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Ex-LDS Church teacher may face excommunication

He wrote book questioning details of church's origins

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 8 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

A former employee of the LDS Church Education System is facing possible excommunication for a book he wrote questioning details about the origins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Grant Palmer, who was employed by the church for 34 years and served as an LDS Institute director in Los Angeles, northern California and at the Utah State Prison before retiring, is scheduled for a church disciplinary council with leaders of his LDS stake on Sunday. The news was announced in a press release issued this week by Signature Books, publisher of Palmer's 2002 book, "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins."

Palmer told the Deseret Morning News he was aware that a press release had been issued by Signature but that he had not seen it.

His book calls into question the details of key events that LDS Church founder Joseph Smith chronicled in the early history of the faith. The book paints a different portrait than the official LDS version of some details surrounding the translation of the Book of Mormon, Smith's accounts of his visit with an angel named Moroni and the restoration of the faith's priesthood through an appearance of Christ's original apostles.

Palmer said he was surprised and dismayed that local LDS leaders are considering termination of his church membership.

"I regard myself as heretical regarding some of the church's teachings, but I don't view myself as an apostate," he said.

LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said the church "considers disciplinary matters to be confidential" and declined further comment. The church disciplines members it considers to be apostate.

Palmer said he attends church meetings and pays tithing.

"I'm not out to attack the church at all. I don't have an agenda, I haven't committed a sin or criticized the general authorities. The book is an honest expression of what happened in the Mormon past," he said.

But some historians and scholars at church-owned Brigham Young University say Palmer's book is more than merely an attempt to explain details about early LDS origins to garden-variety Latter-day Saints.

Daniel Peterson, director of BYU's Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, said much of what Palmer writes about has long been known by LDS historians and has been used by critics of the church.

"What's made it effective is that it comes from a retired CES instructor who presents it in a gentle tone," Peterson said. "It's not screeching anti-Mormonism."

Peterson, who often fends off LDS critics on Internet forums, said many of those critics and disaffected Latter-day Saints have seen the book as "something of a godsend that they could give to relatives and friends that would be nonthreatening and have the same or more impact."

In fact, he said, some of the recent speculation on the Internet about Palmer's possible excommunication is "that it will deprive them of what would have been a pretty good tool" for criticizing the LDS Church.

The book has been roundly criticized in reviews done by the Foundation for Ancient Research in Mormon Studies (FARMS), comprised of LDS scholars and BYU faculty members who review scholarly work concerning the church.

James Allen, a retired BYU historian and former assistant LDS Church historian, wrote a FARMS review of the book and said he and some colleagues at BYU have discussed it.

"I think the consensus is that we feel bad he came to those conclusions and are sorry for it," Allen said. "We share, very honestly, a totally different opinion. We feel you can come to a testimony of truth regarding Joseph Smith's vision and a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and Palmer doesn't. We feel bad about that."

Palmer said his possible excommunication from the faith "I love is the hardest thing that's ever occurred in my life," above and beyond the death of his wife and dealing with cancer.

"It's so much a part of my life. My ancestors are fifth-, sixth-generation Mormons. I was a very successful missionary and held church employment for 34 years. I describe myself as loving the church too much because I feel only the truth is good enough for the Latter-day Saints. I don't expect everyone to agree with me."

He said he wants to remain a member of the church and is confident that members of the church's First Presidency were not involved in his summons to appear before the disciplinary council.

The press release announcing the possible excommunication says Palmer's stake president approached him a year ago after receiving information from "the church's 'Strengthening Church Members Committee.' " It called the group "comparable in some ways to the Taliban's 'Department of Vice and Virtue.' "

Palmer said he hadn't seen the press release and was "appalled" by the characterization.

The church excommunicated six prominent LDS scholars in September 1993 after they publicly questioned the faith's official doctrine.


E-mail: carrie@desnews.com

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