We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Daniel Stone about the Church of Jesus Christ in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Following a bitter schism, Dr. Daniel Stone tells how the two Bickertonite factions reunited. It was interesting to find out how the LDS Church reacted when they learned of the Bickertonite schism.
Daniel: John Taylor hears about the Bickertonites and hears about how they’re split and basically sends missionaries down the line. They send missionaries to St John and to Pennsylvania to convert the Bickertonites, and they’re very successful at doing that. I want to mind you. They convert a lot of Bickertonites.
GT: Even though they are polygamists? Because John Taylor was definitely a polygamist.
Daniel: Yep! You have several of the missionaries going, both the Pennsylvania and going to Kansas convincing Bickertonites who were strongly opposed to polygamy, that polygamy was a true revelation. It goes to show you how you could have really staunch people. It goes to show you how bad the split really hurt the Bickertonite movement. They literally saw it in shambles.
The split lasted 22 years. How did they combine?
Daniel: William Bickerton is in his late eighties. William Bickerton knows that he’s going to die soon. His brother had even died that I believe was younger than him, if I remember correctly. So, he sends a friendly face that was a member of Bickerton’s schism, but then eventually joins Cadman. His name was Alexander Cherry and William Cadman sends Alexander Cherry to St. John, Kansas to talk with William Bickerton in his late eighties to say, okay, here are the terms. And it’s a friendlier face than William Cadman, because William Cadman did meet with William Bickerton before that and they couldn’t come to terms. So, Alexander Cherry presents William Bickerton with an offer.
He says basically, “Listen. If you don’t be a prophet anymore, don’t recognize yourself as a prophet. You’re not the leader of the church anymore, but you can still hold a priesthood position as an elder, we will bring all of your members in our church and we can all just join as one. Because both churches excommunicated each other. They basically said, “We’ll forget that that even happened.” And they basically said, “If you forgive us, we’ll forgive you.” That was the terms. And William Bickerton in his last to age had two choices. You could either die right, being not an adulterer in holding onto his pride and the church is split in two, or he could help the movement which was already happening and bring the church together and he chooses the latter. He says he steps down.
He is no longer considered a prophet. He’s considered an elder and the church comes back together. It’s that easy. Nobody’s rebaptized. It just comes back, and they basically forget everything, and he literally thinks the past is forgotten.
With this messy feud, is it tricky writing about history? Some LDS Scholars got in trouble for writing true, but unflattering history. Dr. Daniel Stone is the first person to write about William Bickerton, the first prophet of the Bickertonite Church. l asked him how he navigated those tricky waters in his church.
Daniel: I wrote a proposal to the church and to the church historian and to the Twelve asking that I can write an objective history and I specifically said that. I was approved to do that under the umbrella of the church because I don’t think most of the people in the church actually knew….
I was able to get access to all these documents, which I think as far as I know no one has ever done before. So, it was really fun. I wrote the first five chapters of the book. I gave it to the church historian and the Twelve. They never gave me a clear answer as to yes or no. I will say I can kind of understand because as apostles or as leaders of the church, you as leadership of the church, none of them are historians, right? I am. The object of all has apostles in any one person of the Mormon movement is to promote faith, right? And history can sometimes be like that, so there might be some things. The big issue is the Cadman-Bickerton feud. They flat out said, I actually heard from a couple of them saying that’s the big issue that they were afraid of is the Cadman-Bickerton feud.
But what ended up happening was, is I just asked the general historian, I said, “Can I go independent with this?” He said yes.
GT: Because originally you were going to have it published by the church.
Daniel: Potentially. Yes. That was, that was what I had understood the agreement to be. And what ended up happening was there was some kind of miscommunication. I had a talk with some of the apostles and we basically came to the idea of this is a miscommunication. We never had you sign anything. So it’s not like we can say don’t publish it. And the Bickertonites to their credit are very democratic in a lot of senses. Even though some of the leadership does not support, I’m assuming, what I’m doing, my membership was never in danger. They might not necessarily agree with some of what I’m saying. And they flat out said, some of them had said, “We don’t agree with some of your interpretations. We think you’re speculative.”
My argument nicely is, “You have never read the documentation. I have.” I’m not trying to be like, oh look at me, I know, but I’m just like, no, read the documents for yourself because nobody has ever really done this. And then we can have a discussion, but just to flat out say it’s speculative. I’m like, well all history has that. My argument is, I have all footnotes. People can look at it, people can check my sources. No book is perfect, but I tried really hard.
What are your thoughts on religious history? Is it a topic to be avoided? Can we learn from painful episodes in our past, or should we not talk about them? Is it easier to talk about other churches problems, rather than our own church?