What do you think now about your mormon testimony?

As I said at: exmormonscholarstestify.org/…

First, a clarification of my use of some terminology.

"Testimony" has a slightly different meaning in religion from what it means in a legal setting. In the law, a testimony is a statement of what the testifying witness has seen or heard personally. It cannot be what he learned from a third party, nor can it be mere opinion. The witness's feelings are generally irrelevant. That is, a testimony must be based on facts.

The testimony of an "expert witness" has different rules. First, the expert witness must be qualified as an expert in the field of learning about which he is testifying. The qualifications may be academic degrees, publications, professional experience in the field, or anything that makes the witness unusually knowledgeable about the field. The expert may be asked to express an opinion about a hypothetical situation similar to the situation at issue in the trial, and he may also testify as to his opinion of the facts before the court as they relate to his field of expertise.

In religion, a testimony is often something quite different. Sometimes it is the believer's statement of justification for his belief, often a "spiritual" experience such as a vision, an unusually strong feeling, a seeming miracle. In Mormonism, the term has come to be applied also to a mere statement of belief, stated strongly, without any justifying facts included: "I KNOW that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God!" The watering-down of testimonies in Mormonism is perhaps best illustrated by the common practice of teaching little children to "bear testimony" in public testimony meetings, often prompted by a parent whispering the words into the child's ear. The child dutifully repeats: "I know the church is twoo and Joseph Smiff was a pwoffet. Namajesuschristamen!"

Another indication of the distortion of Mormon testimonies is that every young Mormon missionary is expected to "have a testimony." Many young Mormons have simply grown up in the church and never thought about their testimony, or exactly why they believe what they believe, other than simply having been taught and trained to believe it, and when faced with a missionary call realize that they really don't have one. The advice they often receive from Mormon leaders is simply to say the words (like the little child) often enough, and pretty soon they will indeed have a testimony. Some have received the generous offer from an older Mormon: "You can borrow my testimony until you have one of your own."

In other words, many Mormon "testimonies" are not valid testimonies at all, since they do not represent at all what the testifier actually knows. They are based on feelings, "warm fuzzies," and supposed miracles or supernatural manifestations that are essentially no different from the feelings, miracles and manifestations that believers of all religions use to buttress their convictions that their religion and their god is true and correct. My testimony is based on facts - facts that everyone can check and verify to their own satisfaction.

In offering the following testimony, I use "testimony" in the legal sense.

What is a "scholar"? The definition used to discredit the statements of anyone reputed to be a "scholar" is very narrow: one who is a leading researcher in his field, an author of many books and articles, the latter appearing in peer-reviewed journals, read usually only by other scholars. It helps if he also is a tenured professor at a leading university. Anyone who does not fit this narrow definition is sometimes dismissed by opponents as a "pseudo-scholar," not much better than an imposter.

A more useful definition for the purposes of this website would be closer to the legal definition of "expert witness," that is, someone who has acquired a special knowledge about a field (in this case, Mormonism), even if only through self-study or long experience. Under that definition, I qualify as an expert witness, based on my experience and my long study of Mormonism and religion.

Now to my own "testimony":

I was born to Mormon parents in a largely Mormon town, descended from several generations of Mormons on both sides of my family. I was their first child. My parents were very devout and active in the church. My father served a number of years in the stake presidency when I was a boy. They raised their five children as good Mormons. We attended all meetings and the boys progressed in the priesthood. I graduated from seminary with top grades and went on to graduate from BYU with high honors. I did not serve a mission - in those days a mission was not considered the sine qua non for young men that it later became. Because of my musical abilities, my church callings were always as chorister or organist. I married my high school Mormon sweetheart in the temple, and we began immediately to start a family, ultimately having three children.

My graduate education took us for the first time in my life away from Zion, and I felt that being among intelligent non-Mormon classmates would give me the opportunity to "serve a mission" by spreading the gospel among them. I had never doubted or questioned for a moment that the church was indeed the true church. My studies at BYU, with religion classes from men such as Hugh Nibley and Sidney B. Sperry, had strengthened that conviction.

In the small graduate studies department I quickly became known as "the Mormon." The classmates with whom I discussed religion were not nearly so accepting of the gospel message as I had assumed intelligent people would be. After all, the gospel was so rational and consistent, and the restoration story was so well documented (I had been taught) that any open-minded person would soon be convinced of its truth. That apparently was not the case.

In fact, some of the more religious-minded of my classmates (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican) seemed already to have some knowledge about Mormonism, and brought up supposed facts about Mormonism that I had never heard of. That Brigham Young had taught that Adam was God, for example. That a secret band of Mormon enforcers called "Avenging Angels" or "Danites" had killed people who opposed the church. That Mormon temple rituals were copied from the Freemasons.

I had never been much interested in church history. It seemed irrelevant. The important thing was that the church was here, not how it came about. But these were issues that obviously must have an explanation, and I became determined to find those explanations and to show my friends that their knowledge of Mormonism was mistaken.

So, in addition to my regular studies, I began studying Mormonism. The university library had a large and excellent collection of Mormon materials, perhaps because it was located in Illinois, where Mormons had played a large role in thestate in the 19th century. I began reading widely in the Mormon section of the stacks. I must emphasize that my purpose was to defend the church, not to criticize it. And I was convinced that I would indeed be able to vindicate my church from its critics.

Unfortunately, browsing among the materials in that university library exposed me to more and more problems. I came across a biography of James J. Strang, of whom I had never heard, but who, according to this biography, had been a contender in the succession after the death of Joseph Smith. He had drawn many devout Mormons after him, and had produced scripture, ancient writings on metal tablets, attested to by witnesses, just as Joseph Smith had done. I came across a strange scripture-like book which was produced by angelic means called "Oahspe." My startled reaction was, This is just like the Book of Mormon! I learned about many unpleasant episodes in Mormon history: the failure of the Kirtland Bank, the debacle of Zion's Camp, the repeated failures of attempts to establish the United Order.

My testimony, although somewhat altered, was not weakened, and when we returned to Utah, where I had taken a job teaching high school in Ogden, I remained active in the church. In Ogden I came across pamphlets published by some of the fundamentalist sects of Mormonism. They argued that the church had fallen into apostasy by abandoning polygamy and other early doctrines, such as Brigham Young's teaching that Adam was God. Their arguments seemed convincing and based on accurate history. They frequently referred to materials in the Journal of Discourses. I had never heard of it before, but if it truly contained sermons from early leaders, it would be a valuable resource. Why did the church not continue to use it, or even to promote it?

Among the papers of my grandfather, who had served a mission to England in 1910, I found a number of tracts and pamphlets that he had used on his mission. One was the transcript of a debate in 1850 between John Taylor (then an apostle, and on a mission in England) and a Methodist minister. Among the topics discussed in the debate was the rumor, common at the time, that the Mormons were practicing plural marriage. Taylor vigorously denied the rumors as a vicious lie, and firmly asserted on his honor that Mormons were good monogamists. At that very time, however, Taylor himself was married to twelve living wives. All of the top men in the church also had multiple wives at that time. How could a prophet of God lie so blatantly? It bothered me, but I tried to put the thought aside.

The Adam-God problem continued to occupy my mind. I finally decided to try to settle the matter. If the doctrine were true, I was willing, as a faithful member of the church, to accept it. If it were not true, I needed some explanation about the apparent fact that Brigham Young (and other church authorities of his time) vigorously taught it. So I composed a letter to Joseph Fielding Smith, whom I respected very much, and who at the time was the Church Historian and the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. If he would only answer my letter! I spelled out to President Smith my dilemma: the evidence seemed to be clear and uncontroverted that Brigham Young had taught that Adam is God the Father. But the present church does not teach this. What is the truth?

I secretly thought (and perhaps hoped) that President Smith would write back and say something like: "Dear Brother, your diligence and faith in searching for the truth has led you to a precious secret, not known to many; yes, you can be assured that President Young taught the truth: Adam is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to deal. The church does not proclaim this precious truth because we do not wish to expose the mysteries of God to the mockery of the world. Preserve this secret truth as you do the secrets of your temple endowment."

I received a short and clear answer to my letter from President Smith. It was quite different from what I had expected. He wrote that such an idea was unscriptural and untrue, and completely false. He did not deal with the evidence that Brigham Young had taught it. He ignored the whole problem as if it didn't exist. It bothered me, but I tried to put it out of my mind.

Another period of graduate study on the east coast away from Zion surrounded me again with people who challenged my religion, and again I used the excellent university library to further my attempts to explain everything to my own and my critics' satisfaction. I was still hoping that I could prove the critics wrong, but the result was the same as before: the more I searched, the more problems came to light.

It was one day as I was sitting in a library carrel, thinking about how to find a way out of my puzzlement, that the thought occurred to me: the problems all disappeared as soon as one viewed the Mormon church as just another man-made and human-directed religion, just like all the others. It was almost like a revelation. However, this revelation was based not on some supernatural inspiration, but on three years of intensive study and thought, on hundreds of facts that cast doubt on Mormonism's claims.

Like many believers who have had a moment of enlightenment - an epiphany - that brings them peace and joy, so did I feel a sense of light and happiness. And that realization, that the church was just man-made, has grown stronger over the many years since then (over 50, as of this writing). I have continued to study Mormonism, to check new information about Mormon claims, and all the new information that has come to light since that "revelation" in the university library has confirmed my original conclusion.

Only a few examples (unavailable to me at the time):

the multiple versions of the "first vision";
the scientific evidence about pre-Columbian America;
the discovery of the papyri from which the Book of Abraham was produced;
the many changes in the temple endowment ceremony;
the court record of Joseph Smith's Bainbridge trial for "glass looking";
the importance of folk magic in the Smith family's world view;
the inability of church leaders to identify Mark Hofmann as a forger;
(the list could go on for many more items)

So, in the spirit of truth and knowledge, I bear my personal testimony to all. I know, as well as anyone can know anything, that the Mormon church is not what it claims to be; that it was not established by divine guidance; that it is not directed by divinely inspired leaders; that Joseph Smith was not a prophet, but rather a swindler, a liar, a megalomaniac, and a lecher, who abused the power he had for his own selfish ends; and the church that he established has caused an untold amount of human suffering and sorrow, far outweighing any good that its followers claim it may have done. And I bear this testimony fully aware of the consequences to me and to others if my testimony is not accurate.

And, in the custom of religious testimonies, I will say that this knowledge has brought me peace and happiness, and has enriched my life in ways too many to count.

Richard Packham profile image for wasmormon.orgrichard-packham