Quite a while ago, I had a distinctly bizarre online exchange with an inactive or former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had become an outspoken critic of Mormonism. I haven’t thought of it (or of him) in years, but his name just showed up in an email from an acquaintance, and that brought this personal Twilight Zone episode back to mind.
The exchange began when I noticed his claim on a discussion board that, while we were together in the old Language Training Mission (the forerunner of today’s Missionary Training Center or MTC) in Provo, Utah, he had asked me why I didn’t subject the Book of Mormon to the same scholarly scrutiny that I directed at the Bible, why I objected to using the tools of biblical scholarship in order to study the Book of Mormon.
Supposedly, I answered him that I would never expose the Book of Mormon to such an examination, because it couldn’t sustain rigorous investigation.
I immediately responded on the discussion board, flatly denying and contradicting his claim.
I hadn’t met him until years after my mission, I pointed out, and even that meeting had been very brief. I couldn’t recall having ever actually spoken with him, and, in truth, couldn’t (and can’t) even remember what he looks like.
Moreover, I pointed out, his recollection didn’t express my actual point of view. I would never have said such a thing to him or to anybody else, because it doesn’t represent any position I’ve ever held. Heck, if I had really believed that the Book of Mormon was unable to bear examination, I wouldn’t have been in the Missionary Training Center preparing to preach Mormonism to the Swiss.
I had never said any such thing to anybody, at any time, anywhere. It was not my viewpoint.
Finally, I remarked, there would have been no reason on earth for him have asked me such a question. He was plainly reading my subsequent status as an apologist, as an author and speaker on Mormon topics, as an officer of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), and as the editor of the FARMS Review back into a period when such status (for whatever it was worth) was still years away; as a newly set-apart nineteen-year-old missionary, I hadn’t yet published a line (except in my high school newspaper), had scarcely begun my university studies, and enjoyed no reputation or status whatever as a defender of Mormonism.
His recollection was plainly wrong, even absurd.
To my astonishment, however, he persisted in it, accusing me of dishonesty in denying his claim. It was indeed my viewpoint, he maintained. I had frankly admitted it to him, although now, with my usual mendacity, I was trying to conceal my real position.
He grew increasingly shrill.
Finally, amazed and exasperated, I asked him when he had been in the MTC with me.
In October of 1973, he replied.
This clinched it, I said. He was mistaken. My mission had begun on 24 June 1972, and I left for Switzerland on 29 August 1972. By October 1973, I had been in Europe for more than a year, thousands of miles away from the Provo MTC, and I was well past the midway point of my mission.
His response? I was lying about the dates of my mission.
I broke the conversation off at that point. There seemed no purpose in continuing it.
This wasn’t, unfortunately, the last time that somebody has offered up a narrative of something discreditable or damaging that I’ve supposedly said or done in private. It happens several times each year, though the accounts are almost always provided by people writing anonymously. There’ve been anecdotes of my odious treatment of my neighbors, for instance, as well as of my arrogance in the classroom, my rudeness at church, my heartless contempt toward sincerely struggling Latter-day Saints, and my callous lack of concern for my daughter. (I don’t have a daughter.) But I think it still remains the weirdest example of such accounts.