Former Mormons Testify – Program 1

By: Sandra Tanner, Marvin Cowan; ©1982
How did Mormonism start? Who was its founder? Where did he get his information? What do Mormons believe about other religions?

What Do Mormons Believe?


You have probably heard about the Mormon Church. Their official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Directing this worldwide church is a prophet who is also the president of the church. He is assisted by two counselors. They believe that just as there were twelve apostles in the primitive church, so today there should be twelve apostles in the Latter-day Saints church. Other leaders assist in administrative work, but altogether these men constitute the general authorities of the church. Their headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah. You have heard and marveled as their great choir sings, but what do they teach and believe about God, Jesus, and the Bible?

The guests today on The John Ankerberg Show are both former Mormons. First, Mrs. Sandra Tanner, the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young. Sandra and her husband Jerald have written the massive book Mormonism–Shadow or Reality?, documenting the contradictions and errors they found in the Mormon scriptures. Sandra will reveal the evidence that led her away from Mormonism to the biblical view of Jesus.

John’s second guest is Marvin Cowan. Marvin was a zealous Mormon who one day was challenged to examine the claims of Mormonism. The evidence he investigated led him out of the Mormon Church and into a personal faith with the historic, biblical Jesus he had not known as a Mormon. He documents the evidence that led him to this conclusion in his book, Mormon Claims Answered.

Tonight, please join John for this exciting program.

[Ed. note: Throughout this series, Sandra Tanner refers to documentation that can be found in her book Mormonism–Shadow or Reality? available from Utah Lighthouse Ministry, PO Box 1884, Salt Lake City, UT 84110]

John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program this week. We have two very special guests. And, Sandra and Marvin, you’ve been watching our program with some of the representatives of the Mormons that we’ve had on previously. And, you know, I couldn’t help but think that, when I was sitting there talking with these men and they were answering some of the questions, and when we were pushing them a just a little bit, that they were holding back information. I don’t know that much about Mormon doctrine, but you do. Let me ask you just straight off. Do you think that when they were answering some of those questions that they were completely honest with me?
Sandra Tanner: I feel that they were deliberately hedging their answers. They were not forthright on their teachings.
Ankerberg: Alright. We are going to find out why. But you folks have come out of Mormonism. You have spent most of your life as Mormons. We have the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young sitting right here with us. And yet now you have left Mormonism and you have embraced Jesus Christ in a new way. And I’d like to start off with you folks in asking the questions, what is Mormonism based on? Who does it start with? What are their claims?
Marvin Cowan: I think that Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth prophet of the Mormon Church, kind of sums that up here on page 188 of Volume One of the Doctrines of Salvation when he says that Mormonism, as it’s called, “Must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.”
Ankerberg: So he’s the prophet of God that everything is established on. Is he the only prophet?
Cowan: Well, they’ve had those who have succeeded him, but even their Scripture in the Doctrine of Covenants, Section 135, verse 3, says, “Joseph Smith, the prophet and seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world than any other man that ever lived in it.”
Ankerberg: Okay. What was before Joseph Smith? In other words, was the Church in existence before Joseph Smith?
Tanner: Well, they feel that when Christ set up his church, he set it up with 12 apostles, but that very shortly, within the next one or two hundred years, the church fell into apostasy and remained so for the next 1800 years until Joseph Smith restored it. And until he started his church, there was no one with authority to act for God on the earth. So, all the churches at that time were in a state of apostasy and totally wrong.
Ankerberg: So, did anybody go to Heaven at that time? Was anybody following God’s will during that time? Or was it completely blank?
Tanner: Well, the Mormons would have conceded that they went to Heaven. But you have to understand how the Mormons divide up Heaven. Heaven has three compartments, the top one for the Mormons, and the second one for the good people of the world, and the bottom one for the wicked of the world. But it’s all part of Heaven. So, the people could have gone to Heaven, but they wouldn’t have gone to the top place where the Mormons want to go.
Ankerberg: Okay. We want to come back to that, too, and define that a little bit more clearly. What did Joseph Smith actually do to get this position? I mean, here he is the head of one of the most powerful churches in our country. They go back to him. How did it come about?
Tanner: Well, Joseph Smith claimed that, when he was a young man of 14 years old, that he went out in the woods to pray to know which church was right. And, supposedly, God and Christ appeared to him and told him they were all wrong and he was called to start the church. However, there are a number of problems with his story. We can show that, in his early teen life, he was engaged in witchcraft and as a medium in occult practices. And this is all during the time when he supposedly is working on his Book of Mormon. It doesn’t seem to lay a very good foundation for the start of Mormonism.
Ankerberg: Okay, you say he was in the occult. What kind of occult practices was he doing?
Tanner: He was involved in what they called money-digging. And he would use a seer stone to do this, and so he was taken to court for being a “glass-looker.” This means he used a stone in a hat, and he pulled the hat up over his face and looked at the stone and he could discern for you where there was treasure buried on your property. And so for a certain fee you could hire him to divine for you hidden treasures. And he was actually taken to court for this. We have a photograph of the court document. And this is actually a certified copy from the state of New York, where he was tried. It says right here, “Joseph Smith, the Glass-Looker,” March 20, 1826. And he’s charged with a misdemeanor.
Ankerberg: Okay, now, glass is sort of like our crystal ball, right?
Tanner: Right. Crystal ball gazing is the same as glass-looking.
Ankerberg: And what did he do? He looked into this glass and he saw things?
Tanner: Yes. He would look in there and see if there was gold buried on your property, if someone left their jewels under your oak tree or something. And he could tell you how far to dig.
Ankerberg: And he was actually brought to court for practicing such as that.
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: How does this fit into the story of the Mormon Church?
Tanner: Well, when we look into the translation of the Book of Mormon, we find that much of the translation was done through the same medium. Now, the Mormons will talk about the Urim and Thummim for the translation process, but if we go back into the descriptions by the early witnesses that were there with Joseph Smith, they all talk about his “seer stone,” this little thing that he had in his hat. And that is how he translated the bulk of the Book of Mormon was with this stone in his hat.
Ankerberg: Okay, we still have a problem. What is Urim and Thummim? Tell us so people will know what that is.
Tanner: They take that from the Old Testament, where the High Priest used this to determine a “yes” or “no” answer on something. And the Mormons have lifted this phrase, and now say that the Urim and Thummim was a special instrument saved with the Book of Mormon plates, so that whoever finally dug up the plates would have the means to translate them. But the Urim and Thummim, in fact, wasn’t used really used for the bulk of the Book of Mormon translation. He really used this stone, which was just a crystal that he found in a well.
Ankerberg: I’m still puzzled. How does a stone talk to you? Or you look at a stone and see things? Or what did he do?
Tanner: Well, it’s sort of like a television screen. You see it. Things would be written….
Ankerberg: And he just saw things around that stone. That’s what he claimed.
Tanner: When he was translating the Book of Mormon, the witnesses said that the writing for the Book of Mormon would appear on the stone, and he would read off the translation to his scribe. And so as he would be reading, there would be a scribe writing all these things down.
Ankerberg: What do you have there, Marv?
Cowan: This is An Address to All Believers in Christ, by David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. And on page 12, he’s telling what Sandra’s talking about.
Ankerberg: Read it for us there, a little bit.
Cowan: It says, “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light. In the darkness, the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it, the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe. And when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God and not by any power of man.”
Ankerberg: Alright. Now, when you were a Mormon, both of you were Mormons, did you know this? Did you know that that’s how he translated the Book of Mormon?
Tanner: No, I didn’t know about the seer stone.
Ankerberg: Do you think that most Mormons today know this?
Tanner: No.
Ankerberg: Why not?
Tanner: Because it’s embarrassing to have him connected up with something that is so close to crystal ball gazing.
Ankerberg: Alright, Marvin and Sandra, he looked through his kind of crystal ball or through his stone and he got these revelations. Is that how the Book of Mormon came into being?
Tanner: Yes, that’s the majority of what we have of the Book of Mormon today. There are three books of Scripture: the Book of Mormon; Doctrines and Covenants; and Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Mormon is supposed to be a translation of these records and that’s the way he’s supposed to have translated them. But the problem with that is that it contradicts Deuteronomy 18:10-12, where it talks against those “that use divination; or any observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord.” And yet that’s exactly what we have Joseph Smith doing, is using a sorcery type of instrument for what he claims to be scripture.
Ankerberg: Okay. What do they do with the Bible? Just hit that briefly. What do they do with the Bible?
Cowan: Well, it’s the Word of God “as far as it’s translated correctly.”
Ankerberg: What does that mean? Because that sounds great, but there seems like there’s a hook there somewhere.
Cowan: Well, there is. Whatever they don’t want to believe isn’t translated correctly is what it boils down to.
Ankerberg: So anything that you would bring up that contradicts their doctrine, that we are going to get into, when you point it out that the Bible would say, “that’s not true,” they would say that the Bible has been corrupted, or that’s a false text, or a scribe from the church coming down through the Middle Ages and so on, has just distorted that. Is that what they would say?
Tanner: Right.
Ankerberg: Alright. Of course, we know that’s not true at all. But let’s move on here. In terms of some of these visions that he had, were they all correct? Did he ever change his mind? In other words, did God ever change his revelations to Joseph Smith?
Tanner: Well, when we start off with this first one, you run into a problem immediately. The current story of the church is that Joseph went out into the woods to pray in 1820 when he was fourteen, and saw God and Jesus. However, if we go back and look at his original records, we find that he wasn’t telling the story that way at the start. In fact, when he was a young boy, he hadn’t told anyone of this vision. This vision that is so important to a Mormon today wasn’t even printed by the church until 22 years after the event was supposed to have happened, which makes it 12 years after he even started his church.
Ankerberg: And what was the vision about?
Tanner: This is when he claimed to see God and Jesus.
Ankerberg: He didn’t tell anyone?
Tanner: He didn’t tell anyone about it.
Ankerberg: But 22 years later he said that that’s what he had.
Tanner: Yes. But the Mormon’s story is that from the moment he had the vision he started telling everyone, and that he was persecuted for saying he had seen God.
Ankerberg: So they’re saying today that, right at the beginning, he announced the fact that he had talked with who? God?
Tanner: God and Jesus as two physical beings. And that gave them their concept of God.
Ankerberg: And how can you tell that the Mormon Church’s view of that thing is not true?
Tanner: Different church leaders talked about this first vision being just angels. Joseph Smith himself talked about it being angels. He wrote about this first vision several different times.
Ankerberg: What leaders and where did they write about this?
Tanner: Joseph Smith wrote in his own diary an account of the first vision that differs from the one they print. And this is in 1832, two years after he started the church. This is a photograph on the one side of the actual account and on the side is the typescript. But in this, when he describes the first vision, it just has Jesus appearing to him. Now, that’s the way he first told the story, or I should say, the first way he wrote it down. When he finally got around to printing it, he wrote another story, another account, that differs from this one he had in his diary. So it seems to be an evolving story that he keeps working over, that he’s trying to get it to where it sounds the best. And so he finally hits on the idea of having God and Jesus in the vision.
Ankerberg: Okay. And so, actually, from his own records, as well as what the church has today, you’ve got a contradiction of actually what happened.
Tanner: Right.
Ankerberg: Okay. Now, why are they so picky about church history? Why is that so important to them?
Tanner: Well, they claim that the history that Joseph Smith wrote is totally accurate. It’s the foundation for the only true church. It’s evidence of it being true. And Joseph Smith is credited with writing a six-volume History of the Mormon Church, which all goes under his authorship in the first person. However, historians even in the Mormon Church, now admit that he only wrote forty percent of that history. Sixty percent of it was written after his death.
Ankerberg: Run that by me again.
Tanner: If you went into a Deseret bookstore, that’s the Mormon bookstore, today, they would have in there a six-volume set called History of the Church, and it would say, “Author: written by Joseph Smith.”
Ankerberg: But he didn’t actually write all that.
Tanner: But he didn’t write it.
Ankerberg: He only wrote forty percent?
Tanner: Forty percent of it.
Ankerberg: Who wrote the other sixty percent?
Tanner: His successors, Brigham Young and the Mormons that came out West after Joseph Smith died. They put this together using all their different journals. They sat down and collaborated on it.
Ankerberg: How does it make you feel to realize that your great-great granddaddy wrote something and pawned it off as being Joseph Smith’s, as what he did and what he said?
Tanner: Well, I think it was a terrible deception to play on all of us. It’s been a struggle for myself and my family to go back and try to reconstruct how Mormonism really happened, because men like Brigham Young have distorted and lied, covered up, and changed what really happened.
Ankerberg: Okay. For people who are not Mormons or aren’t even into religion or so on, what’s so important about this church history? What does it matter? Some of us could care less. But why are they so particular in saying that it’s got to be correct; it’s accurate?
Cowan: Well, there are many statements made about it, but Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth prophet, made a statement that it’s “the most accurate history in the world,” Volume 2 of The Doctrines of Salvation. And the reason that he’s concerned about it being accurate is, it’s the matter of the restoration of the one and only true church to the earth. And if that’s not accurate, then how can you pass on the truth about God or whatever else it is that you are going to talk about?
Ankerberg: So in essence, it’s like the book of Acts in the New Testament, telling about the church. And you’d better have correct church history.
Tanner: Right.
Ankerberg: Alright. And what we’re saying here is, apparently that it’s not correct.
Tanner: Right.
Cowan: That’s right.
Ankerberg: Give me another example of where it’s not correct. Document where church history contradicts itself.
Tanner: Well, in the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon, it says in the church history today that the angel that came and appeared to Joseph Smith was Moroni. But if you go back to the original printing of church history, it says Nephi. The difference being, Nephi is the first man that appears on the scene in the Book of Mormon story, Moroni is the last man that appears on the Book of Mormon scene. And Joseph Smith first told it that it was the first man in the book, Nephi, that appeared to him; and then later he changed the name to this other being. But when you see this type of changing going on, then you wonder, “Well, is he making this up as he goes along? Is he really recounting actual events to us?” When you have to go back and rewrite things, then you’re left wondering if any of it really happened.
Ankerberg: Okay. The church history has, in a sense, been rewritten. Now, I’ve seen some of the documents that you have. Do you want to show us something from your book there in terms of the changes that have been made in the text? Not only did they rewrite history after Joseph Smith passed off the scene, but then the history that was written under his name in the first person when he wasn’t there, even then you’ve shown from your documentation that that history they’ve kind of cleaned up as they’ve gone along as well. Is that correct?
Tanner: Right. Involved in this also is his changes in his revelations.
Ankerberg: Show us this page. I think that’s fantastic.
Tanner: This is a photo of the first printing of one his revelations in book form. The changes noted in the margin are the changes you would have to supply to make it read like the current printing.
Ankerberg: “TC” means textual change; and what are the other words there?
Tanner: Words added, words deleted, and textual change. And so this is a sample of how they are rewriting things. We have other examples. There’s another example of how they have changed a revelation. They have taken this whole section out and added these words in, which makes a curious position of God revealing things to you, when God not only has to go back later and rewrite it, he withdraws a paragraph and inserts a paragraph. This is indicative of the whole history of Mormonism. This is the way they handle their church history and the revelation.
Ankerberg: If I remember correctly, one of those revelations was that Joseph Smith was only to have the gift of translation for the Book of Mormon, and later on that was changed. What was it changed to?
Tanner: Yes, that was this first one I showed. Supposedly, God told Joseph Smith that the only gift he had was to translate the Book of Mormon, and he wasn’t going to be given any other gift. That’s the way Joseph printed that revelation in 1833. But then, after it was printed, he evidently had ideas of expanding his work. So he rewrites the revelation, and two years later he republishes it, and it now says, this is the first gift that God gave him. So that it opens Pandora ’s Box for him to go on with whatever he wants to add to the doctrines later on.
Ankerberg: And you’ve actually got that documented.
Tanner: Yes, that’s this revelation. It’s right there.
Ankerberg: And a lot of Mormons don’t know about those records. Do they?
Tanner: No. I never knew when I was growing up in the Mormon Church that there were different printings of the revelations, that anything had ever been changed.
Ankerberg: How did you feel when you realized that you had been swindled?
Tanner: Angry, disappointed, hurt.
Ankerberg: Did you fight it? Maybe you didn’t believe it. You just looked at that and studied it. I mean, what persuaded you that your own research was correct?
Tanner: Well, I had photographs of the documents. And as I laid them out beside a current Doctrine and Covenants, it wasn’t a matter or arguing with an individual; there’s a photograph of the book. It doesn’t read the same as it does now.
Ankerberg: And any Mormon that really wants to can look into this, can’t they?
Tanner: Yes. In Salt Lake City, at the University of Utah in their library, they have the originals of all these books. Anyone can go in there and see them.
Ankerberg: Unbelievable. Let’s talk a little bit about what Joseph Smith, because he’s the founder, what he said about God. Do they really believe the same thing that Christians believe?
Tanner: Well, first off, I assume you don’t believe that God has a wife.
Ankerberg: No, I haven’t said that lately.
Tanner: Right. Well, you see, that’s one of the tenets of Mormonism. But a lot of Mormons don’t even realize this.
Ankerberg: On a previous program, I think it was President Flake, or President Christianson said, when I asked them the question, “Was there God the Mother?” And they simply said, “We have nothing to say about that.” What are you talking about?
Tanner: Gospel Principles is the official Mormon Church Sunday School manual. This is put out by the Mormon Church, so that’s about as authoritative, I guess, as you can get. If you went to Mormon Sunday School, this is what you are going to be studying. In the first lesson, it says, “Our heavenly parents desired to share their joy with us.” And it says, “Our heavenly parents provided us with a celestial home more glorious and beautiful that any place on earth. We were happy there, yet they knew that we could not progress beyond a certain point unless we left them for a time. They wanted us to develop every god-like quality that they have.” And then it goes on: “Then we would receive immortal bodies like those of our heavenly parents.”
Ankerberg: Okay. So, are you saying that there’s God the Heavenly Father up there, and God the Mother?
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. Let me just blow this by you, too, in terms of, did they have sex and Jesus was the offspring?
Tanner: Well, they had sex and all of us were the offspring.
Ankerberg: What were we called when we were the offspring of them?
Tanner: We were “spirit children.” They believe we all pre-existed in Heaven. We were literally born to God and this “mother” in Heaven in a pre-existent state. Jesus is our older brother, and we all lived there in the family unit before we came here.
Ankerberg: Okay. And those of us that were up there, we first had this spirit kind of body? Kind of a material…?
Tanner: Yes. A spirit body is considered to be a material body, just of a different quality.
Ankerberg: And we were born into our physical bodies. It was compressed and put into a physical body?
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: And our physical bodies came to be like the spiritual bodies?
Tanner: Well, it got to be that size. You grew to a full adulthood as a spirit in Heaven. Then you were compressed down into your physical baby body; and then your physical body grows up to the size of your spiritual one.
Ankerberg: Okay. I can’t wait to look into this a little further. We’ve got to stop here, but we want the folks to know that, for sure, every statement that you’re making can be documented.
Tanner: Yes, I can supply the references.
Ankerberg: And that both of you spent most of your lives as Mormons and you believed this, and we haven’t told the folks what made you come out. But we’re going to take a look at this in the weeks to come. I hope that you’ll stick with us.

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