The CES Letter is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to the LDS church, and they don’t even realize it. If Mormonism is “all truth”, then the brethren should be rushing to switch all quads out for copies of the CES Letter any day now.
Jeremy Runnells is probably a heck of a lot smarter than most humans. As a result, the CES Letter is thorough, well-sourced, and 84 pages long. I know, right? What a slog. Who wants to read 84 pages only to realize that their entire life has been based on a lie? Sorry, kids. But it’s really pretty short when you compare it to the years and years of church teachings you’ve probably received.
In the spirit of making everything bite-sized, millennial-friendly, and readable-on-your-phone-at-work, here’s my little outline of the issues raised by the CES Letter. It is by NO means a thorough look (like seriously. Not at all), so if you’re interested in any one of these intensely-summarized points, GO READ THE REAL THING, YOU LAZY FREAKS.
1. There are errors in the Book of Mormon that are also contained in the 1769 (circa Joseph’s family) edition of the Bible.
2. DNA analysis has concluded that Native American Indians do not originate from the Middle East or from Israelites but from Asia.
3. There are things in the Book of Mormon that didn’t exist during Book of Mormon times in that area. E.G. Horses, chariots, goats, elephants, wheat, and steel.
4. There is absolutely no archeological evidence for the millions of Nephites and Lamanites/their steel swords etc, even though we have archeological evidence from smaller groups of people who existed thousands of years before.
5. Book of Mormon names and places are strikingly similar (or identical) to many local names and places of the region Joseph Smith lived in.
6. The Book of Mormon is suspiciously similar to View of the Hebrews, a book published in Joseph Smith’s area in his time. It is also very similar to The First Book of Napoleon (published 1809), and The Late War, a textbook written in King James style language for New York State School children in Joseph’s time.
7. The original 1830 text of The Book of Mormon had a trinitarian view of the Godhead, and was changed over time as Joseph’s ideas about the Godhead evolved. (Over 100,000 changes have been made to the book.)
8. There were over 4 different First Vision accounts given by Joseph at different times, at least one of which didn’t even include God or Christ.
9. Scholars have translated the papyri Joseph claimed the Book of Abraham was translated from and found that they have nothing to do with Abraham or anything contained in the book. The church now tries to claim that “translate” meant “get inspiration from”.
10. Joseph penciled in some parts of the papyri.
11. Joseph married 34+ women, many without Emma’s consent (as forbidden in D&C 132) and 11 who were already married (some without their husbands knowing).
12. 10 of Joseph’s wives were teenagers, some as young as 14. This was shocking even by 19th century standards.
13. President Hinckley publicly said polygamy isn’t doctrinal; numerous early church leaders, including Brigham Young, taught that it was essential for exaltation.
14. The only scriptural justification for polygamy is “to multiply and replenish the earth”. So either Joseph was sleeping with his 14-year-old wives, or he wasn’t adhering to scriptural laws.
15. Joseph married Fanny Alger years before he had the sealing power.
16. Joseph married some of his foster daughters.
17. Brigham Young taught Adam-God theory, which is now disavowed by the church, at general conference and as part of the temple endowment ceremony.
18. Brigham Young taught blood atonement, now also disavowed.
19. Black people weren’t allowed to hold the priesthood until the 70s. Joseph gave it to a few people, but from Brigham to Spencer they were deemed unworthy to hold it. Apparently God changed His mind.
20. In the 1980s, the church paid around $900,000 to suppress bizarre and embarrassing church history documents. These documents were later proven to be fake. Mark Hofman, the conman, turned out to be a murderer. Before the documents were known to be forgeries, church leaders gave talks offering explanations for them.
21. Joseph Smith began translating fake plates called the Kinderhook Plates. He claimed they were historical.
22. Every spin-off of the LDS church also has members say that they “know” their church is the true church. Other religions, such as Islam, say they “know through the power of God”, including the Heaven’s Gate cult.
23. Joseph sent Oliver and Hyrum to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada, saying he received a revelation to do it. They failed.
24. The church teaches that you should bear your testimony in order to gain one. This is a classic psychological tactic.
25. You can feel the spirit doing a multitude of things that have nothing to do with the gospel, like watching Saving Private Ryan.
26. Joseph and Oliver receiving “the priesthood” is very suspicious, as they didn’t tell people until years later and changed earlier revelations to match their new accounts.
27. Joseph used the seer stone to find people “buried treasure”, for which he was taken to court on charges of fraud.
28. People at Joseph’s time had a “magical worldview”, which included seeing things “with spiritual eyes” (like the gold plates).
29. Martin Harris was known as a gullible man. He was deeply financially invested in the Book of Mormon as he mortgaged his farm to finance it. Even after becoming Mormon, he was a witness to self-proclaimed prophet, James Strang, for whom he went on a mission. Strang also said he had brass plates and used a Urim and Thummin to translate them. His witnesses also never denied that Strang’s scripture was true.
Martin Harris testified and witnessed for several other religions, and also said that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book as he had The Book of Mormon. (He also said he saw Christ in the form of a deer and talked with him…so there’s that. )
30. David Whitmer said he saw an angel with his spiritual eyes, and said his impressions were just like those of a Methodist having happy feelings.
31. People in Joseph’s time believed in “second sight” (imagination) and that it was no different to seeing something with your physical eyes.
32. The witnesses did not sign their own signatures or write their own accounts (except Oliver, who was the scribe).
33. All of the Book of Mormon witnesses, except for Martin Harris, were related by blood or marriage to the Smiths or the Whitmers.
34. Joseph had many people sign an affidavit saying he wasn’t practicing polygamy when he was. Some of those who signed it were also practicing polygamy.
35. Joseph didn’t even use the would-have-weighed-around-200 pounds plates to translate the Book of Mormon. He also couldn’t retranslate the missing 116 pages, “lost” by Martin Harris’ wife to test Joseph’s validity as a translator.
36. Joseph started the LDS temple endowment just 7 weeks after his Masonic initiation. Coincidentally, the endowment ceremony is nearly identical to the Masonic ceremony in numerous ways.
37. It is a myth that the Mason temple ceremony has roots going back to the temple of Solomon.
38. The temple ceremony was supposed to be eternal, yet blood oaths and other disturbing elements were removed after a survey in the 80s revealed that church members were uncomfortable with them.
39. If Adam and Eve are the first humans, how do we explain the 14 other Hominin species who lived and died 35,000 – 250,000 years before Adam?
40. Science has proven that there was no worldwide flood 4,500 years ago.
41. Simple mathematics and logic of animal food consumption show that there was insufficient room on the ark to house all the animal species found on the planet, let alone the food required to feed all of them.
42. Science also discredits the idea of the Tower of Babel, 600-year-old humans, Jonah and the Whale, people turning into salt, and carrying honey bees across the ocean.
43. God seems really mean and radically different in the Old Testament.
44. The church has whitewashed its history and been dishonest on numerous occasions.
45. Zina Diantha Huntington Young, who became the General Relief Society President, was already married and 6 months pregnant when Joseph married her because his life was allegedly in danger from the angel with a flaming sword. After Joseph died, she married Brigham. Her biographical page on LDS.org does not state that she was married to Joseph, though it shows up on FamilySearch.org.
46. The church is not transparent about its finances anymore.
47. The church spent 1.5 billion dollars on City Creek Mall, more than it spent on humanitarian aid in almost 20 years. As the ribbon was cut at the opening ceremony, Thomas S. Monson said “Let’s go shopping!”.
48. The earlier church taught that tithing was 10% of your surplus; the church now teaches that it is 10% of your income, even if you can’t afford to pay your bills because of it.
49. The church’s name has changed a few times.
50. Church leaders such as Boyd K. Packer have warned historians about not telling too much of the truth if it isn’t faith-promoting.
51. The church teaches that the prophet can’t lead you astray, though this is a.) pretty obviously not true, and b.) not in line with things Joseph and others said.
52. Dallin H. Oaks said you shouldn’t criticize church leaders, even if the criticism is true.
53. In 1993, 6 scholars were excommunicated/disfellowshipped for publishing their scholarly research on Mormonism and its leaders.
As I said, this is a SUPER brief outline of the CES Letter. I now recommend you go and read the full document, because it has sources and images and a significantly better explanations for things skimmed over in this post and more.