"In February 2012, Jeremy experienced a crisis of faith, which subsequently led to a faith transition in the summer of 2012. In the spring of 2013, Jeremy was approached and asked by a CES Director to share his concerns and questions about the LDS Church's origins, history, and current practices. In response, Jeremy wrote what later became publicly known as Letter to a CES Director."
Although the letter was originally written in 2013, the controversies it spawned continue. I've seen discussions about it as recent as within the last month. Often when I speak, people ask what I think because they know someone who has been influenced by the letter.
In my view, it's not the CES letter that is the problem. Runnells raises good questions that I think many people have, whether they are active LDS, inactive LDS, former LDS, or never LDS (whether they are investigators or antagonistic to the Church).
The problem is the responses given by LDS apologists.
The responses are unsatisfactory for many--including me--because they focus on the Mesoamerican setting and some of the traditional interpretations of Church history that are based on historical mistakes.
The CES letter is a fairly comprehensive list of common objections to LDS claims about Church history, the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and various doctrines. Runnells is using it as a fundraiser at this point, but that's irrelevant to the merits of the questions he raises.
There have been many responses to the CES letter. Here is a compilation of some:
Two of the most prominent responses were provided by FairMormon and Dan Peterson. Runnells has addressed them here and here, respectively. I think Runnells has done a good job sorting through the sophistry of the citation cartel, but the gist of his objections is this: he raises subjective expectations and then is disappointed when reality doesn't meet his expectations. I think his conclusions are understandable given his assumptions and expectations, and those assumptions and expectations are themselves understandable given what he's been taught, but because what he has been taught is driven by Mesomania and related interpretations of Church history, the questions he raises have answers that have not been provided yet, so far as I can determine.
Readers of this blog know that I think FairMormon and the rest of the citation cartel are ineffective because of their obsession with the Mesoamerican setting (which I call Mesomania). Mesomania leads them to embrace and promote the two-Cumorahs theory, to distort the text of the Book of Mormon, to repudiate Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and to provide interpretations of Church history designed to justify their Mesomania that have the perverse effect of creating doubt out of what should be faith-sustaining statements and events. In each case, Mesomania undermines faith, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.
I don't know how much interest there really is in yet another analysis of the CES letter. Those who are familiar with the issues, however, will understand the significance of a few of the main points I've been addressing on this blog and in my books. I'll list them here. If people ask for more detail, I'll address these points in future posts as time permits.
1. There is only one Cumorah and it really is in New York.
2. There were two departments in the hill Cumorah. One contained the stone and cement box that Moroni prepared for the plates and the breastplate. The other contained Mormon's repository of Nephite records.
3. In North America, right where Joseph indicated, there is abundant evidence of civilizations that match the text of the Book of Mormon, and the text itself describes the North American setting.
4. Joseph translated two separate sets of plates. The plates he originally obtained from Moroni he translated in Harmony. The plates he translated in Fayette came from the repository in Cumorah. He actually translated the plates; they were not merely a talisman as some scholars claim today. (Related to this, he may have referred to the Bible in Fayette when he translated the Isaiah passages on the Fayette plates.)
5. Joseph never once linked the Book of Mormon to Central or South America.
6. Joseph was merely the nominal editor of the 1842 Times and Seasons and numerous articles have been incorrectly attributed to him.
7. The Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories were based on a mistake in Church history.