I have been active in witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons on the Topix.net forums. Months ago on one of the conversation threads, a Mormon, who goes by the name “Larry,” asked me about a quote used by Gerald and Sandra Tanner of Utah Lighthouse Ministry. According to Larry, the Tanners are guilty of “telling outright lies about what the Early LDS Leaders have said” (Post #13 of the above thread). I decided to look into the issue for Larry. This exercise was a good reminder of how important it is to take care in research and to be sure to consult primary resources, and if necessary, even contact the originator of the quote.
To give a little history, Larry challenged me about this issue some time late last year and produced two quotes for me to evaluate. One of the quotes was easily dealt with, but the other one was not. I did not have the primary resource (a talk given by the Tanners) and Larry did not provide it. I told him that until he could provide me with a reference, I could not comment on the quote because I wanted to see the context in which the statement was made. Since that issue last year, I temporarily stopped posting on Topix because other ministry responsibilities were taking priority.
I’ve recently started posting on Topix again and Larry brought up the same issue once more. I answered Larry’s challenge with the following post (#57), “I did, months ago. But at this point, I do not remember which thread it is on or even which quote you are referring to. If you would be so kind as to provide the quote in question, I will look at it again.” Larry says that he never saw the post. At this point I need to say something about Topix.
Since it is primarily a source for news, they do not have any features available for forum posters to search for older posts. I tried to go back and find Larry’s original question and my original answer by looking at older threads, but since conversations rarely stay on topic and there are no search features, it was near impossible to find our original posts. Instead of continuing to waste time looking for the old posts, I just asked Larry to resubmit his question so that I could take a look at it.
Larry reposted his concerns in post #62.
The link in Larry’s post is to an LDS apologetics site (FAIR) which addresses this alleged misquote of the Tanners near the bottom of the page. Look for the “Orson Pratt” heading. As FAIR does, Larry believes this to be a dishonest use of this resource and wants to know if I agree. To make his case, Larry quotes the Tanner’s partial use of this resource (only showing the appearance of an angel) and then gives the full quote which shows that Orson Pratt did know about the Father and Son in the First Vision. According to Larry in post (Post #81);
It is realy (sic) not that hard. Sandra Tanner said Orson Pratt and the other Early LDS leaders did not know about the first vision and gave a quote from Orson Pratt to show this. I gave both he (sic) quote and the original quote from Orson Pratt with the 200+ words that Sandra Tanner removed. Is it wrong to remove 200+ words tomake (sic) a quote say the exact opposite of what the person said? I did not ask for anything on the other items like the 1840 pamphlet printed by Orson 2 years before the official version was published that gave every account found in the official version. i (sic) just asked about the one quote and gave you both the Tanners version and the original version. It shold (sic) not take more than 10 min. to come up with an oppinion. (sic)
Due to family and other ministry responsibilities, I was not able to immediately look at this issue. Once I had the time, I tried to post my response. As mentioned in my Monday, March 31st blog entry, I have been having trouble with my posts appearing on Topix. For some unknown reason, a good number of my responses were never posted on Topix. I did not realize just how many of them were never posted until I started writing this response to Larry.
In order to look at the resource, I asked Larry for the reference to the Tanner talk. If the Tanners supposedly said something on a recording, I want to hear the recording so that I can understand the context in which the quote was used. I do not think it is fair to ask me to judge a statement outside of its context. As show above, Larry has already provided a context for me, but I reserve the right to evaluate that for myself. Here is Larry’s less than cordial response to my request for the reference. “I gave you thye (sic) date of the Talk. Do I need to go to your house and do the work for you? You asked for the site I got the information from and gave it to you. Have you even looked at the information or are you just dodging me still?” (post # 113)
Do you see the problem here? Larry trusts a secondary source and thinks I am trying to avoid the subject because I want more information. When I ask him for the primary resource, he becomes indignant. Since Larry does not have the primary resource, and has probably never heard the Tanner talk himself, I decided to look at the reference anyway and try to understand how the Tanners were using the quote. If I could not understand how the quote was used, I could easily call Sandra Tanner and ask her.
When I look at the partial quote by the Tanners and then the whole quote provided by FAIR, I can understand why Larry has a problem with the use of this quote. If the Tanners used this partial quote to try to prove that Joseph Smith did not see the Father and the Son, then this is clearly a quote taken out of context.
It is interesting to note that FAIR does not provide a reference link to the Tanner’s web site so that you can check the quote for accuracy. The FAIR article is referring to this item on the Tanner’s web site which Larry later provided for me. When you look at this web page, you will see that it is a list of “References for a talk given Nov. 8, 1998, Salt Lake City, Utah.” The reference in question is the second quote under the 1869 heading. On of the first things you will notice is that very little of the information on this Tanner web page is written in article format. Since most of what appears on this page is just references, it is not possible to determine the context in which the quotes are given or how they were used in the talk. Remember, Larry said in post #81 that Sandra Tanner claims, “Orson Pratt and the other Early LDS leaders did not know about the first vision and gave a quote from Orson Pratt to show this,” and disregarded the fact that the whole quote shows the opposite.
If this is what the Tanners have done, then they have born false witness against the LDS Church. If Larry is wrong about how the quote was used in the Tanner talk, then he is bearing false witness against the Tanners. Because there is no context given on the Tanner’s web site about this talk, I decided to call Sandra Tanner and ask her about it.
Sandra and I talked on March 28, 2008. When I brought up the item on her web site, she was already familiar with which quote was in question and how Mormon apologists have attacked it. We talked for 10-15 minutes and I made sure that I understood her argument and how the quote was used in her talk. I will do my best to explain that here.
Sandra explained that the topic of her talk was how the first vision itself has changed throughout the years and that it was not always used to prove that God has a physical body, especially in early Mormon history. In other words, the first vision story was never used by Smith as proof that God the Father has a physical body. Although he mentions seeing two personages in an 1838 vision account, the purpose of Smith sharing that alleged vision was never to prove the physicality of the Father like the LDS Church does today. According to Tanner, the first vision was never used as proof of the physical nature until “YEARS after Brigham Young died, probably around the turn of the century” (Personal email from Sandra Tanner to me).
Tanner also noted that the quote in question mentions the appearance of an angel before the appearance of the Father and the Son and then another appearance by an angel. Tanner’s use of the ellipsis is not to try to hide the fact that the Father and Son are mentioned, but instead to show that angels are mentioned both before and after the alleged appearance of the Father and Son. With this information the question must be raised, “If Smith saw an angel before the first vision, then why is the appearance of the Father and Son called the first vision when it would have had to have been the second vision? Let’s look at the quote.
By and by an obscure individual, a young man, rose up, and, in the midst of all Christendom, proclaims the startling news that God had sent an angel to him; that through his faith, prayers, and sincere repentance he had beheld a supernatural vision, that he had seen a pillar of fire descend from Heaven, and saw two glorious personages clothed upon with this pillar of fire, whose countenance shone like the sun at noonday; that he heard one of these personages say, pointing to the other, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” This occurred before this young man was fifteen years of age; and it was a startling announcement to make in the midst of a generation so completely given up to the traditions of their fathers; and when this was proclaimed by this young, unlettered boy to the priests and the religious societies in the State of New York, they laughed him to scorn. “What!” said they, “visions and revelations in our day! God speaking to men in our day!” They looked upon him as deluded; they pointed the finger of scorn at him and warned their congregations against him. “The canon of Scripture is closed up; no more communications are to be expected from Heaven. The ancients saw heavenly visions and personages; they heard the voice of the Lord; they were inspired by the Holy Ghost to receive revelations, but behold no such thing is to be given to man in our day, neither has there been for many generations past.” This was the style of the remarks made by religionists forty years ago. This young man, some four years afterwards, was visited again by a holy angel. (Journal of Discourses V.13 P. 65-66)
Notice that the second mention of the angel says that Smith was visited “again by a holy angel.” According to the official version of the first vision, the initial vision Smith ever had was of the Father and the Son, then three years later Smith claims to have been visited by an angel in his bedroom. The above quote shows that Smith was visited by an angel, then by the Father and the Son, then four years later was visited again by an angel.
Now that we have seen how the Tanner quote was used, we see that there are no motives of deception, thus the Tanners are not guilty of bearing false witness against the LDS Church. Even if you disagree with the Tanner interpretation of the quote, there is no basis for accusing them of dishonesty. I understand where the miscommunication has taken place and think there is a simple solution to avoid any confusion in the future.
If there was a bit of commentary on the Tanner web page that explains how and why each quote is being used, there would be no misunderstanding of the quotes. Regardless of the fact that there is no commentary on this page, I believe that it is irresponsible to create your own context for how these quotes are being used and then accuse the Tanners of deception. Remember, in post #81 of the Topix thread, Larry said that, “It shold (sic) not take more than 10 min. to come up with an opinion.” (sic) That is precisely why Larry and FAIR have misunderstood the Tanners. If Larry and FAIR had just done a little homework, they would not be guilty of bearing false witness against the Tanners.