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What to say to Mormons at the door

Rich Kelsey


LDS Elder



This article contains responses from LDS Missionaries who knocked on my door and helped participate in this treatise. More visits with the Missionaries are documented in the article: Ask a Mormon: Cognitive Dissonance and the LDS Faith. The final visit with LDS Elders is documented in the work entitled: Preach My Gospel — A Guide for Missionary Service.



World-wide, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has well over 50,000 young men and women out knocking on doors. So, the odds are good that someday we'll encounter Mormons at our doors. This guide is just for those occasions: It provides questions to ask the missionaries and includes answers to better inform them of the unique history associated with the organization they represent.


Seeing that the history covered in this guide is easily available from the LDS Church's own records, one would would think that LDS missionaries would already know about this history? However, in most cases, they do not! So, be prepared to take the missionaries on an adventure they have probably never experienced before: In search of forgotten details from their Church's own archives.       



Mormons at the door:

(Elders) Hello, we are with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

(Researcher) Great! Are you up for reading some LDS literature and talking about Mormonism?

(Elders) Yes!

(Researcher) Good, let's begin by looking into one of Mormonism's greatest riddles.



(Researcher) About 1833, an associate of Joseph Smith’s: W.W. Phelps, speculated that the interpreters which Joseph Smith claimed he obtained along with the golden plates might be the Urim and Thummim from the Old Testament:


“The book of Mormon… was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles-(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)” (The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1 p. 57, Jan. 1833)


(Researcher) From that point on, the words Urim and Thummim were written into foundational Church History.


(Researcher) Here is an example:

BOC 9:1, p. 22 — Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up so many writings, which you had power to translate, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them, and you also lost your gift at the same time…                                    
       [Harmony, Pennsylvania May 1829]

[See actual photo]

D&C 10:1 — Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings, which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them…                      
(v.2) And you also lost your gift at the same time…


The above words in the Book of Commandments 9:1 were claimed to be what God originally said to Joseph Smith. Notice how God's words were changed. This is an example of Joseph Smith and his associates re-writing LDS Church history and then backdating it in succeeding publications.


(Researcher) Also:

"... when Joseph Smith showed a seer stone to Wilford Woodruff in late 1841, Woodruff recorded in his journal: 'I had the privilege of seeing for the first time in my day the URIM & THUMMIM.'" (Wilford Woodruff journal, Dec. 27, 1841, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

(Researcher) Notice how in the above quote,

 "a seer stone"

Joseph possessed, is now claimed to be,


(Researcher) To better understand this mystery let's look into an Ensign quote on this subject.

(Elders) Sigh.



[Ensign Magazine, Sept. 1977]


“By the Gift and Power of God”






The person who best reflects Martin Harris is probably Edward Stevenson, since he spent nearly two months with the Witness after going to Ohio to escort him back to Utah in 1870. On the means of translation Stevenson reported, “He said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone.

After Martin Harris lost the part of the translation done in 1828, Oliver Cowdery became chief scribe for the entire Book of Mormon as it is now printed. Toward the end of this new work of 1829, David Whitmer on occasion watched and afterwards spoke of the seer stone.





(Researcher) That Ensign quote spelled out:

"... the Prophet possessed a seer stone..."


(Researcher) Do either of you know what a seer stone is?

(Elders) No.

(Researcher) Ok, back in Joseph Smith's day a seer stone was much like a crystal ball, yet instead of calling the man who gazed into it a "Wizard" he was called a "Seer." A "Seer" would usually place a special stone in a hat, then place his face firmly in the hat's brim to exclude any light. Then, the "Seer" could supposedly see the spiritual light coming from the stone. "Seers" in Smith's day were known to claim they could see anything they wished to see by means of the stone; even up to 50 feet below the surface of the earth in search of buried treasure. 

(Researcher) What would you think about someone who claimed they could see treasure underground by looking into a hat with a stone in it?

(Elders) Visibly disturbed look on their faces.

(Researcher) The following quote from LDS.org speaks of Joseph Smith using a seer stone to look for buried treasure:




[LDS.org retrieved July 2014]


Book of Mormon Translation




As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.20



20. Mark Ashurst-McGee, “A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet,” (Master's Thesis, Utah State University, 2000).




(Researcher) We have already documented accounts of Joseph Smith receiving revelations found in the Book of Comandments/Doctrine and Covenants, and, translating the Book of Mormon by using a seer stone; now, let's look into an account of him using the stone to look for buried treasure:  


"In November 1825, Joseph and his father worked briefly with a man named Josiah Stowell of South Bainbridge (Afton), New York, who believed a Spanish treasure was located in Harmony, Pennsylvania, near the Susquehanna River." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, "History of the Church: c. 1820-1831, Background, Founding, New York Period Author: BUSHMAN, RICHARD L. Copyright © 1992 Brigham Young University")


Also:  John S. Reed, Smith's legal counsel during his 1830 trials, remembered that Smith had been arrested,


"for the crime of glass looking …" (John S. Reed to Brigham Young, 6 December 1861, p. 1, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT).


(Researcher) The glass referred to in the above quote is a reference to one of Smith's seer stones.


(Researcher) The following quote provides more details on the 1826 Trial:




[Ensign Magazine, June 1994]


Highlights in the Prophet's Life





A time line of some key events in the life and ministry of Joseph Smith



Mar. 1826: Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith.2






(Researcher) In New York, if someone was charging people money to see underground for them in search of buried treasure, they could be brought to court for it. That is why Joseph Smith was brought to court in March 1826 for using a seer stone to see underground.


(Researcher) The last few quotes mentioned a man named Josiah Stowell; have you ever heard of Josiah Stowell?


(Elders) No.


(Researcher) Josiah Stowell was at the Smith family home on September 22nd 1827, the day Joseph claimed that he obtained the golden plates; and, he was certainly one of the most important people in Joseph Smith's life during Mormonism's foundational years:


Stowell, Josiah Sr.
... Hired JS to dig for Spanish silver in Harmony (later in Oakland), Susquehanna Co., Pennsylvania, 1825...
Witness for JS’s defense at court proceedings in South Bainbridge (later Afton), Chenango Co., 1826, 1830... Present at Smith home in Manchester, Ontario Co., New York, when JS arrived with gold plates, 1827... Baptized into LDS church, ca. 1830..." (Joseph Smith Papers)


(Researcher) It was Josiah Stowell who testified as a witness for the defense in Joseph Smith's 1826 trial.


(Researcher) So, let's hear what Mr. Stowell had to say in court:


"'that he positively knew that the prisoner [Joseph Smith] could tell and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.'" (Gordon A. Madsen, “Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting,” Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1990, p. 105)


(Researcher) Obviously, Mr. Stowell had implicit faith that Joseph Smith (through the medium of said stone) saw a chest full of valuable treasures on his property.


(Researcher) Yet, Stowell's confidence in Joseph Smith doesn't make what Stowell


"positively knew"




(Researcher) In this day and age, someone telling that to a judge would seem pretty gullible wouldn't they? 


(Elders) Laughing / rolling their eyes


(Researcher) Ok. Have you ever heard of a man named Joseph Knight?


(Elders) No.


(Researcher) The next quote mentions Joseph Knight:




[Ensign Magazine, July 1986]


The  Knights  and  the

Trial of Joseph Smith







"[Joseph Knight, Sr.] was fascinated by what he had heard about an ancient record being buried in the hillside, and Mr. Knight, Sr., even drove his carriage up to Manchester, New York, to visit the Smith home for several days at the time in 1827 when Joseph Smith had told him he expected to receive the gold plates. Joseph and Emma Smith borrowed the carriage of Joseph Knight, Sr., to go to the Hill Cumorah to receive the gold plates."






(Researcher) The reason I brought up Joseph Knight is because he wrote a history about Joseph Smith in which he spelled out:


"... Then he [Joseph Smith] looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale ..." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, Located in the Church Archives, and also @ BYU Studies)


(Researcher) The time frame is 1826, one year before Joseph claimed he obtained the golden plates; and, the reason Smith looked in his glass (seer stone) was to see who the right person was to bring with him to get the plates.


(Researcher) As mentioned earlier, as far as the story goes, a "Seer" could see anything he wished to see, using the stone.


(Researcher) For example: In Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial the stone was described as,


"an All-Seeing-Eye."* quoted in (Joseph Smith and the 1826 Trial... Marvin S. Hill, BYU Studies)


(Elders) Rolling their eyes


(Researcher) Ok. Would you agree that seeking after, understanding, and defending the truth is a noble cause?  


(Elders) Yes.


(Researcher) Good; because, that is what our next lesson is about:


FHE Lesson One: Am I a Seeker of Truth? (on the 1826 Glass Looking)