Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2004
By Larry B. Stammer, Times Staff Writer
A lifelong Mormon, church teacher and author said Wednesday he faced
excommunication after he was accused of apostasy for publishing a book
questioning the origins of the Book of Mormon.
A church disciplinary council near Salt Lake City was scheduled Sunday to take
up charges against Grant Palmer, whose book, "An Insider's View of Mormon
Origins," had come under scrutiny by church authorities since it was
published two years ago.
In his book, Palmer traced scholarly challenges over the last 30 years to a
number of fundamental teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, including the story that its founder, Joseph Smith, had been led by the
angel Moroni to a set of golden plates in 1827 from which Smith translated the
Book of Mormon.
Palmer is the latest Mormon scholar to face excommunication. In 1993, the church
excommunicated five prominent scholars for their views on church policies,
history and feminism.
Michael Purdy, a church spokesman, said Wednesday that the church did not
comment on "confidential" matters.
But in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times, he said disciplinary proceedings in
general were intended to "help a transgressor to repent; to identify those
who do spiritual or physical harm to Church members, and to safeguard the
integrity of the Church."
Purdy said there were four possible outcomes of a trial. He said the council
could take no action, place an individual on formal probation with restricted
privileges temporarily suspend membership privileges, or terminate membership.
Palmer, 64, said that scholars, including himself, had found that accounts of
Moroni's characteristics and personality had changed over time, and that the
Book of Mormon had been influenced by the King James version of the Bible, 19th
century evangelical Protestantism, other thinking of the day and Smith's family
"It's not a real ancient historical record for a real ancient people,"
he said of the Book of Mormon. "It was created by Joseph Smith — an
inspired text and inspiring, but I don't think it's [ancient] history,"
Palmer said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
He also said that Smith's accounts of his four major visions — which
constitute a significant part of the church's theological foundation — had
evolved over time, even in Smith's own telling. Among those accounts, one formed
the basis for the church's belief that its priesthood was the only legitimate
The controversy appeared likely to focus new attention on the teachings of the
church, which for the last decade has discouraged the use of the term
"Mormon" and stressed that it is a Christian church, despite rebuttals
from mainline Christian denominations.
"It's been a long time since a church has brought such a charge to a
high-profile person," said Jan Shipps, a United Methodist and president of
the John Whitmer Historical Assn., whose members are historians of the Mormon
faith. "The church is facing modernity, and this is what happens."
Although scholars have questioned the origins of the Mormon canon over the last
several decades, Palmer said he believed he came under fire from the church
because his book made academic scholarship, including his own, accessible to the
"I have done nothing that warrants excommunication," he said.
Palmer said he was surprised that charges had been filed against him, especially
since his book had been sold in church bookstores without incident for two
His family roots in the church go back six generations, he said. Until he
retired about two years ago, he spent 34 years teaching high school and college
Mormon history and theology for the Church Educational System.
Thirteen years ago he asked to be transferred from teaching to serving the
church as a counselor and a teacher of the Bible, but not the Book of Mormon, at
the Salt Lake County Jail.
"I was conflicted enough by teaching [Mormon] studies that I asked to go to
the jail," Palmer said.