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Jim Bennett and Bill Reel and the Issues of the CES Letter Part 6

We sit down with Jim Bennett, son of former Utah Senator Bob Bennett, to discuss Jim’s response to the CES Letter. This interview takes place over several different days and comprises looking at the troublesome issues the CES Letter presents and reviewing where Jeremy Runnells and Jim Bennett disagree. I try to play a mediator between Jim and the ideas of the CES letter. Granting ground where I think Jim offers a reasonable response as well as pushing back where I think the CES Letter presents a credible case.


In part 6 we tackle the Prophetic Mantle including the lack of Prophesy, Seer-ship, and Revelation, The Church lack’s of wisdom and Vulnerability, and the significant harm it does with little willingness to be open to admitting its wrong. We also tackle whether Priesthood power has any measurable influence. We lastly speak on Spiritual witnesses and whether they are a reasonable way to decide truth when compared with our fundamentalist splinter group cousins and their experiences and the spiritual experiences the rest of the world is having.


34 thoughts on “Jim Bennett and Bill Reel and the Issues of the CES Letter Part 6”

  1. But there hasn’t been any revelation given in 100 years and was even agreed upon earlier as far as the declarations. Also, we’re really saying they’re “watchmen” who are saying “all is well”???

    51 Verily, I say unto you, I am the stone, and those wicked ones reject me.
    52 I am the head of the corner. These Jews shall fall upon me, and shall be broken.
    53 And the kingdom of God shall be taken from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof; (meaning the Gentiles.)
    54 Wherefore, on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.
    55 And when the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, he will destroy those miserable, wicked men, and will let again his vineyard unto other husbandmen, even in the last days, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
    56 And then understood they the parable which he spake unto them, that the Gentiles should be destroyed also, when the Lord should descend out of heaven to reign in his vineyard, which is the earth and the inhabitants thereof.

    21 And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

  2. Wow. I think more often than not I disagree with you taking things too far in your opinions and stances Bill, but wow. Bravo on standing up at around 1:11:00 and saying what you did. 100% agree!!


  3. I would have preferred in this section that Bill/Jim would have stayed away from discussing whether or not the Church is “true” and kept focused on Mormon claim that their organization is the only one that has god’s exclusive priesthood, authority, and leadership. The Mormon apologist explanation that the reason why anyone can experience a spiritual confirmation about their religion is because all denominations have some level of truth is a red herring. So it’s no accident that apologists want to divert the discussion away from a concrete claim to a fuzzy, and subjective one. No, the actual topic that we need to stay focused is the Church’s scriptural claim that god said “that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” and the Mormon claim that ONLY their leaders have been ordained of god’s prophet, seer, and revelators; meaning, that all others who claim to be god’s leaders are pretenders, or at the very least confused. That is the real issue so let’s keep the discussion crisp and precise.

    1. Nice. if we state no one can have spiritual experiences we are being hateful and discriminatory and if we do than it’s a red herring. Ok… great

      1. @Steve “no one can have spiritual experiences”; actually, I’m stating the exact opposite. Mormons categorize spiritual manifestations experienced by non-Mormons as inferior. The technique Mormon use to explain this away is to claim that the non-Mormon is getting confirmation on a partial truth, thus blurring the discussion to meaningless musings. The actual issue is how spiritual manifestations relate to god’s priesthood. Why is that the central point? Because the Church claims that the priesthood is a “must have” to be god’s authorized servants, and they also claim that god’s priesthood is exclusive to them. How do you know that the Mormons are exclusive holders of the priesthood? From that spiritual experience that is indistinguishable from the manifestation that the Muslim down the road had about his religion. Now we have a concrete assertion that can be tested.
        When an organization claims to be god’s ONLY church. By definition that means ONE read deal with the rest being confused or pretenders. Let’s have the courage to call a spade a spade.

  4. I’m confused as to why we spend so much time on First vision, BOM, Book of Abraham, Blacks and the Priesthood, and even power of priesthood blessing miracles, etc.. In my opinion, all of this is very secondary to the most important question. Do we have a monopoly on saving ordinances (if there is such a thing) or not? This is how we determine if this is the only true and “living” church. This can only be determined by studying the events concerning the restoration of the priesthood and sealing keys. If we have a monopoly on this and the events actually happened, then we have something pertinent to salvation that other churches don’t have. If it’s a lie, then there’s no reason to worry about any of the rest. Stay if it adds value to your life. Leave if it doesn’t. Why do we banter over blacks and the priesthood without discussing if the priesthood was even restored? We’re possibly debating over the flying spaghetti monster.

    It’s not just this podcast. I’ve listened to hundreds of podcasts and this topic gets merely a head nod, if that. Why is it so neglected?

    1. @Jen – why are the details of JS’s polygamy and glass looking so important when considering his claim about the priesthood? Because it speaks to JS’s integrity, or the lack thereof. The specific details of what led to the writing and editing of Official Declaration 1 is also noteworthy and telling.

      Why does the BoM, BoA, and JS translation of the Bible, etc. merit close inspection? Because it is a strong indicator of JS’s credibility of his claim of the priesthood. I found definite value in watching Maxwell Institute’s latest assessment of the BoA and JS’s mindset around it:

      Additionally, Greg Prince’s book “Power from On High” is directly applicable to measuring JS’s claims about the Melchizedek Priesthood.

      All of these pieces of evidence help us weigh the Mormon Church’s credibility when claiming that god’s priesthood is indeed a hard requirement of his servants, and that they they have exclusive possession of it.

      Why does the Church’s handling of the black’s and the priesthood from start to today merit close inspection? Because it’s a strong indicator of the capabilities of god’s supposedly only true Church. Related, the timeliness and durability of top 15’s prophecies are also indicators of whether or not they are communicating with a being with a godlike understanding. Personally, relative to Mormon doctrine concerning blacks, I found events from 1945 through 2012 quite significant.

      1. @ VFanRJ Great thoughts. I agree. When all we have to go on are subjective details, looking at all the other issues can guide us on the overall integrity of Joseph and evidences/lack thereof of a unique and divine priesthood power.

  5. I finished listening to a section of the podcast on polygamy and Emma Smith. I understand everyone within the church wants to have a faithful perspective and appreciate the fact that Mr. Bennett strives to be honest to that faithful perspective, and yet I see that an average person off the street, utilizing Ocams Razor would believe fairly easily I must add, that polygamy/polyandry was done for sex and power- period. As all charismatic religious and non-religious leaders as wont to do. History, both recent and distant past shows this-REPEATEDLY. It was the one thing that launched my faith crisis. I read the Fanny Alger account in Rough Stone Rolling having never heard of Joseph’s polygamy, affairs or polyandry (I thankfully do NOT live in the Jello Belt and was a product of correlation throughout my life, and have sent two sons on missions), and in an instant my instincts or the Holy Ghost (whichever you prefer) informed my soul that it was wrong and the foundation which had previously been rock solid, collapsed (for my 2 sons as well) There is NOT ONE reasonable explanation I have yet to hear, for Joseph having relationships with women other than his wife. None. Zero. Nada. I have heard a lot of excuses but nothing that holds up to the simplest of scrutiny. And when I start hearing the parsing of words the way Mr. Bennett does (i.e. “ translate isn’t translate the way we think of it, destroyed doesn’t really mean physically, filthy scrape isn’t a sexual affair, etc) I harken back to President Clinton caught up in an affair with Monica Lewinsky and “sex isn’t sex” and what the meaning of “is” is. It’s embarrassing. When a church says “he’s just a man, he made mistakes” etc. “Joseph wasn’t perfect”….yada yada yada….. and yet church history DOES tell us that he in fact said HE, Joseph, had done more “save Jesus Christ”…..Joseph also said, in a correspondence to Fanny’s family requesting to “marry her”, that he “LOVES Fanny”. So, there is evidence that it was an infatuation at the very least, with Fanny. All this baloney about Joseph didn’t want to do it is just ridiculous and pathetic apologetics trying to keep someone believing that Joseph is innocent as the wind driven snow- it’s breathtakingly silly IMO.
    Additionally, I find it incomprehensible and sexist to say the least that Mr. Bennett wants to BLAME Emma as responsible for Joseph performing “sham marriages” because it’s “probable that Joseph told Emma and she accepted it” (polygamy) and then she wouldn’t accept it. That’s right when all else fails blame the victim, poor Joseph was completely innocent as he always seemed to state right? Who ultimately was “destroyed”? Who went on to live a life away from that scoundrel then starting a new church? And, I would submit the denials of polygamy by Emma were ultimately for self -preservation and her own sense of self-respect. But I imagine that’s incomprehensible to Mr. Bennett with regards to Emma. She had a family to raise and didn’t need the stain of scandal to stay with her and her children. (See Mormon historian Jan Shipps).
    Additionally it’s hard to have it both ways with Emma, Mr. Bennett seems happy about Emma having never denied Joseph as a prophet, however lies publicly about other things which are in the record. So, Emma was in fact someone who lied and on numerous occasions, just as Joseph did. The church acknowledges Joseph’s lies and the record is clear Emma knew of polygamy and lied about it and other things. They had each other’s backs that’s all. That doesn’t mean they had a “ beautiful marriage” the way the church imposes. It means they had a marriage. They had a lot invested in holding it together. What else would she have done in 1830-1840’s???Even in today’s world women everywhere stay in abusive marriages for a host of reasons and it doesn’t mean it’s because they have a great marriage. I hope everyone can understand that very simple truth.
    BTW, side note: as a healthcare professional it is my experience that sex doesn’t always create babies- FWIW 😇

  6. Listening to apologists (like Bennett) with their irrational excuses and illogical conclusions is infuriating and only reinforces my conviction that the church is not, and never was true.

    It’s time to be honest with yourself Jim…

    1. I think Jim is doing his level best to stay faithfully engaged with a church that has served him well. He does a far better job of nuancing the hard stuff than the professional apologists or the GA’s of the Church. He is brave enough to acknowledge many of the warts and self-imposed contradictions without going all the way with it. I don’t think we get to tell people how to believe or live their lives, in or out of the church. Obviously not many TBM’s are going to be On board with that statement, but that’s all right, they’ll get over themselves sooner or later.

  7. Why did you not discuss this.

    This along with statements like “When the prophet speaks the thinking has been done” greatly influenced how I saw the role of P/S/R and I think it was very unfair that Jim thinks he can use his very non-conventional view of them to alleviate concerns of other raised in this paradigm.

    We were taught many a time that these men literally spoke to Jesus face to face and the realization that they would never get so much wrong for so long if Jesus was directing them in this way was a very big part of my shelf coming down.

  8. Definition of virgin from Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

    1. A woman who has had no carnal knowledge of man.

    2. A woman not a mother. [Unusual.]

    Nope, the definition of “virgin” was not “virtuous” in Joseph Smith’s time. It had the same meaning then as now.

      1. Tim. Are you saying that being a virgin in the 1800’s didn’t mean anything other than someone who wasn’t currently having sex? Women were considered virgins in the Victorian Era after having sex but in an abstinence phase?

        Please elaborate on this. I’d like to see where you got this idea.

  9. Jim makes what seems to me a straw man argument that to acknowledge the hurt that many have felt from the church means that we have to completely dismiss all the benefits and good the church does, is a straw man all or nothing argument.

    It can be both helpful for many and harmful to many it is not either / or. Jim’s perspectives are important and we may need to acknowledge that his positions are not typical to average church members, nor coorelated church materials, nor the public addresses of most church authorities.

    The Church certainly is felt by many to have great benefit and especially Fowler stage 1-3. AND much of the Church teachings and culture to many have been profoundly harmful and that the see that the Church is often protective of itself and has great difficulty admitting problems and harms and is not generally open to criticism or suggestions of change and accountability.

    So we can acknowledge the good the church does and also can and does do great harm.

    An issue is that the church often can be shown to not be what it claims to be.

    Jim’s either or is part of the true / false dichotomy that is part of the church teachings that can be problematic.

    Church leaders can be believers but also make big mistakes. The issue if they are going too slow on change doesn’t answer then the difficulty is how are they behind and harmful if there is inspiration that is effective and consistent with what is given to each of the Q15. If the spirit is the guide why is it so difficult to get inspiration that is not behind society or proves harmful and the message to the church is follow the prophet because he can see things for our generation that we and others can’t see?

  10. First of all, thanks to Jim and Bill for getting together and bouncing your thoughts and beliefs off of one another. I have never seen such a respectful dialogue take place between a true believer and a person who has left the LDS Church. Very nice!

    I’ll confess that I am only into the fourth part and I doubt I will finish it because I think I have already arrived at the one big take away – true believers in the Church see things differently than those who leave. Meh… Yawn… Ho hum… that’s not going to change anytime soon. Given that dynamic, what can be done that would actually be productive?

    The corporate Church could develop into a more compassionate, benevolent organization and nuanced members, like Tom, the Givens, Patrick Mason, Richard Bushman, and others with some level of internal credibility could nudge for policy and doctrinal changes. For starters, the Church could become more pastoral by making these easy changes:

    • Eliminate the one year waiting period that exists in the United States that couples must endure before being sealed in the temple if they get married civilly first. Because of this action, parents and family members are forced to miss marriages of their loved ones. The Church does not require this in other countries, so why do it in the US? It only creates greater rifts between family members and should hardly be done by a caring organization that touts the importance of families.

    • Downplay the importance of appearances. Does it really matter if someone pierces their nose or gets a tattoo that provides them with some kind of meaning in their life? Would Christ be bothered if a deacon in a blue shirt offered him the sacrament?

    • Encourage membership to call the police if abuse is witnessed. Policies at present instruct members to tell the bishop, who in turn calls a hotline to a law firm for instruction. Just listen to the interview that “A Thoughtful Faith” did on this topic – an interview Gina Colvin did with Craig Vernon that was quite telling.

    There are a host of other actions the Church can do to become kinder, but this is only a comment on a podcast, so I will stop here.

    Just as important to help the Church enact positive pastoral change are those of us who choose to leave or who are already on the outside. We can try to help those inside understand that most who quit the Church do not fit the stereotype of being offended or wanting to sin. We can live a good life and welcome those who leave within our ranks – I think for the most part, we are trying to do that. One need only look at the phenomenal growth of the ex-mormon reddit and the explosion of groups on Mormon Spectrum to see the support that is out there.

    Maybe, just maybe, the nudging from inside, along with the threat of people leaving Mormonism is enough of an existential threat to the Corporation of the President that over time positive changes will be made and people will benefit.

    Finally, Tom, if you become exhausted trying to make the Church work for you, know that there is an entire community of ex-mormons out here and they are some of the gentlest, kindest people you will meet. But for now, good luck on the inside!

  11. Jim, this is the most candid and effective lot of “apologetics” I have heard. Jim, you were extremely sincere in your approach, and far more sincere and articulate than Bill Reel. I tend to fall more on Bill’s side of most of these issues, but I was extremely impressed by your approach and defense.

    Bill, extremely annoying how you couldn’t ever let Jim express a view without responding with a counter-point. So many times you seemed to sincerely want to know Jim’s opinion on something, only to turn around and attempt to refute every single statement he made. In many cases ineffectively so.

  12. This series was fantastic! Kudos to both Bill and Jim for showing us how a respectful, intelligent exchange between bright, articulate people on opposite sides can be handled. I’ve heard and read a lot of apologetics, and Jim’s tone and approach is just about perfect. This should be required listening for any bishop who wants to have a realistic chance of influencing a member with exposure to these issues. It is also going to help me immensely in talking with and having emotional and intellectual empathy for my believing wife.

    I hope the commenters who are critical realize just how much rhetorical and social skill it takes to pull off what Bill and Jim just did, and how desperately these skills are needed on both sides of the Mormon spectrum. Knowing when not to attack on every little point with the broader goal of preserving the dialogue and relationship is what will ultimately save those of us who are, for better or worse, part of this tribe. I am going to donate now having trust that Bill will continue to bring us content of this caliber. And Jim, if your political efforts are still continuing, please let me know how to donate to those as well.

    Many thanks!

  13. Here’s a pushback of my own. Signs and miracles are supposed to follow those who believe in Christ. Inversely, the miracles shouldn’t follow those who don’t believe. If all religions have substantially the same rate of miracles, do the scriptures lie?

    Jim’s insistence that we shouldn’t expect a higher rate of miracles within a body of Christian believers contradicts the scriptures.


  14. In my view, people are hungering for revelation from God. There is nothing for the leadership of the church to be afraid of. Can it really be God’s will to allow so many problems in His church that the leadership could change by hearing the word of God on all of these matters? So many problems from the beginning of this church. So sad for those of us who were raised in the church and that believed with all of our hearts. For me, I will always believe in a loving God and will constantly search for truth and knowledge.

  15. I think that if God were to force people to follow him and to do exactly as he wants, people wouldn’t have agency anymore. It’s the same as asking why God doesn’t stop natural disasters from happening. All christians have to deal with this question, but people who don’t believe in God can’t exactly shoot down peoples answers to this question because people with atheistic beliefs don’t have the theological foundation for determining what is right or wrong.

  16. I listened to this entire 6 part series, and during the last 2 to 3 parts, a thought kept coming back into my mind. Well, a few thoughts, and those thoughts developed into something that I want to say.

    A few days ago, I was browsing through the r/latterdaysaints page on Reddit. One of the posts caught my eye, and I read it. It was a post from a person who was LGBT, but in the post, he expressed immense gratitude toward the church. He said that while other groups of people would treat him less than human, the church made him feel like he was truly loved unconditionally by other people and by Jesus Christ.

    I haven’t yet found a tree in this life that produces only good fruit, but that’s okay. I only judge a tree by how much good fruit it produces.

    Also, I don’t think it’s appropriate to complain about receiving apples when one wants oranges. If the reasoning of humans is flawed, then we have to be very patient in our own judgments. We have to leave the door open to being wrong about our beliefs. It’s possible to be pessimistic and skeptical about many things. In fact, it’s possible to cast doubt on everything. If I wanted to, I could even cast doubt on my own existence. What this means is that the natural end to all skepticism and/or pessimism is nihilism, and in order for one to continue living, hope is needed. What is left for one that is not satisfied with any tree at all? All that’s left is nothing, and life is then pointless. What then protects one from ending his/her own pointless existence? The irony is that people claim that the church causes suicides, but people don’t even count the number of lives that the church saved or improved.

    I’m sorry Bill, but I worry that the level of cynicism and skepticism that you have may someday grow into something that simply cannot sustain your own life. I’ve felt this skepticism in my own life, and it has led me down a very dark path. Now-days, I look back and wonder what even led me to be so cynical and pessimistic. Was it really such small things compared to what’s at stake? Now I’m aghast at how foolish I used to be.

    All that this really is is just an argument for hope. This is just an argument for simple faith from anything that saves us from a belief that life is pointless.

    Now, one can simply believe that there is a life after death and that that’s enough, but is such a belief sustainable? Is it even enough to escape the chains of nihilism? I believe that a person needs a rock-solid belief system in order to escape nihilism.

    Personally, I’ve already decided that if I wasn’t part of this church, I would be an atheist. No other belief system, to me, seems internally consistent enough. Besides, just tearing everything down and starting over would leave me terribly vulnerable to the darkness that I was experiencing earlier in my life. So, I’ve already decided that I should stay. To be honest, I fear for anybody that doesn’t have anything to save himself/herself from nihilism.

    I don’t expect people to agree with me, but if a person argues against having hope, then what’s left? To me, it seems like nothing would be left, and I can’t think of anything out of it. If anybody has an answer, I would like to hear it.

    1. Daniel,
      You are right that we all need hope. I have hope that God isn’t an elitist or a racist or sexist or homophobic. I hope that God didn’t tell Joseph Smith to lie and humiliate his wife. I have hope that God is perfect and isn’t a liar and that he did NOT command Joseph to break laws, break his marriage vows and coerce women into relationships that would never be equal or loving.

      I hope that the organization of heaven will be honest and transparent. In this life, Mormonism is just like every other organization throughout history. The guys at the top get all the perks and get to decide who’s bad and who’s good while they have their secret combinations that keep their elite group protected from and profiting off the trusting and paying masses. I have hope God isn’t an Elitist. (The 2nd anointing from God? It makes a mockery of what Jesus taught.)

      I hope that as a female that God knows me personally and that I don’t need to be called by a name that isn’t mine, remember handshakes that have little significance and have to wait for a man before God can look upon my face. I have hope that I am equal in God’s eyes and it doesn’t take 40 of me to equal 1 man.

      I have hope that Mormon and Muslim men will see females in equality and not as rewards for their good behavior to bear them endless children.

      If I didn’t have hope that Mormonism has gotten it wrong I would feel like ending it all. As you say, what would the point be in this life? I truly hope that God is better than what this church claims he is.

  17. Something interesting to me in the bible is different characters doing different things that privides a type that demonstrates something about Jesus, moses is promised a line of prophets until they get a final one that we must obey one like moses, the parable of the vineyard that the owner sends messengers and one by one they are abused then finally its his son that they kill.
    The church seems to build up their leader with multiple titles as if they are this final prophet, better rhan any one that cane before but like a combination of all of them, hooe this makes sense, the scriprures are like playdoh to forn what they want us to see.

  18. Great interviews and respectful, deliberate back-and-forth. Thank you, Bill.
    P.S. Does anyone else think it sounds like Bill says, “Bring-em” instead of “Brigham”?

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