Mormon CES Letter Summary

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


The Mormon CES Letter, written by Jeremy Runnells, is a document that gained significant attention both within and outside the Latter-day Saint community. It’s important to understand the context and content of the CES Letter to grasp its impact and implications. Here we will offer a summary of the Mormon CES Letter, as well as some context for the purpose or intention of the letter.

Jeremy Runnells is a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the LDS Church or the Mormon Church. He first wrote the CES Letter as an attempt to receive some answers concerning his doubts and questions about the LDS Church that had been troubling him for years. The letter was initially addressed to a CES (Church Educational System) director as part of Runnells’ effort to seek answers to his concerns. However, he did not receive a response to this letter so he decided to publish the letter online in 2013.


The CES Letter is a comprehensive compilation of questions and criticisms regarding various aspects of Mormon Church history, doctrine, and practices. It is over 130 pages long. The CES Letter covers thirteen topics and many more subtopics. The topics include:

  • Book of Mormon
  • Book of Mormon Translation
  • First Vision
  • Book of Abraham
  • Polygamy/Polyandry
  • Prophets
  • Kinderhook Plates and Translator Claims
  • Testimony and Spiritual Witness
  • Priesthood Restoration
  • Witnesses
  • Temples and Freemasonry
  • Science
  • Other Concerns

With such a large number of topics, the focus of the letter is to call the beginnings of the Mormon Church into question. Particularly issues surrounding Joseph Smith, for example, Smith’s translation process of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, which calls the credibility of Joseph Smith as a prophet and translator into question, Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry, which calls Smith’s moral character into question. Of course other topics diverge from Smith and address issues with Mormon Church leadership and other Mormon Church teachings.

Topics of the CES Letter

One of the central themes of the CES Letter is the historical and archaeological problems surrounding the Book of Mormon, which is considered by Mormons to be scripture comparable to the Bible. Runnells raises questions about the lack of archaeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon narrative, the anachronisms found within the text, and the similarities between the Book of Mormon and other 19th-century works.

One of the central pillars of the LDS CES Letter is its scrutiny of the Book of Mormon, a foundational text in Mormon theology, similar to the Bible in many regards. Runnells raises questions about the book’s origins, offering alternative explanations for its creation, mainly that Joseph Smith wrote it by borrowing from other texts. The CES Letter also points to the lack of archaeological evidence supporting the events described in the Book of Mormon, as well as anachronisms—elements within the text that seem out of place in the ancient Americas where the story purportedly takes place. The CES Letter also calls into question the testimonies of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. 

Moreover, the CES Letter delves into the translation process of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, another scriptural work revered by Mormons. Runnells highlights discrepancies between the accounts he was taught as a member of the Mormon Church about the translation process and the accounts found in historical records, casting doubt on the traditional narrative of divine revelation and miraculous translation. Finally, Runnells takes issue with the fact that the narrative portrayed in church art perpetuates an erroneous narrative about Joseph Smith’s translation process.

Another significant focus of the CES Letter is Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy (the marriage of one man to multiple women) and polyandry (a woman being married to more than one man), which Runnells claims contradicts mainstream LDS Church teachings and historical narratives. Runnells writes about Joseph Smith’s marriages to multiple women, including those who were already married to other men. He talks about the secretive nature of these relationships as well, claiming that there was a lack of consent from some of the women involved.

Furthermore, the CES Letter scrutinizes inconsistencies and contradictions within Mormon scripture and teachings. Runnells points to church doctrines changing over time, as well as discrepancies between Mormon scripture and scientific evidence. He raises questions about the reliability of LDS Church leaders and the unreliability of “spiritual” evidence, arguing that many members are unaware of the complexities and controversies surrounding their faith.


While some praised Runnells for bringing attention to important issues and encouraging critical thinking, others criticized him for what they perceived as a biased and one-sided presentation of LDS Church history and doctrine. There is significant evidence of Runnell’s taking sources out of context, using unreliable sources, or misrepresenting the sources that he uses.

In response to the CES Letter, the LDS Church has released essays addressing some of the issues raised by Runnells, though critics argue that these essays do not adequately address all of the concerns raised in the Mormon CES Letter.

In response to the CES Letter, the LDS Church released a series of essays addressing some of the concerns raised by Runnells and other critics. These essays, published on the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, acknowledge some of the historical complexities and controversies surrounding Mormonism while reaffirming the church’s commitment to its core beliefs and teachings. Critics argue that the church’s essays fall short of addressing all of the issues raised in the CES Letter or downplay certain aspects of church history and doctrine. 

Overall, the CES Letter represents a significant moment in the ongoing dialogue surrounding Mormonism and religious faith more broadly. It has challenged traditional narratives, sparked conversations, and prompted individuals to confront their religious beliefs. It has prompted discussions about transparency, historical accuracy, and doctrinal integrity within the church. Whether viewed as a catalyst for change or a divisive force within and outside the LDS Church, the CES Letter has made a large impact.

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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