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Early Criticism of the Latter Day Saint movement (also called Mormonism) began in 1829, when newspaper editors began criticizing the soon-to-be published Book of Mormon which Joseph Smith, Jr., the movement's founder, said he had translated from ancient prophetic records. Criticism of Smith and the church he founded continued throughout his life, which ended in 1844 when he was assassinated by a mob. This article covers criticism of the movement during his lifetime and the aftermath of his death. It includes both internal criticism by loyal members of Smith's organization and external criticism by non-Mormons and by Mormons who had broken with Smith's organization.

Criticism of the early movement can be divided into five eras relating to the region from which the criticism originated. First, there was early criticism centered around the New England area where Mormonism was founded, focusing mainly on the Book of Mormon and on Smith's reputation among his neighbors in his home town of Palmyra, New York. The second era of criticism took place in the region of Kirtland, Ohio, where Smith moved his church in the early 1830s. The most prominent criticism during this era concerned Smith's handling of failed economic experiments such as the Kirtland Safety Society and the United Order. The third era of criticism took place in Missouri, where the church was attempting to colonize to establish their City of Zion, and in the process had alienated many of the local Missourians. After Mormons were forced to leave Missouri due to the Mormon extermination order issued by Governor Boggs,[1] an era of intense criticism took place in the church's new headquarters of Nauvoo, Illinois. The criticism of one particular newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, initiated a chain of events which eventually led to the Death of Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1844 at the hands of an angry mob, who feared a Mormon takeover.[2] After Smith's death, the succession crisis ensued, and various movement denominations struggled for leadership levying criticisms against each prospective leader primarily regarding authority or doctrine.[3] In the late 1800s, critics disapproved of the LDS Church's practice of polygamy. Federal legislators actively began passing laws designed to weaken the church.[citation needed]

Throughout the history of the movement, critics have questioned the legitimacy of Smith as a prophet and the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price.


Criticism of sacred texts

As much of the Latter Day Saint movement hinges upon the authenticity of the movement's canon of sacred texts, in particular the Book of Mormon, many of the criticisms aimed at the religion have been directed specifically toward these texts. Since the inception of the movement in the 1830s, critics have questioned the Book of Mormon's claimed origins, its historicity and its connections to archaeological evidence.

Critics have regularly questioned the origins of the book, specifically whether Joseph Smith actually had golden plates, or whether the text of the Book of Mormon originated in his mind or through inspiration. Many witnesses to the early transcription of the text - some of them friendly to Smith, some hostile - observed him dictating the text that eventually became the Book of Mormon, rather than apparently reading the text from the golden plates.[4] Additional questions asked by critics are whether it was Smith himself who composed the book's text, or whether an associate of Smith's such as Oliver Cowdery or Sidney Rigdon could have composed the text; and whether the book was based on a prior work such as the View of the Hebrews, the Spalding Manuscript, or the Bible.

The Book of Abraham, another of the movement's early sacred texts and ostensibly a translation of Egyptian papyri performed by Joseph Smith, have also been the focus of criticism. Upon analysis, Egyptologists found that Joseph Smith's translation bears no resemblance to the actual text of the papyri and images contained therein. Members of the LDS Church accept the Book of Abraham as a divinely translated document, whereas other branches of the Latter Day Saint movement take alternative views or do not consider it scripture.[5][6]

Criticism of Joseph Smith Jr.

Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, has been criticized by various contemporaries, historians, and researchers. Some criticisms accuse Smith of being a pious fraud, others claim that he had an immoral character, and others claim that he induced followers to join his church and follow his commands so that he could gain power and reap material and sexual rewards. In spite of the criticisms, most critics acknowledge that Smith was a charismatic and intelligent leader.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

During Smith's lifetime, several associates criticised Smith, including Eber D. Howe author of Mormonism Unvailed, John C. Bennett author of History of the Saints; or, an Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism, and Oliver Cowdery. Notable critics of Smith from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries include Fawn Brodie author of No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, David Persuitte author of Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon, Jon Krakauer author of Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Jerald and Sandra Tanner author of Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, and Richard Abanes author of One Nation Under Gods.

Criticism of Polygamy

Many critics of the LDS movement criticize the former practice of polygamy by church members. Criticisms focus on immorality, secrecy, sex with underage girls, sex with multiple sexual partners, and coercion.[13][14][15]

Criticism of specific branches of the LDS movement

The largest branch of the LDS movement is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that branch has been criticized for sexism, racism, financial secrecy, over-emphasis on wealth, homophobia, historical revisionism, retaliation against critics, and vicariously baptizing holocaust victims (baptism for the dead).[16][17]

The fundamentalist branch of the LDS movement has been criticized for polygamy, lost boys, racism, and child abuse.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Marvin S. Hill, "Carthage Conspiracy Reconsidered: A Second Look at the Murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith" Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society Summer 2004 [1]
  3. ^ D. Michael Quinn. "The Succession Crisis of 1844" (pdf). Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  4. ^ Palmer, G.M. An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987, revised, expanded 1998, pp. 41-ff; Lancaster, J.E. By the Gift and Power of God", Saints Herald, 109:22 (November 15, 1962) pp. 14-18, 22, 33; Ashment, E.H. The Book of Mormon — A Literal Translation, Sunstone, 5:2 (March-April 1980), pp. 10-14; Van Wagoner, R.S. and Walker, S.C. Joseph Smith: The Gift of Seeing, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 15:2 (Summer 1982), pp. 48-68; Ostler, B.T. The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 20:1 (Spring 1987), pp. 66-123
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Bennett, John C. (2000). The History of the Saints: Or An Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. University of Illinois Press. pp. 40–49, 72–78, 155–171. ISBN 025202589X. 
  8. ^ Brodie, Fawn M. (1995). No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. Vintage. ISBN 0679730540. 
  9. ^ Abanes, Richard (2003). One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1568582838. 
  10. ^ MacKinney, Jonathan (2006). Revelation Plain And Simple. Xulon Press. p. 494. ISBN 1600342809. 
  11. ^ Brown, Dean. "Part 4: Joseph Smith And Money-digging". Rejecting the Mormon Claim. The Bible Study. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  12. ^ Weisberg, Jacob. "Romney's Religion: A Mormon president? No way.". Slate. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  13. ^ One Nation Under Gods, R. Abanes
  14. ^ Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, G. and S. Tanner
  15. ^ Polygamy: What Love Is This? (Weekly television program airing on Salt Lake City-based KTMW TV-20
  16. ^ One Nation Under Gods, R. Abanes
  17. ^ Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, G. and S. Tanner


Further reading

External links

Critical websites

Apologetic websites

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