Thus saith the Lord:
“That’s not what I meant.”
The church claims the books comprise inspired translations and direct revelation as dictated by God. Since God is perfect and unchanging, the church explains, the errors were introduced by people, who cannot be expected to be perfect.
With the possible exception of typos, this hardly gives the church’s claims and its god a pass. Unless, that is, you accept a perfect and unchanging god who lacks the power to make himself correctly understood the first time, much less over the course of multiple revisions since the publication of the original in 1830.
You gotta love some of the explanations. For instance, the Book of Mormon says that in the sixth century BCE God “cursed” naughty Native Americans with dark skin so they wouldn’t appeal to their righteous, light-skinned cousins. (Didn’t work. History shows that white explorers found dark-skinned peoples pretty damned hot.) It went on to say that if they repented they would become “white and delightsome,” until a 1981 revision changed “white” to “pure.” The response to critics? “White” was first changed to “pure” in 1840; “white” was accidentally reintroduced in the 1879 edition. Fine, except, this leaves the racist “white” in the original, 1830 edition; fails to explain why it took 102 years for inspired prophets to notice such a crucial, re-introduced error; and fails to address the utter, factually incorrect, racist nonsense about dark skin being a curse in the first place.
Some of the more significant changes this time around:
Rewriting polygamy — Joseph Smith’s revelation on polygamy now comes with this explanatory note: “The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30).” True. Trouble is, the revelation flat-out contradicts that policy. It makes polygamy a commandment to all who have it revealed to them (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:3); provides no indication that it is temporary (indeed, it refers to it as “a new and everlasting covenant”); and threatens those who reject it—women in particular—with destruction. That is why Smith’s only legally wedded wife, Emma Hale Smith, resignedly said, “The revelation says I must submit or be destroyed. Well, I guess I’ll have to submit.”
Trying to dress up racism as not-racism — The introduction to Official Declaration 2, which ended the ban on ordaining African Americans to the priesthood, now points out that church founder Joseph Smith himself ordained black men prior to the ban. There. Doesn’t that make you feel better about a century and a half of exclusion and heinous racist explanations offered by leaders? The introduction adds, “Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.” How odd. You’d think that a god who speaks through a living prophet and opines about minutia such as how many earrings it’s OK to wear and whether or not you can drink Coke could be troubled to tell you why, for a century and a half, he banned millions from priesthood because of the color of their skin.
Reinventing the origin of the Book of Abraham — The introductory note to the embattled “Book of Abraham” in the Pearl of Great Price now has a shiny new weasel. No longer did Smith translate it from papyrus, since the extant sheets have long since been shown not to be writings of Abraham but a common Egyptian funerary text. Now the book is an “inspired translation” which Smith didn’t translate from the papyri but happened to produce, coincidentally, after obtaining them. Never mind facsimiles which remain part of the official book, complete with Smith’s explanatory notes which happen to be nowhere near the mark.
If you’re interested in more information about current and prior changes to and weasels pertaining to the Mormon canon, you’ll find oodles, with all varieties of spin, online. Google to your heart’s content.