Bill Russell is one of my favorite Community of Christ historians. He taught at Graceland University, and told Bruce Jenner to train hard for the 1600 meters in the Olympic Decathlon. We’ll learn about RLDS history, and his unorthodox beliefs. Check out our conversation…
Coaching Bruce Jenner
GT 04:38 Now wait a minute, were you at Graceland when Bruce Jenner was there?
Bill 04:42 Yeah, he was a friend of mine because we both talked about track, you know.
GT 04:46 No way. Did you coach him at all?
Bill 04:49 No, no. He had L.D. Weldon coaching him. Yeah, I did tell him, “Be sure and don’t underestimate the importance of the 1500-meter run, the last event in in the decathlon. Because a lot of times a guy who’s good at the other nine events, will just trained for those nine events, and then just try to gut it out, in that last event, which is the 1500 meter. And LD, he was always good in the 1500 meters, Bruce was, yeah. So, whether or not my giving him that advice stuck or not, I didn’t know.
GT 05:36 But he got the gold, anyway.
Bill 05:37 Yeah.
GT 05:38 One way or the other, he got the gold. That’s awesome.
Early RLDS History-Lineal Succession
Bill 13:13 Back in 1972, or so, we had a journal published at Graceland called Courage. I published an editorial which said, “We have debated with the Mormons as to which is a better method of succession in the church presidency, lineage, or,” your method of…
GT 13:41 Apostolic succession.
Bill 13:42 Apostolic succession, yeah. So, the question is not, which is the best? The question is, which is the worst? I mean, we could have the old debates again, and just exchange notes and debate which is the worst. I mean, I’m really serious. And I don’t know which side I would take. I mean, I just think they’re both terrible. So, how would I know which side to be for?
GT 14:10 They’re both terrible.
Bill 14:11 So, anyway, we should have had, when we finally opened it up and had Grant McMurray and, now, Stephen Veazey. Well, we should have opened the doors to anybody after–I mean, Joseph the third, was good because of the timing of it, and the location of the church. We were heavily located in southern Iowa, and Joseph the third, was just [great.] And plus, Joseph the third had been raised, really, by his mother and not by his father. And he didn’t know a lot of the stuff.
GT 14:48 Because he was just 11 years old when his father died.
Bill 14:50 [He was] 11 and a half.
GT 14:51 Yeah.
Bill 14:52 And he wouldn’t have known hardly anything that his dad was teaching. So, I think, now again, I don’t have proof on this, because we don’t have much in the way of sources from Emma. But I think Emma, raised Methodist, married this Mormon prophet, and then he’s gone. He had things like polygamy that she detested. I think she raised her son or her sons from a more orthodox Protestant type of type of theology. So, I just think that Joseph Smith, the third, the kind of education he got, fit their brand and Mormonism better for the Midwest, where things like polygamy and baptism for the dead and all those more wild things, you might even say Mormon history, were not included. And that was very fortunate, in my opinion.
Succession through Fred M & Israel Smith
GT 29:28 Right. Well, I know 1984 was a big year in RLDS history with the ordination of women, which was six years after the LDS revelation that allowed blacks. Before we go there, because I think that’s an important thing I want to highlight, what are some of the big events between say, 1914 when Joseph the third, died and 1984 when the revelation happened? What are the highlights of RLDS history?
Bill 30:03 Fred M. Smith, the guy whose name I couldn’t even think of, Fred M. Smith with his PhD from Clark University, I think it was, out East, in social psychology, I think. My view is he was not a good president of the church at all. And that’s because I think he was so–maybe it’s because of his PhD. He thinks he’s so much smarter than everybody else, or what. But, at any rate, he had big fights with the elders in the church and stuff. So, supreme directional control, he ultimately came to the idea that I’m the Prophet, so, you should do what I say. So, the Prophet, we have supreme directional control in the church, and so what I say, people should obey. And that’s just nonsense, man. So, I think he was a very poor prophet. So, that period from 1915, when he when he became the head of the church, and then 1946, when he died, then, that’s the…
GT 31:26 [The period of] 1915.
Bill 31:27 Yeah, 1915 to 1946, then he dies. He hadn’t left any kind of a message as to who should replace him, probably because the only real inheritor of the church is Israel A. Smith, and Israel A. Smith was in the bishopric that had fought tooth and nail with the presidency back in the 20s, over Smith’s reign. Now Israel might have just felt like he needed to support the Presiding Bishop, because all three members of the bishop quit, resigned in 1925. So, then in Israel Smith goes back into law practice. He was a lawyer, not a very good one. But he was a lawyer. It seemed like he wasn’t a very good one. But I didn’t really know, I don’t know enough about it. Anyway, finally Fred M. brings Israel into the presidency in 1938, and he makes a statement. “Well, if he becomes president of the church, then he’ll have some some experience.” So, six years later, Fred M. dies, Israel A. becomes the president of the church.
Bill 32:54 Israel A. was a real nice guy. I mean, he learned from the mistakes of his brother. Norma Hiles has a good title for the book he wrote about Israel A. Smith–The Gentle Monarch. He was a monarch, I mean, he was the head, he had the divine right of kings in his favor. But, he realized that you’ve got to be a gentle monarch. “You can’t be like my older brother who really didn’t handle things well at all,” and in the middle of that in 1925, a lot of people left the church and then a lot of them joined the Hedrickite church. And some of them just probably left.
Women’s ordination Causes Schism in RLDS Church
GT 48:46 So, 1984, can you talk about that time when, when that revelation came?
Bill 48:53 Well, so the revelation, it was fairly typical for the President of the Church on about Monday or Tuesday of the week-long World Conference, to say, “Okay, I’ve got a revelation.” And they’ll send that revelation to each of the quorums. So, the Quorum of Presidency and the Twelve, and the Bishopric and the High Priests, and the Elders, and then they just have a Quorum of the Aaronic priesthood. More recently, we’ve added the Quorum of Members, people that are just members, but aren’t being…
GT 49:30 Isn’t there a High Council as well?
Bill 49:32 There’s a High Council but that’s not–well, let’s see. But that’s not one of the quorums that vote on it. So, then, they’ll meet in the morning. This is one of the things I’ve really publicly objected to. They’ll meet in the morning, and this is changing under Grant McMurray and Steve Veasey. But they meet in the morning, and then they’ll vote. After discussion, they’ll vote. Then they’ll come, and in the afternoon, there’ll be a meeting of everybody. All the delegates will meet in a general session that afternoon. Then, they’ll call on somebody to speak for each quorum. They’ll get up and say, “Well, the High Priests quorum voted unanimously” or strongly in favor, or maybe they’ll…
Bill 50:26 Well, anyway, in 1984, I’ve looked through the 1984 votes, and the Seventies tended to be the most conservative people. They’re out there telling people the traditional message, that we’ve been teaching for years, and we don’t believe that anymore. So, they had a couple of quorums that voted, and had a majority voted no. Some other quorums that were like, tied, and then some other quorums, it was close. So, the really interesting votes, were among those the Seventies.
Bill 51:06 Now, the other quorums typically had some negative votes, too, especially the Elders Quorum. High Priests tend to be older. You’d think of the older as being, maybe, more conservative. They’re older, but, yet they’ve been around and they’re a little bit more accepting of change. Whereas, it’s often the Elders–maybe that’s the case of the Elders, because they’re conservative and oppose changes. They haven’t been ordained High Priests. They’re still Elders, and they’re voting no on the revelations. But, anyway, so, in the actual vote, they never took an actual vote, which I wish they had. But the vote was, people just have to estimate hands. Then, it was about 80 to 20, in favor of women’s ordination. I wish they’d had an actual vote, because we could say [that] the vote was XYZ. Because some people say, “Oh, no, we really had more like 40%,” and stuff like that. But I think 20 percent [voted no.] I mean, I wasn’t there. I didn’t go to that conference, except on the weekends. I had all kinds of grading to do at Graceland. So, I didn’t go down during the week, just did the two weekends. But anyway, that’s how that that conference went.
Bill 52:42 Some people, I have some friends who are restorationists, who just left them at home. One of my best friends is one of the leaders of the restoration movement. He was from New Jersey, and most of New Jersey delegation, just Thursday, after the vote, got up and left and started for home. So, we had a lot smaller crowd during the later meetings. I don’t know if that gets at what you’re looking for.
GT 53:15 So, one of the things, I know there was a lot of turmoil in the church in 1984 over women’s ordination. I’ve heard, I don’t remember if it was Veazey or McMurray, one of the two, I believe. Or, even, it could have been somebody else, said that they learned from this contentious time in 1984, that you can’t just throw revelation at people.
Bill 53:39 Right.
GT 53:39 You have to give them time to discern.
Bill 53:41 Absolutely.
GT 53:42 So, that, in 1984, resulted in a lot of conservative members, basically, leaving the RLDS church.
Bill 53:51 Yeah.
GT 53:51 And that’s where, I think, the Joint Conference of Restoration Branches, JCRB…
Bill 53:57 Several different groups, yeah.
GT 53:59 And there’s the Remnant Church, which you mentioned. A lot of these groups were just like, “No, we don’t want females ordained.”
RLDS Views of Apostasy-Restoration Branches
Bill: So, anyway, Cheville decided that it was time to try to get people to think in other terms. In 580, there was this big apostasy. So, the result is, as I see it, the problem with our traditional teachings is you’ve got this apostasy whenever you want it to start, 320 or whenever. There’s these 15 generations or 15 centuries or so, when we don’t even study those centuries. That’s a great part of Christian history. So, now, in the Community of Christ, we’ve got our theologian in residence is Tony Chvala-Smith. You might meet him because he comes up and teaches a couple of courses every semester. Well, he’s got his PhD in Biblical Studies at Milwaukee, I mean, at the University in Milwaukee. What is it called? I can think of it right now. He’s got a Master of Divinity as well. So, he’s really well-educated in the Middle Ages. And that’s the big hole in the RLDS and the LDS traditional teachings, as I see it.
GT 59:49 Yeah, it’s interesting because I didn’t realize the apostasy was also a big deal in the RLDS church. It sounds like very similar with the LDS Church.
Bill 59:58 Yeah, yeah. So if you went to a restoration branch today you’d probably get this kind of apostasy might be 570, probably, and nothing happened worth remembering in that period.
GT 1:00:14 So, I know I’ve heard you say before, I don’t remember where this was. It was at MHA or Sunstone, probably, that when the conservative people left that, in a way, it was kind of a good thing because you guys that stayed kind of had the church you wanted.
Bill 1:00:33 It was good for them, too.
GT 1:00:34 Yeah.
Bill 1:00:35 I mean, I’ve said that here’s a group of people that want women to be ordained, and want a lot of these changes to be made, and so the changes, was really good for them. They’re really pleased with it. But then, on the other hand, there’s these other people like the Remnant Church and so forth, who really were hampered by the leadership of the church putting them down, and not letting them have the kind of worship experiences and so forth that they wanted to have. So, you can say, I mean, I have some reservations about saying this, because they’ll tell you, “Yeah, but we didn’t want this to happen. We wanted the church to continue to be the church that it was supposed to be.” Anyway, not only that, they have a church with what they think of as the correct doctrines, and so forth. But another important factor is they don’t have to pay tithing anymore to Independence. They have their own their own giving of financial resources, but that goes entirely to their local congregation. And they don’t have to give, 10% or whatever, to Independence. Ten percent of their resources, they have their own resources. So, that’s a real benefit for them.
RLDS Mass Murderer Jeff Lundgren
Bill 1:03:05 I remember a former friend, I mean, an old friend of mine, who I think I’d had in class, I also knew that he had been in Kirtland with Jeff Lundgren. The year that he was in Kirtland, the summer he was in Kirtland, he was the only one that didn’t join Jeff Lundgren’s suicidal pact, you know. (Chuckling) I have had a lot of high regard for him in that respect. So, he was listed as a speaker at the restoration branch closest to Lamoni, about six to eight miles away. So, I went to it, and it was just the most dead sermon about some Old Testament figure that I hardly heard anything about. And I knew a very little bit about and there wasn’t really much that I felt anybody really needed to know about that Old Testament figure. I thought, “If you’re a leader in the restoration branches, why don’t you talk about the Book of Mormon or New Testament, as well as the Old Testament?” It’s like, Jeff Lundgren, himself, you never heard about the New Testament from Jeff Lundgren except two things: The wages of sin are death. That’s the Apostle Paul. What’s the other one? There’s another one that’ equally bad.
GT 1:04:31 Is it the, “Better that one man should die?”
Bill 1:04:35 Well, that’s from the Book of Mormon, isn’t it? Yeah. There’s another, oh, I know, Ephesians. Women should keep silent in the churches. I think that’s the one, although that might be another one from Paul. But, anyway, there’s a really a bad one from Ephesians, chapter five. I think it’s chapter five. It’s picked up in Colossians, as well, because Colossians and Ephesians are closely connected with each other. But, anyway, that’s all I ever heard from Jeff Lundgren. Yet, he taught class after–I have had 50 tapes of his classes. I listened to every one of them. I would listen to him on the radio in the car, as I was going out to Kirtland to visit people. Otherwise, I never would have listened to him. If I had been a member of the Kirtland congregation, I wouldn’t have gone to more than one of his classes. In fact, the bishop’s wife was a person that he just couldn’t stand. One day, the bishop’s wife, she hardly ever came to his class. But, one day she came to his class. Isabel Fisher is her name. On the tape, Jeff says, “Well, I just don’t feel a good spirit today. I don’t feel the Holy Spirit or don’t feel the right spirit. So, I think we might as well just call off the class.” And so, the class was dismissed, after two minutes or something, I guess, because Isabelle Fisher was in the class, the bishop’s wife, who he just did not like it at all.
GT 1:06:17 So, I know a lot of people don’t know who Jeff Lundgren is. By the time this airs, there’s a new TV series out on the Lafferty’s.
Bill 1:06:28 Yeah.
GT 1:06:29 The murder that happened in American Fork, Utah, Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer wrote.
Bill 1:06:37 I want to see those.
GT 1:06:37 Yeah, so, most of my audience are probably, some of them, anyway, are familiar with the Lafferty brothers, with the double murder that happened there. But very few of them are going to be familiar with Jeff Lundgren. It’s kind of a similar story.
Bill 1:06:58 Oh, yeah.
GT 1:06:59 I’ve heard you speak. I believe it was a Sunstone presentation. Somehow, I got a recording of it. It was probably decades ago, where you talked about the Book of Mormon. I know [that] my LDS audience is going to be very surprised to hear your take on the story of Laban.
Bill 1:07:18 Yeah.
GT 1:07:18 [The story of] Nephi and Laban. So, I’d love to have you tell that story and how you tie it into to Jeff Lundgren.
Bill 1:08:01 So, I certainly, that’s what I think is that the story of Laban is a terrible story. It should never have been in a book of Scripture. I mean, I realize there’s going to be things in books of scripture–there’s a lot of things in scripture that are terrible we should realize. I think we have a moral obligation to teach our children the things that are good from scripture, in the tradition of the church. We also have a moral obligation to teach to them that there are certain things that are really bad that we should avoid. And that’s one of them. Then, that relates to the to the Lundgren case, because here was a guy who was just throwing scriptures at his followers all the time. But they were Book of Mormon scriptures, like, “Repent or be destroyed.” That’s really a nice scripture. And things like that, which should never, we should never give any credence to those kinds of scriptures. So, anyway, I just think that under Jeff, these people were–I mean, Jeff Lundgren is probably the only guy in that group, well, there’s one other one, I guess, that I’d be uncomfortable having him as my next-door neighbor. These are good people, but they were taught terrible things, as if they were the gospel of Jesus Christ. And they are not the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are demonic things. So, it’s just, we’ve got to learn that everything in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants isn’t something we should obey. There are some things that we should say, “That’s terrible.” The story of Laban being killed, that wasn’t necessary. He didn’t have to kill him. I gave a sermon…
GT 1:10:07 You reject the idea that it’s better for one man to perish than a whole nation to dwindle in unbelief.
Bill 1:10:12 Yeah, I reject that. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Absolutely.
GT 1:10:16 So, tell us why that’s a terrible…
Bill 1:10:20 Well, because, the person who’s being killed, because it was the better that one man should perish than the whole nation should dwindle in unbelief, well, first of all, I just think we don’t have the basis for making that judgement. So, I consider that a very bad passage of scripture, as well. Because that just gives us an excuse to kill people, and that doesn’t sit well with me. That comes right there with the story of Laban, doesn’t it?
GT 1:11:19 Yeah. Well, I think you said, you even said you compared it to justification for holy war.
Bill 1:11:27 Yeah, I probably did. That sounds all right to me. Yeah.
GT 1:11:33 So , how did Jeff use that scripture to the detriment of his neighbors?
Bill 1:11:40 Well, he decided that there was a group of people within his cult that weren’t living according to the Gospel. And, unless they can be forgiven of all their sins–then if you can’t be forgiven of all your sins, then you need to be killed. Because, we’ll never have a chance to meet Christ. Christ is up there, ready to come down. If there’s ever a group that’s fully taught according to the full gospel, and has repented of all their sins, then Jesus will say, “Wow, Jeff Lundgren’s group has got it all together. I’m coming down there and joining them.” When he was in prison, and I’ve seen him write this stuff…
GT 1:12:53 Because he killed a family of five?
Bill 1:12:55 He killed a family of five that he decided they are never going to be fully repented. And it’s no accident that it was the father, and then a mother who was kind of the kind who wore the pants of the family. The mother really kind of was the boss of the family. [Lundgren,] “That’s terrible for that to be, look at Ephesians chapter two.” Then, there’s three daughters, and those daughters, they’re 15, 13 and 6, but those three daughters are going to grow up to be just like their mother. So, they are they are hopeless to…
GT 1:13:34 Better for one family to perish.
Bill 1:13:36 Yeah, because you might as well kill them all. And he considered killing five others, but he finally decided that they have a chance of, they still have a chance to live.
Interaction with Mark Hofmann
GT 1:34:48 So, Mark spoke first. You spoke last.
Bill 1:34:54 Yeah.
GT 1:34:54 And then, was it Dick Howard that was in the back of the room.
Bill 1:34:58 Yeah.
GT 1:34:58 That’s a great story.
Bill 1:34:59 Yeah, Dick was in the back of the room.
GT 1:35:02 He’s the RLDS Church historian?
Bill 1:35:04 Yes, the RLDS Church historian. He was sitting behind the three editors of Sunstone.
GT 1:35:11 Peggy Fletcher.
Bill 1:35:11 Peggy Fletcher and Susan–what’s her name?
GT 1:35:15 Staker.
Bill 1:35:16 Staker and then, somehow, I can’t think of a name now. Anyway, all three of them were right in front of Dick Howard. Dick, to his credit, was the only guy I know of, either among the LDS historians, or the RLDS historians who did not trust Mark Hofmann, because he’s the one that had to work with him. Right away, he recognized [that] this his guy’s not to be trusted. So, yet, he had to deal with him. So, they sent a document to some expert and the expert came back…
GT 1:35:50 Said it was authentic.
Bill 1:35:51 It was fine. It was true, which Dick had a hard time believing. When Dick heard Mark talking, every now and then Dick would say, “Bull shit.” So, these three women were just…
GT 1:36:13 Laughing.
Bill 1:36:13 They were trying as hard as they could to keep from laughing.
What are your thoughts about Bill? Is he a heretic?