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Crucible of Doubt

Professor Givens' "Crucible of Doubt" UK Tour on the “new” Church History

During May 2013, under the apparent direction of the Church, LDS apologist Terryl Givens and his wife Fiona toured the UK and Ireland giving firesides on the ‘Crucible of Doubt'.  MormonThink received many emails after these firesides, including a link to an audio tape made by a member in attendance.  The firesides appeared to be apologetic in nature mentioning that there are some historical issues coming to light in the LDS Church which is causing members to doubt the Church.  An e-mail was sent to all leadership that no missionaries, investigators or youth should attend. Apparently the Church does not yet want these people to know that the Church has any problematic historical issues.

Here's an email we received from an attendee:

Dear MT Editorial Board,

During May, Terryl and Fiona Givens toured the UK and Ireland giving firesides on the ‘Crucible of Doubt'. Some members, formers members and doubters were unable to attend the firesides and have interest in hearing it's contents. We are aware from your purpose statement that you aim to be objective, providing both sides of the argument. With this in mind, we would respectfully request that you make available this audio file to Mormon Think readers. This is an apologetic fireside in favour of the LDS but acknowledging some of the current historical problems causing doubt. Credit should be given to the Givens for showing courage in presenting on the subject of doubt with sincere testimonies bore in the fireside. This was a public meeting with approximately 800 in attendance. We hope that Mormon Think readers will enjoy the contents which could help them, and possibly their families and friends in their personal faith/belief quests.

Yours anon.

Givens touches on some historical issues only at the beginning of the fireside and in the Q&A section at the end.  The bulk of the fireside is not focused on historical problems and is basically a typical Sacrament meeting style talk.

Some of the highlights of the fireside provided by a reader with some of our commentary:

1) Givens mentions that a new church-sponsored comprehensive volume of church history is now being written which he claims will be an honest portrayal of Church history.  This comes on the heels of the 2013 scripture changes which includes removing references in the D&C headings to History of the Church and revising Book of Mormon chapter headings.  It would seem that they want to do history recontextualization (revisioning) in a "massive project" according to Givens.

2) Givens said that there are 10 significant problems in Church history and the First presidency has given permission for all 10 of these problems to be addressed in the new history books to be written.  He didn't identify the 10 problems but said that the Church has resources working on addressing these 10 issues.

Givens said that the Church isn't hiding its history.  They just have so much of it taking up a whole floor of a building that they simply haven't gone through it all. 

MT Comment: The Church leaders obviously have known for years about the same historical issues that historians like Givens know about so why, for example, do they continue to publish images in the Ensign of Joseph translating the Book of Mormon using gold plates as opposed to putting his face in a hat and staring at a stone he found on Mason Chase's property without even using the plates?  This should have been corrected decades ago.  Why do the members have to wait until the Church leaders are essentially forced by the Internet to find a way to spoon-feed members the true history like we are children?

MormonThink has learned from another source that the 10 issues to be included in the 'Answers to Gospel Questions' are the following:

1. Plural marriage, including Joseph Smith's involvement.

2. Race and priesthood restriction.

3. Women's roles in the Church.

4. Allegations of violence in the 19th-century Church.

5. Book of Mormon translation.

6. DNA studies and the Book of Mormon.

7. Deification in Church teachings.

8. The Church's relationship in the larger Christian world.

9. Egyptology and the Book of Abraham.

10. Multiple accounts of the First Vision.

3) At the beginning of talk Givens mentions that perhaps the most brilliant Church member ever was B.H. Roberts who was a General Authority and the Assistant Church Historian.  He was presented with five difficult questions by a knowledgeable non-member of the Church which he was asked to resolve by the First Presidency.  Roberts was unable to do so and eventually his writings on the subject were published in a book called Studies of the Book of Mormon.  Givens briefly mentions but does not discuss the first 4 of these issues which were anachronisms in the BOM such as horses and steel.  He mentions #5 which dealt with how could the Hebrew language the BOM people used from 600 BC to 400 AD evolve into several hundred Native American languages in the relatively short time frame before Columbus arrived as languages don't evolve into drastically dissimilar languages in such a short time frame.

Givens dismisses this entire argument by saying that BHR mistakenly assumed (like many members do) that the Nephites & Lamanites inhabited the North America and South America.  Givens claimed that the BOM points to a geography the size of Idaho – about 200 miles X 300 miles.  Most LDS apologists believe the BOM took place entirely in a small section of either Central or South America.

MT Comment:  Givens suggests that his Limited Geography model solves this problem and a host of other critics' issues with the Book of Mormon.  What he doesn't mention is the numerous problems this creates.  Here are just a few issues that come to mind:

A) How does he explain why this is what every single prophet, including Joseph Smith believed about the BOM?  Are the apologists to now be believed over the prophets?

B) If the BOM did not happen in North America, how does he explain why Hill Cumorah, where two great BOM battles took place and where Moroni buried the plates, is in New York?

C) Explain why on the Zion's Camp March through Illinois did Joseph Smith find the bones of a Lamanite warrior he said was named Zelph who fought a fierce battle on that very spot during one of the last great struggles of the Lamanites and Nephites. Also Joseph mentions the great warrior and chieftain Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains.

D) Wouldn't all the other people (that Givens claimed existed in the Americas independently of the BOM people) have been wiped out in the Great Flood as mentioned in the BOM?  The BOM describes how this land was preserved for the BOM inhabitants and makes no mention of other people.

E) Why the original Hebrew language used by the BOM people wasn't one of the languages preserved in some form when Columbus arrived? There is no evidence of any Hebrew culture anywhere in the Americas, not to mention any trace of Hebrew DNA.

F) Givens also failed to mention a significant part of the B.H. Roberts story where Roberts, after months of research was unable to answer these questions, he asked for the Quorum of the 12 and First Presidency to get together for a special meeting. He knew revelation was the only way to resolve these issues and he asked the brethren to use the priesthood power of revelation to obtain answers from our Heavenly Father. Much to his disappointment, each of the leaders of the Church just bore their testimony and did not even attempt to answer the questions nor ask God for help to answer these issues that troubled B.H. Roberts and now thousands of faithful Latter-day Saints.

In response to a question about how some members no longer believe that the BOM is an actual historical document but still like being in the Church, Givens said you don't have to believe the BOM is literal history.  You can get a temple recommend without believing in the BOM.

MT Comment:  This seems to go against the question about believing in the restoration. We wonder if the First Presidency will accept what Givens said.  Unlikely, but if true, this could be the first step to the LDS Church following a similar path as the RLDS Church. Once their leaders started listening to their historians, the RLDS Church made it optional to believe in the BOM or not

Many attendees wrote to say that they were VERY frustrated by the fireside feeling that the main issues were not addressed. Indeed, few issues were actually mentioned. He also allegedly said they needed to limit the question time because the questions are too many and too difficult.

In conclusion, Givens didn't really bring up many issues at all. He did acknowledge that there were issues but elected not to list them. He just assured the listeners that the Church was true and honest and that they have answers to some of the issues and will address them sometime in the future but some issues they don't have answers to. He admonished the members to have patience and faith.

Unfortunately, he just delivers the usual logical fallacies and incomplete information in his efforts at misdirection. His main strategy appears to be his re-defining of Church official doctrine. We understood from the Church Handbook of Instructions that was considered 'apostasy' to teach as doctrine that which is not church doctrine or to deny official church doctrine.

Nevertheless, we assume his message will shore up the faith of the members who want to believe at all costs and let them offer the excuse "the Church has answered those questions".

We await Givens thorough debunking of the critics. His answer? After all that's said and done, it comes down to "faith is in the final analysis a choice". In other words, it comes down to just choosing to believe rather than disbelieve. He implies that like with gravity, science doesn't offer us choice like faith. We gather he will use the idea that too much evidence takes away our choice.

Questions & Answers

Bob Loblaw provided a nice summary of the Q&A:

Questions asked.

1. 2 Nephi 1:8: land was kept from knowledge of other peoples.

Bro. Givens suggests it refers only to the LGT area of Mesoamerica and refers the questioner to John Sorenson.

2. What are the big issues causing the doubt in the church today?
Sis. Givens: Historical issues, mostly. Explosion of information on the Internet, real effort on the part of the Brethren to get the whole story out.

Bro. Givens: Church openness forced by Internet, and the church has responded aggressively and openly. Mentions JSPP specifically. Church doesn't presuppose that the prophet gets everything right 100% all the time. New church history being written [BL: that ought to be interesting] and authors have been told to talk about "everything" and be honest.

3. Church's image tainted by anti-Mormons. Being open is a good thing and will strengthen our faith. We need to dig in. Take things off the shelf. [BL: So far not much of a question. TG agrees with me].

4. Why didn't Adam and Eve ask God what to do regarding the Fall?

Sis. Givens: God had to "step back" and let them decide for themselves. They had a theoretical knowledge of the plan of salvation, but not an experiential understanding.

5. Cites Jensen, era of great apostasy. When people have doubts, they go to leaders who are not equipped to answer their questions. What's the church doing to solve this? What is the church doing to accommodate those who may not have a traditional faith?

Bro. Givens: We want everyone, all good people. Your question about leaders rests of faulty assumption: in this case, that the church leaders are sitting on a body of knowledge. Refers to McClellin collection, church didn't know it had it. Church "vault" is an entire floor of the COB, largely uncatalogued. Church is sponsoring projects such as JSPP and history, FARMS, FAIR, and so on. Church is "trying to keep pace" with information.

Sis. Givens says we must follow our leaders in patience and faith, as there are no answers. They simply aren't there yet. Lay community means local leaders don't have the answers. We need to be more generous and understand we're all trying to work through this. Things will be resolved if we're patient and faithful.

6. How does God decide who is born where? Why are some born into the church, others not; some into poverty, some into riches, and so on?

Bro. Givens: I don't know. Cites Plato's Republic. He imagines he had seen premortal life and souls waiting for their bodies. Souls given choice, and the choice is based on what is needed to learn virtue. People in worse situations may have been more valiant and is prepared for it. Also, we had some input into our circumstances.

Sis. Givens: Everyone suffers, and we are each other's keepers. We make God a scapegoat for things we have created. We need to take responsibility for each other.

And that is that.

Audio file:  Link is here.

Blog on Terryl Givens Doubter Essay:  Link is here.

Terryl Givens letter to a Doubter (some of this is in his fireside talks): 
Link is here.

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