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Jim Bennett and Bill Reel and the Issues of the CES Letter Part 7

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 7 we revisit our 6 part interview and talk about how tone and format plays a part in his response to the CES letter as well as a very different tone and format he had with our conversation. Very quickly Jim addresses how my publicizing the 6 part interview and my commentary and the commentary of other voices framed these 6 parts was frustrating to him as he felt he was misrepresented in what he conceded and what he didn’t. This sent us down an unplanned road of the discussing how tenable and vulnerable Mormonism’s narrative may be in a long form real time conversation. This was my favorite out of the whole set of conversations.


38 thoughts on “Jim Bennett and Bill Reel and the Issues of the CES Letter Part 7”

  1. Great job Bill. Fantastic series, and I think this latest conversation was the best. You did a great job not attacking Bennett, and not pushing too hard, even when he evaded questions, or put up straw man arguments.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. No. The “redness” argument doesn’t fit because we all have basically the same genetics and we all basically function the same. It’s pretty safe to say that all humans experience red the same way.

      You should have been stronger in that argument

  2. Bravo!

    That was an amazing exchange of ideas.

    Thanks to both of you for taking time to express your well-founded opinions. The listening audience has benefited greatly from hearing both sides of the multitude of issues.

    When I discussed with my non-LDS sister the horror of LDS children in Africa being permanently damaged by lack of nutrition, and that the church could remedy that situation in a heartbeat. She asked God about it, and came to the conclusion that He is in control, and that the matter was not for her to decide. She is very tender-hearted and would certainly do all within her power to feed the hungry. It was not in her stewardship to judge the LDS church leaders.

    This seems to be where I should go also. But I am not as ‘zen’ as she is. I strongly disagree with many of the top 15’s decisions, but it is not my stewardship to tell them what they should do.

    Listening to both sides was a breath of fresh air. Kudos to Bill and Jim Bennett for their willingness to lay it all on the line in such a public forum.

  3. I want to thank Jim for participating in these discussions. I think he makes a lot of great points, and is probably the best “apologist” I have heard so far. I hope he comes back. I want to hear both sides presented well so I can come to my own conclusions in an informed way.

  4. Jim, good luck to you on your journey. It is too bad that you belong to a church that says, “when the prophets speak the thinking has been done”. That does not leave enough wiggle room you need to allow them to be “just men”.

    1. The quote you are referencing was published in the Improvement era and was then thwarted by a correspondence between George A. Smith and J. Raymond Cope, a Unitarian minister. The correspondence was such that President Smith said that that quote doesn’t represent the true stance of the church and actually goes against the idea of personal salvation. Salvation is a personal thing, and each person is responsible for their own relationship with God.

  5. Struggling to understand the ‘when man is asking or ready time frame then God will direct’ concept that appears to be promoted by Jim Bennett. I understand what he is saying, but what I don’t understand is if we take the blacks and priesthood and temple blessings ban (for example) and ask the question “from what point was this ban, wrong?” then my answer must be from its day of implementation. It was wrong for over 120 years. So, do we accept that God allowed for something that was completely one hundred percent wrong to exist for over a century?

  6. In my opinion the problem with the divine spiritual experience is that one can have an experience that leads one to becoming a believing Mormon or it can lead one to become radicalized into another religion to the extent that one is going to behead those who do not concede to that religion.

  7. Bill, you fundamentally misunderstand what the scientific method is, how it works, and how it is applied. Yes, it is a reliable way to arrive at an approximation of the truth, over the VERY LONG haul.

    In the short term, it points us, more or less, in a good direction, and as time goes on, it gets us closer and closer to an approximation of the truth. The scientific method provides ways for us to recognize and correct misconceptions and to understand more and more fully, how the world around us works. Sounds a little bit like “line upon line, precept upon precept”, doesn’t it?

    The more data we observe, the more certain we can become of our conclusions. And conversely, the less data we’ve observed, the less we can rely on our conclusions as valid. Statistically, we can communicate our certainty as a percentage, but I’d daresay we can rarely, if ever, arrive at a certainty of 100% using the scientific method. I’m not referring to internal certainty here, I’m referring to statistical certainty. Wouldn’t 100% statistical certainty equate to truth? How many examples of 100% certainty has science provided us with?

    My point here, worded differently, is that you demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the scientific method. You use it as a polar opposite to the spiritual method, yet you fail to realize that the scientific method doesn’t really get us to truth, only an approximation thereof, and only over the very long haul.

    A second assertion I’d like to make is that it’s extremely naïve to state that the only method that can be manipulated to arrive at a preconceived conclusion is the spiritual method. Really, Bill? Ridiculous.

    1. Well, at least the real scientific method “allows us” to rule out many proven outright bad and false lies, pleasant distractions/mind-traps proven or finally admitted to be so, getting us closer and closer to that real truth?

      What does it tell us when the faith model dismisses our “Spirit” to give us a different answer than proven liars with “the real Spirit” feed to us? “Ravening Leaders in fine wool suits?”

      But the cult “scientific” method is the exact same as any other cult method of bullying obedience and agreement and to not question the “Debate” that is over “when Dear Leader has sproken.” Also, your spirit must agree with His Spirit or you are wrong and condemning yourself by questioning. “By their ‘BITE’ model ye shall know them?”

      Our Dear Leader must sell a defective version of the HG to His followers while His version can never go wrong despite a long history of errors mere mortals make, including “Lie upon Lie, Decept upon Decept?”

      Boy, you got me there, Timmy. I don’t know what to say.

      1. I call strawman on Mr. Tom, who stood up said strawman and then handily knocked it down with “Boy, you got me there, Timmy”! Tom, you seem to be assuming that my above post was somehow arguing in favor of the reliability of the spiritual or divine method. I don’t know where you would get that idea.

        I explicitly stated my point as demonstrating Bill’s lack of understanding of the scientific method. Bill is presenting the other 3 methods of arriving at truth as infallible, unmanipulatable (yeah I know that’s not a word), and as being polar opposites to the spiritual method. I’m afraid it is, to use Bill’s phrasing, messier than that.

        Tom, clearly the spiritual method of arriving at truth is fraught with problems. And clearly the other 3 methods are significantly more reliable ways to steer toward objective truth, in the vast majority of cases. I was merely pointing out what I see as a vulnerability in Bill’s argumentation. There are also other places where his reasoning is equally flawed.

        Have a good day, sir.

          1. Tom, huh? Can you clarify? Once again, I said nothing about his support, but his lack of understanding.

  8. Bill and Jim: That is my root problem church Leaders admitting they make mistakes but…
    1- We are to Not talk about it.
    2- We are to still Obey and not question Them in what many members in touch with Christ recognize right up front as mistakes and most definitely Not of Christ(He does not change His mind, deceive, force, bully and abuse). Red Flags He asked us to see as Not of Him.
    3- Leaders changed the Law of Common Consent to dismissal input and objection lest you want to get threatened, bullied and punished for objecting to what Leaders are gifting us which is Not really of Christ in any way.
    4- So many of these mistakes (they say they make them) finally become reconsidered much later as being outright wrong, not of Christ, but are instead mean, bullying and abusive, for Christ. Their finally recognized bad, abusive policies/commandments/doctrines are done away with much later, after loads of damage, silently and you are supposed to not see or question that either. Too Holy to question? Is that what Jesus said of any leaders? Never.
    5- This is an exercise of first silencing members or perhaps later running questioning members (obedient to Christ) in circles, silencing them, bullying them, justifying bullying and abuse or denying it and gas-lighting…etc… These “approved” behaviors for leaders are simply Not of Christ. WTH?
    6- Yet leaders still emphasis (not sure how many times each conference) that members should follow Christ, and they clarifying that as meaning they must follow bullying leaders not following Christ…. WTH? Circles, anyone?

    Admitting that leaders make mistakes but moving forward and bullying members to obey and not question them anyway, becomes a Huge, Stinky, Crapping Elephant in the living room knocking people over and sitting on them and whacking them. Just take it because the Elephant is holier than thou?

    Jesus does not “allow” imperfections in His Gospel or Church emulating it. That is why He gave us His very own and very real Law of Common Consent which is banned and counterfeited with more mistakes/Abuse, in His name. Leaders are ignoring God and putting words and bullying in His mouth. Not His Plan, nor His Gospel, but is simply trying to find Christ through following Satan’s Plan.

    We can personally make a lot less mistakes if we simply follow Jesus instead of mistakes of leaders. Matt 7: 20-24 & Matt 15: 14 Why are we kicking Jesus to the curb to follow Leaders who falsely claim to be the light and the way, to Him, while not following Him?

    Enough circles yet? Get off the roller coaster yet? If you keep your eyes closed you will not be as nauseated? If you focus on a distant object (ignore the mess) you might be less dizzy? That is what Jesus told us to choose, truth to set ourselves free from the wild ride of men in His name. He taught to choose the opposite of Leaders putting words in His mouth and changing them at whims and bullying with “His words” they created and uncreate.

    BTW, letting predators (on children, adults or business…) get away with things and staying silent helps them continue to victimize so many more, in the name of us “following Jesus” who did not teach us to enable predators to ravage any flock.

    Jesus spoke strongly against predators and told us to protect ourselves and the flock from them. Leaders get that bassackwards mixed up with “turn the other cheek” to them too, but, you are commanded by the Brethren to follow that outright sick gold spray painted crap ball too, and worship it, and the horse it rode up on as being most glorious. Idol worship?

  9. The priesthood “revelation” has always been a red line for me. Consider that abolitionist movements from the early 19th century were based in Christian faith, that a bloody war was fought in the mid-19th century over slavery, that Jim Crow made abundantly clear African Americans did not have all the rights of citizenship, that simple voting rights were still so tenuous in the 1960s that an act of Congress was required. And then 1978 happens, and it took so long just because nobody in church leadership asked God the question? Is the church led by white men who aren’t paying attention?

    1. The Church’s only partially course corrected in ’78. It wasn’t until the national media’s focus on an interview with BYU religion professor Randy Bott about blacks being less than valiant that Jeffery Holland stated that it’s traditional doctrine on blacks was folklore. No such admission happened in ’78 and it most likely would hot have happened in 2112 if Romney hadn’t been running for president.
      search for Bott’s name throughout the article
      This forced the Church to react. Without them being put under the national magnifying glass, they would not have jettisoned their per-existance doctrine on the blacks.

        1. Yes. I appreciate you revisiting the Randy Bott saga. He was punished for telling the truth, essentially. I might feel differently about the church’s approach to African Americans had they responsibly tried to scrub the BS folklore from church culture. They didn’t until it showed up in the press, which is pretty much how they handle every potentially embarrassing factoid. Complete lack of integrity.

    2. The sad thing about the Church’s position on the Race ban is that they STILL insist it was a revelation from GOD! The only thing they renounce is the collection of reasons give for the ban. THere is no proof of any revelation. It seems abundantly clear that the ban arose from the prevailing racist attitudes of the time and society. Brigham clearly was a racist. The church was racist. God, to my understanding, can never be blamed for this big mistake. However, if the Church were to go that far in admitting the entire doctrine was man-made and a huge mistake, they would have to admit they were not who they claim to be. A church of men, not divinely guided prophets. This singular doctrine and unfortunate history is the one spear to the heart of the Church’s truth claims, even if all other doctrines are assumed to be correct and true. It’s a deal/faith breaker.

  10. I think much of my anger against the Church would melt away if the leaders focused more on integrity.
    Rather than telling their scholars that they need them to do their bidding by playing offense and defense, using only useful truths, instead for them to research and publish with integrity, most of my resentment against the Church would go away. Telling scholars they they’ve lost their way when they’ve focused too much on scholarship is disturbing. And while apologists say that Packer’s talk “The Mantle is Greater than the Intellect” was given a long time ago, Holland’s updated version of that same talk was just last November. The Catholic Church does a much better job of letting their scholars be scholars than the Mormon Church does.

  11. Former bishop! I served as a bishop for five years until two years ago. Mormon stories and Mormon Discussion were the tool God led me to that allowed me to help over ten members who were having a faith crisis including three former bishops and one former bishop. Bill way of reasoning was key in that work. Jim no doubt is the best at coming to a close way for orthodox members to reconcile the mess and truth. Great podcast. I wish we had more people like Jim unafraid to sit gown with Bill, John Dehlin etc to share and defend the orthodoxy side. Thank you.

  12. The church doesn’t allow its members to get revelations through divine method that contradict current church leaders teachings…Osks made that very clear and that s where the problem is. We should allow god to tell one person the church is true so join it while at the same time tell another person no the church is not true don t join it or leave it. Why putting God unto a box? Jim’s weakest point is that he seems not to be able to believe can honestly give an answer to another person that contradicts his, that Oak’s syndrome! Other than that Jim had great points!

  13. Wider audience Jim! Jim said something about what type of audience listens to Bill’s podcast and that there is nothing he would say that would change their already made up minds…. and that this audience is not really made up if fairhful members…well that s not true I m a faithful member and so are several of my friends and we all listen to Bill. The difference is that the faithful are observing quietly… but conversation like this with Jim is great because we get to see how we our position can be defended with people like Bill and it helps see where we can stand and where we can t! Thank to both of you… one of the best podcasts!

      1. Bill, I just finished listening to the full 7 episodes. I am fully ex-mo and spend a great deal of time on the Exmormon sub and listening to various podcasts – I especially have enjoyed your work with RFM.

        I think you really missed a great opportunity to end your discussion on a more positive note. I think Jim was genuinely (and deservedly) hurt by your comments and tone after the first 6 episodes which clearly made this an “us versus them” proposition.

        Things started getting heated in the 6th episode and I started to feel bad for Jim. I was hoping the 7th episode would be a mending of fences and a friendly send-off, but your tone became so hostile and unyielding that it became very difficult to listen to.

        I think he was as transparent and honest and I feel like you really betrayed his trust by painting him in such a negative light. I feel like he could have participated in future episodes as new issues surface, but I really doubt he would consent at this point.

        Not trying to be harsh, just one listener’s opinion.



  14. Bill got out of one box and jumped into another. He is one of the most closed minded ex mormon atheists out there. You could feel the pain in his silence when Jim said that few faithful members know who he is. Ouch. Bill is at the center of his own solar system. Everyone is important. He is no more important and has nothing more important to say than Jo Shmo. One thing he stays clear of, for the most part, is experience. Like Sam Harris, all he can do is argue against the rationality of belief and faith. But an experience which defies rationality and belief, what we therefore call a miracle, cannot be so easily written off. What can you say, what can you come up with, when staring at an empty tomb? That the Christians came in the night and stole his body away while the Roman watch slumbered?

  15. Jim,

    For context I left the church about five years ago. Interesting enough not for any of the reasons you and Bill discussed. I felt my journey to God lay on another path.

    I want to express appreciation and admiration for the way you represented yourself during this conversation. I listened to all the episodes and always found you fair and empathetic. I feel one of the most basic things we have lost in society is the ability to talk, disagree, and still love and respect one another. You gave me hope this is still possible in larger social circles.

    Thank you for your thoughts and willingness to break bread and have a chat.



  16. The wavelength of light reflecting off of objects can be measured! Official declaration 1 says prophets can’t lead us astray (or in otherwords They are infallible). Jeffrey s. Anderson (he did an interview with John Larsen on Sunstone) conducted scientific experiments measuring the neurological response to spiritual things.

    I find two things about this interview most frustrating. First, I have a hard time excusing willful ignorance. Second, I get tired of the superficial discussions The fact the God and Jesus allow their prophets to teach things that prevent the progression of some of their children teaches a great deal about them. I have no confidence that they can be counted on to help me reach my immortality and eternal life.

  17. I listened to all 7 interviews. Very well done. It is not easy to have a respectful conversation on these topics. Kudos to Bill and Jim!

    Bill, you mentioned (a few times) hearing the audio of Quentin L. Cook say “I’ve seen His face, I know His voice”. I can only find a reference to this quote on reddit. How or where did you find the audio. Please share if you can.

  18. wading through jello


    I enjoy your podcast and have been listening for to Mormon Discussion (especially RFM) for quite awhile. I enjoyed this discussion with Jim Bennett. I find it informative to listen to all sides of an issue. I am not an advocate for Jim Bennett. I am no longer an active member of the church, but to be fair, I think it’s important to reference Jim’s response to comments on this podcast series.

  19. I’ve had an experience with the divine and it’s adamant the church of jc of lds is not true. It can’t be explained and you can’t see it and it’s personal and I know it’s from God.

  20. Bill, really enjoyed the Jim Bennett episodes. I could listen to more of this kind of conversation. Each being honest and straight forward without being offensive or taking offence. At least that’s how I took all of this. You both allowed for considerable thought on your differing views as well as similar ones. Probably my favorite element was how you could be critical and make your point without the mocking tone that has seemed to creep in to much of your as well as other podcasters discussions that point out errors in the church. That’s not to say I don’t agree with the points becouse I do for the most part, I just get rubbed wrong by mockery of what may be sacred to others. Just because someone is wrong even to the point of doing damage to others, which I know happens way too much in the church, it just seems arrogant to mock. There are better ways to handle those situations and I really feel that you did it right with your Jim Bennett discussions. Thank you both. More please!

  21. The church sets up this claim that Their not perfect but they do their best, or the people are not perfect but the church is, the gospel is. This is a restored gospel they are talking about, it’s an error assuming that loyalty to this church equals loyalty to christ, the irony is that if their foundation prior to smith is true, (the new testament and atonement narrative in your quad), than they are wrong. the doctrines and claims of the church are just that, they are claims to authority, the thing is they require and are dependant on you seeing the scriptures through their lense and dismissing the things that dont mesh. The bible as a whole is complicated with the long transmission but incredibly coherent, they depend on you using their manuals and accepting that there has been changes, the thing is that the story and claims in the bible don’t benefit any one church, the truth of the (biblical) gospel doesn’t cost money, the only way an organization can use it for their benefit is to convince you that it’s corrupted. The manner of the corruption depends on which organization is making the claims and the theology they have. It’s almost as if it was preserved in a way to prevent this from happening, I’d encourage anybody to dig into the manuscript tradition, there’s no time in history where a group anywhere had access to the transmission to corrupt it, mistakes or changes only happen to your copy and differ from the rest.(new testament) the old testament is different.
    The doctrines of the mormon church is the problem, not the people, if you just read the new testament with nobody poking or influencing you, the belief is VERY different, christ is god in the flesh, he isn’t looking for exaltation but humbled himself, the time and place is amazing with the backstory. I grew up lds and believed everything, I remember not thinking about what’s true but my brain framed my study as what does the church teach, it never entered my mind it wasn’t true.
    I know now that it doesn’t matter what church your in, it’s (as a believer) who you know, the jesus revealed in the bible is very different, the history is messy, there’s polygamy and all sorts of messed up stuff but it’s cultural stuff and telling the whole story, it tells me to test everything and joseph smith fails miserably if im being honest, as for current prophets leading a church, that supposes a redefinition of what a prophet is AND what a prophet does. If you still have a feeling that there is some truth to a supernatural reality, more to you than your aging body, please don’t let an organization influence your pursuit of answers, or try to charge you for them.

  22. This is really interesting, i am very religious and understand what bennet is trying to articulate about first accepting a supernatural reality prior to processing a claim. The issue i see across the religious landscape is a tendancy to reach for certainty weather the system is Islam or mormonism, we kind of look for validation for something we dont fully view and often fall victim to fraud in a innocent way on our part, the other end of this relationship isnt innocent at all, men claiming authority about god always end up contradicting jesus and needing money and recognizing thus depends on our own understanding of history and what the message of Christ is, if your church trys to keep you from objective truth in favor of their message run!

  23. Excellent conversation. I felt Bill was able to ask the tough questions and things may have been a bit spirited at times, but not heated.

    I did feel that there was one opportunity lost: Mr. Bennet gave the example of how God warned Israel through the prophet that having a king was a bad idea. You should have said- Indeed, God warned them through a prophet ahead of time and the wicked people resisted, whereas in the modern church, not only did God not warn us of the consequences of a priesthood ban for black people, but it was the wicked prophets themselves who promulgated racism!

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