John Larsen of the Sunstone podcast sat down in August 2019 to learn more about Rick Bennett of the Gospel Tangents podcast.
John: Gospel Tangents started a couple years ago, so what is this podcast?
Rick: So, I don’t know if I should admit this, but honestly I enjoyed your podcast Mormon Expression. I’ve enjoyed Mormon Stories. I just thought, you know what? I want to dip my toe in here and I kind of want to talk to people from all different perspectives, whether they’re believers, non-believers, former Mormons, and I get a wide range of people. I just like to expose people to a lot of different ideas. I don’t always agree with my guests. They don’t always agree with me, and that’s fine. But, in the month of June,  just to give kind of a variety of people, I talked with Dan Vogel, who was very….
John: [An] amazing mind.
Rick: Amazing mind, he’s an ex-Mormon.
John: He’s an expert on Joseph Smith.
Rick: Then, in the middle of the month I talked to Jana Riess and Benjamin Knoll ,who are more on the progressive side.
John: They’re progressive and, of course, Jana Riess writes for, well several outlets but she does a lot of current research into Mormonism and exposes that on national basis.
Rick: And then I ended the month with Elder Snow of the Quorum of the Seventy. I guess he doesn’t get officially released till October [2019.] So I ended up with a General Authority and an ex-Mormon and a progressive Mormon, which is kind of a good in one month. I mean, I pretty much covered the gamut there. I’ll talk to polygamists. I will talk to, Brian Hales, Ugo Perego, Simon Southerton. I’m trying to cover all the bases. I don’t care if you’re just LDS Mormon, I want to cover, I want to talk about Community of Christ. I’ve talked with John Hamer and he’s a Seventy in the Community of Christ now, and Lachlin MacKay who’s an apostle. I’ve just recently, although I haven’t released it yet, talked to another Apostle and Seventy from a polygamous group, Christ’s Church, the Righteous Branch, they call themselves. I really tried to cover all my bases. I’ve got an upcoming–a couple of interviews with a couple of never-Mormons. Larry Foster and Quincy Newell are both professors. One’s at Georgia Tech and the other one’s at Hamilton College in New York. So, really trying to just cover Mormon history from every possible angle you can.
John: Well, and again, I have to congratulate you because you’re pulling off what’s really difficult to do. The Mormon Studies world tends to get polarized very quickly and gets into camps. Those camps tend not to talk to each other. They oftentimes will behind the scenes a lot more than they will, but there’s public reticence on both sides, for, let’s say critics and ex-Mormons to engage in anything they think might be in the least bit faith promoting. And on the other side, to avoid the taint of sounding like you’re talking to apostates or associating with those who are enemies to the kingdom or whatever.
Let’s face it. Many members have an incomplete knowledge of Church history and problematic historical issues. Is it the leaders’ fault? John Larsen of the Sunstone Podcast debates Rick Bennett as to where the blame should lie with regards to teaching Church history.
John: There’s still stuff that gets me annoyed. For me, the higher they are up on the pecking order. I’ve said many times that they have a hard job, they have an impossible job, the brethren, but it’s their own doing, they’ve backed themselves into a corner. But the higher up you are in the organization, the less empathy I have for you, because you know what you’re doing at this point. There’s plenty of Bishops and Stake Presidents just trying to do their best. But if you’re in the Q15, you get no pass. You get no quarter from me.
John: Is that too harsh?
Rick: I know it is for some people. Some of my subscribers–in fact, one of them recently posted one of my podcasts on Mormon Stories. For one thing, I was grateful for kind of the publicity or whatever, but he was pretty harsh on Elder Snow and I was just like, “Wow, do you not give anybody the benefit of any doubt?” One of my things is I try to talk about this from kind of a non-polemical point of view, kind of an academic point of view. I don’t put up with a lot of anger. I know in Mormon Stories, at least from my experience, and, I’m sure people will disagree with me, but, it’s a very angry group. I know there’s a stereotype of bitter ex-Mormons, and I feel like that applies in that group, because there are so many angry people that won’t give anybody of faith, any benefit of the doubt. That bothers me. I mean, not that I agreed with everything Elder Snow said. One of the one of the things that Elder Snow said that I knew was going to cause a lot of pushback, was when I said, “So was there anything that bothers you about church history?” And he said, “No, I think it’s inspiring.” I was just like, “Wow, there’s going to be a lot of people that will disagree with that.” And I was right. There were people that disagreed with that.
John: That goes to my point. Somebody who is a professional clergy, he doesn’t have a day job, like bishops and stake presidents do. He’s got access to stuff that you and I don’t have access to. For them, just to pretend that they don’t know what’s going–for him to say that, he loses empathy with me, because we only have two points. He’s either willfully ignorant, which he has no excuse at his age, or he’s lying. Tell me, is there another possibility? Please tell me, Rick, what am I missing? I have been struggling with that question since the day I left.
Rick: Well, and I know that–I mean, I guess I would kind of fit in there. Not that I agree with Elder Snow. There are lots of things about church history that bothers me. So I would have never answered the question that way. I don’t want people to accuse me of being willfully ignorant, which I think I’ve demonstrated, I am not willfully ignorant. I’m very cognizant of all the major issues and try to talk about that.
John: But you’re not calling the shots.
Rick: Well, that’s true. I’m not calling the shots. But I think Elder Snow has been a wonderful advocate for the Church History Department. One of the things he said later on in the interview, was that he’s trying to be transparent. He’s trying to get stuff [out.] We’ve got the Gospel Topics Essays that came out under his tenure. It started under Elder Jensen, but he was the one that shepherded it through and he just felt like if we can get all this stuff out, we won’t be accused of hiding anything, and it’s going to be better for the church, which I agree with.
Do you agree more with John or Rick? Do you like the variety of guests on my Gospel Tangents? Would you like to give any feedback?