Mormons & Baptists often clash, but Dr Kyle Bashears is one of those cool Baptist Pastors you don’t run across every day. It turns out that Kyle completed his masters thesis and Ph.D. dissertation on Mormon topics! Kyle will discuss his thesis on the Book of Mormon and will discuss one area he thinks the Book of Mormon lacks in emphasis. Check out our conversation….
Why Baptist Pastor Studies Mormons?
GT 05:37 Well, and the weirdest thing to me is the first time I met you was [John] Whitmer [Conference] in September, I think it was. And you’re a James Strang expert. Like Mormons are little enough. And this guy dives deep into James Strang. What is going on here?
Kyle 05:56 Yeah, so anybody that’s heard of James Strang’s story, like, you could see why.
GT 06:04 I would say most people haven’t heard of him. How did you learn about it?
Kyle 06:09 Yeah, that’s a good question. So when I was at the beginning of the Ph.D., you’re trying to find a dissertation topic, it’s got to be something that you’re interested in, is going to hold your attention for four or five, six years, but also something that hasn’t been done yet, right? You’re making that little, tiny contribution to human knowledge. And so I really didn’t know where to begin. And it was at an inter religious dialogue with Evangelical and Latter-day Saints students where I met a man named Dick Bennett, who I believe at the time was still teaching at the BYU in church history department. He might have even been chair.
GT: Yeah, he was the department chair.
Kyle: Okay. Yeah, that’s right. And so he is extremely kind man. And we were having the dialogue in his home. And I asked him point, like I said, what needs to be done in LDS history that hasn’t been done yet? And that maybe somebody like me, who’s not a Latter-day Saint, and doesn’t come from an LDS restoration background would be interesting. And he said, “You’ve got to look into Strang.”
And I said, “What is Strang?” Not who, what. “What’s Strang?”
He said James Strang, because Dick had had done some work on Strang. And he said, “You need to get with a guy named Bill Shepard. Bill Shepard is the historian kind of the archivist for the largest church that follows Strang to this day.”
Why King David Disproves Book of Mormon
I also wanted to talk to him about his Master’s thesis.
Kyle 09:31 You’re talking about my master’s thesis. So the master’s thesis is evidence against its historicity [of the Book of Mormon] based on its use of Davidic references.
GT 09:39 Yes.
Kyle 09:40 So the long and short of the argument is, I mean, cards on the table. I don’t believe that the Book of Mormon is a historical document. I believe it functions obviously, in the Latter-day Saint Tradition as scripture, but I don’t accept it as canon. And I don’t believe that it’s historical. But one of the reasons is the way that the author of the Book of Mormon treats David. It’s not great. And he’s very scantly referenced. And when he is it’s usually pretty, pretty anti-David. He’s chastised for taking on concubines, for having plural wives. Potentially some of his psalms are alluded to or referenced in the Book of Mormon. And then there’s one last reference towards the end of the book where I think Nephites are being chased by Lamanites. And they come to the Land of David, and then they move on. It’s a very passing reference. So the question is, for me, if the Book of Mormon was written by Jews, and Davidic themes of kingship and the anticipation of a messiah descending from David, who’s going to take David’s throne in Zion for eternity? Why has David suddenly fallen silent, as far as this side of the Hebrew tradition is concerned? So that’s the long and short of it.
GT 00:38 Welcome to Gospel Tangents. I’m excited to have my first Baptist preacher on the show. I didn’t think this would ever happen. But could you go ahead and tell us who you are? And why you’re willing to talk to a Mormon?
Kyle 00:50 Yeah, of course. Well, my name is Kyle Beshears and I am the First Baptist pastor on Gospel Tangents. So I’m happy to claim that title.
GT 01:01 So, most people wouldn’t be happy. They’d be like, “Oh, Mormons? Stay away from them.”
Kyle 01:05 That’s true. There is a pretty strong undercurrent in the Baptist tradition that that would hold Latter Day Saints. And I’m not one of those.
GT 01:14 I’m glad to hear that because I’ve met a lot of them.
GT 29:15 Well, I want to ask two questions before we move on to James Strang. But the first question is, it does seem like sometimes Mormon evangelical relations can be very contentious. Do you have advice for evangelicals, when dealing with Mormons?
Kyle 29:35 Advice for Evangelicals when dealing with Mormons: first of all, they are your neighbors who you’re supposed to love like yourself. Bottom line, that’s not a suggestion. That’s a commandment from Jesus as he’s clarifying what’s at the core of the law. Right? There’s no excuse for you not to love your neighbor. If you’re not doing it. Then you’re saying if you’re saying I’m not sending this is God told me to over We’re through the money changers tables and no, you’re not Jesus. Like, stop. Stop all of that. Just stop.
GT 34:12 No, that’s very good. Very good. The other question I wanted to do is kind of the opposite of that. You’re probably going to be talking to a lot of Latter-day Saints here. What do we get wrong about evangelicals that we should do a better job?
Kyle 35:34 Yeah. So I think one of the one of the things is that evangelicalism, it’s effective because of the culture we live in. Evangelicalism is not what you see in the news in totality. Right? So if I was to tell you like, think of the average white, evangelical male, all of a sudden. What’s going to come up in the list is going to be political leanings and decisions and how are they voting? No, I hope that’s not the first thing that comes up. The first thing that should come up is…
GT 36:06 In a lot of ways we vote the same way, Mormons and the evangelicals. Right?
Kyle 36:09 But what I hope for is a set of theological convictions comes up. Because not all of evangelicals are the same. Right? So this is one of the biggest shocks of Evangelicals learning about Latter Day Saints. It looks like this monolithic, correlated structure from the outside. Then when you walk in, you’re like, what? You’ve got three Mormons and four opinions in one room. Right?
GT 36:40 That doesn’t happen in church though. There only one opinion [at church.]
Kyle 36:42 Okay, I’ll rely on what you said. There is diversity within evangelicalism. And I think secondly, there’s just some like, we do it to ourselves. I’m not going to say they’re the caricatures of evangelicalism, like Theologically speaking, aren’t founded in reality, that probably the biggest one is the cheap grace. Evangelical is believe. You just got a, like a sense of the gospel. And then God covers you/gives you a ticket to heaven and you can go to a party as long as you make it back in time before the train leaves. You can get back on and go to heaven. absolutely not true.
Kyle 37:23 The term cheap grace itself was coined by Bonhoeffer who was an Evangelical, Protestant, Lutheran pastor under Nazi Germany, so it’s, we do believe good works are important. And so I come, you know, the caricature of evangelicalism. Again, I’m not saying it’s not grounded in reality. As a pastor, trust me, I see it. But true evangelicalism is not going to tolerate a disciple who’s not pursuing holiness, and, and not actively seeking fruit of the Holy Spirit being born into their life, right. So I get in those conversations, I think, with Latter Day Saints from time to time.
Kyle: Alright, so the paper [I wrote] was on the writings of Charles J. Douglas, or Charlie Douglas, who it turns out was actually a woman by the name of Elvira Eliza Field.
GT 08:51 We’ve got cross-dressing polygamist now.
Kyle 08:54 Because James had been monogamist and anti-plural marriage/the spiritual wife doctrine/the Nauvoo foolishness. Right? All of that stuff. “We’re not going to do that.” The Brighamites are going to do that, but we’re not going to do that. He has this really famous line in one of his newspapers. He considered his “opinion on the matter unchangeable.” And by 1844, that turns out not to be the case.
GT 09:19 Famous last words.
Kyle 09:20 Famous last words, right. He has a George Adams make the proposal secretly. And at some point, in July of 1849. Elvira accepts, but James is going to go on a six month missionary tour on the east. And now they’re newlyweds and they don’t want to be apart. So, what are they going to do? They hatched this plan. Maybe Elvira can dress up as Charlie, my 16-year-old nephew and keep minutes and it’d be my scribe. And that’s what they go with. She cuts her hair.
GT 09:52 Was she 16?
Kyle 09:54 No, no, she was 19 I think. She was 19.
GT 09:58 They’re pretty close.
Kyle 09:59 Yeah. But if you want to know more about like, her image was captured in a daguerreotype. Yeah. So there’s a there’s a great scholar named Amy Derogatis and in in the spring edition of John Whitmer, Historical Journal, her work on the daguerreotype is going to be in that one and then my paper on her writings is going to be …
GT 10:20 Oh, nice.
Kyle 10:21 Yeah, yep. So that’s that. So if you want to, like double click on any of this, that’ll be the way to go…
GT 10:26 So this will be the new daguerreotype, because Joseph Smith will be old news.
Kyle 10:29 By that point, no one’s going to care about that daguerreotype. I’m just kidding. I think people are going to care that the daguerreotype for a long time.
Pirates of Lake Michigan?!
Kyle 17:10 Yeah. And Elvira Field, formerly Charlie Douglas, but when she comes out as is being his poor wife, Elvira Field actually helps craft his crown. Okay, and so she’s helping them craft the crown. He has the scepter. George Adams has this whole show, because he’s a stage actor. And it’s actually really fascinating to read people’s reactions to that historically. You go back and you’ll read people’s journals or correspondence and they’re reminiscing on it. And some of them [wrote] “I was brought to tears. The kingdom of God is being established. We have a king for the first time.” And when James says King, he’s not talking about a European monarchies. He’s talking about like an Old Testament type King, right?
GT 17:41 We have a king and a priest, essentially.
Kyle 17:43 Correct. Correct. We have this king and this is just another sign that Jesus is coming and other people are like, “The scepter was a stick. The Crown was made of paper. It was super weird.” I’d say even in his followers, you had this diverse reaction of this overwhelming joy and big time out, like, what is happening? And some people will start to walk away because they’re like, “You’re just trying to consolidate power and being an authoritarian.”
GT 18:25 So being the king in a democracy is not something you do. We just got we just threw out the king.
Kyle 18:32 You don’t do right, You don’t destroy printing presses. And you don’t establish a monarchy in Beaver Island. And really, those are the two. Those are like the match to the fire, right? Because he’s got all this power. And he’s telling people to pirate ships and he’s abusing women. It was the monarchy the power that the people the in the opposition to James didn’t like
GT 18:59 Pirate ships, like on Lake Michigan. Is that what you’re talking about?
Kyle 19:03 Yeah. Pirate so it sounds crazy. But in the 19th century, piracy was a really big problem on Lake Michigan.
GT 19:09 You hear about that with the Pirates of the Caribbean right now. There’s
Kyle 19:12 “The Pirates of the Great Lakes” is going to be Johnny Depp’s next one, I’m sure and quite the adventure. But yeah, that’s why that’s why the US Navy was present was to help tamp piracy because at that point, War of 1812 is in everybody’s rearview mirror. Canada and U.S. are cool. Why do you need a fleet in Lake Michigan? To stop a Canadian invasion? No, to regulate piracy and smuggling whiskey and those types of things.
Are you aware of these stories about James Strang? (Crossing-dressing wife, pirates of Lake Michigan?) What could be done to improve LDS-evangelical relations? What do you think of Kyle’s thoughts on the Book of Mormon being anti-David?
I love the part about trying to see who each other is, beyond our shorthand pigeonholing.
For many (myself included),it is easier said than done. I’m quite certain that we all have people in our lives that see things in ways that don’t click at all with us, but the relationship is too valuable to let disagreements spoil it.