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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

My unanswered letter to President Henry B. Eyring in November 1998

10 Stavewood Court
Samford Qld 4520

30th November 1998

Dear Elder Eyring,

I have been a member of the Church for almost thirty years and until recently I served as a Bishop. I am also a molecular biologist currently working at the University of Queensland. I asked to be released soon after I stumbled across some scientific research that greatly concerned me. I did not feel I should be Bishop while I harboured doubts.

The research is in the field of human population genetics. Numerous research groups from around the world are studying the mitochondrial (mt) DNA of humans to determine the relatedness of different populations. An area of particular interest to many scientists is the origin of the American Indians. Several thousand American Indians have been tested from almost 100 populations throughout North, Central and South America and about 99.5% of the individuals tested have mtDNA that is most closely related to the mtDNA of some populations in Eastern Asia. The remaining 0.5% have mtDNA that is either African or European, and is likely to have been introduced after the arrival of Columbus since the frequency of these mtDNA types in populations with virtually no western contact is essentially nil. Lehi and his family would certainly have had mtDNA most closely related to other European populations.

When I first spoke with my Stake Presidency they questioned the validity of the research and asked me to contact Elder Hafen in the Australia/Pacific Area Presidency. He put me in touch with Dr Scott Woodward, Professor of Microbiology at Brigham Young University. I have corresponded with Scott on a number of occasions over the last few months and I have tried to arrange through him an opportunity to talk with you about this issue.

I see a serious conflict between the research and things contained in the Book of Mormon. The introduction to the Book of Mormon states that the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. It states this because it is very clear from the contents of the Book of Mormon. This is what all my friends in the Church believe because all the prophets have declared it; it is scriptural (D&C and Book of Mormon); and it is clearly stated in other Church books such as Jesus the Christ and A Marvellous Work and a Wonder. Scott is the Church authority on this research and he has told me of his deep concern at the conflict between the church position regarding the Lamanites and the data. I think you should speak to Scott very soon about this research. I admire his strength but I don’t think it is right that he should feel alone on this.

I have also become aware of the position of the intellectuals at BYU regarding the historical setting of The Book of Mormon. Some don’t seem to be concerned if all the Lamanites have died out. Several of the scientists I have spoken to rely heavily on the work of John L. Sorenson to support their belief that when Lehi arrived in America there were millions of people already there. These “other” people were incorporated into the Lamanite and Nephite populations, used to help build their temple and fight their wars. I cannot accept this scholarship as it is very clear to me that the Book of Mormon makes no mention of any group of people that didn’t originate in Israel or thereabouts. I am also certain that many Latter-day Saints will struggle with this concept as I have.

My firm testimony of the reality of my Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ remains. My once firm testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is shattered. I am concerned that there are many people who may become very distressed about this as my wife and myself have been. I have wanted to speak to an Apostle about this issue for some time. I am certain it is only a matter of time before the wider Church community finds out about the research via the press and many will want answers. I don’t think the answers from BYU will satisfy many. I think it is crucial for the leaders of the Church to know about the situation, because they are ultimately responsible.

I wish I didn’t have to share these things with you. I would be happy to hear from you about this matter. If I am wrong in any way please correct me.

Kind regards

Simon Southerton

Ph (07) 3289 1814