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Over the years we have asked Mormons to send their representatives to do a debate on their beliefs. They have always declined on this invitation (and we are still waiting for a debate). Finally Brigham Young University agreed to send someone to represent them in an interview on the Let Us Reason radio program. We appreciate that Mr. dunford was as honest as possible under our questions and challenges.  

Mike Oppenheimer abbreviated as MO

Kent Dunford abbreviated as KD

Chris Roth abbreviated as CR

Mike Oppenheimer: Welcome to Let Us Reason this is Mike Oppenheimer, your host, I’m here with Chris Roth my co-host for tonight and also a special guest from the Institute of Religion Kent Dunford, and He is also from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We are going to be having a round table discussion tonight about what we know as Mormonism, Christianity, the Bible the Book of Mormon and numerous other subjects. So Kent I want to welcome you to the program and I appreciate so much that you were able to come and be here with us.

Kent Dunford: Thank you

Mike Oppenheimer: Okay, well maybe you could start out by giving us a background on yourself, what you do and such like that.

KD: Be glad to Mike, It's a pleasure to be here and I commend this station, you gentlemen, for doing things like this I think its wonderful when Christians get together and talk, to try and increase their understanding of each other, Iv been a-Latter Day Saint all of my life raised from a Latter Day Saint family in Utah born in Idaho raised in Utah and Iv taught for the LDS education system for all of my career, which goes back further than Ill mention. Iv spent most of my career at the University of Utah Institute, it's a campus, a-religious center next to the University of Utah. We offer religion classes we offer counseling we offer social activities and worship activities, typically like other campus centers do, the last two years Iv been at UH and I’m also teaching part time at BYU Hawaii and - we love the Islands, it's a great place to be but we may be going back in another year or two to Utah- the cold frozen, that area of the country, but were enjoying it while were here.

Mike Oppenheimer: Okay, and do you oversee at the Institute of Religion

Kent Dunford: I’m an Instructor there and on the faculty, so I teach classes mostly and help with other student activities, just kind of supervise and do some counseling. Two days a week I travel up BYU Hawaii and teach up there in the religion department.

Mike Oppenheimer: Okay well I guess well start with a quote, Brigham Young said “ Take up the whole Bible and compare the religion of the Latter Day Saints with it and see if it will stand the test” So that's what were going to do today

Kent Dunford: Alright

Mike Oppenheimer: Lets start up by talking about Joseph Smith’s visitation and where Mormonism as we know it has started

Kent Dunford: Alright, our Church claims to be a restoration of, of primitive Christianity, through the prophet Joseph Smith, we claim that all of Joseph Smith’s successors have been prophets in the same sense that Peter in the Bible was head of the Church. And so, the claim that the Church has is that in the second and third century the Christian Church went into a period of darkness, false doctrine developed , and its not that we say that all Christians during the Middle Ages were following wrong but they were less true , lets say and so this necessitated a restoration, through modern prophets, and that's where we put Joseph Smith, he is a prophet of God, who claimed to have had a vision of God the Father, his son Jesus Christ and it was sometime after that he formed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And so that's, that’s the brief version of it.

MO: Ok, now from what I understand they were not always called that, they were called the Church of Christ in the beginning

KD: Yea there were three names. The Church of Christ the Church of Latter Day Saints and then they put them together the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The claim has been uh- you know we have in addition to the Bible the Book of Mormon, the scripture we have the Doctrine and Covenants which is mostly composed of revelations given to Joseph Smith. We also have a collection of revelatory material in a little book called the Pearl of Great Price. So we claim to have four books of scripture, mostly given through at least the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great price, mostly through Joseph Smith

MO: Ok, let me read this to set a standard over here, this is from your material of the prophet Joseph Smith and his testimony and he says “after he had inquired of the Lord and the personages had stood above him, and he asked which sect was right and which one I should join I was answered “ That I should join none of them because they were all wrong and the personage which addressed me said “ that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight and those professors were all corrupt” “ they draw near to me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” and then it talks about them teaching the doctrines and commandments of men, denying the power thereof.; So now a lot of times Christians are accused of attacking, if I could use that word, the Mormon Church but yet we find here from the beginning that Joseph Smith has said that everything is negated from what Christianity was.

KD: Well that's one of the, one of the most harsh things that you could have read Mike. There were around four versions of the first vision that Joseph Smith gave, all the others are more mild this happened to be written in 1839 it was after the Mormons have been driven out of Missouri, I think Joseph smith had recently made a trip back to Washington D.C and talked to President Martin Van Buren to get justice for the abuses and the persecution they had been put to, uh- failed in that, because it was the States rights issue had been fermenting there, it was pre- civil war days. So I think when Joseph Smith wrote this story, this version, he wanted to, set the record straight, there had been so many variations that he wanted to write it uh- finally and completely and I think at this time he shows uh- maybe a little bitterness if you would,

MO: Animosity?

KD: Yea, you could even use that word to, that uh- that uh- well personally for me that's a little strong and I would prefer some of the other milder things he said.

Cris Roth: But he did say that?

KD: Yea, he’s responsible for that.

MO: Yea, see that's why we have such a reaction to this and infinity towards it, because of how Joseph Smith started off. Now you did say that there were various versions of the first vision, and actually I have a number of the accounts here, and I guess this is one of the questions which comes to me about Joseph Smith is that the official version says that the vision occurred in his fifteenth year then another version says that it happened in his sixteenth year in 1832 the 1834 account says the fifteenth year the 1835 account says that he was fourteen years old from his diary then the 1840 account says that he was thirteen years of age when this vision occurred, now it just seems to me that he is a bit confused , well what happened?

KD: Well, I can explain that partially one is that he was in his fifteenth year but he was fourteen. Sometimes he will say that he is fourteen and other times he will say he is in his fifteenth year. In the version where he says he is sixteen, there is a debate among Mormon scholars, if you look in the original handwriting which Joseph Smith wrote, you know sometimes you make a five and you pull the tail around you can confuse it and it might look like a six. So there is a question in which what you quoted, in his sixteenth year was really a five or a six.

MO: Ok, how about when it says in his thirteenth year, Times and seasons 1840 December 1st issue.

KD: Don't know about that one, can’t help you.

MO: Ok, it just seems that there seems to be a lot of discrepancy, not only is there a discrepancy in the time of when the vision happened but also in the accounts are different also, one says its angels one says its one personage another says it's the Father and the Son, so were wondering, we know that you have an official version now but what were wondering is which one is it?
KD: Yea, well it's the one you first read, because Joseph Smith himself says that it was the official version.

MO: So why wouldn't it be the other ones

KD: Well- they’re more incomplete, they were written earlier, I might say Joseph Smith made several attempts to have his history written and there are some inconsistencies they didn't have the preciseness that modern historians, sometimes he’s speaking to different audiences, when he said he was speaking to a guy he called Joshua’ Jewish minister when he gave the first one and he said I had this religious experience in the spring of 1820 and the Lord appeared to me and he said this, now the next version he gave he said the Lord appeared to me ands then he receded and then another person came and began speaking to me. So Mormons have tried to reconcile the differences the first version said that their was one personage which appeared the second version said the first one appeared then receded then another came and it was the second personage which he carried on the conversation with.

CR: Kent, was Joseph Smith very believable to the people of that day? Around his community, I’ve read different accounts, even from BYU writers that he was known to be a gold digger, digging for treasures around the neighborhood , maybe you can elaborate on that.

KD: Well, there’s no doubt that Joseph did get involved with that, his family was very poor as many people were, but they seemed to have extra problems and they were buying a farm in Palmyra New York they were also building a new home and it was at this time that he and his father got involved with treasure digging, there were rumors around that there was hidden treasure and they probably even used the black magic tactics to try and find this, but Mormon apologetics and historians will say “ hey give the kid a break, you know he’s just young and didn't know the difference between the true gospel”….

CR: That's interesting Kent this same young man that we should give a break to is the same one that claimed that Christianity is totally corrupt, so I don't think that we should give him a break.

KD: Well Chris let me just say that you quoted one statement, I think it’s probably one of the harshest statements that you could find in Joseph Smiths teachings

Chris Roth: We have a lot more…

KD: Well, you may have but do you have some of the favorable things, writings in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith says all Churches have truth…ahh we believe that we stand for that as a Church and we would like you to quote some times.

MO: Well, then again I have a problem with you calling them all corrupt and the personage is telling them to not join any of them, and then your also saying in his writing he’s saying that they all have truth. Which statement are we to believe they both can’t be correct.

KD: Well, why not?

MO: Because there both opposites.

KD: There’s a corruption in the religions of the world today, but they can have a great deal of truth

MO: Yea, but there’s a big difference between there all corrupt and none of them seek after me to… they have bits of truth, and he was told not to join any of them and start a whole new thing, so to me that's very different.

CR: Exactly, to join none of them means that there not worthy to be joined at all, if they have bits of truth its not enough truth to join them so what God is saying to Joseph Smith {apparently} is there’s not enough truth in these Churches to join them {Joseph} if not Joseph could have just moved to another community and joined a better Church, he had to make his own.

KD: Well, Joseph does say that he went to the sacred grove to find out among other things which Church was right, he found out that none of them were right, that God would use him as an instrument to restore the fuller truth and that what we claim, but we always emphasize that we don't have a corner on truth, in fact if I could I would like to just read you a quote from our current prophet and president of our Church, just a short one. Mike this is our major magazine, its called the ensign and he says this, this is an excerpt from some of his recent addresses {Gordon B. Hinckley} he says “we want to be good neighbors we want to be good friends we feel that we can differ theologically with people without being disagreeable in any sense we hope they feel the same way towards us we have many friends and many associations with people who are not of our faith with whom we deal constantly and we have a wonderful relationship it disturbs me when we hear of any antagonist I don't think there necessary, I hope that we can overcome them, be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people recognize there virtues, don't look for there faults look for there strengths and virtues and you will find strength’s and virtues which will be helpful in your own lives” So I think, you know that other Christians might see that side of our religion as well as a few as a few critical statements that came out of…you know there was more hostile feeling among the groups among the denominations back then, I think were prone, if we go back in those times to find more inflammatory rhetoric

MO: Well, it just seems that the stand back then, and recently we find its been changing, we’ve always heard from the Church that they are the one true Church and that the other Churches have fallen away now when we look at the Church we look at reformation not restoration , so I think that there is a big difference in the concept.

CR: And also Kent you mentioned that your Church doesn't have a corner {on the truth} now that might be true today but we read in the Journal of Discourses page 289
“ Mainly that men nor woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith from the day that the priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding up of the scene of all things, every man or woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith Jr. as a passport into the entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are” that sounds like a corner on the market?

KD: Yea it does, doesn't it, well was that Brigham Young.

CR: That's from the Journal of Discourses page 289

KD: Well, during the Utah period under Brigham Young’s leadership we were isolated out there in Utah it was kind of us against them wed been driven out of the United States I don't think the Church….they said a lot of things in the Journal of Discourses, this was a collection of sermons that was published in the newspapers for the consumption of the Latter Day Saint people there was often some strong statements like this, I don't know of any Church leader today that would say that everybody would need the consent of Joseph Smith

CR: So, they would say that this is false?

KD: No, I don't know if they said it was false, they would say its probably not authoritative

CR: But this came from Brigham Young

KD: Yea, we don't believe that everything that Brigham Young or Gordon B. Hinkley or Joseph Smith , Joseph Smith himself said, when people were quoting his every idle statement that a prophet isn’t always a prophet, he’s only a prophet when he’s speaking as such, speaking under the inspiration of God, of course the next question you want to know is well how do we know when he’s doing that, the point is not every statement you dig out we would say is from a divine source, he might be speaking his own opinion

MO: Ok, so how do we know?

KD: Well, we ask ourselves that question in the Church.

MO: So, what if there’s two people with different opinions in the Church.

KD: There’s a pretty good unanimity of opinion in the Church because you know were a quite a hierarchical led Church the President of our Church we believe is a living prophet the directions come from him and the quorum of the 12 apostles, usually when they speak in conference we believe that's pretty much the inspired word of God, usually when they write there monthly editorial in Church magazines we feel that's as close to inspiration….
CR: But Kent, sorry to interrupt you but, how do we know that 50 years from now, that what these people are writing today, some other Mormon person might say well that's not inspired, like your saying what Brigham Young said was false in the Journal of Discourses, not false but not “ authorative,” who’s to say in the equal amount of time from now that today’s prophets said some things that were pretty absurd.

KD: The ones that will say will be the leaders of the Church, the current prophet, he’s the one who defines doctrine of the Church.

CR: It sounds almost like ex-cathedra.

KD: Well, its almost its similar I suppose, but there is a major difference, we believe our prophet is constantly getting inspiration, whereas the Pope doesn’t believe in current revelation, he simply is protected by God to define the ancient deposit of faith in the contemporary Church.

MO: Okay now lets move on to the Book of Mormon, before we do that though you brought up about the prophet today, but there hasn't been divine inspiration any revelatory inspiration in, I think its been 1918 was the last time.

KD: No there’s been some about ten years ago, there was a couple of revelations added to our Doctrine and Covenants, however we don't limit the revelation of our prophet to those things that just get printed in our scriptures. We believe that they are getting revelation constantly and that comes out of there speeches that comes out of there official declarations the Church recently put out a proclamation about the family and the sanctity and we feel that's probably inspired, but it might not get into our scriptures for some time or maybe never.

MO: Okay, lets move on to the Book of Mormon, what people have looked into, people claim that there has been over 4,000 changes to the first edition in 1830 and what we find as people go through the Book of Mormon there seems to be quite a few contradictions, and yet Joseph Smith claims that this was the most perfect book and had the fullness of the gospel and such and yet there are many precious things that are eliminated even from Mormonism, but yet we find that there are contradictions, you know I see on the TV sometimes the ads are presented and here’s the Book of Mormon next to the Bible and here’s a companion of the Bible, how would you compare the Book of Mormon to the Bible.

KD: Well, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to John Wentworth who was the editor of the Chicago democrat and in that he told his story, a little different version, again, Joseph Smith for some reason didn't feel the necessity to tell it exactly the same way every time but he also came out in that letter what we call the articles of faith, twelve short statements of belief, one was we believe the Bible as long as its translated correctly, we believe it to be the word of God we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, we believe all that God has revealed and all that he will yet reveal and that revelation will still come, so, uh yea there have been changes to the Book of Mormon we don't know exactly how Joseph Smith produced it how he translated it he said he got it some gold plates, was directed by an angel got some gold plates out of a hill where they had been stored for several hundred years by an ancient American prophet, the Book of Mormon claims to be a record of ancient American prophets and they were buried and to come forth In the latter days partly for our benefit

MO: Okay so how do you explain all the changes because when we look at the Bible we have new translation bringing it up to English to make it more plain, and yet we find very much different wordings in the Book of Mormon.

C.R: Maybe I can give an example Mike so people can understand, in the 1830 version which anyone can get a hold of in first Nephi 11:21in the 1830 version of the Book of Mormon it says “ and the angel said unto me behold the lamb of God yea even the eternal father” but today’s version reads “ and the angel of the Lord said to me behold the lamb of God yea even the son of the eternal father” so the 1830 version says the lamb of God is the eternal father, and today’s version says he’ the son of the eternal father,

MO: oh these are two different personages, right?

KD: Well here’s the explanation, we don't know for sure but let me tell you how we would normally explain it. We believe that Joseph Smith as he looked at the ancient plates received inspiration as to there meaning and he would put that meaning in the best language he could muster another words, probably the wording in the Book of Mormon probably wasn't dictated to him by a divine source, he got the ideas of what the Book meant and he put it in the best language he could muster.

This interview is half done-To be continued


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