Anti-Mormons: Threat or Menace?[1]
by Bryce Anderson
Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.
- George Orwell, 1984
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What is an "anti-Mormon?" Is it the website claiming to reveal the satanic overtones of the LDS temple ceremonies, and show how evil Mormons have infiltrated all levels of government and the media? What about the pastor who tries to demonstrate that LDS beliefs don't line up with his interpretation of God's Word? The historian whose research undermines current teachings about LDS history? Can a recommend-holding member be considered an "anti-Mormon?"

The way the term "anti-Mormon" is used by the vast majority of Mormons, it is little more than a misleading rhetorical device. The fact that the term can be applied to wide-eyed fanatics and somber historians alike should cause anyone to question its utility. To members of the faith, the words "anti-Mormon" are immediately associated with hatred, intellectual dishonesty, bigotry, and shoddy scholarship. In some cases, such an association is justified. But despite the excesses of such authors, it would be fallacious to take the worst as an accurate representation of the whole. Nevertheless, this is exactly what the term is meant to achieve. When used by most Mormon apologists, the term includes everything which might cast any part of the Church in a negative light. Once lumped together under one term, it is no longer necessary to judge individual arguments on their own merits.

"Anti-Mormon" has only negative connotations in LDS thought. Too often, "constructive criticism" and "loyal opposition" from believing members are seen by others within the faithful as attacks on the Church and its authority[2]. Similarly, valid historical research about the early years of Mormonism is dismissed without consideration.

The phrase "anti-Mormon" helps to propagate this mentality. By labeling any and all undesirable opinions or studies "anti-Mormon" or "faith destroying," users of these terms can effectively force unwary readers to immediately discard the material -- intellectually, if not physically.

Every debate has its "smear words." Pro-lifers call their opponents "baby-killers" and describe their ideology as the "pro-death movement." Far left environmentalists describe industrial activity as "the rape of Mother Earth." Such emotionally charged phrases do nothing but hinder anyone who really wants to understand the issues. "Anti-Mormon" carries subtler, but similar emotional baggage. The term has been used to describe the men who murdered hundreds of LDS faithful during the 1830s and '40s. It has described those who killed Joseph Smith. It has been used to describe the books of Ed Decker. In each case, such a description was justified; the behavior was born of unmitigated hatred for the LDS Church.

But the same term is then used to describe the works of D. Michael Quinn, a talented historian who still claims to have a testimony of Joseph Smith's divine mission. LDS apologists see Quinn's research, or any other research which doesn't support their sugar-coated historical legends, as a vicious personal attack. Research that might damage their testimony is more dangerous, in their worldview, than an attempt on their lives. Such a defensive posture only hinders a search for truth, and the unsavory connotations of the phrase "anti-Mormon" become the first line of that defense.[3]

The opposite of "anti-Mormon" would have to be "faith promoting," or "spiritual." These are also words which tend to elicit certain feelings and opinions from faithful members of the Church -- in this case, positive feelings. Too often, members will not care whether an anecdote, statistic, or doctrine is true, so long as it puts their own group in a good light or demonizes those they perceive as a threat.[4] Worse, strengthening testimonies can become more important than accepting facts. When this is the case, believers will never seek out disconfirming evidence, and ignore evidence which is presented to them. By the same token, many who feel hurt and betrayed by the Church will uncritically accept information which makes the Church look bad.[5] Whether "strengthening your testimony" or "reminding yourself that the Church is a fraud," no one is benefitted by false knowledge.

The phrase "anti-Mormon" should be strictly limited to persons or activities which promote violence against the Church or hatred of Mormons as a group. It should not apply to honest questioning of Church doctrines, valid research of LDS history (even that which displays a bias against the Church's historical claims), or publication of true facts which happen to make the Church look bad. Dropping the use of the phrase should lead to a substantial increase in the quality of debate between members of the LDS Church and its critics.


1) My inspiration for this article was a shorter, but similar article on Dr. Shades' Mormonism Page.

2) This is not just a popular opinion among the laity, but is often reinforced by spokesmen for the Church. ". . .[I]n the Lord's Church there is no such thing as a 'loyal opposition.' One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God's prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed." - M. Russell Ballard, October 1999 General Conference (November 1999 Ensign)

3) Nothing in this paragraph should be construed as an opinion, either pro-life or pro-choice, as an opinion on abortion. Instead, it should be seen as an example of two groups using terminology to win favor for a position.

4) Just one example: For a long time, a speaker named Floyd Weston was big on the fireside circuit. He would go from stake to stake talking about "The Seventeen Points." According to his own telling, he and five friends came up with these seventeen signs, which would indicate that a given church was the church that Jesus Christ intended. These friends went their separate ways after college, and when they met up years later, all but one had joined the LDS faith, using these points as a guide. The fifth would presumably have joined the Church as well, had he not been killed in WWII. The story appears to be essentially false. Nevertheless, the "Seventeen Points" are still widely circulated today.

5) Hint: The Church is not a major stockholder in Coca-Cola. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon about snakes building fences. The suicide rate in Utah, though above the national average, is not the highest. Much of the difference can be linked to easy access to firearms.


Copyright 2000
by Bryce Anderson