is because there are very direct ties between the founding generation of Mormons who knew Joseph Smith personally, and the current generation of Mormons who operate an international church with advanced education and top skills in their various professions. I recall attending a reception held at the Church Administration Building in 1971 when I was acting as an interpreter for a group of visiting Japanese governors when they were invited to meet the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and then had lunch with them. As each of us in the party went down the line, we each shook hands with all fifteen leaders, including Joseph Fielding Smith, whose father Joseph F. was president sixty years earlier, and who had personal memories of his farewell at Nauvoo to his father Hyrum and his uncle Joseph. Thomas Monson and Boyd K. Packer were members of the Twelve then, and had direct contact with President Smith over the course of years. The emphasis on family history among Mormons and the preservation of pioneer experiences so they can inspire new generations also tend to reinforce very personal ties to the first generation of Mormons. What Mormons are now, in the 21st Century, is very much a fulfillment of what Mormons believed in and aspired to back in the 1830s to the 1890s.

  7. Craig Foster has had the patience to fashion a detailed response to a dreadful diatribe against the Church of Jesus Christ. He demonstrates that Mansfield’s book, whatever else it might be said about it, is not sound history.
    He does this fully but also with considerable restraint. My only complaint about Foster’s essay is that he is far too restrained, given the extreme provocation provided by the Reverend Mansfield..

    Those not previously familiar with the Mansfield’s opinions about the Church of Jesus Chrsit should pay attention to the title of the book, since it asserts something that has not taken place; it also promises to explain how “the Mormon religion has become a dominant force in [presumably American] politics.” This is bizarre, brazen sensationalism write large.

    I wonder about the unnamed historian who claimed that Mansfield’s book “has received high marks for its objectivity and balance” (see p. 86). Are historians, I wonder, still in thrall to the myth of objectivity? And exactly what did Mansfield manage to balance: error and truth, rhetorical rubbish and serious history, phony, slogan thinking and rigorous research? The word “balance” makes sense in some situations, but not in writing history. Be that as it may, Foster has demonstrated that Mansfield produced shameless, partisan propaganda.

    Foster shows that, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Mansfield’s previous career as a Protestant Pastor seem to have fallen on hard times, and he has, it seems, turned to fashioning books, one of which is on the Church of Jesus Christ, and also lecturing the evils of Mormonism. One reviewer falsely claims that Mansfield, in addition to being “very respectful towards LDS beliefs,” was also “impartial…leaving the evidence to speak for itself” (p. 85.). These assertions are shown to be false.

    Mansfield writes from what one of his apologists has described as a “a Christian perspective,” though without identifying which one of these could possibly warrant such an endeavor.

  8. Nice review.
    I wonder whether there is an analogy between this sort of soft Christian attack on Mormonism, and the very same sort of attacks by atheists on Christianity. In neither case do the authors tend to allow themselves to be confused by facts.

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