I have often explained that prophets are fallible, like all mortals, and that making a mistake or doing something that strikes us as objectionable is not necessarily a reason for rejecting someone God has called. One ex-Mormon asked me how much bad behavior I am willing to accept before finally giving up on the Church altogether, for there are long lists of objections and complaints that can be crafted for Joseph Smith and other modern prophets. It’s a fair question, but one that might be missing some important considerations. The discussion was in the context of the numerous anti-Mormon arguments against the Church that might be refutable or answerable on their own, but which together allegedly create a “tapestry” that weighs against the truthfulness of the Church.
In response, let me ask this question: If you currently accept the Bible as true, how much apparently bad behavior on the part of Abraham would it take to reject him as a prophet? How much would it take to reject the Old Testament? How much would it take to reject someone who taught as official doctrine that Abraham was a great prophet who should be considered the “friend of God” (which is what Christ called him)?
The record from the pro-Abraham writers in the Old Testament – those loony Abrahamic apologists – admits (warning: anti-Abrahamic spin follows) that he was guilty of polygamy and shacking up with concubines. It admits that he sent one of his women and his unwanted son out into the desert where they would have died were it not for miraculous help. It admits that he tried to kill his own son in a pagan human sacrifice. It admits that he was a bloody man of war and a greedy profiteer rolling in wealth and seeking more. Now what if we dug up additional evidence from his critics and victims? Can you imagine what a tapestry we’d have then? So at what point do you reject Abraham, the Old Testament, and even Christ because of the vast tapestry one can create by picking out the ugliest threads and discarding everything else?
One can seek to understand the big picture, the real tapestry, or one can seek to craft objections and weave their own new tapestry to tell an ugly story from a flawed but, at many times, divinely inspired life.
For me, the tapestry that needs to be considered has a rich and repeating pattern of a divine gift, the Book of Mormon, with power and rich internal and external evidences for authenticity. It has repeating patterns in many other areas indicating divine authority and majesty in the revealed and restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are rich experiences, intellectually stimulating and fulfilling journeys involving the Temple, the scriptures, the Priesthood, the relation to ancient Christianity, and many other elements, that together form a joyous tapestry – with some ugly threads in there as well that come from mortal fallibility. When examined, the ugly threads do not destroy the value of the whole, though they do raise some problems and require examination of assumptions and, most often, more careful readings of texts and more complex interpretations of events.
So let me ask one illustrative question along these lines. If you know, really know, as I do, that the Book of Mormon is simply too powerful, beautiful, and authentic as an ancient text for Joseph Smith to have fabricated or any scholar in his day to have concocted, at what point does your trouble with polygamy or the Kirtland bank disaster or Brigham Young’s views on minorities lead you to conclude that the Book of Mormon is a fraud and all the witnesses who went to their graves affirming the reality of the gold plates must have been pathological liars? If the Book of Mormon is true, if the First Vision really happened, would that make a difference in how you approach a puzzling issue like polygamy or other problems later on?
Critics want us to see only some ugly threads and throw away the whole cloth, but there is much more the picture that needs to be considered.