Several months ago, I decided to pick up a copy of The Book of Mormon. I did so because numerous Mormons wanted me to decide for myself whether it was divinely inspired or merely fictional. Now that I’ve made the “wrong” determination, many Mormons are deeply offended. Some say I am just deeply prejudiced against them.
The accusation that I began reading The Book of Mormon with a lack of objectivity is correct. The best neighbor I ever knew as a young boy was Bill Brandt - a devout Mormon. I remember how he worked on my first car (a 1970 GTO) several times without charging labor. He would go to work early at IBM every day so he could come home early and do the same for others. Often, he would work hours past dark to do free mechanical work for members of his congregation and for neighbors who didn’t even share his faith.
Later, my bias in favor of Mormons deepened when a follow named David Lynch joined our faculty at UNCW in 1994. David was the best colleague many in our department can remember having. He was also a devout Mormon.
And, so, when I decided to study the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church I approached the topic in a manner that wasn’t fair. I read The Book of Mormon without giving a fair hearing to books like The God Makers that attacked its basic foundations. When I wanted to learn more about the structure and finances of the church, I read Mormon America: the Power and the Promise – a book that has been praised by Mormons for its objectivity. I also read Standing for Something by Gordon Hinckley in order to hear the LDS president speak on values we hold in common.
When it came time to approach the controversial topic of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, I read a book by the same name written by a Mormon named Juanita Brooks. In so doing, I avoided the more recent and decidedly anti-Mormon account by Sally Denton.
Finally, when it came time to read about the life of Joseph Smith, author of The Book of Mormon, I avoided the anti-Smith biography No Man Knows my History by Fawn M. Brodie. Instead, I read a more favorable account called Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman – a devout Mormon and distinguished historian from Columbia University.