Sunday, June 30, 2013

Evidentiary, My Dear Monson

The character Sherlock Holmes once stated, 'There is nothing like first-hand evidence.'  Indeed, first hand evidence clears up much.

For decades, critics raised increasing doubts about the Book of Mormon. In ancient America, there's no Hebraic DNA, no piles of advanced steel weaponry, no vast Christian utopian societies. It's a real choker in the LDS church's craw.

 If the LDS church could point to evidence that would quiet critics, why wouldn't they? 
Would they hide evidence because it's more important to test faith? The usual excuses given: Nephi and Alma were too long ago, genes dilute, swords rust, buildings erode, etc.  It was just too long ago, so you can discount evidence that has disappeared in time...    

However, if the church all to itself did come across evidence that Joseph Smith claimed he made it up or that there were never Nephites, would you expect them to release an apology? Or would they hide that counter evidence in their vault? They'd probably ignore it; pretend the problem doesn't exist; hope it just goes away on its own. 

Critics are raising doubts about the trustworthiness of the apostles. Documents show suspicious activities--property taxes bills sent to church offices, property transferred from church to apostles, men who had low pay become wealthy as apostles. The Mission President's Handbook outlines the many perks worth up to a hundred thousand dollars.  These would only increase at the promoted office of apostle.  Faithful LDS members have complained at these criticisms, saying the evidence is weak. Perhaps, but they're not as weak as the evidence the faithful use to justify belief in the Book of Mormon or Book of Abraham.

The church can silence critics of apostle finances and lavish business interests by showing the first hand evidence of their financials. Politicians release their taxes and business activities for public scrutiny. Even Mitt Romney finally did after a lot of hassle. The acclaimed highly integerous apostles could dispel the suspicions in a heartbeat.   Should they? Will they? 

Honest emissaries of Christ who are believed closest to him as special witnesses have nothing to fear if their acts are pure and noble. However, if the evidence isn't in their favor, one can understand they will feel they shouldn't release it. After all, members covenant to never speak evil against the Lord's anointed. The apostles are banking on it. Perhaps literally. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Spirit Testifies of All Things, Except Financial Secrecy

Most LDS have a testimony by the method of the Holy Ghost, as it’s called. They haven’t seen Jesus Christ or God in their own personal first vision.  On the other hand, Joseph Smith did witness to the world that he had beheld God the Father and his son Jesus Christ. Every LDS apostle since him has been called as a "special witness" (early on as a witness of Christ, and now to the name of Christ).  Since members aren't special witnesses, they must rely on trusting that the 12 apostles (actually 15 with the first presidency) have seen and witnessed the reality of God.  Instead, lay members must trust and verify using the method of the Holy Ghost, which is given in the LDS scripture, D&C 9:8-9.
“study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong”
The burning bosom is known well in LDS circles, and most members feel it is unique to them.  However, other people the world over have felt a burning heart and enlightened mind when studying and pondering or meditating over their particular doctrines.  Just like the Mormons, the Hindus have the chakras, some of which have manifestations of elation, lifting and pure knowledge while meditating.  For example, during mediation/mantra recitation (prayer), a flame is felt inside of the heart (part of the heart chakra), from which the mantra rings out; and this cooperates with the brow and crown (mind) chakras for realizing the "Clear Light".  Islam has the "hajj experience" and Islamic transformation that are essentially just as strong or more than the Mormon burning, as exampled by those who feel so emboldened as to commit suicide for their testimony.  Other Christian churches have spiritual manifestations in feelings, tongues and miracles.

So if Hindus can have a heart chakra about polytheistic gods like Vishnu that burns so bright and large it feels like a flaming basketball, and if an Islamic fundamentalist can feel so sure of his bosom swelling experience to detonate himself (talk about a burning in the bosom!), how sure can a Mormon be that his experience is truth and the Hindu or the Muslim's experience is false?

To assume you know your feelings are superior to all belief systems across the globe is very prideful.  Most people have many strong feelings all through life.  Some even lose a lot of money because of deep-seated gut instinct and good vibes.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been lost in financial scams because investors had a really really good feeling worth slapping tens of thousands of their hard earnings on the table of future payback. Everyone of them felt they were onto something most others were missing.  And interestingly, Utah is rated one of the highest states with per-capital financial scams.  Good feelings or not, they've been steered wrong to the tune of a lot of hard cash.   

Religious feelings garner even stronger reactions than the anger of being financially taken.  Wars, terrorism and a boat load of door-knocking irritations have occurred in the name of religions.

If the Holy Ghost method is working in all various world religions and testifying of contradictory beliefs, then what can one trust? 
If such strong feelings and visions can testify of such diverse and opposing beliefs, how can you trust them? 

For that matter, food can alter mood, and medical science routinely alters mood, perception and even the experience of reality with drugs ranging from Prozac to LSD. It doesn't require pharmacology to alter perceptions. Mental illness, brain injury or even just depression does it often without the victim's awareness. How can you believe or trust your feelings to tell you any truth? No, spiritual experience based on warm chests and stupid thoughts are not truth meters.

Mormons are sure their feelings and spiritual experiences are more real, and their special witnesses more trustworthy.  After all, the apostles have literally seen Jesus, right?

Without belaboring it, most of my readers know that there is credible and frustrating controversy surrounding claims made by the first witness, Joseph  Smith, regarding the first vision, how he translated the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, and how he practiced plural marriage with teens and married women.  However, most members dismiss them because they feel strongly that the history is muddled with discrepancies that they feel leaves them a gap large enough to allow the Holy Ghost to work through.  The muddle is a way for God to test faith.  

If you have to muddle through your own history, how can you claim your faith is better than the history and faith of Hindus or Muslims or other Christians?  If your burning bosom is no more powerful than the heart chakra, the hajj or the burning tongue/flame of other religions, how can you feel secure the muddled history is really witnessed by the Holy Ghost?  All your elated, out-of-body spiritual experiences included, you’re not that special.  And neither are your 15 special witnesses.

Trust them?  Let’s study it out in our mind to see if we get a stupor or a burning.  Ok?

Last December I askedIf it is shown that the prophets, apostles, seventy or mission presidents are paid even one senine (whatever that is), would this mean they just might have ulterior motives?

I'll ask it differently:  If the 15 living special witnesses were found to be subsisting very nicely off the benefits of the highest office of their calling, would the Holy Ghost bear witness to that pay-off they get?

Alma ensured that when Korihor protested his doctrine and that Alma preached it only to get rich, then Alma insisted he did not in the least ever get a single senine (dime?) from the church.  This was important to dispelling the anti-mormon Korihor, who raised a huge red flag to the people listening.

Well, I will challenge the 15 modern day Almas to dispel the following information about their wealth, typically at 3x or more than the median family in Utah, and which has left many feeling a stupor and uneasiness about what exactly these witnesses focus their minds and energies on.

These are only in UT. There could be houses owned in Hawaii, CA, ID, AZ, FL and elsewhere.

Here are a few of the homes owned by a cross-section of senior and junior apostles.

Thomas Monson
• 4125 Carter Circle SLC ...  Worth:  $441,700 
  (search parcel 22-04-202-080-0000  image )
• 6742 North Fairfax Dr, Sundance ....Worth about ~$193,623  
   (Parcel 540370053007  image  Market valuation image )

• 140 W FARM RD. Midway, UT  ... Worth: $383,734 
   (Parcel  00-0001-3776 image )
3 homes...Total: $1,019,057
(Recall, Monson has been nearly a life-long church employee)

For comparison, the average home  in Salt Lake runs about $260,000 in 2013.  That's rougly a quarter of the total value of Monson's three homes.  Sundance and Midway are swanky resort areas.  The common family would be happy with any one of Monson's three homes.

Dallin Oaks
1813 Yale Ave SLC  ... Worth: $636,700 
   (Parcel 16-09-428-014-0000* image**)
• 40 N. State St. unit #5d  ... Worth:  $538,200 
   (Parcel  09-31-385-064-0000  image1 image2)
Total: $1,174,900

* the Yale home was held for Oaks by LDS company Suburban Land Reserve Inc when it was sold this year.  SLRI is involved in land grabs all along the wasatch front. Why is Oaks' property held by the church?
**The parcel info image above is from late 2012, and no longer matches the current SLCO website, but shows the transition from Oaks to SLRI.

See below for even more interesting connections on LDS ownership/transfer to Oaks.

Boyd Packer
1850 Forest Bend Dr #1 SLC  ... Worth:  $1,292,490  
   (Parcel 22-28-478-001-0000 image )
1850 Forest Bend Dr #2 SLC (adj land parcel)   ... Worth:  $422,200
  (Parcel  22-28-476-006-0000 image )
Total: $1,714,690
(Recall, Packer was a seminary teacher)

Dieter Uchtdorf  (details and photos given here)
• 399 S Aerie Cir, N SLC  ... Worth:  $778,000
   (Serial 012410011)
• 242 N Red Ledges, Heber .... Worth: $637,274
   (Parcel 00-0020-9118)
Total: $1,415,274
(Recall, Uchtdorf was a pilot)

All of these men are living in the safest, cleanest and best served neighborhoods on the Wasatch Front.  Not one of their multiple homes, vacation estates or lodges can even be considered a starter home.  

Later on, I will include more Apostles, such as Eyering, Andersen, Cook, Holland and more.  But one of the most interesting of the list above is Dallin Oaks.  A wealthy attorney by former trade, Oaks wouldn’t need anyone to buy him a house or pay for his expenses.  However, records clearly indicate that his 40 N State Street Apartment, worth $538,200 (not even half of his estates combined value) was deeded to him by the LDS church’s Property Reserve Inc. (See also this Bloomberg Report on PRI.)

The document was obtained by a SLC County insider, and the scan of it is provided here.  A Church Office Building Finance worker who will remain unnamed confirmed to me that the transaction shown was apparently a gift under a Special Warranty Deed transfer of church owned condo to Mr. Oaks.  There are more disclosures coming later.

On 9/8/2010, LDS Property Reserve Inc transferred ownership of condo 5D to the Dallin H Oaks Trust (DHO LV TRST)

Between 2010 and 2012, Oaks held over $1M in real estate. The condo had been owned by LDS owned PRI and transferred to Oaks.  The Yale home was taken over by LDS owned SLRI just late last year.  Why is the church giving and taking land from Oaks?

In following this teaching of our Savior, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members...make generous contributions to charities and give personal service and other gifts to the poor and needy...Using funds donated by generous members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends food, clothing, and other essentials to relieve the suffering of adults and children all over the world. These humanitarian donations, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade, are made without any consideration of religion, race, or nationality. Our massive relief effort following the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami provided $13 million in cash and relief supplies. In addition, more than 31,000 Church-sponsored volunteers gave more than 600,000 hours of service....Truly, the people called “Mormons” know how to give to the poor and needy.

Several concerns are raised when we see the wealth amassed by these few senior and junior apostles, and at the same time they are patting themselves and members on the back for their donations to the needy.  

The spiritual witness promise in the Book of Mormon says that those who exercise it faithfully and fully will receive the countenance of Christ in their image (Alma 5:14,19).  Even though the physical appearance of the 12 varies (from balding to droopy double chins and from ringed eyes to dim eyes behind glasses) the image of Christ usually is of a hero that defends the down trodden, the poor and the sick against the power and authority of wealth and politics.  Said Jesus: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Not a place, especially not 2 or 3 estates. A quorum of men whose lives have been dedicated to business, law and wealth gathering hardly seems like the countenance the prophet of Alma 5 or of Alma 30 had in mind.  You can very well bet that, like Mission Presidents, the apostles get more than 2 or 3 estates.  They get maids, gardeners, tuition for family, cars and more--all tax free. (See the mission president handbook of instruction for details.)  If only it was limited to nice homes.  The perks of their office include more than homes, cars, tuitions, gardners and more; it includes a guaranteed book-reading fan club to buy Monson's children's book (or this one).  Even if one ignores the ample evidence the church pays for all these niceties and one argues they get the wealth through book sales, none of it would be possible if they didn't exploit their God-given calling for wealth. 

Forget for now the controversial history, doctrine and practices of Joseph Smith. Study in your mind the facts and truths about the modern Q12.  Plead with the HG to tell you the truth about them. If you have even the slightest doubt, rest assured that there are indisputable financial histories and documents about their activities regarding taking loans and property transfers from LDS owned corporations and banks. These modern financial histories and bank doctrines are not muddled like the early church documents.  They're just purposely hidden. The 15 sit on the boards as directors and trustees of LDS owned corporations, and they will not open the financial books of the church corporation activities to the members. They do an internal audit with church paid auditors who sign very strict non-disclosure agreements about all of these transactions.    They could open these histories up if the members demanded it loudly enough.  But members are sheep, just as they leaders ask them to be.

Surely a whistleblower, you might say, would have uncovered the ongoings at the church office building financial dept?  Well, one just did open it up a little for you, and some of the data and information is being leaked here.  It’s up to you to decide how you will act.  Perhaps you've dismissed the historical and doctrinal troubles surrounding founder Joseph Smith and other early leaders.  Will you also just wave off the modern controversies of the 15 special witnesses?  Which would you prefer an answer to--the truth behind Joseph Smith, or the truth behind Dallin Oaks or Jeffrey Holland or other apostles?  If you can really wave this off without digging deep into your inner integrity, then indeed, you are just the kind of sheep televangelists and apostles are looking for.

The LDS church is about to publish answers to difficult doctrinal questions.  I say forget that upcoming project for now and ask your first presidency to answer the questions about their own actions and transactions.  If they ignore the membership, then perhaps the spirit of truth will reveal what’s really up to each member in personal testimony.  Most of us only need to study it out and we've got our answer.  Others need a feeling, good or "stuporously" suspicious, to lead them to the truth.

To the Quorum of the 15:  You have some explaining to do. 

Mr. Oaks, you're an attorney.  Please, release all the documents and tap the legal dance for us.

Then maybe you can answer this version of Alma's question: I say unto you--Mr. Oaks, Mr. Monson and Mr. Packer--can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of Jesus helping the poor engraven upon your countenances?

It must be nice to live in the heavenly homes of apostles.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sunshine is Good Disinfectant

[More details of the LDS Church's 3-year plan to address issues.]

Information comes from all kinds of sources.  My own patriarchal blessing promised me, like most members probably, that I would work with top leaders in the church.  It also claimed “your name will be known for good throughout the annals of the church.” I’m not sure that “good” is what the church history books will use to describe me, but I have rubbed shoulders with what I would consider giants on the periphery of the Mormon church.  Besides the great people at Mormonthink (founder, Dianne, Tom and more), I have been in contact (some more regularly than others) with several past church educational system leaders like Ken Clark, John McClay and Grant Palmer.  These come across scattershot of information that itself alone seems a shot in the dark.   I email with BYU/I/H professors (unnamed due to job pressures) that have tidbits of inside knowledge that again alone may not amount to a complete picture.  And then there are anonymous emails I get that warn me to be careful about discussing such-n-such.

When I piece all of this information together, I come away with an interesting story about what is unfolding to become an enormous project at the church office buildings.  Much of what I post below is probably speculative, and time will tell if I have assessed the data accurately.  But there are multiple sources confirming bits of this; the rest of which I flesh out myself.

The church is bleeding members.  Marlin Jensen told a crowd at Utah State University this over a year ago.  John Dehlin and I had a conversation late last year in which he also confirmed that essays would be forthcoming to try to stay the outflow of young, questioning members.  Like many complex medical procedures, the church’s attempts at inoculation is a multi-phased treatment.  Inoculations are like vaccinations--you give a weak dose of the virus to stimulate the immunity, and then thereafter, the same threat poses little danger. In fact, this managed treatment could encourage members to have trials of faith, controlled exposure to virulent "anti-mormon" information, and then be healed to only be stronger for it.  There’s a light, moderate and an invasive treatment coming, apparently.  

Several people believe the church’s inoculation will fail, and only serve to highlight the issues that for many members were previously unknown.  However, their apparent three-tiered plan goes to the psychology that believers want any excuse to keep believing.  By publishing a response to historical, doctrinal and science questions about the church, making the essays official on LDS.ORG with its high search index, true-believing Mormons (TBMs) will end up on their site first. When they google some "rumor" that bothers them, instead of ending up at FAIR or Mormonthink, they will land at the church's site. They will believe that the LDS Church is being open and honest. They will continue to trust the Church's explanations.

Right now, TBMs are upset because they feel the church has hidden the information. As it is, they lose trust in their church. They keep digging and no amount of apologetics can repair the lost trust. The TBM wants to believe. They want an answer that keeps them believing. But when there isn’t an official response, they end up disgruntled.

This new method is an inoculation. It’s about maintaining trust in the LDS Church with some kind of semi-acceptable response.  And it may work.  While it does show the church is desperate (the focus from "I'm a Mormon" campaign to "Keep the Mormons" campaign), it also shows that they're smart.  They get the psychology of belief.  

Here’s the plan I believe they have.  Grant Palmer shared with me the name of Elder Steven Snow, who leads the church history department, as he learned some of the details from church leaders across the world (i.e., non-American bishops).  Professors of history at the Lord’s schools have also confirmed bits of this, as well as other rumors coming in.

The inoculation will roll out at three levels of essays, articles and journal-like publications.  Soon, we believe, they'll post the first layer of essays just touching the surface of a given issue.  The review of each major issue will probably have no more information than is already available in different places at LDS.ORG (in articles and conference talks).  The leadership, apparently, hopes this first needle sting is sufficient to placate the majority of the membership.  No one can say, they will claim, that they are hiding the information.  They have responded.  However, these essays will be the same old information; just organized into neat little “I have a question” answer packets.

Some have speculated that the first wave of treament might even include testimovies discussing the issues with a backdrop of teary-eyed music and apostle-recorded testimony.  Take this video, for example, discussing the wonderful multiple versions of the first vision.  Steven C. Harper, editor of the Joseph Smith Papers and BYU professor of church history, narrates it and it would appear by all accounts to be just the kind of method the LDS church would use in a first layer surface review of issues like Joseph Smith's multiple, contradicting accounts of his first vision.

We've been told there will likely be 13 essays (though I wouldn't hold my breath on that number).  One essay most of us would love to see them address is why the financial secrecy and why they own malls, theme parks, hunting reserves and the largest ranches in the US...  Don't count on a single sentence in any of the essays addressing these financial issues.

The next inoculation will come later, perhaps in early 2014.  It will dive a little deeper into the issues, with footnotes, links, lengthy quotes and perhaps even a little more meat.  Think Ensign articles, rather than FARMS publication.  My guess is, they won’t widely advertise these articles, but link to them from the simpler essays.  My other guess is that these articles will be reserved for bishops to use when members are deeply troubled and not satisfied with the simple essays.  Members who aren’t afraid of getting their minds into the work of actually learning about their church will be somewhat satisfied that the church has made a “serious” attempt to divulge and explain the issues with an official response.

The deepest inoculation is set to come out probably in 2015 for those scholarly members who are on the verge of leaving the church.  This layer of treatment will likely be buried deeper yet on the Lord’s websites so that only the truly steadfast scholars will find them. I would imagine these members are the kinds employed at the Lord’s schools, at the Church History Department or by the CES.  They know the issues, probably as well or even better than editors at Mormonthink.  Their employment would suffer if they resign their membership.  But they know too much to be satisfied with a few footnotes and BYU committee reviewed articles.  These poor souls are dangling on a cliff, grasping at roots and finding straw.  The proposed FARM like publications, complete with academic style references and pointers to scholarly articles and journals outside of the church, would use nuance to re-contextualize the issues into something that is truly dizzying.  They will show that each complex topic has many sides and that ultimately you must decide on which side you lay your faith.  

In other words, as you drill deeper and deeper into the issues, you will learn that even the Church’s brightest and best cannot find a clear explanation for why Joseph appears to have misled over and over about his claim of divine interaction.  The critics, it will appear, have a good case to make if you are a faithless reject.  But have a little faith, the nuance gives you wiggle room to be scholarly and faithful at the same time, knowing that the answers won’t be fully given in this life.

Let’s think about this.  The prophet who, with a quorum of 12 apostles and two counselors, that in aggregate have more than half a millennium of spiritual leadership, cannot call upon God to give a clear cut answer to troubling concerns about the founding of the kingdom of God.  Why not?  Because to give perfectly clear answers, the faithful are told, would deny them the chance at exercising their faith.  The nuance is needed to test us, say the leaders.

According to the LDS leaders, there is only one true Church, one true God and only one path that leads to eternal life. Mormonism is the true path, but it is a tiny fractional percent minority religion among the thousands of other minority religions in the world. Apparently,  our task is to find the ONE TRUE RELIGION to bring us back to the presence of the one true God. We’re supposed to follow the still small voice, the very subtle signs placed around us by God, who tests our faith as we journey on this path back to him. 

Now, imagine (as my friend baura first did) if the Department of Motor Vehicles/Dept of Transportation ran the roads the way LDS leaders claim God is running life. Imagine you are driving down the highway and there are signs of all different colors and shapes. Red signs, blue signs, green signs, yellow signs, big signs, triangular signs, foreign signs, etc. Lines change colors and patterns at random for denoting lanes. Lights come in a rainbow of colors that change with no discernable pattern. In this bizzaro world, all the signs say different things--different max and min speed limits, different instructions about what lane to be in etc. Further imagine that only one special color and shape of sign is the correct one. Your job is to figure out which set of signs is the right one. And there are ever-seeing eyes or cameras all over the roads writing out tickets for those who disobey the TRUE signs.

That's the best God and his prophets could come up with in running his plan?

The inoculation project going up these coming years at LDS.ORG is going to have multiple road signs of varied colors in different levels of double-speak.  If the path back to God wasn’t clearly established in the Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon or Pearl of Great Price, then the confusion that the layers of inoculation provide won’t help anything except to muddy the waters so much that we’ll all forget that we’re supposed to follow any signs at all.  Confusion is a great way to overwhelm minds and then subdue them back into the fold.

I wondered why they are rolling it out slowly, over two years, instead of just publishing all of it quickly.  I think that if the articles and deeper publications are published along with the lighter essays, the attention of the media (like Peggy Fletcher Stack -- someone inform her of this scoop) would focus on the meat over the milk.  The LDS church doesn’t want history that isn’t useful to be the focus.  I’m sure that Boyd K Packer is not happy that the church will officially post useless history.  L. Tom Perry either.  My guess is, they and those in their camp are pushing for delays at the least.  That’s actually smart because once the fanfare over the simple essays has died down, they can quietly add the next two tiers of inoculation without much attention, and only point to them through local bishops, CES instructors or Religion depts.

Again, Mormonthink won’t let these articles and issues slide down the memory hole into the shadow without a full review and discussion.  Inoculation is supposed to heal.  And we have all heard that sunshine is the best disinfectant.  Shine that light on the history, the doctrine and the life of the LDS leadership.  It will do wonders in cleaning house and temple.

The B&W stance the LDS Church traditionally takes is about to be muddied and nuanced.
(photo of Polynesian Cultural Center gardens, LDS owned Epcot-styled theme park)

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Church's Troubling Issues

Most of you have seen the recent announcement we made at that the church is, as an insider informed MT, about to publish “essays” that address the most pressing concern that studious LDS members have as they come across dubious or new information regarding their religion. (A screen capture of the MT announcement is below, in case you cannot get it at the site.)  It dovetails with some of the rumor mill discussed over a month ago with Grant Palmer’s release of what could be called the Mormon leadership conspiracy.  I don’t usually buy conspiracy theories (strictly, by definition, they’re hypotheses).  The question of conspiracy is a matter of degrees concerning the LDS leadership.  Are they conmen who rake in cash for lying to the Lord?  Or are they victims and conned-men who are deluded into believing that it is better to lie for the Lord?  I’ll get right to the distinction in a moment, but first, let’s examine the upcoming release of essays.
The latest LDS church plans to address concerns that have existed for many decades may shed some light on this conmen vs. conned-men question.  It also raises a few questions.

1) Why now?
2) Will they answer the questions to the satisfaction of most knowledgeable members?
3) Who is actually writing the essays?
Question "Why now?"  --  Haven’t the church leaders known about the issues before?  When Fawn Brodie wrote her No Man Knows tome almost 70 years ago, they must have realized it would pose problems. When archaeology in the 1950s-1980s began taking ancient America studies in a completely opposite direction from the historical accounts of the Book of Mormon, didn’t they know?  When in the 1970s-1990s the Tanners raised very scholarly questions about the church, didn’t they know? When in the last decade the internet raised objective sites like MormonThink that expounded in detail the issues, didn’t they know? 
The difference from previous eras is the internet.  Now the objective and even critical information is very easily accessed and readily found by the rising generation of youth in the LDS church. These young people have been educated in secular society to quietly question assumptions and think for themselves.  The LDS leadership is worried that the loss of membership will only increase.  Why now?  Because the internet isn't forgetting.

Question "Will they answer the issues satisfactorily?"  --   Until they are released, we can’t be sure. I'll predict--nay prophesy--that if history is any guide, it is doubtful that they will ever release any responses that approach the depth and objectivity found on sites like MormonThink.  It’s safe to predict that the tired mantra of faith trumps fact and spiritual witness beats scientific work will be hidden in between the lines of every essay.  The leaders have told members since the beginning that they speak to and on behalf of God. They’ve painted themselves as nigh unto the Lord as special witnesses. They’ve colored the LDS world with hues of overwhelming Mormon myths.  They’ve painted themselves into a corner once science completely contradicts their claims. 
Because of this divine claim to God and the scientific contradiction, they must either (1) throw previous prophets under the history bus, they must (2) ignore history & science, or they must (3) act as though they have always been aligned with the past & science (i.e., lie about the past).  On  (2 & 3) they can’t really hide the past—they can no longer control access to information in the Wasatch Front even, let alone the world. They can't lie about the past when it is so easy to look it up online.  They can’t ignore history & science (that’s what they’ve been doing for decades).  I prophesy here that what’s left is (1) for them to subtly and carefully throw the past leadership out with the bathwater.  However, that throws doubt on themselves when future leaders do the same to them. This shows the divinity of their connection to God is really tenuous at best, and made out of whole cloth at worst.  
There is another remote possibility.  They could be honest.  Come clean.  They could admit the whole thing.  They don’t really know; they just believe it too, they can admit.  They haven’t really seen Jesus, they can confess.  That they aren’t very special witness, just ones that have better cuts of the tithing check than the lower quorums.  They can admit that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the other leaders were egomaniacs and did atrocious acts against women and others.  They can submit to the membership that they all work together to find an answer that the 12 apostles don’t really have themselves.  But they won’t do that.

Question "Who is actually writing the essays?"  I think the era of prophetic edict and revelation is over.  The era of Pressroom release and essays written by unknown scholars is here. At least that is my prediction.  We won't see the apostles signing the essays.  We won't even see FAIR signing the essays, despite that they truly would love to stamp their names and paws all over the articles.  The leaders no longer lead in a way that can get them thrown under the history bus later.  If they won't take authorship, it casts doubts on their sincerity and opens the door to seeing the apostles as conmen.

This gets at the heart of the matter about the difference between conmen and conned-men.  Do they know that it is a scam or are they deluded?  Grant Palmer’s release suggests that they do know and even get paid nicely for keeping the lid tightly twisted down. For those of us that have studied and find it readily false, we can assume that each of the apostles individually may fall in the spectrum of deluded conned man or full-out evil conman. But to believe that they are all deluded says that every last one of them is ridiculously idiotic about the reality they are supposedly defending. Of course, on the flip-side, one can argue, if they're all evil liars, that's a difficult-to-believe conspiracy.  Surely someone would have blown the whistle by now?

Why, how and by whom the essays are written will be revealing as a guide to answer the question about the apostles as deluded leaders or unscrupulous spiritual salesmen.  How can we use the essays?  First, if they skirt the really truly hard questions and gloss over the issues, then it is business as usual (still not evidence enough itself), and then if they throw past prophets under the history bus to save themselves, and last they refuse to assign authorship (so that they can avoid direct responsibility now and being thrown under the history bus later) then these actions tally up together to show purpose.  A purpose of coverup when caught with their history pants down. 

Whether you believe the 15 are conmen (criminals/perps) or conned men (deluded believers), it is clear that:
1) They lie. A lot. Perhaps pathologically.
2) They sometimes (perhaps often) lie knowingly and purposely.
(Those who disagree with #2, please see: (Written by MT contributor and former CES teacher Ken Clark)
The motivating question here is that last word: purposely.
What is the purpose of their lying? To protect the Lord’s kingdom (as conned men) or to protect their selfish interests (as conmen)?
I believe the purpose of their lies can be seen in how they react when caught in the lie. This hasn’t happened often, but it happens.
The reaction of a conman:
Conmen make promises that are fantastic and play to the dreams and wishes of the victim. They gain trust by deceiving. Now at this point you could say the person leading astray is not conning, but deluded and fooled himself. The difference lies in how they treat negative information on their claims. An honest person found lying would attempt to objectively look at the flaws in their claims.
For a conman, if any bad info comes to light, they start by never acknowledging it so as not to draw any attention in the hopes it will wither on its own. When forced to confront unsupported info, they deny it and refuse to discuss it further, pretending offense and playing the victim. If pressed further or in a way that they cannot deny it, they lie about it--downplay its importance, etc.

The fix is in.  The leaders know there are issues.  They tried never acknowledging them for decades. Then the internet showed up and members started leaving in droves. They played victim. They told members to beware of the internet. They refused to address the issues head on and created victimhood & scare tactics to keep members from information.  It didn't work.  Now they realize, it appears with the coming essays, that they have been pressed against the corner where they've painted themselves.  So, will they come clean entirely?  Will they downplay the issues?  Will they further lie about the issues while pretending to address them?

The essays could be very revealing about the tactics of the top tacticians.  Their content could demonstrate the conned-man or conmen within.

If the first presidency, the apostles or members of the Q70  put an official, authoritative name on the essays, it will mark that person.  If they leave it to the BYU historians or other "academics", then they are branded as cowards because, "One of the purposes of a prophet is to seek the wisdom and the will of the Lord and to teach his people give answers to people for the dilemmas in which they find themselves."
(1996 General Conference)

If they relenquish their responsibility to guide and direct members in these trying times, then the prophets have become useless as witnesses and guides.
Let's think a little more about how the conman operates. ( ) Think about Bernie Madoff. They cannot let on that they lied. They would rather ignore, hoping it goes away, or if not, lie again to cover the first lie. Evidence of this is below.

The reaction of a conned man:
If a normally decent person or a person that believes inside he is a champion of something decent, but uses methods that are justified for the ends, is caught lying for his cause, he will eventually, humbly admit it, ask forgiveness and try to move on.
I ask the “15 are deluded conned men” campers to provide me evidence of when the 15 have admitted they were wrong, repented, and requested forgiveness. I cannot think of a time this has happened in my lifetime, since Spencer W. Kimball. Not even on a small thing, like Hinckley’s action in the media, when called on about his “lying for the lord” and he just winks in closed meetings. 
Evidence that they react as conned men (deluded believers):
I don’t have any. Again, this is a request for evidence of the reaction showing they’re just deluded victims like the rest of the members.

Evidence that they react as conmen:
1. Hinkley’s winking about statements he made to media outlets.  Statements on “I don’t know that we teach that” or on “flecks of history”. When it was called out that he had lied to the media, instead of acknowledging, admitting and asking for understanding, he asked the priesthood membership to play along, be part of his lies by winking and suggesting we all go along. That is a conman act, even if enacted by a deluded leader. Get your victims on the inside once the jig is up. Then they will defend it with you by lying alongside you.
 2. Hinckley’s and Oak’s actions when caught in the Hofmann scandal are very evident of conmen. Hinckley tried to coverup documents, hide them from the public and buy off Hofmann’s silence. When it was learned, did he come clean? Hardly. He denied, ignored, pretending it didn’t happen. Oaks elaborated on the salamander trying to justify a silly metaphor for what he believed Joseph Smith had written. When it was learned to be a forger, did Oaks go back and apologize for his own silliness? Hardly. He ignored, pretending it never happened.
 3. The recent blacks/racist newsroom releases are evidence that they knowingly lie, when caught with their pants down. Instead of apologizing for the racism of past presidents/prophets, they make a bold face lie to coverup their predecessor’s stupidity, and say “we don’t know how this started or why, and we’ve always condemned racism, past, present and future.”
 4. The changing of the 2013 scripture headings to remove Joseph Smith's History of the Church, soften the BOA's translation issue, and raise the idea that the racism of the past wasn't really revealed, it was just unacknowledged error. They refuse to actually apologize. They don't even say something as benign as "mistakes were made". They just deny with the utter dodge: "We don't know why this racism happened".
 5. They destroyed documents and hide records of their financial dealings, proposition 8 involvement (and perhaps donations to Mittens, but we may never know).  They refuse any form of financial transparency.  Even the funds that went into the city creek mall are not wholly accounted to the public.  Think about that: a religion builds a very upper-crust mall and then keeps the financials on it secret.  This kind of activity reeks of evidence it’s conmen operating, not conned men making well intentioned mistakes.
 6. Lastly, a little piece of evidence from Holland's reaction to the BBC interviews. As a friend wrote about the committee question of Holland: "Elder Holland on the other hand, had to be led to the answer that it's primary purpose was to protect the Saints against Polygamists. Sweeney picked up on that and followed up by asking what it's secondary purposes were. Cue Holland shifting uncomfortably in his seat and waffling for a short while. He then confirmed that it did also observe and monitor other people/members who might be a risk to the faith of the other members but that he didn't sit on the Committee and so didn't know the details of what it did."
 Holland was evasive because he knew he could be and because it would highlight tactics that smack clearly of a leadership that is about controlling others to exploit them rather than about teaching correct principles and letting others guide themselves.
I could list more, but I don’t think I need to. The evidence that they react as conmen to discovery of their lies is actually abundant.
The question about who will write the essays is a question I will probably address in another blog, if warranted. The releases could marginalize LDS apologists at FAIR quite a bit.  FAIR did the "heavy" lifting (heavy being used loosely) that the GAs didn't dare do since taking a stand on controversies would cement it in history as divine revelation (or at least as leadership mandated interpretation).  That's risky to a group of men who know they don't actually bask in God's presence.  However, where does FAIR stand if the GAs stamp their own name on apologetic material answering the issues? The claimed authorship of the essays is still TBD, and while I believe there is more to this, we will wait for the LDS church to release the essays before diving into authorship.
I think the issue of racism and the 2012 press release and 2013 scripture heading changes illustrate again, that (hiding behind press agents) they willingly lie and even subject themselves to discredit.
Earlier in 2012, after controversy surrounding statements by BYU professor Randy Bott on the history of blacks and the priesthood, the church released a press statement that read: "It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago...We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."
The same thing was re-iterated in the OD-2 heading changes of March 2013. They denounce racism generally while ignoring/denying the racism of the past in the LDS church.
These denial statements are very profound. They tacitly admit that the D&C OD-1 doctrinal statement, that the Lord won’t allow a prophet to lead the members astray, is false. For nearly 150 years the prophets have led the people astray with racist policies and the current prophet administration does not know why this happened, they just know firmly, racism is wrong. That repudiation of the former policy, of hundreds of statements made by Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, Bruce McConkie, and many more effectively opens the gate to an understanding that the current administrating prophets could be absolutely dead wrong on policies they have in place currently.
Why wouldn't they want to admit that the former leaders were racists? People were in those days. Why not come clean? Could it be because it opens themselves up to more scrutiny as businessmen spending billions on land developments? If prophets can be wrong, and a lot of members secretly doubt the direction of building elite malls, then admitting past prophets were racists could open up criticism on current prophets as profit-mongers.
Additionally, when LDS leaders "discipline" heretics and critics, and then receive media attention to their attempts to guilt and pressure members back to submission, they backpedal very fast. These kind of actions do not speak of a desire to stand for something but rather avoid something.
LDS leaders act more about perpetuating their claims of prophetic infallibility and near perfection than a humble willingness to recognize they have flaws and make mistakes. Why would they hide their humanity? Could it be because they know uncovering normal weakness would also highlight surreptitious activity?
IN CONCLUSION, many will argue that such a CONSPIRACY is unlikely to keep a lid on. Conspiracy is a bad word. This is a corporation with corporate trade secrets. These kind of secrets are kept all the time at the top. The kind of financial deals made in any corporation is held tight. Secrecy in other organizations is obviously not compromised as well.
 But is this a criminal conspiracy? Not to the Q12+3.
First of all, these men do not actually control the finances of the church. They're at its mercy. All their lives have been spun up and dedicated into one system. They are running the front-face of a massive corporation. The machinery is beyond them. But the rock-stardom it gives them reaches far into their extended family.
Not only do they already have many more book deals with their own bookstore, they have families with prestige in the state of UT that brings about business opportunities for all of their children and most of their grandchildren.
Not one of them is actually that talented at this late point in life in scriptural scholarship or academic studies. While they may not need it to write a church dismantling tome, they will need the credibility when one of them alone stands, as an old (potentially senile) man, against a unanimous quorum. Without significant credibility, charges of senility will absolutely ring true for 99% of members.
A single book deal exposing it will fall flat. The family of that man will be utterly disgraced. The business they built and reputation they have will be dismantled. Not the church.
Better to stay the course and slowly reform it without upsetting the family apple cart.

The 13 essays provided by the church leadership (no matter who actually writes them) is in appearance "a good-faith effort to share this factual information with the general Church membership." We MT editors thought about what to write when releasing this information to the public, and we are "hopeful that the Church, with its vast resources, will provide full and complete detail on each topic. If it falls short on this, you can be assured that MormonThink, with its small team of volunteer contributors, will correct any misrepresentations and fill in any identified gaps."

In other words, MT will be here nudging the LDS church along as it evolves in the 21st century. 

CLICK ON THE ABOVE to read it.