Mormonism “fell a heap of ruins.”

Stephen Burnett became a Mormon in November of 1830. In 1831 he was ordained to the office of High Priest, and in 1832 he became a Mormon missionary. He was a faithful Mormon for many years, but what he witnessed in Kirtland, Ohio, did in his faith. Historian Dan Vogel explains, “By late 1837 [Burnett] had become disillusioned with church leaders, and by 1838 had publicly denounced Joseph Smith.”

Joseph Smith responded to Burnett’s disaffection by stating that Burnett was only concerned for his money. According to Smith, Burnett justified his lack of financial support for the Church when he “proclaimed all revelation lies.”

Certainly Stephen Burnett’s disillusionment with Mormon Church leadership cannot be entirely divorced from financial issues. Kirtland, Ohio, like the rest of the United States, had experienced grave financial difficulties beginning in 1836. But one thing that set the 1837 failure of the (Mormon) Kirtland Safety Society apart from other bank failures of the time was that Mormons understood the Kirtland “bank” to have been established according to revelation. Many Mormons left the Church following the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society. Yet, according to Stephen Burnett, this was not the final straw for him.

On April 15, 1838 Burnett wrote a letter to explain why he decided to leave the Church.  The letter was addressed to Lyman E. Johnson, a man Burnett thought was one of the Twelve Apostles. Johnson had actually been excommunicated two days before this, but the news had not yet reached Stephen Burnett. The text that follows is taken from Burnett’s letter.

Br[other]. Johnson — …my heart is sickened within me when I reflect upon the manner in which we with many of this Church have been led & the losses which we have sustained all by means of two men in whom we placed implicit confidence, that Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon are notorious liars I do not hesitate to affirm, & can prove by a cloud of witnesses… I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it – loth to give it up – but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver [Cowdery] nor David [Whitmer] & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire structure fell a heap of ruins, I therefore three week[s] since in the Stone Chapel gave a full history of the church since I became acquainted with it, the false preaching & prophecying etc of Joseph [Smith] together with the reasons why I took the course which I was resolved to do, and renounced the Book of Mormon with the whole scene of lying and deception…believing as I verily do, that it is all a wicked deception palmed upon us unawares[.]

…after we were done speaking M[artin] Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain… I am well satisfied for myself that if the witnesses whose names are attached to the Book of Mormon never saw the plates as Martin H[arris] admits that there can be nothing brought to prove that any such thing ever existed for it is said on the 171 page of the book of covenants [D&C 17:5] that the three [witnesses] should testify that they had seen the plates even as J[oseph] S[mith] Jr & if they saw them spiritually or in vision with their eyes shut – J[oseph] S[mith] Jr never saw them any other way & if so the plates were only visionary and I am well satisfied that the 29 & 37 Chap[ter]s of Isai[a]h & Ezekiel together with others in which we depended to prove the truth of the book of Mormon have no bearing when correctly understood but are entirely irrelevant…  (Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, Volume 2, 290-293)

Stephen Burnett wanted to believe. He stuck with the Prophet — and the Church – believing (and doing) what he was told. But when he discovered that:

  • The Book of Mormon witnesses never actually saw the gold plates;
  • The witnesses’ signed testimonies did not mean what they said;
  • Certain Bible passages, when understood correctly, did not in any way “prove the truth of the book of Mormon”; and that
  • Even Joseph Smith, according to Mormon scripture, had not actually seen the gold plates;

The “last pedestal gave way” and the whole of Mormonism came crashing down. Stephen Burnett had the courage to be honest with himself. He “weighed the evidence for & against,” and though he did not want to give up his faith in Mormonism, he came to realize that a faith built on lies is worthless.

I don’t know if Stephen Burnett ever rested in the One worthy of unreserved trust, but perhaps, at some point, he found the hope expressed in a hymn penned right about the time his faith in Mormonism was crumbling.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Book of Mormon, Early Mormonism, Mormon Scripture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Mormonism “fell a heap of ruins.”

  1. falcon says:

    Excellent article Sharon.
    Over the years there have been a lot of layers piled on one another that often bury the actual facts of what took place within the history of the Mormon church.
    So I’m back to my same question, “Why do people believe and trust in this religion?” The only answers that seem suitable are 1) they don’t know the history and deception or 2) they know but dismiss the evidence.
    The “knowing and dismissing ones” to me are the most fascinating. There’s a deep desire within these folks to want to believe the story. There is an appeal, a feeling that’s generated that some people find very satisfying. The truth of it isn’t all that important as long as the dope can be consistently supplied which sustains the feeling.
    I’ve often talked here about the psychological trap known as “rescuing your equity”. It’s seen when people have made a sizable investment in a house that’s become a money pit, or an old car that needs just one more repair, or a relationship that has far out-grown its usefulness and is going no where but the person keeps hanging on hoping.
    Mormons have some emotional tricks that they play on themselves to reinforce that the Mormon church is true and thus mentally bury the evidence. The tricks vary from outright denial of the evidence to convincing themselves that the evidence really doesn’t mean what it, in actuality, does mean.
    In families where say the father has been sexually abusing one of the kids, it’s amazing in some cases that the rest of the family will turn on the abuse victim. The abuse victim becomes the problem.
    This is the way it works in Mormonism when someone leaves. The one leaving is the problem not the Mormon church.
    Hence Stephen Burnett the trouble maker!

  2. Mike R says:

    Because of the Kirkland Bank disaster maybe this is why it seems that a qualification to being
    a Mormon apostle nowadays is that one possess a business degree or something similar . Also,
    Mr. Burnett lost nothing in dismissing the Book of Mormon from his life , as the spiritual truths
    contained in the Bible , if embraced, can heal the conditions of the human heart , and also heal
    the home and indeed even our Country .

  3. Mike R says:

    Stephen Burnett became a Mormon missionary in 1832. I wonder what the gospel message
    he preached was ? Had he lingered on as a faithful missionary with his newly”restored”
    gospel he might have preached the different version of this gospel that later missionaries
    preached , as that version included a new gospel truth . If my memory is correct there were
    some missionaries that preached that version who reaped the fruit of their preaching ,
    namely new wives , as that new version included the doctrine of plural marriage ! Going on a missionary trip and gathering new or additional wives , and this activity supposedly directed
    by Jesus Himself as a part of His gospel ! After Jesus rose from the dead and empowered His
    apostles to spread the good news of how to be reconciled to God and receive eternal life these
    apostles spread that gospel, and unlike Mormon apostles , Jesus’ original apostles got His
    gospel right .

  4. fproy2222 says:

    I have only read reviews of your source book, and even BYU gave it a good rating. I just wonder if there are any original documents that I do not already have in my over 1000 book collection on the Church.

    Is there any comment by Dan Vogel on the sections you quoted?


    “Although not all the documents are complimentary of Joseph Smith, his mission, or his family, Vogel has made a noticeable attempt to produce a scholarly and unbiased work. Indeed, in several cases he rejects statements made by individuals and demonstrates their inaccuracy. A good example is the statement made by Daniel Woodward claiming that Joseph Smith Sr. had been involved in counterfeiting with a Jack Downing but had escaped punishment by turning state’s evidence. Vogel showed that a Joseph Smith of Royalton, rather than being a fellow conspirator, was listed as a victim of accepting counterfeit money from a Beniah Woodward, a relative of Daniel Woodward. Moreover, Vogel searched for a Jack Downing and was unable to find any mention of one in the Vermont Supreme Court records for Windsor County (625).”

  5. fproy2222 says:

    One thing I do know is that there are original documents that contradict each other. This is only natural and it is often hard to decide which version is the true version. For those who like to talk about court rooms, think about how often eye witnesses do not agree with each other.


  6. Dale says:

    Fred’s responses crack me up. When Mormons don’t know what to say they repeat lines like “this has all been proven false before.” They don’t know how, when, or who has proven it false though. They then repeat the same old lies/excuses that HAVE been proven false. It’s just sick.

    It’s really no different from Seventh Day Adventists who once though the world was ending on such and such date. This was clearly a false prophecy that didn’t come to pass, but when asked about it now, they say “the prophecy referred to an event in heaven.”

    To them, bringing up the false prophecy is just “repeating an old argument that’s been proven wrong.”

    I notice that Mormons are obsessed with websites that fosters open critiques of the church. Instead of avoiding them, like JWs would do, the LDS charge in and start making ridiculous claims and insist that everything that makes the church look bad has been proven wrong.

    It’s strange how ignorant some people remain when the facts are right in front of them. Joseph Smith’s claims simply don’t add up. It’s not hard folks. It’s really not.

  7. Rick B says:

    Fred said

    For those who like to talk about court rooms, think about how often eye witnesses do not agree with each other.

    Fred, What I’m about to say will come as no surprise to you and in your mind you know I am correct, yet you would never say so. But when people in court do not all agree 100 percent the story is more believable and likely to be believed rather than having all the witnesses agree and say the exact same thing. When all the witnesses say the same exact thing the story is more likely to be scripted and made up. So Fred, again you are wrong and have no clue about what your saying. Nice try though.

  8. fproy2222 says:

    (When all the witnesses say the same exact thing the story is more likely to be scripted and made up.)

    Yet ya’ll say that the First Vision is false because it does not do this. Make up your minds.

  9. falcon says:

    Great call out on the “this has all been proven false before” or some form of that slogan that Mormons use to make everything go away and be all better.
    The problem they have is that while these slogans and mottos work down at the wards as faith sustaining pablum, out here in the real world, that dog just won’t hunt.
    What’s that saying, people can have their own opinion but not their own facts.
    What has been pointed out in the article above is facts. What we Christians present here are facts. Mormons then have to scramble to come up with some explanation that says the facts really don’t mean what they in fact mean.
    The facts about the BoM, DNA evidence, Mormon false prophets including the Big Whopper himself Joseph Smith are available, straight forward and true. So what do Mormons say, “its all been dis proven by our leaders”. OK then provide the information we say. It just so much easier for Mormons to right a one line pseudo-defense that makes them feel better but doesn’t prove anything.
    I agree, what in the world are these amateur Mormon apologists doing on sites like this anyway? They just come across looking bad and end-up making our point for us. Is it any wonder that the Mormon church is hemorrhaging members on a daily basis?

  10. falcon says:

    I’ll say this for you, you’ve got the Mormon way of thinking down cold.
    What in the world does Joseph Smith’s continuously changing first vision stories have to do with what rick had to say? With Smith’s fantasy story of the first vision, we have one guy who was continuously embellishing his story. Leave it to a Mormon to come up with the “it’s the same as…….” explanation.
    I’ll I’ve got to say is that you must really, really want to believe Mormonism. Any explanation will do; any supposed application of one concept to something that isn’t even closely related is acceptable to keep the dream alive. It’s really childish!
    I’ll continue to pray for you because it’s plain that reasoned logic have no place in your life. This is indeed a spiritual barricade of monumental size.

  11. Rick B says:

    You keep telling us over and over and over, you spent years studying the truth and doing your own research. I for one do not believe you at all. The reason why I dont believe you is from your lack of knowledge on the Bible and not being able to give us any form of reply, other than, you guys are wrong and I’m right.

    My Pastor and asst Pastor are both Police chaplains. The Pastor has been a police Chaplin for almost 20 years. As a result many in our church have gotten to meet and work with the police on many things.

    The police have said that if 2 or more people are witness to a so called crime or accident or something and they are questioned, and their stories are 100 percent identical then it seems likely to be a made up planned story to cover their tracks.

    I for one have been questioned many times as a young kid by police. I believe the word the cops use when they feel some one made up a story is called collusion. The difference between this and JS is worlds apart and is not a matter of me needing to make up my mind.

    JS nine first visions span many years, have no people, just voices, Later one person, then later two people, Etc. These cannot all be correct.

    JS cannot say, I saw no one, only heard God speak, then later say, God appeared to me and told me…

    Then later say, both God and Jesus appeared to me and said…

    That is simply wrong and shows he has no clue what he is talking about.

    Sadly no mormon can seem to tell me which first vision is the correct one and why.

  12. fproy2222 says:

    Rick B, falcon;

    It would be nice if ya’ll would take off your blinders and use the same standard on Paul’s first vision as you use on Joseph Smith’s first vision. But you insist on two standards of proof, one for what you believe in, and one for what you do not want to believe in.

    Since Paul’s accounts differ, I would like to see you justify why you believe them, but remember, you must use the same standard when you test a fact you do not want to believe.

    Because you have never used the same standard here for the two I do not believe you can do it. Do you each want to try to prove me wrong?


  13. falcon says:

    I was thinking the same thing that you wrote about regarding fred’s claim of intense study and thus of great knowledge.
    How can anyone spend so much time, money (on resources) and effort and have so little to show for it?
    If someone actually did all that fred has claimed, he’d be gang busters out here with quotes and constructive counter arguments.
    Let’s face it, if someone really does study Mormonism, they don’t stay Mormons for long. The only way to study Mormonism and not conclude that it is fiction, is if the person is so enamored with the fantasy that they’ll accept any explanation, plausible or not.
    In the article above, the man came to a very swift and decisive conclusion when he found out what he did about Mormonism. He wasn’t so taken with Smith and his story that he would swallow any type of excuse masquerading as an explanation.

  14. Mike R says:

    Rick,Falcon, Fred asks you to prove him wrong on the above issue relating to Joseph
    Smith’s first vision. Why don’t you do like he has done when asked for evidence , namely,
    he just responds by saying you’re wrong and that you won’t look at any evidence because
    of your preconceived ideas etc. Fred needs the true Savior , not the Mormon savior, he needs
    the true gospel, not the Mormon gospel, and he needs to realize that the Mormon church and
    God’s church are not the same entity . Prayer for Fred is ongoing .

  15. Rick B says:

    Fred said

    Since Paul’s accounts differ, I would like to see you justify why you believe them, but remember, you must use the same standard when you test a fact you do not want to believe.

    Because you have never used the same standard here for the two I do not believe you can do it. Do you each want to try to prove me wrong?

    We have been over this already, under the topic, Are any non-Mormons Christian?
    You said to Falcon,

    why is Paul a true Prophet since his different accounts of his FirstVision are not the same, [just like JosephSmith’s FirstVision]?

    The Bible does not say Paul is a prophet, so that alone shows you dont know the Bible.

    Then under the same topic I said

    Fred, I’ll tell you something, You answer my two questions I asked you. First one is why you can say your Christian but I cannot be LDS if we supposedly believe the same thing.
    2. Why you take issue with Christians having denominations but not LDS having them.

    You answer in detail, not with vague reply’s then you tell me what exactly the problem is you have with Paul, give details of what bothers you, not simply say, it is a problem, then I will give you a detailed answer as to why the first 9 visions are a problem, but Paul’s vision is not a problem.

    But you must first answer me.

    You never did, you gave some vague reply that did not really answer me and then you said,

    Fred later said

    Rick B:
    I have no problem with Paul’s FirstVision; my problem is with the double standard you folks use to decide if you will accept someone as a Prophet of God.

    If you have no problem with Pauls vision, then I cannot (cont)

  16. Rick B says:

    I cannot help you. Also their is a huge difference between Pauls vision and JS vision.

    Pauls did not span 5-6 years, Paul did not give his account nine different times, every time it was different. That is not even close to what JS did or said.

    So when you answer me, I will then answer you, but until then, No dice.

  17. fproy2222 says:

    You differences between the two vision recounts is hogwash.


  18. Rick B says:

    Yet again Fred, your wisdom amuses me. All you can say is, I am wrong and provide zero evidence. Again, Typical Mormon.

  19. fproy2222 says:

    You should know that we Mormons consider Apostles to also be Prophets.

    Accept for the number of times we have Joseph Smith’s first vision recorded and the number of times we have Paul’s first vision recorded, you have not made a case. Both Prophets recounted different parts of their visions at different times. Your trying to say that this means they changed what they taught about their visions is poor logic on your part.


  20. Rick B says:

    Fred said

    Both Prophets recounted different parts of their visions at different times.

    You said it so back it up. Give me all the different times Paul gave his vision and all the differences he listed. I dont see it so do show me.

  21. fproy2222 says:

    Are you saying that you do not know this about your religion?


  22. Rick B says:

    Fred said

    Both Prophets recounted different parts of their visions at different times.

    Fred, JS gave nine, count them Nine different first vision accounts. Your Church stands in part on this vision being true, since if it is false, then so is your Church.

    Paul did not have 9 visions all contradicting one another and spanning many years. You said Both prophets, implying Paul was one of them. Then you said (Paul) recounted different parts of their (His) visions at different times.

    I’m saying He (Paul) only had one vision. If your saying he had more than one and gave different accounts of this vision, then you need to provide chapter and verse and back it up, since I’m saying it is not in the Bible.

  23. Kate says:

    You’re beating a dead horse to death. It’s obvious fred is clueless. I do give you credit for hanging in there with someone who has no idea what he is talking about. The problem is, Mormons twist the Bible however they need to, to make it fit what they want it to say. We could take any scripture in the Bible and tell a Mormon what it says and what it means but they most likely will revert back to the ol’ “as long as it is translated correctly” phrase of Mormonism. They use this phrase to dismiss any Christian teaching or doctrine they don’t agree with. As a Mormon, I never trusted anything in the Bible because I didn’t know which parts were correctly translated and which parts were not, so I just ditched it and stuck with the LDS scriptures. This translated correctly thing in Mormonism is the reason it’s so easy for Mormons to trash the Bible and everything contained in it.

  24. grindael says:

    This explains Paul’s vision very well.

    I would love to see Fred post something substantive that refutes it. There is really no comparison between Smith’s obvious clumsy elaborations of a claimed 1820 vision, and the accounts of Paul’s vision by Luke. Mormons continue to rely on the often inadequate KJV, when it can be shown in many instances to be problematic. _johnny

  25. grindael says:

    Actually, Smith was not recounting just a “part” of his claimed 1820 vision in 1832. He wrote in the introduction (which I have seen no Mormon apologists address):

    “A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Chist the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand…”

    The 1832 letterbook account claims right at the beginning that it is to be a “history of the life of Joseph Smith” of “all the mighty acts which he doeth” and an account of the “rise of the church”. Smith here, would not be giving just a “part” of the vision, or focusing on some point of it. It was meant as an historical account, like his 1838 version. But by 1838 Smith’s theology had changed, and he then believed that Jesus and the Father were SEPARATE persons, and thus had to change the account of the 1832 version of the claimed vision. FAIR tries to explain Smith’s MOTIVATION here:

    But fails to mention the opening paragraph (above) and then compare that to the 1838 opening sequence:

    “I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession.”

    These two accounts, along with the Wentworth Letter, were meant to be “histories”. They would be full accounts of the claimed vision. But as we know, between 1832 & 1838 Smith’s theology changed, and so did the accounts of this claimed vision. _johnny

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