I believe it was CS Lewis who came up with a Christian apologetic argument which has come to be known as “Lord, Liar or Lunatic.” The basic idea is that you can’t consider Jesus to be a nice man with some benign teachings. If you actually look at what he was saying you have to consider him to be God, a liar or a complete lunatic. Jesus doesn’t leave a safe option for those who wish to identify with him and his teachings but not have them transform their lives. (the “escape” clause that you can’t trust the Gospels doesn’t help. If you can’t trust the Gospels for the things you don’t like that were attributed to Jesus, you can’t trust them for the things you do like).
There’s a similar choice to be made with Joseph Smith. True prophet of God or false prophet. I recently read a pamphlet by David Whitmer which strives to carve a third option. It’s called “An Address to All Believers“. I highly recommend you read it, if for nothing more than its historical perspective.
David Whitmer was one of the 3 witnesses to the Book of Mormon. In this pamphlet he strongly reasserts his testimony that the golden plates were real and that Joseph Smith translated them using a seer stone. Then using the Bible and his own personal experience lays out when and how Joseph Smith became a false prophet.
In a nutshell, Whitmer explains that when Joseph Smith used his seer stone he was offering true revelations (and translations). Then when Sydney Rigdon joined the church, Smith no longer used the seer stone but instead used Rigdon as his inspiration for new doctrine and practices. Using the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Whitmer explains how these revelations are false. He goes after the office of high priest as tenaciously as he goes after polygamy.
One of the things I really appreciated about the pamphlet was its readability. I’ve read so many things concerning Mormonism that are desperately (and often poorly) trying to mimic the King James Bible or are written to match the General Conference speaking style. It was nice to actually read something that isn’t intentionally trying to be difficult to follow.
As I’ve stated many times before, the doctrine and theology presented in the Book of Mormon seems pretty orthodox to me. In some cases it states some doctrines in orthodoxy more clearly than the Bible does. You have a long way to go from the Book of Mormon to current LDS theology (if you’re able to define it). If you’re compelled by Whitmer’s testimony of the Book of Mormon, I think this pamphlet will give you a lot to consider.
As a side note, It’s my understanding that the Missouri “extermination order” came about partly due to Danite persecution of Whitmer and others. Can someone confirm or deny that?