Submitted to The Examiner
We have two new local authors; both writing about the Book of Mormon that was authored by Joseph Smith, Jr. and published in 1835. One has the title "The Book of Mormon's WITNESS to Its First Readers," written by Dale E. Luffman, a recently retired Apostle in the Community of Christ Church. The other book, "Millions Call It Scripture - The Book of Mormon in the 21st Century," is by Alan D. Tyree, former member of the Church's First Presidency.
Both books were published by the Community of Christ Seminary Press that describes its focus to be on “writings that encourage creative thinking and inquiry in the tradition of academic freedom.” Both books fulfill the publisher's stated goal even though they are, strictly speaking, in the apologetic genre. The books remind me of a conversation I had many years ago with the grandson of James Fenimore Cooper, author of the popular book of fiction The Last of the Mohicans published in 1826. He said that a group of women (and nothing sexist is meant or implied by the use of the word “women”) became so fascinated with his grandfather's book that they formed a club and made a pact that they would re-read the book annually and then meet to discuss what they felt were its words of inspiration and wisdom. In other words, to those women the book had morphed into the realm of scripture. In a similar manner both of our new local authors have come to the same logical conclusion, namely, that if any group of people agree that a particular piece of writing is inspired it can easily become “scripture,” at least to that specific group of people. Both books shy away from any serious exploration regarding the numerous internal and historical weaknesses of the Book of Mormon, but both authors are equally very honest in accepting that such empirical and theological problems do exist. Mr. Tyree simply shrugs off such problems by claiming they do not diminish its scriptural quality [p. 81]. In a similar manner Mr. Luffman asks the reader to accept the words of the book at face value and not to be overly concerned with the religious revivalism, folk religion, folklore, and magic that significantly touched the Smith family in the early 1920s [p. 77]. It is quite likely that the religious conclusions shared by these two authors will help direct the views of the Community of Christ's views about the Book of Mormon for years into the future. These views will be more attractive to the more fundamentalist wing of the Community of Christ, i.e. those who have chafed under the liberal or progressive actions of the church in recent years such as ordaining women to the priesthood, open communion, etc. On the other hand these same views may well be interpreted as a theological step backward by those who feel “benign neglect” would have been the preferred route with regard to the Book of Mormon's use as scripture. Be that as it may, it appears that the vast majority of the Community of Christ's members share and support freedom of thought concerning the Book of Mormon and feel comfortable in belonging to a faith that is intellectually, and theologically, big enough to welcome and embrace both conservatives and liberals within its fellowship.