"I was seeing all these things where I was like 'Wow - what is the Nauvoo endowment doing in the Book of Mormon?' I had been convinced that Joseph Smith didn't know anything about the endowment until he became a freemason in 1842, instead I was seeing it all over the Book of Mormon. I was seeing it in accounts of Joseph Smith's first vision and acquiring his seer stone. I was seeing it in the accounts of the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon. My mind was kind of blown."

Come Back Podcast
Sharing stories of coming back to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If you have a story of coming back, email me at ashly.comebackpodcast@gmail.com.
Come Back Podcast on Stitcher
Sharing stories of coming back to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If you have a story of coming back, email me at ashly.comebackpodcast@gmail.com.
‎Come Back Podcast on Apple Podcasts
‎Religion & Spirituality · 2023


Ashly Stone


Well I'm just so over the moon to have you on the

podcast. I feel like I've just, I mean, I, when I first

started the podcast I found an article. I think it was

in like the "Salt Lake Tribune" and it was about you and

your story and then I listened to the podcast which I

think was on "Fair," and then I saw you on "Saints

Unscripted," and I was just like, wow, like, he's just so

awesome. And I know that a lot of things that you talked

about in those different episodes that you did are

similar things that people struggle with today. That's a

big, you know, thing that challenges their testimony,

and so, I would love for you to just kind of jump in and

tell us from the beginning your story and, you know

where you are, when you were a kid what your testimony

was like then all the way up to just the, the whole

thing. We'd love to hear it.



Okay. Cool, sure, I started out on the East Coast.

My parents were converts, so even though I do Mormon

history I don't have like a deep Mormon heritage, right,

pioneer heritage or anything like that, but I was from a

really devout family. I became, when I was 15, I became

very devout myself and so I started, it was partly a

result of seminary and the teacher telling us to like

set goals, and so I started setting spiritual goals so I

could grow more, learned I better keep my baptismal

covenant and so I was, I was pretty, maybe, precocious

teenager. I was like 15 then. That was wonderful. Then

within a couple years I had encountered things that

raised my first doubts. This kind of happened

accidentally, right. So, this local library when I was,

we lived in Utah at this time. The local library carried

all kinds of church-related books including like

critical things like Jerald and Sandra Tanner's

"Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?"  And I would sort of

steal glances at some of the stuff but I, I knew that it

was, you know, anti-Mormon, right, and so I had my guard

up when I was dealing with that stuff. Then I

encountered things that raised doubt in other ways. So

it was actually family home evening, and it wasn't

anything that -- wasn't anything in the lesson or

anything like that. My dad took us to Deseret Book in

Orem. He offered to let us each get any church book that

we wanted. This was our family home evening activity.

And so there in the general authority section between

Body K. Packer and Joseph Fielding Smith there was this

book by D.H. Roberts titled "Studies of the Book of

Mormon," and for people in the audience who may not be

familiar with this, or with the D.H. Roberts, D. H.

Roberts was a general authority. He was one of the

church's best scholars in the early 20th century he had

edited the history of the church, written the

comprehensive history of the church, written doctrinal

books, and so on. And so I knew of this guy, you know. He

had died back in the '30s, and before he died he had

written a manuscript of his studies of the Book of

Mormon, that it was actually trying to create sort of a

steel man version of the case against the book of

Mormon. So a sort of, or you could say like the devil's

advocate case against the book of Mormon in order to

inspire latter-day saint scholars to figure out these

issues better that he was raising. So for instance, he

raised the issue of how quickly would all the languages

among Native Americans have been able to evolve given

the linguistic diversity of them and so on and he was

comparing these things with the Book of Mormon and

concluding the Book of Mormon doesn't look ancient you

know based on these arguments and Joseph Smith maybe

could have written it. And so I was really shocked. Like

I said I was super devout and I had not had any

questions about the history of the Book of Mormon so

Nephi was just as real to me as George Washington.  You

know, I hadn't questioned the existence of the one

anymore than I had the other. This question then started

to open up everything. If maybe the Book of Mormon wasn't

true then you know what about Christ and the

resurrection. What about God and life after death?  I

came, sort of close to becoming agnostic at 17 but I,

I'd never, I didn't really at that point let's go of my

faith I just had a more tenuous grasp on it. I still

believed but it was sort of effortful to believe. So I

was able to kind of start putting those issues more in

the back of my mind, sort of partly resolve them over

the next year and a half or so. And during that time I

started doing Mormon history, so when I was 17 that was

when I first went to the LDS church archives and started

doing archival research. I would I would show up in my

knee length shorts and my T. shirt and you know spend

the day during the summer like researching or after



At that point I was going to east high in salt

lake and so I would just take the bus from east high

down to the church archives and do research. I wanted to

understand church history because sacred history, I

wanted to understand Joseph Smith because I looked at

the amount of revelation we had through Joseph Smith, I

mean you look at, in the Bible how many books were

written by the same -- how much material comes to us

through the same person. Well you know Isaiah is long

book, you know, there are five books contributed to

Moses. But Joseph Smith, right, he's the revelator for

the entire Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price,

Book of Mormon, you know, and so there's a lot. So I

figured if I wanted to understand revelation better,

like the process of revelation, I should try to

understand Joseph Smith more. And Joseph Smith became

kind of a hero figure for me. I had, at that point, I had

sort of some problems with the father figures in my life

you could say. I wasn't getting along with my adoptive

dad. I hadn't seen my natural dad in a long time. Joseph

Smith felt like kind of a father figure to me

spiritually and this became important later when I was

disillusioned with Joseph Smith, right. That was a big

deal for me. And so I became in essence kind of a Joseph

Smithol-ogist, right. This is basically what I've --

biggest part of what I've devoted my life to, to this

point, really is like wrestling with religion,

spirituality in particularly, trying to figure out this

Joseph Smith character, what he did, how he thought,

what his motives were, and so on. And so you know that's

where I got started in Mormon history. I went on a

mission to Texas, Bible belt, good experience. I came

back from my mission and just immediately picked up

doing church history projects again, started going back

to the church archives, researching polygamy,

researching all sorts of things about Joseph Smith,

researching the book of Mormon, priesthood restoration

events, and so on. You know there's something when we

read a book of history or an article the conclusions

have already been pulled together for us. Everything's

been made sense of already intellectually by the author

and often if we're reading church history it's also been

made sense in some way, spiritually, by the author. But

when you're doing your own research it falls on you to

make sense of things for yourself.




I was making new discoveries about Joseph Smith.

Sometimes I didn't know entirely what to do with those.

You know, I came up with questions for which I did not

have good answers. And so I gradually during this time,

during my 20s I didn't really realize it but I was

gradually losing my faith, and I lost my faith first in

the church, in the restoration and like I said I became

very, you know disillusioned with Joseph Smith. I

started thinking that, you know, I developed a new

working model of him as an opportunist. I thought he was

just in it for himself. You know, I consequently really

emotionally wrestled with him, this sort of fallen hero

figure for me. Eventually I also lost faith in Christ

and lost faith in God. That had to do in part with the

problem of suffering, especially the sufferings of

children. That was something that I didn't know how to

square with God's love. And so, I ended up leaving the

church, like I stayed active for awhile because I saw

good things in the church, but eventually within a few

years I decided to go inactive, and then I felt like

there was no place in the church for me. I was by this

time an atheist. I didn't feel like I wanted to be able

to have something to offer to my community that would be

useful but I felt like the things, the things the way

that I was seeing them in my research would not be

useful to the church. They would be detrimental. I

didn't feel like I had anything to contribute and I

didn't feel like I had a place and so I left. I actually

had my name removed from the records of the church. So I

sent in a letter requesting that my name be removed from

the church records. When the letter came back telling me

that I was no longer a member of the church I expected

to feel liberated and I actually felt cut off. I felt

bad. I felt like why did I do this again?  You know.

This is the only real community that I've ever been part

of and I've left it and you know if I had wanted to come

back to the church they would have wanted me to believe

and that would have been a problem for me at that point.

It initiated what I refer to as a kind of personal

wander in the wilderness where I was very involved in

the sort of ExMormon social community here in Utah along

the Wasatch Front. I went to lots of events. I went to,

a couple times, to what they call the ExMormon

conference that they -- The ExMormon Foundation put on

every year. So one of my first steps back to God was --

really came through gratitude. So I've always been

interested in psychology. One area of psychology that I

became interested in is what's known as positive

psychology so this is really about, like much of

psychology traditionally has been about how do human

beings sort of go wrong, right. What goes wrong in the

human psyche?  Positive psychology is just the opposite.

Positive psychology looks at kind of how, what goes

right with human beings?  What makes people happy?  What

are the strengths or virtues that human beings can

develop?  And so I was reading a book, just because I

wanted to be a happier person, I was reading a book on

"The Psychology of Gratitude" by Robert Emmons, Bob

Emmons, he's a -- he's actually the world's premier

researcher on the psychology of gratitude. He's also a

devout Christian. I was reading in Bob's work and he

really showed that gratitude, it had a remarkable number

of benefits for people. People who were more grateful

were happier, they were more resilient, they slept

better, they were more healthier, but also they were

kinder, they had more meaning in their lives. They were

enveloped in a kind of web of relationships with other

people. I realized from reading this book that gratitude

wasn't just something that I wanted to feel, it was

something that I wanted to be, right. That I wanted to

become a really grateful person, so I started keeping a

gratitude journal and before the gratitude journal I

didn't realize it but I was, I was mildly depressed. I

just, I was sort of feeling harassed by life a lot. Just

dumb little events that would happen. Within a few weeks

of starting the gratitude journal my outlook started to

brighten, just, I started to realize how wonderful life



I was feeling so much gratitude for so many gifts

in my life that I wanted to know more, who should I be

grateful to and who should I express this gratitude to?

You know I didn't believe in God I didn't believe in

anything supernatural and so there wasn't a place

entirely for me to direct that gratitude to and so that

was kind of a first step toward God because I really

was, I think in a lot of ways I think I was longing for

God. You know, I was wanting to have this center, this

spiritual center of my life, I certainly wanted my life

to have a larger meaning. You know I had day-to-day

meanings in my life but there was no sense of a larger

purpose of things. Even though that's, that's something

that had always been important to me when I was a

teenager my sort of personal spiritual quest was driven

by a sense of, a desire for a sense of meaning and

purpose, ultimate meaning, and so I was reading in a

publication, it probably won't be familiar to most out

there, a magazine called "Skeptic." "Skeptic Magazine," it's

kind of what it sounds like, it's put together by a

well-known skeptic, Michael Shermer.

They have articles kind of debunking anything

supernatural, so religious beliefs, EFP, you know,

certain alternative health practices and so on. There

was an ad in the magazine for a book called "Biocosm."

The ad purported that this book would explain how there

could be a larger purpose behind the universe without

anything supernatural. And I thought, wow, that sounds

like a book for me, you know, that's where I was. I

didn't believe in the supernatural but I longed for a

larger sense of purpose.


And so reading the book,

basically the book is in two halves and the first half

the author really lays out a scientific problem called

'the problem of the fine tuning of the universe, of the

constants of the universe, for the existence of life.'

And the basic idea is if each of the basic parameters of

the laws of physics, it said it like with a tuner knob

how precisely would you have to set it in order for life

to be able to exist in the universe?  You know, how

narrow is that band?  And it turns out the band is

incredibly narrow. If you, you know, increase gravity by

1 billionth or decrease it by 1 billionth you end up

either with, you know, a universe where all the matter

collapsed into black holes at the beginning or a

universe where all the matter spread out evenly across

the universe. There was no galaxies, no stars, and so no

planets with life. The author showed that this was the

case with all the laws of physics, all the basic laws of

physics.  And then he cited another scientist, a very

well-respected scientist, one of the scientists who

first helped discover black holes, saying that the

chances of the constants of the universe being fine

tuned for the existence of life the way they are by

chance, was about 1 in 10 to the 200th power. Now, that

number is so big it almost doesn't mean anything, right,

like a trillion is one in, a trillion is 10 to the 12th.

One in 10 to the 200th is just this mind-boggling

number. I realized that, like, based on chance, like, we

shouldn't be here at all. And so then I was really

primed for the second half of the book. I was like okay,

you know, what's the answer because he not only

established the fine tuning but he dismissed some of the

attempts to explain it, which I'd heard about some of

these attempts and thought that they were compelling and

actually they're not at all. I thought okay what's the

answer, you know, what caused this and his answer that

he gives is really kind of not, like, he says that the

universe, back at the beginning was fine tuned for the

existence of life by our distant descendants,

not like ancestors, descendants, right. That at like the

end of the universe our distant descendants are going to

do something to make it restart with certain constants

and he says that time is a closed loop, it just goes in

like a giant circle and I, I thought he thinks this is

more likely than God?  You know, like, I had not

believed in God but I didn't think the idea of a mind

behind the universe was outlandish, you know, whereas

this seemed to me outlandish. And so, the author had

given me this giant problem but no solution, right, the

promised solution didn't work. And so, I started

thinking about a lot of things about life, about the

universe. I thought about how Einstein said the most

incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is

comprehensible. The universe seems like a logically

rationally structured place but why should it be?

Ashly Stone



So I started to actually believe in a mind behind

the universe. I started to believe again in a God. I

was, became, basically a deist and then I started

reconsidering an earlier experience that I'd had. So one

of those trips that I made to the church archives after

high school when I was 18, I was headed back home, I was

going to catch a bus at a certain crosswalk that's no

longer there on State Street in Salt Lake and as I was

stepping off this curb, as I had many times before.  I

had a voice in my mind tell me, "Don't go out in front

of that car." And there was a big boat of a car coming

around the corner, Buick or Oldsmobile or some other,

you know, giant thing, so I stopped and just let the car

pass in front of me and as I did I could see there was a

driver and there was a front seat passenger and they

were both looking down on the floor for something like

somebody's Big Gulp had spilled or something, you know.

I realized I would have died, you know, I would have

been hit by this car and yet I wasn't because of this

warning.  And so for years that had been like an

evidence for me for the existence of God but then I had

come to question even that. Before I left the church I

had started thinking well, six million Jews died in the

Holocaust, you know, why should I think God saved me, you

know. So I was kind of really sort of denying my own

experience, right. Like saying well this larger context

invalidates this experience. Now in Salt Lake again I

had come to believe in some sort of God. I happened to

be passing by this place every day on my way to work. I

would walk to -- I worked out of the LDS family history

library at the time. I'd walk past this spot where my

life was saved and I came to realize by stopping at that

spot and thinking about it that there was no way that I

could have known what was going to happen with that car.

That I received that warning from somewhere beyond

myself. And so now I started believes that not only was

there a God, but this God cared about us and intervened.

I wanted a closer relationship with God. I started

looking into religions again. I briefly became a member

of The Bahá'í Faith. I don't know if you're familiar

with that.

Ashly Stone



So The Bahá'í Faith is it's actually a really

expansive, really cool faith. It started around the same

time as the LDS church but over in Persia. The founding

principals really include the idea that all major

religions. Were founded by prophets sent by God. They

make a big deal out of with the oneness of humankind

that God has made us all equal. God has made us all the

same and that God wants us to be brought together more

fully into a greater unity and so this really appealed

to me.  I was inspired by many of the teachings. I

became a Bahá'í.  And then within two or three months

after that, just the most disastrous calamity struck. So

I had a younger brother, my youngest brother, he was 25

at the time. His name was Charles. And Charles, I've

never met anyone who knew Charles who didn't like him,

right.  It's common to say things, positive things about

people after they're gone but everybody spoke well of

Charles while he was still here. You know, I talked to

him the night before he died and everything seemed okay

and the next day he was gone. And officially there was

never any cause of death.

Ashly Stone



Here's that it was actually probably that he

mixed medications that interacted and that just, he just

stopped breathing. I at this time I had had a kind of

vague sense of the afterlife maybe there's some sort of

ethereal after life, but I really was uncertain about a

lot of things. And so, Charles's viewing was really the

most terrible experience, it's the most terrible thing

that I've ever seen. Everyone was just completely torn

apart, and I saw my brother's body laid out there and I

thought this is the last time I'm going to see my



I thought even if there was some sort of mental

existence after death I wouldn't see him as a person,

right, I wouldn't know him. His mannerisms, his

appearance, and so on would all be gone I assumed. And

after that experience I really started wondering more

about the afterlife, right. I started wondering more

about the Christian claim, right, that there's a

resurrection. And so I started reading in that. A friend

of mine, who is a very devout Christian, gave me a book

called "The Resurrection of the Son of God" by the

scholar N.T. Wright. Wright goes through all the

resurrection passages in the bible and analyzes them

carefully and puts them in their historical context and

he concludes from all this that in order for the early

Christians to have believed that Jesus was risen from

the dead two things had to have happened. One is the

tomb had to be empty and two, they had to have seen. He

then argues from those two things for the probability of

the resurrection. I became persuaded, right, that Christ

really had risen from the dead and that I would see my

brother again. And so one day after work I wasn't

working for the church, like I said I was an exMormon at

the time but I was doing estate research in the church,

I mean the family history library. One evening after

work I actually had been pondering all this and just

realized I was completely convinced that God had tried

to reach out to the world, reach out to me through

Christ and so I went into one of the little side

classrooms that they have there that was empty and

prayed and just accepted Christ confessed my sins and my

sinfulness and on the way home that night walking home,

I just experienced wave after wave of peace coming over

me. And I like to say, it's not peace just like an absence

of trouble, it's peace like a positive palpable

presence, right. There's something there. It felt so

thick you could cut it with a knife I felt that God

loved me I felt God's love overwhelmingly and so I

started kind of exploring, going to some different

churches and so on. I didn't consider at that time going

back to the LDS church because I thought that I knew for

sure from my research on Joseph Smith that, you know,

Joseph Smith was a scoundrel and, you know, he made these

things up and yet, as I was reading in the New Testament

and so I'm trying to draw closer to Christ, I started to

remember that at an early, earlier period of my life

what really had helped me often to feel closest to

Christ was to read the Book of Mormon. And so I thought,

well, I know that Joseph Smith wrote it but it seemed

useful to me in the past, so I'll try reading it again.

And so I started reading the Book of Mormon devotionally

alongside the New Testament. And I was getting a lot

from it. Then I got really confused. Because like, what

am I doing?  I know that you know Joseph Smith wrote

this. This isn't what it purports to be. Why am I using

it to grow spiritually?  And so I just decided to kind

of temporarily put all of that up on the shelf. I went

to grad school to study history further you know during

the first part of that grad school I thought I'm just

going to focus on school. I'm going to try to mostly

leave these religious questions off to the side. And so,

I did at first. For one of my classes I was going, at

this point, I was going to Utah State and studying with

Philip Barlow. He's an excellent latter-day saint

scholar.  But I had continued all my Mormon history

studies, you know, full board. In fact, I had some of

your, some of the audience may be familiar with Brian

Hale's three volume set titled "Joseph Smith's

Polygamy." In it Brian had wanted to cite every source

that had ever been cited in anything that had ever been

written on Joseph Smith and polygamy and then see what

additional sources could be found. Brian, he's an

anesthesiologist, he did not have time to go be an

archive rat, right, in all these archives day after day

and mine out the 1500 sources that he ended up using in

these books. So he hired me and so I had continued my

research on Joseph Smith both with my own projects and

with, you know, paid research, like I did for Brian. In

the research that I did, right, I encountered, you know

if you think about the difficult areas of Joseph Smith's

life, polygamy would be one of these areas, right?  I

mean this is it's one of the things that had disturbed

me when I left the church and I had, you know, written

my own letter of resignation, I listed several reasons

why I was leaving and Joseph Smith's polygamy was one of

them, you know. But then subsequently, right, I had this

chance to do all this research in these you know

hundreds of thousands of sources of Joseph Smith and

polygamy so I was well aware of the man, right.

Ashly Stone




Like I might have mentioned this earlier but I,

I'm essentially a Joseph Smithologist, right. This is

what I do. So for this class that I was taking from

Philip Barlow titled Joseph Smith biography and

autobiography I was doing a paper on how Joseph Smith

became a seer. And I had come to the hypothesis that the

explanation that Joseph Smith was given for how he

became a seer early on was his first vision. That like

it's literally his first vision and his first experience

of second sight, spiritual sight, and so it's what makes

him a seer and so I was doing a paper on this and while

I was doing the paper a lot of things just really

started to come together for me. Things that I had not

seen before, so for instance, I had overlapping work

about seers in the Book of Mormon. I was doing work on a

book that's now published on what we can know about the

lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon. And so in my

research on Joseph Smith's first vision and the lost

116 pages and just the Book of Mormon text that we have

I suddenly had a kind of insight that tied a lot of

different things together. And so for instance I was

looking at how do people become seers in LDS scripture

and so in the Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon the

brother of Jared becomes a seer. In the account of how

he becomes a seer on the top of this mountain, Mount

Zerin there are lots of things that I suddenly saw a

parallel of things that happen in the temple. Right, so

Joseph Smith had said that in Nauvoo that anciently

mountain tops served as temples. Here you get the

brother of Jared's experience, it's on a mountain top,

right. It says that he speaks with the Lord through the

veil and during this experience the Lord puts his hand

through the veil. Right, he's going to touch some



The brother of Jared sees his hand and the Lord

tests the brother of Jared's faith and knowledge by

asking him a series of questions beginning with the

question about his hand. Then when he's passed the test,

the Lord admits him into his presence and tells him

you've been redeemed from the Fall which evokes the

whole back story of Adam and Eve and the Lord gives him

two additional stones, these white stones, the

interpreters. Joseph Smith later talked about everyone

who enters the celestial kingdom will receive a white

stone and he quoted the Book of Revelation, Revelation

2:17. To him that overcometh, I will give unto him a

white stone in the which is written a new name which no

man knoweth save him that receiveth it. And I thought

about the fact that in this narrative we're actually

never told the name of the person this is all happening

to in the Book of Mormon at least, the brother of Jared,

right, is why we call him the brother of this other guy

and so there's a theme here of sort of an esoterically

hidden secret name. But I was seeing all these things

where I was like wow.

Ashly Stone



Like what is the novel endowment doing in the

Book of Mormon?  Like I had been convinced that there

was no Joseph Smith, didn't know anything about the gnaw

video endowment until he became a free mason in 1842 and

instead now I was seeing the endowment all over the Book

of Mormon. I was seeing it in accounts of Joseph Smith's

first vision and his acquiring his first seer stone, his

white stone. I was seeing it in accounts that we have

about what was in the lost 116 pages of the Book of

Mormon and so my mind was kind of blown, right.

Ashly Stone

My mind is blown right now. Just hearing this,

it's like wow.


It's wild, right, because one of the reasons why

people, one reason people sometimes become disillusioned

or is or one aspect of their disillusionment maybe is

that they go to the temple and they're like this is

weird I've never encountered anything like that before.

You know because it's totally different from my church

experience outside the temple.

Ashly Stone



Except maybe it's not, right?  I mean if you've

got that much of the endowment in the Book of Mormon

then we've encountered these things before we just

haven't recognized them.

Ashly Stone



And so any way this really stood out to me and

further research, there are some lesser known accounts

of Joseph Smith's first vision and there are details in

some of the accounts that get kind of overlooked. So we

tend to think the first vision, it's all simple in terms

of location of the experience. It all just happens there

in that grove, right the father and the son come down.

All the action is set there but Joseph says some things

in different accounts that would suggest otherwise so in

one account he says my mind was taken away from the

natural objects which surrounded me. So, he wasn't

looking around and seeing the trees and so on anymore.

It's like.

Ashly Stone



In another account, I think it's the Joseph Smith

history account that we all know he says at the end of

the experience, when I came to myself again I found

myself lying on my back gazing into heaven, right, well

came to myself again suggests something may be different

than just he's seeing all these things happen there in

the grove, right. In Nauvoo he was talking once about

the first vision and he suddenly started saying, you

know, anyone who has gazed into heaven for five minutes

knows this, that, and the other, it's interesting that

he's saying that in connection with describing the first

vision, right, it makes it sound like during the first

vision he actually gazes into heaven. When you think

about how the Book of Mormon starts. The Book of Mormon

starts with Lehi having his own first vision. In that

experience a pillar of fire comes down. This isn't just

like a sign right in the Old Testament in the story of

exodus the pillar of fire is the presence of God that

goes with the children of Israel. So the presence of God

is coming down to Lehi and then Lehi is lifted up to

God's presence in heaven, right where he sees God

sitting on his throne surrounded by angels and so

there's this pattern here of God comes down to the man's

level to lift the man up to God's level, right.

Ashly Stone



This based on different accounts of the first

vision, different details that Joseph gave, this started

to be my model for understanding the first vision, that

it was actually sort of a multipart experience right,

where first, you had the divine comes down to Joseph

Smith but then the divine lifts Joseph Smith up to God's

own level. He had a heavenly assent. As I thought about

all this it just seemed incredibly powerful and I was, I

found it remarkable to think, and this guy is like 14,

15 years old and is he already trying to come up with

the seed for a ritual, a temple ritual he's not going to

give for decades later. Like I just it seemed way too

forward thinking for a teenager, just--

Ashly Stone



Something else is going on, you know, and so that

actually began to open me up to different possibilities.

I started realizing that I had been approaching Joseph

Smith strictly with a kind of negative set of questions

where I would always ask anytime Joseph Smith opened his

mouth and said something or anytime he did something,

the question I would ask was what was in it for him.

Ashly Stone


Don  Right I saw him as an opportunist. Well I started

wondering is my question really limiting what I'm able

to see, right. So much of what we can see in life

depends on the questions that we ask and this is, this

is true when we're going through a faith crisis, right,

because if the questions that we start to ask become

exclusively negative sorts of questions, well what are

the things about church history that are different from

what I have been told or what are the difficulties in

church history, what are the things that I can see that

the modern church does that I don't like and I'm not

saying that we shouldn't give those things

consideration. Right, but it can become.

Ashly Stone




Focused on that and the questions that we ask

guide our focus. And so the questions I've been asking

were questions that just made me look for negative

aspects of Joseph Smith, selfishness basically.

Ashly Stone



So I started broadening the set of questions that

I asked and I was soon able to see things that Joseph

Smith was doing for other people. He did a lot of things

for his family and he certainly wasn't just focused on


Ashly Stone



I have come to see a ton of evidence for Joseph

Smith's sincerity. One thing people sometimes say is we

can't read the minds of the people of the past. We can't

know what they were thinking.

Ashly Stone



Now we humans have been gifted with social

intelligence. The next time you make a trip to the

store, you have to infer the intentions of a number of

people that you've never met before in order to arrive

at the store safely. We're actually quite good

attributing motives as long as we have enough

information to work with. Historians actually are in a

really good position to assess the motives of historical

figures and here's why, let's take the people who knew

Joseph Smith during his lifetime, let's say Emma, let's

say brig gam young. Emma is going to know certain things

about Joseph Smith that we can't know, at least not very

well, right that his appearance, the tone of his voice,

his mannerisms, the sweet nothings that he said you know

whatever, right?  Like these are things that would

difficult for us to know but she could know very

directly. However, we have a set of historical

information about Joseph Smith that was actually much

wider than her experience of him. Emma wasn't there in

the core meetings that Joseph was part of we have

minutes from those meetings.  Emma wasn't there in the

court when Joseph was acting as justice of the peace but

we have the minutes of these meetings, right, Emma

wasn't there for the conversations Joseph had with his

plural wives but we have accounts from many of the

plural wives, right, and so any given person in Joseph

Smith's life would have actually only seen a small

sliver of his life but we have records and accounts from

thousands of people who encountered him in tens or

hundreds of thousands of actions. In some ways, we can

know Joseph Smith better than anyone who knew him while

he was alive. Because we can get a bigger picture. We

can see the patterns of his behavior across time and as

I have looked at the patterns of Joseph Smith's behavior

something that comes out crystal clearly is that Joseph

Smith was religiously sincere. And we can see evidence

for this from the time he's a child when for instance

his mother Lucy mac Smith writes that Joseph from the

time he was a child was always especially interested in

any discussions of a religious nature.


Well if Joseph Smith is never really a religious person, religion is

just his stick as a con man --

Ashly Stone



Surely we're not supposed to believe that as a

young child he's already thinking this. Somebody I'm

going to grow up and I'm going to be a religious figure

and so I better figure out religion in order to make my

stick. No he's genuinely interested in matters of

religion and spirituality from the time he's a young

child. Also his parents believed him. If you've got kids

you know if your child is inclined toward telling tall


Ashly Stone



Right. His parents did not see that in him. They

believed him. They were in a position to know. We can

see the way that Joseph responds to his childhood leg

surgery. There are actually things that he's trying to

do in the context where he's trying to help his father

during that experience there's all kinds of evidence

that I see that Joseph Smith was frequently watching for

signs of divine providence in his life and then acting

in accordance to those, with those signs of divine

providence like looking for what God, what is God trying

to tell me he wants me to do through the events in my

life. An opportunist doesn't care what God of the

universe is trying to tell him. He only cares what he

wants. That's not this guy.  This is a very different

kind of guy than that. And so I see that, even strictly

as a historian, like, totally apart from, if I were not

a latter day saint I would see it the exact same way

because this is, I've devoted much of my life to

understanding this man.

Ashly Stone



And I can tell you, like, he was religiously

sincere. And so after I started getting this fuller

picture of Joseph Smith, I started to reconsider having

left the church. I started thinking again about my

earlier spiritual experiences because I had had them. I

had had spiritual experiences in the church I had just

come to dismiss them, think they were products of my own

mind or something. But when it came down to it, there

were some, like the one that I had mentioned earlier

that had saved my life, where ultimately was impossible

to do that with them. I remember thinking if I ask

myself what is a testify of my life's experience

regarding the church?  Is it, is it true, you know, I

remember thinking, well of course. You know of course it

is. Like because my questions had not been about my own

experience, they'd really been about things that I was

finding in the history and how do I, how do I make those

things work?  How do I put them together?  And so I

initiated a return to the church. I was back in the

church you know, within two months to my shock. Within

two months of, like approaching a bishop about that. I

was just really beautifully re-embraced by the church. I

had feared that there would be something punitive in the

process of coming back. Couldn't have been further from

the reality. The bishop was wonderful. The people in the

ward were wonderful. People online that I had previously

been arguing with, latter day saints. There were

hundreds. There were a couple hundred of them who came

on to message board where I announced my return of the

church to greet me, to welcome me. And I've been back

for several years now. It's been a marvelous, beautiful,

experience and I can tell you with certainty, like the,

well, I'll share this. So when I wrote my letter to

resign from the church, I wrote it with the intention of

making it so that I could never come back to the church.

I thought I might be tempted at some point to want to go

back and I thought I'm going to make that impossible.

And so I, in my letter, I like bore my anti-testimony,

basically, I gave all kinds of reasons why the church

wasn't true and so on. I found out when I was in the

process of coming back to the church that I was going to

need to, that we were going to need to talk about that

letter. And I went home and I found a copy of the letter

and then I cried, and I thought they're never going to

let me back into the church, you know. And so I called

up the bishop in tears and he said to me, he said, son,

if the church couldn't forgive it couldn't be the Lord's

church. It is a gospel of forgiveness. I've been

welcomed back beautifully and it's been a wonderful


Ashly Stone


So incredible. What you shared about, I mean I, I

had heard part of it but you actually didn't go into as

much detail in what I heard before and so, I mean, this

time you went into more detail and to hear that from you

is so, I mean it strengthens my own testimony so much

because it's like, me being in this place of just having

people tell things to me all the time on the internet,

like, the church isn't true because of this and the

church isn't true because of this and sometimes they say

things that I've never even heard before. One of those

things was the free mason thing that somebody said to me

and I didn't understand and so I started doing some

research and I heard what you said about it and I called

my mom immediately and I just told her everything that

you said and it was like all of these pieces to this

puzzle, they fit so beautifully and almost looking at it

now I'm thinking, if these things that are in the temple

endowment are in other places throughout history, like,

to me it proves that maybe Joseph Smith didn't just make

up this thing for the temple, maybe it is something that

is, you know, through other places in history and I mean

I am by no means a historian in any way but in my mind

that completely made sense that like God's hand is in

all of these different places and I don't know I just

appreciate you sharing this so much because it just

strengthens my testimony so much, and like, I just think

about all the people who struggle with all of these hard

questions and if there's anybody that has completely

dived into everything there is to know about church

history and just turned it upside down and went through

every single square inch of it, it's you and to find

your way back in such a beautiful way is just so, I

mean, my testimony is stronger hearing your story. And

so, thank you so much for taking the time with us today

and we are going to do a part two to this and I know

that everybody listening to this is going to be over the

moon to know we're going a part 2 where listeners can

ask questions for Don and you can submit them and I'll

post -- we'll post a link on our website where you can

submit questions and then, are you still up for that,

Don? Part 2?


Totally, totally, and also I'd be interested in

going over, kind of as a follow up to this discussion,

like some of the things that I learned more generally

about wrestling with faith and doubt.

Ashly Stone



I'd be also happy to take questions.

Ashly Stone

Yes, I would love that. I think that a lot of

people, they, especially right now, I mean people close

to me that have left the church over a lot of questions

that feel unanswered and I think that, I don't know,

like, you just so beautifully are able to find peace

with hard questions and I think that it would be a huge

benefit for people to be able to just have you as kind

of a sounding board and to give your advice when it

comes to faith and doubt.



Ashly Stone

Okay. Round 2 coming soon and I can't wait.