While the LDS Church is the largest Mormon group, there are lots of other churches tracing their founding to Joseph Smith. John Larsen of the Sunstone Podcast sat down with Rick Bennett to discuss some of these groups who aren’t well-known. Rick refers to them as “our Mormon cousins.”
Rick: I was back in Independence earlier this summer. I wanted to go to the Temple Lot of church. I talked to that guy, probably for six or seven hours. It was amazing. I wish I could have gotten than one recorded. I asked and he said, “No.” I went to the Cutlerite Church, and I talked to that lady for probably two hours. I got a tour of the church. I even got a quote in Sunstone because it’s something I learned from her. So listen to Mel Johnson’s Sunstone presentation if you want to hear that. I tried to talk to the Remnant Church because I got some friends there and their building was closed. I went to the Community of Christ temple, and then I just would drive around and I would see something that looked–I’m trying to remember what it said. It was like the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ. I said, “That’s got to be one of our churches.” So, sure enough, it was this guy, he was missing a bunch of teeth. He was out fixing a fence on their church property. I talked to him for probably an hour and I felt bad because he was trying to fix this fence, and I’m stopping him. He’s telling me about angels. He showed me this picture. He goes, Do you see this white area here? That’s like an angel.” It was just so interesting to listen to him. I think he was surprised because I listened without judgment, like that’s not an angel. I was like, “Wow, what a story.” The guy named Randy Sheldon at the Temple Lot Church. I found out that they still do speaking in tongues.
We talk about several other groups. Check out our conversation….
Let’s face it. Many members have an incomplete knowledge of Church history and problematic historical issues. Is it the leaders’ fault? John Larsen of the SunstonePodcast debates Rick Bennett as to where the blame should lie with regards to teaching Church history.
John: There’s still stuff that gets me annoyed. For me, the higher they are up on the pecking order. I’ve said many times that they have a hard job, they have an impossible job, the brethren, but it’s their own doing, they’ve backed themselves into a corner. But the higher up you are in the organization, the less empathy I have for you, because you know what you’re doing at this point. There’s plenty of Bishops and Stake Presidents just trying to do their best. But if you’re in the Q15, you get no pass. You get no quarter from me.
John: Is that too harsh?
Rick: I know it is for some people. Some of my subscribers–in fact, one of them recently posted one of my podcasts on Mormon Stories. For one thing, I was grateful for kind of the publicity or whatever, but he was pretty harsh on Elder Snow and I was just like, “Wow, do you not give anybody the benefit of any doubt?” One of my things is I try to talk about this from kind of a non-polemical point of view, kind of an academic point of view. I don’t put up with a lot of anger. I know in Mormon Stories, at least from my experience, and, I’m sure people will disagree with me, but, it’s a very angry group. I know there’s a stereotype of bitter ex-Mormons, and I feel like that applies in that group, because there are so many angry people that won’t give anybody of faith, any benefit of the doubt. That bothers me. I mean, not that I agreed with everything Elder Snow said. One of the one of the things that Elder Snow said that I knew was going to cause a lot of pushback, was when I said, “So was there anything that bothers you about church history?” And he said, “No, I think it’s inspiring.” I was just like, “Wow, there’s going to be a lot of people that will disagree with that.” And I was right. There were people that disagreed with that.
John: That goes to my point. Somebody who is a professional clergy, he doesn’t have a day job, like bishops and stake presidents do. He’s got access to stuff that you and I don’t have access to. For them, just to pretend that they don’t know what’s going–for him to say that, he loses empathy with me, because we only have two points. He’s either willfully ignorant, which he has no excuse at his age, or he’s lying. Tell me, is there another possibility? Please tell me, Rick, what am I missing? I have been struggling with that question since the day I left.
Rick: Well, and I know that–I mean, I guess I would kind of fit in there. Not that I agree with Elder Snow. There are lots of things about church history that bothers me. So I would have never answered the question that way. I don’t want people to accuse me of being willfully ignorant, which I think I’ve demonstrated, I am not willfully ignorant. I’m very cognizant of all the major issues and try to talk about that.
John: But you’re not calling the shots.
Rick: Well, that’s true. I’m not calling the shots. But I think Elder Snow has been a wonderful advocate for the Church History Department. One of the things he said later on in the interview, was that he’s trying to be transparent. He’s trying to get stuff [out.] We’ve got the Gospel Topics Essays that came out under his tenure. It started under Elder Jensen, but he was the one that shepherded it through and he just felt like if we can get all this stuff out, we won’t be accused of hiding anything, and it’s going to be better for the church, which I agree with.
There are some active Latter-day Saints who may be surprised to learn about Joseph Smith’s beliefs in magic as well as the connections between freemasonry and LDS Temples to be surprising. Some will even deny the connection. Is this something active, believing Latter-day Saints should be concerned about, or can these connections be reconciled? Clair Barrus will describe how he reconciles Joseph Smith’s history which is surprising to some.
Clair: So, when people come across uncomfortable church history truths or facts, it’s problematic because we’ve been raised on correlated history, and the internet now provides an opportunity to have unvarnished material to ingest. In the black and white paradigm in which the church presents everything: it’s true or false, it’s right or wrong, then then we have a problem, I think, or there’s a problem. It’s setting people up for a problem and a potential failure. I don’t think it will be that way several generations from now. I think the church is in the midst of trying to adjust to that. But [there are a] the scope of paradigms I don’t care for, and I think there are valid paradigms that work with Joseph Smith and all of these facts of church history that work well. But, black and white, true and false, all that, I think we need to reject that and say, “You know what?” Prophets are human, and they made some mistakes. The idea of a restoration of ancient truths–the way I like to look at it is that Joseph Smith was a brilliant prophet in that he was repurposing the raw materials of the esoteric and the questions about the divine and the mystic and the religious and he was a master at taking these raw ingredients that were right in front of him and building something better, something that spoke better to the people of his time.
So, we have this magic stuff. We have masonry. We have Christianity. I think Joseph takes these and builds something new out of them. I think that is the prophetic, revelatory, creative thing that Joseph Smith does. He builds that and then and then a little bit later, there’s more stuff that is informing him and more building blocks are suddenly visible to him and he takes those and synergistically builds something out of that, and on and on and on. It’s couched in the terminology of restorationism, restoring ancient truths. And perhaps it is, but I think that another way to look at it is that it’s building. It’s using the raw materials to build Mormonism that speaks to people, that helps them reach to the divine to answer the questions that everybody has asked from antiquity. Joseph Smith is providing potential answers for us and helping us as we seek to try to try to figure out what’s going on this planet. Why are we here and what in the world is going on? So that’s kind of how I see it.
So the Masonic Temple connection, to me that’s a repurposing of masonry into something that is more in line with the vision that Joseph Smith continues to uncover and build as he goes through his life. This is the latest building and refashioning something from his environment into something new that spoke to those people. And it speaks a lot to a lot of people today, and I think that’s a better way of looking at these things.
Is that how you see it? Check out our conversation.