While the LDS Church is the largest Mormon group, there are lots of other churches tracing their founding to Joseph Smith. John Larsen of the Sunstone Podcast sat down with Rick Bennett to discuss some of these groups who aren’t well-known. Rick refers to them as “our Mormon cousins.”
Rick: I was back in Independence earlier this summer. I wanted to go to the Temple Lot of church. I talked to that guy, probably for six or seven hours. It was amazing. I wish I could have gotten than one recorded. I asked and he said, “No.” I went to the Cutlerite Church, and I talked to that lady for probably two hours. I got a tour of the church. I even got a quote in Sunstone because it’s something I learned from her. So listen to Mel Johnson’s Sunstone presentation if you want to hear that. I tried to talk to the Remnant Church because I got some friends there and their building was closed. I went to the Community of Christ temple, and then I just would drive around and I would see something that looked–I’m trying to remember what it said. It was like the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ. I said, “That’s got to be one of our churches.” So, sure enough, it was this guy, he was missing a bunch of teeth. He was out fixing a fence on their church property. I talked to him for probably an hour and I felt bad because he was trying to fix this fence, and I’m stopping him. He’s telling me about angels. He showed me this picture. He goes, Do you see this white area here? That’s like an angel.” It was just so interesting to listen to him. I think he was surprised because I listened without judgment, like that’s not an angel. I was like, “Wow, what a story.” The guy named Randy Sheldon at the Temple Lot Church. I found out that they still do speaking in tongues.
We talk about several other groups, even groups that are critical of the Church, like anti-Mormon groups and Mark Hofmann, who is a murderer and forger of Mormon documents. We discussed some of Rick’s past interviews and knowledge Rick has learned in talking to people who knew or prosecuted Mark Hofmann.
John: I mean, Hofmann is a murderer, and a criminal. But geez, that man was brilliant.
Rick: He was brilliant. He’s got horrible handwriting, too.
John: We still don’t know because, you can push back, because the church wanted it to go away. So the church got involved. There’s a lot of people who’ve accused this. I’m not the one making this up. The church got involved. They wanted to cut a deal. They cut a deal with Hofmann, that if he pled guilty, he wouldn’t get the death penalty. He got a blanket pass that he wouldn’t have to talk to anybody else. So he didn’t have to answer…
Rick: Well, that’s not exactly true. There was a deal cut and if you want to get into all the details, watch my George Throckmorton interview, because we talked about that. Also, Sandra was very angry that a deal was made because she’s like, “I think we could have got the death penalty on him.” I don’t know if people know this, but he tried to put out a hit on the Director of the Board of Pardons.
John: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Rick: Yeah, while he was in jail, because he should be out of jail by now. He will never leave jail.
Rick: But yeah, so Mark was supposed to spill the beans and he never did, due to–anyway. George talks about it. There were some mistakes done in the prosecution, and they should have had him tell the stuff before they’d cut the deal and they didn’t. So then he had no incentive to talk after that. A lot of the stuff that he was supposed to tell he never told.
John: I would invite everybody go out there and read one of the true crime books. The one I liked was one by Sillitoe.
Rick: Yeah, that’s the best–that’s one of the best ones.
John: I think it’s called Salamander.
We will talk about other details of the Hofmann saga, and discuss other Mormon critics. Some questions.
- Do you enjoy learning about Mormon cousins? Have you attended any of their services?
- What are your thoughts over Mark Hofmann, his forgeries, and murders?
What I find fascinating about Hofman is that he knew precisely what kind of information would seem perfectly legitimate to the First Presidency, even though the majority of the members at the time had absolutely no point of reference for stories about talking amphibians. Hofman knew things about the LDS origin story that would have sounded foolish to the average member, and he knew that the First Presidency knew these things, too. The only difference is he knew the FP wouldn’t see anything at all unbelievable about it, and not only that, but that they’d act swiftly to snatch up documents like these. Hofman outfrauded the LDS fraud! He was one of the most brilliant strategists I have ever read about. And he was also evil. But the apple doesnt fall far from the tree.
The Hofman story therefore is almost proof positive that the Q15 either knows it is all a fraud, or they are under very strong delusion.
Learning about the Mormon Cousins made it a lot easier for me to leave the church. Suddenly the Apostasy/Restoration story seemed simplistic. I was raised believing that all the confusion in Christendom was cleared up by the Restoration, but then I learn that the true story is that Mormondom is just as internally confused as the whole of Christendom.
Well that’s a pretty cynical take. From my experience, the FP/Q12 were relying on historians to tell them Hofmann’s docs seemed legit and were fooled just like the historians.
I am not faulting the First Presidency for being fooled. I am faulting for them understanding, whether by their own study or through consultation with historians, that a fantastical and ridiculous story about a magical white salamander sounded perfectly in keeping with Mormon origin narratives.
Historian: There is this letter that claims a white salamander appeared to Joseph Smith and transformed into a spirit, and wouldn’t let Joseph get the plates of the Book of Mormon unless he brought along his dead brother Alvin. It looks authentic!
Average Lay-Mormon: What the heck are you talking about? Yea….now I’ve heard it all. And we do human sacrifices in our temples, and we wear hats to hide our horns, too. Give me a break!
Later that day….
Historian: There is this letter that claims a white salamander appeared to Joseph Smith and transformed into a spirit and wouldn’t let Joseph get the plates of the Book of Mormon unless he brought along his dead brother Alvin.It looks authentic!
The First Presidency: Hmmm….it all seems to check out. And you said Brother Hofman is asking how much for it?
The issue is NOT that they were fooled by a forgery. The issue is that they WEREN’T fooled by the CONTENT of the forgery…that it apparently didn’t seem preposterous in the least to them. They knew. That’s the issue. They knew that the narrative of the founding of the Book of Mormon was far more colorful than any official retelling of it in any official church publication.
John, I encourage you not only to check out Michael Quinn’s book “Mormonism and the Magic World View” but also my recent interviews with Clair Barrus on the subject of magic. I am positive Quinn was consulted on the Salamander Letter. If you want to better understand Joseph’s magical treasure seeking, see my interviews with Clair: https://gospeltangents.com/category/clair-barrus/
“One thing that it seems he was doing when he was trying to recover treasure is to control the spirit that was guarding the treasure or that was trying to prevent them from recovering the treasure. We don’t know. We don’t have any specific information on the word abracadabra in Joseph Smith’s treasure seeking, but we do know that they use magic words when trying to recover these and we know that the magic parchments, the Smiths had three of those, and they have magic words on those. Those were used to try to control spirits.”
“He then goes into the house and asks Joseph Smith, who is looking in his seer stone in the hat and he says, “Joseph.” And then they dig. They had dug, and there’s no treasure. They go in the house, “Joseph what happened?” he says. He [Joseph, Jr.] has been watching the spirit interacting with this cone, these magic circles that Joseph Smith, Sr. has drawn. Joseph [Jr.] said that the Spirit was able to get the treasure and move it through the earth and they lost it. They had made a mistake during some part of the ritual, and that’s why they lost the treasure.”
This comes from my interview with Clair Barrus: https://gospeltangents.com/2020/06/reconciling-josephs-magic-masonry/
Thanks for the suggestions. But I have already checked out Quinn’s book. I am very familiar with the parchments, the “slippery” treasure, the details of Smith’s treasure digging, etc. I have done quite a bit of investigation into these issues. I would propose that the vast majority of members even to this day, despite all this great information that Quinn has provided, and despite your great work also on these topics – the majority of members today still do not even know what it really means to have been a “treasure digger” in the 19th Century. I read Treasure Island for a 5th grade book report. When I first started hearing reports of Smith’s treasure digging as a teenager and young adult, I couldn’t see what the problem was with a young person going out to dig up buried treasure. What is so scandalous about that? I had no idea at all that this so-called “treasure digging” was actually embedded in strange occultic practices.
Was I just stupid? That is certainly a possibility. I grew up in a backwards part of the country just across the river from full-blown Appalachia and in a conservative Mormon home that wouldn’t even allow a Pink Floyd album through the doors, let alone any kind of information critical of the church. There was a joke that went like this: “What is the West Virginia State flower? Punchline: A broken-down Volkswagen beetle.” This was even more hilarious to me, because my best friend, who lived across the river in WV, truly had a broken down Volkswagen beetle sitting on his front lawn!
This was late 70’s/80’s/early 90’s. What you all have going on here at Wheat and Tares I find addictively fascinating, even after having walked away from the church. But I guarantee you that this approach to Mormonism, Mormon history, Mormon discourse and dialogue is absolutely not the approach that the average member takes with their religion. I have close family members that would consider this site “anti-Mormon.”
I don’t feel like I need to “better understand” Smith’s treasure digging. I walked away from the church and learned all about it. The quotes from your interview which you provided above present information that I was already researching a few years ago. Been there, done that.
The point I was trying to make – I am not sure you yet understand it. Perhaps you do, but are just kindly giving me some information to look into so the conversation here can transition in another direction. If so, thank you.
I better understand where you’re coming from now John. Thanks. Yes there is a disconnect between what people in the pews vs people on the internet understand about Mormon history. But hopefully people like me, Clair, & Michael Quinn, and the Gospel Topics essays are helping to close that gap.
Rick: I’m former RLDS, so the movement in Missouri has always interested me. I also have kinfolk living there; most of them departed from the church after OWP in 1984. It is mind boggling to the average LDS to browse Independence. For years, the only historical markers from the Mormon period were the courthouse and the Temple Lot. Thankfully, that has changed. There’s an historic walking tour that helps a lot.
The three denominations sharing the original 63+ acres of the Temple Lot represent three phases of Church history in their beliefs/organization: the Church of Christ is Fayette 1830, the CofChrist is Kirtland 1836, and the LDS is Nauvoo 1844. Each one has breakaway groups in Independence with more breakaways from the breakaways!
To borrow a phrase from Bernard Goldberg, Hoffman took people for a ride, but they were willing passengers. After joining the LDS I read Gordon B. Hinkley’s comments on the succession document. Very calm and cautious, as well as firm in the succession procedure used in the Church. He was proven correct.