Bill Russell is one of my favorite Community of Christ historians. He taught at Graceland University, and told Bruce Jenner to train hard for the 1600 meters in the Olympic Decathlon. We’ll learn about RLDS history, and his unorthodox beliefs. Check out our conversation…
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Coaching Bruce Jenner at Graceland?
I’m excited to have one of my favorite RLDS historians, Bill Russell from the Community of Christ. We’re going to talk about some of his days at Graceland University and find out that he actually coached Bruce Jenner, the Olympic decathlete, now known as Caitlyn Jenner. So, that’ll be a lot of fun. Check out our conversation….
GT 01:07 Welcome to Gospel Tangents. I’m so excited to have, can I call you one of the premier historians in the Community of Christ?
Bill 01:16 You might be lying, but, no. I think that would be okay.
GT 01:22 All right. Well, tell us who you are.
Bill 01:23 I’m Bill Russell and I have sort of specialized in Latter-day Saint history since about 1970.
GT 01:35 Okay, so tell us a little bit about your academic background. I understand you’re a JD. You’re a lawyer, I guess. But I know you taught at Graceland.
Bill 01:44 Yeah.
GT 01:45 Tell us about all your degrees, bachelor’s, stuff like that.
Bill 01:48 I took a religion major at Graceland, undergraduate. Then I got my Master of Divinity. That’s a three-year degree from the Methodist Seminary in Kansas City. I loved it. I mean, it’s just some of the best professors I’ve ever had. Lindsey Farrago in New Testament, I’ve often thought of him as the best professor I’ve ever had.
GT 02:14 What was the name of that seminary?
Bill 02:16 St. Paul School of Theology, a Methodist Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. I just loved it there. So, I graduated there. Then Graceland said, ‘Well, we really need somebody to teach Bible and history of Christianity. And that’s kind of your strength from seminary. Come on, up to Graceland and teach.” So, I said, “Sure.” I had always been kind of a goal of mine to eventually teach at Graceland, although early on I thought, I would love to teach something and coach at Graceland. But that now had long, left my objectives by this time. I did coach cross country three times during my career, three times each, for a total of nine years. But that’s just because I had a record running cross country and had been pretty successful at it. So, they roped me and the first time that I coached cross country, this is off above the subject.
GT 03:23 We’re all into tangents on Gospel Tangents. So that’s okay.
Bill 03:25 So, the first time I coached cross country was I came to Graceland as a freshman. The coach and athletic director said, “Russell, I understand you were successful running cross country at Flint Northern High School in Michigan. I would like you to start the cross-country program at Graceland. So, I did, as a freshman. I went around the men’s dormitories and got about five or–we got about six or seven guys.
GT 03:51 Because you need at least five.
Bill 03:53 At least five. Some meets I only had five, but I think I had a maximum of like a six or seven. I did that for three years and then my senior year, LD Weldon, the guy who later would coach Bruce Jenner, came my senior year. So I was able to back away from him. But the funny thing about it was LD Weldon was the third coach that I had–I had three coaches, but I only considered him the third best. My high school coach was better than any of them. He had been one of the top three hurdlers in the country. I learned, even though I was a distance runner, I learned how to hurdle from Norbert Badar, my coach. Yeah, he was just a terrific coach.
GT 04:38 Now wait a minute, were you at Graceland when Bruce Jenner was there?
Bill 04:42 Yeah, he was a friend of mine because we both talked about track, you know.
GT 04:46 No way. Did you coach him at all?
Bill 04:49 No, no. He had LD Weldon coaching him. Yeah, I did tell him, “Be sure and don’t underestimate the importance of the 1500-meter run, the last event in in the decathlon. Because a lot of times a guy who’s good at the other nine events, will just trained for those nine events, and then just try to gut it out, in that last event, which is the 1500 meter. And LD, he was always good in the 1500 meters, Bruce was, yeah. So, whether or not my giving him that advice stuck or not, I didn’t know.
GT 05:36 But he got the gold, anyway.
Bill 05:37 Yeah.
GT 05:38 One way or the other, he got the gold. That’s awesome.
Bill 05:40 Two times later, I coached the team for three years. Then, I had other reasons to have to have to step aside. But the last time, there was a guy coaching both the men and the women’s cross country. And the guys on the cross-country team were really pretty good. The number one guy went to the athletic director and said, “We want Bill Russell to coach us next year, because we’ve got a good team, and he’ll push us.” So, I did it, and I pushed them, and they won the district. They won to conference and the district for the first time in 17 years.
GT 06:19 Wow.
Bill 06:20 Yeah, that year.
GT 06:22 So, you’re a coach champion, I guess.
Bill 06:26 Well, I had good people, good runners. I had four good runners, and you need five, but I had four freshmen, and usually one of the freshmen would come through good enough to make a good score.
GT 06:44 Right.
Bill 06:46 I enjoyed it. Every time I coached, I ran with them.
GT 06:53 Really?
Bill 06:53 I always used my own workout.
GT 06:54 So, you pushed them. Yeah, yeah.
Bill 06:57 I would usually finish in about in the middle of the pack, because I was 40 years old.
GT 07:05 (Chuckling)
Bill 07:07 But, anyway, that’s probably a little bit off what you’re wanting to ask me, but…
GT 07:11 No, that’s awesome. I ran cross country in high school.
Bill 07:15 Oh, did you?
GT 07:15 I’m very familiar with the sport. My son, I’ll just do a little bit of bragging here. He’s on an LDS mission in Montana right now. Right after he graduated, he wanted to do a triathlon, before he went on his mission.
Bill 07:31 Oh, yeah.
GT 07:31 He finished in second place, and it was Olympic length triathlon.
Bill 07:35 Oh, great.
GT 07:35 I was so proud of him, and it was because of all the swimming and running that he did, and he was a mountain biker, too.
Bill 07:43 Yeah. I never learned how to swim. So, I’ve never done that decathlon. I mean I’ve never done that–triathlon. But I would love to be qualified for it. I did run the Boston Marathon.
GT 07:56 Really?
Bill 07:57 My best ever [time] was at Boston.
GT 08:00 Did you have to qualify back then? Because I know you have to [now.]
Bill 08:03 Yeah.
GT 08:03 Oh, you did?
Bill 08:03 Yeah, although I just turned 40, so, the qualification was slower for the old guys, but I was able to…
GT 08:16 That’s still like three and a half hours, isn’t it, to qualify?
Bill 08:18 Yeah, it was, yeah, three and a half hours to qualify, then. It had been three flat for younger runners, but 3:30 for old guys. I just love [running.] That’s why I started training for the marathon. I wanted to do the Boston. You don’t have to say, the Boston Marathon. It’s just the Boston. I ran the Boston.
GT 08:48 Wow. I don’t want to get too sports nerdy, because I have a tendency to do that. But was Bill Rodgers there? Do you remember Bill?
Bill 08:53 Yeah, Bill Rodgers won the year I…
GT 08:55 Because he’s the last American to win the Boston, I think.
Bill 08:58 He might be, yeah.
GT 08:59 Yeah. So, that was late 70s, early 80s, I think.
Bill 09:03 [It was] 1979, that’s when I ran. When I was getting to the top of Heartbreak Hill, mile 20, I heard over the loudspeaker, somebody’s radio, “And Bill Rodgers has won it again.” I had six miles to go.
GT 09:19 Wow.
Bill 09:20 I still finished at 2:58.
GT 09:22 That’s a great time. That’s a really good time. That’s awesome. I had no idea you were a super athlete. That’s awesome.
Bill 09:28 Bill Rodgers came to run, like a 10k, oh, something in Des Moines. So, I got ahold of him. I said, “I understand that when I was at Boston in ’79 when you got the top of Heartbreak Hill, you had to crap so bad, you had to make a decision whether or not to crap or win the race. He said, “No, that’s just a myth.”
GT 09:51 (Chuckling)
Bill 09:53 I was so sad that was a myth. But it was a lot of fun. I miss it. Once I got to where I got asthma, is what got me out of it.
GT 10:06 What ended your career. Oh, wow. I’m sorry to hear that. Well, that’s awesome.
Early RLDS History-Lineal Succession
GT: So, one of my favorite stories–did you grow up here in Iowa? Is that right?
Bill 10:18 No. My dad was an appointee minister in the church. So, I went from Des Moines, six years to Omaha to St. Joe, to Flint, Michigan and then to Graceland.
GT 10:31 Okay.
Bill 10:31 So, I was kind of around the horn, because dad was what they call a church appointee, but basically a full-time minister for the church.
GT 10:39 Okay. So, you’ve grown up your whole life in the Community of Christ or the RLDS church, as it used to be known.
Bill 10:45 Yeah.
GT 10:46 So, one of the things I’d like to do is talk a little bit about RLDS history. Jesse [James] and I went to Liberty House today.
Bill 10:54 Oh, good.
GT 10:55 And that was fantastic.
Bill 10:57 Was Steve Smith your guide? Steve Smith is the head of…
GT 11:03 Was it? I think it was.
Bill 11:05 Yeah.
GT 11:05 So, one of the things that was astonishing to me to learn was after Joseph Smith, the third died, which was in about 1914, that’s right, that his neck his three sons were the next three presidents.
Bill 11:23 Yeah.
GT 11:25 David, Israel and Wallace. Is that right?
Bill 11:31 No, the first one was…
GT 11:35 Frederick.
Bill 11:36 I guess so. Yeah, Frederick Madison. That’s right. I don’t know why I was blocking on him. But one reason I’ll just tell you my heresy, right now. I think Joseph Smith, the third, was just who we needed. I mean, I think he did a good job. In fact, some of the historians in our church like me, and Lach Mackay, who’s descended from Joseph Smith, really are much more appreciative of Joseph the third, then we are Joseph, Jr.
Bill: Then, after Joseph the third, I wish we had just forgotten about the idea of lineage. I think it’s, quite honestly, a stupid idea. I mean, to be blunt about it. The Remnant Church is one of the splinter churches that we’ve had, in the last, over the last 30 or 40 years. The Remnant Church wanted to have a direct descendant. Well, they didn’t have anybody that was a direct descendant in the church. Fred Larsen, who became the first president, was a direct descendant of Joseph Smith. But his three sons, none of them were active in the church. So, when he died about two or three years ago, they finally just had to go pick somebody they thought would do a good job. And that should be the way it should be. I mean, it’s crazy.
Bill 13:13 Back in 1972, or so, we had a journal published at Graceland called Courage. I published an editorial which said, “We have debated with the Mormons as to which is a better method of succession in the church presidency, lineage, or,” your method of…
GT 13:41 Apostolic succession.
Bill 13:42 Apostolic succession, yeah. So, the question is not, which is the best? The question is, which is the worst? I mean, we could have the old debates again, and just exchange notes and debate which is the worst. I mean, I’m really serious. And I don’t know which side I would take. I mean, I just think they’re both terrible. So, how would I know which side to be for?
GT 14:10 They’re both terrible.
Bill 14:11 So, anyway, we should have had, when we finally opened it up and had Grant McMurray and, now, Stephen Veazey. Well, we should have opened the doors to anybody after–I mean, Joseph the third, was good because of the timing of it, and the location of the church. We were heavily located in southern Iowa, and Joseph the third, was just [great.] And plus, Joseph the third had been raised, really, by his mother and not by his father. And he didn’t know a lot of the stuff.
GT 14:48 Because he was just 11 years old when his father died.
Bill 14:50 [He was] 11 and a half.
GT 14:51 Yeah.
Bill 14:52 And he wouldn’t have known hardly anything that his dad was teaching. So, I think, now again, I don’t have proof on this, because we don’t have much in the way of sources from Emma. But I think Emma, raised Methodist, married this Mormon prophet, and then he’s gone. He had things like polygamy that she detested. I think she raised her son or her sons from a more orthodox Protestant type of type of theology. So, I just think that Joseph Smith, the third, the kind of education he got, fit their brand and Mormonism better for the Midwest, where things like polygamy and baptism for the dead and all those more wild things, you might even say Mormon history, were not included. And that was very fortunate, in my opinion.
GT 16:01 So, can you walk us a little bit through RLDS history? So, from what I understand, June 27, 1844, Joseph was killed. The RLDS church was started April 6, 1860.
Bill 16:13 Yeah, well, it really was underway before that. It’s just, April 6, is when they got Joseph the third, to accept the presidency of the church. It really started in 1852, when Jason Briggs had his experience, much like Joseph had his vision in the grove kind of experience. But, anyway, he went into the grove…
GT 16:43 Jason Briggs had a visionary experience?
Bill 16:46 Yeah.
GT 16:47 Tell us more about that. I don’t know about that.
Bill 16:49 He had been with Strang. In fact, I remember seeing, I came across in the Strang literature, a letter from Jason Briggs. He said, this is in 1849. He says, “I know that James J. Strang is the one, is the true prophet. But then, in 1849. But, then in 1850, they find out that Strang is a polygamist and so…
GT 17:28 They were out of there.
Bill 17:29 Down, he went. So now, he, the guy that he had put his faith in was now a heretic, and a polygamist. So, he decided, we’ve got to find some other basis for succession. He kind of settled on the idea of succession. I mean, of–what do you call it?
GT 17:57 Lineal succession.
Bill 17:58 Yeah, lineal succession. So, he came out of his experience with that in mind. So, that’s what he was looking for. That’s what a lot of the people who joined the church were looking for, was a man who was of the lineage of Joseph. So, there’s four sons of Joseph Smith. Of course, he went to the oldest son. So, now they want Joseph the third.
Bill 18:35 But Joseph, the third, at first, was very much against it.
GT 18:38 Right.
Bill 18:39 He was aware, even though he didn’t know a lot of the details, he was aware of the kind of life his father had lived. And he was in Nauvoo, and he was—(my Parkinson’s hits me too much.) But he was justice of the peace in Nauvoo and elected a number of times. Here, you think with a name Joseph Smith and everything, he’d be hated by everybody. But I think because he was just a good guy, unlike his father. The people around Nauvoo in and those environs around Nauvoo, thought that this guy is all right.
Bill 19:28 In fact, when the civil war started, we needed somebody to go make a big speech, to try to get guys to join the army. So they said, “Joseph, about how giving a speech to recruit some soldiers?”
He said, “Okay,” and he gave a speech and 17 men signed up. Then, after that, he thought, “What did I do?” I mean, you begin to wonder, “Is this really something we, as a church,” he wasn’t in the church. But “Is this really something that we Christians should support?” He had some doubts about what he had done. But, anyway, he was just a respected member of the community.
Bill 20:14 So, they had an RLDS Church called, The Olive Branch, in Nauvoo. Now, Joseph, then, when he finally accepted the leadership, he and Emma went up to north. They went to Plano. No, wait, no, they went to Plano. It’s in the literature, but I can’t think of it right now. But, anyway, the two of them went up, and Joseph accepted the leadership of the church. They were both accepted as members of the church, based on their first, on their, on their original baptism.
Bill 20:52 So, anyway, and then he goes back to Nauvoo. Then, he was in Nauvoo about five years before he finally went to Plano, where the church headquarters was at. He probably found it kind of hard to lead the church from 200 miles away or whatever that would be. So, it was about 1865, somewhere in there, he moved to Plano.
GT 21:19 Okay.
Bill 21:20 So the headquarters the church was Plano.
GT 21:22 Why would they move it away from Nauvoo? Was there still just too much hostility in Nauvoo? Is that why they moved it to Plano?
Bill 21:29 That’s one possibility. But another possibility is that so many of the members of the church were from Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, and Southern Michigan.
GT 21:41 So, they were just moving where the members were.
Bill 21:43 They were probably going where the members were at, yeah, that’s my guess.
GT 21:46 Okay. So Plano was the headquarters of the RLDS church for how long?
Bill 21:54 Let’s see. So they’re in Plano until they got into Lamoni, and that’s somewhere around 1879 or so. So they’re about 15 years in Plano. And then they head to Lamoni.
GT 22:10 So, from what I understand, a lot of RLDS members were saying, “Hey, we want to gather some place. Where are we to gather?” Because Missouri was still kind of hostile.
Bill 22:23 Yeah, that’s a theory that I think makes sense, but I don’t know for sure that’s the case that they were thinking, “Let’s get…” I mean, Lamoni, first of all, we’ve got some people that have land. We’ve we got some landowners in the Lamoni area, the Vances, and some others. So, we did have a little bit of an establishment of some people there with some significant land ownership, and they’re just three or four miles from the Missouri State Line. So, it was a pretty good place to land, if you ultimately–so, then they end up taking about 20 years to gather to Independence.
GT 23:14 From Lamoni.
Bill 23:15 From Lamoni, yeah. I mean, people just begin to move to Independence by about 1880 or so. It’s about a 20-year process of moving and I’m not even really positive when Joseph the third decided to make the move. But somewhere around 1900, about midway through that gathering period, he decided to move to Independence, and folks kept on moving. So, by 1920, it actually was clear that the church headquarters was Independence. I’m not sure how far before that. It would be a matter of everybody agrees that that’s it. I think they just saw it as a gradual process.
GT 24:07 Okay, so the headquarters–it’s funny to me that there’s so many different headquarters. So, it went from Plano to Lamoni for 20-ish years.
Bill 24:16 Yeah.
GT 24:16 And then to Independence?
Bill 24:17 Yeah, and then to Independence. Yeah.
GT 24:21 That’s interesting. It’s amazing to me, he lived a long time.
Bill 24:27 Yeah, he was 54 years, 54 ½ year, I believe, as president of the church.
GT 24:33 How old was he when he became president, do you know? Late 20s, I think.
Bill 24:37 Yeah, about, I think about 27. If you add 54 to that, and he’s pretty old when he dies.
GT 24:50 Well, yeah, so 1914, so he was probably 70 years old-ish.
Succession through Fred M & Israel Smith
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Bill 24:56 At least, yeah. Well, Israel was 84, I think, when he died by automobile accident.
GT 25:04 Oh, I didn’t know that.
Bill 25:05 Yeah. So he’s–and that’s an interesting story. I think he had been told that you’re 84 years old, and you’re president of the church, we can find a driver for you, easy. Anybody, people are happy to drive the prophet to a meeting. So, he had a date to give a sermon here in Lamoni stake, the Lamoni congregation, to be the, kind of, the keynote of their stake conference. There was somebody who was supposed to drive him up. But, he kind of resented that, I guess. So, he just went out and got in the car and took off. Then, it turned out to be a very rainy day, and his 84 year-old eyes weren’t very good, and he ended up going across the center lane, and hitting somebody. It killed him. It didn’t kill those people, there were two people, I think, in the car, and they recovered fairly fast. A story I like, a good friend of mine was raised on a farm near Lamoni. He and his father, about the time he was graduating from high school, he and his father were at some sale in the South in the Missouri border somewhere. There’s this guy at the sale, he said, “Yeah, I just about got killed by the Mormon prophet last year.” These two RLDS guys were there. They probably just let it ride.
GT 26:46 Because you don’t call yourselves Mormons, right?
Bill 26:49 No. See, Tom Harkin, our former senator, congressman and senator, I knew him pretty well from before he was a senator or congressman. But, the first time he was at Graceland, speaking, he was getting ready to run for Congress. He had thought we were Mormons, and he read up on the Mormons and stuff. He said, “Well, you know, I,” he’s Catholic, but he’s non-practicing Catholic. But, he said, “I really respect the Mormons. They have a very good work ethic, and so forth, and they’re honest men and women and so forth.”
He was telling his story, and, so, I get him aside, and I say, “Tom, we’re not Mormons,” and this is way back in 1972. So, I hadn’t really been schooled yet, and the idea that we really are all Mormons, because we’re all out of that [history.] I said, “You know, we’re not Mormons. We don’t even like them.”
GT 28:00 (Chuckling)
Bill 28:03 So, he still tells that story. He was at a fundraiser for a Graceland student, he was in the legislature, and I went to the fundraiser, and he saw me. He goes over and he laughed about it and everything. He’s told that story, even today. Bill Morain, editor of our journal, he was at another meeting. He hearkens Bill. He got talking to Bill and then he told the whole group about his experience. Earl Russell gets me aside, “No, we’re not Mormons.” But still, then as I studied Mormon history, I think it’s legitimate to say we’re all Mormons. I mean, we have a whole bunch of Mormon churches that have developed out of the Joseph Smith experience. That seems like it makes sense to me. But I know it doesn’t make sense to the guys at the 36 story building, at least the guys, the 15 guys that are in charge. I don’t think that’s their idea at all. Because it seems like they are trying to say that ] you’re only a Mormon, if you take the take the whole ball of wax that Utah church puts forth.
GT 29:28 Right. Well, I know 1984 was a big year in RLDS history with the ordination of women, which was six years after the LDS revelation that allowed blacks. Before we go there, because I think that’s an important thing I want to highlight, what are some of the big events between say, 1914 when Joseph the third, died and 1984 when the revelation happened? What are the highlights of RLDS history?
Bill 30:03 Fred M. Smith, the guy whose name I couldn’t even think of, Fred M. Smith with his PhD from Clark University, I think it was, out East, in social psychology, I think. My view is he was not a good president of the church at all. And that’s because I think he was so–maybe it’s because of his PhD. He thinks he’s so much smarter than everybody else, or what. But, at any rate, he had big fights with the elders in the church and stuff. So, supreme directional control, he ultimately came to the idea that I’m the Prophet, so, you should do what I say. So, the Prophet, we have supreme directional control in the church, and so what I say, people should obey. And that’s just nonsense, man. So, I think he was a very poor prophet. So, that period from 1915, when he when he became the head of the church, and then 1946, when he died, then, that’s the…
GT 31:26 [The period of] 1915.
Bill 31:27 Yeah, 1915 to 1946, then he dies. He hadn’t left any kind of a message as to who should replace him, probably because the only real inheritor of the church is Israel A. Smith, and Israel A. Smith was in the bishopric that had fought tooth and nail with the presidency back in the 20s, over Smith’s reign. Now Israel might have just felt like he needed to support the Presiding Bishop, because all three members of the bishop quit, resigned in 1925. So, then in Israel Smith goes back into law practice. He was a lawyer, not a very good one. But he was a lawyer. It seemed like he wasn’t a very good one. But I didn’t really know, I don’t know enough about it. Anyway, finally Fred M. brings Israel into the presidency in 1938, and he makes a statement. “Well, if he becomes president of the church, then he’ll have some some experience.” So, six years later, Fred M. dies, Israel A. becomes the president of the church.
Bill 32:54 Israel A. was a real nice guy. I mean, he learned from the mistakes of his brother. Norma Hiles has a good title for the book he wrote about Israel A. Smith–The Gentle Monarch. He was a monarch, I mean, he was the head, he had the divine right of kings in his favor. But, he realized that you’ve got to be a gentle monarch. “You can’t be like my older brother who really didn’t handle things well at all,” and in the middle of that in 1925, a lot of people left the church and then a lot of them joined the Hedrickite church. And some of them just probably left.
GT 33:44 They had a thing where they would recognize, the Temple Lot Church and the RLDS church would recognize each other’s baptisms. Right?
Bill 33:51 Well, around 1918, there was some kind of a study where the people from both churches got together and came up with some kind of a letter of agreement or something. So, there was some sort of agreement between them, but nothing much happened as a result of it. The Temple Lot Church was just anxious to build a temple. I don’t know if you know this, but they got to, they got the temple…
GT 34:29 Foundation.
Bill 34:29 They got the hole dug, and then they just run out of money.
GT 34:34 Because the Depression hit.
Bill 34:36 Yeah, the depression hit, yeah. I don’t know, after several years went by, finally the City of Independence said to the Temple Lot Church, “You fill that hole.” So, they had to fill the hole.
GT 34:48 Because I’ve heard, because the story, one of the things, this is a great story that I love, is because Harry Truman’s from Independence, the President of the United States.
Bill 34:58 Yeah.
GT 34:58 So, when he was leaving office. They were like, “We don’t want to look at this eyesore anymore. Fill up that hole.”
Bill 35:05 Oh, well, I don’t know if Harry had anything to do with it or not.
GT 35:08 I think it was indirectly. I don’t think he demanded it. People were like, “Harry Truman’s coming home, we don’t want him to come home to a big hole.”
Bill 35:14 Oh, yeah, that’s right. Because that’s pretty near. I mean, his daily walk would often go past the church. One story that one of our appointed ministers heard somebody tell it and pass it on, was that somebody said that tey’re walking down the street with Harry Truman, and they came within eyeshot of the the RLDS auditorium. Somebody said, “Now, what what is that building over there?”
He just said, “Oh, it’s just those damn Mormons.”
GT 35:48 (Chuckling)
Bill 35:48 He went on in his daily walks. For about three years, I lived pretty close to his house. I kept hoping I’d see him on his daily walk sometime. But I only saw him once, and it wasn’t on his daily walk. It was Sunday, and we’d gone to church, and then my wife and I had gone to eat at Little Kelsey’s Restaurant, which is right across the street from the Independence Hospital, which is just like half a mile, or a little bit more, up the road from Harry’s house. Well, all of a sudden, a limousine pulls up. The limousine driver is driving Harry and Bess. So, Harry and Bess get out of the car, and they walk into the Kelsey’s Restaurant. There were only about five or six people there being served. My wife and I were at one side of this little restaurant. They sat down at the other side, and nobody paid any attention to him, other than the person that waited on him. But nobody went over and said hello. Nobody asked for an autograph or anything, and we didn’t either. We just we thought it was really cool that we saw Harry and Bess over there. I’m a Democrat, I liked Harry Truman, but I still didn’t, I just didn’t think it was appropriate to go over near and interrupt somebody’s meal. So, we waited until he left. So, pretty soon, they finished their meal and got up, went out and got in the limousine and went back home.
Bill 37:32 My dad really liked Harry Truman. Dad voted for Dewey in ’44, and I just assumed–I was a little kid–I just assumed in ’48 that he would vote for Dewey, again. But, a separate time, one of us said, “Well, Dad, who did you vote for?” ”
Well, I voted for Truman.” ”
You did?” We didn’t expect that. But he really liked Truman. Well, I don’t know if you remember when a movie star named Whit Comer, somebody like that. He did just a one man show, he was just talked like he was Harry Truman. So, my dad thought, well, once he liked Harry Truman, he would go to it. And he went to it. In the middle of it, he left and came home. I said, “Why did you leave?” He said, “Oh, Harry Truman didn’t swear like that.” Well, I saw the movie, too. I don’t know, but I think, yeah, I kind of suspect Harry swore like that. I suspect they’d researched.
GT 38:34 Didn’t they call him “Give ‘em Hell Harry Truman”?
Bill 38:36 Yeah. Yeah. So, G. Leslie DeLappe, our Presiding Bishop knew Harry really well. He was a big figure in the Democratic Party, at least in the Independence area. They say that on election night of 1948, that Bishop DeLappe was at Harry Truman’s hideaway in Excelsior Springs. I suspect that’s true. I mean, G. Leslie DeLapp was very active in the Democratic Party. I suspect that’s a true story, but, I don’t know.
GT 39:25 Wow.
Bill 39:27 DeLapp was well established in the Democratic Party here in Jackson County.
GT 39:34 Well, I’ll just tell my listeners, if you ever make it to independence, you’ve got to see the Harry Truman Library. It’s really cool
Bill 39:39 Yeah. Oh, yeah. Lois and I just drove by it this afternoon.
GT 39:43 We did that when MHA was there a few years ago. So, that’s a lot of fun. Well, cool.
Women’s Ordination Causes Schism in RLDS Church
GT 39:36 Well, is anything else between say Truman and 1984, before we move on to 1984?
Bill 39:57 No, it’s just, I guess I would say that there’s a huge difference between Joseph the third, and his son Wallace B. Smith. So, Joseph the third, the old man, you may call him, he was opposed to women in the priesthood. In the 1970 Herald, he’s [Wallace] interviewed, and it’s a terrible interview. He says, “Well, my own personal opinion is we probably shouldn’t ordain women. Women are more suited for taking care of the kids.” I mean, it was just that crap, that some people will say, that why women should be quiet and shut up, and not take on any important role. So, I imagine that you probably know Lavinia Fielding Anderson. She’s one of my best friends.
GT 41:04 I do. I know of her.
Bill 41:06 I had her read my, whichever chapter, whichever book this was, I talked about this. Actually, I haven’t published it yet. But, anyway, Lavinia, I can’t remember all the things she said. She was so disgusted with such a stupid statement about women by the president of our church. Well, then by 1970, there’s a strong sense of need in the church to ordain women. Every conference, beginning in 1950, every world conference, there is some sort of resolution made about women. Let’s put women in more positions of leadership that don’t require priesthood. We can do that. We can go that far. Then, finally, I think about in 1980, no, before that, about 1976 or so, a resolution from the First Presidency says, “Well, we’ll ordain women when the president of the church,” or the presidency of the church, I can’t remember which, “Say it’s time for it.”
And I’m thinking, “Wallace is against it. He’s still the president of the church.”
Bill 42:33 As much as I dislike so many things about Wallace Smith, I can tell you some more things. But the thing that I really appreciate about him is that he pretty much left it to his two counselors, Morris Draper and Duane Cooley. They were strongly for women in the priesthood. So, apparently, he just said, “I’ll just say that if there comes a point where the President of the church, or the First Presidency want women in the priesthood, we’ll go that way.”
GT 43:10 Okay. So, I want to make sure I have my Wallace’s straight because there’s W. Wallace Smith and there’s Wallace B. Smith.
Bill 43:18 Yeah.
GT 43:19 Wallace B is the son of Wallace.
Bill 43:20 Yeah.
GT 43:21 Who is the son of Joseph Smith the third. Correct?
Bill 43:24 Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
GT 43:27 Okay. So, W. Wallace Smith, when did he serve, approximately?
Bill 43:34 He became president of the church in 19… I’m thinking 1958, and served for 20 years.
GT 43:38 So, 1958 was the David O. McKay era for our LDS audience.
Bill 43:43 What was that?
GT 43:43 I said, that’s the David O. McKay era for our LDS audience.
Bill 43:46 Yeah. (Chuckling.)
GT 43:48 (Chuckling) Okay. Yeah. So, he served from ’58 until when?
Bill 43:53 [He served] 20 years, till 1978. Then, his son, Wallace B.–see his son is an eye doctor. He was born in 1929. Wallace is, I think, he got an AA degree at Graceland or something like that. Then, Wallace was born like in 1899, or something. So, there’s three decades difference, and there’s just a huge difference in their education. Well, I interviewed Wallace. He said, “Well, as a medical doctor, we’re interested in…
GT 44:34 Wallace B., right?
Bill 44:35 Wallace B. tells me, “We’re interested in in real facts, and not just…
GT 44:42 So, W. Wallace only had an associate’s degree, but Wallace B. had a PhD?
Bill 44:48 An MD, from the University of Kansas. Yeah.
GT 44:52 Wow. That’s quite an education difference there between father and son.
Bill 44:54 Yeah. But, that’s one thing, I think the Smiths…
GT 44:59 So, W. Wallace was the one who gave the terrible interview about women and priesthood.
Bill 45:03 Oh, yeah.
GT 45:03 Okay.
Bill 45:05 I do think, though, that one thing I like about, I mean, one thing I like about the Smith gang, the Smith boys, if you want to call them that, is I think even W. Wallace valued education. W. Wallace hired, he appointed well-educated, at least, men. Well he never pointed any women. W. Wallace, I think there weren’t any women around yet. It was left for Grant McMurray to appoint the first women to the high positions.
GT 45:49 So, W Wallace was from 1958 until 1978.
Bill 45:52 Yeah.
GT 45:53 And then his son, Wallace B. was president from 1978 and he…
Bill 45:57 To 1996.
GT 45:59 And he resigned in 1996.
Bill 46:00 Yeah.
GT 46:00 Okay.
Bill 46:02 and then turned it over to Grant McMurray.
GT 46:03 Grant McMurray. So, W. Wallace, did he die in office or?
Bill 46:09 No, no.
GT 46:10 He just resigned, as well.
Bill 46:12 Yeah, yeah.
GT 46:13 That’s different than the LDS Church. You have to die to get out of there, to quit being prophet.
Bill 46:16 That’s another good thing about W. Wallace. He resigned. He lived until he was 89 or something like that. Yeah. He resigned. I mean, he thought it didn’t make any sense for him to keep on being the president of the church. He hardly had any life left in him.
GT 46:36 Was that a big deal, or a big controversy in the RLDS Church?
Bill 46:39 Not really. I think most people accepted that. I mean, that’s my impression. Most people accepted that very well. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense for a guy to be president of the church until he’s 90 years old. I remember when David O. McKay got to be president of the Utah church. I came into my church history class that day, and I said, “Well, those Mormons have a new a president.”
“Oh, really? Who is it?”
“Well, it’s David O. McKay.” I got this wrong. David O. McKay [died.] “David O. McKay was the President and he was 96 years old.”
“Wow, 96 years old,” they’d say.”
“Yeah, but don’t worry. They got a young cat that’s 93.”
GT 47:24 Joseph Fielding Smith.
Bill 47:26 Yeah. So, anyway, I just think that for the RLDS, that’s one thing that just didn’t make sense.
GT 47:40 Don’t serve till you die.
Bill 47:41 Yeah. Don’t serve until you die for crying out loud. We, all of us, want to retire at some point.
GT 47:48 Was W. Wallace the first to retire?
Bill 47:52 Yeah.
GT 47:52 That’s probably a better word than resign.
Bill 47:53 Yeah, because Israel got killed in an accident. Everybody before that died a normal death.
GT 48:01 Okay. So, it was Wallace B. Smith that presided over the 1984 revelation, which was…
Bill 48:10 Wallace B. presided over that, yeah.
GT 48:13 So, what I understand with–so 1984, that was a tumultuous year in the RLDS [Church.]
Bill 48:24 Yeah. A lot of people left the church.
GT 48:24 Because, what I’ve understood, one of the things, in the LDS Church, we have this thing about common consent, but it’s basically, everybody just raises their hand, pretty thoughtlessly, in a lot of cases, I would say. But, in the RLDS Church, you guys really hammer out and debate these things.
Bill 48:45 Yeah.
GT 48:46 So, 1984, can you talk about that time when, when that revelation came?
Bill 48:53 Well, so the revelation, it was fairly typical for the President of the Church on about Monday or Tuesday of the week-long World Conference, to say, “Okay, I’ve got a revelation.” And they’ll send that revelation to each of the quorums. So, the Quorum of Presidency and the Twelve, and the Bishopric and the High Priests, and the Elders, and then they just have a Quorum of the Aaronic priesthood. More recently, we’ve added the Quorum of Members, people that are just members, but aren’t being…
GT 49:30 Isn’t there a High Council as well?
Bill 49:32 There’s a High Council but that’s not–well, let’s see. But that’s not one of the quorums that vote on it. So, then, they’ll meet in the morning. This is one of the things I’ve really publicly objected to. They’ll meet in the morning, and this is changing under Grant McMurray and Steve Veasey. But they meet in the morning, and then they’ll vote. After discussion, they’ll vote. Then they’ll come, and in the afternoon, there’ll be a meeting of everybody. All the delegates will meet in a general session that afternoon. Then, they’ll call on somebody to speak for each quorum. They’ll get up and say, “Well, the High Priests quorum voted unanimously” or strongly in favor, or maybe they’ll…
Bill 50:26 Well, anyway, in 1984, I’ve looked through the 1984 votes, and the Seventies tended to be the most conservative people. They’re out there telling people the traditional message, that we’ve been teaching for years, and we don’t believe that anymore. So, they had a couple of quorums that voted, and had a majority voted no. Some other quorums that were like, tied, and then some other quorums, it was close. So, the really interesting votes, were among those the Seventies.
Bill 51:06 Now, the other quorums typically had some negative votes, too, especially the Elders Quorum. High Priests tend to be older. You’d think of the older as being, maybe, more conservative. They’re older, but, yet they’ve been around and they’re a little bit more accepting of change. Whereas, it’s often the Elders–maybe that’s the case of the Elders, because they’re conservative and oppose changes. They haven’t been ordained High Priests. They’re still Elders, and they’re voting no on the revelations. But, anyway, so, in the actual vote, they never took an actual vote, which I wish they had. But the vote was, people just have to estimate hands. Then, it was about 80 to 20, in favor of women’s ordination. I wish they’d had an actual vote, because we could say [that] the vote was XYZ. Because some people say, “Oh, no, we really had more like 40%,” and stuff like that. But I think 20 percent [voted no.] I mean, I wasn’t there. I didn’t go to that conference, except on the weekends. I had all kinds of grading to do at Graceland. So, I didn’t go down during the week, just did the two weekends. But anyway, that’s how that that conference went.
Bill 52:42 Some people, I have some friends who are restorationists, who just left them at home. One of my best friends is one of the leaders of the restoration movement. He was from New Jersey, and most of New Jersey delegation, just Thursday, after the vote, got up and left and started for home. So, we had a lot smaller crowd during the later meetings. I don’t know if that gets at what you’re looking for.
GT 53:15 So, one of the things, I know there was a lot of turmoil in the church in 1984 over women’s ordination. I’ve heard, I don’t remember if it was Veazey or McMurray, one of the two, I believe. Or, even, it could have been somebody else, said that they learned from this contentious time in 1984, that you can’t just throw revelation at people.
Bill 53:39 Right.
GT 53:39 You have to give them time to discern.
Bill 53:41 Absolutely.
GT 53:42 So, that, in 1984, resulted in a lot of conservative members, basically, leaving the RLDS church.
Bill 53:51 Yeah.
GT 53:51 And that’s where, I think, the Joint Conference of Restoration Branches, JCRB…
Bill 53:57 Several different groups, yeah.
GT 53:59 And there’s the Remnant Church, which you mentioned. A lot of these groups were just like, “No, we don’t want females ordained.”
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