Apostate Religion in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: Nephite missionaries in the first century BC had significant difficulty preaching the gospel among Nephites and Lamanites who followed Zoramite and Nehorite teaching. Both of these groups built synagogues and other places of worship suggesting that some of their beliefs originated in Israelite practice, but both denied the coming or the necessity of a Messiah. This article explores the nature of Zoramite and Nehorite beliefs, identifies how their beliefs and practices differed from orthodox Nephite teaching, and suggests that some of these religious differences are attributable to cultural and political differences that resonate in the present. Continue reading

Mormonism and Intellectual Freedom

Abstract: To many outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and to some of its members), the Church’s teachings and practices appear not only socially and experientially constraining, but intellectually restrictive as well, given its centralized system of doctrinal boundary maintenance and its history of sometimes sanctioning members who publicly dissent from its teachings. Do these practices amount to a constraint of intellectual freedom? This essay argues that they do not, and offers several possible explanations for the commonly-asserted position that they do. Continue reading

Dissenters: Portraying the Church as Wrong So They can be Right Without It

Abstract: This essay addresses the reasons many persons have left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In particular, there are those who publicly assert the Church is not led by inspired leaders so they can feel at peace about their decision to leave it. One common argument used to justify their estrangement is the “Samuel Principle,” which ostensibly would require God to allow his followers on earth to go astray if they chose any level of unrighteousness. Problems with this interpretation are presented including examples from religious history that show that God’s primary pattern has been to call his errant followers to repentance by raising up righteous leaders to guide them. Also explored are the common historical events that dissenters often allege have caused the Church to apostatize. The notion that the Church and the “Priesthood” could be separate entities is examined as well. The observation that Church leaders continue to receive divine communication in order to fulfill numerous prophecies and that a significant number of completely devout Latter-day Saints have always existed within the Church, obviating the need for any dissenting movement, is discussed. In addition, several common scriptural proof-texts employed by some dissenters and their ultimate condition of apostasy are analyzed. Continue reading

The Cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy

Abstract: Nephite apostates turned away from true worship in consistent and predictable ways throughout the Book of Mormon. Their beliefs and practices may have been the result of influence from the larger socioreligious context in which the Nephites lived. A Mesoamerican setting provides a plausible cultural background that explains why Nephite apostasy took the particular form it did and may help us gain a deeper understanding of some specific references that Nephite prophets used when combating that apostasy. We propose that apostate Nephite religion resulted from the syncretization of certain beliefs and practices from normative Nephite religion with those attested in ancient Mesoamerica. We suggest that orthodox Nephite expectations of the “heavenly king” were supplanted by the more present and tangible “divine king.” Continue reading