Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormon America: The Power and the Promise/Quote mining

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Quote mining, misrepresentation and manipulation in Mormon America: The Power and the Promise

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, a work by author: Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling

Many critics who write about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not content to portray the Church and its doctrines fairly. Some critics mine their sources by extracting quotes from their context in order to make the statement imply something other that what it was originally intended to mean. Other critics make statements that are self-contradictions—instances in which a critic says or writes one thing, and then makes another statement elsewhere that flatly contradicts their first statement.

These examples do not prove that these critics' arguments are without merit; they do suggest caution is warranted before accepting these authors or their works as reliable witnesses when they speak of their own experiences connected with "Mormonism." In particular, one should also be cautious about accepting their interpretation of primary sources without double-checking the original sources themselves.


The authors make the following claim,

Smith knew that someone from the Council of Fifty, despite the secrecy oaths, had betrayed him by giving information to Foster and Law, According to Quinn, "He could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism's earthly king." But Joseph, as mayor of Nauvoo, declared action was essential because the Expositor faction would "destroy the peace of the city" and foment a "mob spirit." With the backing of his Council, Smith ordered that the new press be smashed and all possible copies of the press run destroyed. (emphasis added)

Author's source(s)

  • D. Michael Quinn


  • The way that the paragraph is constructed, it is clear that the authors wish the reader to believe that the Council of Fifty was backing Joseph in the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor.
  • It was the Nauvoo city council that ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, not the Council of Fifty. Note how the authors have capitalized the word "Council," which, when read with the preceding reference to the "Council of Fifty," makes it appear as if the "secret" Council of Fifty was behind the destruction of the Expositor. The correct information is buried in an unreferenced endnote on page 402, which states "Nauvoo city council activities related to the Expositor" were taken from D. Michael Quinn's The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power. One wonders why the authors chose not to clarify this information in the main body of the text. The endnote shows that the authors knew that this was the city council. Instead, the author's decided to throw in Quinn's own speculation and then constructed the paragraph in a way which made the matter appear much more sinister.


The authors speculate on where Joseph got his information to create the Book of Mormon, and betray an unfamiliarity with the sources they cite:

One book Joseph Smith likely knew was Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, published in Vermont in 1825 and containing considerable material on the subject, as well as a description of ancient Central American Indian ruins.


  • The authors were not very careful in their research. Ethan Smith's book describes artifacts (not cities) found in North America, not Central America.
  • Joseph first learned of Central American ruins in 1841 when John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan was published, over 16 years after Ethan Smith's book was published.


The authors state,

Smith left his financially troubled church for Salem, Massachusetts, at summer's end in 1836, hoping one last time that the use of his seer stone might produce treasure that he had been told lay under a house (D&C 111). The seer stone failed again, and his money-digging was no more successful than before. (emphasis added)


  • The D&C makes no mention of the use of a seer stone. None of the published accounts of this story mention the use of a seer stone. That doesn't mean that Joseph didn't use one, but the sources do not support the claim being made by the authors.
  • The authors outdo themselves this time by showing their willingness to synthesize and fabricate new elements for this story. Note that they provide D&C 111 as a reference, which describes the Salem "treasure hunting" trip. When one reads DC 111:, it is plain to see that this section does not mention the use of a seer stone. By 1836, Joseph had not used a seer stone for years, having given his stone to Oliver Cowdery soon after translation of the Book of Mormon was completed.
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Seer stones
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Money digging/"Treasure hunting" trip to Salem


The author(s) of Check link make(s) the following claim:

The authors state that, "[Joseph's] youngest bride, in some ways typical, was fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball." (emphasis added)

FairMormon Response

  • The most conservative estimates indicate that Joseph entered into plural marriages with 29–33 women, 7 of whom were under the age of 18. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of LDS apostle Heber C. Kimball, who was 14. The rest were 16 (two) or 17 (three). One wife (Maria Winchester) about which virtually nothing is known, was either 14 or 15.




The authors claim that,

[Helen's] own writings and other evidence indicate that she felt rebellious at times, and that it was possible she had not grasped before the ceremony that the marriage in time would eventually have a sexual component. (emphasis added)

Author's source(s)


  • The prophet's marriage to [Helen] seems to have been largely dynastic—a union arranged by Joseph and Heber to seal the Kimball family to a seer, church president, and presiding patriarchal figure at the dispensation of the fullness of times.
  • So apparently Helen had expected her marriage to Joseph to be for eternity only, then discovered that it included time also.
  • [Helen] was apparently coming to realize that her secret marriage to Joseph entailed time as well as eternity.
  • The authors speculate that the marriage to Helen Mar Kimball was "in some ways typical," although they do not clarify this statement.
  • The authors take speculative statements from their source (note Compton's use of the word "apparently" in each case) and extrapolate them even further by adding the term "sexual component." Note that the source never mentions a "sexual component," and that the authors interpret this data in ways that the source never intended. Todd Compton said the following when Jerald and Sandra Tanner attempted to use his material to "prove" that sexual relations were involved:
The Tanners made great mileage out of Joseph Smith's marriage to his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball. However, they failed to mention that I wrote that there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. (p. 638) All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage.[1]


The author(s) of Check link make(s) the following claim:

The authors state: "The same process of apostasy was repeated among the believers in the New World who were visited by the Mormon Jesus." (emphasis added)

FairMormon Response

  • The term "Mormon Jesus," as used by the authors here, came from somewhere. A search of the endnotes for Chapter 19 did not turn up any references to The God Makers...yet it was this film, well known to Evangelical Christians, that promoted the term "the Mormon Jesus." This pejorative term is used by evangelicals to distinguish the "Mormon Jesus" from the "true Jesus" in order to support the claim that Latter-day Saints are not "Christians." Its use by the authors in the main text of their narrative is simply insulting to Latter-day Saints.
  • Consider this excerpt from the 1982 anti-Mormon film The God Makers:

"Mormon apostle Orson Pratt taught that after Jesus Christ grew to manhood, he took at least three wives: Mary, Martha and Mary Magdeline. Through these wives the Mormon Jesus, through whom Joseph Smith claimed direct descent, supposedly fathered a number of children before he was crucified. According to the Book of Mormon, after his resurrection, Jesus came to the Americas to preach to the Indians, who the Mormons believe are really Israelites. Thus, the Jesus of Mormonism established his church in the Americas as he had in Palestine."


  • Source not provided by the authors.



The authors state,

Evidence of Smith family magic activities too well documented for Mormons to deny: Richard L. Bushman, "Treasure-seeking Then and Now," Sunstone, II, no. 5 (1987): 5.

Author's source(s)

  • Richard L. Bushman, "Treasure-seeking Then and Now," Sunstone, II, no. 5 (1987): 5


  • Richard L. Bushman, of course, is a believing and active Latter-day Saint scholar. Bushman has never indicated that "Smith family magic activities" are "too well document for Mormons to deny."
  • The authors' mask of alleged impartiality and objectiveness slips as they flatly imply in the endnotes that the Church would attempt to hide any evidence of magical activity on the part of the Smith family unless forced to acknowledge it. They then have the gall to support their claim by using the published work of one of the most well-known, active LDS scholars. Attempting to promote their bias in the endnotes is apparently acceptable journalistic practice.

Reviews of this work

  • Louis Midgley, "Faulty Topography (Review of: Mormon America: The Power and the Promise / And the Saints Go Marching On)," FARMS Review of Books 14/1 (2002): 139–192. off-site
  • Raymond Takashi Swenson, "Faith without Caricature? (Review of: Mormon America: The Power and the Promise)," FARMS Review of Books 14/1 (2002): 65–77. off-site


  1. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date.