As we prepare for a New Year of studying the Book of Mormon, I thought you might enjoy reading about an experience of my long-time friend Randal Wright. Brother Wright is a frequent teacher at BYU Campus Education Week and his written a dozen or so books. He was teaching an institute class in Austin, Texas when a visitor to the class began making very antagonistic comments. Randal described him as a “walking encyclopedia of anti-Mormon criticisms of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the Church.”
During their discussion, Brother Wright learned that he had recently moved to Texas from a western state, that his parents were serving a mission for the church, and that he was currently unemployed but preparing to attend a local community college. At one point, things became even more interesting. Randal continues the story:
I tried to be respectful about his views, but at one point he crossed the line with me. I tried to stay calm. He looked at pictures of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve that were hanging on the wall in our classroom and sarcastically called them the “geriatric good old boys club.” I love the Brethren and have tremendous respect for them and their willingness to do anything in their power to build up the kingdom. I decided at that point that it was time to ask him a few questions. I asked him if he really believed that Elder Russell M. Nelson, and internationally renowned heart surgeon whose innovative medical procedures have saved countless lives, would walk away from his career to join same “good old boys club.” He said, “Yes.” I found it ironic that an unemployed thirty-year-old with zero college education would be mocking a brilliant PhD medical doctor.
I then asked where he thought the Book of Mormon came from. He told me that Joseph Smith wrote it. I hoped that would be his answer. I asked if he really believed that a twenty-four-year-old uneducated farm boy could have written that book. I felt sure he would say that Sidney Rigdon had helped him write it, but he didn’t. He said that Joseph Smith wrote himself by heavily plagiarizing the Bible and other books of his day.
It so happened that at the time I was doing a computer search for three- to seven-word phrases from the Book of Mormon to see how many were unique to this book of scripture and how many could have been copied from the Bible. I knew from my preliminary research that there were thousands of phrases that Joseph Smith could not have copied from any other source, including the Bible. I’m speaking of original phrases such as “made white through the blood of Christ” (Alma 5:27) and “that precious gift of eternal life” (Helaman 5:8).
After hearing him declare that Joseph Smith wrote the book of Mormon, I changed the subject back to his employment. He again said he was looking for a job because he was short on cash. That was just what I wanted him to say. I then said, “Well, it’s your lucky day because I have a job for you!” He seemed interested in what I had to offer. I told him that he was obviously bright, so the job should be easy for him. When he asked what I needed him to do, I told him to write a short story the same length as the first chapter of the Book of Mormon, for which I would pay him two hundred dollars.
He seemed to tense up a little but asked me what the content should include. I told him his story should be based on an Ethiopian family who lived in 600 BC. One day, the father has a dream that the area is going to be destroyed, so he takes his family and leaves. They travel to the shores of the Red Sea where they build a ship and sail to Australia and become some of the Australian aborigines.
The visitor’s countenance changed. He appeared to become rather nervous. I then explained he could write about anything he wanted, but it needed to have a religious theme and be written in King James Bible language. The only other requirement would be that he had to invent five original names for his main characters and use ten original three- to seven-word phrases that had never appeared in print. He also had to agree that he would not use a search engine to see if his names or phrases had been used before. At that point, he began to pace back and forth and stammer, “I, I don’t see what that would prove!”
I said he didn’t need to prove anything. I reminded him that he was looking for a job and I was offering him a quick way to make two hundred dollars for what should have been no more than a couple of hours of work. I added that other than the five original and ten unique phrases, he could copy anything else he wanted from other sources. I gave him one week to complete the story and told him that I wanted to make copies of his story and let the class read it to see what they thought.
He said, “I don’t see the purpose of this. It’d be meaningless.”
It was interesting just how quickly the cocky, sarcastic critic became a nervous and evasive man who appeared to want to run from the situation. He repeated again that he didn’t see what the assignment would prove. I reminded him that he said uneducated Joseph Smith wrote the 588 pages of the Book of Mormon, with its 180 original names and thousands of original phrases.
Within a short time, he told me that he really needed to be going. As he walked away, I again offered to pay him if he would bring his story to class the next week. If you are wondering, I was dead serious about paying him. Unfortunately, I never saw this young man again.
Our conversation caused me to think how critics spend enormous amounts of time trying to bring down the Book of Mormon and the Church, which tries to teach its members to be “honesty, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men” (Articles of Faith 1:13). At the same time, we face serious social challenges in America. We have terrible problems with divorce, suicide, single parenting, racism, bullying, crime, gangs, abortion, child abuse, drug abuse, and much more. Why not spend precious time trying to help with the social issues that are threatening to destroy our civilization rather than attacking the Book of Mormon and its believers?
Yet it has been that way since the Book of Mormon first appeared on the scene and the Church was organized. President Gordon B. Hinckley said this about those like our class visitor who believe Joseph Smith was a fraud who wrote the Book of Mormon: “Joseph Smith couldn’t have written the Book of Mormon. Those people who wear out their lives trying to find some other cause for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon are doing just that—wearing out their lives.”
You’ve been reading an excerpt from “The Book of Mormon Miracle: 25 Reasons to Believe” by Randal A. Wright, PhD.
Great story and example! Except, Lehi and his family sailed and landed in North America, not Australia.
Michael R. Loveridge, J.D. says
Excellent! Thanks for sharing! I especially liked this: “At the same time, we face serious social challenges in America. We have terrible problems with divorce, suicide, single parenting, racism, bullying, crime, gangs, abortion, child abuse, drug abuse, and much more. Why not spend precious time trying to help with the social issues that are threatening to destroy our civilization rather than attacking the Book of Mormon and its believers?”
I guess I’m just really tired of hearing over and over (most recently from a home teacher) that Joseph Smith Jr. has done more for the people of earth than any man save Christ. This disturbs me not just because the Church has become so focused on prophets and thus allowing anything they say to supersede even the words of the Savior, but because Christ taught “John (the Baptist) is the greatest among those born of women”.