I think we’ve all heard the story of missionaries learning that their investigators are getting “anti-Mormon” information from a friend, their pastor (I was going to say “minister”, but they could be LDS now!) or the internet. The missionaries counter by using a well-worn simile saying if a person wants to know about a Ford car, they wouldn’t go to a Chevy dealer, and in a like manner if they wanted to know about Mormon’s, they should talk to a Mormon (the missionaries in this case). This sounds good at first blush, but then breaks down once examined.
The last time you purchased a new car, did you go to the dealer and ask about the car, or did you first go to Consumer Reports, or some other unbiased source for a review of the car? Nobody is going to believe the salesman when he tells you his brand is the most reliable, best value, etc. You don’t believe him/her, because that person has a conflict of interest. They will gain from selling you a car (money in the form of a commission), so they have an incentive if not to outright lie, to try to cover up the any perceived deficiencies in the car.
If you are buying a used car, are you going to believe the previous owner when he tells you the car runs great, and has never been in an accident? Or will you take it for a test drive, check Carfax, and then take the car to a mechanic for a PPI (Pre Purchase Inspection)? The mechanic will have no skin in the game, and will tell you how well the can has been taken care of, and if there have been any major repairs done on it.
In each of these cases, you need to find an unbiased third partly (Consumer Reports, the local mechanic) to provide the information you need to make a wise decision. But how does a person find an unbiased third partly when it comes to religion, and especially the Mormon religion? Is there a “Consumer Reports of Religion” that will give you a fair comparative report?
I don’t think web sites of former Mormons would be unbiased. Sites like Mormon Think looks like a pretty fair site form a quick look, but has an agenda. The best I could come up with is non-LDS historians with no ax to grind. The last book I read that I would classify in that category is American Crucifixion by Alex Beam. This is a book are the death/murder of Joseph Smith. Beam is a historian who has written books on diverse subjects such as Mental Hospitals, and a feud between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson (I have no idea who they are). I also listened to a podcast where John Dehlin interviews Beam. Beam came across as just a regular guy who thought this would be interesting to write about. He knew nothing about Mormonism, so had to do some research on that before he could even start with the Joseph Smith Nauvoo history, the printing press, and the murder.
So what unbiased sources do you use? What would you recommended to a friend that is investigating the church?