DNA Research and Mormon Scholars Changing Basic Beliefs
LDS researchers question Mormon tenet that Polynesians and Native Americans descended from Israelite patriarch Lehi.
July 27, SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Plant geneticist Simon Southerton was a Mormon bishop in Brisbane, Australia when he woke up the morning of Aug. 3, 1998 to the shattering conclusion that his knowledge of science made it impossible for him to believe any longer in the Book of Mormon.
Two years later he started writing "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church," published by Signature Books and due in stores next month. Along the way, he found a world of scholarship that has led him to conclude The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belief is changing, but not through prophesy and revelation.
Rather, Southerton sees a behind-the-scenes revolution led by a small group of Brigham Young University scholars and their critics who are reinterpreting fundamental teachings of the Book of Mormon in light of DNA research findings. Along the way, he says, these apologist scholars, with the apparent blessing of church leadership, are contradicting church teachings about the origins of American Indians and Polynesians.
"You've got Mormon apologists in their own publications rejecting what prophets have been saying for decades. This becomes very troubling for ordinary members of the church," Southerton said.
And while the work of the BYU apologists - the term means those who speak or write in defense of something - remains confined largely to intellectual circles, some church members who have always understood themselves in light of Mormon teachings about the people known as Lamanites are suffering identity crises.
"It's very difficult. It is almost traumatizing," said Jose Aloayza, a Midvale attorney who likened facing this new reality to staring into a spiritual abyss.
"It's that serious, that real," said Aloayza, a Peruvian native born into the church and still a member. "I'm almost here feeling I need an apology. Our prophets should have known better. That's the feeling I get."
Southerton, now a senior researcher with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, Australia, has concluded along with many other scientists studying mitochondrial DNA lines that American Indians and Polynesians are of Asian extraction.