“An Apostate—but a Friend to the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Feb. 1986, 76–77
William E. McLellin, one of the original members of the Council of the Twelve, apostatized and lost his membership in the Church, but he never lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon. He remained firmly convinced of its truth.
The strength of his conviction is evident in a letter written in 1880, three years before his death. “I have set to my seal that the Book of Mormon is a true, divine record and it will require more evidence than I have ever seen to ever shake me relative to its purity.”
The text of that letter was released by the Church December 8, along with a statement by Richard P. Lindsay, managing director of the Church’s Public Communications Department.
The statement and release of the letter came not long after disclosure by Salt Lake City newspapers and broadcast stations that a Texas family has in its possession some of William McLellin’s writings. The statement by Brother Lindsay took note of attention that has recently been directed toward “letters, journals, and other materials said to be, or to derive from, the personal writings of William E. McLellin. We will watch with interest the study of the documents said to have been in the possession for more than a century of the family of Mr. H. Otis Traughber, of Houston, Texas.”
Brother Lindsay pointed out that “the Church’s concern for all matters relating to its history was mandated through revelation” when the Church was organized.
William McLellin, who had been ordained to the Council of the Twelve when it was organized in 1835, became critical of Joseph Smith and other Church leaders, apostatized, and was excommunicated in 1838. His critical nature was evidenced in 1831, not long after he had joined the Church, when he questioned Joseph Smith’s ability to receive revelation. The result was section 67 of the Doctrine and Covenants, in which he was challenged to try to write a revelation like those that had been given through the Prophet. McLellin tried, and failed miserably. Although he held antagonistic views of the Church and its leaders until his death, he also kept his strong testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
On 14 August 1880, William McLellin replied to a letter from James T. Cobb of Salt Lake City. The McLellin letter is now in possession of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division of the New York Public Library, as part of the Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations collections. The Church released the text of the letter with the library’s permission.
In it, William McLellin wrote: “But when a man goes at the Book of M. he touches the apple of my eye. He fights against truth—against purity—against light—against the purist, or one of the truest, purist books on earth. I have more confidence in the Book of Mormon than any book of this wide earth! …
“I have probably read it through 20 times,” he wrote, and added, “It must be that a man does not love purity when he finds falt with the Book of Mormon!” (Original spelling and punctuation retained.)
He told Mr. Cobb that he had seen David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, who had also apostatized but never recanted his testimony of the book, a year earlier. David Whitmer, William McLellin said, had lost his thumb and could not write, but he “would not be willing to write much to a man who fights the Book of M. which he knows to be true. … You seem to think he and I ought to come out and tell something—some darkness relative to that book. We should lie if we did, for we know nothing against its credibility or divine truth.”