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John Dehlin recently posted the following on his Facebook wall:

B.H. Roberts was, indeed, a prophet, seer, and revelator. And I sustain him as such.

“If Joseph Smith’s translation of the Egyptian parchment could be proven discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon, and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught.”

– Elder B.H. Roberts, LDS Scholar and General Authority
Comprehensive History of the Church 2:138

(Hat tip to Jeremy Runnells).

This is a fascinating statement on multiple levels. First his assertion that Roberts was, indeed, “a prophet, seer, and revelator. And I [Dehlin] sustains him as such.”

This is interesting, of course, because based on what he has said elsewhere it’s not exactly clear what this even means. Dehlin has, for example, qualified his opinion statements about Jesus with (in a recent Salt Lake Tribune article) “In my heart and spirit, I do not think God or Jesus — if he lives and exists — would do this. I don’t think the heavens will register this as anything but a terrible event.”

The relatively straightforward question that comes to mind when one reads this is: How does one sustain a prophet, seer, and revelator of deity that one clearly doesn’t think exists? We obviously hope that he really has gained actual faith in Jesus and that this has allowed him to honestly sustain some subset of his representatives. It would seem, however, to be difficult to sustain the servants of a Lord one is not sure ever lived.

Now, putting aside the logical inconsistency of this position, and attempting to assume that he means this in the best possible way, it seems fairly clear that he is using the quote as a prophecy against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and assuming it’s imminent decline based on what he sees as problems with the Book of Abraham. There is a slight problem with the quote [1], however, and that is that Roberts isn’t giving his own view but rather paraphrasing the argument of a critic. So, as prophetic as Roberts may very well have been, the argument this statement is summarizing isn’t even his, but rather the Reverend Spalding’s as documented here.

The attribution of these ideas to B. H. Roberts is therefore false. This isn’t at all surprising, because Dehlin got the argument from a disgruntled former church member who now writes lengthy tracks against the church (Runnells) whose research has not historically been very careful. While Runnells’ methodology has problems [2] could and could be discussed at length, this post is about Dehlin. This tendency to credit anything that seems to put the church in a negative light is an example of how bias can be problematic and lead some individuals to do poor research or overstate their claims. Before a claim should be repeated, especially from a source with known reliability issues, it is important to check the source and verify that it really does say what you think it says—it is not enough for it to merely confirm your presuppositions. Dehlin indicates he is pursuing a graduate degree program in psychology [3]. Although particular subject matter varies between disciplines, good literature research methodology, such as source checking is reasonably consistent across disciplines. He should therefore know better than to naively repeat a claim from a source with a known bias and poor research methodology. Doing so makes him vulnerable to criticism as well as spreading ignorance. I would encourage him in the future to use good research methodology and avoid copying other people’s work as it risks making him look uncredible.


[1] One might also add that as presently constituted the quote is incorrect because it has an extra “proven” before “discredit” that does not occur in the original, but that while an illustration of the problems of borrowing research from others without verification is not as material of an issue as the context and meaning of the quote.

[2] Somewhat similarly to the problem Dehlin demonstrates, Runnells tends to not check his sources, but copies blatantly from previous generations of “anti-” sources. This results in him making their same mistakes with little generational improvement.

[3] He is probably very busy with his program, but that doesn’t excuse irresponsible retransmission of bad research, and if this is the best he can reasonably do, he should probably take a break from online life and put both feet into his program.