Today the Mormon Prophet and President Thomas S Monson was summoned to court in London on seven charges of fraud under a UK 2006 Fraud Act. The most complete account is currently on the front page of MormonThink.com.
In the summons (view here) delivered to the Prophet on 4 Feb 2014, seven charges are made against the Prophet for making claims “which were and which you knew were or might be untrue or misleading” and which were used to induce certain people to pay annual tithes.
The seven claims listed are as follows:
- The Book of Abraham is a literal translation of Egyptian papyri by Joseph Smith.
- The Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates by Joseph Smith is the most correct book on earth and is an ancient historical record.
- Native Americans are descended from an Israelite family which left Jerusalem in 600 B.C.
- Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed as martyrs in 1844 because they would not deny their testimony of the Book of Mormon.
- The Illinois newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor had to be destroyed because it printed lies about Joseph Smith.
- There was no death on this planet prior to 6,000 years ago
- All humans alive today are descended from just two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago
Note that these claims are not theological or religious claims, but rather claims that extend into the world of objective fact. For example, you couldn’t claim fraud if he said that Christ’s atoning blood can atone for the sins of mankind, because that is a theological statement that cannot be objectively proven. All seven of these claims deal with real world facts which bear scrutiny and directly relate to the issue of fraud.
It is particularly interesting to put this news together with an observation that about about the difference between Thomas Monson’s term as a prophet and his predecessors. At least one person, going by TruthIsReason, has noted and documented that since 2005 “Thomas S. Monson, the president of the LDS Church, has not borne testimony of any of his church’s unique foundational doctrines including the truth of the Book of Mormon or the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith in any of the church’s General Conference meetings” (see the full report in a better format here)
Note that the absence of direct statements of the factual truthfulness of these things started in 2005. The fraud act itself became law in 2006, however it was known to be in the works for some time, starting in 1998 when the Home Secretary asked the Law Commission to examine the law on fraud and provide an update to the body of criminal law. By 2005, the church had to have known that this was coming.
It is entirely plausible that the reason for the Mormon Prophet’s reticence in testifying to the truthfulness of these aspects of the mormon faith is so that he could avoid the exact fraud charges that are being brought forth today.
Remember, this is not having to do with metaphysical religious claims, which cannot be proven to be fraudulent, but about tangible claims which bear factual scrutiny.
In Joseph Smith’s time, summons and charges were usually avoided because of the protective nature of the charter of the city of Nauvoo which allowed Joseph to appear before a judge in his own jurisdiction (who happened to be a member of the church) and obtain a writ of habeus corpus. When this failed, he could always call upon the Nauvoo Legion, his own personal militia, to prevent him from being held accountable to authorities which were over him legally and not under him theologically. (this ultimately was his undoing as the very act of calling up the militia for this purpose in avoiding accountability for the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor led to the charges of treason which put him in Carthage – the site of his eventual murder at the hands of a mob).
President Monson doesn’t have the Nauvoo legion at his call, but he does have something better – a legion of lawyers. If this actually goes to any sort of trial, it will only be after a long process of legal sparring which will likely outlast the nonagenarian prophet.
A commenter by the name of Peter pointed out that Monson wrote the following in a 2011 liahona article:
“With other latter-day prophets, I testify of the truthfulness of this ‘most correct of any book on earth’, even the Book of Mormon”.
He makes an excellent point which might seem to disprove the thesis of TruthIsReason’s essay. Notably, the essay is dealing primarily with in person, personal testimony in general conference. Articles written in the church periodicals have less of an impact than personally bearing testimony in general conference before the view of the whole world. A personal testimony in General Conference is an unequivocal statement witnessed by all. An article in a periodical leaves open the possibility of a ghost writer (which has some precedent if the accounts in Daymon Smith’s “The Book of Mammon” are true) and as such potentially has less authenticity than an in-person testimony.
It should be made clear that the testimony of truthfulness referred to here is factual historicity, not truthfulness of principle. For example, you could bear testimony of the truthfulness of “Who Moved My Cheese” in terms of it’s message helping you to deal with change, but that is different from bearing testimony that the mice in the story actually existed. Similarly, bearing testimony of the “ truthfulness of this ‘most correct of any book on earth’, even the Book of Mormon” regarding it’s doctrinal ability to inspire one to live a Christ like life is different from testifying of it’s factual status as a history of an actual ancient peoples.
Other commenters have pointed out that the anecdote cited in the 2011 message by Monson which included the above testimony was a reprint from previous years Ensign – specifically citing March of 1989 where an article entitled “We add our witness” includes testimony from several general authorities, including Monson. The same anecdote was also included, almost verbatim, in an an April 2003 article titled “He is Risen“.
I don’t think that this is particular damning evidence. It appears that, like stories from the scriptures, anecdotes from the lives of the general authorities can be reused in different church publications in order to build faith. It should also be noted that while the same anecdote is used in each story, the words are very slightly changed and the actual testimony is only included in the 2011 article and not found in the previous articles. I think the observation about the difference between testifying to the truth of a book in principle being different from the truth of a book in fact is the primary distinguishing feature between this sort of testimony that we see from Monson in the last few years and the type of testimony seen from general authorities previously.
I have searched every official LDS web resource and can find no earlier testimony by Monson that uses the exact same wording as that cited above.