Former Mormons Testify – Program 3

By: Sandra Tanner, Marvin Cowan; ©1982
Mormonism appears on the surface to be very family friendly, moral and loving. But what’s it like to live as a Mormon? Why would someone want to leave?

Why is Mormonism Appealing to So Many People?


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]

Ankerberg: We want to welcome all of the folks to our program. Marvin Cowan and Sandra Tanner, two folks that have been Mormons most of their life, have investigated the evidence, have very scholarly books on Mormonism, documented, their history, their doctrine, what they believe, and a comparison of that with Christianity. Marvin, I’d like to start with you tonight; and that would be, you grew up in a Mormon home. Tell us a little bit about your upbringing and why it was that you were so enthusiastic to embrace the Mormon faith.
Cowan: Well, there were several things about Mormonism that appealed to me. Of course, they had a lot of activities for young people, but beyond that, the stories of Joseph Smith, his first vision seeing God the Father and Jesus Christ, seeing the angel Moroni and getting the gold plates to translate the Book of Mormon, the return of John the Baptist to give the Aaronic priesthood, and Peter, James, and John to give the Melchizedek priesthood. And all of these stories that I heard that happened to Joseph Smith made me want to be like him. I thought he was great, and I thought he had the greatest church going there was. It was the only church with the authority, and because of that, I wanted to see my friends know about it. And as I told those stories, they were enamored with them because they didn’t have men in their churches that were seeing God and seeing angels and so forth, and they would listen intently.
Ankerberg: So you actually thought it was a good thing.
Cowan: I thought it was a good thing.
Ankerberg: Supernatural revelation, angels visiting the prophet, and all kinds of things. You thought this was really great.
Cowan: I thought it was the greatest thing on earth, as far as the church was concerned. Yes.
Ankerberg: And you told your friends?
Cowan: Yes, I did.
Ankerberg: Did they think it was just as great?
Cowan: Well, most of them just listened. Some asked a few questions and so forth, but apparently I made some impression. At least one that I know of joined the Church when I was in the 7th grade, and there were others that listened intently, would come back with questions, and so forth.
Ankerberg: And you were just thrilled with this? You were just so proud to have converts into the Mormon Church, weren’t you?
Cowan: Why, certainly. I thought I was doing a great thing for the Church and for God. From my standpoint, it was one of the most important things to be doing. And I was planning to go on a regular two-year mission at that time, and I thought this is great preparation, to be telling the story now. And as I continued to do that, I finally met some young people who were Christians, who were born-again, and who challenged some of the statements that I made. For example, I made a kind of a passing statement at one time that “The Bible says, ‘As man is, God once was; and as God is, man may be’” And they said, “What? Where did you see that in the Bible?” Well, I couldn’t tell them where in the Bible, but I’ve had many Mormons say the same thing to me in recent years as I’ve talked to them. It’s an impression that you get. You hear these things so many times…
Ankerberg: And you assume the Bible says that?
Cowan: You assume it’s in Scripture. And they challenged me, finally, to read the Bible. And it was sort of the beginning of the end, as far as my own experience was concerned. Because, as I read through the Bible—I thought I should, because you know missionaries are supposed to read the Scriptures when they go out on their missions, and I thought, well, this would be good experience to get ready for that mission—and as I read through the Old Testament, there were lots of things I didn’t understand. And some of the statements about God, like Sandra mentioned in the other program, about “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” [Isa. 43:10] Or Isaiah 44:8, “Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any.” God is saying that and I thought…
Ankerberg: Because God was saying he was one, and as a Mormon you believe there are many, many thousands of Gods out there.
Cowan: There were many Gods, although I only worshipped God the Father, supposedly. Of course, Christ had his place, and the Holy Ghost his place; but why didn’t God admit, you know, that there were other Gods?, was the question that ran through my mind. But as I continued to read, I got so many questions, I decided I’d better read the Mormon scriptures, that is the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price….
Ankerberg: They hold that as being equal to the Bible as Scripture?
Cowan: Yes. It’s equal to, and in fact, in actual fact, it works out that it’s superior, because those are not qualified.
Ankerberg: What are their scriptures again?
Cowan: The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Those books are not qualified: McConkie, for example, says we are to accept those without qualification. The Bible is to be accepted with reservation.
Ankerberg: Who’s McConkie?
Cowan: He’s that apostle that wrote Mormon Doctrine. Well, he’s written several things.
Ankerberg: And as an apostle, he can write authoritatively for the Mormon Church. Okay, what did he write?
Cowan: That the Bible has to be qualified: it’s the Word of God only as far as it’s translated correctly. The other books were given in English, so they don’t have to be qualified. You accept them at face value. They are the Word of God.
Ankerberg: So they interpret what you read in the Bible? And if the Bible doesn’t jibe with the interpretation, then the interpretation takes precedence.
Cowan: Well, actually yes. The prophet today is the one with the ultimate authority to interpret the scripture.
Ankerberg: Because the Mormon Church believes the prophet is like prophets of old.
Cowan: Yes, Isaiah, Jeremiah. Only he’s superior to us.
Ankerberg: He’s the mouthpiece for God living on the earth right now.
Cowan: Today. Yes.
Ankerberg: And he can give revelation from God right now?
Cowan: Right now, yes. And in that sense, what he says is more important than previous prophets or any scripture.
Ankerberg: And what bothered you about this as you read on?
Cowan: Well, somehow I had gotten the impression that God ought to be consistent: if he said something, he would stand by it. And I began to see some inconsistencies. For example, it was at that time, as I read the Book of Mormon through for the first time, even though I’d been told and I had read, that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and men would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book—Joseph Smith said that; it’s in the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, on page 194. But I read the Book of Mormon and instead of undergirding my faith, it was destroying it. Because every doctrine that is unique to Mormonism is undermined by the Book of Mormon, whether it is the Trinity, or God being a…
Ankerberg: Give me some actual spots. What does the Book of Mormon say about the Trinity?
Cowan: Well, 2 Nephi 31:21, Mormon 7:7, Alma 11:44, all say these three are one God.
Ankerberg: So they agree with Christianity and the Bible at that point.
Cowan: At that point, yes.
Ankerberg: But other books, such as what…?
Cowan: Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 370, says these three are three Gods.
Ankerberg: So you have a contradiction right in the books that they call scripture. What else?
Cowan: Well, the whole idea of God being a person of flesh and bones, like Section 130, verse 22 in the Doctrine and Covenants, says…
Ankerberg: That God had a flesh and bones body?
Cowan: Yes, that’s what it says in Mormon scripture.
Ankerberg: What does the Book of Mormon say?
Cowan: Well, the Book of Mormon, in Alma 18, says “God is that Great Spirit that created everything.”
Ankerberg: Another contradiction. Give me another one.
Cowan: Well, the idea of more Gods than one in Alma 11. An angel tells this prophet that there’s only one God. He says this was revealed to him and yet Mormonism says that men can become Gods. There are literally innumerable Gods.
Ankerberg: So as you saw these contradictions in the Mormon scriptures themselves, what started happening in your life?
Cowan: I began to have some very uneasy feelings. I was getting to the point I didn’t know what to believe. Whenever I talked to my superiors in the priesthood, they would tell me I just needed to take it by faith, I don’t need to do all this study and so forth. But I was too far into it.
Ankerberg: Did anybody ever tell you to just go out and pray about it?
Cowan: Oh, yes.
Ankerberg: But you went out and prayed about it, and you still realized when you came back you had a contradiction there.
Cowan: Yes. The prayer didn’t take away the problem that I had become aware of; and it was that that I had to deal with.
Ankerberg: So then what did you do?
Cowan: I continued my study, and of course, I prayed as well as studied. I was looking. I was looking desperately. In fact, I suspect that had some Christian just sat down with me and talked to me, I would have been ready to have listened long before I became a Christian. But nobody was there at that particular time, so I just continued to read and to study.
And as I read through all the various books, I began to see that there were some things I just couldn’t reconcile, and I was really on the verge of saying it’s impossible to know. But at this time I was finishing up reading the Bible, and I guess the book of Acts was one of the first ones that really began to get to me, where it tells us what those New Testament disciples were preaching. Acts 5:42 for example, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
Well, I looked back at what I was teaching and preaching, and it was Joseph Smith, the first vision, the angel Moroni, and John the Baptist, Peter, James, and the whole story, and I hardly said anything about Jesus Christ. But throughout the book of Acts you find it: Acts 8:5, Acts 8:35, Acts 9:20; they were preaching Jesus and I wasn’t. And I remembered that when I got to Galatians 1, by the way, when Paul said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” [Gal. 1:8] And I realized…
Ankerberg: And that really sunk in?
Cowan: It did strike me.
Ankerberg: And then you went to the book of Romans.
Cowan: Yes, it was in Romans really, that I began to put things together. I’d always been taught that the whole idea of justification by faith was a pernicious doctrine, that it was a sectarian dogma.
Ankerberg: Who said that?
Cowan: Well, Talmadge, for example, in the Articles of Faith, talks about it.
Ankerberg: One of the apostles in the Mormon Church?
Cowan: Yes. He’s one of their great apostles, one of their great theologians. But, for example, he says it on page 479 in the Articles of Faith: “The sectarian dogma of justification by faith alone has exercised an influence for evil.” He says, “This is a pernicious doctrine.” And that’s the only way that I had heard it referred to.
Ankerberg: But you looked at what?
Cowan: In Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have [present tense] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I said, that’s what I’ve been working for, that’s what I want: peace with God. And I prayed and I asked the Lord to give it to me, and I believe that he did give it to me, even that evening, even though I didn’t know what to call it…
Ankerberg: On the basis of the Scripture, of trusting in Christ.
Cowan: Right.
Ankerberg: Alright Sandra, you are the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young. And to many Mormons that are listening right now, they want to know, how could you? How could you, the great-great granddaughter of the second prophet of the Mormon Church, how in the world could you leave the Mormon Church? What happened to you?
Tanner: My mother and father were married in the Salt Lake Temple and had both come from extremely fanatic Mormon homes. All they had ever known all their life had been a small Mormon community, and this had been their total environment until the time they got married.
But then, right after the time I was born, they moved to Southern California. And for the first time in their lives they were in a different culture, and they found out that there were people that weren’t Mormons. And they were confronted with different lifestyles, different beliefs, and this was all kind of a jolt to them.
And as my mother had different things come to her attention, she started to wonder about the claims of Mormonism. So when I was a teenager in high school, my mother started studying Mormon doctrine and history for herself to see if there were any problems or how it all checked out. She raised these issues to me, and we argued about Mormonism. I would defend the Church. She would raise the questions. I would go back to my seminary teacher—this is the high school off-campus religious instruction that Mormon kids get—I would go to my seminary teacher and I would say, “What about this? My mother asked me this, this, this. How do I respond to this? What are the answers?” And my seminary teacher was very sincere and tried to help me, but she really didn’t know the answers, and it would usually end up, “You go home and pray about it and God will give you the answer.”
Ankerberg: What kind of questions did your Mom have? What did it revolve around? What did you guys argue about?
Tanner: Well, she had gone into a lot of the historical aspects of Mormonism, also into a lot of the doctrinal. For instance, the idea of Elohim and Jehovah, was one thing that particularly we went the rounds on. In Mormonism they make Elohim the Father God. Jehovah is Jesus. So, this makes a problem when you are studying the Old Testament. How do you determine when the God it’s referring to is God the Father or God the Son, since they make them two totally separate people?
So, my mother asked me this one day. She said, “You’re studying Old Testament in seminary. How do they explain Elohim-Jehovah?” So off I go to my seminary teacher: “My mother wants to know.…” Then my seminary teacher’s answer essentially was, “Usually it’s Jehovah in the Old Testament, but there are those specific verses where it’s referring to Elohim.” And what it broke down to was the ones that they would like to use to prove that God the Father had a physical body—Moses talked to the Lord face to face, okay—that must be Elohim, because that helps establish that God the Father has a physical form. So this was the way they were determining which was which, was just a matter of proof-text, what ones they wanted to be Elohim or Jehovah.
Well, I hadn’t had any real Bible training, but I thought that didn’t sound very systematic or scientific to me. It seemed that there ought to be a better way. I didn’t know that you could just go to the Hebrew Bible and see when it said Elohim or Jehovah. Well, I thought, I can’t go home and tell my mother that. She’s going to see right through that. Well, of course, my seminary teacher’s usual response, “Well, you go home and pray about it.” Well, you can pray and pray and pray, but if you don’t study the Hebrew, you’re not going to know when it says Elohim.
Ankerberg: And again, by your praying, your prayers do not change the text.
Tanner: Yes. It doesn’t resolve what the documents say. So I had a lot of problems with my mother as a teenager. Then, when I got into college, I went to the Mormon Institute of Religion, which is their college instruction for Mormons, and I started asking different questions that come up there. Finally, the instructor became threatened with my questioning in class, and he took aside one day and he said, “Sandra, please stop asking questions in class. You’re disturbing a girl that’s here investigating Mormonism.” Well, that disturbed me. I wouldn’t have left Mormonism over that, but it made me wonder why he didn’t have the answers and felt threatened.
Ankerberg: Is there any kind of pressure put on people that ask a whole lot of questions?
Tanner: Yes, there is an intimidation factor. If you’re a Mormon, you accept the prophet as God’s spokesman. If you ask a question about any of the references, there’s a basic implication that you don’t trust his word, and so there is a sort of “guilt trip” put on you. “Do you feel you’re smarter than the prophet? Are you more holy? Do you have more wisdom or insight? Do you think you know more about this than the prophet? If the prophet said that, it ought to be sufficient.”
Ankerberg: So you were defending Mormonism to your mother and then her questions…
Tanner: But, going to the Church on the side and say “What do I say to this woman?” And they say, “Pray about it.” And I was praying, but it still wasn’t resolving the specific issues. And it was at this time that I met Jerald, and Jerald and I started dating. Jerald, at this point, had left Mormonism. He was born and raised in it also. He has left Mormonism and has started studying the different Mormon books, the history and the changes. And he challenged me. He said, “Sandra, it’s not like they told you in Sunday School, and I can prove it to you.” He said, “Here is a photograph of the first printing of Joseph Smith’s revelations. All you have to do is lay it down to the side of the current Doctrine and Covenants and you can see that they don’t read the same.”
So I did. I sat down and literally read through the entire first printing of Joseph Smith’s revelations, which is called the Book of Commandments. It was printed in 1833. And I read through that entire book, paralleled it to the side of Doctrine and Covenants, and marked all the changes. By the time I got done comparing all the changes made in the revelations, I thought, “This can’t be God. The Creator of the universe, surely would be able to something right the first time. He wouldn’t have to go back and rewrite it all.”
Well, that was one of the problems I had. Then Jerald said, “Since you’re a descendant of Brigham Young”—and I really had a big head over this—he said, “Have you read any of Brigham Young’s sermons?” And I said, “No.” Well, now this seemed pretty safe. I mean after all, how can you get into trouble reading Brigham Young’s sermons? So, I didn’t know he was setting me up. He said, “If I bring over some of Brigham Young’s sermons, will you read them?” I said, “Sure.”
Ankerberg: Now, we have to refresh people’s memory. Who was Brigham Young?
Tanner: The second President of the Mormon Church; their second prophet, Joseph Smith’s successor.
Ankerberg: Okay, and when he spoke, that is what?
Tanner: Yes. Brigham Young said that he, when he sent a sermon out to the world, you could consider it scripture.
Ankerberg: So that’s the very words of God that people need to know about.
Tanner: Right. In the Mormon Sunday School manual today it says that God will never allow the living prophet to lead the saints astray. He’ll never let him teach false doctrine.
Ankerberg: So that’s how you approached it.
Tanner: So that’s the concept, that’s how I looked at this. So Jerald comes over with several volumes of the Journal of Discourses. Now, this is a 26-volume set of books that records the early sermons of the pioneer Mormon leadership, Brigham Young and the few presidents after him. And in these volumes were all sorts of doctrines I had never heard before. There was Adam-God doctrine, where Brigham Young said that Jesus’ father was Adam not Elohim; that Elohim was an overseer God; and that he sent Adam to be the God for this world; and Adam literally came to Mary to procreate Jesus. That’s a whole new thing to me. I’ve never heard Adam-God doctrine. It wasn’t just one sermon. There were many on this. There were other concepts in there; for example, blood atonement.
Ankerberg: Was he the first one to introduce that, by the way?
Tanner: Well, he was the first one to introduce it in print. He said he learned it from Joseph Smith, but if he did, the documents haven’t survived on it. But he was the first one to publish it, print it.
Ankerberg: And what Joseph Smith said in print contradicted what Brigham Young had in print.
Tanner: Right. Because Joseph Smith said that Elohim was the Father of Jesus, and now Brigham Young was stepping it down a step. He’s saying that Adam is the father of Jesus.
Ankerberg: So you had a contradiction right off the bat. What else?
Tanner: So, in the sermons of Brigham Young, there is one called “Blood Atonement.” And this is the concept that, if you committed certain sins after you went through the Temple, you could forfeit your place in the top Mormon Heaven unless you personally atoned for it by the shedding of your own blood. So that, if you went through the Temple, after that committed adultery, that in order to have forgiveness, to still go to the Mormon’s highest Heaven, you personally had to shed your blood to gain forgiveness. You had your own neck slit so that your blood would be shed as an atonement. This absolutely floored me. I had never heard such doctrines. They don’t say it that way today, but that’s what was being taught by Brigham Young—sermon after sermon after sermon on blood atonement.
Ankerberg: What did the Mormon Church say about those sermons of their prophet many years ago?
Tanner: They try to excuse it by saying he was merely talking about capital punishment. It was capital punishment, but it went to quite a long list of crimes. It wasn’t just for murder. You could get blood atoned for committing adultery, for marrying a black, for stealing, for lying. There were a whole host of things you get blood atoned for. Now, fortunately, the Mormon people didn’t always take his sermons that seriously, so not very many people were blood atoned, but I can document instances of people who were.
So as I studied Mormon history, Mormon doctrine, as I compared it to the Bible, as I compared it to the Book of Mormon, I realized this was all different than I had ever been taught. And in the process of studying the Bible, I started to realize that what God was saying there was very different from what I heard in Mormonism. When I read in 1 John where it says that “We love him, because he first loved us,” [1 John 4:19] and I started to comprehend God’s love was coming out to me as sinner, not me a God in embryo. But I didn’t have any claim on God’s forgiveness, any claim on God’s love. I wasn’t anyone. I couldn’t stand up to God and say, “Hey, look, I’m really somebody; someday I’m going to be a Goddess.” And I saw that what the Bible was saying about me was that I was a lost sinner, that I have no hope in myself. I had to turn myself over to Christ for total salvation; not just to get in the gate, but total salvation was through faith in Christ.
Ankerberg: Then one day you did that?
Tanner: Yes. One day I listened to a Christian radio program where they were speaking on the love of God, showing that man had no claim on that love. It was a free gift. In spite of my sin, God still loved me and offered me this free gift, if I would just accept it. And as I listened to that radio station and to that program, I gave my heart to the Lord.
Ankerberg: Okay, you invited the Lord into your life. What happened with your parents?
Tanner: My family was very upset with this decision. I think they were more upset with me becoming a Christian than leaving Mormonism. That was the big offense. My mother has already been questioning Mormonism.
Ankerberg: Because Mormons look at the Christian church as what?
Tanner: As in total apostasy.
Ankerberg: Total apostasy. Every Christian church in existence is apostate.
Tanner: Right. But one of the real objections my family had was this idea of saying that I was lost and needed to be saved. That was a real offense. To a Mormon, no one is really lost and needing to be saved; so by implication, if I said that I was lost and needed Christ as Savior, then wasn’t I also saying that they were lost and needed Christ as Savior? And I had different ones in my family say to me, “I sin, but I’m not a sinner.” And to them, they didn’t like the implication that there was something basically wrong with them. You know, they just fudged a little here and there, but they weren’t really bad. And that’s where the whole problem comes in in trying to witness to your Mormon friend. They don’t see themselves as really needing God’s total forgiveness.
Ankerberg: But you were still concerned about your Mom, and you started to write some of the information down so that you could persuade your Mother that the historical information, the doctrinal information in the Mormon Scriptures was wrong. And, would you hold up that book? [Mormonism–Shadow or Reality?]
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: Talk about a daughter writing her mother a letter.
Tanner: Jerald and I both had Mormon family that still believed very strongly in Mormonism. We still do. Jerald has family and I have family that still are extremely active in Mormonism. When we left, they said. “Why in the world would you two young people leave Mormonism?” And so we wrote up some of our reasons, not this at first, but just mimeographed off little pages, and gave it to everyone we knew. When I left the Church, I sent a mimeographed set of information to everyone in my Ward, every Mormon I knew, and everyone in my family. And it didn’t convert them all. In fact, it made them all very mad and I got a lot of hate letters.
Ankerberg: What is that that you’re holding?
Tanner: That is a book that represents all of our research that we have done for the past 22 years.
Ankerberg: And in there you’ve got what?
Tanner: In here I’ve documented all the things we’ve been talking about on these different programs. This gives you all of these problems of Mormonism and their references.
Ankerberg: And how many pages is that book?
Tanner: It’s almost 600 pages.
Ankerberg: And you wrote that for your mother so she would know the truth.
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: And it’s also available to anybody that wants to look at it.
Tanner: Right.
Ankerberg: Alright. Next week we’re going to talk about such things as Mormon doctrine concerning the black people. We’re going to talk about the Mormon doctrine concerning women and their place. Can a woman, by herself, not being married, become God? If she is married, and she does become God, what does she do as Mother God? I want hear some of those things that you found out in your research. And we’ll look into it next week.

Read Part 4


  1. […] Read Part 3 […]

Leave a Comment