"Jim is a good man and a bridge builder. He came to my aid when I needed his help and I appreciate this very much. I will always be grateful to Jim for recognizing, acknowledging and defending my humanity to his tribe when it wasn't to his advantage in doing so."
I like Jim Bennett. All of my offline interactions with him have been fun and pleasant. In our 6-7 hours together, Jim has been nothing but kind and respectful toward me and we've had great conversations.
Which brings me to the awkwardness and dilemma of responding to Jim's 2018 "Reply" to the CES Letter. It's quite a shock going through the document as it's a huge contrast from the offline Jim I've interacted with. If I'm to be 100% frank here, I'm pretty disturbed at the unreal disrespect and vitriol hurled my way throughout Jim's document.
I don't take pleasure in doing this but there needs to be a direct response to Jim's attacks and bad arguments and unsupported claims / apologetics.
When things get a little heated at certain parts of this Debunking (no escaping this as Jim has crossed the line several times), I want my readers and Jim to understand my frame of mind as I respond.
In my mind, I'm responding to a man that I've never met. Jim wrote his Reply in 2018 before we met. I know for a fact that Jim has changed in the last few years in different ways and has mellowed out considerably from where he was in 2018. So, when I say that Jim has wrote or claimed something that I point to as being dishonest or disingenuous, I'm not saying that present-day Jim is either one of those. Present-day Jim's fault is that he hasn't updated his document to remove all of his false information and bad claims. I can understand this as I know how hard and time-consuming all of this is but still, I'd hope that Jim's charity for me would allow him to do the right thing and to be fair and more Christlike toward me.
It's disingenuous for Jim to have "from a Former CES Employee" in his title. I've had people tell me that the CES Director got back to me or that the CES responded to my letter when nothing of the kind ever happened. When I asked them for the source to their claims, they pointed to Jim's title.
The reality is much different as Jim was never a CES employee. He was an independent contractor who made $599/year, as Jim jokes, and who taught seminary for 3-years in the past. Jim responded to the CES Letter as a regular lay member of the Church and not in any CES capacity or official role speaking on behalf of the CES or the LDS Church. Jim knows this is disingenuous as he told me so, he mentioned it in his 2021 Mormon Stories interview and he wrote about this "error" in his document.
It's dishonest because many people like the ones who contacted me only see Jim's cover (which, by the way, is extremely disrespectful from author to author) and title without reading his document go away with the false and incorrect assumption that the CES or a "CES Employee" officially got back to me or responded to the letter.
Anyway, Jim released his Reply to the CES Letter on April Fool's Day 2016. He jokes that if you want to be taken seriously that you don't release stuff on that day.
I remember April 2016. It was right in the middle of my then Stake President attempting to excommunicate me from the LDS Church after a couple of false starts including one for Valentine's night. My beloved grandfather and last living grandparent died a few weeks earlier two days before my birthday. I had major surgery to fix my failed cochlear implant device on my right ear and had to deal with the intense rehabilitation that came with that. It was a very stressful time.
After I excommunicated the Church (resigned) from my life on April 17, 2016, I released my Kangaroo Court document to show the world how the LDS Church treats its questioners behind closed doors. This whole situation absolutely exhausted and drained me. All the media attention. The stress of dealing with a very corporate, illogical and unreasonable Stake President who was only interested in obeying his "prophets, seers and revelators" at any and all costs - including his own conscience and morality.
Not too long after this, a dear friend of mine that I spent a lot of time with during my BYU days and whom I loved very much was killed in a car crash. Not too long after this, one of my children received a life-threatening diagnosis that kickstarted a nightmare that went on until late 2018 and which took all of our attention and focus to do everything we could to ensure a positive outcome.
I got my ass kicked and I just didn't have the bandwidth or gas in the tank to do anything other than survival mode.
I made a decision then that I was going to step back and take a long hiatus from all things Mormonism. Aside from a few short months in the summer of 2017 where I did a debunking of a viral hit-and-run Happiness Seekers blog piece as well as releasing an updated CES Letter, I was done. I focused on my family and personal life while digging my way out of survival mode.
I don't remember when I first learned about Jim Bennett and his Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto but I didn't give him much attention until he did his 14-hour interviews with Bill Reel in February or March 2019. We had our 3-hour lunch shortly after this. I distinctly remember, however, being extremely unimpressed with the unreal use of excessive snark, disrespect and mean-spiritedness in Jim's Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto. I glanced at his responses to the damning issues like KJV errors, KJV italics, Book of Abraham, rock in the hat translation, Book of Mormon, Polygamy / Polyandry, etc. to see the quality of Jim's arguments and I remember my eyes hurting from repeatedly looking directly at my brain.
For example, in the Book of Mormon Translation section, Jim talks about how he first learned about the rock in the hat translation
in Primary on his mission by his mission president, who was Bruce R. McConkie's son. He was told that the rock in the hat was a lie. The LDS Church verifies that this is indeed a fact via its Book of Mormon Translation essay. Jim then goes against his Church and its essay verified fact by stating that he "leans" toward the "possibility that they [McConkie's] may well be right, that the current interpretation [the LDS Church and its essay verified fact] of this historical narrative is incorrect". Jim then acknowledges his Jim Bennett Mormonism®:
I am untroubled that my opinion is, at the moment, out of the mainstream. My opinion on a number of Church subjects is fairly heterodox, actually.
So, it was a non-starter for me and I knew I was dealing with someone who had not only cooked up his own homemade Mormonism but whose framework and foundation is based on an entirely different set of assumptions and facts than that of the Church and the majority of its members - the Book of Mormon translation interpretation being just one of many examples.
I decided it wasn't worth my valuable time and efforts and I continued on my hiatus (which started to seriously inch toward permanent retirement) of all things Mormonism.
In December 2020, FairMormon released the most unChristlike and disgusting videos ever called This is the Show - very appropriately acronymed as "TITS" where they lied about and smeared me and others.
If that wasn't enough, the star of the show, Kwaku El, hurled death threats toward me and Mormon Stories John Dehlin.
One of the more disgusting attacks to come from FairMormon and their new TITS stooges was a smear that the CES Director is fake and that my CES Letter origin claims is a lie.
It quickly became very obvious to me that my hiatus was over and that I couldn't let all of this stand without my response. One of the first things I did was email Jim Bennett to ask him if he would be kind enough to be a witness on my behalf in attesting that the CES Director is indeed a real person, that I really did get contacted by him in 2013 and that I sent the Director a document which would later become virally known as the CES Letter.
Jim agreed to help me and I am very appreciative that he did this. We met together in mid-December 2020 and you can see our meeting and discussion here:
Again, both of my offline meetings with Jim have been pleasant and a lot of fun. Jim really is a great guy and he's very kind and respectful in the real world.
Which makes Jim's Reply to the CES Letter very baffling and frustrating for me personally. In doing this rebuttal to Jim's Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto, I feel like I am responding to a completely different person. The snark and disrespect in his Reply to me is beyond jarring and cringey. 2021 Jim acknowledges the snark and tone problems of his Reply:
Now, Jim has made a lot of very poor arguments and claims in his Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto. Jim's 372-page document could have been way shorter if he didn’t use massive snark, Vegemite bottles, Bennett family photos while taking us all on memory lane. Jim attacks the CES Letter as “poor scholarship” but I'm not the one who is peddling a homemade alternate contradictory Mormonism disguised as "faithful answers". I accept Church essay facts like that of the rock in the hat Book of Mormon translation, which Jim states in his Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto is likely a lie perpetuated by Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer. Further, as you will see in our detailed debunking of Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto, the "bad scholarship" card that Jim loves to use against the CES Letter ad nauseam is unjustified and without merit.
Jim has told me that studies have shown that his Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto is the most “effective” response to the CES Letter. Now that I’ve gone through Jim’s entire Reply with a fine-tooth comb, I can say with 100% certainty that if Jim’s Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto is the best "rebuttal" they've got against the CES Letter, the Church and Mormon apologists are in serious trouble. They now have a deeper truth crisis and a real mess with their narrative line as the LDS Church's narrative and Jim Bennett's narrative are not even in congruency with one another. They are not in alignment and often contradict one another. Again, you do not take my word on this...go through our responses where we demonstrate line-by-line the problems with "faithful" Jim Bennett Mormonism® "answers".
Jim Bennett Mormonism® & Purpose
"I am untroubled that my opinion is, at the moment, out of the mainstream. My opinion on a number of Church subjects is fairly heterodox, actually."
CES Reply, p.105
It is very important here to understand that Jim Bennett is not defending Orthodox Correlated Mormonism and has openly declared in his 2021 Mormon Stories interviews that this is not his goal or focus. Rather, Jim's goal and focus is to peddle his own Jim Bennett version of Mormonism as an option to still stay in the Mormon Church.
Now, Jim is actually refreshing in that, unlike traditional Mormon apologists, he is willing to acknowledge and admit to many of the problems of the LDS Church, its history and its truth claims - as you'll see throughout this debunking.
If you're expecting to come out of Jim's response to the CES Letter with your Orthodox Mormon testimony intact and untouched, you're greatly mistaken. Jim's purpose is not to save your unsustainable testimony in Orthodox Mormonism but rather to convert you to a new, foreign, contradictory and strange Mormonism at odds with what you've experienced and were taught/indoctrinated in mainstream Chapel Correlated Mormonism that is promoted and taught by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jim has stated that his purpose is not necessarily to defend the LDS Church but rather to provide a new framework or version of Mormonism that many call Jim Bennett Mormonism®. It is a version of Mormonism that is not condoned or accepted by the Brethren and top leadership of the LDS Church. They have a word for homemade strange versions like this in the Church: "apostasy".
Now, I don't have a problem with Jim creating his own version of Mormonism. To each his own. However, where I do have a problem is that people are being misled and misinformed that Jim and Jim's Reply are defending the predominantly mainstream Joseph Fielding Smith / McConkie Chapel Correlated Orthodox Mormonism, that I and the majority of members have been indoctrinated in, when Jim is not.
Jim's Reply doesn't debunk the CES Letter because the CES Letter was written in direct response to Orthodox Chapel / Correlated Mormonism - not Jim Bennett Mormonism®. Rather than debunking the letter, Jim spends most of his time promoting his own homemade version of Mormonism that contradicts the official positions and teachings of the LDS Church.
The following are clips from Jim's 2021 Mormon Stories interviews where Jim acknowledges that he's not Orthodox and that he embraces and peddles a Jim Bennett Mormonism®:
LDS scholar and historian Patrick Mason said this about the CES Letter:
I very much appreciate Patrick Mason for telling the truth about the CES Letter but I cringe at his "version of Mormonism in the second half of the 20th-century" comment. It wasn't a "version". It was the predominantly correlated Chapel Orthodox Mormonism that I have consistently found in each and every one of the dozen or so Wards scattered throughout the United States that I have been a member of my entire life. Ditto for all of the General Conferences, Ensigns, Seminary, mission, etc. It was consistent and coherent in my countless conversations with family, friends, Ward members and missionary companions about the Church and its positions, teachings and narrative over the decades.
What progressive apologists often do nowadays is they gaslight members. They try to gaslight members into thinking that they didn't experience the Chapel Mormonism that they experienced and/or that the Chapel Mormonism that they've experienced is not the actual authoritative or "true" Church. It was just a false "version" that you were in. You see it in language like the following:
"What, you never heard of the rock in the hat Book of Mormon translation? Where have you been?"
"You didn't know it wasn't just Joseph and Emma? You didn't know that Joseph was married with 30+ women including 14-year-olds, teenagers, women married to other living men and mother/daughter and sister sets? I knew all about it because my grandparents were prophets and my mission president was Joseph McConkie. I talked about all this stuff with my family in private."
"You expect prophets to be moral, honest and consistent? You have a ridiculous standard of expectations."
"You didn't know about the multiple first vision accounts? I've always known and the Church didn't hide anything." (Except when Joseph Fielding Smith cut out Joseph Smith's handwritten 1832 account out of a journal, hid in his safe for decades and taped it back in when the Tanners banged drums about it).
It's all your fault, you see. The Church is "blameless". You're the problem here. You didn't study enough. You didn't read obscure articles from the 1970s. Your expectations of prophets being moral, honest and consistent is an "unrealistic expectation".
Jim is guilty of this throughout his Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto. He gaslights me and my Mormon experience while misrepresenting what my views on prophets and doctrinal subjects were / are and what they instead should have been, according to Jim Bennett Mormonism®.
A key foundational pillar of Jim Bennett Mormonism® is, as Jim states:
"I think so many of our challenges and problems with the Church go away if we can charitably interpret the actions of leaders of the Church...who are just men...who are doing the best they can."
Once you understand this, you understand Jim's approach to the CES Letter and his methodology and strategy in dealing with the LDS Church's truth crisis.
Let's take this Jim Bennett Mormonism® idea for a test run:
Well...that test run didn't go so well.
The problem with Jim's "charity" is that he overuses it and very liberally dispenses of it to the point of effectively destroying any litmus test for fraud. There is nothing that his religion and its leaders can do, with the exception of further mistreating the LGBTQ+ (Jim almost left the Church in 2015 over its November Policy), that will trigger Jim's litmus test alarm.
As we saw in the above video, Jim was very charitable toward his LDS leaders to the point where he boldly declared that no one was deliberately dishonest or deceptive. When John debunked Jim's unsupported claim and assertion by pointing to Joseph Fielding Smith ripping out and hiding the 1832 First Vision account, Jim's reaction wasn't that of introspection of his position and its weaknesses but rather an automatic "I want to be charitable to Joseph Fielding Smith."
With the Book of Abraham, Jim acknowledges that it's very problematic but rather than allow this problem to raise the red flag on Joseph Smith, Jim showers Joseph Smith with "charity" by clinging onto unsupported, unsustainable and absurd apologetics.
So, it's important to understand Jim's worldview and how he operates in relations to the Church, its leaders and its history to understand why he is constantly turning off alarm bells that otherwise would activate another's litmus test for fraud or raise red flags.
One of the most damning indictments of Jim's Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto is that Jim, when confronted with the LDS Church's truth crisis, has had to personally invent a new Mormonism for himself - that the Brethren do not accept or condone - in order to carve room for himself to stay in the Church. Rather than defend official Chapel Correlated Orthodox Mormonism - which LDS scholars Patrick Mason and Richard Bushman acknowledge is "unsustainable" - Jim sets out to defend his homemade version of Mormonism that the CES Letter was never written for nor intended for in the first place.
It's apples and oranges.
What Jim Thinks of Jeremy
Jim and I have met twice and have spent probably 6-7 hours together offline.
We first met for lunch in March 2019 and talked for 3 hours. We met again in December 2020 when I asked him to be a witness for me to counter the FairMormon lie and smear that I was never really approached by a CES Director nor that I really sent a letter to a CES Director.
The following are clips from Jim's 2021 Mormon Stories interviews:
LDS Discussions Partnership
LDS Discussions and I have teamed up together in finishing this project. This partnership allows the debunking of the Jim Bennett Mormonism® Manifesto to be completed at a fraction of time that would have taken otherwise if I did this alone.
Please show your appreciation by visiting and sharing his website: LDSDiscussions.com
We plan to release a new section every Sunday morning. For more complex sections, we plan to release subsections of that section to keep the ball rolling.
All new updates will be announced in the "Updates" box on the Jim Bennett Homepage. Newly released subsections will have New! text next to the subsection title.
You can see where Jeremy responds with the "Jeremy's Response" header after Jim's responses and you can see LDS Discussion's responses with the "LDS Discussions Reply" header after Jim's responses.
Jim Bennett's Response to this Debunking
Jim wrote a response to this Debunking a day after I released it on August 9, 2021 that he released on his Canonizer blog. I consider it very beautiful writing.
Jeremy Runnells, author of the CES Letter to which I have written a too-snarky reply hosted on this site, has a section on his website titled “Debunkings,” and I have recently been added to the rogue’s gallery of apologists who have earned a direct Runnells rebuttal. It appears he’s going to update the Jim Bennett debunking on a weekly basis, and I heartily recommend that anyone with any interest therein should give it a read.
I confess, however, that, at present, that is not a population that includes yours truly.
When the debunking was called to my attention, I dutifully sprang into action and began the process of creating a “rebunking” to his debunking – a line-by-line response to his line-by-line response to my previous line-by-line response. After about an hour of this, I felt like I was reviewing the fine print on a legal document at a mortgage closing. It just became so reductive and minutiae-focused that I lost interest very quickly. I also decided that after 150,000 words in my original response, as well as more than 30 hours of podcast discussions on these subjects with Bill Reel and John Dehlin, that my positions are pretty well known and accessible at this point. So if Jeremy would like to have the last word in our written exchange, I am happy to give it to him.
I would, however, like to use this post to provide a broad and (relatively) brief overview of my response to his rebuttal, as well as to do some housecleaning that I promised Jeremy in person that I would do and still, roughly three years after my promise, haven’t gotten around to actually doing.
So let’s start with that. The 2018 version of my CES Letter Reply has a goofy graphic on the first page where Jeremy is Joseph Smith and I’m a hobo with a bindle at the end of a stick. My intent with this graphic was to poke fun at myself, but the humor didn’t translate well, and Jeremy politely asked me to remove it. I didn’t, largely because the original source files of my reply are built in Apple Pages, which gets really wonky when you export it to a PDF. I envisioned hours and hours of formatting work in making the change, so I kept putting off until tomorrow until three years of tomorrows had gone by. I have no excuse other than my own slothfulness.
There is also an egregious error in terms of the accusation that Jeremy pulls in upwards of 10K a month to his CES Letter foundation. When I met with him for lunch, he said that the most he had ever brought in in a single month was 6K, which was unusually high for him, and that this usual income was 1-2K. I have not made that change, either. So as Jeremy’s debunking points out this gross misrepresentation, please recognize that he is correct to do so.
A great deal of the rebuttal also highlights where I went too far in terms of snark or where my attempts at humor were more cruel than funny. There are far too many of those moments in my reply that deserve that criticism, and I am happy to acknowledge that Jeremy has a point there, too.
As for the content of the debunking, the sense I get from my cursory review of the first batch of missives is that I’m primarily accused of perpetuating “Jim Bennett Mormonism®” that is “a new, foreign, contradictory and strange Mormonism” which is “not condoned or accepted by the Brethren and top leadership of the LDS Church.”
This is where I would like to begin to push back.
It’s not that Jeremy is wrong to say that my strange brew of Mormonism is, in many ways, unique to me. It’s that it’s wrong to say that such is not the case with every member of the Church, past or present. Faith is an intimate and personal thing, and every person’s faith reflects their own singular, one-on-one encounter with the Divine. Religion isn’t just words on a page – religion is lived experience, and nobody’s lived experience is identical to anyone else’s. Within the history of the Church, it is not difficult to find significant differences of how people practice their faith, even at the highest levels of the Church. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Given the reality of human agency, it’s really not possible for it to be any other way.
It’s also odd to me that anyone should expect our theology to be a sort of static, fixed point, as it has never been and never will be any such thing. We are a church built on the idea of continuing revelation, which means that continuing change is a feature, not a bug. As I repeatedly emphasize in both the CES Letter reply and everything I’ve said since I wrote it, the Lord says never said this is the only true church. He said this is the only true and living church. The living part is just as important as the true part, if not more so.
I recently came across a profound quote from Muhammad Ali, who said that “the man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Living things change and grow and adapt and look different over time. 20-year-old Jim Bennett and 53 year-old Jim Bennett are both still identifiably Jim Bennett and have many things in common, but they’re also very different in many ways, and not just in terms of grey hairs and expanding waistlines. Similarly, a time-traveling member of the Church from the 19th Century would find the 2021 Church to be a very different thing from the one they left behind. (At least both churches would be ones free of any affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America. Since just about every childhood trauma I ever had is somehow connected to the BSA, I was really happy to see scouting tossed on the dustbin of Latter-day Saint history.)
Jeremy deserves a great deal of praise here. To the extent that his CES Letter has punctured the fragile illusion of a “Chapel Correlated Mormonism” that is monolithic in belief and practice, he has done a good thing. It has never made sense to me that a church that teaches God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” is also a church that can never, ever change.
As to whether my own heterodoxy is heretical enough to constitute “apostasy,” as Jeremy alleges, I hope he will not be disappointed to discover that, as far as I can tell, I am in no danger of being booted from the pews. If my personal faith practice is “not condoned or accepted by the Brethren and top leadership of the LDS Church,” then it is odd that I’ve had several encounters with high-ranking Church leaders who have expressed gratitude for my CES Letter reply. In addition, several mission presidents have made my reply required reading for all of their missionaries, many of whom email me regularly to let me know how helpful it has been to their own faith. If missions president are peddling apostasy on my behalf, their efforts have oddly been “condoned and accepted” so far by the leaders who call them. As far as I know, nobody in the Church Office Building is telling them to put a stop to it.
It turns out, then, that when Elder Uchtdorf said that “regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church,” he meant it. The sort of “Chapel Correlated Mormonism” that Jeremy rails against has been modified and reshaped by the practical worship of millions of members, no two ways of which are fully alike.
This segues somewhat into Jeremy’s other larger criticism, which is that my views have “evolved” since I first wrote my CES Letter reply, and the kinder, gentler Jim Bennett Mormonism® of 2021 is now starkly at odds with the rigid apologetical fervor of the Jim Bennett Mormonism® of 2018. Should this evolution continue, Jeremy suggests, I am likely to evolve my way out of the Church entirely.
Is that my destiny? Well, anything’s possible, I suppose, and I don’t deny that an evolution is taking place. I just don’t think my evolution is taking me in the direction Jeremy thinks it is.
Muhammad Ali has me pegged – I see the world and the Church quite differently than I did as a young man. When I was 20, I was a young missionary in Scotland, pounding doors in the pouring rain trying to preach the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m now somewhat north of 50, and I’m still trying to preach the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the both Jim Bennett and the Restored Gospel I taught and teach have not stood still in those three decades of lived experience.
Many, many of the things that young Elder Bennett in Scotland fretted about on a daily basis don’t matter a lick to me anymore. I was one of those missionaries who, if I woke up at 6:35 instead of 6:30, would spend the rest of the day racked with guilt. I viewed God as a harsh taskmaster and scorekeeper, and if I didn’t pile up enough points by the end of the day before my bedtime prayers, I punished myself with feelings of inadequacy and failure.
I’m embarrassed by that now, especially since I’ve had 30+ years to deepen and broaden my personal relationship with the God I misunderstood three decades ago. I now recognize the hand of my Heavenly Parents and my savior Jesus Christ in everything that I do, and I see infinite compassion now where I saw only judgment before. And the reason I don’t think that’s going to lead me out of the Church is that recognition is largely due to my encounter with Christ in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is the anchor to my testimony. For me, it’s a divine access point, a tangible miracle that connects me to God. My appreciation and understanding of it grows with each passing year, and it helps me separate the signal from the noise. As long as the Book of Mormon is at the core of what the Church teaches, this is where I’ll be, too.
But there is a critical aspect to my personal theological evolution that owes a tremendous debt to Jeremy Runnells and the CES Letter, and I want to conclude my “rebunking” with an attempt to acknowledge and hopefully repay a small portion of that debt.
My initial purpose in replying to Jeremy’s letter was not an attempt to offer the kind of definitive, airtight answers to his questions that he was looking to the Church to provide. I don’t think such answers have been given to any church or faith tradition. Mortality is never that tidy, and simple, pat answers to complex theological questions don’t seem to be part of the plan. We came to this earth to struggle, to build faith in the absence of perfect knowledge. We aren’t allowed to look at the teacher’s key to read all the answers while we’re taking the test.
So my reply attempt was to model how I, personally, have confronted this issues with my eyes open and come away with a richer and deeper faith than I had before I knew about any of it. I don’t hope to create converts to Jim Bennett Mormonism® so much as I hope that you can use me as a catalyst to brew up your own tasty theological concoction. I want to give people an appreciation for how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a place where the hand of the Lord can be found amid all the mistakes and shortcomings of its leaders and members. My reply was an attempt to say “this is how I did it; your mileage may vary.” At least, I hope it varies. Variety in the Church is what makes it beautiful, and we could use more of it.
Something interesting and unexpected has happened, however, as I’ve continued this conversation in the 5+ years since I published the first version of my reply on April Fool’s Day. This is where my colossal debt to Jeremy comes into focus.
Initially, the messages I received were almost entirely from people who found the reply helpful in addressing their faith crisis. Today, however, most of the messages I get come from people who have left the Church and have no intention of coming back. They are heartbreaking and lovely messages from people in pain. They write me and say that my conversations with John Dehlin have helped them better appreciate their family and friends who have chosen to stay, and that they felt, for the first time, that it was possible to have a conversation with believers where they could feel heard and respected.
This floored and humbled me, and it made me aware of a massive problem that, prior to my CES Letter reply, I had largely ignored, if I was even aware of it at all.
My goal in writing my reply was to help people hold on to their faith. Sometimes, I’ve been successful. Other times, not so much. So what happens when I’m not? How do we treat our friends, our family, our spouses who experience a faith crisis and come out of it with a very different perspective from the one they had before? If my wife were to tell me she is now an atheist, how would I respond?
From what I can see, in far too many instances, believers tend to respond in the worst possible way – with unkindness, with rejection, with rage and anger and isolation. Children are essentially disowned. Marriages end in bitter divorce. A Church built on a foundation of eternal families needs to find a way to heal the sharp divisions in the families here and now that include believers and non-believers alike. Right now, we don’t even seem to be looking for ways to cross the chasm. Instead, both sides head off in opposite directions and surround themselves with people who agree with them.
And really, why wouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t a non-believer look to find fellowship with like-minded people who aren’t telling them they’re evil demon hellspawn? And what kind of believer would be foolish enough to wade into the waters of exMormon Reddit? You know, other than me? (Yes, I’ve done that and rather enjoyed it, but, again, Jim Bennett Mormonism® is not for everyone.)
As I’ve reached out and tried to find my way to connect to people like Jeremy and John Dehlin, I’ve discovered that not only do we not have the tools to bridge the widening divide, we aren’t even looking for them. Furthermore, there is a growing faction within the Church that wants a smaller, “purer” Church where “Chapel Correlated Mormonism” becomes the only lived reality, albeit combined with a rancid mixture of bigotry, misogyny, and violence. The nastiest messages I receive now do not come from people who have left the Church; they come from DezNat [link added by Jeremy], a Twitter faction that doubles down on the very worst aspects of Latter-day Saint culture. If Jeremy Runnells, John Dehlin, and DezNat were all in a police lineup where I was being forced to choose which one is a likely agent of Satan, neither Jeremy nor John would be my first or second choice.
Jeremy Runnells, then, has introduced me to an entirely new conversation. It’s a conversation between those in the Church and those who have left it, or are on the way out. It’s a conversation that is even now quietly taking place in thousands of mixed-faith marriages struggling to survive. It’s the legions of tear-filled conversations between an early-return missionary and their furiously disappointed parents. It’s the terror preceding the conversation between a gay teenager planning to tell his bishop father that he isn’t going to go on a mission. And it’s the heartbreaking conversation that adult children have with their elderly parents when they tell them they simply aren’t going to Church anymore.
There are good people in this Church, and there are times when conversations like these go well. But there are far, far, far too many times where they do not.
These are the kinds of conversations that Jeremy has introduced me to, and they are the kinds of conversations that interest me now. So as Jeremy’s Jim Bennett Mormonism® debunking project revisits the various rabbit holes of View of the Hebrews and Egyptian funeral papyri et al, you are welcome to join him. For my part, I want to move forward in the conversation to which Jeremy has introduced me, and for which I owe him a great deal. I hope he will continue to be a part of it.
Jim Bennett's Interviews
I use clips from Jim's January 2021 Mormon Stories interviews throughout the rebuttal. You can watch each one of the full unedited interviews here:
Jim Bennett vs. Bill Reel
In early 2019, Bill Reel and Jim Bennett got together for a 14-hour interview on the CES Letter and the issues outlined in it. The interviews are broken up into 7 episodes with the last and 7th episode being considered the best one. Hence, why the "Start here" recommendation on that episode.