2020 is the year of the Restoration in the sense of the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's first vision.
What will be the long-term impact of this momentous year? Will anyone outside currently active members of the Church care?
The answer will depend, to some degree, on what they learn about the Restoration.
One narrative is inspiring and has a long history of prophetic affirmations.
The other narrative is bizarre and academic in origins and nature.
Which do you think will be more persuasive and influential for people in the world?
The Restoration itself is a challenging concept for many people. It was unexpected by most of Christianity, but some people hoped and prayed for it. Some anticipated it. Most resisted and rejected it.
Joseph's explanation that the angel Moroni guided him to the plates, the breastplate and Urim and Thummim, is straightforward and clear. The Book of Mormon, as well as the Doctrine and Covenants and Joseph's own statements, corroborated by Oliver Cowdery's statements, are consistent.
They all affirm that Joseph Smith translated the engravings on the plates by the gift and power of God, using the Nephite interpreters Joseph and Oliver called the Urim and Thummim.
For many people, the existence of ancient gold plates is difficult to believe but not impossible. Joseph Smith translating an ancient text is difficult to believe, but not impossible, given his four years of preparation and training, plus the months he spent with the plates, copying and translating characters before Martin Harris arrived to work as a scribe.
Joseph and Oliver stuck with their account their entire lives. Their faithful contemporaries and successors repeatedly re-affirmed that narrative.
|Joseph Smith, not using|
the Urim and Thummim
Instead, he put a seer stone in a hat and read words that appeared. He didn't consult the plates, which sat under a cloth the whole time (if they were even in the room). He didn't use the Urim and Thummim.
The new narrative became popular quickly.
Except it's not a new narrative.
It's an old narrative, initially promoted by Joseph's fiercest opponents and, in more recent times, promoted by critics such as the CES Letter, the Tanners, and others.
Now, it's being taught throughout the Church. We see it in the Ensign, in Church media, lesson manuals, etc.
The new narrative is a direct conflict with what Joseph and Oliver taught. Some have tried to say that when Joseph and Oliver referred to the Urim and Thummim, they actually meant the seer stone.
But that idea contradicts the plain history.
The 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed described two narratives. In one, Joseph produced the seer stone by reading words that appeared on a stone in a hat. In the other, he used the Urim and Thummim, aka the spectacles or interpreters that came with the plates.
Joseph and Oliver repeatedly testified that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim. Never once did they state or imply that Joseph used a seer stone he found somewhere.
Put yourself in the position of a nonmember, or a member who questions his/her faith. Which one of the following scenarios is more believable?
It's pretty easy to compare the different approaches to Church history and Book of Mormon issues. The chart below offers some side-by-side comparisons.