Simon Southerton Was a Mormon, an Ex-Mormon Profile Spotlight

Simon was an active, believing member serving as a Bishop. While reading the Ensign he came across some interesting statements regarding the Flood which led him to research more about it. He came upon “volumes of scientific research” that contradicted things he believed at church. Then he applied his own scientific training in molecular genetics to research the Lamanite heritage and found that there was no evidence showing that Native Americans have any Hebrew ancestry, in fact there is loads of data showing they are not. This was impossible to reconcile and he resigned as bishop and left the church. He has since published multiple books about his DNA studies.

I was a member of the LDS church for almost 30 years. I served a mission, was married in the temple and was serving as a bishop when I deconstructed and resigned. I’m an author and I was a mormon.

I resigned from the LDS Church while serving as a bishop, after encountering molecular genetics research that convinced me that American Indians are not related to Israelites. This seriously challenged my LDS belief that the Lamanites are among the ancestors of the American Indians.

To remain in the church I had to choose one of the following three options. 1) Reject the science, 2) Completely change how I interpreted the Book of Mormon by accepting revisionist apologetic scholarship and at the same time reject countless prophetic statements concerning the Book of Mormon or, 3) Keep my doubts to myself and stop thinking. None of these alternatives was palatable to me.

I was prepared to have faith in the absence of evidence, but I could not ignore scientific facts or accept frantic LDS apologetics in order to maintain my belief.

I came across a statement published by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. It was a response they sent to Mormons who contacted them to see how the Book of Mormon was helping their research. The statement claimed there was a complete lack of evidence for any pre-Columbian connection between Old and New World civilizations. It said there was no evidence of Old World crops and animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon text, or evidence of metallurgy, horse drawn wheeled vehicles and any Hebraic or Egyptian-like writings in pre-Columbus America. The force of this statement jolted me. I decided to look for myself for published research that supported Old World migrations to the Americas.

I was troubled to learn that scientists outside of the sphere of Mormonism see absolutely no connection between ancient American Indian civilizations and the Middle East. The position the Smithsonian had taken was based on substantial volumes of scientific research. Essentially all non-Mormon scientists consider American Indians to be descended from Siberian ancestors who migrated to the Americas over 13-15,000 years ago across a Beringian land bridge. Nowhere was this evidence more starkly revealed than in the newly emerging field of human molecular genetics. My experience with plant molecular genetics made it relatively easy for me to follow this type of research.

I failed to find anything that supported migration of Jewish people before Columbus. I struggled with the complete discrepancy between the research and my understanding of the Book of Mormon. How could Lehi’s descendants have escaped detection? All of the Polynesians I knew in the church in Australia and all Native Americans in the church believed they were blood relatives of Lehi as numerous prophets had told them so. How could God permit all of his Latter-day prophets to teach this belief as if it was a fact when it clearly isn’t true? In the years that have elapsed since I left the church, there has been an apologetic meltdown in response to the questions raised by the DNA evidence.

As much as I wanted the Book of Mormon to be true, I suddenly knew that it wasn’t. It wasn’t true history about real people. The Book of Mormon is clearly the creation of an imaginative 19th century, ethnocentric American mind trying to make sense of a new world. It tells us nothing about the true history of the colonization of the New World. It is frontier speculation attempting to account for the origins of the American Indians within the context of the biblical record. Not surprisingly there are striking similarities between the central plot of the Book of Mormon and Native American origin theories that were widely popular in Joseph Smith’s community.

From my viewpoint on the other side of the world, the apologetic defenses of the Book of Mormon have a provincial Utah ring to them. They sound like the desperate attempts of US-based Mormon scholars trying to preserve a cultural icon, their jobs, and their status in LDS families and communities. Until the leaders of the Mormon Church allow its members to openly question the historicity of the Book of Mormon, as members of the Community of Christ do, there will continue to be an increasing stream of people (especially non-US members) leaving the church. These are people happy to have faith in the absence of evidence, but not in spite of it.

Simon Southerton

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