What does the future of Mormon history look like? Steve Pynakker is the evangelical host of Mormon Book Reviews. He and I sat down to talk about recent events that surprised us, as well as what the future of Mormonism might look like.
Steve: what does the future of Mormonism look like to you?
GT: I’m a historian, not a future teller.
Steve: Okay, based on history, so I, what do you think? You know the history and you know the history of religion and stuff like that. Do you have any inkling of where you think this is going? Do you think there might be some kind of turn that you wouldn’t have expected, something down the road that you didn’t see coming?
GT: I mean, it’s like my March Madness bracket. I’m terrible at picking.
Steve: Yeah, Loyola beat Illinois today.
GT: Yeah, I saw that.
Steve: That busted a lot of people’s brackets.
GT: Just the stuff that’s happened in the last five years has been a surprise to me: two hour church, now, instead of three. That’s been a surprise. What they’re doing the Salt Lake temple is horrible, if you ask me, and the Manti temple. I’m very disappointed to hear about that we’re killing our own history. Why would you do that? I think President Hinckley would be rolling in his grave to find out what we’re doing there, to take out those beautiful murals that we spent so much time and effort and money on. To me, that’s very disappointing. But I’m not the Prophet. That’s above my paygrade. The combining of elders and high priests, I would never have predicted. I remember, I walked in late to that meeting with my son, and I was like, “Did they just dissolve the High Priest’s quorum?” The guy said yes. I was like, “Wow.” So, President Nelson’s definitely got his surgeon’s knife out, and he’s cutting out what he thinks is garbage. I don’t know. I wouldn’t have predicted many of the things that President Nelson has done. I have no idea who’s following [in his footsteps]. We don’t have any other surgeons in the quorum, so, maybe it won’t change much. But, yeah, future telling us is very hard.
Look into your crystal ball and tell us what the future of Mormonism looks like. What do you predict?
Steve Pynakker, evangelical host of Mormon Book Reviews and I got together again on August 27 to celebrate his 50th video on his podcast. Steve attended his first Mormon History Association meetings in June, and he discusses his experiences at the recent meetings in Park City, Utah. Steve and Rick Bennett discussed the recent loss of Curt Bench, owner of Benchmark Books. Curt was an unheralded giant in the Mormon historian’s community, and his death marks a great loss in the community.
Steve: Rick, when you first started, what was it like, at the very beginning, approaching authors and getting guests on? Did it come relatively easy? Did it take some time for your channel to gain traction?
GT: So, one of the differences between me and you is I’ve been attending Mormon History Association. I had made a few contacts. I remember Paul Reeve and Margaret Young. Margaret’s technically not [a historian.] She’s an [English] professor at BYU, but she’s not a history scholar or anything. I picked Margaret because I thought she would say yes. I picked Paul because I thought he would say yes. I picked Curt Bench because I thought he would say, [yes.]
GT: By the way, I’m so sad. I don’t know if people know, but Curt Bench, owner of Benchmark Books, passed away about a week ago. Apparently he had an aneurysm and it was just sudden. It was awful, just totally awful. My heart goes out to the family. The funeral was a day or two ago. He is one of the unsung heroes, and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. You just say Curt Bench’s name and a smile comes to your face, because he’s such a friendly guy. He’s friendly to everybody. I don’t know anybody that didn’t like Curt Bench. I mean, he’s just [so friendly.] If you went to his bookstore, and you’d say, “Hey, I’m looking on a book for this subject or this author.” He knew what you were talking about, and he would go right to the place, and he’d say, “I think this is what you want.” The knowledge that he had was just so vast. He’s been doing–his bookstore is 25 years old, 30 years old, something like that. Plus, he was at Deseret Book before that. The knowledge that we lost when Curt Bench died is just [immense.] I remember what was his name? Darren Parry said, “When a when a Native American elder dies, a library burns.” That’s kind of what it is to lose Curt Bench. We’ve lost, and I think he’s kind of an unsung hero. Everybody knows him, but we’ve lost a giant in Mormon History, and I’m so sad for his family.
GT: But, like I said, going back to your question, I picked Curt because I thought he would say yes. That was such a fun interview, because I knew that he had something to do with the Mark Hofmann saga, but I didn’t know what it was. Then, when I said, “Can you tell me what happened?” Curt says, “Well, after the third bombing,” No, after the second bombing, “I called Mark” and said, “Mark, you’ve got to be careful. There’s a bomber out there.”
GT: And I was like “You called?” It was just so crazy. Those first few guests that I kind of had a personal acquaintance with, I thought they would say yes. Then I started reaching out to strangers.
Curt was a staple at the meetings and is one of the most friendly, funny, and cordial professionals you’ll ever meet. The MHA also accepts all people; you don’t have to be a professional historian to attend! All you have to do is like Mormon history. Have you attended? Did you know Curt Bench? What are your thoughts on the community and/or Curt?
Recently the LDS Church announced the seismic improvements and removal of the beautiful murals in the Salt Lake Temple. Steve Pynakker is the evangelical host of Mormon Book Reviews and he asked me what I thought about the announcement. To say I’m disappointed in the removal of these pioneer-era murals in an understatement.
Steve: It was interesting, too, one of the things that I witnessed was this massive reconstructing of the temple where they’re doing all this refurbishing, and I’m looking and it just seems like, as an outsider, based on what I’m seeing, and some of the photographs people are taking, they’re actually taking off some of the symbols that were on there. It seems like it’s kind of a whitewashing.
GT: On the outside?
GT: Oh, maybe you’ve been paying more attention than I have? I hope not.
Steve: Yeah, somebody pointed out that one of the symbols that was originally carved in there was taken out, they took a picture of that. It just seems like they’re really radically changing the Salt Lake temple. What are they trying to do, modernize it for the 21st century?
GT: I know, to some degree, they were trying to make it more earthquake proof. I have no problem with that. But I’m appalled that we’re getting rid of the beautiful murals that are inside. They have a model, you can see, hopefully. They’re redoing the whole Temple Square. But there used to be a model of the Salt Lake temple where you could see scale versions of those murals and to have those removed is a travesty, in my opinion. President Nelson wants to make it efficient. There’s more of this world than everything needs to be efficient and to lose the history and the symbols for the sake of efficiency, I think is bad, terrible.
Steve: I just remember when we were on that very first phone call, the news flashed right when it happened, and you were not a happy camper.
GT: No. I’ve tried to be pretty low key about it. But yeah, I’m extremely bothered by it.
Steve: Well, and just as the historian…
GT: The one thing that I will say, Manti, they wanted to they want to do the same thing to the Manti temple, because Manti is a pioneer temple as well. The thing that bothers me about Salt Lake, they did this without any input from the people and then when they said “We’re going to do the same thing to Manti,” the people in Manti were like, “No.” They’ve already done this to the Logan Temple, and they’ve done it at the St. George Temple. It’s like, no, those were pioneer era temples. They need to be pioneer era temples. I’m so grateful for President Hinckley for rebuilding the Nauvoo Temple, but in my mind, I wish that they would they would have [restored it like it was originally built.] The exterior looks the same, but the interior is completely different. In the original Nauvoo Temple, they had two ballrooms, essentially. They danced. They literally held dances in the temple, and now they’ve replaced it with endowments stuff and that’s great, that’s fine. But, the original Nauvoo Temple also had a weathervane on top of it, and instead of an upright Moroni, it was a flying angel with a trumpet, like in [the Book of] Revelation. It would turn with the wind. I wish we had the flying angel on the Nauvoo Temple. President Hinckley said, “Well, I like the standing one better.” And he’s paying the money. So he [gets] to do his choice, but I wish that we had restored the Nauvoo Temple, the way it was originally built.
What are your thoughts on the remodeling of SL Temple and cancellation of pageants?