It was a normal day in seminary class when someone started asking complicated questions about the racial priesthood ban, plural marriage, and other uncomfortable church history topics.

Our teacher let us know he didn’t have all the answers. In a few days, he told us he found a church-approved resource that covered some of these topics: the Gospel Topics Essays.

These essays puzzled me for a long time since they covered topics in a way no other church handbook or resource seemed to. For a while, I thought it was refreshing that the church was trying to be more transparent.

But I slowly began to realize these essays are damning to many of the church’s most significant truth claims. This was deeply troubling to me, as I had always thought that anything church-approved was automatically going to be inspiring and faith-promoting.

A note about the phrase “church-approved”. Apologetics often criticize antagonistic documents for describing resources as “church-approved”. Take, for example, this quote from FAIR’s response to Letter For My Wife:

Once more, we have the very common refrain of “Church-approved resources.” There is no such thing as a Church-approved source. […] “Church-approved sources” is a phrase that pops up over and over again in anti-LDS online communities today. It’s meant to insinuate that we’re brainwashed, that we can’t think for ourselves, and that we’re shielded from accessing “the truth” by our church-leader overlords.1

I completely rebut this argument with the introduction to the Gospel Topics Essays:

Recognizing that today so much information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be obtained from questionable and often inaccurate sources, officials of the Church began in 2013 to publish straightforward, in-depth essays on a number of topics. The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications and place it in the Gospel Topics section of, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.2

The Gospel-Topics essays are indeed an officially-produced, church-approved resource. Of course, I have made it clear that I believe you can think for yourself. As I have written this letter, I have sought to empower you to learn truth and use intelligence and wisdom to determine what you believe. But I also remember that as I started to leave the church, I felt I shouldn’t turn to any non-approved resource. Further, this mistake on FAIR’s part has led me to believe apologetic sources are fallible and often do not consider important resources as they prepare their arguments.

Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

The current version of the Book of Mormon includes the following paragraph:

The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.3

Older church members will perhaps remember this paragraph ending differently. The previous final sentence read, “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”4 It is concerning to me that the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, which I have long heard is considered scripture and was written by a prophet of God, changed one of its fundamental truth claims long after the Book of Mormon was written.

Thus, the church clearly conceded that its doctrine on the origin of Native Americans was at least partially flawed. This is also clear in the essay:

The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA. Scientists theorize that in an era that predated Book of Mormon accounts, a relatively small group of people migrated from northeast Asia to the Americas by way of a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska. These people, scientists say, spread rapidly to fill North and South America and were likely the primary ancestors of modern American Indians.5

While I won’t discuss them in-depth here, I would encourage a read through the footnotes of this paragraph (footnotes 3, 4, and 5 in the essay). I would like to address some critical issues regarding the essay’s approach to these sources, though.

I am an academic researcher. I’ve spent the last several years writing and publishing papers, and I have seen firsthand that a peer review process creates immense pressure to produce reliable, trustworthy results. I am thus inclined to believe that the claims made in the peer-reviewed documents cited by the essays are correct. The fact that these documents are cited in a church-approved essay makes it all the more appealing.

Let us examine a couple of these citations, then.

This analysis revealed the presence of four haplotype groups (haplogroups A, B, C, and D) in the Amerind, but only one haplogroup (A) in the Na-Dene, and confirmed the independent origins of the Amerinds and the Na-Dene. Further, each haplogroup appeared to have been founded by a single mtDNA haplotype, a result which is consistent with a hypothesized founder effect. Most of the variation within haplogroups was tribal specific, that is, it occurred as tribal private polymorphisms. These observations suggest that the process of tribalization began early in the history of the Amerinds, with relatively little intertribal genetic exchange occurring subsequently. The sequencing of 341 nucleotides in the mtDNA D-loop revealed that the D-loop sequence variation correlated strongly with the four haplogroups defined by restriction analysis, and it indicated that the D-loop variation, like the haplotype variation, arose predominantly after the migration of the ancestral Amerinds across the Bering land bridge.6

This paper alone, cited by 175 additional peer-reviewed publications at the time I write this document7, provides damning evidence against the Book of Mormon’s claims regarding Native American ancestry. The essay presents two similar papers, both of which also refute the Book of Mormon’s claims regarding Native American ancestry8-9.

It becomes challenging to believe the church’s self-published essay (which does not indicate any authors) rather than peer-reviewed, well-conducted scientific research. This is especially problematic when one reads the conclusion to the essay:

Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, the evidence is simply inconclusive. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck, genetic drift, and post-Columbian immigration from West Eurasia make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “It is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”

Book of Mormon record keepers were primarily concerned with conveying religious truths and preserving the spiritual heritage of their people. They prayed that, in spite of the prophesied destruction of most of their people, their record would be preserved and one day help restore a knowledge of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their promise to all who study the book “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,” is that God “will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” For countless individuals who have applied this test of the book’s authenticity, the Book of Mormon stands as a volume of sacred scripture with the power to bring them closer to Jesus Christ.

By my interpretation, I understand the premise of the essay as the following: All the scientific evidence we have suggests the Book of Mormon was impossible, but maybe science got it wrong. This essay suggests a number of ideas that could potentially refute DNA studies, but I opine that their argument against DNA studies is ineffective and backed by insufficient evidence. Further, the lack of authors on the essay indicates to me that the authors of the essay, if they were academic, did not want to attach their name to the document. Overall, this essay did more to harm my opinion of the church than it did to reassure me of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

Read “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies”

Book of Mormon Translation

This essay is interesting to me because it does not make a clear or consistent argument about the translation of the Book of Mormon. It was made clear to me throughout my experience that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon using only a Urim and Thumim, and that he dictated the book exactly as it was supposed to be10. In this essay, the Church admits that is not exactly true and provides no justification for the discrepancy.

Any person who is reasonably familiar with the English language understands how vital punctuation is. So you can imagine my confusion to read the following:

Because Joseph Smith did not call for punctuation, such as periods, commas, or question marks, as he dictated, such marks are not in the original manuscript. The typesetter later inserted punctuation marks when he prepared the text for the printer. With the exceptions of punctuation, formatting, other elements of typesetting, and minor adjustments required to correct copying and scribal errors, the dictation copy became the text of the first printed edition of the book.11

I would encourage further exploration of the Book of Mormon without Punctuation12. If it was so important to God that the Book of Mormon were translated perfectly, why did God not indicate punctuation that would disambiguate the text in the supposed most correct book in the world? And more importantly, why would the task of proofreading and adding punctuation be delegated to a typesetter rather than a prophet of God?

Overall, I find this essay as dissatisfying as the rest. A supposedly scholarly work indicates that there are many contradictory records of Joseph’s translation process, then suggests that a reader pray to know the truth rather than provide any real evidence.

Read “Book of Mormon Translation”

Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women

I have no argument to provide here, as any conscientious reader will easily find key flaws by reading this essay and its footnotes by themself.

Read “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women”

Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints

Similarly, this essay and the sources it cites are damning evidence that early church leaders were not inspired by God, as their behavior and teachings are largely inconsistent with God’s other teachings. I encourage a careful read of this essay, especially watching for contradictory statements and blatant lies.

Read “Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints”

Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Polygamy (both polygyny and polyandry) within the church has been beaten to death, so I will address only one portion of this essay that, to me, serves as a condemnation of the early church:

Plural marriage was among the most challenging aspects of the Restoration. For many who practiced it, plural marriage was a trial of faith. It violated both cultural and legal norms, leading to persecution and revilement. Despite these hardships, plural marriage benefited the Church in innumerable ways.13

The church advocates following the law of the land, and apparently, that has always been important to God. So I cannot understand why early church leaders “violated both cultural and legal norms” by instituting polygamy. It is also interesting that the essay rebuts this by stating that “plural marriage benefited the Church in innumerable ways.”

There are many well-written documents discussing polygamy and polyandry in the early church, and I would encourage a read of several of them, in conjunction with the essay and its footnotes.

I would like to point out, in defense of my argument against the church, that I am utilizing primarily church-published or apologetic sources. It is my opinion that the arguments presented in these sources are disappointingly weak, and I believe the astute reader will agree. But I reiterate: you are an intelligent being and can choose what to believe.

I would encourage a read of this and the related essays.

Read “Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”

Race and the Priesthood

Rarely have I felt so gaslit as I did upon reading the introduction to this essay:

In theology and practice, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the universal human family. Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all. God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally. As the Book of Mormon puts it, “all are alike unto God.”14

I propose that this is a blatant lie. Saints are taught that God and his doctrine are unchanging and eternal. They are also taught that the Book of Mormon, at the time of its translation, was the most correct of any book. It is confusing, then, why God would classify dark-skinned people as undesirable in 2 Nephi 5.

This essay, in and of itself, is damning. It discredits the inspiration of early church leaders and justifies racist decisions throughout the church’s history. This topic has also been beaten to death in other venues, so I would encourage you to explore and research for yourself.

Read “Race and the Priesthood”

Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham

This essay appears to be grasping at straws to defend the Book of Abraham despite all evidence suggesting Joseph’s translation was a fraud. I would encourage reading the essay and its footnotes.

Read “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham”


It is my personal experience that the Gospel Topics Essays provide damning evidence against the truthfulness of the church’s truth claims. They are an important church-approved resource that describes the church’s long history of deception and failure.

I would encourage any questioning saint to thoroughly read these essays and the referenced sources. If after scrutinizing these materials you find yourself questioning what you have been taught, know that what you are feeling is normal. Take a break if you need to.

A Note

As I prepared this section, it appears the church has started to work on discontinuing the essays. This is not surprising to me, but in the case that they take them down for good, they can still be accessed via the Internet Archive.

  1. Allen, S. (2023, January 26). Letter For My Wife Rebuttal, Part 1: Preface/Introduction. FAIR. ↩︎

  2. Gospel Topics Essays. (n.d.). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from (boldface added) ↩︎

  3. Smith, J. (2013). Introduction. In The Book of Mormon (2013 Edition). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ↩︎

  4. Mauss, A. L. (2003). All Abraham’s children: Changing Mormon conceptions of race and lineage. University of Illinois Press. ↩︎

  5. Book of Mormon and DNA Studies. (n.d.). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from ↩︎

  6. Torroni, A., Schurr, T. G., Cabell, M. F., Brown, M. D., Neel, J. V., Larsen, M., Smith, D. G., Vullo, C. M., & Wallace, D. C. (1993). Asian affinities and continental radiation of the four founding Native American mtDNAs. American Journal of Human Genetics, 53(3), 563–590. ↩︎

  7. Citation search conducted at NIH PubMed: ↩︎

  8. Perego, U. A., Achilli, A., Angerhofer, N., Accetturo, M., Pala, M., Olivieri, A., Kashani, B. H., Ritchie, K. H., Scozzari, R., Kong, Q.-P., Myres, N. M., Salas, A., Semino, O., Bandelt, H.-J., Woodward, S. R., & Torroni, A. (2009). Distinctive Paleo-Indian Migration Routes from Beringia Marked by Two Rare mtDNA Haplogroups. Current Biology, 19(1), 1–8. ↩︎

  9. Bodner, M., Perego, U. A., Huber, G., Fendt, L., Röck, A. W., Zimmermann, B., Olivieri, A., Gómez-Carballa, A., Lancioni, H., Angerhofer, N., Bobillo, M. C., Corach, D., Woodward, S. R., Salas, A., Achilli, A., Torroni, A., Bandelt, H.-J., & Parson, W. (2012). Rapid coastal spread of First Americans: Novel insights from South America’s Southern Cone mitochondrial genomes. Genome Research, 22(5), 811–820. ↩︎

  10. Smith, J. (n.d.). Joseph Smith—History. In The Pearl of Great Price. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from ↩︎

  11. Book of Mormon and DNA Studies. (n.d.). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from ↩︎

  12. The Book of Mormon without punctuation. (2012, November 22). NathanRichardson.Com. ↩︎

  13. Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (n.d.). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from ↩︎

  14. Race and the Priesthood. (n.d.). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from ↩︎