My late friend Bill Hamblin and I sometimes fantasized about starring someday in an autobiographical film entitled Bill and Dan’s Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell. So many oft-repeated arguments against the claims of the Restoration were demolished generations back but just keep coming at us. They’re rather like undead zombies who’ve been shot between the eyes but don’t falter even a step in their slow though brainless advance.
Roughly thirty-five years ago, perhaps a little more, a bit of a controversy ensued when some critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claimed that Elder B. H. Roberts (1857-1933) had lost his faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon at least a decade before his death. This is far and away not the silliest and most obviously bogus argument advanced against the Restored Gospel. If true, indeed, it would be something of a big deal, since Elder Roberts was both one of the premier writers and intellectuals in the history of the Church and, from 1888 until his death, one of the seven presidents of the Seventy, its third highest leadership quorum.
I thought that we were completely done with that issue decades back. The claims about Elder Roberts weren’t true.
But the matter has apparently burbled up again in at least certain circles, as if it were completely fresh and new. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 so aptly puts it, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
Now, though, the charge is not only that Elder Roberts lost his faith but that, since other General Authorities were familiar with his reasons for rejecting the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, Church leaders have known full well for at least a century that its truth claim are bogus. They have, in other words, been lying.
Let me respond, first, to that last assertion: It has been my privilege, for quite a few years now, to have occasional personal dealings with many members of the Church’s presiding quorums. Some I’ve known very well, for a long time. If I have even the slightest capacity for reading people, these men are sincere. They are genuinely committed believers. The claim that they all “know” the Church and its claims to be false strikes me as flatly ridiculous.
As for the specific claim that B. H. Roberts came to reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon, here are two recent statements on that topic:
And, for that matter, here are two easily accessible earlier responses to the general issue:
There has been considerably more published on this question. Perhaps we’ll need to trot it out yet again. And, if we feel so inclined, we may have still more to say. We’ll see.