In today’s episode we interview John Hamer, who left Mormonism and religion/belief altogether with no intent to return (after graduating from BYU). We explore how John’s relationship with his partner, Mike, helped him to discover his love for Mormon history, the Mormon historians community, and the John Whitmer Historical Association. This path ultimately led John to become baptized in the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) on April 6, 2010 — the 150th anniversary of the Reorganization and the 180th anniversary of the organization of the church.

How does an ex-Mormon who had left faith altogether rediscover the value of religion within a Joseph Smith tradition church? This is John Hamer’s story.

You can talk to John directly at his facebook group “Latter-day Seekers” or follow the SaintsHerald blog.



  1. George June 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    I loved this podcast and consider John Hamer a good friend. Our love of LDS history is parallel, indeed many aspects of our lives run parallel as well. Thanks John D. for sharing John H’s story.

  2. Glen Fullmer June 14, 2013 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    Thanks to both Johns! Enjoyed this podcast.

    I have a fond place in my heart for the CofC because when I came out of Atheism into Christianity, that is one of many that I explored and enjoyed.

    Questions for John H:


    Does the Church of Christ still preach from the Book of Mormon?
    Do they still consider the D&C as it has been changed still used by the the CofC?

    Pearl of Great Price?

    What do you consider as scripture and how is it different from just good advice that one might find in good books?

    Community of Christ Church:

    Why did they change the name? They didn’t like the Mormon label?

    Joseph Smith never had physical plates? There were a lot of witnesses (more than the 11) that saw them, at least according to my study. What does the CofC teach in that regard?

    I have met a couple of people who broke away from the CofC because they felt that JS and the BofM were not preached enough there anymore. Is there an official breakaway that is currently active?

    Are the members of the CofC more accepting of gays than the Utah Church? (as the old RLDS friends used to say ;-)

    A lot of the Utah Church women, and especially the MSPC ones might like the fact that women ministers are equal, as I understand it, with men. Is that correct? The Priesthood open to women? I just noticed women conducting while attending RLDS services in Florida.

    Which sections of the Utah Church of the D&C that the CofC throw out? and which new sections of the D&C are added? Are their any other “scripture” like documents in the Church?

    Haven’t looked at the Power Point presentation (3rd podcast segment), so I will have to take a look at it.


    What did your baptism into the CofC Church signify to you? Does it mean different things to different people? Why did you do it?

    You seem to be a different type of apologist, but are you still one? Is this more a culture thing to you, rather than a truth thing?

    You seem pretty happy with your decisions in regards to religion? I haven’t listened to the last segment and am curious if John D. will ask you to bear your testimony. I will look forward to listening to that.

    Thanks again to both of you guys,

    • John Dehlin June 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm - Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it, Glen!

    • John Hamer June 14, 2013 at 7:14 pm - Reply

      Hi Glen,

      That’s a lot of questions! This is like another whole interview/episode.

      1. The Community of Christ still preaches from the Book of Mormon, yes. The church recently published 3 new books on the Book of Mormon (including Mark Scherer’s first volume of church history), all of which are intended to be used by adult Sunday School classes. In my congregation, we will begin a Book of Mormon unit in adult Sunday School this fall.

      2. The Community of Christ puts great emphasis on the D&C and we add new revelations as new sections every few years.

      3. The Pearl of Great Price is a Utah creation. It did not exist in the early church and is not a part of the Community of Christ canon. The text that has been labelled “The Book of Moses” and “Joseph Smith–Mathew” are components of the Joseph Smith Bible Revision, which is a manuscript owned by the Community of Christ and canonized as Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible. “Joseph Smith–History” and “The Book of Abraham” were not canonized in the early church and are not canon in Community of Christ.

      4. The name “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is (if you will excuse me for saying so) an absolutely terrible name for a church. But the “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is even worse. The original name of the church was “Church of Christ.” Community of Christ changed its name (1) to have a better name in general, (2) to have a name that is an homage to the original name of the church, and (3) to have a name that emphasizes our core foci: Christ and the incredible capacity we have to build community together.

      5. There was a physical plates artifact. People lifted it in a box or felt it under cloth. No one other than Joseph Smith was ever allowed to look at the artifact directly with physical eyes. All visions of the plates were visionary. All physical connections with the plates artifact were tactile, not visual.

      6. Yes, there are several conservative RLDS tradition churches.
      7. There is no priesthood discrimination on the basis of gender in Community of Christ. Women fully participate at all levels of leadership: Presiding bishopric, Council of Apostles, First Presidency. I think more than half of congregational leaders at this point are women.

      8. The Utah Church threw out the original section on marriage and replaced it with D&C 132. The Utah Church also added several dozen sections of Joseph Smith material to the D&C that was not in the early church’s D&C (and is not in the CofC D&C). The CofC threw out the section that commands member “build my servant Joseph a house” (which is pretty embarrassing) along with the ones on baptism for the dead. Every single prophet of the RLDS Church / Community of Christ has added multiple new revelations to the D&C — these include, in my opinion, some of the most inspired and inspiring writings in the entire standard works.

      9. The Powerpoint presentation podcast hasn’t been uploaded by John D. yet. We’ll all be looking forward to it.

      10. My baptism into Community of Christ signified for me my personal and public declaration of commitment to membership in the faith community. I did it because sacred symbols and forms have meanings just like sacred stories have meanings. Sacred stories aren’t important because they are (or aren’t) history. Likewise sacred rituals aren’t important because they have literal cosmic significance (they don’t); they are important symbollically, personally, in community, and in personal relationship with God.

      11. Yes, I have a perspective and a bias. I’m a missionary for empowering a group of people in my extended faith community, the Restoration. As such, I’m an apologist. However, the nature of my apologetics is (I believe) wholly consonant with responsible scholarship.

      12. Thank you. Yes, I’m very happy with my decision. I couldn’t be more happy with my congregation in Toronto and with my denominational community, and with my extended community of cousins within the tradition. We haven’t recorded the final segment yet, so I don’t know if John D. will ask me to bear my testimony.
      John H.

      • wayfarer June 22, 2013 at 7:54 am - Reply

        John Hamer, you are the very best! I love how you have found an authentic Way within the tent of mormonism, and that you have pushed so much on publishing authentic history.

        Keep up the great work!

        • John Hamer June 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm - Reply

          Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement and support, wayfarer.

      • Steve In Millcreek (SIM) June 26, 2013 at 11:48 am - Reply

        Hi John H. I’m reflecting on your comment that the full name of the LDS church is “an absolutely terrible name for a church” and that “Reorganized … is even worse.” (#4, above.) I’m guessing that you feel that these names are too long, not useful, difficult for outsiders to remember, other. Am I on the right track? Can you suggest a name, or key words toward a name, that fit better?

        I have long felt that someone should have made legal claim (copyright, trademark) of the LDS-portion to create more distinction between LDS, RLDS, and FLDS to give space between them and prevent today’s LDS from being confused with FLDS, a guilt by association in the eyes of outsiders. RLDS smartly detaches from FLDS association by renaming to CoC. Is it too late for LDS to rename and escape FLDS association?

        All comments welcome.

        • Paul July 1, 2013 at 10:48 pm - Reply

          I think Time magazine had it right years ago, the name of the church should be changed to: Mormons, Inc. maybe we could add a wrinkle and change the name to:

          $$$Mormons, Inc.$$$

          Logo could be:

          “Better pay or you too will be burned at His coming.”

  3. Paul June 14, 2013 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    Hey John, thanks for sharing your spiritual journey with us, fascinating stuff! I went to the Kirkland temple while in Cleveland for work last October. I have been interested in the CofC ever since. A couple questions.

    1. Is there a good book or website you would recommend to better understand the CofC?
    2. I applaud the CofC for the mainstream Christian changes they made a few years ago. Do you think the Utah Mormon church could make those changes.without losing its membership numbers as I believe the CofC did?
    3. Favorite mormon history book?


    • John Hamer June 15, 2013 at 3:01 am - Reply

      Hi Paul —

      1. As a brief summary, David Howlett, Barbara Walden and I wrote a book called Community of Christ: An Illustrated History. Mark Scherer’s 3-volume “Journey of a People” is much more detailed (although you need to wait for the 3rd forthcoming volume to get us to the present-day). The church’s website ( has a lot of the most current information available.

      2. Yes, I believe the LDS Church could make significant changes without losing more members than it already is losing because it is a very different organization and has a very different culture than the RLDS Church ever had. And simultaneously, I believe there is no reason to imagine the LDS Church will make any such changes in the foreseeable future, because the LDS Church is a very different organization than Community of Christ is.

      3. There’s too many for any one favorite. I’ll name Steve LeSueur’s “The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri” — if people haven’t read that, they should, it’s excellent.

  4. N. Bruce Nelson June 14, 2013 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    John, we have never met, but I heard much about you from Susan Skoor not long after you two met. I have created a social news site for anyone interested in the Community of Christ at

    I just posted a link to this podcast.

    This reddit site will only have been live for one week, tommorrow, but already has some subscribers, and links to much content that I hope will be interesting and useful. My hope is that it will help foster further community. I would encourage anyone who reads this comment to take a look, and I hope some of you will feel like subscribing and adding your presence from time to time.

    • John Hamer June 15, 2013 at 7:42 am - Reply

      Hi Bruce. Cool! Thanks for doing that — I guess I have to figure out what reddit is now. Good to meet you here; I absolutely love Susan.

  5. CanuckAussie June 15, 2013 at 8:25 am - Reply

    This was a really interesting interview and one that answered a lot of questions I had regarding John returning to the CoC.

    The only part that bothered me was when both Johns defended the alternate versions of the first vision, saying that Smith’s memory of the event could have changed. I think this is ingenuous. There is no possible way that someone could see God Almighty, the creator of the universe, and Jesus Christ, the savior and creator of the world and forget who they saw. No way could Joe have forgotten and remembered it as Nephi, then Moroni, and then just angels etc. Sorry, but that excuse just does not hold water. Think what you may about Smith, but there is no reasonable way to believe his first vision in view of the contrasting versions he told of the first vision.

  6. CanuckAussie June 15, 2013 at 8:31 am - Reply

    I meant to add, that I am a big fan of John Hamer and also an admirer of the CofC, which to me is what the LDS church could be if you removed almost every problem I have with the church (except Joe Smith) I love the equality, and courage to speak the truth and the apparent humility of the CofC president. I would be very happy there but for my distain of Joseph’s Myth.

    • John Hamer June 15, 2013 at 9:17 am - Reply

      CanuckAussie: I think the way John phrased some of those questions to me was — can you make an honest, compelling argument that rehabilitates Joseph Smith in this or that context. I believe it is very possible to re-remember an early formative experience — which was entirely visionary in the first place — in light of your later life. My discussion here referred to the First Vision experience (not the later angel stories). In the original experience, the teenaged Joseph Smith would have been stirred up with the contemporary issues of the “Burned Over District” of the Second Great Awakening. He would have been reflecting on his sinful condition and concerned for his salvation. Being earnestly wound up in that state, praying in isolation, at a certain moment he felt overwhelmed with comfort, had a vision of light and possibly Jesus in his mind’s eye (i.e., with his physical eyes closed), and heard an answer inside his own thoughts that his sins were forgiven him. This was a visionary experience that was incredibly common among Joseph’s contemporaries in Second and First Great Awakening era America. There is no reason to doubt that people have visionary experiences; nor do we have to see these as hallucinations.

      The visions of the angels (or spirits) are a different matter. In the first place, we should note that in traditional Christian theology, angels are a different order of creation than humans; they are not the spirits of pre-existent humans or the ghosts of humans that have lived previously. The word for that in normal English is “spirit”. In part, because neither Nephi nor Moroni were literal historical persons, we can say with confidence that neither’s spirit actually visited Joseph Smith in a physical sense. We can also say this because no spirits or ghosts have ever visited anyone ever in an actual, physical, literal sense. Likewise, angels do not have a physical existence in a literal sense; they are literary, theological, philosophical, and spiritual creations. No one, including Joseph Smith, was ever visited by any such being in an external, literal, physical sense.

      We can’t know Joseph’s personal visionary process. Did he close his eyes and envision Nephi and Moroni in the many years leading up to his announcement that he finally had possession of the plates and intended to begin committing to paper stories he had been orally composing for years and years? Maybe so — he was a visionary guy who believed in folk magic. It’s up to you to decide and you can certainly decide “no.” What we can have a window into is the visionary process when Joseph experienced visions along with other people. For example, with the Three Witnesses and in Kirtland Temple. Joseph and the other participants in the vision would prepare themselves, close their eyes, open their thoughts, and Joseph would envision a man clad in white. He would ask, “I see a man clad in white” and he would go on to describe the vision and ask, “Do you see him?” And the participants in the vision could very honestly say that they were envisioning the same thing and describe also what they were seeing, sharing the experience together. In the case of the Three Witnesses vision, Martin Harris wasn’t initially on board with Joseph, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery’s experience, so Joseph later was able to share the experience 1×1 directly with Martin who in the end believed “it is enough!” and it convinced him. But, again, as with all visions, these are entirely visionary experiences. We are not dealing with glowing spirits walking around the physical world like Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda from Star Wars. Such things do not exist and never have existed outside of literature.

  7. j June 15, 2013 at 10:10 am - Reply

    “We are not dealing with glowing spirits walking around the physical world like Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda from Star Wars. Such things do not exist and never have existed outside of literature” -John Hamer

    Oh come on. My little Star Wars and LDS heart just failed me for a moment when you said that. blasphemy. May the ghosts of Darth Mall, Obi Wan, Moroni, and Darth Vader all visit you in your doubt.

    • John Hamer June 15, 2013 at 10:35 am - Reply

      In the era of polytheism, belief in the gods was wholly consonant with contemporary understandings of science — where “science” is defined as the collective state of human knowledge and understanding. There was no unifying theory as to why humans were beset in the world around them by different, competing, often chaotic, and entirely unpredictable forces. The river would flood, lightening would strike, pestilence would unpredictably take strong people in their prime. People naturally anthropomorphized these forces (the way we still anthropomorphize things like our cars). They told sacred stories to encapsulate and transmit collected wisdom concerning these forces, and they created rituals in order to think about and interact with them.

      Later, monotheism arose in response to scientific observation. Babylonian astronomers/astrologers through centuries of observation realized that the heavens were not a place of chaos. The unfixed stars (the planets, moon, and sun) were not operating at random. They traveled in highly predictable cycles. Phenomena like eclipses could be predicted with incredible accuracy. As a result, the greatest natural philosophers (proto-scientists) of the ancient world, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, concluded that there was a Prime Mover — the basis for a belief in a single “God” to which all the lesser powers and forces were merely “gods” that ultimately operated within the divine Law of the one God.

      Unfortunately, in the modern era since the Enlightenment, too much of religion has become detached from the collected wisdom and state of human knowledge and understanding (i.e., science). Progressive or liberal Judeo-Christianity has continued to be informed (among its theologians and core thinkers at least, if not always translating to the pews) by this advance in understanding. However, a large bulk of religion in general has taken the opposite tack: it has detached itself from the knowledge of reality, denied reality, created reactionary anti-reality based world-views, and retreated into new and totally discredited truth claim constructs. This is ultimately a harmful exercise that is totally discrediting to religion in general and which leaves members of reactionary fundamentalist religions with world-views that are not accurate predictors of reality.

      However, in discarding these new, reactionary world-views for what they are, we don’t have to discard all tradition and our entire spiritual / philosophical heritage that came before us. For example, there are lots of Western people who find value in the Eastern religious practice of meditation. We should be similarly open to seeing the value of some of our own traditional spiritual practices, including prayer, private and public, and even contemplative, creative envisioning, of listening within our minds and hearts and being open to inspiration.

      • j June 15, 2013 at 11:13 am - Reply

        What do you think was Joseph Smiths motivation for these visions he had? was it psychosis, hunger for power, greed or something different all together? How out of touch with reality/real world/science was Joseph Smith? In Bushman’s book Rough Stone Rowling he sighted Joseph Smiths desire to create a Zion or a people of one heart. But would that have been JS’s motive from the start?

        Do CoC wear magic underwear?

        • John Hamer June 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm - Reply

          1. In my view, Joseph’s motivation in composing the Book of Mormon was to end sectarianism in the society around him and in his own family, to incorporate Native Americans into a relatively positive place within the Biblical world-view, to update Christianity so that it was more in keeping and consonant with contemporary scientific understanding of the world, and to spread the Christian message generally. I think the goal of building Zion followed soon after; it may not have been an initial goal. I don’t think hunger for power was initially much of a motivator; although generating an imagined (and never realized) income from the sale of the book was likely an early motivation. I don’t think we need to rely on explanations like psychosis or madness to understand Joseph Smith at all; nor do I think there is reason to imagine explicit conspiracy.

          Joseph Smith lived in a world that was still on the threshold of an enchanted or magical world-view. If you read his father’s patriarchal blessings, you can see that Joseph Smith Sr. believed completely in things that we today would consider magical, e.g., the ability to teleport oneself from place to place. That said, Joseph Smith did want to bring Christian cosmology more up-to-date with his understanding of contemporary science, including things like setting the earth in a Copernican world-view and denying ex nihilo creation (since at the time it was believed that matter couldn’t be created out of nothing; so Joseph Smith’s scripture has “the gods” organizing matter out of existing matter).

          2. Community of Christ members do not wear garments, no.

  8. Stormin June 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Joseph was a proven liar and fraud, the Book of Mormon a Fairy tale based on all the facts available —– there is no way I would believe in a God connected with Josephs lies! Why would anyone follow or trust anyone who was a proven liar. I am sorry but with all my education I failed to follow any logic in your “over-the-top intellectual” babel!

    • j June 15, 2013 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      John Hammer. Thanks for taking your time to answer my questions.

      Stormin. I think Joseph Smith was a bit like all people. He was a little more complicated than one dimention. After all, have we not all lied at some point in our life? You labeling him just a liar is an easy blanket accusation. I like to look at causality and motive behind actions even when looking at something we might at first call a lie.

  9. John Hamer June 15, 2013 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    Stormin: You’re welcome to your own conclusions. Not everyone sees value in the past, in heritage, in what went before; that’s one of the reasons why people just tore down all the old buildings in towns and cities in the name of urban renewal in the 1960s and 70s. What’s the point in saving some old building that’s covered in functionless bric-a-brac or gingerbread? Just tear down and throw away everything that went before — wipe out anything that lacks modern perfection, and is compromised. It has no value; we can build something entirely new that has no baggage. That’s a perfectly understandable sensibility and you’re welcome to it.

    • Stormin June 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      Thanks for answering the question —– sorry if I was a little terse but I just felt your dialog on the podcast was not getting to the key points with clear specific answers and much logic. Trust is important to me, and sorry, but if he lied about (polygamous wives and golden plates for examples) I tend to easily believe he lied about all heavenly visitations. Just like in a court of law (humans) tend to agree if one lies on the stand, you have to discount anything he says. I agree we can all learn something from Joseph Smith —— he was clearly talented at obtaining and presenting information and putting it together (spinning it) to come up with something that millions not only believe but KNOW to be true. Maybe the brainwashing of members to think they KNOW was really not originated or perfected by Joseph but other false prophet along the way. But millions (LDS) are expecting some kind of salvation from following Joseph Smith and his teachings without the advantage of knowing the negatives about Joseph (this is more a comment about the LDS church the CoC is apparently more truthful). Truly, we need to learn from history —— So we will not repeat the ERORRS of the past —— not to change or only tell one side of history so we do not learn the lessons that exist.

      • John Hamer June 15, 2013 at 10:57 pm - Reply

        Stormin: I think I said in the podcast that I believed what Joseph Smith did regarding polygamy was an abuse of his authority and was a terribly wrong thing to do. And I think I said in the podcast that what he did in regards to the plates artifact, while it had pious intent, nevertheless is not something that I would feel is ethical to do personally, and I think I said that I hoped that we in the Community of Christ tradition had learned from past obvious wrongs (as well as gray areas) and were now on more clearly defensible ground with recent scriptural additions to our canon.

        I don’t think I attempted to justify the position that LDS leaders have taken; as the main thrust of the interview indicated, I left the LDS Church because I didn’t agree with the positions of its leaders.

  10. Paul B June 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm - Reply

    This is a good podcast to the extent that I *think* I learned more — that I can better understand Mormonism from some other perspectives. Okay, but….

    The “but” is in reference to the comment made by ‘Stormin’ (“Joseph was a proven liar and fraud,…”). Sure, I understand that there are elements of truth according to the historical context(s) from which they sprang, but certain truths as being what cannot be negotiated or rationalized — truths which stands outside of historical context as being truly ‘true’ — has to factored in, as well. In other words, would Joseph Smith even remotely ‘get away with’ (for the lack of a better term) a lot of things that he was able to ‘get away with’ if he was among us today as the President of the church, or if he started his movement today?

    To answer my own question: Sure, there are always people who will follow charismatic leaders in any age no matter what these leaders propose as being ‘the truth’. However, if JS were born today and started a religious movement, I don’t think you would disagree that it’s highly probable there wouldn’t be any Masonic based rituals, nor a ‘Book of Mormon’ claiming to be an historical, sacred scripture of ancient inhabitants of North and/or South Amercia; there wouldn’t be a ‘Pearl of Great Price’ comprising the writings of Abraham “by his own hand” and about the experiences of Moses, even if he was able to obtain the very same Egyptian artifacts that Chandler sold to the church.

    It’s about this sort of thing that you lose me, Mr. Hamer, i.e., where do you stand, really, with regard to Mormonism? I wasn’t able to come to grips with that. Is Mormonism, for you, the one and only true way (and if so, is it by-way-of the CofC ‘church’ — ordinances) that one needs to ascribe to for the opportunity to obtain the ‘highest degree’ for their ‘eternal salvation’, as taught by JS? Or is Mormonism one of many ‘good’ ways, just like many streams and creeks that flow into bigger rivers (or one Christian river) that finally all reach the same ocean (e.g., eternal salvation) if followed? Yet still, there is the nagging issue, like a thorn in my shoe, that says something isn’t totally right with Joseph Smith and his restoration movement when trying to consider it as the one, valid way. It just can’t be with any degree of rationality be consider as such. It’s ludicrous to me. A pious fraud, perhaps, and a continually evolving ‘nice way of life’ (for many people) in which, for example, to raise a family, but most certainly not anything to do with being the ‘one and only true church.’

    • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 12:29 am - Reply

      Hi Paul B. When did I get so old that everyone calls me “Mr. Hamer”? I’m happy to be called John.

      Joseph Smith — like everyone — was a product of his own historical context. As you say, a person creating a new religious tradition today would have very little overlap with what Joseph Smith did, since everything in early Mormonism is born out of the context of the surrounding history of the newborn American republic.

      Let me say that there is /no/ one and only true church.

      A church that claims to be the one and only true church is self-evidently wrong. To the extent that Joseph Smith believed that he had a monopoly on divine authority, he was in error. Likewise, broader Christianity is not the one and only true religion.

      But no, I also don’t think that lacking exclusivity, we’re just saying our way is merely super nice. Aren’t we swell?

      I believe that experience breeds wisdom. We could create a new religion or a new philosophy today that has no baggage; one that is totally innocent. And that religion or philosophy could fall into error tomorrow since it lacks the wisdom to guide it from error. In the Restoration context, I think the experience of attempting to use force to attack our neighbors in Far West, in Daviess County Missouri, in Nauvoo — I think those failures have helped Community of Christ inform our experience and made us a more credible proponent of peace today.

      I’m not a relativist. Not all world-views are of equal value. For example, some world-views are better predictors of reality than others. In a traditional LDS world-view, where you imagined that the Book of Mormon was a literal history, you would predict that archaeological excavations in MesoAmerica would turn up reformed Egyptian inscriptions. And since they do not, you would find that your world-view is not a reliable predictor of accurate results. My world-view, by contrast, would predict the results that have been achieved by MesoAmerican archaeology, since I understand that the 19th century nature of the Book of Mormon is not in question.

      Not everyone can devote themselves to extensive research on theology, history, literary criticism, philosophy. Many people have other priorities. What if all informed persons totally abandoned religion and left control of all religious institutions to reactionary anti-scientific, anti-reality, unscrupulous charlatans? What choice would regular people have if they decided they wanted to raise their children in the environment of a church? Wouldn’t they naturally fall into error and the control of deceitful persons? Isn’t it important and vital to provide a rational, ethical alternative to people who aren’t able to devote their lives to detailed studies on their own?

      • Paul B June 16, 2013 at 11:49 am - Reply

        Thanks for the response, John (Mr. Hamer!).

        I suppose with regard to my own experiences in Mormonism (in the tradition of the SLC, LDS church) there were *my* historical contexualizations of truth — the ‘useful’ truths (for me), such as:
        – being admonished to have and consequently implement a practical and reassuring ‘being prepared’ home food storage and usage system,
        – experiencing the benefits of abstaining from the use of tobacco and alcohol (and who’s to say, perhaps even coffee and tea),
        – learning to be ‘God fearing’, which did help keep me on a moralistic/ethical ‘straight and narrow path’ that I feel was a boon to me while growing up.
        – learning to share and give freely of my income for (hopefully) the aid others and other good causes ,
        – deriving comfort from some of the eschatological and other doctrines that made sense to me (and still do, to some degree) — what I internally/subjectively identify with,
        – the worthwhile experiences that contributed to my personal development as a result of serving in lay leadership and other positions within the context of ‘community’,
        – and other things which were part and parcel of *my* contextual Mormonism (not failing to mention more importantly than all else, feeling more in tune, or identifying with my Savior, Jesus Christ, had my parents not converted to Mormonism.

        Of course, there were also many deleterious aspects and experiences as a result of being raised in a staunch, Mormon household, and among some members of the church who were abject in their behavior towards me inflicting spiritual, social, and psychological harm. My life within Mormonism certainly was a catalyst to test my mettle in order to grow stronger, wiser, and hopefully more compassionately, or to paraphrase what JS said, “The nearer we get to God, the more we are disposed to look upon perishing (and detestable?!) souls with compassion”.

        Having said all this, what I eventually came to resist and then resent, though, is that aspect of Mormonism (today, as in the time of JS) which promulgated the ‘metaphor’ for truth in the sense of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” And it does this adamantly, and even aggressively by way of extensive public relations programs, misleading propaganda, and intensive indoctrination of all members both young and old. Yet, the top leadership must surely know that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” There certainly has to be some rationale for the behavior of ‘lying for the Lord’ (a good church or cause), and other egregious, ‘not what Jesus would do’ actions, all of which is very disturbing to me. And it started with JS! The historical record attests to that, so why, John, are you a proponent of Mormonism and Joseph Smith by associating yourself with a JS type of church?

        I *think* I understand what you are conveying in your last paragraph although you may have to clarify what you are saying in clearer terms. In light of the reasons listed above, I am grateful for *my* Mormonism, but to be sure, I am no longer singing ‘Praise to the Man.’ That’s for sure! And although I may not want to completely dismiss some the wonderful religious concepts JS introduced, e.g., “the glory of God is intelligence ….. this is my (God’s) work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” and other esoteric, yet ‘sensible’ doctrines, I still want nothing more to do with the fellow. He is not *my* ‘king of the whole world.’ or *my* ‘god of this dispensation’ or whatever else he claimed, and what the current top leadership believes him to be. In fact, I am inclined to have more faith in and admiration for the ‘exalted’ mortal being Lao Tzu and Zarathustra (Zoroaster), rather than Joseph Smith.

        In conclusion, although Mormonism can be, to some extent, an enigmatic quandary or paradox, perhaps it is also something more akin to what Paul Valery stated: “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.”, i.e., it may eclipse a solid definition for many of us who have been, to whatever degree, ‘Mormonized’. If it wasn’t for this, there probably wouldn’t be a ‘Mormon Stories’ podcast, and a reason for those who have left the church, to not leave it alone!

        • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm - Reply

          Hi Paul,

          I agree with you that “lying for the Lord” goes back to Joseph Smith. As I’ve said, Joseph Smith did things that I don’t think are ethical. I’m not trying to justify them; I’m attempting to explain them in a fairly charitable way while hopefully continuing to say that one can justifiably view many of these things less charitably. Leaders should be called out and condemned for bad behavior and error. I think I’ve called Joseph Smith out on lots of errors and bad behaviors here.

          Although John D. focused a lot on Joseph Smith in the interview, the Restoration isn’t only about Joseph Smith. In my brief history of Community of Christ, Joseph Jr. dies on page 13 of 72. We can go many Sundays in a row without ever mentioning Joseph Smith.

          People who only have experience with the LDS Church can’t help but think of Community of Christ as the Diet Pepsi version of the LDS Church’s Coke. But the churches are actually very different across the board; there’s especially a complete difference in the way leaders are viewed — as the humble humans they truly are in Community of Christ and as the exclusively-God-touched facades they are presented to be in the LDS Church (an impression that LDS leaders maintain also by “lying for the Lord”).

          You mention “Praise to the Man”. The original lyrics go:

          Praise to the man who commun’d with Jehovah
          Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer
          Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren
          Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

          However, Joseph Smith III himself re-wrote the lyrics for the Community of Christ version of the hymn:

          Praise to the Lord for the great restoration
          Brought by the angel to Joseph the Seer
          Pleading with God in behalf of his brethren
          The church to establish, the gospel declare.

          There’s the difference in trajectory right there. And, of course, the hymn has subsequently been deleted from the hymnal altogether.

          So why is God calling me to be in a Restoration tradition church that rejects lying for the Lord, that believes All are Called, and that honors heritage and scripture without seeing either as rigidly authoritative? I believe it’s because the need for such a community is so manifest among seekers in the Restoration tradition.

  11. Glen Fullmer June 16, 2013 at 7:48 am - Reply

    So John, are you saying that Joseph Smith was deceived? But at the same time unaware of it?

    • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 9:20 am - Reply

      Glen: No, I’m saying he (and the other early members) were wrong about that idea.

    • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Here’s a blog post I wrote about what I think the Restoration got right and what it got wrong. This might explain my thinking here better:

      • Stormin June 16, 2013 at 10:17 am - Reply

        Thanks! I like your article it is very clear on what you believe. Even though I don’t agree with any religion/church started by a liar and a fraud —— I definitely believe revelation has to be ongoing today to make God relevant. I am thankful we can get that revelation that we need INDIVIDUALLY (directly from God or Holy Ghost) and do not need any religion to enslave us. I am not against attending and supporting churches with like minded believers, as long as the enslavement is rational (support the church with money and time but 10% and doing unjustified Temple work is ridiculous!).

  12. Jeff June 16, 2013 at 8:24 am - Reply

    If I could toss in my two-cents here, I think it is important for us to examine Joseph in a multi-dimensional manner. Often, it is easier for us to classify people/institutions into one or two word categories like fraud/charlatan and whatnot. If one approaches the Joseph Smith story from a purely negative and cynical viewpoint, then obviously that is the most obvious conclusion. But as John H, among others, has pointed out, the “prophet puzzle” (to quote Jan Shipps) is much more complicated than that. When one examines the rise of any religious movement, it is never as cut and dry as we would like it to be. For example, in Islam, one has the Koran. Yet in many ways, that can be viewed as a pseudepigraphical text, but it is one of the largest religions on the planet today. Then there is the Bible, which again (especially the Old Testament) is much more a book of spiritual interpretation and tradition than real history. The Book of Mormon falls into that category along with a host of other pseudepigraphical texts. My point boils down to this: By our standards, was Joseph Smith a fraud? Perhaps. In the context of his time, was he anything out of the ordinary? For the most part, no. Does the Book of Mormon fit a pattern of religious tradition that has been around for millenia? I think yes. So before we view Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon as purely deceptive, we need to expand our world view to truly appreciate value in the book.

  13. Jay June 16, 2013 at 10:03 am - Reply

    Thanks John D. and John H. This was a great interview. I sense the LDS church moving more toward the Community of Christ view. Specifically with the BOM. I heard recently that Terryl Givens gave a fireside talk (at leadership’s request) where he stated that you do not have to have a literal belief in the Book of Mormon to have a temple recommend. This will give peace to allot of those questioning.

    • Stormin June 16, 2013 at 12:47 pm - Reply

      If I were told that, when an active Mormon, I would have had significant problems with it. The prophets have claimed it was the “most correct” book on earth —– if it is not historically correct logic would say the church and prophets were false. That’s my opinion but I have taught many a gospel doctrine/priesthood class and know the “intellectualism” of members —— so many are in a daze about doctrine, truth or logic! I believe they have been brainwashed by their robotic testimonies they got from hearing others give so often —– they don’t need to think any more just go to church, home teach maybe, pay tithing, go to temple, say Yes to leaders, hold callings, go to temple —— that is their life and it is too busy to worry about thinking about the doctrine or what truth really is.

  14. Jay June 16, 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    I am curious about a couple of things John H. and John D.. There is some solid evidence that Joseph “borrowed” this story from the writings of spaulding. Craig Criddle’s argument is very very strong, so I have provided a link if you haven’t heard it.
    If you were convinced this was the case would it change your view of Joseph Smith? Couldn’t people making the same argument for L. Ron Hubbard as a prophet that you make for Joseph?

    • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm - Reply

      Actually, Craig Criddle’s argument is very, very weak. I believe his study was completely irresponsible and his results are totally irrelevant.

      The principle of parsimony (Occam’s razor) is a core part of determining the likelihood of any thesis in the historical narrative. The evidence for Joseph Smith’s authorship of the Book of Mormon is plentiful and overwhelming — from the fact that so much of the narrative is autobiographical, from the fact that the author goes so far as to name himself (predict himself) in the text (2 Nephi 3:6,15 LDS), from his mother’s recollection of Joseph’s previous oral composition of Nephite stories, from the mass of witnesses of the composition process, and from the various ways events surrounded Joseph during the translation process were worked into the text (see Dan Vogel “Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet”).

      The Spaulding authorship theory, by contrast, lacks any positive historical evidence whatsoever beyond the Hurlbut affidavits. As convincing as these seem to be on the surface, it’s clear that the people of Conneaut were misremembering Spaulding’s novel. (Essentially what apparently happened was the people in Conneaut got a hold of a Book of Mormon on their own, they convinced themselves that it was the text of the novel their long-dead neighbor had been working on which they had no access to, they had a Book of Mormon and read parts which were fresh in their minds, the rumor of their theory spread to nearby Kirtland and Hurlbut visited to take down the misremembered affidavits.)

      The conspiracy theory required to take us from Spaulding through Rigdon and Pratt to Smith strains all credibility, especially given the total lack of positive evidence that stands in stark contrast with the very clear and overwhelming evidence of Joseph Smith’s authorship. (For an illustration of the preposterous nature of this theory, see my essay: “”)

      Criddle might just as well have tested whether Shakespeare was the author or whether Thomas Jefferson was the author — or any other person who (like Spaulding) we know was not the author from the historical record. All such computer tests, including the Spaulding one, are irrelevant, and merely demonstrate the faultiness of Criddle’s computer analysis.

      Since Criddle’s argument is no better than the arguments people make that the Book of Mormon as an actual ancient text, there’s no way to hypothesize what things would be like if either were the case. We can say definitively that neither is the case.

      Regarding L. Ron Hubbard: I think it would be possible for someone raised in Scientology to come up with a reformed church of Scientology that could potentially have value, especially if it helped individuals free themselves from the hierarchy of the mainline church of Scientology.

  15. iamse7en June 16, 2013 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    I’m sorry I have such a negative reaction but I think you have no sense of integrity. If you don’t want to live the rules/standards of a private university, then go elsewhere. It is cowardly and self-demeaning to go around and lie to sneak your way through the school. I’m sorry, but I had such a negative reaction about people who justify such dishonest behavior, who rationalize away their own integrity… They’re the type of people running our governments and crony-capitalist corporations.

    • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm - Reply

      I maintained my integrity throughout the experience. Obviously, when faced with a system that is itself thoroughly dishonest, one must decide how to respond to the system.

      Let’s take the somewhat more extreme example of a person who finds herself living in North Korea and has to decide how to operate there. She can protest overtly and be caught up in the system’s standard operating defenses and perhaps become a martyr of some kind; she can collaborate with the system either with the idea of encouraging reform by making a positive difference within it (probably not a realistic hope) or with idea of forcing reform by undermining the system from within somehow; or she can extricate herself from the system by defecting — in the last case either by leaving as hastily as possible (even at great cost) or by leaving in a planned way (which might require some degree of collaboration with the system while implementing the plan).

      In my case, I chose to extricate myself from the dishonest system (in which I found myself participating) via a planned exit that was relatively fast (3 years total), but not so precipitously fast as to be overly costly. Meanwhile, I did collaborate to some extent by responding to the system precisely as it wanted to be responded to.

      Obviously, one can’t help but admire people who went the more overt path and stood up against the vicious bigotry enshrined in BYU’s rules. The gay people who stood up and were subsequently blackmailed by BYU and/or those who were abused with electro-shock therapy and the like by BYU are certainly heroes who fought oppression head-on and valiantly.

      Fighting evil overtly like that was not an easy path. Obviously, many such heroes lost years of work and the university credits owed them; and, of course, many were psychologically scarred. In the short time I was “out” at BYU, doing my part helping support others in the LGBT support group in Provo, two of my small number of gay friends attempted suicide.

      So there are certainly more overtly heroic ways to fight a thoroughly dishonest and corrupt system than the path I chose, but I nevertheless am comfortable that I maintained my personal integrity throughout; helping out where possible, while causing no harm.

    • Paul June 16, 2013 at 8:01 pm - Reply

      Iamse7n, I am sorry you see the world through such clear black/white or right/wrong eyes. I have no problem with what John did and in no way feel it shows he had a lack of integrity. Rather than see him as a coward, I think he was very courageous in what he did, and at all times he remained true to himself. Sucks to be you to see the world in such a narrow minded way.

  16. Glen Fullmer June 16, 2013 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Two comments, John:

    1. Thanks for your link to Living Scripture and a Vision of the Living Restoration as I read it with interest. The is definitely the “middle-way of the middle-way) ;-) But I am still confused. I am a “black-and-white” kind of guy when looking at anything at a correct level. I think truth can be stated correctly when asking yes/no questions at the correct level. Labeling Joseph as a fraud, is not helpful, however, to say that he created a book, then said it was “The Word of God” and he received it directly from God’s messengers is fraud if he knew it was false. You are stating that his assertions are false, so my question to you, from your understanding, did he know those statements were false?

    2. Like Jared Anderson, and a lot historians both in and out of Biblical studies, you state a number of assertions that can not be proved because they are stated in the negative. “No one ever saw the physical plates” is one of those statements. You can’t prove a negative. However, the positive testimony of the 8 witnesses is pretty clear:

    “Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shewn unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.”

    a. they handled them with their hands the leaves of the book
    b. they had the appearance of gold
    c. they saw the engravings
    d. they hefted the plates (like Emma Smith)

    So you are saying that this might have been true, but only in their minds eye?

    Emma Smith said they were laying around while the book was being translated and said in an interview:

    “The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book….”

    So are you saying that was a figment of her imagination as well?

    Also didn’t Mary Whitmer actually see them as well as reported by Parley P. Pratt?

    “Mary Musselman Whitmer (August 27, 1778 – January 1856) was the” wife of Peter Whitmer, Sr. Through her son David Whitmer, she and her family became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. around 1828. In 1829, probably during June, she was caring for three boarders (Joseph Smith, Emma Hale Smith, and Oliver Cowdery) in addition to her large household while the Book of Mormon was being translated. She said she was often overloaded with work to the extent she felt it quite a burden. During this time, the male boarders and members of her household were speaking of being shown the Golden Plates. One evening when she went to milk the cows, she said that a stranger with a knapsack spoke to her, explained what was going on in her house, comforted her, then produced a bundle of plates from his knapsack, turned the leaves for her, showed her the engravings, exhorted her to faith in bearing her burden a little longer, then suddenly vanished with the plates. She always called the stranger Brother Nephi.”

    Although visionary this last one was interesting as to the detail.

    Again I appreciate the interview and your responses to previous questions,


    • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 8:20 pm - Reply

      1. I believe that Joseph Smith and other early Saints, including David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and many, many others experienced visions and other spiritual manifestations, as did many of their contemporaries outside the Restoration, as have spiritually inclined people throughout time. Joseph interpreted his spiritual experiences as a divine calling and I believe he believed he was called to do the work he did.

      In my opinion, he would have been very aware that he had never experienced a “visitation” of an externally perceivable spectral or alien being. This should not surprise us because such visitations do not exist outside of literature.

      Joseph Smith’s calling, in his view, included bringing forth the Book of Mormon, as a new scripture which he believed he was producing by the gift and power of the holy spirit. Although he used the word “translating” in regards to his production of the text, it’s very clear from the internal and external evidence concerning the Book of Mormon, along with the comparative evidence of Joseph Smith’s other scriptural compositions, that Joseph Smith did not use the word “translation” to mean what we mean. Indeed, as I’ve suggested, the word was relatively broadly used for various miraculous gifts that we might call magic — e.g., translating = teleporting; translating = transforming a mortal body to an immortal body.

      In producing inspired scripture via the gift and power of the spirit, I believe that Joseph Smith believed he was revealing the word of God. In so doing, he was speaking with the prophetic voice in precisely the same way that ancient Israelite prophets spoke with the prophetic voice. The original Isaiah, when saying “thus saith the Lord,” presumed to speak for the Lord. When the later Isaiah’s did this, they were not only presuming to speak for the Lord, they were doing so while pretending to be the original Isaiah. Which you can call a pious fraud, if that is the way you view things.

      What Joseph Smith knew was false was the fact that the physical plates artifact that he used to buttress his audience’s belief in the book he was composing was not, in fact, an ancient object. Rather, he knew that this was something that he had himself made, mostly likely from sheet tin. However, that does not necessarily mean that he felt that there wasn’t an actual lost record. Another contemporary example is the translation of the scroll of the Apostle John. Joseph didn’t ever claim to have access to the scroll which he believed was on the other side of the world. And we can tell from the “translation” of the scroll that this was simply another original composition of Joseph’s. In other words, I think it’s quite possible Joseph believed he was channeling or restoring actual history or at least inspired stories that were the word of God.

      The plates artifact can be viewed as an avatar to channel spiritual feelings, much like the various seer stones. Of course, seer stones are just rocks. However, they were obviously part of Joseph’s spiritual formation process.

      2. I don’t have to prove that no one ever saw the golden plates; that all contact with the plates artifact was tactile. The Book of Mormon can be shown conclusively to be a 19th century document by its internal evidence: its ubiquitous anachronisms, its literary dependence on the King James Bible, and the fingerprints of its author, Joseph Smith. This can be buttressed with external evidence, including Joseph Smith’s additional scriptural compositions, along with actual Meso-American history. The proofs regarding the real nature of the Book of Mormon do not hinge on the golden plates; they are conclusively proved elsewhere.

      Rather, with the plates artifact and the various witnesses, we are left having to understand the evidence and testimony given what we already know: that there were no golden plates in a physical sense. When we are talking about the testimony of the witnesses, the fact that there were no golden plates in a physical sense is not a conclusion; it’s a premise that is known from other proofs.

      Given that premise, how do we understand the testimony? As you say, people encountered a physical object wrapped in a cloth or nailed in a box. They touched it and lifted it. In the case of the 8 witnesses:

      a. They handled the artifact yes. Mostly likely this was a tin avatar or prop. It was probably sheet metal because more than one witness of the plates artifact felt the leaves under the cloth.

      b. In the statement they signed that Joseph wrote, the agreed that the plates were the plates “of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold”. That is certainly what has been spoken, that they have the appearance of gold. We are holding them in this box, and it has been spoken that they have the appearance of gold.

      c. They saw the engravings. You can too. Do a google image search on “Anthon Transcript”. That’s what they were shown. The engravings as transcribed onto paper.

      d. They hefted the plates artifact. They most certainly did. In a box. Or wrapped in a cloth.

      Mary’s experience, although visionary, is fairly consonant with the physical experiences people had with the physical plates artifact; except, of course, that people who saw the plates in visions could also see the angels and see the plates directly with their spiritual eyes — something they could not do with their physical eyes.

  17. Paul June 16, 2013 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    John, any insight on the Mormon church trying to buy the Kirkland temple from the CofC? When was their last attempt? How much? Would CofC ever sell? I hope not, I love the fact that the CofC has maintained ownership all these years…

    • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 8:26 pm - Reply

      No, it will never be sold.

    • John Hamer June 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm - Reply

      Like many American denominations in similar circumstances, Community of Christ is income poor, but property rich. The church also has a pretty significant endowment that are set aside to maintain sacred properties even in the event that there was no more tithing.

      In the case of Kirtland Temple, Community of Christ recently spent millions of dollars constructing a new visitor and spiritual formation center. The church was willing to sell undeveloped properties (including Haun’s Mill site) to the LDS Church in order to perpetually endow the sacred places that have already been developed, including the Joseph & Emma Smith Historic Sites in Nauvoo and Kirtland Temple.

      • Paul June 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm - Reply

        Thanks, I just figured if the LDS church would spend billions on a shopping mall, they might try to buy the temple too…

        Glad to hear they won’t sell!!!

    • Steve In Millcreek (SIM) June 18, 2013 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Paul, In my opinion, the Community of Christ (CoC)is the best steward of the Kirtland temple; and their continuing ownership and oversight of that space cannot be improved. If LDS owned or managed it, they would polish it to the extreme; and house missionaries next door 24/7. While I love much about my ongoing LDS faith, I feel that many LDS sites are used to over-simplify and over-glamorize Latter-day history, turning them into a 19th century edition of 1950s Americana, (i.e., June Cleaver, Norman Rockwell, ..). Further, if CoC let it go, I’d prefer to see another one of the Missouri churches (such as the Remnant or Temple Lot churches) be next in line. Comments?

      • John Hamer June 18, 2013 at 8:31 pm - Reply

        Thanks for saying so, Steve. Rest assured, we will not let the temple go.

  18. […] was listening to John Dehlin’s podcast interview with John Hamer on Mormon Stories, and one thing that intrigued me were John H’s comments about the different worldview that […]

  19. Jeff June 17, 2013 at 7:59 am - Reply

    Question for John D: When will the next part be uploaded?! I’ve been waiting with baited breath!

  20. Glen Fullmer June 17, 2013 at 10:30 am - Reply

    Thanks again John for taking time to answer my questions.

    Given what you have said so far, I Stand All Amazed ;-) that you associate with the Community of Christ as you say it is based on a foundation of a man and a book both of whom you claimed to be fraudulent. Do you love, the organization, in spite of all of this?

    Brings up another question, do they have such a thing as excommunication in the CofC? If so, what are the conditions for that action? Who decides? Has it happened recently? ;-)

    • John Hamer June 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      Glen: There is no real difference between the Joseph Smith story and the story of the pseudonymous author of Deuteronomy, whose book is the basis for scripture-based religion itself — the religious reform that is at the foundation of Old Testament Judeo-Christianity.

      Likewise, we can see the same thing in the work of the canonical gospel evangelists who did not know Jesus but were very content to create stories about him. For example, we can see directly the work of the anonymous authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke their editing of Mark and Q and their creation of non-historical stories to fill out their books. The work of the editors who expanded the source text in the gospel attributed to John again created stories that were entirely original to the writer and had no basis in history. Thus, the basis for the New Testament of Christianity is also known to be what you are calling “fraudulent”.

      However, I’m arguing here that it’s not fraudulent. Rather, the error in thinking here is derived from the modern perspective that these writings should be viewed as literal history. They should not be viewed in that way.

      All tradition is compromised. Humans are imperfect. We are continually gaining in knowledge. People did not have more knowledge in some golden age in the past; they had less. That the past is imperfect is not an excuse for throwing it away. But it means that as we honor it, we mustn’t consider it authoritative or enslave ourselves to it. In Community of Christ, we don’t.

      To my knowledge, people don’t really get excommunicated from Community of Christ any more. I’m given to understand the last times many excommunications might have happened was during the 1980s schism when separatists were attempting to claim church property.

      • N. Bruce Nelson June 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm - Reply

        While excommunications are very rare, they can still happen. One example is that if a polygamous member of the church takes on an additional wife after baptism, they are excommunicated.

    • John Hamer June 17, 2013 at 1:25 pm - Reply

      I should also say that I’m simultaneously arguing that you can view Judeo-Christianity whole-cloth, including the Restoration, as fraudulent. That’s a reality-based, defensible perspective today that everyone is free to have.

      The indefensible perspectives are fundamentalism (believing that the stories here in the Bible and/or the Book of Mormon are literal histories). Even here, everyone is free to have that perspective; but if they do, it means that their world-view is going to be less useful at predicting reality than a reality-based world-view would be.

      Here’s an analogy: You can reject Newton entirely because he believed fervently in what he thought was the science of astrology. Or you can pick the parts of Newton out that are good and emphasize those while rejecting his mistakes. Both of these are defensible positions. The indefensible position would be worshiping Newton and viewing all of his writings as authoritative (fundamentalism).

  21. Glen June 17, 2013 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the podcast. I enjoyed the discussion.

    This comment is directed to both Johns. John Dehlin posed a question that did not seem to be answered by either John D. or John H. The discussion was regarding scripture and whether to view it literally or some other way. I think John H. presented the idea that scripture is largely the impressions of men. My best recollection of the question posed by John D. regarding scripture is this: “What’s the point (if its the impressions of men), then that is not really scripture, what that is is a bunch of other peoples’ opinions, biases. What’s holy about that? And, why is that compelling to warrant our attention, if in reality it is not inherently superior to what my friend might write in his journal.” Its about 45 minutes into Part II.

    In a sense broader than this podcast topic, I think this question deserves an entire episode. If, for example, one of the New Testament writers provided us with his opinions, his recollections, etc. then why should I value his writings any more than I might value John Dehlins’s or John Hamer’s opinions and writings. Similarly, if Joseph Smith’s revelations (like D&C 1 about the one and only true church) are simply his ideas….well…then they are simply his ideas that are of no more value than some other man’s opinions about a church he might have started.

    I can’t quite write the right words to capture my problem in this subject area. If I read the Book of Mormon or the D&C or the Bible, what am I reading? Am I reading the word of God? Either I am or I am not….if I am not then of what value is it? I know this is black and white thinking that many discount. So, what about the middle ground, if such writings are sometimes the Word of God and sometimes the words of man….then the same question seems relevant: What value is it to me because then somebody or myself would have to figure out which portions were God talking or which were a man.

    Or, another middle ground: “What if they are an approximation of what God said to the prophet…the prophets best attempt to formulate into words what he experienced.” If that is true, then which prophet has the best formulation, the most correct, etc. And, if its true, then really any person who has a spiritual experience might qualify as somebody we ought to listen to. But, then the problem is that there are too many opinions/experiences that differ. Still seems to lead to the same confusion.

    I guess I’m arguing for the point (or clinging to it) that President Hinckley made in Conference years ago: It is either true or the biggest fraud perpetrated by a man.

    • Jeff June 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      Glen: If you would care to listen to my opinion on this matter, I think I may have an answer.

      For the most part, it is established that the New Testament writers probably did not know Jesus as intimately as they would have us believe, but were merely recording the oral tradition of the great man Jesus from 30 years prior (or when Paul wrote 1Corinthians, 20 years prior). Much of their writings probably reflect an exaggerated rendition of a passed down story. Likewise, and even to a greater degree, the Old Testament is certainly not actual history, but an even better example of embellished Jewish oral traditions. Much of what I am saying can be seen in my earlier post.

      In addition to Christian examples, the Koran contains many inspiring, yet non-literal stories as recorded by Muhammed. Native American writer Vine Deloria has portrayed the fantastic intricacies of Native American oral tales. Although they are sacred to the individual tribes, I would imagine most people (within and without) recognize that they did not actually occur as told.

      Although my point contains several parts, I first refer you to John Hamer’s statement above. Mythical literature and tradition has inspired people (and perhaps has been inspired) for millenia. The goal is to find the portions which resonate most profoundly, while realizing that a fundamentalist viewpoint clouds our ability to truly appreciate such writings. The second thing I would point out is that theology and dogma in general has never been a static, incorruptible concept. Historical context will always play a role in determining doctrine. With regards to D&C 1, I would refer you to Joseph Smith’s 1838 history. Each church was vigorously calling the other one apostate, so naturally Joseph would declare his church true. The Book of Mormon, while it is not for everyone, still fits a long-time scriptural tradition of inspirational messages which affect people deeply. Are we able to feel inspired by anyone’s writings? I suppose so. However, I think scripture is different, as it stands the test of time and affects us at our very core.

    • John Hamer June 17, 2013 at 5:46 pm - Reply

      Re: “I guess I’m arguing for the point (or clinging to it) that President Hinckley made in Conference years ago: It is either true or the biggest fraud perpetrated by a man.”

      If Gordon B. Hinckley’s framing of the issue — that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is either (1) the one and only true church on Earth authorized by God or else (2) a total fraud — is valid to assess the organization over which he held supreme authority, the answer is not in question: he and his church were total frauds. The contradictions in the truth-claims are conclusive and inarguable.

      The texts of the Bible, the Moses of scripture, the Jesus of history, the apostle Paul, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, Mormonism, President Gordon B. Hinckley, the LDS Church, and Community of Christ are all different things. Gordon B. Hinckley was able to speak for himself and might have been able to speak for the institution he controlled, but the rest is beyond his monopoly to define.

    • John Hamer June 17, 2013 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      Very nice points, Jeff.

      I would like to add that my argument here is that if a person wants to value scripture, they have give up the modern, reactionary definition of scripture, i.e., that scripture is the literal, inerrant, and authoritative word of God, written down effectively by a human dictaphone who actually hears God speak in a physical, anthropomorphized voice. If that is approximately your definition of scripture, the answer is that scripture does not exist because nothing exists that fits that definition.

      Glen: I believe you’re essentially asking, what’s the point of scripture if we’re not talking about the actual transcription of a divine dictaphone? We ought to turn that around and ask what would the point be of scripture that was like that, if such a thing did exist? Is the whole meaning of life simply a test of obedience to the transcription? Why would God want to test whether we are mindlessly obedient to the transcription? Is that a recipe for a valuable and meaningful life? What’s the point of an unthinking life like that?

      Conceiving of scripture as the literal word of God, as opposed to the human response to God, is imputing divinity to text. This is, in my view, scripture-worship and idolatry. Moreover, believing that Thomas S. Monson or Joseph Smith is spoken to by God in a way that is a complete order of magnitude different than that available to everyone else is imputing a kind of divinity (certainly supernatural powers) to men. This is, in my view, leader-worship and idolatry.

      If instead scripture is vital and profound human responses to God, then you are reading collected wisdom and experience of people facing life’s issues throughout time, along with parables, symbolic stories, theology, philosophy, laments, prayers, and more. From these you can find new inspiration and meaning as you read and interpret them anew. These aren’t rule books to prevent us from thinking, they are tools that we can use by thinking for ourselves.

      And could John D’s neighbor write something profound and meaningful in his journal that could be valuable to him and you and me? Maybe so. The heavens are open. All are called. If only one person were called and we were merely called to listen to that person, we would called to idolatry and leader-worship. Does the worth of all persons necessarily lead to confusion? It obviously does not lead to everyone agreeing about everything, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But it also doesn’t lead to mindless obedience, which is a good thing. Church doesn’t have to be one person standing up front talking about a talk that leaders gave a few months back, which itself is just a correlated rehash of previous talks given by leaders. Having a discussion like this one about scripture and life and faith can be church.

      For myself, I believe there’s no value to deciding that the point of life is simply memorizing a set of answers or obeying a set of rules or worshiping another human being as if he were a semi-divine viceroy of God. I believe the point of life is to engage our minds, to debate propositions, to ponder ethics, to test ideals, and to continually increase in intelligence?

      Joseph Smith believed that the glory of God is intelligence (LDS D&C 93:36). The ancient prophet who wrote the Priestly source of what was later combined to create Genesis believed that humans are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Shakespeare argued that the quality that made humanity godlike was our “apprehension” or understanding (Hamlet II:2).

      For me, this is a foundation for a meaningful meaning of life — with discoveries and discussions forever building from there.

      • j June 17, 2013 at 8:27 pm - Reply

        I’m not as scholarly or articulate as many of you who post here. I like the conversation taking place. If I might humbly address this issue of what makes scripture and what does not. As the Christen scriptures say we are children of God. Offspring of God. He made us. We are part of his creation the Universe. We are intricately connected with God and his inspired creations. We are part of God. I feel that how ever scripture comes about it is inspired. Even if those writings are produced by the synapse in a human brain firing. That being every thing that man can produce or put to paper. Some of it is more helpful or more entertaining or more inspiring than others.

        Regarding President Hinckley’s comment about the church being true or a fraud, it is a very black and white statement and he misses the point. Even if the LDS church is a fraud it is still divine. The LDS church (how ever you think it came into being) is still with in the realm of the universe and is one of Gods creations. Just because the human race is fallible doesn’t discredit our value in being beautiful or created by God. There is great beauty with in the LDS faith. There is wonderful and inspired things with in the church. Many faiths have their short comings but it does not mean they are not with out value. Some more than others. I think the diversity of religions on the planet is a good thing. Even the ones that are quote un quote “wrong” labeled as a fraud.

        • Stormin June 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm - Reply

          A lot of beauty caused by Joseph Smith and LDS inc. ??? Polygamy that has many young women in the FLDS church in bondage and depraved in numerous ways NOW. Millions that pay LDS inc. (a corporation that runs various businesses) a tithing and doing mindless/worthless temple and church work instead of being home with their families thinking they are pleasing God versus just providing more investment money to the Cons in Charge. Missionaries traveling the world converting people to a FRAUD and a False God. Finally, just think of the many of us that have identified LDS inc. as a fraud —— many ( around 50%) lose their testimony of Jesus Christ/God and become atheists! Oh the Beauty that Joseph Smith brought to the World —– lets hope he can receive his just reward for the hurt he has caused in this world!

          • John Hamer June 18, 2013 at 6:31 am

            Stormin: Joseph Smith, the LDS Church, the FLDS Church, and Ex-Mormon atheists, are all different things.

            If you’re an Ex-Mormon atheist, you’ll eventually find that there are worse tragedies in the world than missionaries traveling around converting people to the LDS Church.

            However, if you’re an Evangelical Christian, you are a hypocrite who is plainly ignorant of the history of Christianity in general and of textual criticism of the Bible in particular. You are the person of whom Jesus spoke when he asks why are you paying attention to the mote in your brother’s eye, when you ignore the beam in your own? You should study the results of 2 centuries of Christian scholarship on the Bible before worrying yourself about Mormonism further.

          • j June 18, 2013 at 3:36 pm

            I said different religions hold different value. You may not find much value in a particular religion where another person or society might. I find it hard to believe that you cant find any thing beautiful with in the Mormon religion. You don’t have to believe all the doctrine or be a Mormon to find value with in the LDS faith. All you can see is the negative at this point. I guess that is ok, I was heading down that same path when I first found out about some of the more questionable history of the LDS church. At first I wondered if I had been deliberately deceived. It created a lot of doubt in me and at one point I thought it was black and white like how you and president Hinckley see it. Its ether all true or its all false. That view is something you do have in common with the main stream LDS faith. Some people are able to move on from this point at witch you are at and some people are not. I hope you are like the first and able to find some value where others might find none.

      • mg June 18, 2013 at 11:46 am - Reply

        “…Is the whole meaning of life simply a test of obedience to the transcription? ” I find your view on this topic refreshing and enlightening.

        I would have to say that, yes, the LDS meaning of life is one big test of obedience. To the leaders, scriptures, or what ever they decide it to be. The fact that people close to me know it, believe it, and choose to follow it baffles me to no end.

      • Paul June 18, 2013 at 7:20 pm - Reply

        Wow, that was deep John, I love it! This is some really good stuff.

  22. Jeff June 17, 2013 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Great points, j!

    President Hinckley’s statement only serves to widen the dichotomy between Mormonism and other world views. In my opinion, such bold declarations are the inevitable side effect of portraying an institution as the one true church. Especially with regards to the Utah church, they are finding themselves in a corner in terms of dealing with the reality of history. The progressive nature of the Community of Christ is refreshing compared to the dominant orthodoxy of the Utah sect. By making black and white statements, we neglect to find any value in the gray. This discussion board has shown that inspiration can exist even in fiction or, in scriptural terms, pseudepigrapha.

    • Glen Fullmer June 17, 2013 at 11:46 pm - Reply

      There is no gray (binary) if you look at anything at the appropriate level. I think this is why Jesus said, or as Matthew said he said, or whoever wrote Matthew said he said, “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” Sounds like a pretty “black and white” kind of guy to me ! ;-)

      • John Hamer June 18, 2013 at 6:17 am - Reply

        Because he’s talking about oaths. He just said don’t say, “I swear by God that X is the case” or “I swear by heaven that I never did Y”. The idea here is that swearing oaths is blasphemy.

        This teaching about oaths is not saying that the content of everything else we might talk about should be deleted in favor of just wandering around all day saying “yes, yes, no, no.”

  23. Paul B June 18, 2013 at 12:19 am - Reply

    “Community of Christ as the Diet Pepsi version of the LDS Church’s Coke”

    Actually the CofC may be more of the “real thing,” where as the SLC, LDS church may be just ‘flat pop’ when considering which one is more of an experiential ‘Jesus’ church (from my personal experience with regard to the SLC, LDS church).

    John, you have been very forbearing by responding to my postings with great technique and decorum, hence, I want to acknowledge that you are also the “real thing” — a real scholar AND a gentleman.

    Perhaps this is outside the scope of this podcast, but I had a thought. It seems that a lot of the ‘validation/credibility’ comments posted here are most pertinent to JS and the Book of Mormon. With regard to JS, however, it would be interesting to see a comparative list of what is perceived as being ‘good’ about JS as to what is perceived as being ‘bad’ (the contrasting headings ‘good’ and ‘bad’ could be substituted with something similar). In other words, being that it was declared by the angel that JS’s name “shall be known for good and evil among all nations; the righteous shall rejoice while the wicked shall rage,” it may be useful or of interest to actually list both those ‘good’ and ‘evil’ attributes, works, behaviors, subjective opinions, conjectures, etc. Just a suggestion.

    And again, thanks for all that you do and have done for the enlightenment of many of us.

    • John Hamer June 18, 2013 at 8:11 am - Reply

      Thanks, Paul, I really appreciate that.

      I think your suggestion is a worthwhile exercise to do. There would be lots of different categories, such as “things that were clearly unethical judged by contemporary 19th century standards” to “things that I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing ethically” to “things that had bad consequences that were unintended,” etc.

      For myself, I think the obsessive focus on Joseph Smith (by historians, by adherents of Restoration tradition churches, by post-Mormons, and by unrelated detractors) isn’t particularly healthy, useful, or interesting. For me, Joseph Smith is not the most interesting part of the Restoration story, which is why I always prefer to talk about early members of the movement in general and not focus on this one single member in particular. If I end up writing a history of the early church, I’ve thought I would either write it from Emma’s perspective entirely (tentatively titled, “Emma, Her Sons, Their Church, and the Latter Day Saints); or else from the perspective of regular members out in the branches (a much more difficult proposition, which may not be possible).

      I think that Mark Scherer’s concept for his 3-Volume history of the Restoration, Reorganization, and Community of Christ was entitled “The Journey of a People” with the idea that it should be more than just a myopic headquarters-centric history. (Sadly, most histories of the church tend to read like biographies of Joseph Smith Jr. slightly expanded to include some institutional history around him.)

      Anyway, I realize that I’m unusual in my relative disinterest in Joseph Smith as opposed to the movement he participated in.

  24. j June 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    The Sunday School lesson this week was about the word of wisdom. In the LDS faith the Word of Wisdom didn’t become a commandment until around 1942 when things like coffee and tea where outlawed. Not caffeinated soda drinks. At least not yet. The word of wisdom in the LDS church has become a symbol of ones worthiness and is mandated in order for a person to enter an LDS temple.

    Do you personally live the word of wisdom as out line in section 89 of the DandC. If so, how do you live it and how do you define it? in example “hot drinks”. What enfaces if any is given to the word of wisdom with in the CoC?

    • John Hamer June 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm - Reply

      J: I think the word of wisdom is just that: a word of wisdom; not a test of faith. As with all scripture, it exists within its time and context in history. People in the 19th century wrongly imagined that drinks that were too hot or too cold were unhealthy. The advice there can be ignored. The WoW is clearly spot on regarding tobacco and I certainly live that. The advice on meat is good, but I admit I don’t live it.

      Regarding alcohol, the WoW is clearly embedded in pre-Prohibition Temperance-movement era America. There’s a minority of people who can’t drink safely who should abstain entirely and obviously alcohol and driving (and other activities) don’t mix — which (in my view) is more a condemnation of suburbs than alcohol. But in general, I think moderate use of alcohol has positive social benefits.

      In Community of Christ, on the books use of alcohol has been prohibited for priesthood (which is held by a minority of members). This mostly unenforced rule has been re-examined as of the most recent World Conference.

  25. Steve In Millcreek (SIM) June 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    John Hamer, I ask to change topic somewhat.

    Over recent months, I attended worship services at about 30 churches in the larger SLC UT area (other than my own: LDS) including the Community of Christ (CoC) in SLC’s Millcreek area. To add value to each visit, I attend the largest Sunday worship gathering of that faith that week. In many cases, I see buildings and sanctuaries that are significantly larger than the week’s attendances needs; and I am sad over the contrast with times past when I image that membership filled every pew. My visits to CoC in Millcreek in 2012/13 matches this.

    Please comment on CoC migration history in last 50 years; primarily, the demographic movement west of (out of) Missouri? Does the building size of CoC-Millcreek indicate expected membership growth that did not (has not yet) occurred, evidence of membership loss, or out-migration over time? Outside of Independence MO, where are largest CoC gatherings today?

    • John Hamer June 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm - Reply

      Steve: The history of Community of Christ in Utah hasn’t been very successful. From the earliest days, members in Utah feel ostracized by the society and they have really tended to leave. Building up congregations when core members are frequently leaving is hard work.

      So things in Salt Lake there right now are worse than they are for the church as a whole. The congregation there has been at last legs for a while. The overall demographic situation of the past 50 years is bad, but it’s much worse where you are. That said, I believe there’s reason for optimism that doesn’t exist in similarly challenged denominations.

      Specifically, in Utah, if just a tiny fraction of the ExMormons in the are who still want to be in a Restoration church, but who can’t abide the sexism of the LDS Church were to begin to meet together, you could fill that building to overflowing. I believe that will happen, but it does require some people to step out in a leap of faith and take a stand so that others can follow.

  26. Jeff June 18, 2013 at 6:53 pm - Reply

    I have one other point to make:

    Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that conclusive evidence (not NHM) is discovered and the Book of Mormon is demonstrated to have elements of historical accuracy. It would still fit the pseudepigraphical, scriptural tradition. For example, many of the forgotten/non-canonized books of the Bible contain certain truths, however the story is exaggerated to a level beyond the realm of historical fact. Also, a book like the Koran and, as I referenced above, Native American oral traditions all contain pieces of truth, however they are glorified and expanded. An example in the Book of Mormon would be the story of Jaredite submarines.

    Again, this post is all hypothetical, however the bottom line is that no matter what, the Book of Mormon fits into a long line of scriptural tradition. If we were to accept the Book of Mormon in the manner outlined above, then we would also have to accept the Koran, Native stories, etc.

    • John Hamer June 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm - Reply

      I’m following you, but have to make your point a little bit more, Jeff.

      • Jeff June 18, 2013 at 10:03 pm - Reply

        To clarify, if the Book of Mormon were demonstrated to be an historical text, then the question would remain, to what degree? As I think it was Alexander Campbell who pointed out before any of us, it is still obviously a 19th century text. Like all scripture it would be (and perhaps still is) an encounter with God pertaining to the era it was written in. The Old Testament is just people’s interpretation of events and traditions. While the general sense of it is historically accurate, many of the specific events are ludicrous. Likewise (I know I am being a bit repetitive), the Koran is also generally historical, and obviously inspirational, but specific events just are not true. The thing with scripture is that it is most pertinent in its context and should never be taken completely literally. The beauty of ecumenism is that it allows us to share in the scriptural traditions of others. While I think the chances of the Book of Mormon being historical are slim to none, if it was then it still fits the pseudepigraphical/scriptural tradition. Its important not to shut our minds off to any potential source of wisdom, for if we do, then we risk a myopic world view which I have witnessed, especially in the LDS church.

        • John Hamer June 19, 2013 at 3:39 am - Reply

          Yes, exactly. A great point.

          What we should also point out here — following Alexander Campbell while turning his conclusions around — that we maximize our understanding of the Book of Mormon, if we understand its actual historical context. If we try to wedge the square peg of the Book of Mormon into the round hole of actual Meso-American antiquity as it is now understood, we come up with altogether new readings of the text that are bizarre distortions of the original intent: e.g., Nephites and Lamanites as tiny tribes mixed in among giant indigenous nations that go unmentioned, “swords” as sticks with stones tied to the end, and “horses” as tapirs.

          If, instead, we read the Book of Mormon in its actual 19th Century context, we can understand it as an epic of the young American republic in the wake of the Second Great Awakening — excited in its still rare experiment of having thrown off monarchy, divided by sectarianism, paranoid about Freemasonry, and more.

          In this way, I’ve argued that the Book of Mormon is to the Bible as the Aeneid is to the Iliad and Odyssey. The great epics of the Roman and Greek worlds were scripture-like in the pre-Christian Roman Empire, as they provided sacred stories about who the Greeks and Romans were and about their relationships with the gods. However, while the Iliad and Odyssey were composed orally in a non-literate period prior to the development of the discipline of history, and thus had great antiquity and appeared to have an organic quality that people equated with a divine origin, the Aeneid was quite deliberately composed by Virgil in the full light of history in order to connect the Romans into the Greek world-view of the Iliad.

          The authors underlying the 5 books traditionally ascribed to Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) all composed Moses stories that have to be understood in the historical context of the actual authors — all centuries after Moses supposedly would have lived. While understanding their own times well, these authors would have had very little insight into Moses’ era. The same is true for Joseph Smith’s Moses stories that have to be understood in the historical context of Joseph’s era, not Moses’.

  27. Glen Fullmer June 18, 2013 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    John I appreciate your candor in regards to your beliefs. One thing that is shared in common with both the Utah and CofC churches is tradition and history and looking forward to salvation in the future (granted the latter is more so with Utah Mormons). Guess this is the case with most religious organizations. In both cases, with restoration churches, that is where difficulties lie. If indeed that both the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s participation with its creation are frauds, as you claim, then your concentration on the effects of the association in regards to making people better now, seems appropriate. However, can they really do this any better than any other fraternal organization? My experience is that both lack in that regard, especially the Utah Church. I know I would rather work with an organization that has arisen spontaneously for a particular current need rather than work for organizations that live mostly in tradition and expectation of future salvation, but then that might just be my proclivity. If you got rid of tradition, history and future salvation seeking, what do you think is the best things that the Community of Christ provides? The Utah Church? Strengths and weaknesses in comparison with each other given those constraints?

    • John Hamer June 19, 2013 at 4:23 am - Reply

      Glen: I’m not defending the LDS Church. I personally don’t think people should remain members of the LDS Church because: (1) the hierarchy exercises total power without any check whatsoever; (2) the hierarchy is operating in a “lying for the Lord” mode where individual leaders know they are acting deceitfully, but justify their behavior to themselves because they believe their church is a net positive force; (3) the hierarchy fosters and encourages the members to engage in what I consider leader-worship (which I think is a form of idolatry where you believe the leaders have a direct connection with an anthropomorphized God that you yourself lack) also by refusing to admit error (e.g., where Joseph Smith or Brigham Young were utterly wrong); (4) the church is thoroughly and unrepentently sexist, and as such dehumanizes women, and therefore by extension all men who participate in it; and finally (5) the church is unreformable, so any time spent justifying one’s collaboration with it in the name of reform is time wasted.

      Despite the common origins, Community of Christ is a very different kind of church. In the above characteristics, (1) the members have ultimate charge exercising common consent through voting delegates to the World Conference, (2) the leadership is intensely honest and open despite the difficulties you’ve seen here in this conversation that honesty invites, (3) the leaders are regular people you can hang out with, they retire when their callings come to an end, and the members are called to be “a prophetic people” together and individually, (4) the church believes “all are called” and has full participation of women at every level of leadership, additionally we have or have had Asian, African, Latin American, European, and Pacific Islander apostles in addition to those from North America, and finally (5) Community of Christ has shown that it’s extraordinarily reformable when it finds itself in error. New scripture calls upon leaders and the church to repent when it has been in error.

      Regarding afterlife: Community of Christ is quite focused on this life. Speculation on afterlife can be comforting, but it’s ultimately speculative. For me, the anthem here is the old I think children’s hymn… “Have I done any good in the world today? … then wake up and do something more than dream of your mansions above…”

      Spending time on this life and living this life meaningfully is a good use of life. The core values (“The Enduring Principles”) of the church in this regard are, Grace and Generosity, Sacredness of Creation, Continuing Revelation, Worth of All Persons, All Are Called
      Responsible Choices, Pursuit of Peace (Shalom), Unity in Diversity, and Blessings of Community.

      I can tell you that I personally value the blessings of a sharing community where all are valued, and we can be respectful of each other even though we don’t all agree. And many members don’t like the Book or Mormon and don’t read it or quote from it; and many members don’t like Joseph Smith at all and they don’t have to. And if you don’t like the history stuff and don’t want to come with me on a trip to Kirtland Temple, you don’t have to.

      Now are we actually better than the Rotary Club? You’ll have to go talk to a Rotarian and decide for yourself.

      • Jeff June 19, 2013 at 5:57 am - Reply

        I have to say that for a non-missionary church, this podcast, my preliminary research, and other statements you have made have really piqued my curiosity. If I could examine your points about the LDS church: 1 and 2 are pretty much on target. Add to number 3 Boyd K packer’s talk entitled, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater than…” It is statements like, “Some things that are true are not very useful” and songs like”Follow the Prophet” that enable that environment. With regards to number 4, I admittedly, have not experienced what you observed at BYU and in your childhood ward, so no comment on that. And number 5, absolutely true. Its that unchanging mentality that feeds “Lying for the Lord” and is why so many people are leaving and losing faith altogether. I think the CoC has a lot to offer from a community standpoint without a lot of the baggage. They need to make themselves better known.

  28. John Dehlin June 19, 2013 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Congratulations. This thread wins the prize for best discussion ever of a Mormon Stories episode.

    • Paul June 22, 2013 at 1:42 pm - Reply

      I agree, when will we here the next segment of the podcast?

      • Paul June 22, 2013 at 1:43 pm - Reply

        I meant hear…

        • Jeff June 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm - Reply

          I heard a couple of weeks, but perhaps we can convince John to post it sooner. (hint, hint)

  29. Glen Fullmer June 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    So, John H., do you feel that Paul and the original twelve Apostles, minus Judas, were “hero worshipers”? ;-)

    I don’t know much about the Rotary Club, but maybe the Chamber of Commerce might fit your needs better and you don’t have to change the initials! ;-)

    • Jeff June 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      If you view the apostles from a traditional Christian sense, then the apostles would not be hero worshipers in the same way John H. was saying, as they would be worshiping the Son of God. However, the historical debate is more complex than that.

      The Gospels, probably Peter’s epistles, and some of the letters of Paul were not actually written by those people. Modern (especially in the last couple of decades, but extending back to the late 19th century) Biblical scholarship has demonstrated that these texts were written at least two decades after Jesus. The Gospels’ themselves were written at least three decades later, so an historical study of the Apostles is difficult, as the only detailed accounts are from scriptural sources from a later date.

      So from a traditional Christian world view, the Apostles were not “hero worshipers,” but merely worshiping God as is appropriate.

      From a non-Christian point of view, the Apostles were either idol worshipers or worshiping a prophet, in the same way John H. discussed as being dangerous.

      From an academic point of view, it is too difficult to answer such a question, as the historical record is unclear.

    • John Hamer June 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm - Reply

      Exactly. As Jeff points out, very little is known about the original apostles in a historical sense. Acts (Part 2 of Luke) was written by someone who evidently had never met any of the original apostles; there’s no reason to think most of the stories in Acts have much historical basis at all. (Although the author of Acts makes Paul a major protagonist, the details of the stories about Paul in Acts contradict details in Pauls own writings.) No writings of any of the original apostles (if any were literate) have been preserved, and we don’t even have a good list of names (rather, we have competing, contradictory lists).

      We can know Paul pretty well, but he wasn’t one of the original apostles and he never met the historical Jesus. Paul says he met Peter, which is the place the historical Peter really enters into history most clearly.

      We should point out that the apostles of scripture are different from the apostles of history. The apostles of scripture are part of sacred stories canonized in the New Testament which can serve all the same value as any other scripture. Religion isn’t history and history isn’t religion; we can talk about the characters in scripture without always bringing out historical studies.

      Finally, the idea of the apostles in the first place and their number (twelve) are obviously symbolic and so the apostles also exist as symbolic theological ideas, which can be discussed without worrying whether or not we know anything about any of the persons of history who may or may not have been associates of the historical Jesus.

  30. Jeff June 19, 2013 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    I just had an idea from the “Age of Reason” come to mind:

    The only true example of God’s inerrant, unchanging nature is in nature and creation itself. That word of wisdom (pun intended) from Paine is a principal I think is valuable and relevant to how we should approach spiritual beliefs. Bask in the indelible mark of divinity God has placed on nature, and find inspiration in potentially inspired scriptural sources. In other words, if nature is truly the unchanging word of God, then scripture has a place as profound additives.

  31. […] recent podcast with John Hamer on Mormon Stories is one of the most excellent expressions of how one can engage in a religious […]

  32. Paul M. July 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Hey John H.,

    I am in Illinois for work right now and heading over to Nauvou tomorrow and staying the night in town. I am more excited about visiting the CofC sights over the Mormon ones, thanks in a big part to this podcast. Any suggesting a on things I should be sure to see or do while I am there? Thanks!!!

  33. John Hamer July 9, 2013 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Hi Paul! Missed your reply before now. I hope you had a good time in Nauvoo — I always enjoy going back there.

  34. robert ian williams July 23, 2013 at 3:17 am - Reply

    I am a convert to Catholicism from Evangelicalism, and Mormonism helped me on the way. As an evangelical I was interested in witnessing to Mormons. This confronted me with the apostasy theory, and as a trained history graduate I could see the EVANGELICAL RESPONSE WAS INADEQUATE. The Tanners in their book,” Mormonism : shadow or reality” spend two lines on it.

    Bill Mckeever and others use groups who were more heretical than the Mormons.It is a logical question , if Evangelicalism is the true Gospopel wehere was it for 1500 years before Luther. When I confronted Evangelicals they would say, “Oh I know I am saved , stop focusing on periphery.” A very similar response to Mormons, who revert to their testimonmy if challenged by historical criticism.

    Evangelicals also try and accept the ancient creeds and yet they were drawn up by a Church thoroughly Catholic in its sacramental theology.For instance the theology is trinitarian , but they do not accept the clause, ” I belive in one baptism for the remission of sins.”

    Historical claims to evangelical continuity are as bad a Book of Mormon archaeology.

    Instead I found a trail leading to the Ctholic Church and I was appalled. So I decided to re-evaluate mmy response to Chritianity. Was Christianity the Mormonism of Judaism, that is a heresy.

    However I came abck to Christianity and saw the beaurt of Catholic truth and its coherence. Mormons and Evagelicals are poisoned against Catholicism from youth, and it was a whole learning experience.

    Look at catholic theology…its coherence and unlike Mormionis its consistency and unfolding. A Church( protected from doctrinal error) unfolding the deposit of faith and claiming no new public revelation.

    A church (although full of sinners) that tells the truth about mankind and its need for healing and redemption.

  35. […] this blog, I got curious about another church not far from my LDS chapel, and also prompted by some podcasts John had done. It’s Community of Christ (RLDS). On the religious scale I would put myself as […]

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