A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Mormon Money, Murder and Deceit
Robert Lindsey, A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Mormon Money, Murder and Deceit, (Simon & Schuster, 1988) 400 pages.
Scandal, intrigue, murder, forgery, cover-ups … the 1985 Salt Lake City pipe bombing cases involving Mark Hofmann and the LDS Church, had them all. In 1983, Mark Hofmann, a well known LDS documents dealer, "discovers" (forges), a nineteenth-century letter written by Martin Harris (one of the 3 Witnesses to the Book of Mormon). It is addressed to W.W. Phelps and tells an incredible tale of how Joseph Smith found gold plates, which he translated into the Book of Mormon. But instead of an angel telling Joseph where to dig for the plates, in the Harris letter a spirit appears to Joseph, transforms itself into a white salamander, and strikes him three times.
LDS church authorities were understandably very unhappy with the occultic overtones of the letter, which only reinforced similar findings linking the founding prophet of Mormonism to biblically forbidden occult practices. Though they did their best to suppress this and other non "faith promoting" documents, Hofmann purposefully leaked information to key sources, hoping to pressure the Church into buying the "Salamander letter." He also continued to find more documents and offer these sensitive items to the Church for a price. The pipe bomb that exploded in his car and nearly killed him, puts an end to these dealings.
A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey (Simon & Schuster, 1988, 400 pages) is the one of three major books that appeared in 1988 chronicling the events of the Hofmann case, and in this reviewers opinion, the best overall. (A fourth book appeared four years later: Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case, Richard Turley, University of Illinois Press, 1992. While it has the benefit of some material not available to earlier authors, its focus is more the vindication of key LDS leaders and the attempt to present the Mormon Church as one of Hofmann’s victims.) Lindsey recounts the events in an interesting and even-handed manner, and, unlike the LDS authors of Salamander (Silitoe & Roberts, Signature Books, 1988), Lindsey does not shy away from either historical background or the negative implications of the case that could tend to make LDS readers uncomfortable. Yet, neither does he resort to the hostile sensationalism found in The Mormon Murders (Naifeh & Smith, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988). His sharp investigative journalism and insightful analysis unite and organize a potentially fragmented tale, and A Gathering of Saints was the only book of the three to feature Hofmann’s interview with Michael George of the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office.
Though not a Mormon, Lindsey develops some key insights on how LDS culture contributed to the scenario. Dale Van Atta (former investigative reporter for the Deseret News) and Daryl Gibson (senior associate with Van Atta) had this to say in their review of A Gathering … for the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone:
[Robert] Lindsey, who is not a Mormon, does one of the best jobs we have seen of explaining Mormonisms to outsiders … Lindsey is acutely aware of his audience (Sunstone, September 1988, pages 40-42).
This true story is recommended reading for anyone who enjoys a gripping suspense novel. Yet, don’t expect all the loose ends to be tied up in the end, for the facts presented provoke their own share of questions. Questions like the one raised by Prosecutor Gary D’Elia to some of his LDS friends and co-workers, "I thought your Prophet had a God-given ability to see the truth. How come God didn’t reveal to him that the (expletive deleted) they were buying from Hofmann were fakes?" A very good question considering the LDS Church’s claim to be the only one with a living prophet, Seer and Revelator (It is interesting that ex-Mormon researchers Jerald and Sandra Tanner published their doubts about the authenticity of the letter several months before the bombings with no claims of revelations.). And, does being under pressure excuse lying, as General Authority Hugh Pinnock did when the police questioned him concerning Mark Hofmann? Though Pinnock had met privately with Hofmann several times and arranged a $185,00 loan for him, Pinnock still told the police, "All we know is what we read in the papers."
There is also the area of divine revelations can they be trusted? Mark’s father, Bill Hofmann, was convinced of his son’s innocence until the day Mark confessed. Why? Because Bill Hofmann had a revelation from God, which he shared with family members, in which God hold him Mark was innocent. So did God lie? Did the revelation come from somewhere else so that he was deceived into believing it came from God? It is interesting that Joseph Smith Jr. himself said (after one of his revelations failed to come true) that, "Some revelations are of God; some revelations are of man; and some revelations are of the devil." (Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 165). Based on this, how much faith should one put in a subjective testimony or revelation?
The book also answers some fascinating questions. Like, how was Mark Hofmann able to fool almost all the document experts with his forgeries? Why did he decide to kill two people? Did he truly intend to forge the 116 lost pages of the Book of Mormon? Answers are there for the reader to find, but beware of the unanswered questions which can tell us more than we want to know.