CES Letter Mormon: An Exercise in Rhetorical Manipulation

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Let’s look a little closer at the online document that has come to be known as the Mormon CES Letter.  


Blogs, articles, comments, and literary screeds attempting to “debunk” the history and doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have circulated almost from the inception of the organization in 1830. A 290-page book entitled “Mormonism Unvailed” was published by E.D. Howe in 1834. Many of the arguments in this book have been shown long ago to be spurious. However, some of its arguments are still used to attack the legitimacy, character, and fundamental claims of this American-born Christian denomination frequently called the “Mormon Church.”

Material defined as “anti-Mormon,” and having the stated objective of exposing or destroying the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also been posted on the internet from its earliest days in the late-1980s and early 1990s. In 2012, a comprehensive collection of anti-Mormon arguments was compiled into a singular source by (now former) Church member, Jeremy Runnells, in a document commonly called “The CES Letter.”  

What exactly is the CES Letter?

This document purports to be a list of sincere questions that Jeremy Runnells poses to a family friend who is employed as a seminary director by CES (Church Educational System). However, prior to sending this letter to its intended recipient, Jeremy posts it publicly on the internet forum, Reddit, inviting others to “personalize” it in their own voice and present it to family members and friends who are TBM (true believing Mormons).

Much of the CES Letter itself appears to adopt this “personalization” strategy of claiming to be original ideas formulated in the mind of Jeremy Runnells. It has been shown that at times full paragraphs and other segments have been “cut and pasted”  from formerly-written anti-Mormon pamphlets and documents and reprinted almost word for word in the body of the original CES Letter

Over time the CES Letter has adopted a new subtitle (originally “Why I Lost My Testimony” but now “My Search For Answers to my Mormon Doubts”) and undergone various rewrites and updates with the stated objective of adopting a “softened tone” to make it less confrontational and hyperbolic to readers.

Strategies and Intent of the CES Letter

Despite revisions, the CES Letter continues to rely upon rhetorical strategies of debate and argumentation deemed by others to be manipulative and intellectually dishonest. A Mormon CES Letter summary that seeks to explore each of these rhetorical strategies is discussed on FairLatterDaySaints.org (FAIR) in an article titled, “Manipulations & Dishonesty in the CES Letter.”

The most prevalent strategy is a technique called “gish galloping” wherein a debate opponent is overwhelmed by a host of specious arguments that contain half-truths, misrepresentations, and outright falsehoods over a short period of time, rendering it impossible for the opponent to properly refute said arguments in the format or setting of the debate because it takes considerably more time to address each point than it takes to create the misinformed data in the first place.

An article on RationalWiki explains further, “The strength of the Gish Gallop is in its ability to create the appearance of authority and control. The Galloper frames the debate and forces opponents to respond on their terms. The Galloper wins by making the point that their opponents have failed to disprove their arguments sufficiently or completely enough for their satisfaction. Their goal is not to win on the facts, but to minimize the time and effort they need to expend to achieve maximum apparent credibility, while ensuring that opponents expend maximum time and effort in rebuttal for inconsequential gains. They want to drop a bomb into your lap and run away, telling you it can only be disarmed when they say it is, and that it isn’t their job to tell you when it’s disarmed.”

Another tactic is defined as “document shock” (from the German term “dokumentenschock”) and specifically intends to attack someone’s emotional well-being and state-of-mind by overwhelming an opponent with an avalanche of information in hopes that the opponent’s brain simply “shuts down” and can no longer process the information. The object is to cause the human mind to “draw a blank” because it fails to apprehend how to proceed.

What Are the Author’s Motivations?

From the outset of the CES Letter, Jeremy Runnells describes himself as someone who is sincerely seeking answers and open to whatever enlightenment the unnamed CES director might provide him to mitigate his doubts and restore his testimony. However, multiple statements posted prior the letter’s publication contradict these claims of neutrality. Various statements reveal that any commitment or belief in the LDS Church had evaporated long before the CES Letter was posted. This observation does not mean to imply that at one time he did not undergo a very painful and emotional transition in his personal spiritual journey. Only that he misrepresents himself as a neutral and unbiased party at the time of the CES Letter’s public release and that his claims of not wanting to undermine the testimony of other Church members are insincere. Moreover, that Jeremy’s strategies and tactics were pre-planned, calculated, and adjusted over time to maximize their manipulative impact.

Additional Resources
Despite the momentousness of the undertaking, there are many resources on the internet that exhaustively address each and every point of contention that the Mormon CES Letter makes in its efforts to flummox the faith of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The authors of what are (often) very lengthy articles on this topic include Sarah Allen, Scott Gordon, Michael Ash, Jim Bennett, and Brian Hales.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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